Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Spoiler-Free Review
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was one of my favorite shows of 2022, and its first season might be the best first season of a Star Trek outing. It had a confidence in what it was doing, it knew what it wanted to be, and it made it very well. Episodic television for dramas has trended towards a more serialized format (Picard and Discovery being two prominent examples just in the Trek library), but Strange New Worlds kept to its mission of the week format pretty strictly, with connecting tissue of characters’ personal drama. It worked, though if there was any criticism over that first season, it was concerned with its destination, not its journey.
We know that Captain Pike will not command the Enterprise forever, but the first season was haunted by it like a looming ghost. In comparison, the first thing that sticks out to me in the first six episodes of Strange New Worlds Season 2 is that while the formula remains the same, the ingredients have changed. Despite Anson Mount’s warm and easy performance as Christopher Pike, he’s never quite the central character this season, so far. The crew of the Enterprise is endearing, and Season 2 is happy to explore that further.
The episodes jump around genre and focus, with Spock, Chapel, Uhura, and La’an all receiving episodes focused on them. The stories are more happy to let their legs stretch and play around. The stories run the gamut of episodes of the week, ranging from a big action set-piece in our opener to a follow-up of a courtroom drama, with another episode being a psychological thriller. The cast gets to stretch their acting muscles a little more, and I absolutely love the attention given to characters – even in how their personal logs are narrated. While in previous Treks, the personal logs were all used as framing devices, and all felt very similar, episodes of Strange New Worlds Season 2 centering certain characters use those logs as an excellent framing device flush with character.
Speaking of characters, there are two new “additions” to the Enterprise, though both are more recurring guests. Carol Kane’s Commander Pelia, the Enterprise’s new Chief Engineer, sets a great tone immediately as an offbeat former Academy instructor who has her own way of doing things. If you’ve ever had a hypercompetent coworker who listened to the Grateful Dead and tried to sell you some crystals, you’ve met Pelia. It’s a character archetype that, upon first examination, doesn’t seem very Starfleet, but by the end of these episodes, I liked Pelia. She’s got idiosyncrasies, and it’s a fun departure from the usual engineers we see.
There is also the Tiberius in the room. After an appearance as an alternate timeline version in “A Quality of Mercy”, the Season 1 finale, Paul Wesley makes two appearances as James T. Kirk, presented here as an up-and-coming officer skyrocketing through the ranks with some fraternal rivalry issues. Personally, I think that Kirk might be one of the harder characters to cast or write for, considering there are two very different interpretations of him that have appeared onscreen. From the two episodes he’s in, the traits that jumped out to me were his cleverness and emotional intelligence. Kirk plays chess, is concerned about other people, and feels like an eager nerd. It works, and while it’s neither Shatner nor Pine, it’s a fun blend of their appealing qualities. Strange New Worlds is a show that can be haunted by the timeline’s future, but in this case, Kirk’s specter is a pleasant surprise.
Strange New Worlds Season 2 feels like a refinement of a formula. The show is playing with the same deck but reshuffled and played just a little bit better. All six episodes are solid entries and all have at least one moment I absolutely love. If you enjoy the episodic feel of the first season, it picks up fine. It’s a delightful continuation, fine-tuning a formula that was already chugging along just fine. The show is a great watch, cozy and friendly, and perhaps what’s most important, they didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken.