The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 9
The generally episodic nature of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds means that the show can much more easily play with things like tone and genre than either of its fellow modern-day predecessors. From last week’s emotional gut-punch disguised as a candy-coated children’s fantasy to a bodyswap romantic comedy, the show seems to delight in subverting our expectations about what a show like this is supposed to be and do from week to week.
Admittedly, penultimate season 1 episode “All Who Wander” is a fairly big departure from the show’s most recent handful of episodes, what with its overt jump scares, body horror, and murder aliens, and the hour has enough action to feel like a season-ender in its own right. It’s propulsive, thrilling, and genuinely creepy by turns, with plenty of legitimate stakes for multiple characters. (Though I regret to inform everyone I am now officially a Sam Kirk hater, even if he did come through for Spock in the end. Sorry not sorry.)
While on a routine mission to deliver power cells to a deep space station, a significant chunk of the Enterprise crew is diverted to answer a distress signal from the U.S.S. Peregrin, which appears to have crashed on Valeo Beta V, a planet whose nitrate-charged atmosphere makes its surface a communications dead zone.
Pike, bursting with dad jokes, intends to make the event a fun last away mission for Uhura and the other cadets about to rotate off the ship, but things take a turn quickly once the group realizes the Peregrin crew was killed by the Gorn. Plus side: they were killed by baby Gorn, who hatched from the bodies of the infected refugees the ship had stopped to pick up. Unfortunately, baby Gorn grow up stupidly quickly, are wildly vicious, and more than capable of killing humans.
What follows is an hour that feels like a cross between the Alien vs. Predator films and a horror-themed bottle episode, as Pike and the rest of the crew try to come up with a plan to stay alive—and to get off the planet without taking any Gorn with them. For what I think is the first time, there are real deaths—or, at least, deaths of characters whose names and jobs we know, alongside the standard random cadet who was introduced just to be killed off. One of the best things about Strange New Worlds is its adherence to Pike’s communal, work-the-problem leadership style, which frequently results in collaborative brainstorms that feel like a breath of fresh air in a franchise where figures in his place are usually much more into an explicitly top-down style of management.
The sequence in which the remaining crew members work together to funnel the rapidly growing Gorn teens into situations where Team Starfleet actually has a chance of defeating them is deeply satisfying to watch play out (not to mention actually smart!), and the episode is full of genuine jump scares alongside some surprisingly bloody gore. Pike’s willingness to step back in order to allow La’an to step forward—realizing that having a chance to save a young girl from the Gorn is part of her own healing process—is particularly lovely, as is the fact that his hair has fully returned to its usual majestic form.
My one complaint about this episode is that I wish we’d had a chance to know Hemmer better as a character before having to say goodbye to him. He’s the one major Enterprise officer who had yet to really have an episode dedicated to his story and while his decision to sacrifice himself for the safety of the crew is both moving and narratively relevant—he is, after all, fixing something that is broken—I can’t help but imagine how much more upset I likely would have been if I had a firmer grasp of who he was. (It’s also a shame that the show decided to off its one alien officer who actually, you know, looked like an alien.)
On the plus side, I love that Hemmer’s death (and his dying exhortation that she should embrace life) is apparently the catalyst that pushed Uhura to stay in Starfleet, and there’s a certain poetic symbolism in the idea that he still lives on in some way, through all the great and important things she will go on to do on the Enterprise and elsewhere. I suspect this is the mechanism by which Montgomery Scott will join the crew, but I honestly hope I’m wrong—if only because I’m nervous enough about the idea of James Kirk showing up next season, and Strange New Worlds has repeatedly proven it doesn’t need to be stacked with legacy cameos to work.
La’an’s decision to take a leave of absence is surprising—and somewhat upsetting, given how far her character has come in just nine episodes and the fact that the show seems like its positioning the Gorn to be its major recurring villain, much the way the Klingons or the Borg were on Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think we have to assume Christina Chong will be back for Season 2 in some capacity, if only because though we have focused quite a bit on her lingering trauma as a result of surviving a Gorn attack, we haven’t really touched much on her famous last name or explored how that connection impacted the woman she has become. Plus, there’s just no way that Strange New World named a character Noonien-Singh without the intent to do something with it. (And I think Chong is a solid actress and it would be really sad to lose La’an’s interesting dynamics with both Pike and Una.)
But the real question that’s keeping me up at the moment—“All Those Who Wander” felt very much like a season finale, complete with emotional losses and table setting for the future. So what in the world is the actual finale going to involve?