As promised, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has taken familiar storytelling cues from classic Star Trek and applied them to the modern era. It’s been exactly what fans have been looking for and a massive success, with the reaction from new and old fans alike being hugely positive. If you were a fan of The Original Series, you’ve been at home here. But as we saw with last week’s shock death of Hemmer, the show isn’t just comfort viewing. That said, this week’s finale is all fan service.
“A Quality of Mercy” is an alternate version of the Original Series episode “Balance of Terror.” The 1966 classic introduced the Romulans to the canon, and this new episode reintroduces them. The basic concept of the episode is that Captain Pike believes he’s figured out how to escape his future fate. As a consequence, his future self (dressed in a fan-pleasing red movie uniform) returns to the past to get him to change his mind. This means that, in this timeline, Pike actually experienced the early years of Kirk’s time on the Enterprise.
“A Quality of Mercy” is neither a prequel nor a sequel to “Balance of Terror,” nor quite a remake. It doesn’t require prior knowledge of the TOS episode, though you’ll get more out of it if you know what’s supposed to happen. Still, Strange New Worlds ensures that new viewers aren’t overwhelmed by decades of lore.
As we get to the meat of the episode, we find that the future Enterprise is investigating the loss of communications with Earth outposts near the Neutral Zone. Hansen appears with his son in the opening minutes, which gives his death more weight. Everything so far seems to be running its usual course, including the wedding of Lieutenant Tomlinson and Ensign Martine and the eventual first appearance of the Romulan Bird of Prey.
Pike, meanwhile, confides in Spock, who momentarily believes his captain has gone insane until he performs a mind-meld. Spock advises that the best way to proceed is to let events play out and discover the divergence point.
As in “Balance of Terror,” Outpost 4 is soon destroyed. Spock manages to hack into the ship’s internal cameras and reveal the Romulans for the “first” time. Everybody is shocked to see how much they look like Spock. In the original episode, navigator Lieutenant Stiles shows himself to be prejudiced and questions Spock’s loyalty to Starfleet. Here, that role is given to current navigator Erica Ortegas. While Ortegas isn’t as outright racist as Stiles was, it’s still a little uncomfortable that a series regular has these sorts of thoughts.
Captain Kirk debuts on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Soon enough, we’re introduced to Captain Kirk, the captain of the USS Farragut. Back in the TOS episode “Obsession,” it’s revealed that Kirk had served on the ship as a lieutenant, and in this reality, he seemingly stayed and was given command. And it’s here that “A Quality of Mercy” stumbles.
While an actor putting a new spin on a role is understandable — Paul Wesley plays Kirk here — there’s no point in the episode that it genuinely feels like you’re watching James T. Kirk. Recreating Spock is much easier given his unique appearance, and the mannerisms and inflections of Ethan Peck never leave you with any doubt that you’re watching Spock. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Wesley. If the character wasn’t named Kirk, it’s doubtful the viewer would be able to distinguish him from any other Starfleet officer.
As in “Balance of Terror,” Stiles/Ortegas recommends attack, as does Spock. However, unlike in the original episode, two ships are ready to fight: the Enterprise and the Farragut, the latter of which is attacked by the Bird of Prey. Despite leaving last week, La’an is back as one of the Farragut evacuees and is now seemingly a hugger! The return of La’an leads to the revelation that Number One has been sent to a penal colony for being augmented. La’an isn’t the only cameo either, with Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott making his sort-of debut; Spock hears his voice.
Meanwhile, the same cat and mouse game begins all over again, but with enough differences to keep things interesting. Ultimately, neither Pike nor the Romulan Commander makes a real difference. Instead, Kirk conjures up a fake fleet of ships while on the Bird of Prey and Sub-Commander Decius summons a Romulan fleet, believing Pike has shown weakness.
The situation ends in a firefight, with the Federation and Romulan empire going to war. Dozens die or are injured aboard the Enterprise, including Spock. Knowing what lies in his own future, Pike can’t let Spock meet the same fate. Anson Mount gives a magnificent performance after discovering the extent of Spock’s injuries, all without dialogue.
Episode Rating: 9
“A Quality of Mercy” is an excellent end to the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The episode is brilliantly done fan service that, despite relying heavily on “Balance of Terror,” doesn’t require any knowledge of the original episode. While at times Pike may have seemed sidelined throughout the season, here he is front and center and shows why many are already calling him the finest of all Star Trek captains.
Pike perfectly combines Kirk’s rule-breaking bravado, Picard’s diplomacy and Sisko’s empathy, all of which are displayed in “A Quality of Mercy.” It’s undoubtedly Pike’s best episode to date and another brilliant episode from the strongest first season of any Trek show.
The past 10 episodes have been a rollercoaster ride. Considering the quality, it’s no wonder Paramount+ commissioned a second season straight away. There are still plenty of stories to tell with seven in-universe years until Pike’s accident.
Where Strange New Worlds goes next is uncertain, but as we close the season, we’re left with the cliffhanger of Number One being arrested for being an augment. It’s something to keep fans guessing until next year.