James Osborne reviews the second episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds…
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ opening episode kickstarted the journey of Captain Pike’s Enterprise with confidence and style. The series’ sophomore episode, ‘Children of the Comet’ continues on in that vein, exploring character drama against a science fiction backdrop. And that’s no bad thing.
While surveying the Persephone system, the Enterprise comes across a comet which, on its current trajectory, is set to collide with the arid planet Persephone III. Normally, this would go down as part of the natural course of life and death between the stars. The only problem is, the planet is home to a steadily developing alien civilization of millions of innocent individuals.
Without any hesitation, Captain Pike declares that the Enterprise has to intervene, and nudge the comet off-course. The bridge crew concocts a clever plan involving photon torpedoes, but their plan falters upon the discovery that the comet is surrounded by a protective shield, which activates upon being attacked. An away team is beamed down to the comet to try and deactivate the protective shields that surround it. This away team, led by Spock and La’an Noonien-Singh, also includes the much-talked-about Samuel Kirk, and Cadet Uhura.
The episode is primarily a vehicle for the development of the young cadet, and establishes that this version of the character isn’t yet the Uhura seen on screen decades ago. She’s brimming with uncertainty about her career choices, and openly questions whether or not the Starfleet route is for her. The character reveals that she chose to join Starfleet academy in the aftermath of a horrific family tragedy, which resulted in the death of her parents and older brother, and that she is now reevaluating that choice. Whether or not such a brutal backstory was necessary to justify her doubt is certainly questionable, but for better or for worse, it is now locked into the character’s future – and past.
Regardless of her history, the focus on Cadet Uhura does provide a welcome glimpse of uncertainty in a character that Star Trek has only ever really examined with the likes of Lieutenant Reginald Barclay. The fact that the character questions her choices grounds her in reality, and gives her a dimension that we don’t always see in Star Trek’s characters. Her hesitation is nicely contrasted with the seasoned Samuel Kirk who oozes confidence both in his jocular interactions with Captain Pike, and through his nonchalant risk taking on the deadly away mission.
While the away team is on the comet, Captain Pike encounters another obstacle – this time in the shape of a massive, technologically superior alien vessel. The ship hails the Enterprise, and an alien with an eye-catching design informs Captain Pike that they are The Shepherds, and their highest purpose is to protect the comet from any external interference. In their culture, the comet is worshipped as one of many which travel across the galaxy spreading life, and its path is preordained. Captain Pike shares that while the beliefs of The Shepherds are all well and good, the comet is on course to strike the planet and wipe out an entire civilisation.
Without any push-back from his crew, the Enterprise’s Captain dismisses The Shepherds cultural beliefs and begins to formulate a more subtle plan to disrupt the comet. The encounter could – and should – have been dealt with with more sensitivity and nuance. Captain Pike and his crew don’t pause for one second to consider if, perhaps, The Shepherds could be right – and that’s before considering the apparent contradiction between the actions of the crew and General Order 1. Instead, The Shepherds are immediately branded as zealots, which allows Captain Pike and his crew to set aside their concerns without any serious consideration.
Luckily for the audience, the Enterprise’s continued activity on the comet provokes a predictably violent response from The Shepherds, instigating a genuinely thrilling chase sequence. The impressive visuals are matched with genuine stakes, and Star Trek’s action set-pieces have rarely, if ever, been better. Lieutenant Ortegas navigates the ship between shards of debris to place it as close to the comet as possible – if The Shepherds continue their assault and the Enterprise explodes, so too will the comet.
With a couple of nifty tricks, the Enterprise manages to divert the comet away from the planet before the crew learn that it was, in fact, sentient. It’s also revealed that, like the newly introduced Chief Engineer Hemmer, the comet had pre-cognitive abilities which allowed it to see its fate. The theme of fate is touched on throughout the episode, as Captain Pike continues to wrestle with the repercussions of knowing his own. It links Children of the Comet to the series opener, while making it abundantly clear that the exploration of fate, and all its implications, is going to be central to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Children of the Comet has lofty ambitions, and is an easy and enjoyable watch. The show’s characters continue to be its defining strength, and this week they were again supported by an interesting central story about fate and the development of galactic life. It’s a shame that, at times, the episode doesn’t seem to realise how interesting the premise could be, and treat it with the complexity that it deserves.
However this storytelling stumble does, inadvertently or not, do an effective job at showing that this crew of the Enterprise aren’t infallible, and they have a lot of learning left to do. Hopefully, this learning can include an attempt to be more open minded, and be something that Captain Pike and his crew carry forward as the season progresses.