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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is upending canon for its new engineer

Carol Kane plays the the mysterious, hilarious chief engineer Pelia

Carol Kane as chief engineer Pelia in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Image: Paramount Plus
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

As season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds comes to Paramount Plus this week, most things about the show are the same. It’s still the Enterprise as helmed by Captain Pike, Kirk’s predecessor. It’s still a return to the episodic Trek formula of yesteryear. And it’s all the same cast — except for one.

With last season’s heartbreaking death of chief engineer Hemmer, there’s a space to fill on the Enterprise roster. And as it’s still a little too early for Montgomery “Scotty” Scott to show up, that role has fallen to an original character: chief engineer Pelia, played by legendary actor and comedian Carol Kane.

Given that she’s brand-new, there’s very little anybody knows about Pelia — but in the season premiere, “The Broken Circle,” she’s already upending everything we know about Star Trek’s alternate history of humanity.

[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for the season premiere of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2.]

Ethan Peck as Spock, sitting in the captain’s chair on a darkened bridge in Strange New Worlds. Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount Plus

The usual sign that a character is human rather than one of Star Trek’s innumerable humanoid aliens is that they’re not wearing some kind of facial prosthetics. And you won’t find a pointed ear or ridged forehead anywhere in Kane’s show wardrobe. But, as “The Broken Circle” reveals, Pelia is definitely not human. The first hint we get is when she casually refers to being more than 100 years old. In the same scene, Uhura, the ship’s polyglot, takes note of Pelia’s accent and asks if she is “Lanthanite,” to which Pelia replies, “Guilty as charged.”

Which is very interesting, because there’s no analogous Star Trek species to that name. In the episode’s final scenes, Spock drops one more tantalizing, explosive line about Lanthanites in conversation with Pelia: “I’ve always been fascinated by your people. That you managed to live on Earth among other humans undetected until the 22nd century is remarkable.”

This is brand-new information for Star Trek canon, and it would mean that somewhere in the 2100s — a century that includes the founding of the Federation, the obsolescence of money, and the events of the Star Trek: Enterprise series — humanity discovered that there had been aliens living among them. And this is something that everybody in Star Trek has just... known this whole time, but not mentioned until now? Buck wild.

When Polygon spoke with Kane, the first thing we asked was how she’d reacted upon realizing her character was an alien who’d lived secretly among humans for potentially centuries.

“Just thrilled,” she replied, “because you can let your imagination run wild and it’ll work. Also, I like the fact that I get to be the one that knows the most — in my opinion. And I probably do,” she quipped, “because of the time I’ve been on the Earth and in space.”

Kane said she relishes playing an older character, not unlike the original series’ Dr. McCoy, who’s doing cool space stuff right alongside all the young folks. “I like that at my age, which is Pelia’s age, that I get to be on the ship and embraced by the other people, so I’m not solitary. I like that. I relate to that.”

Kane couldn’t tell us anything about Pelia or the Lanthanites that wasn’t already revealed in “The Broken Circle.” All we can say for now is that they appear to be a completely new addition to the galaxy of species that make up Star Trek canon, and that chief engineer Pelia has a friendly history with Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson. There’s no telling when Strange New Worlds is planning to reveal more, but we, for one, eagerly await more answers about the aliens living among us.

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