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I watched Star Trek: Strange New Worlds S1, E3 Ghosts of Illyria last night. Not a bad episode as things go, and I did find some connections to other Star Trek shows from the past.
Pike, Number One, Spock, and a landing party are on the surface of an Illyrian colony world that’s apparently been abandoned. No one is comfortable being there since the Illyrians were eugenicists, tinkering with their DNA to adapt to various environments. Ever since Khan and the Eugenics Wars, gene manipulation has been strictly outlawed.
The planet is periodically swept with Ion storms and one’s coming in. Spock is in one of the buildings and can’t be reached by communicator due to storm interference. Pike goes after him and orders Number One to beam up with the rest of the landing party (as an aside, I liked the return of jackets, gloves, and big carrying cases). As the party members re-assemble at the beam down point, an ensign is poking around some sort of locker and comes across an open container. He doesn’t think much of it, alas.
That part reminded me of the original Star Trek episode The Naked Time where Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Joe Tormolen (Stewart Moss) were investigating a frozen outpost on a dying planet. Tormolen takes off his glove and is exposed to a disease, one that passes from person to person through water. He brings it back aboard ship, infecting everyone he has contact with and the transporter doesn’t detect it.
The storm is hampering Chief Kyle’s transporter lock. Hemmer in Engineering arrogantly boosts power to the transporter making it possible for the landing party to return. He’s pretty cranky about it and it causes some strange power glitch on the ship.
Back on board, Number One goes to the bridge and advises everyone that Pike and Spock will have to ride out the storm on the surface since they can’t be beamed back. Uhura tries to communicate with the surface but can’t. Damn is her communications console huge.
Meanwhile, in a corridor, Ortega encounters one of the landing party half dressed and hugging a light panel. It all seems a little kinky until he headbutts the panel shattering it and causing Ortega to call sickbay.
In her quarters, Number One is also attracted to light. She starts to rip off her tunic, which got me pretty excited, but it was only a little tear. Her skin starts to glow red and then abruptly stops. Dr. M’Benga calls her to sickbay where he has all of the original landing party, all addicted to light, but the only medical issue is low vitamin D. He takes some of Una’s blood “just in case” and she lies about having no symptoms.
Number One asks Hemmer how a disease could have gotten past the biofilter. He makes some puffed up reasons and she gives him a look like “don’t give me your shit.” That happened a few times in the conversation before he admitted that it might be possible and starts to investigate. Nice to see he can’t pull his crap with everyone. It was my favorite moment in the episode.
Back in sickbay, a now very grumpy Hemmer comes in saying the problem with the main transporters originated with M’Benga’s emergency medical transporter which he refused to have upgraded at space dock (see the pilot episode). He gets into an argument with the Doctor and turns off the transporter which dims the lights. M’Benga covertly activates his transporter again bringing the lights back up, but no one knows why.
Glad M’Benga won’t put up with Hemmer’s shit either.
Back on the bridge. Number One is able to communicate with Pike for a bit telling him there’s a situation but the comm goes down before she can transmit the details.
On the surface, Pike and Spock are sheltered in what’s probably a library. Spock has been doing some research on the Illyrians. The storm is raging outside.
In her quarters, Number One is doing research of her own and repeatedly has to override the computer to gain access to Illyrian info (funny she doesn’t have to use a password or identify her security clearance like they used to on Star Trek TNG and later). Both Una and Spock independently conclude that the Illyrians were working on some sort of gene modification that had to do with disease control. La’an, responding to a call from Una, comes to her quarters and can’t help seeing her research because it’s plastered all over a wall-sized screen. Way to be covert, Una. La’an doesn’t like it. Being an ancestor of Khan, she got hazed frequently as a child and came to hate “augments.”
Then, La’an, who wasn’t on the landing party, shows symptoms of the light illness. Number One gets her to sickbay.
As an aside, maybe it’s the make up, but La’an’s face in close up doesn’t look quite human. I’m not sure that’s the intent, but it was kind of creepy.
Since no one knows (yet) how this is spreading, Una orders everyone either confined to their quarters or at their workstations. If you’re working, what if you have to pee?
On the surface, Spock is calmly reading while Pike is pacing like a nervous tiger worrying about his ship. Then, in the storm, they see what looks like plasma life forms. The entities try to break into their shelter. If they do and expose the two of them to the storm, they’ll be killed.
Uhura, off duty, is trying to sleep in what looks like a wall-mounted coffin with a closable side panel. Her two roommates are making a lot of noise and she opened up to see. They’re hovering around some sort of big light globe in the center of the room. It’s blinding so she orders the computer to shut it off, which makes her roomies really pissed.
I guess the prohibition about men and women being billeted in the same quarters no longer exists because they both looked male to me.
Number One investigates and realizes that Uhura wasn’t infected because she was sleeping in the dark. The disease is transmitted by light and in order to stop the spread, the lights inside the Enterprise must go out.
Spock discovers that the energy beings appeared as the colonists began dying. He doesn’t believe the beings actually killed the colonists. Suddenly, the beings break in the door, the window shatters exposing Pike and Spock to the storm and the plasma beings envelop them both.
On ship, Number One, now the only functional person, goes on a one-person quest to respond to every crisis. She discovers Hemmer in the transporter room beaming a piece glowing, molten lava up. If it materializes, the place will probably explode. She uses a phaser to stop him (even though blind, the disease makes him seek out radiant energy). She throws him over her shoulder, effortlessly carrying him through the corridors on a “hero’s walk” to sickbay.
With both M’Benga and Chapel ill, they’ll have to be sedated like the rest of the infected crew. Una admits to M’Benga that she’s an Illyrian, not from the colony, but she is genetically modified (hence the greater strength). Can her blood be used to create a cure?
Nope. Her system literally burns out diseases rather than creates antibodies, so there’s nothing to make a cure from. Then M’Benga gives a speech. I can’t find the exact quote, but here’s what my notes say:
Prejudice has kept people from helping each others for centuries. We came out to space and found new bigotries.
Or something like that.
In Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of Star Trek, the Federation had overcome all of their bigotries and were living in an enlightened time. This seems to counter that, but then, “NuTrek” tends to take a dimmer view of humanity than Roddenberry did. Of course, in the original episode Balance of Terror (yes, I know this episode figures prominently in STSNW’s tenth and final episode for this season), Stiles (Paul Comi) has a lot of prejudiced feelings for Romulans, and by inference, Spock and other Vulcans. Kirk does give a great speech here:
Well, here’s one thing you can be sure of, mister: leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge.
So the future isn’t perfect no matter what.
With everyone unconscious or isolated, the computer announces that the containment field around the warp core is being disabled. Rushing to engineering, Una finds La’an deliberately taking down the field which will destroy the ship. La’an had awakened in sickbay with no one noticing and was searching for the most powerful light source on the ship. She also heard when Una confessed being Illyrian to the Doctor.
A fight breaks out and La’an holds her own, spitting out hate and venom at Una because she’s an augment. All of her childhood pain comes back, plus the fact that her friend lied to her. Una puts her down and re-establishes the containment field.
Somehow, I didn’t get this part, Una cures everyone on the ship. Really, was I asleep or did the explanation somehow slip past me?
With the storm past, Pike and Spock realize that the plasma beings broke in to protect them from the Ion storm (too bad Pike in his terrific leadership hadn’t found a shelter without a big glass window facing outside).
Spock discovers that the plasma beings are what’s left of the Illyrians. They were trying to undo their genetic modifications because they wanted to join the Federation. Unfortunately, that left them open to the “light’ disease. They chased the lightning bolts into the frequent storms and became one with their energy. Even in such an altered state, they retained their altruistic nature.
With the storm gone and the disease cured, Pike and Spock beam back up.
Naturally Number One confesses to Pike and surrenders herself to disciplinary action. He decides not to take action even though she’s broken a dozen laws and regulations. As far as Star Fleet goes, he’ll deal with them (we’ll see how well that flies). Apparently, his experience on the planet gave him a new admiration for Illyrians and helped him set aside any misgivings about “augments.”
In investigating why the transporter didn’t filter out the disease, she finds that M’Benga is hiding something in the medical transporter’s buffer; his terminally ill little daughter. He expects to be arrested on the spot, but just as Pike floated her mercy, she does the same for M’Benga, promising a dedicated energy source for his transporter direct from the warp core.
Number One and La’an manage to patch up a few things over a bowl of strawberries. The episode ends in a parallel sequence. One was Una creating and then deleting her confession to her personal log. She wondered if Pike would have been just as forgiving if she hadn’t saved the crew and the ship. The other was with M’Benga materializing his little girl Rukiya (Sage Arrindell) and reading her a bedtime story.
It all seems to end okay, but there’s no way so many explosive issues are just going to be swept under the rug. There’s more trauma and drama to come.
Some afternotes. I see that Transporter Chief Kyle is played by André Dae Kim. I tried looking up his background but all I got was “Canadian actor.” The original transporter chief Lt. Kyle was played by John Winston, a white, blond haired English actor who passed away at the age of 91 on September 19, 2019. I realize we’re in the age of “representation,” but given that a lot of anonymous crew have run the transporter room on many starships, and given that in The Cage, so many of Kirk’s crew, including Uhura, Nurse Chapel, and Lt. Kyle weren’t actually on the Enterprise, it seemed like the writers/showrunners were pushing it a bit.
I mentioned the episode “The Naked Time” before. This episode also seemed to have elements of the original episode Miri where ages before, scientists tried to develop a life prolongation program. Only problem is that it killed all the adults and only gave really long lifespans to anyone who hadn’t gone through puberty yet. The landing party catches it and races against time to find a cure or die.
There was also an episode of “Next Generation” called Power Play. Looking for a starship lost 200 years before, Riker (Johnathan Frakes), Troi (Marina Sirtis), O’Brien (Colm Meaney), and Data (Brent Spiner) encounter a storm on a planet possessing energy beings, the remains of criminals deposited on that world long ago. Riker is the only one uninfected, but the rest are possessed and try to take over the ship.
I guess nothing is truly original.
“Ghosts of Illyria” isn’t a bad episode and had some interesting points. There’s nothing to say that in the original show, Number One (Majel Barrett) couldn’t have been humanoid instead of human. However, using names like “Enterprise,” “Pike,” “Number One,” “Spock,” “Chapel,” “Uhura,” and “Kyle,” while summoning the past, does not give the skeleton flesh and blood, at least not that ancient embodiment of Roddenberry’s vision.
Una proved herself a leader and a friend. At the end, Pike once again lead by compassion, although that can be a “fools mixture” if you want to believe Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood from Where No Man Has Gone Before). It was about the only time in the episode where I felt he actually did something. Otherwise, he was just a nervous wreck.
Sins, Secrets, and Redemption. That’s the episode’s theme if I had to give it one. I think Kurtzman and Goldsman are trying to give the older fans something that we might want while catering to both the progressivism of the modern entertainment industry and fans who actually like what embodies NuTrek. Not sure they’re going to get away with it in the long run.
I came across the follow image on Facebook attributed to an artist PZNS. If I could dial back the clock, I’d love to see THAT crew of the Enterprise explore “Strange New Worlds.”
Oh, trivia time. After Star Trek, none of Roddenberry’s attempts to create new and original series ever took off. One version of his Genesis II was called Strange New World (1975) starring John Saxon, Kathleen Miller, and Keene Curtis. I thought the name was fun.
Here’s my “three-minute or less” review of the episode at TikTok. Don’t forget to support your indie authors and publishers. In a few years, we might be the only good storytellers left.