Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Season Two: Off to a Rocky Start
Please note that this brief, informal review is based on the first six episodes of the second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
With the second season of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" premiering this week, it's time to take a look at how the crew is faring on their continuing voyage to seek out those titular worlds, new life, and new civilizations, etc. As you may recall, the first season took quite a while to find its footing, offering up some ok episodes and some that were rather forgettable, before ending with three that showed a fantastic range of genres, including fantasy, horror, and good old fashion suspense/thriller (with time travel!). In short, it showed great promise for what was to come.
Which makes it rather sad to have to say that most of these first six episodes of season two feel much more like the first few episodes of the first season in that they are rather sluggish and not particularly compelling. That is to say, it feels like they're having more trouble coming up with stories that are truly engaging and memorable. The cast (Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, et al.) continues to be fantastic (though the great Carol Kane really needs to be given more to do), but the writing is just not at the level it should be to deliver meaningful, exciting, and captivating episodes.
However, I did say "most" because the one true standout of these six is episode 202 ("Ad Astra Per Aspera"), a marvelous courtroom drama that hearkens back to the brilliant TNG episode "The Measure of a Man." I can't reveal plot details, but I will say that the teleplay by Dana Horgan fires on all Trek cylinders and just goes to show that, much of the time, the smaller, more intimate episodes can be more compelling & edge-of-your-seat exciting than the episodes that try to take bigger swings with their wilder concepts. Basically it's an example of just how great this show could be when it focuses on its themes.
Now that's not to say that the rest of the episodes are "bad." Some of them do have fairly interesting concepts that, in the hands of more capable writers, could yield more interesting results. In at least one instance, time was the enemy. The third episode ("Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow") involves an intriguing bit of time travel, but is inexplicably stretched out to a full hour (there was probably a good 45-minute episode in there). Then there's episode five ("Charades"), which uses plotting that's a bit too similar to an episode from the first season. Let's just say that apparently the fifth episode of each season has been designated the episode where something weird & comical happens to Spock, forcing him to go through an awkward situation (I can't wait to see how they'll repeat this in 305).
That said, maybe this will be a repeat of the first season, where they're waiting to pull out their better episodes at the end. It's doubtful that they'll be able to top 202, but there's still plenty of room to deliver some fun, thrilling, and emotionally-gripping episodes that'll put the series back on solid ground. They just need to put a little more effort into the writing. Again, sometimes all it takes is scaling it back and delving into the franchise's classic themes, as opposed to taking those wilder swings, and sometimes it takes going outside of the standard genre to give us something we don't normally get.
It's been a very uneven show so far (like much of the "New Trek"), but there's still hope for improvement. It's just a matter of getting it more consistent, and finding those writers that really know what they're doing, while weeding out those episodes that come off as plodding, pointless, and directionless (i.e. ones that feel like they don't have anything to say and come off as more of a chore to get through). With more focus on themes and higher-quality stories, this could be the great Trek show that it's trying to be, instead of one where you're mildly entertained for a little while and forget the episode by the next day. There is indeed hope, now they just need to put in the effort.
The second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres on June 15th on Paramount+.
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