Strange New Worlds Season 2 Is the Paradigm of Star Trek’s New Golden Age
This fun and accessible Star Trek series isn’t playing it safe anymore.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is back for Season 2, and this time, the show is bigger, funnier, and bolder than ever before. If you thought Strange New Worlds Season 1 made Star Trek extremely fun and breezy, then there’s good news: the episodes in Season 2 are just as varied and full of even more lighthearted hijinks. But, overall Season 2 is also surprising, and maybe, riskier than you may expect.
When a pop culture phenomenon gets as massively influential and chronologically as complex as the Star Trek franchise, the danger, naturally, is that any new versions will feel inaccessible. In 2022, Strange New Worlds shrugged off that burden casually. Against all odds, a show that is simultaneously a prequel to The Original Series and a spinoff of Discovery felt fresh, and free from the shackles of the past. The formula that made this work was mostly the fact that, unlike virtually every other sci-fi show on the planet, Strange New Worlds presented episodes that were mostly self-contained. The barrier to entry felt less demanding than other more recent Treks, and so Strange New Worlds cast the illusion that it wasn’t a spinoff of a prequel, but just an old-fashioned Star Trek show.
So, the question is, in Season 2, is this still the same show? The answer is mostly yes. In terms of its formula, Strange New Worlds isn’t entirely reinventing itself. In the first six episodes which were provided to the press, we see several different kinds of genres, including (as teased in trailers) at least one classic Star Trek courtroom episode, a truly strange world with a very classic sci-fi conceit, Spock dealing with his emotional outbursts from season 1, and (again, revealed in the trailers) some time travel. Whereas Discovery and Picard have been stuck with essentially one kind of Star Trek episode for entire seasons, Strange New Worlds is rapidly starting to feel like the live-action version of Lower Decks insofar as there’s a buffet of easy-to-love sci-fi ideas, each one cut perfectly to fit into a single episode.
And yet. Strange New Worlds differs from Season 1 in one very big way. The overall emotional arc of this season has decidedly shifted away from Captain Pike. While Season 1 began with Pike struggling with a decision to return to the command of the Enterprise and ended with him seeing an alternate future, Season 2 isn’t really like that. Yes, Pike has an arc in this season, but it feels less depressing, smaller, and more grounded. If fans were starting to think that Pike was much more like Picard than Kirk last year, this season will make you sure of it.
But again, Pike is not the main character of Season 2. In fact, the remarkable thing about Season 2 of Strange New Worlds is that this time, it’s much more of an ensemble show. Like in the heyday of The Next Generation, each character seems to be showcased with intentionality. This approach allows us to get to know the characters even better than before, but ultimately, makes the show feel strangely more intimate, rather than more epic. Yes, certain interstellar political problems are afoot in the background, and yes, some canon-shaking events do threaten to unravel the Trek universe as we know it, but mostly, Strange New Worlds is cozy. The action feels measured, and even though some fallout from Discovery’s Klingon war is mentioned, it’s hard to imagine these Klingons eating people as they did back in 2017. For the most part, Strange New Worlds is still the hopeful, adventure show that became the highest-rated Trek show, ever. (Though Picard Season 3 is basically just as high now.)
Without a doubt, Strange New Worlds Season 2 is riding the wave of what is now, inarguably, Star Trek’s new golden age. Tonally, it’s nothing like the heartwarming and ponderous family reunion of Picard Season 3, and yet, it’s still very much a true, and upbeat version of Star Trek. And, although this season is set before The Original Series — and features plenty of Easter eggs — there is a sense of forward momentum. Even a character as well-established as Spock feels unconstrained by the prequel curse. Strange New Worlds isn’t a reboot, but it’s also not worried about turning to the camera and explaining things anymore. This batch of 23rd-century Starfleet adventures is pound-for-pound more creative than the episodes in Season 1, and the show is not playing things safe.
This season also includes a few new characters, most notably Carol Kane’s Pelia, who, truly is playing a character unlike any we’ve ever seen in Star Trek before. The season also features the return of Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk. And, let’s just put this out there: If fans weren’t crazy about his performance in “A Quality of Mercy,” this season is basically his comeback. Wesley’s Kirk in Strange New Worlds Season 2 will silence many of the skeptics, and, hopefully, allow him to continue to play his version of Kirk for a long, long time.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Return to Tomorrow,” Captain Kirk famously said, “Risk is our business.” And in Strange New Worlds Season 2, the series takes a handful of very big risks. Not just with the nature of Trek continuity, but with episodic science fiction in general. The season is gusty and feels just different enough to make you think Season 1 was holding back. Various crews of the Starship Enterprise have always had moxie. But this time, we really don’t know what will happen next. Which, for a prequel, is really saying something.