Strange New Worlds‘ “Memento Mori” in Review
La’an’s log, reporting that the Enterprise is delivering an atmospheric processor upgrade to Finibus III, introduces us to Starfleet Remembrance Day. This is when officers wear the insignia of ships on which they served with people who died on duty.
Under the tutelage of Lieutenant Hemmer, Uhura has been rotated to some study time in engineering. She suggests that both linguistics and engineering depend on communication between different systems. It’s a nice piece of grumpy versus enthusiastic byplay.
Hardly has La’an mentioned wanting to keep the past in her past than the Finibus colony has been massacred, apart from one ship of survivors. They have to be evacuated by a tube between the two ships, the same way Discovery‘s crew evacuated in that show’s second season.
When a girl survivor repeats noises made by the attackers, La’an recognises the sounds. Remember her mentioning how her colony was wiped out by the Gorn and fed to their hatchlings? That past is back to confront her, as the ships are attacked by a Gorn vessel, and the colony ship is destroyed.
La’an reports to Pike that the Gorn attack when their target’s resources are down. The situation was a trap, and I like that this strategy fits with what we saw of the Gorn in “Arena”, using faked distress signals to lure the Enterprise into a trap on Cestus III.
Spock has noted a brown dwarf – a gas giant not quite massive enough to become a star – in the system, orbiting a black hole. Entering the planet’s atmosphere could crush the ship, and needs a total power shutdown to avoid igniting it. Pike approves, as the Gorn will have to do the same. Bonus points to anyone who followed up his “perfect” with “Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.”
Hemmer and Uhura, meanwhile, have been trapped in the ship’s main cargo bay due to the Gorn attack, with the atmosphere processing unit overloading and about to explode, and Hemmer’s hand is crushed. Uhura will have to be his hands, but her senses are different than his, which gives them a chance to display some interesting chemistry. It also gives us some pretty interior shots, although the cargo bay confusingly looks exactly like a shuttlebay.
La’an claims that she chooses not to feel anything, but she’s clearly freaking out, seeing her smiley elder brother in reflections and behind Pike. She brooks no Federation/Roddenberry-ish diplomatic viewpoints on the Gorn, just hatred.
The Enterprise has no shields, weapons, or guidance for the lone remaining torpedo, but Spock uses analysis of motion in the gas as passive sonar. They then use the Gorn’s equal sensor blindness to drop the torpedo onto it like a depth charge, but this alerts more Gorn ships hiding in the brown dwarf, including a gigantic mothership.
Taking the shuttle Galileo with Spock to scout their options, La’an persuades him to help her with a mind meld. In a flashback to the Gorn breeding planet she spoke about before, her elder brother shows her that the Gorn communicate between their ships by coded light flashes. La’an and Spock then use the shuttle’s phasers to make one Gorn ship conclude that another has been commandeered by humans and shoot it down.
Back aboard the Enterprise, Pike gets Spock to give the audience a quick briefing on the real science of gravitational redshift with relation to falling into black holes. This feels like an artifically-added educational bit, but it’s nice to have some real science in the show. Pike decides to combine jettisoning the AP unit with trying to exploit the illusion provided by the redshift to escape the Gorn mothership.
As Hemmer explains to Uhura, the Aenar view death as something that happens when you’ve achieved your purpose in life. Uhura’s reaction is quite touching.
Pike’s plan works, and the Gorn run into the AP unit’s detonation. It’s not made sufficiently clear whether the Gorn mothership is destroyed, damaged, or just fooled and sent in the wrong direction, but the Enterprise gets away in any case. Uhura and Hemmer prove to have survived in EV suits, and Pike’s relief at confirming this is one of the most believable reactions ever seen in dramatised TV.
This is a “run silent, run deep” episode, as per “Balance of Terror”, and hits a lot of the submarine warfare tone, where everyone and everything needs to be muted to avoid the enemy sneaking around. This works well with sci-fi space combat, as starships and submarines share many similarities, needing to be airtight against an inimical exterior environment. And it’s nice that we learn more about Gorn tactics and weapons, as well as their cool new ship designs.
As expected, the episode, visually, is a stunning treat, with the black hole’s accretion disc very similar to the DMA in Discovery. The tension is wound well, with plenty of setbacks to be overcome.
Anson Mount continues to very nicely nail the role of Captain Pike, as a teacher – of La’an in this case, on the duty of inspiring hope – at least as much as a leader. It’s always nice to see chemistry between characters who spark as a double act, and it’s great that here Hemmer and Uhura are getting to that stage.
Christina Chong remains very one-note as La’an, which is a shame as she – by definition – has some depth to explore and intrigue us. She doesn’t display the passion needed to portray the character’s hatred.
The other big disappointment of the episode is that a Gorn doesn’t actually appear. So, we don’t know whether they’d be portrayed as humanoids in suits and masks, or CG creations with moving tails as on Star Trek: Enterprise.
In general, though, this is a good, fast and tense space thriller against an old TOS enemy. As Ortegas says, “Full impulse to the giant gas cloud of death? Why not?!”
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.