WHY WE LIKE IT: All things Chapel! Enterprise Bingo!
WHY WE DON'T: No Hemmer!
REVIEW: We've had some pretty intense episodes to date, so how about an R&R episode and a bit of levity. Good news everyone! Strange New Worlds' first comedy ep is a winner! We delve into a number of characters (including the Enterprise itself), and it's genuinely funny, but what takes it over the top is that each of its several stories manifests the same theme. That is very consistent writing. That theme? Empathy, seeing the other person's point of view.
The big one, of course, is Spock and T'Pring's body swap. The episode starts with a modern (but faithful) redress of the ceremony in Amok Time. It's a bad dream, in which a human Spock and a Vulcan Spock have to fight one another for T'Pring. Spock is convinced his human half is distasteful to his betrothed and will eventually lead her to abandon him. The sequence makes great use of the classic episode's music - we've come to think of it as Star Trek's fight music, but it started out as the Vulcan theme, glad to see it restored to its proper use. After missing dinner because of his Starfleet duties, Spock is already on the outs and Nurse Chapel gives him some friendly advice that leads him to suggest the "Vulcan soul sharing". They get stuck in each other's bodies and must then see to each others' duties. So psychic malfunction or not, the problem forces them to walk in each other's shoes, and understand something about the other. Notably, each (over)hears other people talk about their partner, providing further illumination. For example, Pike tells the alien ambassadors how Spock is the best example of the Federation, because he risks cultural dilution (the ambassador's fear and T'Pring's) for the benefit of the greater good. Meanwhile, Spock-as-T'Pring apprehends a Vulcan rebel (a member of the V'tosh ka'tur, from Enterprise's "Fusion" - man, is this show going to make me rewatch Enterprise too?!) who shows distaste for T'Pring's known tolerance for humans, so maybe Spock's fears aren't warranted (almost certainly, her job requires her to show compassion for illogical beings - she rehabilitates Vulcans who have lost their way and turned to crime). Ultimately, they will find they are not so different in terms of duty. Now obviously, the Freaky Friday premise always hinges on whether the actors can play the other character successfully. The Vulcans are helped along by their limited personalities (they make fun of it by having them tell Pike "now that you know, you can see it our different mannerisms"), but overall, I'd say that part of it is pretty middling. They're basically the same; Peck pitches his voice a little higher and that's it.
The "mission" slides into the B-slot - convincing empathetic aliens they should join the Federation so their space can be used as a corridor to the Beta Quadrant, between the Klingon and Romulan empires. These guys are confrontational with the Tellarites, reasonable with the humans, and logical with the Vulcans. They seem to be copycats, but in reality, they are bridging the gap between their culture and the person on the opposite end of the table. What they want is someone who will do the same, which Pike does by telling them they probably SHOULDN'T join the Federation because they'll then be sharing a burden in addition to reaping rewards. It's a nice little anthropological/diplomatic puzzle that finds its solution in the show's themes, and with the stakes well spelled out up front, ends on a nice moment where they give their answer non-verbally. On the second viewing, one wonders if they were so irascible at first because they'd been escorted to the conference room by La'an. That made me smile.
Speaking of La'an, she and Una share a small comedy adventure that proves a comedy stand-out. Having been told the crew thinks of them as humorless and "where fun goes to die" in the wake of turning their shore leave into a "shore stay" (M'Benga has few moments in the episode, but his best is surely how awkward he gets when this is revealed), the pair shares their love of work and confusion over what the rest of the crew thinks is fun. Then they catch a couple of ensigns (and we better see Christina and Zier again!) who are trying to complete their Enterprise Bingo card by "signing the scorch". The senior officers may not know "fun", but they ARE funny, calling for "Bad Cop" at record speed, and to try and understand their underlings, attempting to complete the Bingo on their own. Truth be told, this game is a checklist and not a "Bingo card", but in any case, it allows us to discover amusing things about how the transporter, the turbolift and the phasers work (and that Mr. Kyle is a terror to the lower decks, funny, doesn't look it), ultimately taking us to the oldest unreplaced hull plate on the ship. It's fun, and makes you wish you were a crew member so you could try these various challenges yourself. What the duo discovers is that there is no thrill in it for them because they make the rules, and with their full access, aren't really breaking any. Their solution is a dangerous space walk without a hermetically sealed suit, under the Enterprise's shields, and finally, they give in to another thrill - the one that comes with wonder. No doubt part of why they are in Starfleet. The subplot is huge fun.
And then there's Chapel's story, woven in and out of the episode. She starts her shore leave with the intent of hooking up with a casual lover from another ship, but he wants to get serious and she bails on him to go talk to Spock, initiating an intriguing friendship that turns into a crush by the end of the episode (as we always knew it would one day). There are a lot of great moments in Chapel's arc, like her seeing T'Pring (it's Spock) coming towards her and fearing she interfered in the wrong relationship, or the revelation that she's actually bisexual (not many people realize this, but because of an embrace way back in "What Are Little Girls Made Of" between Chapel and Uhura, they were one of the original slash/fic couples, along with Kirk and Spock, so this is going get "punch the air" reactions). Ortegas might be nursing her own feelings for Chapel, or it sometimes seems like it (a look here, a comment there), but the script only has them as good pals. This is the second episode where Erica seems to have a history with Christine in defiance of the relationships presented in the first episode. Ortegas has been serving with Pike for a while, but Chapel is a new arrival, so... was Ortegas away for a while (at least during Pike's bearded break) and had occasion to work with Christine elsewhere? Not that I want to nitpick this to death since I really like their dynamic. Unusually, the episode ends on a contemporary song ("I'm Looking" by Kings & Queens), and it's totally about Chapel "looking for love in all the wrong places". Even though she's a minor player in the episode, she's perhaps the most changed by it. Hey, when Spock emotionally (for him) comes to your defense...
SECONDARY WATCHING: Another look at Amok Time... What was important to me here was Chapel's reaction to T'Pring in the TOS episode. When she appears on the view screen, Chapel and Uhura are both on the bridge. Uhura blurts out that "she's beautiful". Correctly, she does not meet T'Pring in this episode. Christine looks on, but says not a word. This is also correct, I think, based on the emotions in play. The more we see of T'Pring on SNW, the more tragic Amok Time becomes.
LESSON: Sometimes, hijinks are the most logical course of action.
REWATCHABILITY - High: Despite the silliness of the A-plot's premise, this may be my favorite episode of the first season.