Everything Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Gets Right With The New Captain Kirk

This post contains spoilers for the season finale of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds."

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" re-introduced fans to an old favorite in the season 1 finale, showing us a new version of the young Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Kirk was played by William Shatner in the original series and then again by Chris Pine in the Kelvin-timeline films, but both performances are very different. In "Strange New Worlds," young Kirk, played by "The Vampire Diaries" star Paul Wesley, is very much a throwback to the original. The swashbuckling swagger and ladies-man machismo of Pine's performance got left in Wesley's warp-speed dust, bringing a more rounded, Starfleet-minded Kirk back to the franchise. 

Don't get me wrong — Pine's Kirk is a lot of fun and his apple-chomping during the Kobayashi Maru test is legendary, but that's more of a pop culture riff on the character than staying true to his roots. "Strange New Worlds" brings Captain Kirk back into the fold in a big way, and gets young Kirk positively perfect. 

A big gamble and a little hope

In the season 1 finale, "A Quality of Mercy," we're introduced to an alternate timeline Kirk set seven years ahead, after Captain Pike (Anson Mount) accidentally diverges the timelines by saving a young recruit that's supposed to die in Pike's future. The Kirk we meet is a bit of a wild card compared to most Starfleet officers, but he's not the loose cannon that pop culture later made him out to be. Instead, he offers thoughtful consideration in helping Captain Pike figure out how to save everyone from the Romulans and even comes up with a brilliant and potentially self-sacrificing strategy to change the odds. He never feels like a caricature or parody of the character, but much like Ethan Peck's Spock, feels like a unique interpretation that holds true to the original. 

In an interview with /Film, co-showrunner Henry Alonso Myers explained that they worked carefully to balance reverence and originality:

"It's funny, I remember having recent conversation with one of the actors who was playing the commander, the Romulan commander, and also with watching casting all the rest of our legacy characters from TOS is... You don't want them to do an imitation. I mean, that's actually the thing that people don't realize about Ethan's performance is, it's not an imitation. He's using parts of [Leonard] Nimoy's original performance, but he's very much embodying and making it his own, and an actor needs to be able to do that, because that's what's going to feel natural for them.And so, it was really important for us to have a Kirk that was very much the character that we knew, but he wasn't coming in and doing a version of Shatner. You know what I mean? No one wants to see that, we have Shatner, we have the good version already, you know what I mean? We're not a show that's trying to make fun of Shatner because we're all fans, so Paul wants to be his own person. You know what I mean? That was one of the great things about how he approached it."

Wesley very much embodies a version of Kirk that maintains the character's charm and hint of chaos while also remembering that he's a Starfleet officer who believes in his duty and career. There's a great balance to the performance that makes this Kirk feel real, and not like some larger-than-life hero. 

A younger but still confident Kirk

But wait... wasn't the Kirk in "A Quality of Mercy" technically from an alternate universe? Will he still be the cool and collected Kirk when we see the original timeline version? Thankfully, Myers had an answer for that, too, explaining that we'll meet the "real" Kirk in season 2, and that he's younger and still learning how to lead:

"The James Kirk that we're going to meet in season 2 is actually very... I don't want to say he's very different, but he's younger, it's like seven years earlier and he's not yet a captain. He's a lieutenant on the Farragut, and he has yet to become the person who we find in our finale. Who is different also from the James T. Kirk of the original series, because he didn't become the captain of the Enterprise. So, he's an alternative timeline Kirk."

Alternate timeline Kirk was an excellent portrayal, so I can't wait to see Wesley tackle the character again in season 2, and hopefully with more screen time than he got this time around. This version of Kirk and Peck's Spock could prove to be just as fascinating a pairing as Shatner and Nimoy, and it'll be interesting to see how "Strange New Worlds" tackles their first meeting. 

Season 1 of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is available to stream on Paramount+.