Star Trek history was made and Strange New Worlds barely cared (which is great)

[Ed. note: This post contains material from an interview conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike against the AMPTP went into effect.]

In the final scene of Thursday’s new episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, a group of Starfleet officers socialize in the mess hall of the USS Enterprise, where they unpack the events of their latest adventure. During a relatively uneventful conversation, Ensign Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) takes a moment to introduce her new boyfriend, Lieutenant Commander James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley), to her shipmate Lieutenant Spock (Ethan Peck). It is a completely chance meeting, far from the monumental event one might imagine the first meeting of two people with a lifelong friendship ahead.

However, that may be just the point. Ever since these new interpretations of Kirk and Spock debuted Strange new worlds And Star Trek: Discovery, respectively, they have been allowed to establish themselves as individual characters, complete human beings rather than components of a prophesied “one true pair”. By denying Kirk and Spock the expected cosmic encounter, viewers can be treated to something far more satisfying: organic growth befitting a real, lasting relationship.

While Star Trek canon has never previously specified how and when Kirk and Spock met, the idea of ​​turning their first meeting into a grand adventure has always been an easy sell. The idea has inspired two licensed novels (Enterprise: The First Adventure by Vonda N. McIntyre in 1986 ed Star Trek: Academy: Collision Course by William Shatner starring Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens in 2007), but notably became the centerpiece of the 2009 film reboot, set in its own alternate timeline. Here, rebellious young Cadet Kirk (Chris Pine) is caught cheating on a Starfleet Academy exam, putting him at odds with the exam’s designer, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto).

The two immediately become adversaries, until this vicarious Kirk has a chance encounter with the classic Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Kirk is stunned that any version of his rival would be so happy to see him, but Spock Prime assures him that the friendship between them is “the very definition of [them] both.” With that, Kirk’s attitude toward Spock in his own timeline changes in the blink of an eye, giving their interactions an instant seriousness but denying us the chance to actually see them become friends. We’re told that their friendship is important, and we accept this because almost everyone watching already knows that Kirk and Spock are best friends.

Where 2009’s Star Trek views Kirk and Spock’s early lives as merely a prelude to their shared destiny, the modern Trek series has never treated them as a matched set. For starters, Spock was reintroduced as a foil to a completely different character: his foster sister, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), on Star Trek: Discovery. We first meet Ethan Peck’s Spock in the middle of an emotional crisis, with a scruffy beard and bad attitude. Spock’s story here deals with the origins of his rejection of human feeling, explained here as a result of his fraught relationship with his human foster sister.

“My onboarding took a lot longer,” says Peck, “and I’ve had a lot more time to develop my character than Paul. I have the luxury of this very established inner world with Spock.

Discovery‘s only allusion to Spock’s future comes in Michael’s final words of advice before she is propelled a millennium into the future, never to see him again: “There’s a whole galaxy out there full of people who will reach for you. You have to let them. Find the person who seems furthest from you and reach for it. Let them guide you.”

Image: Paramount Plus

Anson Mount as Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock

Photo: Marni Grossman/Paramount Plus

At the time, this felt like it foreshadowed Spock’s future friendship with the all-too-human Kirk. However, after a season and a half Strange new worlds, it feels like Spock has already made Michael’s words resonate in his everyday life. He has a human mentor in Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), and is currently exploring a romantic relationship with Sister Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), who is even more of a dashing wildcard than Kirk. We’ve now seen Spock struggle with his emotions, deconstruct the human/Vulcan binary, and try to take command of a starship before sci-fi’s favorite Iowan even enters his life. He is a complete and compelling character in his own right, and his role in this series differs from Leonard Nimoy’s version. The original series.

Likewise, Strange new worlds has deliberately kept a distance between recurring guest star Jim Kirk and his future other half. Two of Paul Wesley’s four appearances op Strange new worlds so far are from parallel timelines where, emphatically, he never met Spock. His first appearance, the Season 1 finale “A Quality of Mercy”, is meant to contrast an alternate Kirk with Captain Pike, not Spock (although they do share a scene together). It’s an introduction to Kirk as an agitator, someone whose guiding star is instinct, versus Pike’s empathy. His next appearance explores him as a romantic counterpart to Lieutenant Commander La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong). This is Kirk the average, Kirk the charmer, the side of him that flirts and plays chess. (This Kirk also has a brief encounter with a substitute Spock over video conference, another light tease of the idea that the two real versions of them are meeting.)

“Ethan and I haven’t read chemistry together,” Wesley reveals, “which is kind of surprising. I think [the writers] just let it grow naturally and just trust the process.

Finally, in this week’s “Lost in Translation,” it’s Uhura, not Spock, who the “real” Kirk bonds with aboard the Enterprise. It’s through Uhura that we finally get to know what makes Jim tick, as the ever-curious communicator coaxes the sincere, selfless side of him that will one day make him a great captain. Their minor misadventure together leads Uhura to introduce him to Spock in the ship’s dining room, with no intention behind the gesture beyond basic courtesy.

Kirk (Paul Wesley) sits and talks to Pike (Anson Mount) in the captain's quarters

Photo: Marni Grossman/Paramount Plus

Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) faces Kirk (Paul Wesley) checking his transponder

Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount Plus

“Paul and I talked a lot about our first meeting,” says Peck, “and to Spock, Kirk is just another Starfleet officer.”

“I often think in life that we do things without thinking about it,” says Wesley. “I often think our instincts draw us to people when we’re missing something that we think the other person can fulfill, but it’s super subconscious.”

While this fairly incidental first meeting between Star Trek’s most famous duo may seem like a missed opportunity, the truth is that the story didn’t need to make Kirk and Spock’s handshake a major event — we, the fans, always would. Depth is ingrained in the image, thanks to 55 years of real-life baggage. Instead, the storytellers behind it Strange new worlds have done us a much greater service – making Kirk and Spock interesting enough individually to connect them as part of their journey, rather than the beginning or the end.