Warning: Spoilers for "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" season 1, episode 4
Every sci-fi fan must feel like Christmas has come early with Lucasfilm dialing the hype up to 11 at the Star Wars Celebration 2022, the first two episodes of the latest live-action "Star Wars" spin-off, "Obi-Wan Kenobi" making its debut, Season 3 of "The Orville" beginning in a little over a week, plus of course our recommended weekly intake of "Star Trek" on Paramount Plus.
And the fourth episode of the first season of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is probably the best so far. Even Anson Mount thinks so. And despite a couple of plot strands that really could've been improved — which we'll get to shortly — this episode, entitled "Memento Mori" — which is "remember that you must die" in Latin, is thoroughly enjoyable.
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Following the recap, which incorporates lots of the main cast, suggesting already we're in for a full-on episode, there's a nicely executed edit from looking over the saucer section of the hull to a round Starfleet Remembrance Day pin, that almost everyone wears in this episode, which itself is a great example of forward thinking by the producers given it was Memorial Day in the United States this past weekend. Honestly, this series alone is going to far exceed any other of "Star Trek" in sales of new merch, what with those jackets we saw last week as well.
The USS Enterprise is on en route to deliver an atmospheric processor upgrade to Finibus III, but as they enter orbit, they discover communications are down for some reason. Upon breaming down, a landing party led by Lt. Cmdr. Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) discover only blood trails and blaster marks. And again, the away team is appropriate attire for this situation, although not the gorgeous leather-style jackets they had last week, this is a little more like the body armor seen in "Star Trek: Discovery" with those cool, ergonomically-placed shoulder lamps.
The days of Enterprise-D crewmembers beaming down to a planet's surface wearing exactly what they had on five minutes beforehand on a climate controlled starship bridge, are long gone, thank The Maker. Regardless of whether the surface was hot, cold, covered in sand, or covered in snow, that same Starfleet tunic was somehow sufficient and those black booties always seem to provide just enough grip — not to mention breathability and sole cushioning — no matter what the ground conditions were like.
It's clear something is very wrong and then the Enterprise detects another ship in orbit. It seems some survivors somehow were able to escape from the planet's surface in a run-down, old transport once used for hauling radioactive ore.
Unfortunately, because of the unique nature of this vessel's purpose, the Enterprise's transporter cannot penetrate the ship's hull and so a "deep space transport tube" is used to bring the refugees aboard. It's at this point that an already suspicious
Lt. Alara Kitan Lt. La'an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) listens to the description of events from the survivors and immediately calls for the Enterprise to raise shields ... except it can't with the "deep space transport tube" still deployed.
Then, out of the blackness of space, a Gorn interceptor appears and all but destroys the Finibus III transport along with most of the connecting gangway and with her shields down, the Enterprise too takes some heavy hits. And all of that is before the opening credits, those beautiful opening credits.
Damage to the Enterprise is considerable and casualties are overwhelming sickbay, including Chin-Riley. However, the situation is made worse by the fact that most Enterprise systems are offline, including the replicators needed to replenish medical supplies like blood plasma. It also means that Cadet Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) and Lt. Hemmer (Bruce Horak) are trapped in the main cargo bay.
In a very nice nod to the tactics employed by Admiral Kirk in "The Wrath of Khan," Captain Pike (Anson Mount) — under the instruction of Noonien-Singh, who we know has experienced the Gorn before — puts the Enterprise into the atmosphere of a gas giant, which has the same affect as entering the Mutara Nebula. All that static discharge and gas will cloud their tactical display, visuals won't function and shields will be useless. "Sauce for the goose," as Mr. Spock puts it in the movie.
He's actually referring to the saying, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, which in context means that any situation one starship will have to deal with, another will similarly also have to deal with. In short, it equals the odds, despite the USS Enterprise being the underdog in both instances.
Things continue to look bleak on the Enterprise, despite having lost the Gorn interceptor in the atmosphere of the gas giant. Number One is badly injured and medical supplies are low after the stores were destroyed. Meanwhile Uhura and Hemmer are trapped and the Chief Engineer has a broken hand, so he's unable to prevent an overload that will eventually destroy the ship. When it rains it pours.
Spock postulates that while primary sensors aren't available, navigation systems constantly take in atmospheric data to maintain stability. Any ship traveling through the gas cloud creates oscillation in the atmosphere, which are converted into rotational motions by Coriolis forces, which in-turn the nav-com detects automatically. Marking Coriolis force readings would allow the Enterprise to triangulate movement inside the gas giant, in essence turning a compass into a radar. And hey, it could work…
At this point the fight against the Gorn represents the primary plot while Chin-Riley and then the Uhura and Hemmer predicament make up the supporting storylines. And here's the thing, it's all handled really rather well. The pacing is perfect, the tension gradually builds and retains your attention and more than any of that, the 360-degree camera shots around the bridge are amazing. In just four episodes of a brand new spin-off show, so far what has been produced is better than anything from the other "Nu-Trek" live-action shows. In future seasons, and we hope there are many, we cannot wait to see what slightly longer story arcs develop.
Pike is able to destroy the Gorn interceptor in an audacious maneuver performed by Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) however, the destruction of that ship has alerted other, additional Gorn vessels: they sacrificed that interceptor purely to determine the position of the Enterprise. The only way to avoid being destroyed by another inbound interceptor is to go full "Das Boat" and take the Enterprise deeper into the atmosphere of the gas giant…and hope the Gorn ship succumbs to the pressure first.
This is a phenomenally well-filmed set piece. Not only does it stay true to "Trek" but it's also a huge homage to the best of "Star Trek" — which is "The Wrath of Khan" — but also to those epic movies that portray the slower, strategic nature of Starship space battles. Not only can we hear the groaning of the Enterprise hull has she glides deeper into the depths of the brown dwarf, but a little later on there is even a noticeable musical nod to the magnificent score of "The Wrath of Khan" by the late, great James Horner.
Science-fiction stories often include a big battle in space — at their best, they provide both a breathtaking visual spectacle and a tense finale as the powers of good and evil fight for supremacy. At their worst, we are overwhelmed by far too many ships, drones and whatever else zips around the screen in an lame attempt to replace quality with quantity.
"The Original Series" beautifully portrayed a battle between two starships in the episode "Balance of Terror" (S01, E14). It tapped into the notion that battles in space would be very much like submarine warfare; slow, methodical and purposeful. Before this epic episode aired in 1966, we'd seen outstanding movies like "The Enemy Below" in 1957 and "Run Silent, Run Deep" in 1958 and it's clear they were an influence to writer Paul Schneider.
The general idea is that it would more like a game of chess rather than a game of Whac-A-Mole. We are already familiar with the USS Enterprise and we know what she is capable of; breaking these established, in-universe rules drives a wedge between the viewer and the experience. Then "Star Wars" came along and changed everything. Not only did we get to see an Imperial Star Destroyer disable and capture a Rebel Alliance Blockade Runner within the first 60 seconds, but it also took everything that made an aerial dogfight exciting and put it into space.
And we've accepted this. Each franchise has gone in a slightly different direction and that's the best possible outcome. But…when one starts changing their stance, you get a problem. For instance, we know that an Imperial II-class Star Destroyer is a fairly cumbersome cosmic colossus and while its maximum faster-than-light speed is an impressive 60 MGLT (something approaching 7 trillion miles per second) just think for a moment how annoyed you'd be if some Santa Monica-based movie producer made a big-budget film where one of these massive, 1.6km long starships suddenly started maneuvering around like the Millennium Falcon.
And this is the pitfall that the producers of "Strange New Worlds" must avoid. So far ... they've walked the very fine line between what is acceptable and what isn't, thus pushing the envelope, if you will, as far as it will possibly go before credibility is irrevocably destroyed. Which is, as we've mentioned previously, about what can be successfully accomplished with an equal mix of old and new, which is what "Strange New Worlds" is. Any more, will be too much.
Turns out the Gorn interceptor can't quite withstand the atmospheric pressure as well as the Enterprise and it's crushed. A shuttle is launched — the Galileo, naturally — in a questionable attempt to establish long range communications, since not only is the Enterprise and everyone aboard soon to be blown to atoms in an atomic explosion but before then, it might get dragged into the nearby black hole along with gas from the brown dwarf. Spock and Noonien-Singh volunteer. While onboard, Spock performs a mind-meld with Noonien-Singh in an attempt to relive and thus learn from her past experience of surviving the Gorn.
It's a nice that the writers recognize the potential in this: Spock can do this, it would help in a dire situation, so let's have him do it, despite the fact that in "The Original Series" episode "Dagger of the Mind" (S01, E10) Spock says the procedure is seldom performed. However, that notion has been long since readjusted following episodes of "Discovery" and "Enterprise."
In a fairly essential part of the escape plot, which isn't really properly explained, Noonien-Singh sends a message from the shuttle, without being detected, to the larger, undamaged Gorn destroyer vessel that the smaller, badly damaged Gorn interceptor has been boarded by humans. The Gorn destroyer then blasts the smaller ship and the shuttle manages to get away, again undetected.
The shuttle safely returns to Enterprise, without really accomplishing a great deal and a daredevil plan is hatched to jettison the atmospheric processor, which is currently going critical in the cargo bay, while flying into the accretion disk of the nearby singularity. Fingers crossed the Gorn will see the explosion and believe the Enterprise has been destroyed, before the steadfast Constitution Class starship can slingshot around the black hole and escape to safety. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, this is of course impossible.
Having established the Pike Maneuver in the annals of history, the wounded Enterprise limps home and concludes an extremely memorable episode that actually could've been a little bit better, which demonstrates how far this show could potentially go, given it's already of a very high quality and hasn't even found its feet yet.
The first four episodes of "Strange New Worlds" is now available to watch on Paramount Plus as is the entire second season of "Star Trek: Picard." Season 4 of "Star Trek: Discovery" is also available on the Paramount streaming service in the US and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel.
Paramount has confirmed that its streaming platform will launch in the UK and Ireland on June 22, available both as a standalone service and as part of the Sky Cinema subscription for the UK cable provider.