Strange New Worlds is always going to be playing with fire when it brushes up against a legendary episode of the original Star Trek. The nature of its place in the series’ timeline, its wheelhouse in remixing spins on classic tropes, the comparisons will always be there. Last season, it proved it could play in those spaces. This season, it’s already proving it can go toe-to-toe.
If “A Quality of Mercy” was Strange New Worlds going right into perhaps the greatest original Star Trek episode of all time, “Balance of Terror,” then just three episodes into its second season “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is the show making its own version of the other greatest original Star Trek episode of all time, “City on the Edge of Forever.” And there, it might just eke out “Quality” as Strange New Worlds’ best episode yet, because instead of simply taking that classic story and mixing up a few characters, here we get a modern spin on “City” that smartly advances one of the series’ most fascinating original characters: Christina Chong’s La’an Noonien Singh.
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” opens with a pretty sharp veer sideways: La’an, going about her duties, suddenly finds a dying temporal agent bleeding out in a corridor of the Enterprise in front of her. Given a mysterious device before he perishes, she not only finds herself befuddled by the event but immediately thrust into an alternate timeline: one where Earth’s space forces stand alone in the galaxy, the Enterprise is unwilling to help Vulcan ships (even one captained by Spock)… and Paul Wesley’s Jim Kirk is in the captain’s chair, not Pike. This guy can only show up in parallel realities!
This immediately puts La’an and Kirk together in a pairing that Chong and Wesley mine for all its worth, immediately bickering like kids with each other as they try to figure out whatever temporal weirdness has put them together. One fight later brings the duo through time to the location of the problem they need to solve: their very own 21st century city on the edge of forever… better known to us as Toronto, Canada. I mean, it’s not quite as romantic as ‘30s New York, but hey, it’s local to filming, which in and of itself is a very well-worn Star Trek trope.
Anyway, as La’an and Jim acclimatize to our modern Canada—from clothes shopping to hot dogs, and a bit of chess-based money acquisition—we get to see more of the charming spin Wesley has on the legendary Captain Kirk, but it’s one that’s touched by a tragedy that the actor excels at communicating behind his swagger. This isn’t our Kirk, but an alternate whose history has shaped him into something askance of the man we know. In this Jim’s history, Earth is an irradiated wasteland, torn apart by wars that have led the remnants of humanity into the solar system not out of curiosity but out of survival, untrusting of the other races of the galaxy. To La’an, 21st century Toronto is a playful historical curiosity at first, but to Jim it’s a past he never knew, a home he could never touch. It disarms his braggadocio in such a way that makes us, and La’an in turn, immediately connect to him on a level she rarely connects to people in the timeline she desperately wants to get back to.
It’s only as this connection flourishes, as the duo try to figure out just why they’re in Toronto in the first place—it turns out blowing up a bridge with future tech is just the start of an increasingly unhinged conspiracy theory full of supposedly mad believers, nuclear reactors, and a Romulan or two—that the real emotional heart of the episode hits you. If this is to be Strange New Worlds’ spin on “City,” then someone has to be Edith Keeler. And it’s not La’an, because, well, of course it’s not going to be, even if Strange New Worlds has already showed it won’t back away from bumping off a main cast member. It has to be Jim, and the fact you can peg it well before La’an can just adds another twist and tragedy to their fateful, burgeoning relationship.
Which is why what works in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is Jim’s “shock” death, rather than the other “twist” of an already twisty episode. With a little help from the Pelia of this time (a cute payoff to the nods that her long-life has seen her hiding out on Earth for centuries before Starfleet was a thing for her), La’an and Jim figure out that a secret nuclear facility is the source of the temporal disturbance they have to prevent to fix the former’s timeline—a fact the latter has come to accept, warming up not just to La’an but the promise of a better future her utopian present offers compared to his own. Only, of course, twist! The conspiracy theorist that led them in that direction in the first place is none other than a Romulan temporal agent, who has been waiting decades to access the other secret facility alongside this fusion reactor: a Noonien Singh-operated research institute the Romulan is there to infiltrate.
So suddenly, the tragedy of the episode—that one way or the other La’an and Jim’s burgeoning relationship is going to be dramatically cut short, either by the destruction of his timeline or, as we end up getting, the Romulan agent calling his bluff and shooting him dead—that would’ve made “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” an all-timer instead of simply great is burdened with another layer of trauma for La’an. The loss of her romantic connection to another person isn’t enough; apparently, she has to confront the real temporal mission: protect a young Khan Noonien Singh from being baby Hitler’d.
It shouldn’t work—especially as, after doing so and being returned to her intact timeline, we get to hear La’an rightfully and furiously articulate to a waiting temporal agent just what an extremely messed up thing this was to do to her. And that’s even before you acknowledge that this late game “twist” in the episode dramatically undercuts the actual emotional tragedy that takes up most of its runtime, setting up and then breaking apart the La’an/Kirk relationship. But even though it’s played fast and loose (so fast and loose that, uh, La’an leaves a loaded gun in kid Khan’s room at this facility he’s being experimented on in??? That’s bad opsec, Chief of Security!), this sideswipe of a reveal is saved by a barnstorming performance by Christina Chong. This episode was already La’an on a level we’ve never really seen her before, even when she’s been in the spotlight in similarly tragic circumstances given her history with the Gorn in season one. We get to see emotional sides to her that she’s previously closed off from the people around her, and we then get to see her deal with having that trust taken away from her cruelly by circumstances of fate.
Chong sells the fury, the confusion, the innocence, and the sadness of it all, whether she’s cradling the dying Kirk or trying to comfort the ancestor she knows will one day cause unspeakable pain to the entire world. We see it in the aftermath when she’s back aboard the Enterprise, furious that she was used in such a way but also deeply, emotionally compromised as she tries to make a brief connection with “our” Jim Kirk, only to realize he truly has no idea who she is. It feels like a wall has come crashing down for La’an as a character that we in turn as an audience will see her emerge from behind in new and more interesting ways.
It’s in Chong that “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” saves itself from its own shortcomings to deliver what is, even with some caveats, a more than worthy Strange New Worlds spin on an all time Trek classic. And it’s in Wesley’s Kirk too—I joked earlier that all we’ve gotten to see of him in this legendary role is through the artificial lens of alternate reality versions of Kirk. But maybe that’s the best space Strange New Worlds can play with this part of its own inevitable future right now. It lets Wesley be Kirk on his own terms, and lets the show explore the character on its own terms—and more crucially, lets it explore Kirk through Strange New Worlds’ own original characters, to further explore them through their relationships with him, rather than falling under the shadow of his place in the canon.
Even if “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tommorrow” stumbles at the climax, if Kirk’s presence in Strange New Worlds means more episodes like this and “A Quality of Mercy,” I’m willing to put aside those minor stumbles along the road, at least.
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