STRANGE NEW WORLDS SEASON 2 SHOWRUNNER RETROSPECTIVE
This article contains excerpts from a longer conversation with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds showrunners Akiva Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers. It has been edited for clarity and length. To hear the entire interview, click here. Some questions submitted by callers have been folded into the conversation as part of the OPN segments.
Open Pike Night : Let’s just let's set the game board here, gentlemen. So you finish filming Season One, and not too long after that, Season two is announced. At that point, what did you have in mind? What were your goals? You must have had some ideas of what you were saving up for season two.
Henry Alonso Myers: The words that we came up with were essentially “we want to do the same thing but we wanna do it bigger, and we want to do it better.” And we want to try some things that we hadn't tried. We were trying to do a classic version of Star Trek, but in a contemporary way, and we wanted to do all that. And you know, with Season One, I want to say there were some episodes we probably tried to do a little more reduced, because we were literally just trying to figure out how to make the show. And then we were like, “Alright, now that we've figured out how to make the show, let's see how we can make the show, but a little more complicated.” We pushed ourselves, and that definitely was what season two was about.
"The sad truth is we have more cool stories than we can tell in 10 episodes."
OPN: Were there any episodes or plots that you had kind of saved, that you knew you were going to hit? Was the crossover or the musical in your minds at that point or did those all come later?
Akiva Goldsman: I was agitating for a musical from the beginning, because I had never actually done a musical. So it's incredibly easy to pitch a thing that you have no idea is as challenging as it is. Henry, of course, had done many musicals before. He kept saying "Slow the fuck down". And he was right. And we did.
The sad truth is we have more cool stories than we can tell in 10 episodes. The very first thing we do is we put up cards that are kind of- you know, it's like Friends: “The one where…” you know. We're always doing the things we all wished we could make episodes about, and the wall fills up. And unfortunately, there's always about 15 to 20. And then we play survivor. And so far, when we start again the following year, it all begins again. And mostly you won't carry it over. So those that didn't make it on? Off the island! They don't get to come back the next season.
OPN: Was there a conscious choice to have La'an Noonien Singh be more center stage in this season? Or was that kind of an organic thing that happened throughout the process of writing the episodes?
AG: You know, Henry is the good one and I'm the bad one, right? Henry will give you light and love and I will give you suffering and pain. It's why we're a good mom and dad.
HM: But one thing we agree on is the romance.
AG: That’s true, we do like the romance. Because that's both light and joy and horror and pain. So bringing a traumatized character into Star Trek as part of the palette was very much on purpose. We sort of saw her as a new lens on life in the Federation. And also that thing that we have talked about a bunch when we talked about the Gorn, which is just because we live in a world where aspirationally there's a tremendous amount of empathy, we still don't think that precludes there being real evil in the galaxy. And real evil has real traumatic effects. And trauma has effects on human beings and healing is required, not just today, but also in the future.
OPN: How much of the writer’s room discusses TOS canon? Is it simply story-over-canon, canon-matters-a-little, everything-will-line-up-trust-us?
HM: This is actually a thing that Akiva has been working against, with, and through for many years on multiple shows. I'm relatively new to this in the grand scheme of things, but I love, I LOVE canon and so does Akiva. And we talk about it a lot. We have very very smart canon people in our staff.
AG: I personally am a TOS fan, right? I'm old. So that's my Star Trek. And canon matters a lot to me and I know it well, and there are people around me who know it far better. It matters. It matters to us a lot. But it doesn't matter so much that we will not chase something that we think can be very useful for our show. We will body English around it, we will try to bat our eyes and smoke and mirror our ways through it. All the new shows, on occasion, run up against it or tread heavily on it. I will say that the one thing that we changed, and I don't consider it canon, but I'm happy to have this fight with anybody. We shifted the dates of the Eugenics War and World War 3. And this is because I believe fundamentally that Star Trek is aspirational. I don't think it happens in another Earth's future. I think it wants to happen in our Earth's future. And when the show was made, those dates were the future. They're now the past. And so we slid them forward and we will continue to do that. As long as we get to make it, in order to let the Federation be something that we can all imagine as what happens to our earth one day when we get our shit together. We do apply a lot of time travel logic, though, to explain why things move around. We're not saying that we’re getting rid of what happened. We're saying that things change as you time travel.
OPN: Akiva, we did hear that you’re a big TOS guy from Henry the last time that he was here. I have to ask, if you could pick one or two episodes that you think everybody has to watch? What would they be?
AG: I think it's always City on the Edge of Forever, right? I mean, I think we get to sort of have an episode that works profoundly for both people who understand Star Trek and people who don't. It does all the things that Star Trek does well. It's a lens on our world. It's a comment on our suppositions about good and evil, right and wrong. It's real human drama. It's compelling. It's deeply emotional. It's really smart. And it's cool, you know, so I love City for all those reasons. And also, because my first Star Trek convention was 1976, which really dates me, and it was the first time I ever saw it projected. And the colors were so different from what was on that Panasonic sort of color TV in my living room. So that's seared into my consciousness. I love The Menagerie, both parts, because we didn't have The Cage, you know, that came much later for my generation. And I'm partial to Where No Man Has Gone Before, just because it has all these interesting promises in it, some of which are fulfilled, some of which aren't, but which sort of sat in my imagination for such a long time.
OPN: We realized that "Those Old Scientists" gave you an opportunity to lay some clues and easter eggs because these characters; Boimler and Mariner, know these (SNW) characters’ future. Both what we know as the audience, and also what we don't know. Did you plant any clues for what might be coming up for these characters in Episode Seven? For example, we were theorizing maybe when he says Ortegas was a war hero, he's not talking about the Klingon War. Maybe there's another war she's gonna be a part of?
HM: Well, in that one we were specifically talking about the Klingon war because we literally dive into it in the next episode.
OPN: Dang it!
HM: There's a ton of references in that episode. That was the intent. When we initially started talking about that episode, the thought was, “what if the biggest Star Trek fan in the world landed on the Enterprise?” That was part of what we were trying to do.
OPN: So no seeds for season 3?
HM: I will not reveal anything about Season 3.
AG: There’s a season 3?!
"We're really trying hard not to just play the same note."
OPN: Oh, we’ll get to that! Henry, the last time you were here, you spoke with us about how writing involves a lot of listening to your characters and the stories that they need to tell. Was there anything you heard from your characters while writing Season Two that surprised you?
HM: Oh, that's a good question. I was surprised that so many people were able to sing! I don't want to say it was a surprise, surprise, but it was a delightful surprise. The thing that we usually do is we try not to dig in the exact same direction that we did the previous season. You know, going into this season was about "Alright, well, we already did this stuff with La'an, we already did this stuff with Uhura, we already did this stuff with Ortegas. What are we gonna do differently this season? How are we going to send them in another direction?" We're really trying hard not to just play the same note. And that really is about working with the actors. What's the story that we can give them that allows them to do a thing that either reveals some new thing about their story, or has them try something again. I mean, there's a the La'an romance, which I adore as a thing that we didn't get to do with her in season 1.
OPN: Did you know how powerful her performance would be when she broke down at the end of episode three?
HM: That's acting, she is a very good actor. When the concept of that story came up we didn't even plan to necessarily kill Kirk. It just came out of the storytelling. It suddenly seemed like, oh, well, maybe what if we did that? And then we suddenly had a story that meant something to her. And it was terrible. I mean, yeah, that tear gets me.
OPN: Are there any standout moments where you're like, “Yes, that's exactly how we wanted the fans to react to this.”
HM: Well, I think of the "I am Ortegas and I fly the ship". That's one of my favorite moments in the season. Frankly, we just wanted to write more for her. And we don't always have time to write as much for everyone as we want. And so that was a delight.
OPN: Absolutely a hit. How about things you created that just didn't ring with the audience or didn't get the reception you were hoping for?
HM: I don't want to speak for my partner, but I will say my own personal feeling about this. And I really don't mean this to be rude: I actually genuinely don't care. I genuinely don't care how people react. That's their reaction, they are entitled to have it, they can do what they want. We were making a show that we liked. We were focusing a show on things that we would enjoy. And we didn't have a lot of that coming into it.
AG: This is important, and I agree with Henry entirely, which is we're thrilled that people like the show, it keeps us going. And we are grateful to the fans. But we can't possibly make a show based on fan response. That would be counterintuitive, and not particularly creative. Henry and I are real Star Trek fans ourselves, right. And we just happen to be the Star Trek fans that, this week, get to make Star Trek. And there are a bunch of other Star Trek fans who get to make Star Trek. And after we're gone, hopefully there will be many other Star Trek fans who get to make Star Trek. And I think what you try to do at that moment is make Star Trek for the fan that's inside of you. You know, again, I was 12 and 13 years old at that Star Trek convention and I wanted to play Star Trek, I wanted to make up Star Trek stories.
I was able to find some solace in watching that show in a way that I couldn't find in the real world. Not to say that Star Trek isn't the real world of course. And so now I get to, in concert with a bunch of other folks who are some version of me, make a show that we want to see. One that excites us and that welcomes us and people like us. And that's our job. And that's a great job. If it doesn't welcome enough people over time… You know someone else'll do it and there are a lot of different Star Treks inside Star Trek. So what we're doing is chasing the one that we want.
"Just give us four more hours..."
OPN: Let’s focus on two specific fans then: you. Was there anything, personally, when you watch it, you wish you could have maybe spent more time on?
HM: My only disappointments were about scheduling. There were a couple of, and I'm not gonna go into specifics, but there were a couple of characters who I wish we could have brought in that we just couldn't organize it. That was hard. This is not a slight because it's very hard to do 10 episodes, it takes us 18 months or so. But we probably could have done 13 and filled more. We probably could have done 20 and filled more, because there's always a Trek show that we wanted to touch on, and weren't able to.
AG: Yeah, we leave a lot of stuff on the table. And that's a bummer. I'd definitely like there to be 13 or 20. I would love for there to be an opportunity to do… like that musical, which is just endlessly delightful, could have been two hours, could have been a full honest two hour movie. We have a bunch of latitude, but we don't have that latitude. But that's less regret and more a pie in the sky dream.
OPN: Yeah, I mean, around here I think our only consistent criticism of season two is we wanted more.
AG: Obviously we probably share that with you. We feel a little bit like “but wait, just give us four more hours and we could really be a little more fulsome about all of it.”
OPN: Interesting. Any chance that might happen in the future? Speculating?
AG: We've certainly asked each time and each time we'd been told that we should go back to our bridge.
OPN: Keep asking for us, for the fans. And for yourselves. All right, we are the official #Mortegas podcast. So we have to ask, you know, I haven't timed her screen presence or counted her lines, but I think it's fair to say she's the only main character who hasn't had a multi episode arc. So why not #Mortegas? Was she intentionally left as a blank canvas? Or is that just kind of the way the stories and the writing fell.
HM: It was always easy to write for her because she is right in the center of most of the main storylines, and she's right there. There's always great lines for her in there. So that made it really easy. We made an effort to try to give her a bit more in season two. I assure you, we love her and we want to bring more of her. You know, we work to be good parents for all of the people on the show, and we want everyone to get time. So all I can say is, I assure you there will be more for everybody.
OPN: It’s probably fair to say that the reason we want more is because she’s a bit of a mystery.
HM: Some of it we want to reveal and some of it we don’t.
OPN: We finally got a chance to meet Melissa Navia in person at Vegas, and we stood in line for three hours. So it is a shared sentiment. She is extremely popular. We didn't wait that long for anybody else while we were there.
HM: She's fantastic. I just went went picketing with her in New York. Yeah, she's great, man
OPN: All right, so she's surviving the Gorn ship is what I hear you saying.
HM: What would you… do you want me to… you don't want to know what's going on!
OPN: No no no, I just want to make you laugh uncomfortably.
HM: If she does survive, there will be some great storyline out of it. That's all I'll say.
OPN: Who decided to make the season finale a cliffhanger?
AG: It's all Henry's fault. I was like "Henry don't do that." He's cruel. I mean, typically, I'm cruel, but he turned out to be cruel.
OPN: Star Trek is pretty notorious for season cliffhangers where the resolutions were just as much of a cliffhanger to the writers when they wrote part one. Did you have a pretty good idea of how Hegemony Part Two would go when you were deciding to make it a two-parter? Or was it a blank canvas like back in the day?
HM: I wrote part one with an absolute idea of how part two was going to go.
OPN: Good man, Henry.
HM: As a young man, I loved 'The Best of Both Worlds' so much and when we go off of Frakes saying "fire," that was the feeling we wanted to give the audience which was “oh my god, things have gotten bigger and crazier! And we have to find out what happens!!” That was all I really wanted to recreate. To me, that's as Star Trek as it gets.
OPN: Akiva, you've had a lot of experience adapting written works to the screen, including your academy award winning work on A Beautiful Mind. Do you think that your previous experience with adaptations helped you in working in an established universe like Star Trek?
AG: Oh, yeah, I think so. It's a weird truth, which is, everything helps, right? The more you do, the more it helps you do more. That was my favorite sentence I've ever said.
Because part of what you're trying to do when you adapt is create within the confines of an emotion that has been generated already on the part of the source material, right? That's what you're really adapting, you're adapting an emotion, you're adapting the feeling of the book. And you're trying to use the pieces of the narrative that you think help convey that feeling best, because you can't possibly take the whole thing and transcribe it because it would be boring and long. For Henry and I, because we love Star Trek, we're just trying to sort of replicate the emotions that Star Trek generated in us with the pieces that we think are crucial. And that seemed to be effective for a modern audience. So it's collaboration with an object, it’s sensitivity and awareness to the thing that exists and how you then work with it to create in someone else the feeling that you had when you first encountered it. Fuck, that's a lot of words.
OPN: You should be a writer.
AG: I know, right? That's what I keep telling Henry! He won't give me a script!
OPN: Are we ever going to see Prime Lorca again? Or find any new secret Sarek kids?
AG: So it's a really interesting question, because that is actually one of the things that ended up in the detritus pile one of the years. I'm a fan of Jason Isaacs, we worked together on Season One of Discovery as well as a show we just did together and so I like him very much. And I think he's really talented and fun to work with. And I'm sort of like, "Prime Lorca is out there somewhere!" It's one of those things where they get stirred up in the room and you talk about and we did. And then finally what happens is some amazing things don't make the cut. And that's literally one of them. So that's the kind of thing that unfortunately goes the way of all flesh when you don't have more time.
OPN: I think that's the most definitive answer anyone's ever had on that question. So, Henry, any additional secret Sarek children?
HM: Well, there is one that we talked about season one that we saw a little bit of, that we tried to find a space for in season two and could not. So that was definitely something that came up. And it wasn't because we disliked it, we liked it very much. Otherwise, why would we put it in?
OPN: Maybe it would have been in a 13 episode season.
HM: Yeah, if we had more time on the screen, we would have spent some time around that. But we didn't. So I can't speak to the future. That's the only thing I can't do.
AG: I bet you would find, and obviously we're the problem with this because we're so sort of Dr. Calligari's Cabinet, you know, we're closed, right? But I bet you would find that if we sat around and you sort of listed off the things that you would imagine would be fun episodes. The Venn diagram of how many of those we have discussed would probably be very large. We’re all kind of the same communal imagining here. You know, we're all sort of like, "well, wouldn't it be great if?"
And there are a bunch of them that are such low hanging fruit, but because you can't get that or we couldn’t afford this…now I'm being coy again. But I bet you would find that we're all kind of thinking the same thing. And, yes, maybe a musical is surprising. But the directions that we take things, although our execution may be surprising, we hope that the things we want to see, you want to see too. That's why I think people weren’t like, "Huh, Scotty?" they're like, "Ooh, Scotty!"
OPN: How did the conversation go with the actor. “You're now portraying one of the most iconic television characters of all time. You can't talk about it for a year."
HM: We try to be as nice as we possibly can. You know, they understand what the deal is. We're lucky to have them all and no one knows quite how long these things take. And they sometimes take a little longer than they maybe should.
OPN: We spoke with Jordan Canning, the director of Episode Five, Charades. Henry, she told us that your tone meeting for the episode was a three hour meeting, at the depth of which she has never seen for a tone meeting and loved it. She thoroughly enjoyed it. She said she had 10 pages of notes by the end of that meeting. Is that the level of detail you typically practice? Or do you give Strange New Worlds a little extra love for your tone meetings?
HM: Oh my god, Jordan Canning is an incredible director. They vary, I mean, I co-wrote that episode with Kat (Kathryn Lyn), and so that one was so specific partly because of the kind of comedy it was. It was more about "let's talk about what we want to be funny, but let's also hear what you want to be funny." The goal in a tone meeting is to walk through the intent of the script with the director to say “this is what we we’re hoping will happen, this is what we want,” but also to hear what they are thinking and how they want to approach it. And you know, my favorite part is going to be at the very end we say, "and now it is yours, have fun with it, make it your movie, go do it!" and try really hard not to worry about it after that, it's all gone. And so that's really what it was. I think that one was complicated, because she had so many specific emotional details that had to happen in the show. I mean, that was a tough episode to make work well, and she just nailed it. I was grateful.
OPN: People have observed that the pacing of Strange New Worlds is somewhat similar to Deep Space Nine, in that it's nominally episodic, but then it has these sort of more lengthy arcs that can be season, series long arcs, a lot of character building. Was that on purpose, or is that sort of a just a natural evolution when you're trying to make a modern, but more episodic show?
AG: Definitely not on purpose. I remember I was in high school and Samuel R. Delaney, who was a great science fiction writer, he knew the teacher of our journalism course at Saint Anne's, Brooklyn Heights. So Samuel R. Delaney came in and I had found these two passages in two of his books that were the same, and I was like, "they're the same!" He's like, "whatever kid."
No, I mean, we set out to make something that was episodic but with serialized character arcs because we had done both in our lives. And we were like, this is probably the sweet spot for Star Trek, like Jim Kirk probably really didn't want to just jump right back on the horse after Edith Keeler died. He probably would have liked a minute or two to be sad, or an episode or two, but they weren't afforded that. And you know what we learned from Pike and Disco early days, in a season long serialized object, the first three episodes or so are act one. And in act one, everything goes to shit. Because that's how you make an object that is serialized and long, right? Everything's got to go bad. So you can fix it at the end, or else there's no story. And people are like, "your show is really dark". And we're like, "no, no, no, just wait it gets light!". So this became sort of like a happy medium that we did on purpose. And any resemblances to Deep Space Nine are flattering, but not intentional.
HM: I love Deep Space Nine, we were in the middle of the pandemic, and I was working out of my office at home. And you know you couldn't go out in the world and do anything. And I just sat and rewatched all of Deep Space Nine with my sons during season one. Unrelated. It was just helpful to kind of go back to it because, what did those shows from the 80s and 90s do really well that we liked? I think there is some crossover, we weren’t copying or ripping, we were hoping to borrow and respect.
"We're in a righteous strike. When that righteous strike is over, the business will get back to business."
OPN: Well, Akiva and Henry, I know there's a lot of variables - but best guess, what does a window for Season Three look like, knowing what the production schedule is like?
AG: Here's what you need to know. We're in a righteous strike. When that righteous strike is over... the business will get back to business.
OPN: Once it's over, do you have an idea of how long it might take?
AG: I think those are hard questions.
HM: They're not based on things that we actually have control over.
AG: I mean, Henry does, but he won't.
HM: So much control! (Laughter)
OPN: It was a delight. Both of you. Thank you so much. We really appreciate your time, and we appreciate how tough a spot you are in especially with everything going on and everybody hoping and hopefully it's just a great sign to you that so many people are desperately waiting for season three. Whenever it comes.
AG: We do appreciate it. Thank you.