Strange New Worlds S2E3: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Strange New Worlds is dedicated enough to recreating the vibe of classic Trek that this season thus far has been devoted to very specific types of episodes that recur throughout the franchise. We got the “the crew steals the ship but doesn’t get in trouble because they had a very good reason” episode. We got the “courtroom drama where it’s really the Federation’s ideals that are on trial” episode. And now we have the “the crew travels back in time and by an astonishing coincidence ends up on Earth in the same time period this show was made” episode.

We start by checking in on La’an, the Enterprise’s tightly-wound security chief. She has to deal with everyone else’s problems, constantly be the bearer of bad news, and can’t bring herself to open up to anyone else, burying all the stress of the job. And then she has to deal with a man who appears out of nowhere, bleeding from a gunshot wound, who tells her, “There’s been an attack. In the past. You have to stop it.” He hands her a mysterious device and tells her to get to the bridge, before dying and vanishing.

So La’an goes to the bridge to report to the captain… James T. Kirk. Who has no idea who La’an is. The timeline has been changed. Ortegas and Uhura are still on the bridge, but Spock is now the captain of a Vulcan ship who hails the Enterprise asking for help. The Vulcans are badly losing a war to the Romulans and will be wiped out without the Earth’s help, but Kirk is unmoved. It turns out there is no human-Vulcan alliance, and there is no Federation. The Enterprise is a United Earth ship, which has no record of a La’an Noonien Singh, and Kirk has little inclination to help her either.

La’an is barely able to convince Kirk she isn’t simply a lunatic, but he still wants to take the device from her so his crew can analyze it. She resists, they struggle for the device, a button gets pushed… and they’re in an alley in 21st-century Toronto. Because they’re caught unawares, they have no phasers, no communicators, no tricorders, and no money. La’an is Earth-savvy enough to take Kirk clothes shopping, and when she realizes they have no way of paying for anything, she lets another shopper set off the store’s alarm so she and Kirk can slip out unnoticed. (Security chief or not, it seems unlikely she’d understand how 21st-century mall security works, but we need to keep the episode moving.)

A crime spree isn’t sustainable, so they need actual money. In an amusing sequence, Kirk hustles passersby at a chess table in the park. (After playing 3D chess, the old-fashioned version is “basically idiot’s chess.”) They still have no idea why they’ve been sent back or what it was that changed history, but Kirk keeps making reference to things being far worse in his timeline — Earth has been rendered uninhabitable and is blanketed by clouds of ash. But when it comes to restoring La’an’s timeline, Kirk’s sharp enough to realize it’ll mean erasing his own — his friends, his ship, his whole life, and centuries of lives before it. La’an tries to plead her case — humanity is in much better shape in her timeline, and finally strikes a nerve when she says she knows Kirk still exists in her timeline because she’s talked to his brother Sam. In this Kirk’s timeline, Sam is dead.

We don’t get time to meditate on this, because there’s an explosion outside their hotel room. A bridge explodes into a fireball and collapses. The time traveler’s command to “get to the bridge” wasn’t about the Enterprise. La’an recognizes a chunk of the rubble as being damaged by a 22nd-century weapon, but the rubble’s loaded into an unmarked van before she can get a closer look.

She and Kirk pursue, a car chase through the streets of Toronto ensues, and when Kirk is pulled over for speeding, a passerby films the cops and berates them for harassing such an important civil rights attorney. The cops back off, and Zera, the passerby, reveals that she helped them because she saw them chasing down the evidence from the explosion. She was also chasing the same evidence, and she thinks whoever was behind the attack wanted to destroy a symbol of international cooperation so humanity won’t unite against… aliens. She’s a conspiracy nut.

But Kirk plays along, claiming his wife “Vanessa” survived an alien abduction. La’an has no choice but to go with it. Zera seems unhinged… except she shows them grainy footage of a Romulan ship. And security footage of one of the men who took the rubble away, waiting around before the attack, like he knew it was going to happen. The Romulan ship tips Kirk off to what changes the timeline — in his version of events, the Romulans destroy an experimental cold fusion reactor in Toronto, leveling the city, and sparking the war that still rages on in his era. Suddenly, he’s not so reluctant to wipe away his timeline.

They still have no way of finding the reactor without a tricorder until La’an realizes she knows someone in the 21st century — Pelia mentions in a gag in the opening sequence that she still has a bungalow in Vermont “in case this no-money socialist utopia thing turns out to be a fad.” The impossibly-long-lived Lanthanite is in fact in Vermont, posing as a human antiques dealer (and the show cleverly sets up a few small details in the first act that help La’an quickly track Pelia down in the second). Unlike how this kind of story usually goes, La’an doesn’t try and convince Pelia they know each other in the future; she simply states that she knows she’s an alien, and that they need her help to save humanity.

That’s enough, but at this point in the timeline, a career in engineering is still far in Pelia’s future. “I haven’t taken a math class since Pythagorus invented the stuff!” she says, distastefully. But she does know her antiques, and hands over an old phosphorus-coated watch that will glow in the presence of radiation, so La’an and Kirk hurry back to Toronto. They find the reactor, the person who’s really behind the attacks… and a gut punch of an ending that puts the episode in the same league as “The City On the Edge of Forever.”

We opened the season talking about how Strange New Worlds is the least adventurous of the new Trek series. It’s grounded firmly in the familiar, on a firm bedrock of fanservice. But it’s hard to raise any objection when it does what it does this well.

Stray tachyons:
• It’s also hard to object that we’ve still barely seen Captain Pike this season, have only spent one episode on the Enterprise, or that this episode sidelines the entire ensemble for most of its runtime. Christina Chong is remarkably good as La’an, giving us hints of turmoil behind her steely facade, until she finally lets her emotions come flooding through. In general, the cast is strong enough that any combination of characters can give us a great episode, and Deep Space Nine is the only other Trek show that can boast that.

• In a cute nod to Kirk being born in Iowa, alternate-timeline Kirk was born in space, on the USS Iowa.

• The bridge that gets bombed is a massive span crossing Lake Ontario. That places the episode’s events some indeterminate time into our future, but it’s still unclear why such a bridge would be built. Are that many Canadians desperate to get to Rochester?

• While I love both Ethan Peck’s largely-faithful Spock and Celia Rose Gooding’s updated take on Uhura, I always have trouble buying Paul Wesley as Kirk. He’s very likable in the role, but too skinny to play a guy who fistfights his way across the galaxy, and his delivery is a little too arch. He always brings to mind old clips of Jim Carrey spoofing Kirk on In Living Color.

• That being said, Wesley and Christina Chong are terrific at the bickering-while-masking-feelings-for-each-other vibe. It’s a cliché, but that’s because when it works, it’s a terrific dynamic.

• Elsewhere in the Star Trek universe, Paramount has announced that the in-production second season of Star Trek: Prodigy won’t run on Paramount+. The kid-friendly animated series has been showered with critical acclaim, and by all appearances has a healthy viewership. But as every streaming service is pulling back on programming, Paramount is trying to sell the series to another network (including season one, which has already been pulled from streaming). It’s not a good look for Paramount, and it’s worrying for the future of Star Trek on the platform. At the minimum, it’s already undone their boast of having every episode of every Trek series in one place. At worst, it doesn’t bode well for the franchising continuing on the small screen — with Picard finished, Discovery heading into its final season, and Prodigy off the network, that leaves only Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and a promised Starfleet Academy series that’s already been halted because of the writers’ strike. The timing couldn’t be worse, as between the much-improved final season of Picard, and the stellar-so-far Strange New Worlds, it feels like we’re in a golden era of Star Trek. Let’s hope it lasts.

One thought on “Strange New Worlds S2E3: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Comments are closed.