The whiplash continues! After the glorious lunacy of the musical episode “Subspace Rhapsody” last week, Strange New Worlds ends its second season similar to how it ended its first, at least tonally speaking: with an intense high-stakes episode.
Unfortunately, while the tonal shift itself is fine, the actual episode is something of a dud.
Let’s get the first thing out of the way here, because it was the subject of a great deal of speculation in the comments last week, which had Batel going off on a priority-one mission, and many commenters were assuming that meant she’d be dead meat in this finale. Others thought that was too obvious, so they wouldn’t go that predictable route.
Turns out they were both right. Kind of.
The Cayuga is resupplying a human colony that is deliberately outside the Federation. They’ve tried to re-create small-town Earth life of the past, which could be a chance for a look at a future version of the Society for Creative Anachronism if it wasn’t just an obvious way to save money by doing the location shooting in a Toronto suburb. Chapel is also on board, as the Cayuga is giving her a lift to her fellowship with Roger Korby.
And then the Gorn attack, shortly after Chapel has beamed back on board. (More on that in a bit.) Batel is among the survivors on the planet trying to keep away from Gorn patrols. Pike and the Enterprise go to rescue them, made more complicated by a scattering field the Gorn have put in place that blocks sensors, communications, and transporters. (Why the Enterprise is the only ship sent when they have a personal stake in what’s happening due to Chapel being there and Pike and Batel’s relationship is left as an exercise for the viewer.)
Pike is part of the rescue party, and he soon discovers that Batel has been implanted with Gorn eggs, so she’s living on borrowed time. However, Pike urges her not to give up the way Hemmer did and at least give them a chance to try to cure her. And, in fact, when our heroes manage to knock out the scattering field, Batel is placed in stasis in sickbay in the hopes of finding a cure. So she’s not dead yet, but she’s not not dead yet, either, if you know what I mean.
The method by which the scattering field is taken out is, alas, a big reason why I really really really really dislike this episode.
Because the Gorn are watching, and because of the scattering field, Uhura and Pelia come up with a way to take out the scattering field on the surface: place some explosives on a piece of Cayuga debris (most of the saucer section) and make it look like it’s falling out of orbit naturally and have it crash on the field generator.
Spock announces that he’s the only one who can do it because of his superior Vulcan strength and reflexes, even though there’s nothing in this job (flying around in an EVA suit and planting explosives) that requires either, plus there’s the fact that Number One also has some enhancements.
(Points to the designers of the EVA suit, by the by, which looks about halfway between the ones we saw on Discovery and the ones used on the original series.)
As he’s placing explosives, we see Chapel waking up, surrounded by bodies, and trying to get Spock’s attention when he happens by the window she’s near to place more explosives.
This was the point at which the episode totally lost me and never really got me back. Let’s start with the fact that Chapel survived. This means there are probably other survivors. The fact that nobody even considered this as a possibility is despicable. The fact that nobody (not Chapel, not Spock, not Number One, not anybody) thought to even try to find out if there were any survivors is a level of depravity wholly unworthy of the protagonists of a Star Trek show.
But hey, they’re just extras who don’t have speaking parts and whose names we don’t know, right? They don’t count!
The fact that the only survivor of the Cayuga being blown to smithereens is the one in the opening credits has already cut off the air supply to my disbelief. As has the fact that her ex-boyfriend happens to fly right by her window. And then they get into a fight with a Gorn who’s poking around the debris for reasons the script never bothers to provide, except to give us a Big! Action! Scene! in an episode that already had plenty of those.
Oh, and the pathos of Spock finding out that Chapel is alive and him saving her and them coming back to Enterprise together all cute.
Down on the planet, meanwhile, we’ve got, not just the survivors of the colony and the Cayuga landing party, but also a Starfleet engineer who was the only survivor of the Gorn’s previous target to the Cayuga and the colony: a station observing a nearby star. Said engineer is a junior-grade lieutenant with a knack for improvisational engineering, and he talks with a Scottish accent.
Yes, it’s Montgomery Scott! The fourth person to portray Scotty is Martin Quinn, and his main distinguishing feature from the other three is that he’s actually from Scotland! Born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Quinn is a veteran of the Scottish theatre, and it’s nice that, after James Doohan (born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), Simon Pegg (born in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England), and Matthew Wolf (who voiced Scotty in last seasons “A Quality of Mercy,” born in London), we finally get a genuine Scotsman in the role of popular culture’s most famous Scottish engineer.
And Quinn is tremendous fun as the younger version of the miracle worker. I especially love that, when he encounters Pelia, we find out that she considers him her best student, but he also got the worst grades in her class. Which is pretty on-brand for Scotty, truth be told…
There are other good moments here and there in the episode, including Melissa Navia’s big grin as Ortegas performs piloting derring-do with the shuttle trip to the surface, every scene with Pike and Batel (Anson Mount and Melanie Scrofano have adorable chemistry), every time Carol Kane’s Pelia is onscreen (she is a treasure, and she’d better be back next year), and Number One actually acting as first officer.
Another big part of my disdain for this finale is my general lack of interest in this incredibly derivative, boring, and contradictory iteration of the Gorn. One of the most tired accusations against the current crop of Paramount+ shows in general and SNW in particular have been the cries of “alternate timeline!” and “they’re breaking canon!” because of any continuity violation, real or imagined. And yet, SNW has gone out of its way to not break continuity or canon, going so far as to contrive a silly promotion to fleet captain for Pike in order to make his meeting with Kirk in “Lost in Translation” work. It’s even done yeoman work in enhancing the existing continuity in the recontextualizing of things like the Spock-Chapel relationship and Spock’s actions to save Pike in the original series’ “The Menagerie.”
And yet, they have continued to inexplicably piss all over the original series’ “Arena,” and done so in the service of making the Gorn spectacularly boring and turning them into an Alien/Predator knockoff.
It’s especially frustrating because it’s not necessary. They could’ve created a new species, or used another established species we know very little about (my original suggestion last year was the Tzenkethi, and I stand by that, as they’d plug in perfectly here). Instead, they decided to contradict one of the quintessential Trek episodes in “Arena,” and contravene the entire point of that episode by turning the Gorn into irredeemable monsters.
Now it’s possible that the second part of this story will do the work the show has ignored up to this point in making the Gorn more complicated than they’ve been made out to be. Because, yes, the episode ends on a cliffhanger. It’s not even a very good cliffhanger. Several of Pike’s crew and many of the colonists have been kidnapped by the Gorn. Uhura has just relayed orders from Starfleet to withdraw. And then we get several seconds of Pike being indecisive.
Which is ridiculous. Why is he being indecisive here? Of course he’s going to disobey the orders to disengage and try to rescue his people! Either that or he’s going to leave his people to die, which is not the way heroes of TV shows behave. And in this case, he shouldn’t—the orders are coming from a source that is unaware of the kidnappings. It’s a weird cliffhanger, that ends a sour episode on a sour note.
We have no idea when it’ll be resolved. And I’m totally fine with that, as the reason why is that the writers and actors are on strike, with very very good reason. While I am not part of the writers union that is striking (prose writers don’t make enough money to have a union), I support them wholeheartedly, as I do the actors. The people who do the work should be the ones who get paid for the work.
Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support the Kickstarter for Grandma Got Kidnapped by Aliens (and Other Holiday Disasters), edited by Hildy Silverman, to be published by Crazy 8 Press, and featuring Trek scribes Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Derek Tyler Attico, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Aaron Rosenberg, Paul Kupperberg, Geoffrey Thorne, and, if stretch goals are reached, Esther M. Friesner and Keith! The stories will be sci-fi, horror, and/or fantasy tales about holidays gone horribly wrong, including Christmas, Dia de los Muertos, Easter, Hanukkah, Tisha B’av, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Groundhog Day, National Leave A Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, and more. Please consider supporting it!