Warning: Spoilers for "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" season 1, episode 9
We had high hopes for the finale of the inaugural season of "Strange New Worlds" and the drama is already building in the penultimate installment that is episode 9. Entitled "All Those Who Wander," the episode does not disappoint and in fact, marks arguably the darkest installment yet of what is the best live-action "Star Trek" spin-off currently on air.
It starts, actually in a similar manner to how it ends, with an air of sadness as Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) has reached the end of her placement onboard the USS Enterprise and — for some inexplicable reason — is still mulling about, undecided over what to do next. Clearly, there's no ageism, unemployment or xenophobia in the 23rd century, or otherwise she'd be clinging onto this amazing opportunity with both hands like her life depended on it.
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While on a routine mission to [deep space station K-7] to deliver [vidium power cells], Captain Pike (Anson Mount) receives another priority one order; the USS Peregrine activated a distress beacon before making an unscheduled emergency landing on a class L planet, Valeo Beta V. It's decided, during the nicest mission briefing ever, that the Enterprise under the command of Lt Cmdr Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) will continue on to K-7, while a two-shuttle landing party will proceed to Valeo Beta Five, rescue any survivors and if possible, salvage the ship.
Joining Pike on the away mission is Spock (Ethan Peck), Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush), Lt. Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) and Cadet Uhura, together with Dr. M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), Lt Hemmer (Bruce Horak), Lt George Kirk (Dan Jeannotte) and the newly promoted Lt Duke (Ted Kellogg) and Cadet Chia (Jessica Danecker).
The surface of Valeo Beta V is hard, frozen rock, or as Hemmer describes it, just like Andoria. Ion storms in the atmosphere prevent long-range communications and transport. The Sombra-class starship is quickly located, but so are a dozen or so frozen and mutilated dead bodies, all in Starfleet uniforms.
Very quickly, a tense, thrilling tone is established and it's clear this away mission is going to be no picnic. Upon entering the derelict Federation spacecraft, the away team crew immediately find blood trails and are able to play back the last log entry from Captain Alice Gavin (voiced by Liza Seneca). Turns out a Gorn infection in one of the crewmembers went undetected by the transporter filters and a deadly xenomorph infestation began aboard the starship, resulting in their eventual demise.
With the most basic of ship's functions restored, a human life sign and an unknown life sign are detected. Following a brief search through the bowels of the ship, the survivors are located and we learn that they were more than likely refugees from a Gorn breeding facility. It seems the Peregrine was mapping non-Federation space when they found three castaways on an M-class planet: a human girl, a humanoid of unknown origin, an an Orion named Pasko. It turns out this poor Orion was the one originally infected. The human girl identifies herself as Oriana, while she refers to her alien guardian as "Buckley."
Unfortunately, Buckley has also copped one and before long four Gorn hatchlings erupt from his body, killing Cadet Chia in the process. One hatchling decides to attack and eat another only moments after bursting forth from Buckley's body — all that ripping through major organs must be hungry work — so that leaves three, all of which scamper off and disappear. Writer Davy Perez has acknowledged that the episode was influenced by films such as "Alien," "Predator," "The Thing" and even "Gremlins" and the qualities of those other epic sci-fi works are obvious, but it works so well. The Gorn has been set up in "Strange New Worlds" as a deadly alien foe and that's just fine by us. They were established as being particularly nasty pieces of work way back in "The Original Series" and then further developed just a little bit in "Enterprise." So why not develop them even further?
And as it turns out, they really are particularly nasty pieces of work. The Gorn's biological makeup renders them invisible to all sensors; it is, by all intents and purposes, a genetic chameleon. Once a host is infected, the maturity cycle depends on the biological make up of the host. In the Orion, it took weeks. Pike orders everyone to regroup and in the process poor Duke gets dragged off and no doubt horrifically mutilated. This scene was so worthy of an especially bloodcurdling Wilhem scream, but alas, there was none. However, in the process Hemmer catches a spurt of venomous vomit from one of the rapidly maturing Gorns and at this point, you're genuinely unsure if this is going to be a problem.
A plan is hatched (pun intended) to drive the remaining two Gorn into a trap by lowering the temperature in different sections of the ship, since the Gorn prefer a more temperate climate. All of this incredibly useful information, by the way, comes from Lt. Noonien-Singh's experience fighting the Gorn from a young age and as such, she transforms into 'Noonien-Singh: Gorn Hunter.' Sam Kirk serves as the token, fear-stricken crewmember who starts to unravel in a nice throwback to some of "The Original Series" episodes and he actually attacks Spock for his purely logical approach to the situation, just like many characters did some 50-odd years ago. But again, it's been nicely updated/refreshed and in an unexpected twist, Sam actually saves Spock's life.
In an enthralling chase sequence a lá "Alien 3," the Gorn get trapped and turn on each other so that only the alpha Gorn remains. The chase leads the Last Gorn Standing into engineering where Noonien-Singh and Hemmer are able to freeze it. Phew. But…it's not over yet. That nasty reptilian regurgitate Hemmer received is beginning to bubble and it's only a matter of time now. The courageous Aenar tells Uhura that his mission was to fix what was broken, just like he did back in episode 4, "Memento Mori" and it was Uhura herself who needed to be guided to her destiny with Starfleet. Then he leaps to his death before the young Gorn can hatch and thus saves the crew. So…er, yeah, Hemmer dies.
He was a character that we were rapidly becoming very fond of, in particular his arid-dry wit and from the very first moment we met him in episode 2 "Children of the Comet" watching the relationship arc between Uhura and him develop was a joy to behold. But, it's not over yet. In an interview, Bruce Horak told Space.com that he'd be back.
"I can officially tell you that the Star Trek career of Bruce Horak is not done," he said, but alas could elaborate no further. And what's really interesting is that none of the other cast knew of his fate, not even Celia Rose Gooding. Poor Bruce had to keep it a secret throughout most of the production of the first season.
"I think especially Celia was quite surprised, reading episode nine. That was a particularly tough goodbye. Celia and I shot many scenes together. Obviously the camaraderie that develops between Uhura and Hemmer, I mean, there was just no denying that that was going to bleed into the off-camera stuff and hanging out, and Celia and I connected over music and theater and just a general joie de vivre.
"So when we had to shoot that episode, it was pretty hard. It was pretty hard on her. And you know what, they say it's always hardest on those left behind, and yeah. I guess if there's one hope that I have for Hemmer is that it takes them a long time to get over him. Isn't that everyone's hope?"
What's next for the USS Enterprise? Who will replace Lt. Hemmer as Chief Engineer? Will it be Montgomery Scott? According to StarTrek.com and Memory Alpha, Scotty began his career on an unknown starship as an ensign in 2242 — and this episode is set in 2241. So, all things considered it's unlikely. Thank goodness.
When a show kills off a liked character, it almost always results in a mixed reaction. Of course we're going to miss them, but a show shouldn't be afraid to do it. Often, bringing back characters that quite frankly should've died given what they've just been through can look a lot more ridiculous than killing them. The showrunner, in this instance Henry Alonso Myers, needs to understand when to do it and when not to. But, for a show with a lot to prove and still in its first season, this is a bold move, that while really rather sad, keeps the show fresh.
The first eight episodes of "Strange New Worlds" are 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 on CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel. Paramount is available in the UK and Ireland both as a standalone service and as part of the Sky Cinema subscription for the UK cable provider.