Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - The Serene Squall, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - The Serene Squall, Review

"Arr!" says Matthew Kresal!
One of the things that Strange New Worlds has been up to during its run thus far has been breathing new life into what Star Trek fans might consider archetypal stories for the series. It has also been working on expanding and filling in gaps in the canon, particularly where its sixties incarnation is concerned. With its seventh episode, The Serene Squall, the series does both with aplomb.

The story type in question? Space pirates and the Enterprise getting hijacked. It's a trope that was so well-worn by the 1960s that Roddenberry reportedly banned space pirate stories in both TOS and TNG. Even then, someone taking over the Enterprise (including a Data following his creator's commands) popped up from time to time, as it did in later spin-off series. So were these ideas worth coming back to for Strange New Worlds?


Because, as it's done so many times to date, the show's writers (in this case, Beau DeMayo and Sarah Tarkoff) find new ways of approaching them. Or, perhaps more accurately, entertaining angles. Part of that is, like Spock Amok a couple of episodes ago, touching upon an inherently comedic element in the plot. Anson Mount's Pike and Rebecca Romijn's Una, in particular, get some fun material to play with Mount, once more, showing off a lighter (dare I say cockier?) side to the captain. The guest cast of pirates leans into that, as well, with Michael Hough as Remy and Sophia Walker as Fran. It gives the episode plenty of fun moments, which works well in its favor.

Yet The Serene Squall isn't afraid to play things seriously when it needs to. Early portions of the episode, as the Enterprise begins its pirate hunt, lead to wonderfully tense moments, even if the audience can guess what's coming. That sense of tension extends to the actions of a couple of crew members who manage to avoid capture, letting the series highlight its version of the iconic starship (including our first glimpse in this series of Trek's ubiquitous Jeffries Tubes). Finding a balance between these two, the essentials of any good pirate story in space or anywhere else, is a delicate act but one that the writers, director Sydney Freeland, and editor Andrew Coutts accomplish neatly.

The episode also works because of something else mentioned at the top of this review: it expands and fills in gaps in the Trek canon. In this case, in conjunction with the series aim of doing character arcs in standalone stories by picking up on Ethan Peck's Spock and two women in his life: Jess Bush's Chapel and Gia Sandhu's T'Pring. Strange New Worlds has explored how we got to where these characters were in TOS, and it takes another step in that direction here, particularly in its final act. Indeed, the intersection between the trio becomes the driver of the episode's conclusion, shining a focus once more on the evolution of Spock on the journey between The Cage and TOS. It also leads to a final twist that gave this writer a moment of pure joy as a longtime Trek fan. Arguably, all of this is fan service, of course, but it's fan service done right if so.

It would be remiss of me, as a reviewer, not to mention this episode's shining (guest) star. Jesse James Keitel positively steals scene after scene with a multifaceted performance that runs a wide gambit of situations and emotions. Sometimes insightful, sometimes flirty, always clever, Keitel as Aspen is, after Alora last week, one of Strange New Worlds most memorable characters to date and once which, as the ending suggests, perhaps we've not seen the last of either.

The Serene Squall continues to show Strange New Worlds is living up to its promise. Here is a story that wouldn't have been out of place in TOS, given not only a new coat of paint, but seen from a different angle. One that allows it to explore its characters in the midst of tension and even a bit of a romp. It's a mix of elements that Trek as a franchise handels well and, after the seriousness of last week, comes as a chance to catch its breath.

And all the better for it.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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