While the modern Star Trek evokes a lot of impassioned debate, one series that struck a positive chord with lots of fans is Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Taking the 1965 Star Trek pilot as a starting point — and importing actors Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, and Ethan Peck from Star Trek: Discovery as Captain Christopher Pike, Commander Una Chin-Riley, and Lt. Spock — it recommitted to the original series format. Each episode revolved around a complete assignment or issue for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to manage. Characters grew and some ideas carried on from episode-to-episode, but the hour-long storytelling proved satisfying. And, thankfully, it proved successful enough for Paramount+ to order subsequent season, with season 2 premiering on the service on Thursday.
The new year of the Enterprise’s ongoing mission continues the episodic adventures of Star Trek’s most famous starship a decade or so before James T. Kirk assumes command. As the various trailers have revealed, the crew’s assignments continue to be varied, action-packed, personal, and emotional.
(Photo by Pari Dukovic/Paramount+)
When Rotten Tomatoes had a chance to talk to the show’s cast and crew, we asked if the new season leans a little harder into emotional jeopardy than its debut run.
“It is definitely the thing we chase,” executive producer Akiva Goldsman said. “Our whole show is emotional stories in space. Whether it be driving plot or it be driving the moral of the story, that’s our mechanism with this cast.”
“We do enter physical danger at different times,” Mount added, guaranteeing fans of Trek action will not be left wanting even as the crew face a few more internal conflicts early in the season.
According to Romijn, “At the top of the season, there’s a lot of [emotional arcs]. But later on in the season, we’re definitely entering into very strange new worlds, way outside of the box.”
Her character, Cmdr. Chin-Riley, will definitely be going on an emotional journey early in the season as she faces the consequences of the season 1 finale, but as previews also revealed, she will be more at ease when she returns to the Enterprise.
“[She] made this decision to come out and live authentically and stop hiding,” Romijn explained. “I think releasing herself of those shackles was definitely a choice that I made coming back to free up Una in lots of ways … that’s a tremendous pressure that’s been released.”
Pike’s emotional journey will be more of a slow burn. While he has embraced his eventual future – as revealed to him in the second season of Discovery and further amplified by Strange New Worlds’ season 1 finale – to some extent, accepting a life of any sort still presents issues unrelated to fate.
“I don’t think that he came through the first season and went, ‘OK, well, I’m cured.’ I think that it’s a hill to climb every day to make yourself continually realize that it’s about the journey and not the destination,” Mount explained.
For Goldsman, finding a new way to focus on Pike’s emotional journey was important step.
“We’ve worked with his arc and the knowledge of his death significantly in season 1, and now we wanted to pivot,” he said. “What can happen when you know when you’re going to die or when you know your life is limited is you can embrace it? So we offered that as a chance for Anson to do something different.”
That difference? Well, it may have something to do with Captain Bartel (Melanie Scrofano) and their on/off relationship, as seen in Strange New World’s first season.
Peck, whose Lt. Spock still divides his attentions between his duties and his engagement, felt the emotions often come from the jeopardy the crew faces on every planet and mission.
“Universe annihilation potential puts everyone on edge,” he said.
Of course, the trailers are teasing a different sort of edge as – after nearly 60 years of fan fiction – Strange New Worlds is exploring the non-affair between Spock and Christine Chapel (Jess Bush). Or, at least, that may be the case. Either way, the characters spend more time together than they did on the Original Series (played there by Leonard Nimoy and Majel Barrett, respectively) and Peck is convinced the dynamic between them is part of what launched so much fanfic about them.
“The two characters really complement one another,” he said. “She really embodies this element of chaos, and Spock embodies this logic, obviously. They are like yin and yang together.
Bush added the will-they-won’t-they element embedded in the characters since Barrett’s Nurse Chapel first revealed any attraction to the Vulcan science officer is part of the enduring appeal: “That tension buildup is just … people just want to see what happens.”
One element she appreciates about Strange New Worlds‘ treatment of the dynamic is the way it ended up more “real and colored” than handful of moments TOS could lend to it across 79 episodes.
“It’s not just like she’s got a crush on him and he doesn’t want a bar of it. It’s layered,” she explained. No matter how it plays out, though, Bush said the complex treatment of it is “very satisfying.”
According to Goldman’s fellow executive producer, Henry Alonso Myers, part of the appeal in revisiting the potential relationship is the way it can be explored now versus the way it was presented in the ’60s.
“We also wanted to give Chapel a real chance to understand her perspective as a character,” he added.
A further wrinkle, though, is the work the show put into making Spock’s fiancée, T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), a more fleshed out character whose bond with Spock is more than just a distant arranged marriage.
“We’ve set up these stories,” Myers said. “We have an opportunity to really dig in and go into the why and how.”
The Spock/Christine Chapel story isn’t the only call-forward to TOS this season as Paul Wesley returns to the show as James T. Kirk. Serving as a lieutenant aboard the Farragut, he still has a ways to go until he takes the center seat from Pike, but the swagger – glimpsed last season in an alternate timeline – is already present.
“I do think people are born with a level of confidence,” Wesley explained.
Nevertheless, he said the Lt. Kirk viewers are about to meet is “figuring himself out.” Although some of his personality will be readily apparent, like his “flirtatious” side, the fact he’s “not in charge of a ship” will offer a side of Kirk rarely seen before.
“He loves people,” the actor teased.
(Photo by Paramount+)
Carol Kane, newly joining the series as Chief Engineer Pelia, was surprised by the emphasis on the emotional toll space adventuring takes on the characters.
“The kind of fullness of the emotional stories going on is a wonderful, important layer because you can relate to them better,” Kane said.
With a career as diverse as Kane’s, she never expected to be part of Star Trek, yet found the experience “unique” and “fun.” It is a sensation mirrored by Pelia when she gets aboard the Enterprise.
“That set is gigantic and has so much history, and I’m just running in brand new to it,” she said.
Pelia also has history, which will be explored in season 2. Kane admitted to not knowing “precisely” how deep that history will be delved, but it did lead to some not-quite-Starfleet moments. “I drank the beer,” she teased.
A crewman closer to the jeopardy the ship faces each week is Melissa Navia’s Lt. Erica Ortegas, the primary helmsman. To her, the peril to the crew and the emotional fallout is inexorably intertwined.
“We’re still doing an adventure a week where we’re going to a new planet and we’re coming up against something that we didn’t expect,” Navia said. “Then also we have those inter-crew relationships, and then we have our characters who are dealing with imposter syndrome, or dealing with angst, or dealing with anger that they haven’t dealt with, and yet also having to get the job done right, because at the heart of it, everyone’s in Starfleet because they’re really good at what they do.”
One capable person who was unsure if she would remain after last season was Cadet Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). Nevertheless, she’s still aboard working the communication console. To Gooding, Uhura’s continued presence aboard the Enterprise reflects the character’s appreciation of “the gradient of it all” and an indication that she is “definitely more sure of herself.”
“Her inherent curiosity and her inherent inquisitiveness doesn’t stop when it gets to herself, I think it only deepens,” she added.
Now, Uhura faces a new question: how does she then show up in a way that is an aid to her team and not in a way that is a burden?
“We’re continuing the journey of growing this young girl into the very well established, self-assured woman that we know is coming because we know and love her,” she said.
Ortegas, meanwhile, faces almost the inverse issue. She knows exactly what she brings to the crew, but nevertheless wants to stretch her legs. One clip from season 2 making the rounds (embedded above) sees the helmsman giddy to be part of an away team, only to be pulled back to the helm at the last moment. To the actor, that desire reflects the character’s past as a soldier and a want to “be helpful to her crew in any and every way possible.”
The multifaceted quality of the characters, and the actors who play them, will be a continuing theme in Strange New Worlds’ second season.
“Babs [Olusanmokun], in real life, is this incredible fighter that you do not want to go up against,” Navia said. “It has become a core part of his character on the show.”
Olusanmokun will reveal Dr. M’Benga’s abilities as a combatant pretty quickly into the year – a sequence he said required, “a lot of training, a lot of rehearsal, stunt rehearsal, getting thrown around, throwing people around, getting punched, [and] punching people.” But as the doctor has never been just one thing on Strange New Worlds, he also nurtures the crew as an almost de facto ship’s counselor.
“He’s somebody that the rest of the crew trusts, obviously, and so they find their way to him and he tries to listen as much as possible,” he said of this emerging element to M’Benga.
And as for his military training and actions during the Klingon War? “I believe more of his past will be revealed,” he teased.
As Star Trek fans know, the emotional peril of starship life necessitated a full-time ship’s counselor aboard the 24th century’s Enterprise — Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Lt. Cmdr. Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) — but does the crew’s reliance on M’Benga mean Strange New Worlds needs a Troi of their own?
Myers joked, “Maybe in the future. That’s a good idea for future episodes that take place maybe up to 100 years later.”
Mount wasn’t so sure.
“The conversations that are happening with a [hypothetical] therapist character … maybe they should be having with the other characters that are already there,” Mount said. And, as it happens, it is Star Trek tradition to allow its crews direct resolution as opposed to formalized therapy. And even Counselor Troi had other duties on TNG.
“The backbone of Pike and Una’s relationship, also, is hearing each other out, being a shoulder for each other,” Romijn added.
The way the characters interrelate on that emotional level is something Goldsman seized on when he saw how well the ensemble worked together.
“Our actors are extraordinary,” he said. “This is the gold of the show. If we write it, they can do it.”
So, while the mission is still to seek out new life forms and civilizations, it is also to better understand the life — emotional and physical — seeking it out as crewman and friends.