One of the hallmarks of Star Trek is that you can tell any kind of story and make it a Star Trek story. From courtroom dramas (“The Measure of a Man” and “The Drumhead”) to strong social commentary (“Far Beyond the Stars”), Star Trek has succeeded more often than it has failed when it comes to taking an established type of story and putting the Star Trek spin on it. In the fourth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, titled “Memento Mori”, the team behind the show essentially created the Star Trek version of a submarine thriller a la The Hunt for Red October. And they managed to pull it off well.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the latest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
So far, each of the episodes have focused on a single crew member as the point of view for the episode. In “Memento Mori”, that honor falls to La’an Noonien Singh, the emotionally reserved Chief of Security. It was mentioned in the pilot episode that La’an lost nearly everyone she ever knew when the Gorn attacked her colony ship. La’an’s unresolved trauma is put front and center when the USS Enterprise is sent to deliver an air filtration device to a colony world.
When they arrive, the colony is unresponsive. The away team finds evidence of a protracted fight but no bodies. They soon find a ship drifting in orbit where the wounded and huddled residents of the colony impart tales of a monsters that attacked them and took many people away. When one frightened child imitates a clicking noise, La’an recognizes it as the spoken language of the Gorn. She tries to warn Captain Christopher Pike but it is too late. The Gorn launch a devastating attack, crippling the Enterprise and destroying the colony ship.
What follows is a trio of plots focusing on a core group of characters, each dealing with their own set of problems from the attack. Pike and the bridge crew take the wounded Enterprise into a brown giant (a dwarf star that never ignited in the same manner as our yellow Sun), which prevents use of the majority of the ship’s systems. Doctor M’Benga, Nurse Chapel, and Commander Una Chin-Riley (who was severely injured in the attack from the Gorn) are in Sick Bay, which lost all power and a large number of their supplies in the attack. Lastly, Cadet Uhura and the surly Chief Engineer Hemmer are stuck in one of the damaged cargo bays with the AP350 (the air filtration device). The device is severely damaged and will soon explode, taking the Enterprise with it. Hemmer is also injured in the attack, losing the use of his hands, which forces the Chief Engineer to work with Uhura to stop the device from exploding.
The story never loses its tension over the course of the episode, even though we know the Enterprise and her crew will largely make it out intact. The point of the story is to see just how far they are willing to go for survival and how much they are willing to sacrifice. As the events of the episode unfold, seven crew members of the ship die from the attack and the subsequent stresses that the ship undertakes to survive. The ship is also constantly harassed by the Gorn, who are soon revealed to have multiple ships (including a wicked looking mothership) in pursuit. This sets up the cat-and-mouse game most commonly seen in submarine thrillers like The Hunt for Red October and Das Boot.
Throughout all of the ups and downs, the heart of the episode is La’an confronting the repressed trauma she suffered at the hands of the Gorn, specifically the death of her older brother. It’s not uncommon for people who are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder to shut themselves off from their emotions, choosing instead to focus on their intellect and generally eschew social conventions and niceties. Unlike Spock, whose rigorous Vulcan teachings have allowed him to fully supplant his emotions, La’an’s survivor’s guilt is always bubbling under the surface. She is not able to let go of the fact that out of all of the people from the colony ship, she survived, which is the most human thing about her. Christina Chong does an exceptional job throughout the episode bringing this internal conflict to the forefront with brief moments where the detached mask she wears begins to crack.
Overall, this was an exceptionally well-made episode of Star Trek. So far, I have found little to complain about with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Each week, I go in with the fear that I’m going to be let down by the episode but that has not come to pass so far. This isn’t to say that there won’t be a disappointment at some point. Few shows that I’ve come across don’t have at least one weak episode per season (with the exception of Breaking Bad). With that being said, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds continues to impress me with its commitment to telling exciting stories that mix the expected sci-fi tropes of Star Trek with strong character-based story arcs.
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