The Wild History Behind That Cameo In Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

This post contains spoilers for the first episode of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds."

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" premieres this week with a strong pilot episode that centers Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the canonical commander of the Starship Enterprise before Captain James T. Kirk came aboard. The latest "Trek" series is set to follow Pike's crew, and Paramount+ has already revealed that Kirk himself will be joining the show's second season, where he'll be played by Paul Wesley.

So who, then, does Captain Pike keep calling for? As the Enterprise gears up for its first in-series mission, Pike keeps asking the crew to have a Lieutenant Kirk report for duty. In the episode's final scene, the crew member finally arrives ... only it's not James Kirk. It's Sam Kirk. "Samuel Kirk! Welcome to Enterprise. How's the family?" Pike declares as he engages Sam in a super-friendly handshake.

Sam Kirk, who is played by Dan Jeannotte, sports a blue Starfleet uniform and a fun little mustache (more on that soon). He also seems to know Pike personally, as he calls him "Chris" before correcting his language to be more work-appropriate. Just before the premiere episode ends, viewers learn that Kirk will be "working on life sciences," and that his boss will be none other than Spock (Ethan Peck) himself. Okay, but who the hell is this guy?

A mustache for the ages

The Kirk bit works as both a funny fake-out for fans who await Wesley's debut as James T., and one of the new show's many nods to "Star Trek: The Original Series." Samuel Kirk is a character within existing "Trek" canon, and he makes his debut appearance in the first season finale of the original series.

Sam Kirk first appears in the 1967 episode "Operation — Annihilate!" The USS Enterprise is on the hunt for the source of a wave of a strange mass illness, and their search brings them to the Federation colony of Deneva. Kirk (played by William Shatner) receives a distress call that turns out to be from Aurelan, the wife of his biologist brother Sam, and gets to the planet as quickly as he can. Unfortunately, when he arrives, he finds Sam already dead at the hands of a parasitic hive mind creature.

When the team stumbles upon Sam's body, Kirk turns it over to identify him, only for audiences to discover that he's played by none other than Shatner himself. It's one of the original series' many, many bits of accidental comedy, as the character pretty much just looks like Shatner with a small, fake mustache and different hairstyle. And while Sam is alive and well in "Strange New Worlds," he's still sporting that same little 'stache.

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" does plenty to pique longtime fans' curiosity in its premiere outing, but few moments are as sensational and surprising as the introduction of this Kirk sibling. We've only met him for all of one minute, but Sam Kirk already seems to be a playful presence, perhaps in possession of some of his brother's charms. Plus, Spock gets to be his boss, which sounds like a great "Trek" dynamic if ever I've heard one. Sam's not wearing a red shirt, and we know he won't die in "Trek" canon for some time thanks to the events of the original show. Let's hope Sam sticks around.

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" arrives Thursdays on Paramount+.