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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - "Ad Astra Per Aspera" + "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" Double Review

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Strange New Worlds 2.02 “Ad Astra Per Aspera

How do you blend the classic structure of Trek with the modern temperament of today’s culture, even when you consider that Trek was pretty progressive back in the day? Ad Astra Per Aspera makes a case for one of the franchise’s best episodes of television with a powerful courtroom drama about identity and oppression and a reminder that the Federation still isn’t quite the Federation that Kirk and Spock; older Kirk and Spock at least, know. It’s culturally relevant to the issues of today and being proud to be who you are – and represents the true vision of Gene Roddenbery’s work: a vision of the future, unblinkered by change.

One thing that I like about Strange New Worlds is that two episodes in we still haven’t had a Pike-centric episode and considering he’s the lead, it shows that the strengths of this series really is an ensemble. Anson Mount races halfway across the universe to the Voltara Nebula in search of Neera, played by Yetide Badaki, fantastic, an Illyrian lawyer and former friend of Una to take command. Badaki and Romijn have the chemistry of old friends who’ve lost contact reunited, it’s a bit hostile and both actors play it off brilliantly: casting Romjin as Number One is still one of the best casting choices new Trek has made. To make things more complicated; Captain Babel, played by the equally always great Melanie Scrofano (Wynonna Earp!) – is the prosecution.

Let Starfleet v. Number One begin. For fans of courtroom dramas; John Grisham books and legal thrillers you’ll recognise the structure here, this is a battlefield in the coutroom not a warzone. Classic talk-first, action-later Trek. Neera sees the Federation as hostile to the Illyrians and absolutely takes the Federation to task: Captains can intervene when they want to, why can’t Pike be allowed to intervene to protect Una, who decided to become a Starfleet officer anyway despite all the obstacles facing her? Despite all the persecution her people underwent? She became a Starfleet officer because of how diverse the crew was; and that’s something that Trek has always highlighted – and this cast of Strange New Worlds fits the bill perfectly.

Less experienced writers would have just told A Measure of a Man again; and you wouldn’t blame them for doing so – it’s a classic for a reason. Dana Horgan, whose script credits include Supergirl and Once Upon a Time, has the experience to tackle a situation like this: it’s some of her best work to date. The courtroom drama puts humanity itself on trial: smart enough to keep a heartfelt speech from Pike in the first draft, if that, it let him take a backseat and allowed Una to shine.

Strange New Worlds 2.03 “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Every Star Trek show at some point must time travel to the 21st century location that the show was filming in in real life; and in this case it’s Toronto, Canada. After dealing with the ramifications of her confession in the previous episode; La’an is walking down the halls when a man appears, dying, covered with a bullet wound: rare in the days of phasers, wearing a 21st century suit. He hands her a piece of tech and warns her that history will be changed unless she doesn’t stop it. Returning to the bridge to tell Pike the news; she finds out that the Captain has been replaced by none other than James T. Kirk, who was born in the stars – played here by Paul Wesley, as charismatic as ever.

And then what follows is a series of events that happen all too quickly but propel us into this week’s plot true Star Trek style. We learn that there’s no Starfleet here; but this isn’t quite the Mirrorverse that we saw in Discovery, this is altered history, there’s a difference – and humanity has been space bound looking out for themselves after the death of Earth, from it turns out: time travelling Romulans intervening with history to prevent humanity’s advancement. And Spock leads the Vulcans, not united with humanity in this point in the timeline, into a conflict that they can’t escape from and humanity aren’t willing to lend a hand: the last thing they need is a war on two fronts. Kirk apologises before being called to his office by La’an, who in this timeline, nobody recognises – the bridge is the same otherwise - and with Kirk having some knowledge of temporal time-travel, it doesn’t prevent him and La’an being dragged back to the 21st century.

Kirk’s reaction is to confuse it for Times Square almost immediately, but La’an is quick to remind him that it’s Toronto. It looks different from anything Kirk has seen: revolving doors, no knowledge of memes (memes really are key to saving the planet); but he brings skills of his own to save them. The performance by Wesley really nails the Kirk mannerisms here – the thrill of the car chase so blatantly ripped off by Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver it’s hard not to have a great time with – right down to the red sports car – but the chemistry between Wesley and Christian Chong is pretty much instant as La’an finds someone in an alternate timeline who she connects with in a way that she gets instantly: such is the power of Kirk, after all – and David Reed was having fun deploying the cliches where the two develop feelings for another: right in time to find what they’re looking for, the source of the timeline disruption and what the Romulans intend to kill.

It's Khan. Because of course it is. At this point, kept in storage in a series of bunkers in La’an’s ancestral home. She carries a great burden on herself and the clue’s there when Kirk doesn’t recognise her surname, but in this timeline: Khan was killed. It’s the grandfather paradox deployed to Trek in classic fashion; would you kill your own ancestor? What would happen to you? In this case, La’an would survive, and she was never more tempted – especially when Kirk is shot by the Romulan of the week – in a cold but blunt way that’s equally devastating for both parties. Thankfully he’s not our Kirk, but for a moment, you believed that he’d come back to their own reality. Eventually the day is saved and La’an is pulled back to her own timeline, comforting Khan by telling him that he’s exactly where he needs to be – as brutal as ever – and arriving back in her own timeline to find Kirk in the captain’s chair, inadvertently setting off Pelia’s career path to make an honest living as an engineer in the process.

What a set of episodes, what a show – there’s a very real chance my favourite shows of 2021 might well end up being Picard and Strange New Worlds in turn: both excellent. Both wonderful. Top tier television. Star Trek literally; has rarely been better than this wonderful pair of episodes.

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