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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Jesse James Keitel Explains Why Playing Angel Was ‘Refreshing’

Jesse James Keitel in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Paramount+
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Warning! The following contains spoilers for the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode “The Serene Squall," so read at your own risk!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds hit fans with a big surprise in “The Serene Squall,” when it turned out the Enterprise’s newest passenger, Dr. Aspen, wasn’t who they seemed. Aspen was actually pirate Captain Angel of the Serene Squall and was later revealed as the lover of Spock’s half-brother, Sybok. Angel made for a great addition to the season and, according to actress Jesse James Keitel, she was incredibly "refreshing" to play as well.

I got a chance to speak to Jesse James Keitel not long after many Paramount+ subscribers watched her strong work on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and we discussed her non-binary character. Keitel, who identifies as a trans woman, reflected on the discussions that were had before she played the character and opened up about her belief that it’s high time for queer characters to spread their wings:

I know there were concerns that having a villain who is played by a trans woman who is clearly a queer person would be sending a wrong message. I understand that queer people have had a really long and complicated history with TV and film, and they’ve been very mistreated in the media. Now we see [that] in legislation and in real life. That being said, I think it’s high time we let queer people be villains, you know?

In “The Serene Squall,” Pike and the crew pick up Dr. Aspen after receiving their distress call about losing power and resources. With that set-up, it's definitely surprising when they're actually revealed to be Angel and their pirates proceed to take many of the Enterprise’s crew hostage. The captain commandeers the ship and personally holds Spock hostage, in the hope that his betrothed, T’Pring, will trade Sybok in an exchange. 

It’s a dirty trick, made worse by the fact Angel manipulated Spock’s feelings when he knew them as Dr. Aspen. Jesse James Keitel loved playing the villain and noted that what she finds so refreshing about the role is that the character's gender identity is not linked to their antagonistic nature:

It’s not this character’s queerness that makes them a villain. They’re not being villainized because they’re queer. They just happen to be, which I think is heavily refreshing versus in real life where we’re being villainized because of our queerness.

Star Trek has long worked to better inclusivity, working on the philosophy of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations). Jesse James Keitel’s Angel is another example of non-binary character representation in this sci-fi universe, a trend that is steadily growing. The franchise introduced its first non-binary character, Adira (played by Blu del Barrio), in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.

Jesse James Keitel (who some might know from her gig as a cast member on ABC’s Big Sky) talked more about her character and the episode at large. She would go on to explain the message of the episode, and how Angel's message to Spock also referred to gender:

It’s so refreshing. It’s what made me so excited about the role. The metaphor between being half-human, half-Vulcan, and how that is and always been a false choice. There are so many more possibilities that we have for ourselves as people, whether you’re queer or not. The possibilities are truly limitless.

In the end, Spock managed to outmaneuver Angel and thwart their attempt to obtain Sybok from his rehabilitation cell. Shortly after, Captain Pike and crew managed to re-obtain control of the Enterprise, which forced the villain to retreat to another ship. 

The escape, and the major connection to Sybok, makes it plausible that Angel will return to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds at some point. I asked the actress when fans might expect to see the character again and got a cryptic response: 

When you least expect it.

Strange New Worlds only has a few episodes left in Season 1, so it’s hard to say if Angel will re-emerge before Season 2. We’ll just have to wait and see and take Jesse James Keitel’s cryptic response as a glimmer of hope that it could happen eventually. And if they do, I hope that Keitel and co. can add new layers to the exciting character. 

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds drops new episodes on Paramount+ (opens in new tab) on Thursdays. While it's a bummer that Season 1 is winding down, there are still plenty of other new Trek shows on the way for audiences to enjoy. 

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.