Pike, Una, La’an, Ortegas, and a handful of other crew members beam aboard the supposedly hijacked colonists’ ship only to learn that it’s an ambush and they’ve walked into a trap. The pirates plan to take over the Enterprise, sell the crew into slavery, and hand the ship off to the highest bidder among the lawless entities that crawl the edges of Federation territory. That this all actually turns out to be a rather hilarious interlude in which Pike withstands getting tortured (they messed up his hair!!) long enough to incite a casual mutiny among the pirate crew by way of the age-old combination of good Southern cooking and catty gossip.
Every week, Anson Mount is great, but there’s something kind of magical about the way he depicts the deployment of Pike’s good old boy charm to ferment unrest among the pirate crew. (He encourages them to sell the Starfleet crew to the Klingons, and maybe start an intergalactic incident in the process. The man is unstoppable.) We’ve only known this cast for seven episodes, but the chemistry between this group of actors is so darn good, from the easy way they all play off of one another while lamenting the poor quality of the Remy the Orion’’s cooking to their quick-thinking collaboration on the bridge as they brainstorm ideas to get themselves out of a life or death trap. As a character, PIke is always going on about collaboration and listening to others and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking—it’s really nice to see this is not just a line he uses but a legitimate leadership philosophy that he implements on the regular. I love all of them, is what I’m saying.
Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock, Chapel, and Dr. Aspen are doing their best to secure the ship, with the help of some Vulcan nerve pinches, the nurse’s handy sedative injector, and a whole lot of luck. But Dr. Aspen, as it turns out, isn’t exactly who they say they are and betrays them both at the perfect moment (in a twist that somehow isn’t telegraphed until roughly 30 seconds before it happens so kudos for that, show.) Turns out they are actually Captain Angel of the Serene Squall and they’ve stolen Dr. Aspen’s identity and concocted this elaborate ruse all so that they might get a chance to take over the Enterprise, kidnap Spock and trade him for the Vulcan prisoner that is apparentlytheir lover.
For all that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is built on its weekly space adventures—and this one does have literal pirates, after all—the show deserves applause for the way it is deftly weaving long-term emotional arcs and characters throughout each installment in ways that are increasingly rewarding to watch. This season we’ve seen Spock question his identity, both in terms of how best to reconcile his human and Vulcan halves and how that impacts what kind of man he ultimately wants to become. Part of the reason that Aspen/Angel’s betrayal hits so hard emotionally is that the character spends half the episode giving what is honestly fairly decent advice to Spock about his ongoing internal struggles—-that he’s the only one forcing himself to make a binary choice between the two halves that make him whole, that he can forge a new path that embraces both sides of who he is.