This is a very dense Enterprise episode with much of the complexity of plot, character and theme carried in intense dialogue - largely between Trip and T'Pol, and mainly in the second twenty minutes or so of screen time.
Given this, the episode could easily have become very difficult for the viewer to follow, but this does not happen because Strange New World is well structured story telling, the dialogue well written and the directing and editing innovative, snappy and tight.
Trip (and T'Pol) are central to this episode. The theme of mistrust and cross cultural/interspecies difficulty between Vulcans and humans is very dramatically played out between Trip and T'Pol in Strange New World.
We learn from Cutler's interaction with T'Pol that T'Pol is not particularly open to friendships, and that she cannot be drawn into conversation about Vulcan culture. She makes it quite clear to Archer that she is still very wed to the Vulcan way of doing things, that she disapproves of his lack of caution in landing on the planet. She also makes it clear to all that she views the trip as a mission, not an opportunity to enjoy herself.
This take on T'Pol's character is further highlighted in her conflict with Trip.
Initially Trip works well with T'Pol in a shared command situation. In the scene where the survey team relocates to the cave because of the storm, Trip looks good in command. He is cool, confident, and friendly while making joint command decisions with T'Pol. As well as showing Trip in command, this scene skilfully escalates a collective almost pheromone induced fear and paranoia amongst Travis, Cutler and Novakovich while T'Pol and Trip seemingly remain unaffected.
The first Trip/T'Pol tension comes shortly afterward however, as the pollen begins to affect Trip. As the two stare each other out scene after scene, the viewer gets a sense of not only the obvious tension between them given the current context, but a deeper, almost sexual, passion between them. There's a definite palpable chemistry between Blalock and Trinneer in these moments - a chemistry that is often seen as the first season progresses. Perhaps this chemistry could lead to a very different interaction should TPTB feel so inclined.
During the gun pointing 'irrational' scenes, Trip comes right out and voices his anti-Vulcan feelings. These are Trip (and T'Pol) moments of a different kind. Not cute, sexy, endearing, or humorous moments, but intense moments. You can't hate Trip for caring about Novakovich or the other human crew members, but the 'agro' towards T'Pol is unnerving to say the least, especially coming from our southern charmer. The way the humans gang up on T'Pol so quickly is also unsettling, although the seeds for this were also sown early in the episode (T'Pol's frostiness to Cutler's overtures of friendship, T'Pol's officiousness and inability to get 'into the moment' while exploring the planet).
Even so, Trip's humour comes through when the chips are down "aren't you forgetting something Cap’s" and "sounds like you're getting a little volatile yourself, sub-commander" being two good examples.
Connor Trinneer's acting skills really shine through in this episode. He's clearly easily able to convey the complexity of emotion required of Trip for this episode to work well. Trip's previous interaction with T'Pol, that of borderline friendly snarky sarcasm, is revealed to have a darker nastier side, but we still love Trip because he is honest and trying to help his crew, even under the influence. He is still loyal, still tries to trust Archer, even against his senses.
There are also very good CGI's in this episode - the Shuttlepod landing on the planet and the pod wing hitting the rock when failing to land in the wind look utterly convincing, even if they are more subtle effects than the hardened trek fan may be used to. Strange New World is a classy good looking episode. Livingston's cool directing adds much to the spooky paranoid feel of the episode. Throughout the build up of tension there is the skilful use of torch light flashing on the steel blue grey tones of the cave, the crew and their uniforms - with the purple pink highlights on the uniforms contrasting with the blue grey tones in a most pleasing manner.
Finally, Strange New World is downright scary. Not only because we see Trip and the other human crew members losing it, but also because it’s the theme of 'wolf in sheep's clothing' - the seemingly benign planet turns out to be a whole lot less than benign - reinforcing the 'space is big and dangerous message' that Broken Bow and Fight or Flight started. Strange New World is as successful in its psychological horror as Fight or Flight is in its macabre and overt horror.
As the above plot attests, this is a very Trip heavy episode with Trip, but also T'Pol, pretty much in the entire 43 odd minutes of screen time the episode spans.
Quality of Trip Time/Swears
There are numerous notable Quality Trip and Sexy Trip moments making this episode rich in overall quality Trip time. There is the spectacularly good son of bitch in the bug in tent scene and several excellent Trip dialogue moments and one liners in the episode - the camp fire 'ooo', the 'probes have all the fun' comment, the 'where no dog has gone before', and the 'Let me guess, no ghost stories on Vulcan' to name but a few. In fact this episode is so chockers with quality Trip moments it's hard to remember them all. ('Chockers' is an Australianism which, roughly translated, means 'full to bursting')
Major contenders for this category would have to be the face after photo in the opening scene of Act One, the bug in tent episode, and maybe even the shameful look to T'Pol at the end.
This episode is lacking any real glimpse of Trip flesh, but does not suffer because of it. I think unconsciously my love of the Trip character grew with this episode, precisely because Trip managed to maintain his personal integrity in the face of very impaired judgement. Perhaps exposure to this kind of Trip vulnerability primed me to respond favourably to a very different kind of Trip vulnerability and sexiness in Unexpected.
Hair Factor and General Appearance
Well, the prissy parted Clarke Kent look is quickly lost, replaced by a dirty faced sweaty paranoid under-the-pollen-influence Trip by the end of the episode. This is an early glimpse of the much loved (by the Tuckerites at any rate) 'mussed' Trip.
Being the third episode in the first season, Strange New World does not have a lot of internal continuity alerts worth mentioning, besides the obvious theme of mistrust and almost outright aggression between Vulcans and humans established in Broken Bow.
In terms of wider trek canon, (particularly from TOS), the big three would have to be: T'Pol's binocular science scanner on the bridge (very reminiscent of Spock's science scanner in TOS); the mention of Minshara class planets (shortened in other trek series to 'm' class) which Hoshi defines as "suitable for humanoid life" and the first transporter accident - Archer was beamed back aboard Enterprise in Broken Bow, but Novakovich's unfortunate accident is supposedly the first in Star Fleet history.
After one viewing I would have been inclined to give this episode a C+/B- mainly because it felt a little like a rehashed TOS plot, but also because I remember Trip as being violent, aggressive, and racist towards T'Pol.
But on a second very detailed viewing for the purposes of this review, I would upgrade that to a good B+ or even, if I was feeling particularly generous, an A-, because in fact it's nothing like a TOS episode, and establishes a lot of interesting character interaction that will go on to be developed more in the first season - Trip/Archer trust and Trip/T'Pol (sexual?) tension and resolution (this pattern will be repeated, albeit more subtly, as season one progresses).
In conclusion then, Strange New World is a good solid trek story with all the familiar elements - Vulcan objectivity versus human emotion; action - the wind, the pod trying to land, the whirling emotions, the guns…. A good, if somewhat challenging and scary, episode, not to be missed.