I’ve been watching Star Trek for at least fifty years. From when there was just the one Trek, through The Animated Series, the films and then the various spin-offs. The only ones I’ve given up on were Picard and Lower Decks, not bad considering the sheer amount I’ve watched.
I’ve just watched perhaps the best Trek I’ve seen since Space Seed.
(WARNING – SPOILERS BELOW)
Strange New Worlds S2E3, Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow (TATAT for short), starts with La’an feeling angry and frustrated and isolated. Then, a dying man appears before her and disappears after handing her a doodad. When she goes to her bridge, it’s not her bridge and instead of good old silver fox Pikey, there’s a very puzzled-looking James Tiberius Kirk. Who is she and how did she get on his bridge?
And them BAM, before you know it, the two of them are returned to the past (which is, conveniently, now) and they’re in Los Angeles. Eh, no, they’re not. Just because every other Trek has time/space travelled back to where it was being filmed doesn’t mean SNW has to. TATAT travels back to CANADA… where it’s filmed. But at least SNW makes a metajoke about it with Kirk thinking they’re in New York until La’an points out the Canuckiness that surrounds them. They should really have had a moose wander by, shitting poutine.
Look, I’m already sold. Time travel / alternate reality stories have been a tasty, spicy part of Trek since the very start. Doesn’t matter if it’s actual Mirror Universe, everyone-evil-has-a-little-beard or the consequences of the Prime Directive ignored like A Piece Of The Action, I love it.
So, it’d be easy to coast but TATAT dazzles us with its playfulness. We’re watching James motherfucking T Kirk eat hot dogs and trounce locals at “2D” chess. It’s wonderful to see Kirk’s cool bonhomie but also his razor-sharp intellect. And, yes, he’s also pretty easy on the eye, as La’an realises when she catches herself perving on him through a half-drawn cubicle curtain before turning away.
Kirk + La’an (I said plus, not slash, pervs) is a great pairing in the same way that Kirk + Spock is. One is analytical, by the book, overly serious and hasn’t had sex in seven years. The other is Kirk. The two actors, Paul Wesley as Kirk and Christina Chong as La’an, have an easy, believable chemistry so the budding romance between them flows, it is utterly sweet and grounded. This is deft writing; we know Kirk is a lover as well as a fighter, he’s probably been checking her out. But the background for La’an’s attraction to Kirk, her loneliness and fragility behind the kick-ass exterior, that was all laid in the opening scenes.
Props also to writers Dave Reed and Onitra Johnson for having a spoken line about Trek being a “socialist utopia.” That’ll hopefully annoy the fuckhead Tory Trek fans.
Getting back to the action, Kirk and La’an bond and then try to solve the mission of every time travel ep ever: restore the timeline. At first, Kirk is hesitant about this since it means the erasure of his own existence. But after hearing how Earth is a galactic player in the alternate timeline and that Sam, his brother is still alive, he is finally convinced. I love this bit because time travel eps are often portrayed as ‘WE MUST RESTORE THE TIMELINE’ as if there is only one valid timeline. Having Kirk at least question this frankly dodgy assumption is something new and definitely welcome. He is, after all, about to condemn another entire universe to non-existence. TATAT goes one step further than most Trek here.
POW! The baddie is revealed and Kirk is ripped very painfully away from La’an. Then we realise that this is not simply Trek recapitulating Trek but Trek asking the original time-travel question: what if you could go back in time and kill Baby Hitler?
Thus, we arrive at the mind-bending setup of La’an Noonien-Singh meeting her ancestor, Khan Noonien-Singh. The future leader of genemod dictators that would cause the The Eugenics Wars. It’s a truly beautiful twist because I never saw it coming, even though a Noonien-Singh was picked for the time travel mission. They’d gone back way before the Wars so what relevance could that have?
Similar to The Doctor in Genesis Of The Daleks, La’an must confront who she is and that her entire life has been shaped by the child in front of her now. She knows he will be grow to be a monster. But, now, he’s just a scared kid. If she kills him, she averts the death of millions. But she also stops the horror that finally unites humanity and makes it reach out to the stars. As the baddie tells her, she is protected by the gadget that sent her back in time, she could kill Khan and then live out her life, no problem.
When La’an sees Khan for what he is, an abused child indoctrinated into hatred along with his entire cadre of superhumans, she knows she cannot kill this innocent kid. She sacrifices her own clean, free happiness and protects the timeline.
When she gets home, all is right. Pikey is back in his seat, as silvery and foxy as ever. There’s some quips and cue end titles.
It would have been so easy to finish there. But as in Ship In A Bottle, we have a coda. It’s La’an, in her cabin, phoning to check on Kirk. And he’s fine but he has no idea who she is, of course. And then, we close, with La’an still alone and sobbing her heart out. It’s a very brave ending but the only one that fits with an episode this assured, this mature. It’s the final cherry on top of this perfect slice of Trek.
Watching TATAT breathe new life into Trek was a lovely moment in my life as a Trekkie. It gives me hope that sympathetic writers who don’t see the Roddenberry utopia as constrictive but as optimistic and hopeful will produce more work as brilliant as this. As caring and moral as this. I really do believe that if Roddenberry was alive, he would love TATAT because, at its core, it’s a celebration of hope over fear, of positivity over negativity, it’s everything that Star Trek stands for.