Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, “Memento Mori”

Shockingly, four episodes in, we’re already reaching the halfway point for the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. So far we’ve had a mixed bag of episodes, with the show having started strong and not yet again reached the heights of its premiere. That’s not to say there’s been anything wrong since, with the show providing plenty of classic Star Trek feels, character development, and “planet of the week” shenanigans. Still no dead redshirts, however.

After focusing on Uhura and Number One, this week it’s La’an Noonien-Singh turn. La’an is reminiscent of Major Kira Nerys from Deep Space Nine. Emotionally scarred from previous trauma, La’an can come across as standoffish, abrasive, and opposed to diplomacy. As we’ll see next week, there’s an entirely different side to her if you can get inside her defenses. This week, however, we’ll be dealing with the surface.

Return of the Gorn

The majority of Star Trek‘s alien races have never been very frightening. While they may commit horrifying acts, the show has always explored their internal dimensions and contradictions. The Borg are perhaps as close as Star Trek came to a clear-cut villain. That is, until now, with the Gorn.

The Gorn have appeared before, and were less than intimidating. Captain Kirk unleashes his infamous (and deadly) Kirk-Fu at an immobile rubber Gorn way back in the day, and if you stuck with Enterprise long enough, you may remember the show trying and failing to render them with CGI attempt. “Memento Mori” is wise not to actually show the Gorn onscreen. Instead, they’re reflected in the fear of the characters. And then there’s their massive starships that almost finish the Enterprise.

Throughout the episode, we see who the Gorn are and what they do. There’s the massacre at the colony, the destruction of their own ship, the chaos aboard the Enterprise, and La’an’s horrific flashbacks. Not since the introduction of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s second-season episode “Q Who” has an alien race appeared to pose this much a threat to the Federation.

Spoke helps La’an dive into her memories of the Gorn. To them, humans are merely prey. The scenes on the breeding planet inspire both disgust and fear, with echoes of Alien.

The young La’an is revealed to have lost her brother on the planet. The idea of childhood trauma resulting in an adult being standoffish is somewhat cliched, but it’s effective here, and central to the plot. If the Gorn are going to be important to Strange New Worlds, it’s smart to have somebody who knows them well. Like Kira in DS9, La’an’s animosity toward the enemy will undoubtedly be fertile ground for future drama.

Having already been mentioned earlier this season, the Gorn may be the big bad of the show, meaning they will have to appear in person at some point. While Star Trek fans may have loathed the Discovery redesign of the Klingons, perhaps they might be more forgiving if the Gorn were given a makeover.

“The Pike Maneuver”

Attacked and crippled by one of the Gorn ships, the Enterprise hides in a gas cloud. “Memento Mori” has all the tension of a classic submarine movie. The episode isn’t subtle about its inspirations, either; we get sonar noises, calls of “dive, dive, dive,” the Enterprise being crushed, and even depth charges of a sort!

However, with an injured crew, including Number One, the Enterprise is in real trouble. Number One steps up, although given that it’s only been a week since she saved the entire crew in “Ghosts of Illyria,” that didn’t feel as interesting as it might have otherwise.

Meanwhile, there’s a great subplot with Uhura and Hemmer. Star Trek has always been great with pairings: Kirk and Spock, Odo and Quark, Bashir and Garak, and now these two. The teased an Uhura-Hemmer pairing in one of the show’s first scenes, the relationship develops here as both are stuck in the cargo bay. We’re overdue for a Hemmer-centric episode; the small snippets we’ve got from the character so far have been interesting.

While Hemmer and Uhura are eventually saved, one crew member isn’t so lucky. Pike makes the agonizing decision to close the bulkheads, with fatal results. A captain having to make such a decision to save his crew has been done time and again, but it’s done well here and builds Pike up as a captain. We also see the compassion and regret he shows when he believes that Uhura and Hemmer died.

The conclusion to the episode is suitably dramatic, with Pike and the Enterprise making their escape. The star is the Enterprise itself as it slingshots off the black hole, which makes for some incredible-looking scenes. The only bum note is Ortegas’ levity, which feels misplaced as a sweating Pike looks troubled.

Rating: 8.0

Overall, “Memento Mori” is the strongest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds since the premiere. Full of action and tension, the episode feels like “Q Who” in that it’s seemingly a taster for a much bigger battle to come. Successfully rebuilding the Gorn as a genuine threat, “Memento Mori” will likely go down as an important episode for the series.

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