This week’s episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is edge-of-your-seat Star Trek at its finest. It’s a visceral and jarring hour of television!
It’s time for another gripping episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. After last week’s hilarious hijinks with the time travelers from Lower Decks, it’s time for the Enterprise to return to business as usual. However, this week stirs up old feelings from the survivors of the Klingon war when a Federation ambassador arrives on the flagship. And in a strange quirk of fate, the ambassador is a former Klingon warlord responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Federation citizens. And many of them were patients of Doctor M’Benga and Christine Chapel.
Now with the ambassador aboard, old feelings surface, hostilities are renewed, and Star Trek goes where no one has gone before by exposing the harsh reality of PTSD in the final frontier. But can this episode pick up the breadcrumbs from the past few weeks and deliver a solid episode? Or is the jarring return to dramatic events threatening to derail the consistency of the season?
Fear not cadets because ‘Under the Cloak of War’ is another masterclass from the Strange New Worlds team. Not only does this episode delve into the backstory of Nurse Chapel and Doctor M’Benga, but it also shines a light on the trauma associated with Post Traumatic Stress. And although the storyline has all the hallmarks of a sci-fi fantasy adventure, the images on display are as visceral as they are jarring. The outcome is an intense episode that takes the series to the darkest recesses of space and shines a light on the scars of conflict. So, strap yourself in and dig into this emotionally-charged adventure.
S2:E8 UNDER THE CLOAK OF WAR
So far, this season has devoted an episode to a different member of the cast. But this episode departs from that remit because the events that preceded it have impacted so many of the players that come to the fore. As the logline suggests, the traumatic experiences of the Klingon war are stirred up when a Klingon ambassador visits the Enterprise. And unfortunately for M’Benga, Chapel, and Ortegas, the delegate is a well-known warlord dubbed the “Butcher of J’Gal.” The tyrant was responsible for the relentless bombardment of their field hospital. And his arrival reopens the scars of war and evokes the trauma back to the surface tenfold.
What follows is an edgy episode that exposes the darker side of war. And highlights the survivors who are struggling to put their experiences behind them. And for M’Benga especially, the ambassador’s arrival takes him to a place far darker than we are prepared for. Earlier episodes dragged his darker side out into the open for all to see. But this is something different entirely!
Having to follow in the footsteps of last week’s groundbreaking crossover episode would ordinarily be a thankless task. One that many creatives would shy away from. However, “Under the Cloak of War” sidesteps these comparisons by exploding with a tonal shift that many fans will not see coming. Gone are the hilarity and hijinks of last week’s exertions. Instead, we are treated to some genuine and compelling moments of distress and trauma. The majority of these moments manifest during a series of flashbacks designed to highlight M’Benga and Chapel’s perseverance during the conflict. But these flashbacks serve as a crucial counterpoint to current events that are forcing them to confront the ghosts of their past.
The imagery is visceral and surprisingly graphic for Star Trek. But it encapsulates the tone of war to perfection and refuses to shy away from its ugliness. It is a bold and inventive decision, which could have backfired after last week’s light-hearted fare. But here, the tonal shift serves to bring us back to the deck of the Enterprise with a crude bump of reality.
The character with the biggest arc during the episode is Doctor M’Benga. The episode does well to pick up on the breadcrumbs left during earlier adventures and exposes the skeletons in his closet for the very first time. Even touching on the origins of the super-serum he used to overcome hordes of enemy combatants in S2:E1 “The Broken Circle.” And the revelations cast a darker shadow over the good doctor than we ever thought possible. So much so that many of us will reevaluate our appreciation for the character after the events of this episode. Because the darker the events become, the darker his character emerges. And the rulebook of “Do no harm” has officially been jettisoned from the airlock here.
Nurse Chapel, on the other hand, is put through the wringer in this episode. The emotional trauma she is forced to re-live is crushing and it forces her to question everything. Even her budding relationship with Spock. And the fallout will have long-lasting repercussions for her future relationships and goes a long way in explaining her on/off relationship with Spock during the Original Series.
Once again, Jess Bush excels here. I’ve highlighted her performances in past reviews, and she deserves to be lauded again this week. She seems to effortlessly add more layers to Chapel every week. And the constant character growth is profound. As if she made it her mission to flesh out a beloved legacy character that was so criminally underused in TOS. And the payoff is a far more layered version of the character than we have ever seen before. She is genuinely cementing herself as one of the defining characters of this era. And I cannot wait to see where she goes from here.
Another highlight this week is the understated, but equally vital contributions of Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike. There are genuine moments when Pike has to draw the line between being a Captain and being a friend. And the struggle to find the middle ground is palpable. Mount underscores the duality of his character to deliver a labored performance that adds weight to the moral dilemmas at play with his crew. The predicament is clearly visible on his face. And as the episode draws to a close, his relationship with M’Benga is called into question. The fallout from their exchange will have fascinating repercussions as the series progresses.
Overall, this episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was another standout in what has become a spectacular season. And we haven’t even reached the musical episode yet. I am reluctant to touch on the events of this episode in greater detail because it will detract from the visual impact they have. But, needless to say, some of the images will leave their mark. And will have us pondering their ramifications for weeks to come. Doctor M’Benga’s arc this season is taking a turn far darker than I anticipated. And judging by the tension raised in the episode’s final moments, his departure from the Enterprise may be coming sooner rather than later. But that’s a story for another time.
This season, the showrunners are going the extra mile to ensure they defy expectations – and this week is a true testament to that mandate. After a light-hearted crossover episode, the events take a far darker turn this week to deliver a visceral and jarring hour of television. One that will have you riveted for the entire duration. This is edge-of-your-seat Star Trek at its finest, and I cannot wait to see the rest of the season unfold. Because, on the strength of this episode, the franchise is showing it has the range to cover almost every genre, and that is an enticing prospect. Enjoy!
New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiere weekly on Thursdays only on Paramount+ in the US and UK. Subscribe to our newsletter at the top of our homepage to stay up-to-date with all the latest Star Trek news and reviews from Future of the Force.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!