As a long-time Trekkie, having been enchanted by the Star Trek universe since my tender age of ten, it brings me immense joy to see the franchise persist in its tradition of tackling contemporary issues through its unique lens of interstellar exploration and diplomacy. The second episode of the second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, titled “Ad Astra per Aspera,” is a brilliant continuation of this tradition, boldly taking on the challenge of addressing discrimination and xenophobia, prevalent problems in our world today.
The episode centers on Number One’s trial for fraudulently joining Starfleet as a genetically modified Illyrian, which immediately thrusts us into a narrative echoing the struggles of marginalized groups that are often excluded or discriminated against due to their origins or genetic traits. Captain Pike’s enlistment of an Illyrian civil rights attorney, Neera Ketoul, as Number One’s defense counsel, symbolizes the importance of representation and the power of having one’s voice heard, a lesson that resonates beyond the confines of a Starfleet courtroom1.
Interestingly, the narrative does not shy away from challenging the structures of power themselves. Starfleet, usually a paragon of justice and progress in the Star Trek universe, is depicted as an organization capable of enforcing laws that are unjust and inconsistently applied. This mirrors the real-world problem of institutional discrimination, whereby systems in place can often perpetuate unfair treatment of certain groups1.
The show bravely critiques the misuse of authority as well, as showed in Ketoul’s cross-examination of Admiral April. By showcasing that even a high-ranking officer can violate the Prime Directive “with impunity when it was the right thing to do,” the episode highlights the uneven application of rules, reflecting societal problems where certain individuals enjoy privileges based on their position or status1.
Star Trek, since its inception, has been a beacon of hope, shining a light on the potential of humanity to overcome its flaws and build a more inclusive and understanding society. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds carries this torch forward, not only by creating narratives that entertain, but also by instigating thought-provoking discussions on pressing issues.
In conclusion, “Ad Astra per Aspera” is a shining testament to Star Trek’s enduring ability to address societal challenges head-on. It is a captivating episode that entertains as much as it educates, reminding us of the power of science fiction as a medium for social commentary. As we journey with Captain Pike and his crew, we are also encouraged to reflect on our own world and the changes we can effect, furthering the vision that Star Trek has always inspired: a future where diversity is celebrated, and discrimination and xenophobia are things of the past.
Live long and prosper, fellow Trekkies.