Another week, another episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – ‘Ad Astra per Aspera’. As we established in our review, this episode is a potential all-time classic franchise episode. The episode used the trial of Una (Rebecca Romijn) to comment on social justice issues. This is something worthy of commendation. It felt relevant, inspiring, and poignant in more than one respect. However, amongst the revival of Courtroom Trek, there were more than a few nods to Trek‘s past and future.
This’ll be much like last week. Today we will dig for all of those lore bits that Trekkies like me obsess over. Without further ado, Hit It!
Court in Session
I’m not going to spend this article pulling apart the episode’s parallels to historic discrimination. That’s hardly the point of articles like this, and a lot of that was noted in our review. That being said, the transgender pride flag colors of Young Una’s leg did not go unnoticed. Neither did the obvious parallels to racial segregation throughout the world. It wasn’t an easy watch, but the heart with which these topics were approached made for an all-time classic.
Now there were more than a few visual cues from previous courtroom episodes of Star Trek. The two brought to mind are “The Menagerie” and “Court Martial”, both from the first season of The Original Series. Instead of a gavel in courtrooms that seem more familiar to us, the Federation makes use of a physical bell. Like many things through the background of this show, it’s a subtle reference to TOS.
I’m also fond of the yellow data tapes that were used to read the legal charges. Beyond courtroom settings, this also has its roots in episodes like “I, Mudd” where the computers were used to read out the contents of records. Although them being used to reading legal charges, in particular, was something that was also done in “Court Martial”.
Although it’s not read aloud like her criminal charges, we do get a pretty good glimpse at Number One’s (Rebecca Romijn) personnel file. We can tell that she served on the USS Antares, the ship destroyed by the titular character in “Charlie X” (although, thankfully she was gone well before that incident). There’s also the name USS Martin Luther King Jr, just in case you weren’t quite sold on Strange New Worlds – ‘Ad Astra per Aspera’ having its roots in international civil rights movements.
Interestingly, there’s a ship that’s gone redacted from her record, with the name withheld. While it doesn’t explicitly say so, there’s a safe assumption that this is a reference to her brief time on the USS Discovery during the second season of Star Trek: Discovery. On the chance it’s not though, which I should note I think is incredibly unlikely, this could be a hint at a potentially darker past throughout the Klingon War than we’re led to believe.
During her testimony, we’re also afforded insight into her earlier life and career. She joined Starfleet out of desperation, hiding herself and escaping persecution. Even though we don’t see a lot of what her life on Illyria looked like, most of it is just described to us, it really makes the universe feel more lived in. It’s one thing to learn the history of a planet, but another thing entirely to have such a beloved character caught up in the horror.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Sometimes the things I notice are front and center, even though what they are may not be fully obvious. In the case of Una’s trial, this refers to Spock’s (Ethan Peck) reference to Gilbert and Sullivan’s musicals. This is a callback to an episode of the often-overlooked Short Treks entitled “Q&A”. Also, in Strange New Worlds – ‘Ad Astra per Aspera’, Una tells Spock to “keep his weird to himself”, something that becomes more interesting after the reveal she’s Illyrian. She was an expert at hiding, even if the writer, Michael Chabon, didn’t know it yet.
In Una’s quarters, you could also see a rather candid photo of her and Captain Pike (Anson Mount). It speaks volumes about the depth of their relationship. This is especially important when you consider how serious the character was even last season. This was in fact a photo taken behind the scenes between Romijn and Mount, and it’s far from the first use of real-world photos in episodes of Star Trek. The other recent example was the picture of Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden in the post-credits scene for “The Last Generation”.
Also in plain sight were some other decorations throughout the court. These include the special badges worn by every crew member, adorned with all their respective commendations. In the gold displays, you can catch glimpses of all sorts of Star Trek aliens. While many are blink and you miss it, and very hard to identify, I did see a Human, Vulcan, Tellarite, Andorian (all 4 founders), as well as a Tiburonian from “The Way to Eden”, and even a Caitian and an Edosian (like M’Ress and Arex from TAS). What a display!
The Illyrian Solution, I Presume?
Last week, I did promise a bit of a rant about IDW Publishing’s The Illyrian Enigma. While it didn’t end up touching on the cliffhanger ending of last season, it did offer up some intriguing insights into Illyrian history. There was a bit of a twist revealed towards the end, that centuries before SNW, they had a nasty run-in with the Vulcans. Although it was a secret history that most Vulcans weren’t aware of, I can’t shake the thought that it played a role in a wider ban on genetic engineering.
We know that, for Earth, this cause was the Eugenics Wars as propagated by Khan Noonien Singh. However, the Federation is a large interplanetary body with many races in the Starfleet Program. It stands to reason then that different members would each have their own nasty history with genetic engineering. I’m glad that the comic and Strange New Worlds – ‘Ad Astra per Aspera’ were able to shed more light on the Illyrians and provide a way for Una to continue to be in the series.
Outside of this, I’m glad they didn’t overturn the ban on genetically engineered people in Starfleet. Doing so would completely break the canon of another all-time great Star Trek episode. In Deep Space Nine, Doctor Bashir (Alexander Siddig) faced a similar problem in the episode “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?“. We know that, despite the exception made here, this discrimination will continue for the next century. But, as the end of this episode takes solace in, this exception was just the start.
Looking Forward to “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow“
This coming week’s episode sure does look like a lot of fun. Details are seemingly intentionally vague in the synopsis, but it’s sure to be a good watch. It looks like we’re journeying all through the TOS timeline with James Kirk (Paul Wesley) at the helm. How he’ll be implemented as a recurring character remains to be seen. I’m very intrigued though, maybe the thing I’m anticipating most this season.
The next episode, titled “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow“, looks like a mix of classic time travel and alternate realities. The title brings to mind all those other classic TOS episodes like “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and “Return to Tomorrow“. While details remain to be seen, it looks like we’re in store for some quintessential Star Trek. There was also a mystery time traveler in the clip. With powers like those, there is a chance that we could be seeing the rebirth of Enterprise‘s Temporal Cold War. Now that would be exciting.
In short, a few catastrophic events, some time travel comedy, potential hints of romance, and also more Paul Wesley. A lot to love, and a lot to be excited about regardless of Temporal Cold Wars.
That was everything that I noticed in the SNW season 2 premiere, “Ad Astra per Aspera”. This is, like most courtroom Trek episodes, up there with the all-time greats. An instant classic if you ask me. What did you make of the episode? Was there anything I missed? I’m looking forward to talking about next week’s episode. Looks like a lot of fun, with the potential to have one of the biggest callbacks ever.
Where to Watch
Season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds airs on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+. New episodes drop weekly on 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, and TVNZ in New Zealand. It also airs on SkyShowtime in the Nordics, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Central and Eastern Europe.
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