Fan Collective Unimatrix 47: Strange New Worlds “Memento Mori” Episode

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

One of my favorite episodes of TOS happens to be “Balance of Terror,” not necessarily because it directly confronts the same sort of racism that led to the Japanese-American Internment Camps in World War II. Rather, I love the episode because it showcases Kirk’s ability as a tactical thinker. “Memento Mori”  highlights the same tactical thinking for Captain Pike. Anson Mount’s portrayal of Pike has given him the air of competence, but it’s equally nice to see a story providing credibility to that. Moreover, “Memento Mori” allows Pike to demonstrate not only that competence but also a level of emotional intelligence that feels a touch unprecedented. However, “Memento Mori” escapes being just a Pike story by also centering La’an’s tragedy, but the story does so by forcing her to choose to face the horror, which is ultimately what make this entirely fantastic episode stand out.

Plot Ahoy!

Memory Alpha has done a much better job than I ever could crafting an episode summary. The Enterprise heads to the aid of a colony that needs valuable equipment to keep their air breathable, but when they arrive, they find the stuff of nightmares. Number One’s team beams down to the surface and finds ruins and blood trails, with little else. They return to the ship, and a mining vessel makes contact. The vessel contains all of the colony’s survivors, and Pike immediately offers aid. However, due to the vessel’s nature, they cannot use the transporters.

La’an and Number One oversee the transfer, and as La’an gazes out at space through the umbilical’s windows, she sees a horrifically familiar ship and freezes. She realizes that the Gorn attacked the colony just as the ship fires on the Enterprise, destroying the umbilical. Number One grabs her and drags her back to the Enterprise but is seriously hurt herself in the process. Una orders La’an up to the bridge because La’an is the only person aboard who has real experience with the Gorn.

La’an runs up and tells Pike what they’re facing, and the Gorn ship engages. Unfortunately, the Gorn ship has far heavier weaponry than the Enterprisesupports, so what ensues is a clever game of cat and mouse that sees Pike actively using both the Brown Dwarf Star and the black hole that’s consuming it to escape the Gorn’s clutches. As part of this endeavor, La’an and Spock take a shuttle to perform reconnaissance on their enemies.

During the mission, La’an asks Spock to help her breach the block on her memories of her time with the Gorn with a mindmeld. He agrees, reluctantly, and he helps her walk through her last memories of her brother. That brother happens to be the same person she’s been hallucinating all day. During the mindmeld, La’an discovers that not only did her brother discover how the Gorn communicate but that he also sacrificed himself to help her escape. La’an makes some peace with that knowledge and uses this new information to convince the Gorn to discover one of their own ships.

While Pike engages in derring-do on the bridge, wreckage in Engineering has trapped Cadet Uhura and Chief Engineer Hemmer with a piece of equipment that is rapidly gearing up to destroy the ship. The two of them work together, with Uhura serving as Hemmer’s hands after more debris falls on the Andorian, wounding him. While they aren’t entirely successful in averting the explosion, they do delay it long enough for Pike to realize he can use it to convince the remaining Gorn ship that the black hole has crushed the Enterprise. Hemmer and Uhura secure themselves in EVA suits as the Captain evacuates the equipment into space.

Una, being who she is, has battled her grievous injuries far too long when she staggers into Sickbay. She collapses, and M’Benga quickly realizes that they’ll have to use sutures to close the gashes. Unfortunately, shrapnel has penetrated her circulatory system, so they’ll have to operate to remove it before it shreds her heart. They have just enough plasma left to treat her when they find another patient who seriously needs it. Una orders M’Benga to use it to treat the other crew-member even though she knows she risks hemorrhaging to death. Later, she awakens to find herself tethered to M’Benga, who is sharing his own blood with her.

La’an, though grateful for their escape, worries about the next time they encounter the Gorn, and rather than offering her a platitude, Pike observes that next time, they won’t be caught as off guard.

Analysis

This episode begins with the crew donning pins from other ships on which they’ve served with those who have lost their lives, which is entirely on point for the episode that aired the Thursday before American Memorial Day. However, “Memento Mori” is an interesting title. The term itself refers to an artistic motif that contains imagery suggesting the inevitability of death. The concept has been with us since Ancient Greece as a warning to remember one’s mortality and focus on living one’s life, but Christianity took the idea and ran with it. In a Christian context, the memento mori takes on an additional moral component, reminding the viewer that earthly life is fleeting and to concentrate on the afterlife.

In the episode, La’an’s brother becomes a literal memento mori, but the episode purposefully eschews this history and instead asks us to remember the deaths of those who have sacrificed for us and our ideals. Manu’s sacrifice not only enables La’an to survive the Gorn long enough for them to release her out into space, but his knowledge provides her the tools to help save her comrades now. The memento mori in the episode is neither a reminder that now is the best time to drink (nunc es bibendum) nor a sobering reminder to reflect on the disposition of your soul after death. Instead, Manu and even the crew-member who shoves Kyle through the closing bulkheads serve as a reminder that we are here due to the sacrifice of others. There’s a shade of gratitude here that’s been tainted by survivor’s guilt, and Strange New Worlds acknowledges how natural that is.

In a sense, while we discuss often that Strange New Worlds is a return to old-style Trek, whatever that might mean, SNW represents a distinct departure from the older, familiar Trek patterns. We’ve got an entirely different kind of captain in Pike, one who relies on both emotional intelligence and trust that works both ways. Pike is willing to embrace his own vulnerability with not only Spock but also Una, whom he trusts implicitly, and that’s something we see very, very rarely. Even Discovery, which has allowed its characters to react to their trauma, has generally kept that away from the Captain’s chair until recently.

La’an’s experience in this episode only underscores how different this story is from one that might have appeared on TNG because while she is definitely a hero in this episode, her heroism doesn’t look like what we’ve come to see as heroism. La’an not only willingly faces her trauma to unpack it for the benefit of others, but she shares that vulnerability with Spock. She literally asks him to walk through some of the darkest memories of her life because it might help. Y’all, doing that required incredible amounts of strength and courage, especially for someone as comparatively private as La’an. It’s lovely to see that kind of fortitude recognized so beautifully here.

We even get some legitimate character development for Hemmer who gets the opportunity to explain his view of his people’s pacifism to Uhura. Trek is great at philosophical speeches, but they tend to be lectures. Hemmer isn’t lecturing Uhura so much as teaching, and I can’t wait to see more of their dynamic develop.

Rating:

Five Time Crystals

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. Yeah, Kyle’s experience is going to haunt him. I love how subtly the relationship between himself and the officer who sacrifices himself for Kyle gets established. There’s a nod in a hallway that seems like a simple establishing shot, but it’s really, really not. This show is clever.
  2. I initially thought the pins were going to be challenge coins, which would have been a great nod to current, generally American military practice, but I also liked the pin idea.
  3. We do get a reference to Michael Burnham in this episode, which is interesting because Spock isn’t actually allowed to share his grief with La’an the way she does. I wonder if Starfleet’s order is the only bar to that kind of openness here.

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