Any good episodic TV series knows how to deal with often dramatic tone shifts that, in our era of heavily serialized programming, might seem tone-deaf or jarring. Star Trek, of course, is no exception to this having been episodic for so much of its 50+ year history — some weeks you fight god, some weeks the holodeck’s Moriarty replica is trying to gain sentience and break free. That’s Star Trek, and Strange New Worlds is more than happy to re-prove that.
Like every episode in the first season so far, the halfway point in Strange New Worlds’ first season, the incredibly named “Spock Amok,” is a wonderful mix of playing with classic Trek storytelling formats and diving a little deeper into the lives of one of its main characters. Unsurprisingly this week, that character is Ethan Peck’s Mr. Spock, who finds himself having an awkward reunion with his fiancé when the Enterprise heads to space dock for repairs and crew shore leave.
Already filled with anxiety about just how he’s balancing his commitment to Starfleet and his relationship with T’Pring (returning guest star Gia Sandhu), Spock becomes the conflicted, grounding heart of an episode that is indeed as silly as you might expect from its title — one that starts with the show’s fantastic homage to the Kal-if-fee duel from “Amok Time” as one of Spock’s nightmares, and then proceeds to never really let up for the next 40-odd minutes. In other recent Trek shows, swerving from the hard, high-stakes action drama of last week’s battle of the Gorn into an episode of dating woes, girlbosses just wanna have fun montages, body swap humour, and just general tongue-in-cheek vibes might feel like too much tonal dissonance. But the contrast just works here in Strange New Worlds, not just as a testament to how willing the show is to be broad in tone, but because it roots everything — the camp and the action, the farce and the drama — in some really compelling character work.
Let’s start with the sub-farce before we dive into the main farce, however (seriously, this episode was all farce, all the time, even when it was serious!). While Pike uses the chance to be on a Starbase to help Admiral April with some tough negotiations with a new species looking to join the Federation, much of “Spock Amok” is otherwise dedicated to getting to see the Enterprise’s crew just try and relax after a few weeks of adventure. It’s really important to just see these people simply be, instead of being idealised Starfleet officers, adding a lovely human (or Vulcan, or half-Vulcan, and so on and so forth) layer to the wider main cast of Strange New Worlds that some of the other contemporary Trek shows have struggled to deal with when approaching their crews. From the brief insights into Chapel and Ortegas’ lives as the former navigates relationship struggles, to La’an and Una trying to figure out how two comically serious people lighten up and have fun like other members of the crew — a wonderful contrast to the more dramatic insights into their friendship over the last few weeks — these brief moments transposing these characters out of their Enterprise environs and even largely out of uniform just so they could take the time to relax was a refreshing, and frequently funny escape from the series’ adventure format.
But as we mentioned, the best farce, and the most sincere character work of all, is saved for Spock and T’Pring this episode. Trying to show his commitment to Vulcan tradition and to T’Pring herself, having run off to his tour of duty mid-romantic entanglement in the premiere, the two Vulcans (thanks to advice Spock gets from Chapel in a sweet little scene) decide to perform a soul-sharing ceremony to better understand each other’s needs. But this is a very silly episode of Star Trek, and so the soul-sharing is a little more literal0 T’Pring and Spock accidentally swap bodies, and without a way to easily reverse it, when the duo are both pulled away to the their respective duties in Starfleet and to Vulcan — turns out T’Pring hunts fugitives defying the society’s love of logic, how… fun? — they have to try and navigate how they’re going to literally walk in each other’s shoes for a bit.
Body swap episodes are always silly fun, but “Spock Amok” really sells its premise not just by embracing that fun (Sandhu and Peck give impeccable performances capturing each other’s little tics as they embody each other, and are clearly having an absurd amount of fun in the process), but by using this silly premise for more than just comedy. After both struggling at first to fit into each others perspectives and careers, Spock and T’Pring’s shared out-of-body experience gives them the level of understanding they needed to help smooth out their relationship together (even if, thanks to it coming from some earnestly intimate advice from Chapel, there’s definitely some seeds of the deeper Spock/Chapel connection we got in flashes of the original Trek here). T’Pring gets to see the value Starfleet brings to her husband to-be and the Federation in general when she has to help Pike deal with negotiating with a society of radical empaths, and in turn Spock gets to see why T’Pring dedicates herself to her Vulcan tenets so dearly. In being able to explore these different sides of each other so literally, Spock’s own internal conflict with his human and Vulcan heritage — the literal anxiety that the woman he loves secretly hates him for his humanity — is at least momentarily abated. He’s free to simply spend time with his wife-to-be, knowing that she accepts his totality: Human, Vulcan, Starfleet, partner.
Even if we know it’s a struggle Spock will face over and over in his life beyond Strange New Worlds — hell, especially so in the Trek episode this week’s story is named for — getting to see some of that resolution come not from a place of high drama, but something sweet and silly, and even a little embarrassing for him, is a fascinating layer to add to a character contemporary Star Trek has remained fascinated with since we were first re-introduced during Discovery’s second season. And the fact that Strange New Worlds can deliver such wonderful character beats while having a laugh and a joke, as well as it can in the moments of pressure across the show so far, is just further proof that it really loves, and understands, what Star Trek is as a totality, too.
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