This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 3
Given that one of Star Trek: Strange New World’s main characters has the last name Noonien-Singh, it was inevitable that the show would have to find ways to address the legacy of La’an’s most famous family member and the lingering trauma of growing up in Khan’s shadow has had on her life. We’ve seen hints of this before—her anger when she discovered Una was genetically modified last season, and it came up during her trial last week—but “Tomorrow and Tomorrow Tomorrow” confronts the looming specter of Khan head-on, in more ways than one.
While this hour sees the return of Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk—once again playing a version of the character who technically doesn’t exist in the show’s primary timeline—this is really a true showcase episode for Christina Chong, who gets the chance to dig into La’an’s deeply complex layers. She’s angry, she’s standoffish, she’s stubborn, afraid, and deeply lonely, convinced that few if any are capable of seeing her as anything other than the sum of her genetic parts. (Not to mention, we already know she’s worried about whether her genetics are her destiny, and she’s somehow irrevocably doomed to become a monster herself.)
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” sees La’an trapped on an alternate version of the Enterprise after a strange man—who we find out later is from the technically-doesn’t-exist-yet Department of Temporal Investigations—appears and hands her a bizarre device insisting that she has to stop an attack that has taken place in the past. And whatever happened, it altered the timeline enough to essentially erase the Federation, make James Kirk the Captain of the Enterprise, and Spock as a Vulcan commander of his own vessel fighting a war with the Romulans. Sent back by the same device to the mid-21st century, Kirk and La’an will have to figure out what happened to make the timeline change. Said investigation will involve everything from trips to what appears to be a Canadian version of the Gap to tracking down the Pelia that lives in this timeline (and still steals famous antiquities), all while the pair grow closer along the way.
As someone whose been fairly wary of Strange New Worlds’ decision to introduce a younger version of Kirk, I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised by Wesley. Admittedly, I was firmly Team Stefan during the actor’s time on The Vampire Diaries, so I’m already predisposed to like the guy, but I’ll also go to my grave insisting this show doesn’t need any version of Kirk to succeed. So it’s something fairly close to a miracle that the two episodes he’s appeared in thus far have actually been some of the series’ best. Strange New Worlds, smartly, has used alternate timelines to not only ease us as viewers into the idea of this character but to also give Wesley lots of space to find his own footing and make the role more than a remix of what Chris Pine or William Shatner have done before.
It’s been a nice surprise, particularly in all the ways that Wesley’s Kirk just feels so darn young—lighthearted and playful in a way we don’t get to see in Pine or Shatner’s version. From his gleeful embrace of street hot dogs and real showers to his skill at hustling chess players in a park, this is a Kirk who hasn’t yet been weighed down by his own choices, a man who still believes in the promise of a better world so strongly he’s willing to die to bring it about, who chooses to follow La’an’s admittedly insane plan not for himself but for the possibility of bringing back the brother he lost. I like this Kirk, dangit, even though I didn’t at all intend to.
Plus, Wesley and Chong also have adorable chemistry with one another. Call me a sucker but I kind of love the idea of Kirk maybe kind of having a romantic flirtation with a woman descended from the man who will become his greatest adversary. (Thanks, cryostasis, I guess!) But, more importantly, this episode is also the first time we’ve ever really gotten to see La’an relax in this way—she always carries a certain tension around her, whether she’s doing routine aspects of her job or throwing back bloodwine with Klingons, as though she’s inevitably waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Here, despite the whole “trying to solve a mystery that could irrevocably alter the timeline of her life as she knows it” thing, she seems looser, freer, and like she might actually be enjoying herself. And, of course, it’s nice to see her finally being judged for herself alone, without any of the trauma of her last name attached. When is the last time that happened to her? Maybe never?
Of course, like any good story, that’s exactly why La’an must ultimately accept that she, too, is also part of Khan’s legacy, for both good and ill. (And, for the record: “His legacy is genocide, torture…and me” is a hell of a line!) But that doesn’t mean she is destined to become him. She has the freedom to make different choices, which is why she ultimately decides to save the life of the young boy who will grow up to cause her (and humanity) so much pain. When given the opportunity, she makes a better choice, one that you could argue in many ways goes against her own self-interest and morals—after all, she kills someone to protect a mass murderer!—and is almost certainly not the same one her infamous ancestor would have made in a similar position. She proves to herself that she is, at heart, who she chooses to be.
Like any episode based on time travel and potential alternate realities, your mileage can and will vary when it comes to how closely you’re willing to look at the specifics of the world this episode creates and the various plot holes that may or may not come along with it. When, exactly, do the Eugenics Wars happen in this timeline? How does Kirk know what a Romulan ship looks like in a world where “Balance of Terror” presumably hasn’t happened yet? How is adorable preteen Khan still a kid? And how much of anything we saw really happened after reality reverts back to baseline? The lingering final shot on the watch La’an brought back with her hints that we may not actually be going to gloss over all the weird aftereffects of her trip into an alternate past, but what it will ultimately mean for La’an, Kirk, or the primary timeline is anyone’s guess.
But “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is ultimately a throwback to so many of Star Trek’s best episodes, a bittersweet, thoughtful hour that explores roads not taken and whose lasting impacts are primarily internal and emotional ones that will reverberate throughout stories to come. Truly, is there anything Strange New Worlds can’t do? The answer seems doubtful indeed.