Reportedly, one of Gene Roddenberry’s dictums for TNG was that there would be no space pirate stories. He thought they were too cliché. In the seventh season, TNG did the “Gambit” two-parter, which involved space pirates, and the story goes that executive producer Rick Berman, whenever that two-parter was discussed in his office, would tie a cloth around the eyes and ears of the bust of Roddenberry he kept on his desk.
(Frankly, I find the fact that Berman had a bust of Roddenberry on his desk to be the weird part of that story, but whatever…)
Roddenberry had a bunch of dictums that were pretty ridiculous and took all the fun out of things (like his belief that twenty-fourth-century humans should never, under any circumstances, disagree or argue or be mean), and many were ignored by the various spinoffs that came after his death in 1991 because they get in the way of a good story.
And WHO DOESN’T LOVE SPACE PIRATES?
One of the things I’m really loving about SNW so far is that they keep trolling us with regards to Spock and T’Pring. Thanks to the original series’ “Amok Time,” we know that some time in the future, Spock and T’Pring will not be anything like a regular couple. Their bond will still exist in some form, as Spock will be compelled by the pon farr to fulfill it, but T’Pring will, by the time Spock succumbs to the pon farr, have moved on to Stonn, having grown weary of being affianced to a legend. She will manipulate Spock and Kirk to get out of her marriage.
Every single time we’ve seen T’Pring on SNW, it’s been set up to appear to be where T’Pring gets fed up and walks away. We saw it writ small in “Strange New Worlds” when Spock interrupts their nookie-nookie to go rescue Number One. Both “Spock Amok” and this episode set up situations that seem tailor-made to sunder their relationship—
—and both times, it just deepens the relationship. This is, frankly, delightful, and I love how the show is messing with our expectations.
Ethan Peck and Gia Sandhu continue to be a joy. I love T’Pring trying to “spice things up” by embracing Spock’s interest in pursuing his human half, and she does so by reading Henry Miller. Spock’s utter nonplussed response to this revelation from T’Pring is magnificent.
But the endgame of Spock-T’Pring isn’t the only way the producers mess with our expectations. One of the regular comments that’s been made ever since it was revealed on Discovery that Michael Burnham was a ward of Sarek and Amanda Grayson and that Spock considered her his sister, is the question, “What about Spock’s half brother Sybok?”
Introduced in The Final Frontier, arguably the nadir of Trek as a movie series, Sybok—born of Sarek and a Vulcan woman he was mated to prior to Amanda—has never even been mentioned outside of the fifth movie.
Until now. Formally identified as V’tosh ka’tur (Vulcans who reject logic and embrace emotionalism, the term coming from Enterprise’s “Fusion”), Sybok is revealed at the end of the episode to be the prisoner that the space pirates want freed.
Now let me be clear: I hated The Final Frontier with the fiery passion of a thousand white-hot suns (“Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain, why is he climbing a mountain?”), but Sybok is still a character who is worth exploring, particularly since the notion of exploring Spock’s younger days pretty much became a thing as soon as Discovery debuted.
That exploration of Sybok hasn’t happened yet, mind you, but this whole episode is there to set it up. And it does so in a way that is an absolute blast, because as good as Peck and Sandhu are, the episode is entirely stolen by Jesse James Keitel as Angel, the pirate captain. Angel starts off posing as Counselor Aspen, who works with colonists on the edge of Federation space. They arrive at the site of the colony ships they’re supposed to be helping only to find a ton of debris. Pike orders the Enterprise out of Federation space, not waiting for permission, as there is concern that the colonists will be sold into slavery.
As Aspen, Keitel is charming as all heck. The counselor is disarming, compassionate, flirty, insightful, and clever. They have some very useful insights into Pike and especially to Spock.
And it’s all a grift. When the space pirates board the Enterprise—beaming in at the same time a landing party beams out—Number One locks out command functions. Spock and Aspen go to engineering to take control of the ship, but as soon as Spock lifts the lockout, they reveal themself as Captain Angel of the Serene Squall.
At this point, Pike, Number One, Ortegas, M’Benga, La’An, and the rest of the bridge crew are prisoners of the space pirates, but with Angel on the Enterprise, their subordinates are in charge. And they’re, um, not great at it. Just as Angel plays Spock like a two-dollar banjo, Pike and the gang do likewise to the space pirates, using the promise of good cooking to sow dissent in the ranks.
We don’t get much by way of details of the landing party’s adventures, which is fine—it’s actually funnier this way, to go straight from sowing those seeds to taking over the bridge of the pirate ship. I’m more amused by the fact that through half a dozen episodes, nothing mussed Pike’s hair—not even sex with Adora last week—but being captured by pirates, that musses his hair!
And it turns out that the Enterprise in particular was targeted by Angel because of Spock’s connection to T’Pring and her work trying to rehabilitate Vulcan prisoners, as established in “Spock Amok.” One of those prisoners is Sybok, though Angel identifies him as “Xaverius.” Spock obviously recognizes the name, but we don’t get the explanation of that until the episode’s end.
Angel tries to use the threat against Spock’s life to get T’Pring to play ball. Spock counters by “admitting” to an affair with Chapel so that their engagement will be off, and T’Pring won’t suffer the dishonor of letting a prisoner go.
This is especially fascinating (ahem) because Jess Bush is very nicely playing Chapel’s interest in Spock. She knows it’s a bad idea, and she knows that he won’t have feelings for her in any case, nor would he cheat on T’Pring. Bush plays it very subtly, and it works nicely.
It’s also instructive to rewatch, not just “Amok Time,” but also “The Naked Time” again in light of SNW. That’s the first episode of the original series where Chapel admits to being in love with Spock, an admission she makes due to being infected with the Psi-2000 virus. That admission was generally assumed to be a new one, and one based only on recent associations with Spock—after all, on 1960s television, people were falling instantly in love all the time. But it actually works better now if the two characters have some history, which SNW is giving us.
Once again, an opportunity to give Number One a chance to shine has been passed up. The person who’s supposed to be the best first officer in the fleet, the uber-competent first officer from “The Cage” and Discovery season two and Short Treks has not been in evidence this season, and it’s getting irritating. Here, Number One is the one in charge of the ship when it’s taken over by space pirates, which is not exactly a crowning achievement, and her only contribution to the landing party’s fighting back is to roll her eyes at Pike citing a prior mission that he’s using as the basis of this plan. Oh, and saying, “Please stop” plaintively to Pike when he decides to talk like a pirate for no compellingly good reason at the end of the episode. (I was right there with her. But then, I mostly find Talk Like a Pirate Day to be massively annoying…)
Still, this is a fun episode, mostly because of the focus on Spock. Peck continues to hit it out of the park in giving us a younger, less sure of himself Spock who is still struggling with many of the same issues that Leonard Nimoy’s iteration will be a decade hence in the timeline, but with less confidence. Peck continues to channel many of Nimoy’s mannerisms while still making the part his own.
Plus, SPACE PIRATES! And Angel escapes in the end, which means, hopefully, we’ll be seeing them again.
Keith R.A. DeCandido has three short stories out soon: “A Lovely View,” a tale of Zorro, in Zorro’s Exploits, edited by Audrey Parente, from Bold Venture Press; “What You Can Become Tomorrow,” a story that puts together author Mary Shelley, baseball player Josh Gibson, and NASA scientist Florence Johnson, in Three Time Travelers Walk Into…, edited by Michael A. Ventrella, from Fantastic Books; and “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a Super City Cops story, in Tales of Capes and Cowls, edited by C.T. Phipps, from Crossroad Press.