Star Trek #1573: The Serene Squall

CAPTAIN'S LOG: The Enterprise is captured by pirates.

WHY WE LIKE IT: An intriguing villain. The bridge humor.

WHY RODDENBERRY DOESN'T: Star Trek doesn't do pirates.

REVIEW: True story - I was discussing this episode with a friend who told me he was disappointed that a trans actress was used as a villain, one step forward, two steps back. I had to ask for more details because, well, I didn't know Jesse James Keitel (Captain Angel) was trans. So villain or not, I was reminded of the exploding brain meme, which was once put the "trans woman playing, simply, a woman" with no mention of trans-ness. This is where Star Trek is at. And as an audience member, it went right over my head. So a bit about pronouns before we go any further: Keitel identifies as non-binary, but uses "she". It is not clear that Angel necessarily uses "they", because she was impersonating a Dr. Aspen who used "they", though he crew using "they" to denote Angel later would seem to point to at least an intention for the character from the writers. I'm using "she/her" in deference to the actress until it's confirmed one way or another. Now, given my first impression, I wasn't going to mention any of this and just forge ahead, but my awareness of the casting did change my understanding of the episode's themes, so here we are. Angel (as Aspin) has an important conversation with Spock about his own identity, rejecting the binary "box" that would make him choose between his Vulcan and Human halves (putting the lie to the 50/50 proportion that has never been true with Spock) and suggesting he might accept being both, or more interestingly, neither. Can you not be something unique, something new? Coming from a non-binary performer/character, this holds more weight. And I'll go further and re-address my friend's disappointment. Is Captain Angel really a villain? What she is doing in this story, she is doing for love. Sure, she captains a crew of pirates, but she builds up their reputation so we don't know what they've actually done under her leadership. She stole Aspin's identity, but left them on a planet somewhere and did not kill them. Once she "turns", it feels as much like a manipulative put-on as her Aspin persona, going very big, like a Disney cartoon baddie. But when the plan fails, what her become more grounded. Not to say she's a hero, but why does she need to be put into either box? It comes right back to that theme. Bottom line: I really like Captain Angel's ambiguity, and I can't wait for a return engagement.

And it must happen, as per that final scene. Some might find fault that - haha - Star Trek V is being confirmed as canon by the existence of Sybok, but now that we know T'Pring works in rehabilitation, this is a fruitful connection to her half-brother-in-law-to-be. It also explains Angel's interest in Spock, pushing his buttons as to why he doesn't reject logic, and ultimately her frustration that he and T'Pring find a logical loophole to escape the trap she's set. Notably (and worryingly?), it's the second time the Enterprise is lured into a trap this season, but there's a big difference between the Gorn's cunning and Angel's con game. With most of the command crew captives of the Serene Squall (the name of the pirate ship, itself a contradiction in terms, like an illogical Vulcan, like an unboxed Angel) - I do wonder where everyone else is (confined to quarters?) - Nurse Chapel almost goes Die Hard. I think this is the first episode where I noticed her finger tattoos, which seem perfect for young, punky Christine, but odd on the TOS version. Anyway, once she joins up with Spock, her role changes and it's the kind of will they/won't they shenanigans you expect from many shows' rom-com elements (Chuck particularly came to mind). Her crush on Spock is pushed to the limit when they "fake" a kiss to release T'Pring from the betrothal, and you can almost hear her heart breaking from coming so close, knowing it was all a ruse. It's pretty standard for this kind of narrative, but one wonders how long they can keep this going without breaking the continuity.

On the pirate ship, we indulge in a bit more comedy. Pike plays the ship's crew against one another, using cooking to appeal to their frustration with the current leadership (a hairy Irish Orion, in Angel's absence), and despite the beating, seems to be having fun. Indeed, this plot is played for laughs, skipping over the action to reveal the bridge crew has caused a mutiny and taken over the ship (well, almost) as a punchline. Not even Sisko got to defeat his enemies using his cooking. Even outside of the pirate ship scenes, the episode is a good showcase for the humor of both Pike and Ortegas, always playing off well against one another. And who doesn't love Number One asking Pike to please stop with the dad jokes without so much as turning around?

SECONDARY WATCHING: As rewatching Star Trek V is a major commitment, I will wait until we see Sybok again.

LESSON: The way to a space pirate's heart is through their stomach.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: No, Roddenberry didn't want Trek to do pirate stories, but is this really what this episode is? Not only does The Serene Squall introduce elements that are sure to pay off later, but its lesson about not taking anything for granted is well executed.