Star Trek: Strange New World’s Episodic Adventures Continue to Fly High in Season 2

TV Reviews Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Star Trek: Strange New World’s Episodic Adventures Continue to Fly High in Season 2

When Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debuted last year, it felt like a welcome return to form for a franchise caught in a bit of an identity crisis. In a prestige TV landscape defined by serialized storytelling and an affinity for the macabre, the one-off adventures found in the earlier incarnations of this endlessly optimistic sci-fi yarn were sorely missed. While both Star Trek: Discovery and Picard eventually leaned into some of these elements, Strange New Worlds embodied the spirit of classic Trek from the jump, and between its episodic format, unbridled belief in the possibility for a better future, and lovable cast of do-gooder space dorks, it not only channeled what came before but blazed new trails. Thankfully, through the first six episodes of its second season, the show picks up right where it left off, delivering pulpy escapades alongside overarching character growth.

We follow Captain Pike’s (Anson Mount) crew on the starship USS Enterprise as they explore the cosmos and participate in scientific research missions, diplomatic efforts, and frantic exchanges with alien life. Taking place before the original series and its numerous follow-ups, it remains a solid entry point for newcomers, and—although it’s full of dramatic irony and references for veterans—its prequel status makes it more forgiving for those who lack an encyclopedic knowledge of the later canon. Just like last time around, the structure this season is largely the same: Each week is a mostly standalone tale that puts the crew in some novel circumstance as they’re confronted with strange scientific phenomenon, political strife, or well, dating problems.

One of the most successful aspects of Strange New Worlds has been its ability to nail this episodic format while also building up longer arcs concerning the crew members, delving into their traumatic backstories and foibles in ways that dovetail with the thematic thrust of that particular weekly adventure. In some ways, it feels like a synthesis of the series’ traditional structure with the serialized nature of most modern television dramas, utilizing both styles to bolster the other. 

Not only does that remain true through the first six episodes of Season 2, but this approach is handled more cohesively than ever, with our pre-existing attachment to these characters and the fallout of prior events setting up tense circumstances that add to the stakes. The previous season would sometimes struggle to seamlessly tie these threads together, as members of the crew would suddenly divulge their traumatic backstories, less because this felt like a natural thing for them to do at that time and more because there wasn’t enough space in the ten-episode run to handle both fleshing out the cast and working through each one-off tale. However, in this season, because that context is already established, there’s always more than enough room for both, and these characters’ struggles are palpable. From Uhura working through her grief, Una’s search for a place to belong, and of course, Mr. Spock’s struggles straddling his two heritages, these formerly introduced conflicts receive satisfying developments.

It also helps that the chemistry among this crew is excellent. Despite being a heady series known for exploring philosophy, sociology, and science, Star Trek has also frequently been about people simply hanging out. Captain Pike remains a charismatic and empathetic lead who is played with a confidence and self-awareness by Anson Mount that makes him hard not to root for. And the rest of the cast is fantastic as well, from La’an’s (Christina Chong) gruff demeanor, Uhura’s (Celia Rose Gooding) position as a relative greenhorn, Spock’s (Ethan Peck) struggles with emotions and his increasingly messy relationship with Chapel (Jess Bush), these dynamics all set up for plenty of excellent banter and heartfelt moments. While there’s not quite as much downtime as in the more leisurely 26-episode seasons of The Next Generation-era Trek, Strange New Worlds still finds time for the crew to swap stories, gossip, and joke around. We get the sense that these people deeply care about each other, and these feelings become all the more fraught when they’re met with the life-or-death stakes that come with their job.

As for this batch of adventures, they make for a gamut of fun premises that can be introspective, campy, frightening, or sometimes all these things at once. Although one of them was a clunker, the rest embody that infectious mixture of optimism and curiosity that has made the series so indispensable. Its treatment of social issues and societal ills is so earnest it risks coming across as overly simplistic, but it ultimately engages with these issues with enough nuance to strike a chord. Characters are forced to contend with their prejudices, grapple with new forms of communication, and contend with the weight of history.

And while at a glance, Strange New Worlds could be accused of being an overly “safe” project, one that seeks to emulate nostalgia for this beloved series by mimicking its prior successes, many of the episodes here go beyond this by thoughtfully engaging with existing material instead of just dropping shallow references. For instance, past conflicts shape these characters’ beliefs in ways that feel earned, exacerbating tensions and creating interesting problems.

The second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is shaping up to be an excellent follow-up to an already great show that continues to carve a space for this episodic series in a contemporary TV landscape where this format is far from the norm. It successfully embodies Trek’s core thematic tenets: its spirit of curiosity and scientific discovery, its belief in the possibility of building a better future, and its emphasis on diversity, all while working through the affecting backstories of its cast. And it does this all while being unafraid of being deeply sincere and even somewhat cheesy or silly at times. All things considered, Strange New Worlds continues to give us the best of what Starfleet has to offer.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds returns Thursday, June 16th on Paramount+.

Elijah Gonzalez is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. In addition to playing the latest indie games, he also loves film, anime, lit, and creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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