Sense of Self – “Strange New Worlds” Season 2, Episode 4

Memories and feelings are the connective tissue to our lives. That maxim is the core of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Season Two, Episode Four “Among the Lotus Eaters”. Given the title of the episode and its allusion to the Greek myth of the Lotus, memory was going to be a focal point of the episode. The episode also asks the question if it is better to lose painful memories and live in the moment. As Spock is fond of saying, the dilemma is a fascinating one.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the fourth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds second season.

“Among the Lotus Eaters” begins with Christopher Pike and Captain Batel meeting up for dinner. The pair have had a tempestuous relationship since the premiere in the first season. The trial of Una Chin-Riley exacerbated things but it was always clear during that episode that the two cared for each other. Unfortunately, Batel is now suffering the repercussions of Una’s acquittal. When Batel loses out on a promotion, Pike uses that moment as an excuse to put the pair’s relationship on hold. It’s a moment of weakness in Pike, which doesn’t often occur. Even Una calls him out on pushing Batel away.

The main plot kicks into gear when the crew of the Enterprise is sent to Rigel VII, a planet the crew had visited five years before. Home to a Bronze Age culture, Pike and his crew had to leave quickly due to a violent encounter with the native population. Three crew members were lost during the ordeal. The reason the Enterprise is sent back is a recent survey scan of the planet shows a garden with the Starfleet delta crest has been built, indicating that Pike’s departure led to the breaking of the Prime Directive.

Forcing Pike to redress an incident of “cultural contamination” is an interesting idea. Star Trek shows have put a great deal of emphasis on the so-called Prime Directive (which prohibits Starfleet from directly influencing the evolution of pre-warp civilizations). In theory, it’s a good idea, since cultures that haven’t developed a warp drive are not advanced enough to handle that level of technology. On the flip side, Star Trek writers have also made it a point to examine the moral implications of non-interference. In “Among the Lotus Eaters”, we see that involvement with a developing society can have disastrous consequences if there are other mitigating circumstances.

Side note: I’m surprised that the writers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds haven’t yet created an episode focused on Erica Ortegas. That needs to be remedied.

We soon learn that all is not right with Rigel VII in a truly heartbreaking way. Yeoman Zacarias was one of the crew members believed to be KIA in the previous mission to the planet. It turns out he survived and has since become a warlord on the plant, giving out Federation phaser rifles to some of the populace. We also soon learn of a strange radiation effect that wipes away the memories of the inhabitants (and soon enough the crew of the Enterprise). Pike, La’an, and M’benga begin to suffer the effects, losing time and eventually all memory of who they were and their mission. This same effect begins to occur with the crew on the Enterprise as well until the entire crew is affected (during the worst possible time).

The emotional core of the episode is best exemplified between three characters: Pike, a Kalar native named Luq, and Erica Ortegas on the ship. Luq provides one point of view, stating it’s best to forget the past, even if the emotional pain is still there from loss. Pike, holding on to the medallion Batel gave him at the beginning of the episode as a gift, continues to push forward to reclaim his memories. Ortegas gets a moment where the ship’s computer reminds the pilot of her name and her duty (“I fly the ship”). I favor Pike and Erica’s determination to reclaim their memories and duties rather than Luq’s resignation to eternally forget his past.

The tail end of the episode brings Pike back into a confrontation with Zacarias. Zac reveals that the radiation is from a meteor that crashed into the world thousands of years ago. The castle he resides in is made of stones that block the harmful effects of the radiation, allowing those who live within to avoid the “forgetting” as Luq calls it. Once within the walls, Pike begins to slowly remember right as he’s about to kill Zac with a phaser rifle. It’s Pike who observes that while the radiation removes memories, it doesn’t remove the core values of people. Pike’s drive to protect his crew, M’benga’s desire to heal La’an, and Erica’s ability to fly the Enterprise all show that his point of view is true. Even Luq admits that it is better to remember once he’s brought inside the castle (where he recalls the devastating loss of his family).

Our memories, even the painful ones, are essential to who we are as a person. They serve as totems that we build our sense of identity around. Through this adventure, Pike realizes just how much he cares for Captain Batel, since her gift is what gave him the resolve to not let his memories slip away. Their reunion at the end of the episode is touching and heartfelt. It helps that Melanie Scarfano and Anson Mount have such easy chemistry together as actors.

While not one of the best Star Trek episodes produced, “Among the Lotus Eaters” does have a strong heart at the core of its story. Even though Erica Ortegas is not front and center during the episode, her scenes were some of the best yet for the actress and character. My hope is that the writers will give her something more substantial in the future. Overall, I enjoyed this fourth episode and look forward to what the next chapter in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will provide.

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