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STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS 1×03 “Ghosts of Illyria” Review

Neil reviews the second episode of Paramount+’s STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS, the service comes to the UK on June 22, 2022.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (CBS/Paramount+)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the US. The service comes to the UK on June 22, 2022.

Synopsis

The U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a contagion that ravages the ship. One by one, the entire crew is incapacitated except for Number One, Una Chin-Riley, who must now confront a secret she’s been hiding as she races to find a cure.

Review

If neither of the first two episodes of Strange New Worlds convinced you the series had tapped in to the secret ingredient Star Trek, then “Ghosts of Illyria” certainly will. Underneath all the high-concept sci-fi elements is a story about revealing secrets. High stakes secrets. If you’re playing “which classic Trek does this feel like” bingo then I suggest you tick of “The Naked Time” on your score sheet.

“Ghosts of Illyria” finally puts the spotlight on Una Chin-Riley. Rebecca Romjin is a standout amongst the cast but has taken a back seat during the first couple of episodes. Now we’re finally starting to scratch what turns out to be a very complex surface.

The seeds of potential conflict in this episode go back to the first episode. During “Strange New Worlds” we learned of La’an and her mistrust at genetic modification. Something which returns this week as Una – via narration – fills us in on the Illyrians. A race who has genetically modified themselves seemingly out of existence. Banned from the Federation, the Enterprise has been sent to understand what happened to one of the Illyrian’s remote colonies.

With an away team on the planet’s surface and an ion storm rolling in, there’s little time to waste. Some telling dialogue between Pike (Anson Mount) and Una sets up the rest of the episode neatly. Then it’s straight down to action. As the storm hits, the crew on the ship struggling to get a transporter lock on the away team. After a flurry of activity, many of the crew return to the ship but Pike and Spock (Ethan Peck) are trapped on the planet until the storm passes.

Separating the core cast allows the episode to follow two paths. On the planet, Pike and Spock are able to explore what happened to the Illyrians alongside the added danger of the storm. Whilst on the ship, a mysterious virus begins to spread which leaves the crew addicted to light. Everyone that is, except Una. Following a moment of clever misdirection, it’s clear that Una is immune to the virus and is left to stand back and watch chaos take hold of the ship.

“Ghosts of Illyria” dials up the stakes pretty quickly. With much of the crew incapacitated an inevitable issue develops with the warp core, leaving Una to save the day. Down on the planet, Pike and Spock are left in a precarious position as the violent storm strikes. But when rescue comes from an unexpected source, the plot threads begin to come together.

Akela Cooper & Bill Wolkoff’s script is full of Trek deep cuts. Una’s connection to the Illyrians dates back to before the race even appeared in 2004’s Enterprise episode “Damage”. There’s also been plenty of issues caused by ion storms across the franchise. The subplot which reveals some of Dr. M’Benga’s secrets also has ties to a certain TOS cameo in the TNG episode “Relics”.

Bet beyond the episodes connection to the wider Trek world. Cooper and Wolkoff’s efforts really pay off across the board. “Ghosts of Illyria” really ticks all the boxes which, this early in the season, is exactly that Strange New Worlds needs. It reinforces the sense that the series will experiment with genre and tone as well as shifting its focus around the main cast. All aspects of classic Trek series’ which have niggled fans in more recent entries like Picard and Discovery.

In its closing moments, “Ghosts of Illyria” shows a spectrum of consequences. It doesn’t simply close the chapter in readiness for the next episode. Una faces up to a damaged relationship with La’an but conversely feels the acceptance of Captain Pike. It explores the shades of grey which infiltrate the somewhat black and white view of Starfleet and that is what Trek does best.

Verdict

“Ghosts of Illyria” delivers a razor sharp story which feels like it strikes to the core of the franchise. As secrets are revealed we learn much more about our newest Starfleet family.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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