Strange New Worlds‘ “Among the Lotus Eaters” in Review
The USS Enterprise is on a mission with Captain Batel’s ship, the USS Cayuga, which gives Pike an opportunity to get together with the Starfleet officer who prosecuted Una. Batel gives Pike a pendant that, according to legend, brings lost sailors home. Una briefs a team, pointing out a satellite image of a Starfleet arrowhead logo in a garden on the surface of Rigel VII. This means that Pike’s original visit to the planet has violated the Prime Directive…
Pike assembles a team to take a shuttle to Rigel VII, Spock explaining about a nearby debris field which is causing radioactive fallout. Ortegas is excited to get picked to go, along with M’Benga and La’an, but is then disappointed that Pike needs her to stay behind and pilot the ship.
Aboard the shuttle, La’an experiences a ringing in her ears. When she comes to herself, they’ve been walking across a wintry landscape for six hours. They approach a huge palace guarded by fur-clad warriors with phaser rifles. They escort the landing party in to meet their king — it’s Zac, a member of Pike’s first landing party to the planet. He had been reported killed and blames Pike for leaving him behind. Zac tells them that they’ll soon forget who they were and serve him like the other Kalars. The next morning, Pike, La’an and M’Benga wake up in a cage, having forgotten who they are.
Aboard the Enterprise, Uhura experiences the ringing and acute memory loss. Chapel investigates but then other crewmembers start experiencing the same symptoms.
The members of the landing party are shown the ropes by an older Kalar called “Luq” (pronounced the same way as Luke Skywalker’s first name). Luq explains that Kalars in blue work in the quarries, ones in green are woodworkers, and so on. He also explains that they lose their memories every night and that he has tattoos on his arms to remind him of his name. La’an and Pike, though not knowing who they are, feel they’re not the type of people who take to being enslaved. They knock out two guards, but La’an is badly wounded. Rushing to her aid, M’Benga realises that he’s a healer.
Along with Una and Spock, Chapel continues trying to find a solution to the cases of memory loss that are now affecting the ship’s crew. But then, Una falls victim to the ringing and missing time. Spock suspects the cause is radiation from the planet’s atmosphere. Expecting that elements in the asteroid belt may protect them, Spock has Ortegas take the ship into the debris field.
Luq meanwhile takes the landing party to his hut for shelter. To heal La’an, M’Benga finds he needs his memories. Luq personally reveals he wouldn’t want his memories back. He shows Pike a totem stone exhibiting the story of the Kalar and tells him about a legend that memories are stored in a casket in the palace. Pike determines to go to the palace to recover their memories.
As the landing party takes the wounded La’an near the castle, the Enterprise‘s presence in the asteroid field increases the cases, and soon even Spock and Ortegas forget who they are, the latter running away from the bridge in a panic. Asteroids start hitting the ship.
Pike and M’Benga thwart more guards on their way to the palace. M’Benga is slightly wounded so holds off the guards while Pike goes to confront Zac.
Ortegas’ talking out loud prompts the ship’s computer to answer her, reminding her that she flies the ship. She rushes back to the bridge, as her skills remain even if her conscious memory doesn’t.
Zac and Pike fight. Once Zac is defeated, he laughs at the myth of the casket, which frustrates Pike. It turns out it’s actually a box full of Starfleet equipment, including medical gear. Zac reveals that the palace and the guard’s helmets are constructed from an ore that protects from the radiation. Since Pike is inside the castle, his memories come back to him.
Zac is arrested, M’Benga saves La’an, and Luq gets his memory back. On the Enterprise, Ortegas saves the ship – with a slightly embarrassed Spock creating a shield modulation proof against the radiation. Pike then has tractor beams pull the ancient asteroid out of the planet and toss it back into the asteroid field, on the grounds that it’s not a Prime Directive violation because the asteroid meant the Kalars’ culture hadn’t developed naturally…
There’s plenty to like here, with almost everybody getting a good dramatic showcase moment. There are plenty of humorous moments (Spock’s “I’m working on that” returns) and sufficient action.
It’s also nice to learn more about Rigel VII and the original ambushed landing party that we heard about way back in Jeffrey Hunter’s day. Things are a little different here: the palace is way bigger than the one seen in the matte painting in “The Cage”, it’s winter here, and the warriors have a more practical and uniform set of furs and helmets. The changes in the Kalars’ physical appearance may be because this is a different tribe, or maybe Zac simply preferred a more formal army look for his followers. None of them are particularly taller than our heroes, let alone gigantic as previously plucked from Pike’s memories. Then again, memory doesn’t work the way people think it does; it’s recreated anew each time, not stored in the brain like unchanging hard disk data.
All of the cast do well here, both the regulars and guest cast, with Luq being a lovely character and well played, though Zac is a rather ordinary villain. The standout is Melissa Navia’s turn as the panic-stricken Ortegas; intentional or not, those sequences are the most believable and distressing performance of PTSD in a good few years — and her comeback, guided by the computer’s cues, is so inspiring. Great stuff.
Direction and music are fine too. However, the grouping of characters at slightly too distant a shot makes the nature of the set unduly obvious. It’s evidently a patch of ground surrounded by a virtual set. The same issue plagued Discovery Season 4. That nitpick aside, this is a good episode with plenty of angles to view it from.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.