I love a good title, and “Serene Squall” is just perfect for this episode. Episode 7 is a story about contradictions and how we cope with them. Squalls don’t tend to be serene; storms rarely are. Spock remains torn between his Human and Vulcan heritage, and that rift allows him to be conned so effectively that they almost lose the Enterprise. The message here is that being of two cultures isn’t the weakness; allowing the differences to control you is, and frankly, that’s a wonderful way to look at IDIC. As far as the rest of the story goes, Strange New Worlds gives us a fantastic pirate story, and y’all, I’m here for it.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
The Enterprise has picked up a Dr. Aspen, former Starfleet counselor-turned-aid worker, and they’re en route to the edge of Federation space to rescue some colonists from depredations by pirates. When they arrive, they discover a debris field that would match the remains of ships. Convinced that the colonists may have been captured for sale as slaves, Pike orders the Enterprise across the border. Ortegas flies them into an asteroid field as that’s probably the best destination. They find themselves caught in an almost Tholian-web-like trap (except competently designed), but Spock and Dr. Aspen deduce how best to defeat the trap. The Enterprise presses forward and receives a distress call. Pike, somewhat distressed as he’s just learned that his nickname is “Starfleet’s Boy Scout,” leads an away mission to investigate. Unfortunately, the signal was a trap, and pirates capture Pike’s Away Team.
Back aboard the Enterprise, pirates have beamed aboard and storm the ship. Spock and Dr. Aspen flee the bridge where they sneak to safety. Later, they encounter Christine Chapel, who has also fled to Engineering in order to attempt to reestablish control over the Enterprise. Spock lifts Una’s control lockout and directs all command functions to Engineering only to discover that those same functions have been returned to the Bridge. He turns to discover that Dr. Aspen is, in fact, Captain Angel and holding him at phaser-point.
Angel’s plan is to use Spock as bait to convince his fiancée, T’Pring, to release Angel’s lover Xaverius from the Vulcan rehabilitation center where she works. Angel, despite being located in a section of space where communication with the Federation should take two days, gets T’Pring on comms immediately. Angel makes the demand, but Spock pretends to be in an affair with Chapel in order to allow T’Pring to break their engagement, thwarting Angel’s plan to use him as a bargaining chip. Before Angel and the remaining pirates can do much, the Serene Squall appears with Pike at the helm. Una uses their backdoor codes to disable the Enterprise, forcing Angel to beam out in order to avoid capture.
Pike and Una managed to obtain control over the Serene Squall by convincing the remaining pirate crew to stage a mutiny by the power of offering them a decent meal and reminding them that Klingons don’t negotiate nicely with pirates. T’Pring beams back over to the Enterprise to inform Spock that she never believed he would have an affair with Chapel, and they renew their bond. Spock then goes to check with Chapel to see if she’s alright with what happened, and she assures him that she is.
The episode ends with the revelation that Xaverius is actually Sybok, Spock’s half-brother.
Y’all, this was a seriously funny episode, which, after last week, was something I desperately needed from my weekly Trek fix. I loved how the Orion pirate captain kept flirting with Pike, and I was equally entertained by how Pike and Una were able to plot together using just a planet name. That was a tactic used in Discovery by Michael and Book, and it’s nice to see it return. I love the little hints the writers keep dropping about just how close knit this crew is. Plus, we get to see more wisecracking out of Ortegas, and I’m here for it.
Despite the humor, “Serene Squall” gives us yet another look into not only how Spock continues to wrestle with his identity as being half Vulcan and half Human. In a certain sense, Spock himself is a “serene squall” as he maintains a calm demeanor while this great debate rages just underneath that tranquil veneer. Angel takes flagrant advantage of this tempest in order to manipulate him by appealing to his emotions, but Angel makes an incredibly important by saying that trying to decide whether Spock is Human or Vulcan is a false question. It is. Spock is, by his very existence, both and neither, an outsider on both worlds. To this point, Spock has focused on whether he is more Vulcan or more Human, but Angel’s words remind him to ask a different question. Angel asks him to consider who he is rather than what he is.
Putting that point in the mouth of not only a character who has, as Aspen, presented as nonbinary is certainly huge. Aspen’s existence serves as a demonstration of living that very philosophy. They’ve rejected the very idea that we have to live according to the binary of male/female and forged ahead on a third path. Moreover, Jesse James Keitel plays Angel, and Keitel identifies as non-binary and uses she/her pronouns, at least as far as Wikipedia knows. There’s a greater weight in having someone who has lived that decision say such words. I’m even more thrilled that Strange New Worlds had Captain Angel be human, at least as far as we can tell. Science fiction in general and Star Trek in particular has cushioned the blow of its message by using aliens, but here, there’s zero getting around the fact that Strange New Worlds put a trans actor in the captain’s chair, even if they are there as a villain.
“Serene Squall” continues to develop the love triangle between Spock, T’Pring, and Chapel, but I love that they do it in a mature manner, though Spock could stand to be hit with a clue bat or two. There’s no in-fighting. Chapel knows her feelings will remain unrequited, but she continues to try to be a good friend to Spock. She continues to prove over and over that this version of the character is just fantastic. T’Pring, who could be the subject of her own post, is also eminently likeable and incredibly competent. Moreover, she’s really trying with Spock, as evidenced by her choices in reading material. Sure, she initially appears to be deeply biased, but T’Pring heard Spock’s message in “Spock Amok.” She’s doing her best to bridge the gap she perceives to be present, and she’s doing it in the most Vulcan way possible—through research. She also grants Spock grace; she calmly explains that she never believed that he would have acted inappropriately with Chapel. That faith is a precious thing.
However, we unfortunately know what happens to this romance, and Stonn’s presence in the rehabilitation center serves as a reminder of just where this is going to go. There’s a tragedy here that’s unfolding, and knowing how it all ends is far from a problem. Here, our knowledge of the characters’ future serves to deepen our connection to the story. We don’t know how or when the T’Pring of “Amok Time” will begin to develop, so there’s just enough unknown to keep us coming back.
“Xaverius” or, as we know him, Sybok, presents an intriguing addition. I suppose I should have seen this coming given the emphasis on the V’tosh ka’tur, but I’ll be interested to see where this goes.
Four and a half Time Crystals
Stray Thoughts From the Couch
- Chapel wields a mean hypospray and continues to be my favorite character on the show.
- I have to say, Stonn was really well-cast. He looks a bit like the original actor and has mastered the same vibe.
- Can we also just all admit that Angel is a snappy dresser? Because they are. I’m not sure why all of the other pirates have to look like extras off a Mad Max set, though.
- I love me a Scottish Orion.
- The repetition of “You know me very well” just drives home how clueless Spock is. Sure, they know you, but do you know either of the women in your life?
- I love that Chapel keeps insisting that Vulcans are honest, so she, in turn, steps in to lie. Note, she lies not once but twice, relying on her Humanity to save Spock.
- I love the thoroughness of T’Pring’s research. She chooses selections representative of a male perspective, a female perspective, and a queer perspective because of course she does.
- I really feel like this episode is the writers’ equivalent of Pike’s “Boy Scout” pushback. There’s a definite feeling of, you think we’re not political, here’s political. I’m a stan.