STAR TREK REWIND: “Children of the Comet”

“Sometimes, Mr. Spock, things go so badly, you just have to laugh.”

Now this is more like it. A few weeks ago, I had ended my association with Second Union after the editor informed me he did not intend to publish my review of the Strange New Worlds pilot episode. He thought I was unnecessarily negative as well as political, which I probably was, but the politics was a big part of the problem as far as enjoying the show. The second episode, “Children of the Comet,” wisely avoids politics in favor of a story about simple communication between alien lifeforms as well as Cadet Uhura’s (Celia Rose Gooding) struggle to adjust to life and work on a starship.

It’s interesting that this episode should focus on Uhura when Enterprise’s second episode in regular production, “Fight or Flight” was also about a communications officer’s rocky adjustment to starship life, but while Hoshi was frightened of space travel and the violence of alien cultures, Uhura seems to have issues with people. Captain Pike has a dinner planned, but Uhura is told by crewmates she should wear a formal uniform, thus she’s telegraphed immediately as being naïve from the outset. Nichelle Nichols’ original take on Uhura never struck me as naïve.

In fact, she seemed comfortable. From what we get of Uhura in the Original Series, she is seen as fun, adventurous, and flirty. In the show’s premiere episode, “The Man Trap,” she is seen flirting with Spock. While this Cadet Uhura spends most of her time talking to Spock (Ethan Peck), I get no indication of flirting. This is why I complained about the lack of sexuality in the pilot episode. While these newer Trek shows give us an abundance of “small talk” and nervous chatter, we get no actual information or chemistry between the leads, except for Anson Mount’s Pike.

At dinner, he regales his crew with wild tales of his younger days, and everyone in attendance is appropriately charmed. He tells Uhura that she will be joining the landing party on their next mission. Uhura talks about her native Kenya and the 22 different dialects she learned growing up there. She expanded her lexicon considerably before joining Starfleet. For once (at least since Hoshi), we get a decent idea of the kind of qualifications a communications specialist should have rather than the “glorified telephone operator” I’ve often accused Uhura of being.

The ship detects a comet on what appears to be a collision course for Persephone III, a parched, arid land that houses a primitive culture. When Pike tries to destroy the comet, a force-field goes up. Spock, Uhura, Life Sciences Officer (and brother of James) George Kirk (Dan Jeannotte), and ill-mannered chief of security La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) beam over to the comet’s surface in spacesuits. The production design of the comets surface is truly remarkable. An interior chamber with a large egg-shaped obelisk reminds me of Giger. Of course, this is probably just a disheartening green screen.

After Kirk touches the shape, he is attacked and rendered unconscious. The comet puts up a shield to prevent the landing party from being transported back, and a ship of creatures calling themselves “Shepherds,” attack the Enterprise. Their captain tells Pike he is interfering with the journey of the comet or the “M’hanit” as they call it. They see it as a kind of god, or powerful entity that is destined to effect change. Spock notices that Uhura’s nervous humming has an effect on the alien surroundings and sounds emanate from all around that mirror her notes.

Spock hums with her, which then causes the obelisk to open. This is a nice bit of continuity for both characters, as Uhura enjoyed singing in the Original Series, and Spock had an uncanny ability to read musical notes as a language. I like when we get little nuggets like that. It shows the writers are doing their homework. Even more impressive is that the episode is all one story, instead of irrelevant subplots threading their way through the narrative.

There is one little bit involving Pike’s foreknowledge of the accident that will cripple him in the future, but that is connected to the ultimate resolution involving fate and prophecy. On the ship, the sounds of the comet are being picked by the sensors, which the Enterprise computer identifies as a Kenyan song in origin, alerting Pike and “Number One: (Rebecca Romijn) of the landing party’s actions. Another clever bit! Something strange is happening. I’m actually starting to enjoy this show! What the hell?

There are still some things I don’t like. The crew, all of them, are way too witty and on-the-ball with “hilarious” puns and sarcastic retorts. That seems to be par-for-the-course with dialogue written these days. Little Miss Bad-Ass security chief Noonien-Singh is extremely irritating. She’s got a chip on her shoulder, and she looks down her nose at everybody. According to her back-story, she is a descendant of Khan (Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch, take your pick) which may or may not make her genetically-engineered as well, I’m not sure.

She’s incredibly unpleasant and not a good fit with the rest of the crew, but perhaps a later episode will shed some light on her hostility. Thankfully, we don’t linger too much on her, as this is strictly a kind-of bonding episode between Uhura and Spock, who manage to lower the shield of this comet and allow the landing party to be transported back to the ship. There is still the problem of the comet possibly colliding with Persephone III, so Spock takes a shuttlecraft out the comet and uses heat radiation to shore off chunks of the comet, which causes the comet to alter its course.

As it happens, Uhura does a little more translation and discovers the comet was “destined” to change its course, presumably because of intervention on the part of Enterprise and Spock. Because of the course change, the comet’s fragments bring water to the desert planet of Persephone III, making it more habitable for its people. The “Shepherds” believe this was meant to happen, and it gets Pike to thinking about his eventual fate, as well as “Number One” telling him he can change his future. I myself have never believed in fixed points in time. This is the best live-action Star Trek episode I’ve seen in a very long time.

Twice a week, Star Trek Rewind explores the Star Trek universe. From Archer to Janeway, Kirk to Picard, and Georgiou to Sisko — boldly read what no one has read before!

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