This article may contain spoilers for the following series: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Discovery, & Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
As Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is only a few episodes in at this point, it’s strange to think that so many people have managed to agree with it being the right mix of “breath of fresh air” and Federation ideals. A lot of that appears to have to do with Captain Christopher Pike and his leadership style. To understand Chris Pike, we first need to go back to the beginning…
If you only saw the Star Trek movies featuring Chris Pine as James T. Kirk a few years ago, the world of Star Trek may still be pretty new to you. Anyone who has been a fan for any length of time has a favorite captain and a favorite series. You have the fans of the original Enterprise series featuring Captain James T. Kirk. And why not? Star Trek was an original idea back then. It was one of the first TV series that was racially inclusive. It advertised an Earth that had learned how to come together and become peaceful. All of that was a huge feat in the 60s.
Then we had Captain Jean-Luc Picard who was highly respected as a diplomat and leader in The Next Generation, lovingly abbreviated by fans as TNG. Now, TNG was perhaps the best example of the Federation in all its glory and values. Fair diplomacy and stern morals. Picard was well known for having an open-door policy and a willingness to speak to people on their own level. He was ethical to a T, following federation ideals like the Prime Directive flawlessly and, for instance, recognizing androids as sentient beings when others did not. He challenged his crew, and a couple of them went on to be promoted into better positions of authority in the next series.
From there, though, things go a little off course. The fan base who fell in love with Deep Space Nine after TNG was a bit of a rebel bunch. Commander Sisko was the first commanding officer to have a series and not be a Captain, and the first black commanding officer on Star Trek TV. But before we even got to the ship Sisko would be commanding, the series started off in the first scene of episode one by alienating the beloved Captain Picard as his Borg escapade appeared to cause the death of Ben Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, causing bad blood between Picard and Benjamin Sisko seemingly forever, despite Picard’s attempt to make amends.
This perhaps opened the doors for a totally new kind of fan base, which is good, because this series was nothing like TNG. Commander (and soon after, Captain) Benjamin Sisko and his crew, unlike previous series, spent most of their time on an immobile, abandoned Cardassian space station. How in the world do you make a 7 season series out of a giant alien space station? Well, you make it yours and give it teeth of course. DS9 space station packed more weapons than we’ve possibly ever seen during a space battle ever, firing torpedoes and phasers from pilons and at least three different spots along its inner ring, hitting several enemy ships.
DS9 also introduced the concept of Starfleet officers being heavily involved in uncontained hand-to-hand combat. As DS9 introduced war with a new and superior species known as the Dominion, the Federation introduced the first escort class warship, the U.S.S. Defiant. Up to that point, Star Trek has almost exclusively featured explorer ships like the Galaxy Class Enterprise. Two nacelles, a long neck and a saucer section. The Defiant, in harsh contrast was the most mobile ship fans had ever seen at the time. It was the first Federation ship to feature a cloaking device, which gave it a huge battle advantage. It also gave the series an edge for showing amazing space battles and allowing Sisko to be a real master tactician.
Around this time, Captain Janeway and her crew began their journey at the DS9 space station and soon managed to accidentally end up in a completely different quadrant. Like Sisko, Janeway soon became a bit of a rebel. Like Picard, Janeway liked to follow the rules, but necessity for survival tended to make her more creative and forgiving at times. There were times she and the crew went through some truly grueling encounters. Among them were the encounters with species 8472, and of course, the Borg, now even bigger and badder than before. Like TNG and DS9, Voyager explored family life among its crew and allowed for characters to change both in ideas and values due to its extended isolation.
This kind of isolation was again visited in Star Trek: Discovery after they went several hundred years into the future, becoming like Voyager, in that no one perhaps could ever understand their experiences except for the crew around them that lived the same events they did. Even prior to their travel to the future, however, Discovery was a rather well-kept secret due to its highly classified Spore Drive, which allowed it to literally space hop. Of course, this technology caused no end to their problems, especially when it was met with a malicious sentient computer program from Section 31. But among the many Captains that Discovery has had, none is perhaps more notable than Captain Christopher Pike, who was a guest Captain for a time while the Enterprise was being repaired. Now, Pike is back to captain the Enterprise in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Yes, I know… What do all these Captains and series actually have to do with Captain Christopher Pike? Well, in a way, nothing. But it is noted that Chris Pike is one of the most highly decorated starship captains in Federation history. Now, knowing what we do from all the amazing captains Star Trek has put on the screen over the years, I never thought we could understand how Capt. Chris Pike could be better than any one of them until Anson Mount took the part. Then I got it.
What you may have missed about Anson Mount’s version of Pike if you didn’t watch Discovery is that Pike has a lot of qualities that the other Captains have, but he also has a few that none have ever had. He gets his hands dirty and takes getting everyone home seriously. Pike doesn’t leave people behind, and became such an influence to Michael Burnham in this regard, that when she eventually took Command of Discovery, she seemed to institute the exact same policy, deeply irritating the Federation President of the far future. Pike once went back for Michael himself when she got trapped during a rescue mission. He doesn’t send other people to do the jobs he wouldn’t do, and frequently does still do himself.
Pike is honest. On the first day he stepped on Discovery, his own personnel file got put on the viewscreen by accident. He shook it off and told the entire bridge crew to read it. He’s open about his flaws and his triumphs. Already that makes him more level-headed and graceful than most. In episode one of Strange New Worlds, Pike reveals a deeply personal struggle to an alien race in order to find common ground. No captain in Star Trek has ever been that real.
Pike is empathetic. Unlike any other Captain I’ve seen, Pike has a knack for knowing exactly what the people around him need, exactly when they need it. And in the same way, he’s incredibly human. He throws dinners, inviting members of the bridge crew, including the lowliest of ensigns, and entertaining them with comedic errors found in the stories of his earlier life. No one is expendable to him.
Pike is a democratic captain. Trust is big to Pike, and he believes that everyone has value. Where many Captains shutdown conflicting opinions or reigns with an iron fist, Pike values all ideas and opinions. He weighs the skills and ideas of his crew and rules what the best options could be among them instead of simply saying “get it done.” He believes in being fair, and part of that means allowing the crew he captains to excel and even be creative in as safe a space as he can provide.
Pike knows and respects the rules, but he isn’t tied down by them. Pike is perhaps one of the wisest captains we’ve ever seen. He’s full of inspiring quotes. He doesn’t seek or seize power, but he’s a great leader. In the same way, Pike treats even the most sacred of Starfleet rules as guidelines rather than actual rules at times. That isn’t to say that Pike breaks rules by mistake or even indifference. Pike approaches rules as he approaches people, with a deep level of respect and understanding. So, when he breaks these rules, he does so consciously and because he knows beyond a doubt that it’s the best course of action.
What Strange New Worlds gives us is that exploration element back, focusing not just on Pike, but all of his amazing crew. Many people have already had a glimpse of the immense potential Pike and the entire series Strange New Worlds has. And honestly, I think all of us, from all our different Star Trek fandoms, are here for it.