Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 finale review, “Hegemony”

L-R Ethan Peck as Spock and Anson Mount as Capt. Pike in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+
L-R Ethan Peck as Spock and Anson Mount as Capt. Pike in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ /

Star Trek quietly changed how it treats the topic of race at some point before its current TV renaissance. I believe the season 2 finale of Strange New Worlds is the first practical example of that change in action.

Space racism is an increasingly imperfect metaphor for real racism. Space racism implies that other races are akin to other species, which is ironically one of the most racist notions there is. Star Trek has tried to address this by no longer using the words “race” and “species” interchangeably. The Klingons, Vulcans, and Romulans are all alien “species,” not alien “races” now.

This opens up exciting new storytelling possibilities. From the very beginning, Star Trek has been all about finding common ground with one’s enemies, because common ground is the beginning of peace. But how does one find common ground with alien species who are unfathomably different?

Strange New World’s big bad, the Gorn, pose such a conundrum. The Gorn are, in essence, the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise, except with one crucial difference: they’re intelligent. The Gorn use technology. They impose and they respect (nominally) borders and territories. Star Trek has trained us to anticipate a diplomatic solution to every problem. But if you imagine the xenomorphs dispatching a diplomat to advocate dispassionately for their right to lay eggs in your chest cavity, then you can imagine the difficulty of finding a diplomatic solution to the Gorn.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, we’re not quite at the stage of a diplomatic relationship with the Gorn, but with Star Trek, that’s always the end game. The Gorn present a huge challenge as to how we’re going to get there.

The Gorn we see in this episode, “Hegemony,” are slightly different from the ones we saw last season, which could provide a clue as to how they’re going to open a dialogue. Last season, when we saw two Gorn hatchlings burst from their hapless host’s chest, one immediately killed the other. La’an, who was imprisoned on a Gorn breeding planet as a child, explained that they fight for dominance from birth. But the Gorn in this episode hunted collaboratively. That detail never gets mentioned again, but it’s the best clue we have as to how the Gorn arc ends. Maybe the Gorn are evolving, maybe the ones from last season are troublemakers who give the rest of them a bad name. Only time will tell.

We’ve come a long way from a gan in a rubber suit

“Hegemony” begins with Chapel and Pike’s girlfriend Captain Batel running an immunization drive on a colony planet that’s modeled on the old American midwest, or as we call it, the American Midwest. This didn’t make a lick of sense at first. It seemed like that time on the original Battlestar Galactica when their budget was slashed, so they went back in time to 1980 for reasons they promptly forgot about and stayed there for the rest of the show. (Then again, Star Trek’s number one weirdest episode is set on a colony planet based on 19th-century Scotland.)

But after the planet is reduced to cinders, we start to get it. Seeing a handful of cowering human survivors in the wreck of a setting that’s so familiar is terrifying. This episode has a good amount of horror. That panning shot of the burning town, with the Gorn crawling over the jungle gym in the foreground, is a reference to a well-known horror movie, I know it is! I just don’t know which one. Can anyone help me out?

Shortly after this, Chapel beams back to Batel’s ship, the Cuyoga. A Starfleet shuttle streaks across the sky and crashes, the first ominous indication that the planet is under attack.

Back on the Enterprise, Admiral April dispatches Pike and the Enterprise to investigate. They receive a message from the Gorn, via Starfleet: it’s a single image, a map showing that the Gorn have annexed the planet. As the planet was outside Federation space, there’s not much they can do about it, and April warns Pike that he’s just there to investigate, not to starting any interstellar incidents just to save his girlfriend.

When the Enterprise arrives, they find that the Cuyoga has been destroyed, and that the Gorn have erected some sort of beacon that scrambles communications and transporter signals, so they can’t beam any survivors off the planet. Pike assembles a covert away team, complete with the old speech about how he won’t ask anyone to disobey April’s orders. He drafts Ortegas to fly the shuttle, as they’ll need her fancy flying skills to avoid detection by the Gorn. Ortegas wanting to go on an away mission, not getting to, then finally going is a frustratingly shallow arc for such an interesting character, but actor Melissa Navia absolutely nails the subtle inner conflict that comes with getting her dream assignment at such a dark and solemn time.

The away team is almost immediately pinned down and forced to take shelter in a barber’s shop, where they’re trapped in a forcefield. Thankfully the forcefield is an anti-Gorn measure jury-rigged by one of the survivors, a young Starfleet lieutenant with technical know-how and a thick Scottish brogue.

Great Scott!

I guess don’t publish a definitive list of legacy characters a week before a finale episode that’s strongly rumored to be introducing another legacy character.

Though we’ll have to see more of him before we can really judge, this Scotty doesn’t seem like a bad Scotty at all. Though he’s more reminiscent of Simon Pegg’s eccentric boffin from the J.J. Abrams movies than he is James Doohan’s career man from the original series. What I found most distracting about this Scotty was how young he looks. I mean, I know this is a prequel but what is this, Muppet Babies? (I’m just showing my age there.)

Scotty’s forcefield is also protecting a bunch of survivors, including Batel, who is less than enthused about seeing Pike. Seems she’s adopted an uncharacteristically fatalist attitude, and would rather he have stayed where it’s safe…

Back on the Enterprise, Spock is searching the wreck of the Cuyoga for signs Chapel may have survived, but the odds do not look good. That’s when Pelia and Uhura hatch a plan to attach rockets to the Cuyuga so that they can crash it into the Gorn beacon, making it appear that the ship’s orbit naturally decayed. This way they can destroy the beacon without firing weapons and starting a war. Spock volunteers and sets off for the Cuyoga in a space suit with a jet pack, rockets in tow.

That’s when Chapel wakes up, seemingly the only survivor on the ship. Seems unlikely, but I’m not mad about it; I don’t mind the main characters can’t die trope. She sees Spock out the window, then sees that a Gorn in a space suit is about to attack him. She suits up and helps him fight off the Gorn. This scene is so tense and exciting; the contrast to last week’s silliness is just ridiculous.

That shot of the Gorn tail unfurling behind Spock is definitely another movie reference. Pretty sure it’s one of the Alien movies, still can’t place it though. Anyone?

On the surface of the planet, Pike, Batel, and Scotty make for the shuttle to cannabalize the parts that Scotty needs to build a device that mimics the Gorn transponder, so they can escape disguised as a Gorn ship. But a Gorn is lying in wait in the shuttle. Batel stares it down, and after a tense moment, it leaves them alone.

Anyone who’s seen Alien 3 knows what this means. Their shamelessness about ripping off the Alien franchise is the right decision. It would stick out more if they tried to hide it.

This explains Batel’s fatalism. She reveals that her plan was to kamikaze into the Gorn beacon so that the others can escape. Pike insists she can be saved, but while they’re bickering about it, the Cuyoga comes crashing into the beacon.

With transporters working, Spock and Chapel are beamed aboard. Chapel has barely materialized before she’s ordered to prep Batel for surgery.

When a female character is killed off to give a male character motivation, it’s called “fridging.” On the one hand, I don’t think Strange New Worlds would stoop to this; on the other hand, perhaps they feel that they’ve earned one sexist trope after being so wonderfully progressive for two seasons.

My money’s on her pulling through, though. If they were going to kill her off, they’d have let her die in a blaze of glory. Having her go all John Hurt on a hospital bed is not a very Star Trek thing to do.

As the Enterprise prepares to beam up the rest of the survivors from the planet’s surface, they find they’re not there. The Gorn have them, and the Enterprise is taking heavy fire from the Gorn ship. Uhura receives a priority message from April ordering them to withdraw…as explosions go off across the bridge, Number One asks Pike what his orders are; he’s frozen in fear for a moment before his face hardens, indicating a decision has been made.

…to be continued…


I don’t think we’ve ever seen that look on a Starfleet captain’s face before. Star Trek captains always face whatever is in front of them with steely resolve, even when it’s certain death. That makes this different, and scary, and really ratchets up the anticipation for next season.

That few seconds of close-up acting may well be Anson Mount’s finest moment as Captain Pike yet. Pike’s best trait is his empathy; in that moment, Pike is not afraid for himself — he could follow orders and get out of Dodge — but for the people in Gorn captivity.

It’s a much more relatable response with a healthier message. Courage is action in the face of fear, not the absence of fear. That’s a rough paraphrasing of a Nelson Mandela quote, but he no doubt got the idea from Star Trek, as it’s a common Trek theme, yet we rarely see fear depicted onscreen.

We first saw the Gorn in the original series classic Arena, where Kirk remarks, “Like most Humans, I seem to have an instinctive revulsion to reptiles.” So Strange New Worlds is continuing a theme established in the original series (or perhaps a theme that can be inferred from the original series with a reasonable amount of overthinking) that the Gorn’s differences from humanoid species make them hard to relate to, even by the peace-loving Federation. The Gorn from the original series spoke, and if Star Trek has taught us anything, it’s that if you can talk with someone, you can reason with them. Now that the Gorn have human hostages, negotiation may be the only way out of this.

Can’t say I’m not peeved to have to wait a year to find out.

dark. Next. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, Episode 209: “Subspace Rhapsody”

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