Over the course of Star Trek’s long history, there have been innumerable perfect episodes. Strange New Worlds’ latest isn’t one of them. But, here’s the catch: it’s still a classic.
Following Spock and Nurse Chapel as they’re pulled into an spatial accident, Strange New Worlds season 2 episode 4, Charades, tells a story which – somehow – Star Trek has never told before. What would happen if Spock were human for a day?
Stripped of his Vulcan genetics by the enigmatic and ethereal Kerkhovians, the legendary Star Trek character (first embodied by the incomparable Leonard Nimoy, and now inhabited by Ethan Peck) is forced to navigate his daily duties about the Enterprise without his half-Vulcan outlook, reverence for logic, or pointy ears.
It’s a simple set-up, and an inventive way to utilize a version of Spock who has become Strange New Worlds’ primary outlet for comedy – something that Peck excels at. Peck’s performance as Spock is the shining light here, and like so much of TNG (the Star Trek series which Strange New Worlds most earnestly longs to emulate) Charades manages to be funny while also taking its story seriously. It doesn’t point and laugh at itself, but honestly seeks to answer and explore its central premise. Spock becomes human, and charming humor is a natural by-product as it would have been in TOS, or a Nimoy-era Star Trek movie.
Watching Spock negotiate everyday human experiences, guided by his colleagues, is joyous. He gets angry, and horny, and hungry, but all with an intensity which can only be experienced by someone feeling the full force of unfettered emotions for the first time. It’s all mingled in with some wonderful setup and payoff in the form of ‘before and after’ style montages of Spock’s reaction to: laughter in Ten Forward (I know it’s not Ten Forward, but they haven’t given it a name yet, so…); Sam Kirk’s messiness; and Pike’s herb-infused cooking, and bacon.
Like all good Star Trek stories, there’s an emotional center, too. Throughout the episode, Spock’s journey actually matters as it allows him to uncover deeper connections with Nurse Chapel and his mother Amanda Grayson.
It’s genuinely great, then. But it’s not perfect. What Charades fails to do is consider the implications of its story on a more allegorical level in the same way that, for example, TNG would have done.
Beneath the superficial, Charades is the story of someone reckoning with their mixed racial identity: being pulled in one direction and another, and trying to navigate their own way forward while balancing a tightrope of expectations (it is, actually, remarkably thematically similar to the season 1 TNG episode Haven in which Deanna Troi is forced into Betazoid courting rituals while wrestling with her relationship with Riker).
And yet the episode just doesn’t want to deal with the difficult implications of all that. It points at an issue, but – like Ad Astra per Aspera – what does it have to say other than ‘this is bad’? Yes, we agree. Now what?
Spock gains an appreciation for his human side, but as Strange New Worlds is a prequel and we’ve seen his future, we know this understanding fades away. Partly these are the inherent limitations of a prequel: character development can only go so far. But even then there’s unfulfilled potential here. That’s despite the hour length runtime – is this a thing now? – and feels like a fairly glaring missing piece of the puzzle, and one that leaves a lingering sense of frustration.
Even with that omission, Charades is still easily among the best episodes of Strange New Worlds so far, alongside the likes of Memento Mori and A Quality of Mercy. The best Star Trek episodes lean into the strengths of their respective series. TNG’s greatest hits are both adventurous and thoughtful; DS9’s are murky and arresting; Voyager’s combine compromise and survival and ask: ‘What now?’
Charades manages to do the same, embracing Strange New Worlds’ essential lightheartedness (the show is, at its core, a more playful series) and whimsy to brilliant effect. It finds the series’ groove, like the rare TNG season 2 episode that understood what the series could, and should be. It’s an episode which I will rewatch again, despite its flaws, with no small amount of genuine glee.
For more on the voyages of the starship Enterprise, check out our Star Trek Strange New Worlds season 2 review and our interview with Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn (in which we talked a lot about Jonathan Frakes). Or you can keep up to date with all the major developments across the franchise with our guides to the Star Trek Discovery season 5 release date, the Section 31 release date, the Star Trek 4 release date, the Lower Decks season 4 release date, and our hopes for a Star Trek Legacy release date. There’s a lot coming down the line.
If you want rankings, check our out picks for the best Star Trek captains, and see which Starfleet captains would survive in a zombie apocalypse.