HomeReviewsREVIEW: Strange New Worlds: “Ad Astra Per Aspera”

REVIEW: Strange New Worlds: “Ad Astra Per Aspera”

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We have our trial episode! We knew this was coming after the events of season 1 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, with Una being arrested by Starfleet for being an Illyrian, but how did this episode hold up? Star Trek has a long tradition of trial episodes, from “Court Martial” in The Original Series to fan favorites like “The Measure of a Man” and “The Drumhead” in The Next Generation. In my view, this episode stands with some of the best trial episodes Trek has offered and is very Trek in the message it means to impart. 

“Ad Astra Per Aspera” is the title of this second episode of Strange New Worlds Season 2, which means “to the stars through difficulties”, which very much sums up this episode. Through hardships, Una has made her way to the stars, but will Starfleet allow her to continue serving?

SPOILER WARNING, this is our full review of Strange New Worlds‘ second episode of season 2. As such, you have been warned. If you’ve not watched this episode, turn away now!

Yetide Badaki as Neera and Rebecca Romijn as Una in episode 202 “Ad Astra per Aspera” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Neera Ketoul

Starting this review, Yetide Badaki is the star of this episode. The actress guest stars as Neera Ketoul, the legal counsel recruited by Captain Pike for Una’s trial. Yetide is a big Star Trek fan and has spoken in previous interviews about wanting to be in the show. Finally, she has made it. She sold this role well, and it was a breath of fresh air watching someone play such a different role in both Star Trek and in character in general.

Neera was not only an amazing character but was an extremely clever character who is good at her job. Only by looking back to we see how carefully she maneuvered her pieces during the trial. We learn more about her story through the trial, he friendship with Una, and why Una left her. Her cousin was arrested for being an Illyrian.

Yetide Badaki as Neera in episode 202 “Ad Astra per Aspera” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

World Building

One of the aspects of this episode that I think is extremely strong is the world-building this offers. We made the point in last week’s review that Pelias’ relationship with Amanda Grayson had the issue of making the star trek world feel small. We have similar instances of this, in this episode, with Admiral Pesalk being a colleague of Sarek.

However, the rest of the episode makes the star trek universe expansive. We see worlds outside the Federation with the Illyrian colony that Neera resides on. A very cool thing is that we learn about multiple missions under Captain April of the U.S.S. Enterprise. We get more insight into Illyrians and their culture. And what isn’t some trek world-building without a mound of new Starfleet regulations and codes?

We also find out that Robert April was the one who sponsored Una’s admission into Starfleet and that she seemingly served on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Not just that, but we find out she met Pike while Pike gave a speech about a test flight at Starfleet Academy.

This helps to serve the Star Trek Universe in the best way, making it feel lived in. We learn of many things that we have never seen on screen. These characters’ stories continue long before and long after what we see in these episodes.

World-Building just means cool worlds right?

References to Past Trek

World-Building also means the connectivity between our shows. Knowing that they take place in the same universe and feel like these characters actually experienced prior events.

There are pictures in Una’s quarters of when she went to visit Pike on the U.S.S. Discovery in Star Trek: Discovery season 2. Funnily enough, this is an example of a behind-the-scenes picture put into the show. Similar to most recently, Jack Crusher has a picture of Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden at a real-life event in his quarters!

We also get references to previous a Short Trek! This a reference to the great Short Trek “Q&A” with Spock saying that Una did hide something, her affinity for Gilbert and Sullivan.

Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) & Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck)

Allegory

This episode needs to be watched multiple times because it is so layered with allegory. In the classic Star Trek case, this episode talks about modern-day situations in a sci-fi setting. The allegory seems intentional as well because of one small piece of information, and that is that Child Una’s leg brace has the trans flag colors on them.

This episode can talk about a great number of things, something which Neera even brings up. Laws do not have to be just. Neera has a speech about how Slavery was once legal. Apartheid was once legal. Discrimination against characteristics such as race, gender, and religion was once legal. This episode could very much talk about any discrimination not being just, even if it is legal.

However, this episode is very clear about issues facing the trans community in the modern day. Not only from the trans-colored leg brace but from very clear things that Una says during her testimony. She talks about how some Illyrians managed to pass and were not persecuted because people didn’t know and couldn’t tell. However some Illyrians had augments that didn’t allow them to pass, and so were persecuted, called names, and even beaten up in schools.

On one hand, having it be allegory and obscured in a sci-fi flavoring may dilute the message that is being said. I would hope Trek can talk about these issues publically and not hide behind allegories. It is in the future though, which makes it difficult, though we did get a scene like that in Strange New Worlds Season 1 at least.

However, I do believe that this episode was very effective in what it was talking about and very emotional as well. Hopefully, this isn’t the only representation we see in Strange New Worlds. Allegory isn’t representation. It is good, do not get me wrong, but it also wouldn’t hurt to have a more visible representation not obscured. We can have the best of both worlds.

Transgender Flag Colours on Una’s Leg Brace

Robert April

We’ve got to talk about Admiral Robert April in this episode. Adrian Holmes, who takes on the role of April in Strange New Worlds, has been a standout character in the series so far. That continues in this episode. Here we see April on the stand in the Una vs Starfleet Command trial. Apri holds himself well, but we see a breaking point in the character when Neera challenges his command decisions. This was when he was in command of the U.S.S. Enterprise before Captain Pike.

Neera raised a good point here. Starfleet and the Federation do have a good case of double standards on more than one occasion. April broke The Prime Directive on more than one occasion. Many Starfleet Captains broke this rule on occasion. However, did they get repercussions for it? Not really. Neera raised an excellent argument here. She may have nearly indicted April here, but by the end of the episode she does show that April is a good captain, it was just a chess piece she had to play to get a good outcome.

Anson Mount as Pike and Adrian Holmes as Admiral April of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

Batel

Going into this episode I was curious as to what sort of character Batel would inhabit. We haven’t seen much of Batel. She was sort of in a relationship/friends-with-benefits with Pike at the start of Season 1, and she arrested Una at the end of Season 1. I had hoped she would take on the Riker-Role of this episode, as when she arrested Una she did say she didn’t want to do this. The Riker-Role is having to persecute someone but not wanting to do it, just being forced to do it, just like Riker in “The Measure of a Man”.

This was the case but in a slightly different way. Batel comes to Pike and makes sure he doesn’t testify because she doesn’t want him to fall as well, knowing that he probably knows that Pike knew about Una’s identity. She was very good, and doing her job to the best of her ability to persecute Una. She managed to call in favors to get a good plea deal, for Una’s benefit. You can see the relief in her when Neera asks her to read Starfleet Code 8514, about asylum in Starfleet for persecuted people.

The one thing I don’t understand about Batel is that not only is she a Starfleet captain, but her boss is the Judge Advocate General. We know in Star Trek: Discovery that Counsellors can climb up the ranks and become admirals, having ships themselves along the way. So does this mean Batel has a law base and still serves, but also is a captain in Starfleet? Again this just adds more flavor to the world of Trek.

Melanie Scrofano as Captain Batel of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

Pike

We see a lot of Pike this week. That is great as we missed Pike’s last episode. We see so much devotion from him to Una. His willingness in the Vaultera Nebula to suffocate to get the best legal aid for Una. His anger towards Batel for fighting for an unjust law, even if it is her job. Even at the end, we see an interesting side to Pike. After his crew has left the transporter room, he goes to Hug Una, happy that she is safe and has asylum and is where she should be, on the Enterprise.

Not only do we learn a lot about Pike from Pike, but we learn a lot about Pike from April. We learned that April broke a lot of laws to do the right and just thing. We find out that the reason why Pike made Una his first officer, is advice from April, have a first officer who is willing to say you are wrong. Just getting the story of Pike and Una at the academy is great!

Anson Mount as Capt. Pike in episode 202 “Ad Astra per Aspera” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Pesalk, the new worst Admiral

Pesalk is a fascinating character. Simply from the fact he does not speak for the vast majority of the episode, and yet exudes a dread of what he might say, is so interesting. We first see him as the charges against Una are racked up massively to a dishonorable discharge and 20 years in a penal colony. We know this didn’t come from Batel, she wants a good deal for Una, so from a storytelling perspective we as the audience know it came from this random Vulcan admiral.

In the mess hall of the Enterprise, we see Pesalk and Spock talking from a distance. Ortegas is mocking them, thinking they are getting along well, but M’Benga knows Vulcans. He has done a fellowship on Vulcan. He knows that these two men are arguing in their Vulcan way. This is a great little thing for M’Benga, reminding the audience he is pretty knowledgeable about Vulcans. It is a funny little moment when Spock comes over to them and apologizes for his outburst, and the looks M’Benga and Ortegas saw are hilarious. 

We learn that Pesalk is a colleague of Sarek, and Spock has met him before. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pesalk hates that Spock is half Vulcan and prone to emotional outbursts, though hates in a Vulcan sense. When Pesalk finally speaks, he is very much the “Facts don’t care about your feelings” in the courtroom. As he stands up, we as the audience feel dread. We worry he will have the smoking gun that will ruin this case. Even though we know Una will be fine, the tension created is well done.

Melanie Scrofano as Batel in episode 202 “Ad Astra per Aspera” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

A happy ending?

At the End of the episode, Una has been granted asylum and found not guilty of the charges against her. Though with those familiar with Trek lore and canon the laws against augments do not change. This will be the case for the next century or even further. This canonical sense of Augment law does slightly put a hamper on the allegory of how transgender and LGBTQ+ people are treated in the modern day. Things cannot change at the moment. 

Despite this, I think the hope and the optimism felt in the final scenes, is enough for at least me, to overcome this sense that things cannot change. “It’s a start”. It is not perfect. Starfleet is not Perfect. But just like how Una believes it is striving for perfection, and will one day get there. So should we strive for perfection and hopefully, if we put in the work for it, one day it will get there.

This trial reconnects old friends, connecting Una with Neera, and showing how much Una is loved by her crew and her family. It is emotional. We even have Neera saying, yeah she doesn’t like Starfleet, but she is happy to see a crew serving under an Illyrian and think of her as family, and not as the “other”.

Rebecca Romijn as Una in episode 202 “Ad Astra per Aspera” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Directing

The directing in this episode was extremely good. Valerie Weiss did an amazing job. Particular shots are crafted in such a way that amazed me. One such scene was Neera walking out of Una’s cell, and the door closing. The small horizontal window was just in the right place so we could see Una’s face. So not only did we get the door-closing representation of how Una feels; shut out and isolated. But we can also see those emotions on Una’s face, played fantastically by Rebecca Romijn.

Another fantastic shot was when Spock, M’Benga, and La’an were giving their final words in their testimony. We had the camera centered on their face in the center chair, and as each character said what Una meant to them, a mentor, a friend, it cut to who was saying this with the camera still in place. This gave a very effective understanding of what Una means to these characters and enhanced an already emotional scene

Una Isolated (It looks better in motion… trust me)

Writing

The writing in this episode was handled so well and had such amazing small and big moments that are worth celebrating. Starting with writing a trans allegory, having it be centered around the treatment of augments is tough. We know things don’t get better anytime soon, which is quite bad for the message. However, how this episode managed to contend with that canonical fact, and still provide hope and give an amazing episode, is fantastic.

Small elements such as how the episode set up the feeling of dread and tension arising from Admiral Pesalk. M’Benga and Ortegas just hanging out. Neera comforts La’an in her feelings about Khan’s augmentations which may have been passed down to her. This episode excels at these small intimate character moments which tell us so much with so little.

This isn’t even starting on how world-building and references felt so natural in this episode. Kal-toh, Sarek, Khan. If not handled well we would accuse these of being a crutch for this episode, but instead, it enhanced it so much. We find out about former legal proceedings like Starfleet vs Wyck, many new regulations and orders for Starfleet, and some of the missions that Captain April of the USS Enterprise faced. Massive credits to Dana Horgan for writing this episode.

Melissa Navia as Ortegas, Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga and Ethan Peck as Spock in episode 202 “Ad Astra per Aspera” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Yetide Badaki, the Star of the Episode

Finally, the star of the episode was Yetide Badaki. She gave her all to everything that was given to her. The writing was great for Neera Ketoul, giving her a sense of a well-fleshed-out character. We got an insight into her feelings about being abandoned by Una, and what this case means to her. Her history of losing her cousin to this law. That would be nowhere if Yetide did not bring her A-game, she did, and more. 

The emotions on her face as Una is saying why she abandoned Neera, still trying to maintain her confident persona, but knowing how much Una’s words mean to her. Comforting La’an about her possibly inherited augments. Standing toe to toe with not only Anson Mounts’ Pike and Adrian Holmes’ April but having her character outplay people like Admiral Pesalk.

Yetide was amazing, she stole the episode and has earned herself a place in the ranks of some great characters in the star trek universe.

Conclusion

‘Ad Astra Per Aspera’ is written by Dana Horgan and directed by Valerie Weiss. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, as you can tell, and if we are going to get more strong well written, well-acted, and well-directed episodes of Strange New Worlds, I so look forward to the rest of this season.

This episode stands on the shoulders of giants in regard to Trek legal episodes, and it is able to contend with them. The acting is superb. The character moments are exquisite. And having a Trek episode be about something, which is so present and so needed, is a great legacy for Strange New Worlds to continue.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 has a new episode released every Thursday on Paramount+

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams via Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Latin America, France, Germany, Brazil, South Korea (via Tving), France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland & Austria. As well as CTV Scifi / Crave in Canada, & TVNZ in New Zealand. And on SkyShowtime in the Nordics, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Central and Eastern Europe.


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Dom Paris
Dom Parishttps://twitter.com/DomDParis
The resident "Loremaster" among the team, Dom is typically found fact-checking videos and articles for the Trek Central team, as well as reviewing the latest episodes and movies.

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