The Enterprise remains in space-dock, being repaired and updated. Captain Pike takes the opportunity to turn his attention to finding a way to defend his Number One, Una, against the charges for which she was arrested. In the meantime, Spock is left as the de facto Captain – after all, what’s the chances of anything dramatic happening in the three days left before resuming their regular missions?
However, Uhura detects a coded incoming message from La’an – still taking a leave of absence – which says she has information about threat to galactic peace. It comes from a strategic mining colony which has alternating oversight between Star Fleet and the Klingons, a cautious arrangement made in the wake of the Human/Klingon war. Admiral Robert April, aware that one wrong move could lead to renewed chaos and cranage, forbids the Enterprise from responding, but Spock thinks it’s only logic to look after their own. Faking an emergency with the nacelles – and encouraged to do so by an unlikely ally – the Enterprise leaves orbit and heads out to find La’an.
Finding her proves easy, but it seems that there are those that think war was far more profitable than peace and will stop at nothing to reignite the war…
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was a massive hit on its original launch and a second run was quickly given the green light. It’s interesting that the Season Two opener, which one would suspect would re-establish a general template, is mostly missing its Captain and Number One – with Anson Mount’s Pike off to deal with the fallout from last season’s revelation that Una (Rebecca Romijn) lied about her heritage to get into Starfleet. (One suspects that the second episode may well switch the balance in their favour…)
What The Broken Circle does do is walk the line between being an all-access entry-point into proceedings and yet not feeling the need to pander to casual viewers by spending a lot of time reintroducing its characters and core-concept. It assumes, with some Vulcan and human logic, that if you’re watching then you’re an existing Trek fan or that you want to be entertained without a weighty exposition-heavy checklist to work through. Each of the main characters has their moment to simply flex their muscles and show their expertise. It’s the distress message from La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) that sets the story in motion and brings her back in to the fold and her Klingon drinking contest (echoed later by Spock) brings an element of steely bravado. Melissa Navia as Lt. Erica Ortegas handles the navigation with aplomb and a sense of glee and Celia Rose Gooding’s ever more assured Uhura stakes her claim over her communications area from those hovering over it.
It’s not so much that story elements here are new – in fact you can count off a lot of Trek ‘tropes’ – but somehow it feels more fun and fresh than a lot of modern Trek. There’s just enough subversion in the delivery and telling and for the most part this feels less like a season-opener and more like a solid, regularly-placed episode – simply nothing more or less than a confident continuation of its mission-statement knowing that its already established its credentials and now expects you to keep up. And it’s true – with its first season, Strange New Worlds deftly recognised the old-school factors and yet still surprised and delighted even the most dedicated Trekker… and there’s every indication it will continue to do the same here.
With Anson Mount off-screen, the show gives Ethan Peck more time to explore Spock. Again, casting is key here and Peck has managed to create a version of the iconic character that is both familiar in its touchstones yet never feels like a pale or inferior copy. There are moments of humour (I suspect his own version of ‘Engage/Make it So‘ won’t catch on) and pathos as he has to make command decisions that will likely save the galaxy from war but cost him someone he cares about. Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) and Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) get a lot of the screentime and there’s some welcome nuances to their respective backstories, having both seen action and bloodshed in the Klingon War. Despite a few references, this aspect of their lives has largely been sidelined (M’Benga’s ill daughter and Chapel’s flirting with Spock drew the most of their screentime last season). It’s clear these two share a bond forged in battle and there’s intended irony that the two medical characters are forced into a brutal, almost beserker rage in an effort to survive aboard the ‘false-flag’ ship. It’s likely this may be addressed in forthcoming episodes, especially as Spock had a similar crisis last season and is also dealing with the fallout. We may know that a Spock/Chapel romance is doomed, but that makes it all the more bittersweet and allows the actors to play the bubbling subtext with more layers. Though it should be noted this can only be teased so much without starting to wholesale rewrite the dots its connecting.
One notable thing is that Klingon presence here, not least the imposing frame of D’Chok (played with a glint in his eye by Andrew Jackson). The wholesale Klingon redesign seen in early seasons of Star Trek: Discovery went down as well as the infamous, ill-advised Dalek tweaks in Doctor Who and it seems that in both cases, there’s been some retrofitting to return us to the familiar. The Klingons on show here are every inch the ones of old, playing to the familiar hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-foreheaded template but less ‘alien’ than their more overt Discovery version. Ones expects that any disparity won’t actually be addressed, simply ignored as we move on…
Carol Kane is introduced as Chief Lead Inspector Commander Pelia, a character that is hard to get a handle on at this point, but is rich with possibilities. She’s an Lanthanite, a race with a very long lifespan and who apparently mingled with humanity for years before ‘coming out’. There’s very much a mischievous tone to the character, one who hates boredom and doesn’t mind breaking a few rules, the sort that wouldn’t just wish you to ‘have fun storming the castle‘ but might actually lead the charge and battering ram. That being said, she gets introduced in the first act and then disappears until the epilogue, which is a shame. We’re bound to see a lot more of her and if she becomes a kind of Guinan sounding-board substitute for the crew (but without emulating that distinct character too much) there’s definitely potential.
Yes, minor quibble: the recent Picard season also hinged on a loyal crew staling a starship to save one of their own (and not for the first time, either) and by this episode’s end and it does feel as if Spock gets off very lightly (likely linked to Starfleet needing officers of his caliber for a war against the Gorn) but in service to the season, it’s all forgivable. Essentially, part of the enjoyment here is the way that the show has revitalised the classic era of Star Trek, but its secret is that even without such mythological touchstones, it’s plain just god fun to watch…
The Broken Circle is ultimately dedicated to Nichelle Nichols – the original Uhura who passed away last year – with a classy sign-off that notes the actor’s ground-breaking role, proclaiming… “To Nichele, who was first through the door and showed us the stars. Hailing frequencies forever open…”
- Production Design / VFX8