When Spock (Ethan Peck) and Nurse Christine Chapel’s shuttle is caught in the gravitational pull of a strange cosmic vortex, it looks as if this away-mission could be their last. However Spock awakes back on the Enterprise. Both he and Chapel (Jess Bush) seem to have no serious injuries, but while Christine is a healthy human being, Spock is…well, a healthy human being. Not a Vulcan.
With an impending ritual involving Spock’s betrothal to T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) about to take place on the Enterprise, under the discerning eye of T’pring’s strict parents, can Spock’s experience of new feelings and sensations be put aside long enough to hide his new condition and can Christine find a way to restore Spock’s true DNA… and does she really want to?
Your enjoyment of Charades may well hinge on how you enjoy more loose, comedic episodes. This is one of those entries where you are not asked to think too much about the dilemma or the way it will be ultimately solved… but to simply go along with the ride as it happens. Ironically, Charades feels like watching a reciprocal love-letter episode to The Big Bang Theory (where Jim Parson’s prim and proper Sheldon – likely Spock’s Number One fan- gets rarely and atypically drunk and silly) and then going on about your regular business. ‘Spock gets feelings‘ is the simple strap-line. The how? Not important. The solution? Ditto.
The time-and-space vortex is the ex machina of the piece and a hand-wavery story-device at best. The fate of the nearby planet’s population is supposed to be shrouded in mystery but there’s a great swirling mass that no-one’s ever noticed before or investigated? The cosmic beings send the occupants of the shuttle back and ‘repaired’ though we see no footage of the retrieval? The idea that the aliens misunderstood the nature of the ‘repairs’ is a decent but familiar genre trope but here it’s turned into a blatant call-centre comparison where the aliens keep ‘hanging up’ rather than acknowledging the problem. The eventual solution? Again, after Chapel’s in-person pleas it’s all off-screen and just completed when Chapel returns with a magic syringe full of getwell DNA juices. Again, for a show that usually manages to handle the connective tissue or make it so you don’t care, there’s almost as many plot-holes here as actual plot.
On the comedy level, most of the one-liners and miscommunications land well enough if you let them. Ethan Peck elegantly sells the confusion and desperation along with the glee of the tsunami of sensations he’s been suppressing and Anson Mount helps with the straight-man zingers, giving them a culinary flavour. T’pring’s family is equally out of sitcom central with a matriarch figure that makes Lxwanna Trois look shy… and a father who’s clearly been pecked to death by alien hens. There’s fun here, but little actual depth. Mia Kirschner as Spock’s mother Amanda ends up getting the best guest-star material of the episode.
It’s a bit of a shame that the series – one usually ready to rise to every eventuality – didn’t spot the potential to play the premise a little more fully – having both comedic and more serious aspects in equal measure. In Voyager episodes like the classic Tuvix (where Neelix and Tuvok are blended into a singular ‘new’ character who then fights to survive rather than being separated again) there was a way to ask some profound, philosophical and quite dark questions amid some lighter moments. There might be no need to go quite that dark here, but wouldn’t it have been interesting if – even for a moment – Spock had considered the benefits of remaining fully human but then had to return to his usual form because of some greater stakes and purpose? The needs of the many, etc etc delivering some true poignancy. Instead, after having fun with the slapstick experiencing of heightened smells, tastes and emotions, the (literal) conceit is Spock trying to hide the truth from the family gathering and almost succeeding. The stakes are only his relationship with T’pring and her own dysfunctional family, but by episodes end we know the engagement is backpedalling at speed… We are left with a consequence, but any resulting relationship with Christine Chapel (which seems to be happening at the end, flouting continuity) could have had yet more story-bait wrinkles with Spock aware of what he’s potentially lost out on because of duty. But your light-years may vary…
Strange New Worlds is still the best Trek currently boldly going out there and the likes of Peck, Bush and Mount are all on great form but this – putting the too silly into two syllables – feels like an indulgent interlude between more inspired entries…
- Production Design / VFX7