After the intense and emotionally-wrought stand-off with the Gorn at Finibus-3, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 5 takes us in a completely different direction with their take on Freaky Friday.
While being admittedly lighter fare on the surface – concerned more with the quirks of relationships and the challenges of people skills – it is still an impressively tight script, weaving three contrasting plots together around a core theme of perspective.
Spock and T’Pring’s body swap may be the most memorable. Una and La’an’s may be the most awkwardly funny. However, Pike’s negotiation style with the R’Ongovians is why we’re here. Connecting with new species by recognizing that communication is more than words. “Radical empathy.” What a concept.
Spock’s nightmare is a straight-up, barrels-blazing, nostalgia-soaked stunner of fan service to open with.
As an incredibly detailed recreation of the Kirk and Spock battle from Star Trek: The Original Series Season 2 Episode 5, “Amok Time," it's a delight. The music, the fight choreography, and even the cut-away shots of the faces of the observers. It's a helluva hat tip to TOS.
As a metaphor for Spock's inner conflict between his human and Vulcan halves, it's genius.
Keep in mind that the TOS scene was the result of T'Pring pitting Spock against Kirk, knowing however it ended, she'd be free to marry someone else. If one half of Spock were to vanquish the other, would the remaining Spock still want to marry her? So, does Spock subconsciously fear her not wanting him or him not wanting himself?
My favorite moment is when he checks his ears in the mirror. After all, the worst nightmares are the ones that stick with you after you wake up. Checking his ears is the most logical way to prove it's over.
Vulcan Spock: What would you know of logic? You are a human, ruled by emotion.
Human Spock: No, I’m not human! I’m not!
In a narrative concerned with perspectives, it's fitting that we start with Spock's personal sense of diverging views.
The segue to his reunion with T'Pring is then subtle in its brilliance. His human characteristics and leanings are more apparent in the light of T'Pring's pure Vulcan-ness.
The set-up for Spock's soul-sharing ritual is textbook relationship angst.
Both T'Pring and Spock want their relationship to work, but the long-distance nature and their different life experiences create barriers to communication and communion.
T’Pring: We must prioritize our relationship.
Spock: Of course. I still have some diplomatic responsibilities I must dispense with before…
T’Pring: I expected no different.
Spock: You are disappointed.
T’Pring: I am realistic.
And, to be fair, it's not like Spock has anyone to help him hone his courtship skills. It's improbable that Sarek (or any Vulcan father for that matter) would sit down to discuss the intricacies of matters of the heart.
So it's pretty convenient that Chapel is looking to escape her date just when Spock needs a smack upside the head, figuratively and literally.
While TOS Chapel had some pretty specific canonical details written into her character arc, Jess Bush is coming at the role with more of a fun-loving blank slate of backstory.
We get a glimpse of the history she shares with Ortegas and some of the patterns of behavior she's known for through their dialogue.
Chapel: This is what I appreciate about Dever. He and I are on the same page. Casual, no attachments, it’s just for fun, zero commitments page.
Ortegas: It’s more like a book than a page. And you said the same thing about that gal on Archulese-2.
Chapel: That was a misunderstanding. It was one time.
Ortegas: One very entertaining time.
Chapel: How is being chased by light phaser fire fun?
That being said, there's been a clear foreshadowing of Chapel's interest in Spock seeded through throughout their interactions so far.
As his personal relationship counselor, she advises him in a way only someone who has spent a lot of time in and avoiding romantic entanglements can.
And as she sees past his Vulcan Science Officer veneer, she's realizing how much he doesn't understand, even as she's intrigued by his unexpectedly sharp sense of humor.
Spock: Thank you for your advice. If I can ever return the favor, please do not hesitate to ask.
Chapel: What are friends for?
Spock: What are friends for?
Chapel: That was a rhetorical, Spock.
Spock: Oh, I know. Humans are almost as easy to tease as Vulcans.
I can't see Bush's Chapel ever making him a bowl of plomeek soup. Still, I do foresee more quiet moments together where their similar style of forthrightness and clear-sightedness will be mutually appreciated.
Meanwhile, a pair of kindred-spirited senior officers are trying to have fun the way the ensigns do on-board Enterprise while it is mostly empty during shore leave.
Watching Una and La'an try out Enterprise Bingo is nothing short of a hoot.
It's kind of inspiring, honestly, that they'd give up the activities that actually give them joy to try to connect with the crew members with whom they feel out of touch.
Una: As a senior officer, I don’t get to be part of the crew anymore.
La’an: Oh no, that’s not because you’re a senior officer. It’s because you terrify people. That’s a compliment.
For those interested, the list La'an confiscated includes: use transporter to reflavor gum; phaser stun duel; turbolift two floor shout challenge; set the universal translator to Andorian; gravity boot hang challenge; medical tricorder challenge: Vulcan marupial (?); food replicator challenge: durian fruit; sneak a tribble into the transporter buffer; sit in the captain's chair; EV suit challenge: unsanctioned space walk; and sign the scorch.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a childhood like everyone else that I don’t idealize childish behavior.La’an
The instructions are to complete ten of the tasks, so I'm going to guess they didn't have a tribble on board.
As the theme here is still perspective, I really liked that they gain true clarity by taking a walk on the ship's hull without EV suits. Talk about seeing things a different way.
Who's got money on Ortegas taking that challenge on next?
Vaso: With so many voices in your Federation, how do you decide which one is in control?
Pike: We vote. We get our power from all our membership, so we try to listen to each other, all of us.
Vaso: We too listen. Empathy is a hallmark of our people. Few understand that.
But, as I stated at the start, the real message here is the empathy that perspective fosters in both parties involved.
With the R'Ongovians, April and Pike are flummoxed by how Ambassador Vaso has behaved with the different Federation representatives with whom he has negotiated so far.
Maybe they’re just looking for somebody to take their point of view. Radical empathy. Maybe what they value the most in others is the capacity to see things their way.Pike
Like Spock and T'Pring, just switching places isn't enough. Acknowledging the other's experiences won't close a rift until you let yourself react in the moment in order to truly understand the other's conflicts.
Like Una and La'an, taking on someone else's challenge is no challenge unless you enter into the spirit of the test.
Once Pike stops being the Federation negotiator and speaks honestly from the perspective of the R'Ongovians, he unlocks the cipher of their behavior.
Radical empathy. If we could only tap into that a little more IRL.
A shared acceptance of mutual sacrifice is crucial to a successful relationship.T’Pring
How did the message ring for you, Fanatics? Was it a call to arms or just more noise?
Are Spock and T'Pring stronger for their time in each other's bodies? [insert eyebrow waggle]
Hit our comments with your most fascinating insights!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond 'til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on Twitter.