This article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is essentially perfect television, a delightful space adventure whose episodic storytelling has allowed it to explore many different kinds of genres. From tense submarine thrillers and goofy bodyswap romantic comedies to fantastical children’s tales and dark horror stories, each hour manages to be entertaining in its own right while still telling us, as viewers, something worthwhile about the characters we’re watching. Honestly, as we look back on season 1, it feels as though there’s essentially nothing this show can’t do.
However, its predominantly episodic format means that the bulk of season 1’s stories are tied up each week. There aren’t any larger puzzle box mysteries to try to solve, and the series’ outstanding plot threads tend to focus on ongoing emotional arcs rather than shocking cliffhangers meant to leave us counting the days until the season 2 premiere. That’s not a bad thing; one of the most appealing aspects of this show is the incredible care with which it treats its characters and their journeys, but it does mean that there’s not a lot of reason to spin out elaborate fan theories or speculation during the series’ hiatus. (I welcome all your thoughts on Pike’s sartorial and grooming choices throughout the season, however.)
Here’s a rundown of how everything wrapped up across season 1’s final episodes—and what it all might mean for Strange New Worlds season 2.
Pike Finds Peace…For Now
One of the best things about Strange New Worlds season 1 is the deft way it has managed to explore Captain Christopher Pike’s inner struggle in the face of the foreknowledge of his own death without getting repetitive or overly saccharine about it. Happily, his story isn’t one of despair over his circumstances, nor is it overly fixated on the things he’s lost or those he’ll never get to have. Instead, the show seems determined to find new ways to explore questions of fate and consequences, and “A Quality of Mercy” presents him a vision of a different future and the unexpected cost of changing his fate: Spock’s life.
Apparently, there’s a timeline in which Pike can not only avoid a future of agonizing pain and disfigurement—but it’s also one where his attempt to save himself (or more correctly, save the cadets he knows are destined to die) dooms his friend instead, leaving Spock in a lifetime of physical agony and kicking off a war with the Romulans that will leave millions dead. Learning that, of course there’s only one choice a man like Christopher Pike could ever make.
By the end of the hour, Pike seems to have made a tentative kind of peace with his own future and ends the season with a seemingly much lighter heart than he began it. (Not that I’m complaining about the pilot’s unshaven, rustic day drinker look, mind you!) Whether that’s because saving Spock—whom Pike is told is destined for a world-changing future—has made his choice more personally immediate, or simply because he’s not the kind of person who would ever consider trading his life for millions of other people he’ll never meet, isn’t explicitly stated. Either way, he seems more determined than ever to embrace the time he has left and make some memories on his adventure (something the finale’s closing credits song backs up.)
Una Is Arrested
Though much of “A Quality of Mercy” is essentially erased by Pike’s decision not to tell his future cadets about the dire fate that’s waiting for them in just a handful of years, its final moments see his sometime girlfriend Captain Batel arrive to take Una into custody for violating the Federation’s genetic modifcation laws. (She is actually Illyrian and has been hiding her true identity since joining Starfleet.)
Pike, of course, is furious—and I suspect his romantic relationship with Batel is very much done after this—but there’s little he can do at the moment. How he’ll get his first officer back—and who turned Una in, given that only a handful of Enterprise crew members were even aware of her deception—are questions we’ll have to wait for season 2 to answer. But on the plus side, we’re likely to finally get a chance to really dig into Una’s character next year, one of the few weak areas of Strange New Worlds’ first season.
Spock Gets In Touch with His Emotions
Spock’s struggle to both understand and accept his unique dual identity as half human and half Vulcan has been a major part of his character arc since Ethan Peck took over the role on Star Trek: Discovery. Strange New Worlds has further complicated this journey by introducing his Vulcan fiance T’Pring, his jailed half-brother Sybok, and a warm friendship/maybe something more with Nurse Christine Chapel.
In “All Those Who Wander,” Spock is forced to tap into the rage he so often suppresses in order to successfully battle the Gorn who are trying to kill the crew. But once he allows his anger to flow freely, he discovers he doesn’t quite know how to turn his emotions off again. Though he turns to Chapel for guidance, it’s unclear how much this will impact his mental state in season 2.
La’an Takes a Leave of Absence
As a rare survivor of a Gorn attack, Enterprise security officer La’an Noonien-Singh has spent most of her adult life trying to process the trauma of that experience (and her choice to essentially leave her brother for dead). In Strange New Worlds season 1, she gets the chance to face her greatest fear not once but twice, as the crew manages to survive both a run-in with a Gorn ship and an attack by juvenile versions of the creatures who hatched from eggs implanted in a handful of rescued refugees. (Don’t ask, it is exactly as gross as it sounds.)
During their attempt to escape the crashed Peregrine in “All Those Who Wander,” La’an helps rescue a young girl named Oriana, whose experiences are frighteningly close to her own youth. She digs deep into her own past to help motivate the child to keep fighting, and when they’re all safe back aboard the Enterprise La’an requests a leave of absence so that she might help Oriana find her family. (The one thing La’an herself never got the chance to reclaim.)
On the surface, this seems like a neat way to write the character of La’an out of the show, but it’s hard to imagine her leave will keep her away from the Enterprise for long. After all, Pike’s promised her she always has a place on his crew, and we have to image La’an will want to help get Una—one of the scant handful of people she seems to genuinely care about—out of prison. It’s even more difficult to believe that Strange New Worlds purposefully gave this character the last name of Noonien-Singh and allowed her to leave the canvas for good without ever exploring what living with that legacy is like.
The Enterprise Needs a New Engineer
At the end of season 1’s penultimate episode, Enterprise Chief Engineer Hemmer sacrifices himself to prevent the Gorn eggs he’s been infected with from hatching. A shocking, dramatic death that is both moving and narratively relevant—Hemmer’s species believes that death does not come for you until you have fulfilled your larger life purpose, and saving his crew was apparently his—many viewers are likely still reeling from what is Strange New Worlds’ first real loss.
But Hemmer’s death does open up space for some interesting and necessary speculation. Who will become the Enterprise’s next chief engineer? In “A Quality of Mercy” we hear the voice of Montgomery Scott from the ship’s engine room, though we don’t see him. Is that a hint that some version of Scotty is headed our way? Or will Strange New World use this as an opportunity to introduce some new characters to the Enterprise engine room?
Uhura Chooses Her Path
Though it’s hard to imagine a world in which Nyota Uhura isn’t on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, it’s apparently something that came super close to happening. Upon completion of her Academy training, Uhura was still unsure of her purpose and was planning on returning to Earth—the crew even threw a farewell party for her!
But in the wake of Hemmer’s death, and in response to his final exhortation that she stop closing herself off to real connection and grab a chance to make a future for herself with both hands, she decides to take Pike up on his offer and remain part of the Enterprise. And though she doesn’t yet realize what a momentous choice this is….we do, and the concluding shot of her looking over the communications console is genuinely lovely.
The Long-Awaited Arrival of James T. Kirk
Though we already knew that Paul Wesley would be portraying iconic Star Trek: The Original Series character James Kirk in Strange New Worlds season 2, his appearance in the season 1 finale came as something of a shock. Granted, Wesley’s technically playing a version of Kirk—the captain of the U.S.S. Farragut—in “A Quality of Mercy” that doesn’t exist anymore, but his presence will likely still impact next season anyway.
After all, Kirk’s older brother Sam already serves on the Enterprise—and Pike is now aware of just how much potential the younger Kirk possesses. We’re clearly going to see him again, perhaps in a way that’s similar to how Spock’s fiancee T’Pring has appeared in multiple episodes this season. But since we’re still the better part of a decade away from Kirk taking command of the Enterprise, it seems unlikely that he’ll join the crew full-time, even at a lower rank. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility, but it’s pretty hard to imagine, especially given how many secondary characters (Una, M’Benga, Uhura, Nurse Chapel, La’an) the show already has to balance.
You don’t bring on a legacy figure like Captain Kirk and then do nothing with him—but you also can’t risk doing too much with him, particularly given the narrative constraints imposed by The Original Series canon, especially the events of “The Menagerie.” Will Strange New Worlds season 2 manage to balance these competing priorities in a way that makes longtime fans happy and respects the new stories the series is telling? Fingers crossed.