Here it is! After an entire season’s worth of teasing, we finally, finally get the Gorn, and boy do we ever get the Gorn. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds tenth episode of season two “Hegemony” takes us as viewers from a bucolic if backward enough not to require expensive scene redressing colony to a grimdark apocalypse, within minutes. We also get to see Pike’s principles put to the test, and the dramatization of tension between individuals and the institutions that serve them. It’s a pretty complex story that builds on the themes revealed in the final conversation between Pike and Dr. M’Benga in “Under the Cloak of War” and sets us up for season three.
The USS Cayuga is in orbit around Parnassus Beta, a colony located outside of Federation space, that has been constructed to resemble a 21st-ish century midwestern town from the United States. Captain Batel and Nurse Chapel along with other Cayuga crew members are overseeing an effort to get the colonists vaccinated for various space diseases. Chapel returns to the ship just as Batel receives a personal call from Pike. The call drops, and Batel sees a shuttle crash down on the planet’s surface just before some ominous clouds roll in to cover the town.
In the ensuing comms silence, Uhura picks up a distress call from the Cayuga, and Pike reaches out to Starfleet. Admiral April reminds everyone that the colonists aren’t Federation members and that the Federation does not want to engage in hostilities with the Gorn. Pike diplomatically calls shenanigans and directs the Enterprise to Parnassus Beta. What they find there is horrific. The Cayuga has been destroyed, and the colony cloaked in darkness. They can’t get accurate scans because the Gorn have deployed some sort of dampening field. To add insult to injury, more Gorn begin arriving, and the Gorn Hegemony itself contacts Starfleet and declares Parnassus Beta to be their territory. Pike contacts Starfleet, and April orders him to stay on the Federation side of the line and absolutely, 100%, in no way engage in heroics to rescue whatever colonists and Starfleet personnel might be left alive.
Pike, of course, thinks this is nonsense, and his crew agrees with him. They come up with a way to hide from the Gorn by disguising themselves as debris, and an away team successfully lands on the planet. Once there, they discover the survivors, including Captain Batel and one Lieutentant Montgomery Scott, who came up with a truly-bizarre-yet-workable solution to avoid the Gorn. Back on the Enterprise, the crew is compartmentalizing their concerns regarding their comrades both planetside and aboard the Cayuga. However, the priority is to destroy the Gorn tech rendering their sensors inoperable. Pelia, Una, and Uhura craft a plan to drop the Cayuga’s saucer section on top of the scary piece of Gorn tech. Spock, low-key concerned about Chapel, volunteers to space jump over to the Cayuga and place rockets, which will fire just enough to cause the saucer section’s orbit to decay.
Fortunately, his trajectory takes him near where Chapel has awakened as the apparent sole survivor aboard the saucer section. However, as she explores, she finds that there is an adult Gorn trying to hack Batel’s password. She engages, but just as it looks as though she’ll fall to the Gorn, Spock comes in and saves the day. The pair float back to the Enterprise, as the remains of the Cayuga crash to Parnassus Beta, disabling the Gorn machine.
With renewed sensor support, Number One has Spock and Chapel beamed aboard and reaches out to Pike. Pike has himself, Batel, and Scott beamed to Sickbay in order to address Batel’s infection with Gorn spawn with a stasis field. He also orders the survivors to be beamed aboard, but the Gorn intervene, beaming up the survivors before the Enterprise can. The four Gorn ships in the area open fire on the Enterprise, and as the remaining bridge crew looks to Pike for a solution, he realizes he has none.
I have so many thoughts about this episode. As an initial matter, the idea that Pike, who has been so gloriously in charge for two seasons now, has no idea what to do is terrifying. Yes, I realize that we know the Enterprise makes it through with most of our favorite crew surviving. Pike has to make it to “The Menagerie.” Uhura, Chapel, and M’Benga go on to appear in TOS as do Spock and Scotty. Even Sam Kirk has to make it as far as “Operation: Annihilate!” That knowledge does decrease the tension a bit, but the emotional tension still exists. We know that Pike is wrestling with this indecision, and it’s very much a make-or-break moment for him as a captain. The decision he makes here will determine what kind of captain he’ll be in the future, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Strange New Worlds handles the fallout.
His other big decision that has potentially dire ramifications is bringing Batel on board. Star Trek has not traditionally been a franchise to shy away from asking its characters to make big decisions or even to wrestle with their own powerlessness. “Lift Us Up Where Suffering Cannot Reach” serves as a prime example from SNW’s freshman season. However, what Trek does best is to remind us that these hard decisions must be tempered with mercy and compassion, which is what Pike does here. Pike wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t at least try to save Batel, and I do think that would be true even if she weren’t his romantic partner.
Pike’s choice stands in marked contrast to how Starfleet handles the situation. The Admiralty is more than willing to sacrifice the people on Parnassus Beta in order to avoid conflict with the Gorn. I don’t think this is an indictment of Starfleet necessarily. Star Trek vacillates between embracing its institutions when they uphold their utopian values and decrying them when they don’t. However, as the franchise has aged, the spectrum has become more nuanced. Trek has shown us what it looks like when Starfleet misses the mark; the entirety of Picard’s first season attempts to wrestle with Starfleet’s failure as an institution. However, I’m not persuaded that’s what’s happening here. The admiralty must look at a bigger picture than Pike does; they have to make the choice to favor the needs of the many over the needs of the few. The decision comes across as cold, and make no mistake, it is. However, this Admiralty recognizes that its resources are strained after the conflict with the Klingons which makes Starfleet far, far less likely to succeed in open warfare with the Gorn. The admiralty’s calculus thus is whether the greater harm would be to start a war that would be nigh impossible to win or to sacrifice the colonists and their own personnel here on Parnassus Beta. It’s a terrible choice, and I understand why the Admiralty makes the decision it does. I am in no way saying that Starfleet’s position in “Hegemony” is the right one. I am, however, arguing that it’s a decision that makes sense in context. What we’re seeing is the dichotomy between an institution versus the personal.
We’ve seen SNW address this dichotomy before, as recently as “Under the Cloak of War.” M’Benga tells Pike that he hasn’t lived M’Benga’s life, and what he means is that Pike has the privilege of not having had to face the same choices. That’s essentially playing out in “Hegemony.” Pike doesn’t want to sacrifice his people, and we know he won’t. He has a luxury the Admiralty does not in that he doesn’t have to think about the wider ramifications of engaging with the Gorn. On the other hand, he lacks the distance from the crew that somewhat insulates April and his cohort from the emotional impact of their choices. Pike works with these people every day, so he will feel their loss more acutely. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of the competing interests, and the situation represents a reversal of the situation between Pike and M’Benga in “Under the Cloak of War.”
Season two has played with this theme since “Ad Astra Per Aspera.” SNW has presented us with an image of a Starfleet and Federation that aren’t ready for huge, sweeping change. The show seems to recognize that incremental change makes the most sense for these societal institutions. We make the small steps, such as affording one Illyrian asylum rather than reverse a regressive policy regarding genetic modification. I do wonder where the show plans to take the story begun in “Hegemony.” Will it be an indictment of Starfleet? Will we see some of the characters reject a flawed institution? Will we see a third, more centrist approach? My guess is that the show will embrace that middle way, recognizing that while we can and must address these flaws, we can’t throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. Star Trek has invested a lot of time and effort into showing us that not only can humanity overcome its issues but that we can create better systems and institutions. I like that modern Trek has such a focus on reminding us that our institutions require us to work on them. We can’t simply flip the switch and expect everything to keep on ticking without some occasional correction any more than we can just chuck these structures in the bin. It’s a good reminder that we must do the work.
Three and a half time crystals.
Stray Thoughts From the Couch
- I wonder what the cooperative Gorn younglings are about.
- Please. Can we not fridge Batel? I’d rather not see Marie Batel become another Katrina Cornwell.
- I’ll be interested to see what happens between Spock and Chapel. This is going to be one heck of a delay in reaching her internship with Roger Korby.