Has Star Trek Ever Been This Horny?

Star Trek has always been beholden to the past. It’s latest spinoff, Paramount+’s prequel series Strange New Worlds is no different, propelled as it is by the highs and lows of so called “NuTrek.” But in the constant struggle between carving a new path and recapturing fond Star Trek memories, Strange New Worlds may have found the perfect balance.

In a more serialized format than its immediate predecessors, Picard and Discovery, Season 2 of Strange New Worlds takes time to examine singular crew members and give those characters room to establish themselves in their new iterations, much as The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine endeared us to their crews 30 years ago. Gone is the gloom of Picard and the singular focus on Burnham of Discovery, replaced with an optimistic, warm, welcoming Star Trek that best evokes classic series in a key, maybe surprising way: How unabashedly horny it is.

Hold on, when was Star Trek horny, you ask? Well, hearing Kirk (William Shatner) tell Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to “push—push harder—dig it in there” to help with “back pain” didn’t exactly feel chaste. Nor did Picard (Patrick Stewart) strutting around Risa with his voluminous chest hair to do some “archaeology” with Vash (Jennifer Hetrick). There’s also Riker’s (Jonathan Frakes) sex-jazz, the will-they-won’t-they dynamic of Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran), the persistent simmering sexual tension between Dr Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Garak (Andrew Robinson) … the list goes on.

Like it or not, Star Trek has always been sexy. Now, we’ve simply swapped all that historical randiness for Star Trek’s equivalent of a crew of horny teenagers and their space dad—and I couldn’t be happier.

Season 2 hit its stride with its third episode, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” in which Lieutenant La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) travels back in time for a temporal sex holiday with an alternate timeline James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley). Ostensibly, there’s a Romulan threat to defuse, but it also becomes a shiny opportunity for La’an, upon encountering for the first time someone who places no significance on her name, to open up to another human being. And it turns out to be really shiny. Seriously, both La’an and Kirk are glossy in this episode.

If Season 1’s episodic structure centered on Pike’s reckoning with his future, Strange New Worlds’ sophomore outing focuses on the continued exploration of La’an’s trauma and a consistent look at how she opens up to others, beyond her relationship with Number One (Rebecca Romijn). The arc is balanced perfectly by Chong, from her cold, defensive professionalism to the almost schoolgirl giddiness of her unrequited love for Kirk—and even through the singing all about it in Star Trek’s first musical episode, “Subspace Rhapsody.”

Unfortunately for La’an-Kirk shippers, the fire between them is doused as Kirk reveals he has a pregnant partner waiting in the wings—though fans will appreciate this nod to Dr. Carol Marcus and Wrath of Khan.

From the chemistry between Kirk and La’an, however, a rising horniness wends its way through all of Season 2. As exclaimed by Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) in the surprisingly endearing crossover with animated Lower Decks, “Those Old Scientists,” Spock (Ethan Peck) is hot. His burgeoning relationship with Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) is responsible for much of the sexual tension throughout the season. Kirk shares a moment with Spock too, hinting at their future partnership, and even Uhura doesn’t appear immune to his charms.

Photo still of Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Meanwhile, Captain Pike (Anson Mount) continues to struggle with committing to Captain Batel (‎Melanie Scrofano). Curiously, Pike takes a backward step to the rest of the crew for most of the season, meaning he’s mostly spared from the sexual vibes. Which is good, actually, because gross; that’s our dad!

This focus on the crew, their interpersonal relationships, and the romances therein is a neat trick. On one hand, where Star Trek often reflects our inequities back at us through examinations of alien cultures and how members of Starfleet relate to them, Strange New Worlds explores humanity more explicitly through its crew.

“Lost in Translation” explores Uhura’s grief over the loss of her parents, with the help of this timeline’s Kirk and Chief Engineer Pelia (the very welcome addition of Carol Kane). In “Charades,” Spock is turned fully human, which leads to a The Birdcage style farce in which he and his friends must hide that humanity from his hardline Vulcan in-laws-to-be.

Perhaps the most affecting episode of the season, “Under the Cloak of War,” reflects on Dr M’benga’s (Babs Olusanmokun) past as a veteran of the Klingon War, when his PTSD is triggered by an unwelcome visitor to the Enterprise. Between the sexcapades and gossip-filled bar scenes, Strange New Worlds fills the gaps with meaningful examinations of our often morally ambiguous humanity. It is, perhaps, the most human Star Trek has felt in a long time.

On the other hand, if this focus on the crew can feel like it’s not obviously driving the season anywhere, it pays off in its finale, “Hegemony.” Pike returns to center stage to save Captain Batel, as all those relationships become dramatically tested during a conflict with Strange New Worlds’ apparent big bad, the Gorn. It’s a conflict not all those relationships are guaranteed to survive.

It’s a clever dovetailing of what appears to be a season made up of small incidents and sexually-charged interactions within the daily lives of the crew of the Enterprise into a believable crescendo. The climax diffuses all the sexual tension, sure, but who’s horny when being attacked by space lizards? It makes Season 2 seem like the deep breath before the plunge as it sets up a large-scale confrontation with the Gorn in Season 3.

Photo still of Rebecca Romijn as Una and Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Held up against the clumsy way Picard handled these same micro-examinations—to the point of turning The Borg Queen into a depressed Pat Benatar fan (we’ve all been there)—Strange New Worlds has been surgically precise in comparison, patiently building dynamic, relatable relationships that feel genuinely threatened in a dramatic finale.

That makes Strange New Worlds’ debt to classic Trek noticeably more negligible compared to past series that rely too much on fan service. There are those moments, as you’d expect, like mentions of Roger Korby or introducing us to Montgomery Scott. But though it’s tempting to look at its The Original Series-era setting and accuse it of drawing too much from history, Season 2 of Strange New Worlds doesn’t ape on past triumphs as much as you might think. People forget how underdeveloped most characters were in The Original Series, or that so many returning characters are, in fact, blank slates.

Rather, Strange New Worlds evokes; capturing what we believe Star Trek and its characters used to be. It’s as if the series reached into our collective rose-tinted nostalgia to build a brighter, more interesting, more progressive, and significantly more sweaty iteration of what we think Star Trek used to be—but which is, in fact, something new and more exciting.

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