“First Contact is just a dream – until one day, it isn’t.”
– Una Chin-Riley
It’s finally time and I can barely contain my excitement. Here goes… We begin with an alarm blaring in what seems to be a military base while we hear a voiceover from Number One (Rebecca Romijn), musing on the world-changing implications of First Contact. Panicked aliens are doing their best to determine what they’ve detected, and as the UFO enters visual range, we see what is unmistakably a Federation starship.
In Bear Creek, Montana, a barefoot and bearded Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) is cooking pancakes and watching 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still – apparently for the umpteenth time. His lady-friend, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano), joins him for breakfast, and they discuss how he’s been ignoring all attempts at contact from Starfleet. He’s not ready to go back out there yet. Good thing Enterprise will be in spacedock for another week, which gives him another week to decide. But she ships out tomorrow, and won’t be back for a month. Pike says he might still be there.
As Batel leaves, Pike’s communicator starts to ring again. Rather than answer it, he decides to go for a snowy horseback ride… during which he is run down by a shuttle. One carrying Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes)! April explains that a First Contact mission has gone wrong, and Una was the commander. He’s ordering Enterprise out of spacedock early and sending Pike to find his people. Pike is clearly doubting himself, but April tells him to suck it up. If Pike really doesn’t want to return to command, he can make that decision after this mission. Pike looks to the sky, and we get out first taste of an absolutely gorgeous opening credit sequence.
On Vulcan, Spock (Ethan Peck) is on a date with a Vulcan woman (Gia Sandhu) in a restaurant. They’re celebrating their anniversary, and Spock had been expecting her to pop the question. She fakes him out one more time, and then follows through. Spock accepts, and as they lock lips, a very logical Vulcan waiter (Myles Dobson) tells these two to get a room. They take his advice, and just as things are about to get R-rated, Spock’s communicator sounds. He answers – it’s Pike, explaining the situation with Una and calling him back to the ship. He says that T’Pring will understand. T’Pring’s not so sure that she does.
A now clean-shaven Pike is headed to Enterprise on Shuttlecraft Stamets (interesting choice, considering the classified nature of Discovery and her crew…), but still not entirely comfortable taking command again. Nevertheless, he’s beamed aboard by Chief Kyle (André Dae Kim), and greeted by Spock. Spock provides a status update on their way to the bridge, explaining that Lt. Kirk and the new Chief Engineer wont be billeting until after this mission. With some prodding, he also confesses to missing his sister.
On the bridge, Pike meets some of his new crew, including Security Chief and Acting First Officer La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) and Cadet Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). Without too much fanfare, Pike orders Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) to disembark. As she awaits the command to go to warp, Pike is distracted by an image of his reflection in his armrest panel. Only it’s not quite his reflection. It’s the image of his future self from his vision on Boreth. So, that’s what’s been bothering him…
Spock gets Pike’s attention and brings him back to the present, and we get the first “Hit it” of the new series as Enterprise goes to warp. Pike opens a shipwide communication, apologizing for the early departure but also promising that this will be no one’s last day, which comes off as a little, um, intense. And then he heads to his quarters for the rest of the trip.
In his quarters, Pike is once again reliving the vision of the training accident, until he’s again interrupted by Spock. He has rightfully deduced that Pike’s experience on Boreth changed him. Pike confesses, “I saw my own death, Spock. At least, the death of the man I am now. I know exactly how and when my life ends.” Though Spock suggests that knowledge of death is necessary for leadership, Pike counters that this is more than knowledge – it’s experience. And he’s afraid of how that will affect his leadership and judgement over the next decade. Spock tells him to use that experience to be the man he “most essentially” is – the Captain. And just like that, Enterprise is dropping out of warp at Kiley 279. But not before we get another flash of Pike’s vision.
Aside: I’ll admit that I’m a little worried about how this particular plotline is going to play out. I have no issue with Pike’s experience making him doubtful of himself, or question his place in Starfleet. What I do take issue with is Star Trek once again implying that disability is worse than (or equivalent to) death. It’s a problematic narrative. And while I don’t think it will disappear after just one episode, I really hope we don’t have to deal with it all season.
As they drop into orbit, Enterprise detects the USS Archer adrift in orbit with no life signs. This planet has no starbases and no orbital docks, there’s no subspace chatter, and they haven’t sent a hail. In other words, there are absolutely no signs of local space colonization, which means they should be at least a century away from developing warp drive. Plus, Ortegas says the warp signature has a “pretty weird” signal variance. All things considered, Noonien-Singh recommends raising the shields. Pike gives the command just in time for the ship to be hit with 3 plasma torpedoes, which he calls Twenty-first Century tech. Meanwhile, Spock’s been busy with that signal variance and determined that the warp signature was not that of a warp drive, but of a warp bomb.
In the conference room, Spock explains that not in the history of First Contact (invented by the Vulcans, ofc) has warp technology ever been developed as anything other that a stardrive. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Since Enterprise‘s scanners were just upgraded in spacedock, it’s likely that Number One was without this vital piece of data. But seeing as the planet’s civilization shouldn’t be anywhere near warp capability, the crew has to assume that this tech isn’t native, and needs to proceed as if General Order One is in effect.
But that won’t stop them from beaming down. Pike, Spock, and Noonien-Singh head to sickbay where Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) introduces them to Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), who will be altering their genomes to express the characteristics of the aliens below. La’an is skeptical, but consents. However, she refuses the sedative, regardless of how painful the process might be. Also, Spock’s unique genome may make it effects wear off more quickly, of course – that part’s important.
In the transporter room, Kyle has downloaded local clothing patterns and its ready to set the team down where there isn’t a lot of foot traffic – an alley, of course. Oh, and Spock’s wearing shorts. They discover that this society is in the midst of a prolonged conflict… and now they have a warp bomb. Assuming Una and her team would have beamed down near the warp signature, that’s what they’re looking for. They’re able to locate the source of the signal in a nearby scientific – or maybe military – compound, but there’s some kind of shield or interference that makes transport impossible. So, the incapacitate some scientists, and beam them aboard Enterprise for sedation, replicate their clothes, and forge some ID.
While M’Benga monitors his new patients, Chapel’s been running a simulation which shows Spock’s mutation is likely beginning to deteriorate. She needs a DNA sample from one of their guests. Lucky for her, one of them has compatible surface proteins. Unlucky for her, he wakes up and runs away. Chapel chases the Kiley scientist (Daniel Pagett) through the ship until he gets on a turbolift which happens to be taking Uhura to the bridge. She distracts him with ease while Chapel uses the emergency medical transporter to beam to the bridge, where she sedates the scientist as he exists the lift, gets that DNA sample, and introduces herself to the Cadet.
Meanwhile, M’Benga lets Ortegas know that the away team should not yet go through the security checkpoint to enter that compound. She relays the message, but they don’t have a lot of time. Chapel is working on a boosters as quickly as she can, and Ortegas orders Kyle to figure out a way to beam it directly into Spock’s bloodstream. He does – just in time. Spock’s retinal scan gives a green light on the third try, and there is a collective sigh of relief in the Kiley sector. But Spock warns that his genetic modifications may continue to wear off.
Now that the team is inside, Noonien-Singh is able to locate the bio-signs Una and her team – very far underground. In the elevator another one of the Kiley scientists is making eyes at Pike when she notices Spock’s ears changing shape. They arrive at their floor just in time, and breeze away. Spock was able to expertly hide the severe pain of this genetic recoding, and the team easily opens the door to Una’s cell and rescues her whole team, where it is reveals that she and La’an know each other.
But no time for that. They’re still too far beneath the surface of the planet to beam out. As the group of six now heads back to the elevators, they just happen to run into some of the Kiley scientists. At that exact moment, Spock’s genetic modifications fully wear off and he doubles over in pain and screams. When he regains composure, he’s unmistakably Vulcan. Any pretense is gone, which results in a fight and a security alert. The Starfleeters make it into the elevator and begin their slow ascent.
Pike again wonders how it’s possible that this civilization developed warp tech. Una hesitantly answers, “We gave it to them.” Zero Point, aka the giant wormhole to the future at the end of Discovery Season 2, is less than a lightyear from this system. Between the cosmic event, the two Starfleet ships, and the Klingon and Kelpien fleets, “we lit up the sky.” At this point in their development, the telescopes on Kiley would have been just advanced enough to witness it. Their scientists were able to gather enough data to reverse engineer a matter/antimatter reactor. So, they made a weapon. Like you do.
Knowing this, General Order One definitely does apply. But Pike looks at his reflection on the elevator wall and once again sees his future visage looking back. Any death that comes as a result of this development is on their hands, and Pike won’t accept that. As the elevator cab enters transporter range, he orders La’an, Una, and the two astrophysicists from Archer to beam up. He and Spock will stay behind. As the elevator doors open in the lobby, Pike quips, “Take me to your leader.”
Pike attempts to explain to the Kiley’s official leader (Samantha Smith) how they unexpected influenced the people of this planet. But she sees this solely as an opportunity to put an end to the conflict, regardless of the consequences. She’s not interested in Starfleet’s rules or Earth’s proverbs – only remaining in power, and “whoever has biggest stick wins.” As Pike and Spock are being lead out be security, Pike voice-activates his communicator, ordering Enterprise into low orbit, full visibility. The people of Kiley will not be able to ignore the arrival of the aliens. And Pike got to show off the size of his stick.
As a result, leaders of the governing body and revolutionary faction on Kiley are meeting together for the first time in a century. But they’re not getting anywhere. As Pike, Spock, and La’an look on in frustration, she mutters, “Not believing you’re going to die is what gets you killed.” Pike’s surprised reaction prompts her to divulge her backstory: This was something her father once said… La’an and her parents were on a colony ship which was attacked by the Gorn. They were deposited on a “planetary nursery.” La’an was the only one to survive. But when her fellow prisoners died, they last thing they felt was surprise – because right to the end, they couldn’t imagine actually dying. But not La’an. And that’s what kept her alive.
That conversation spurs Pike to intervene once more. He has Uhura gain control of the planet’s communications system (TVs), and beams down, interrupting the “negotiations.” He explains our future history. How the Second Civil War in the United States lead to the Eugenics War, and eventually World War III. He shows them our last day – the day that 30% of Earth’s population died. Earth rebuilt. Kiley can follow this same pattern, or they can avoid it, but joining the Federation (even without actually developing warp drive?). The people of Kiley seem to be up for the challenge.
At their mission debrief on at Spacedock (maybe it’s a Starbase? Pike refers to it as “Starfleet’s first base,” but Starbase 1 is located 100 AU from Earth, not in orbit… It doesn’t matter.), April tells Pike, Number One, and Spock that he had to go to the C-in-C personally to get the deets on Enterprise‘s final mission with Discovery. And since the Federation Council can’t acknowledge how Kiley got knowledge of warp tech, they can’t enforce any punishment for violating General Order One. But in response, they’re doubling down on the rule and renaming it the “Prime Directive.” Pike scoffs, “That’ll never stick.” Una requests permission to rejoin Enterprise, and April turns to Pike, asking for his plans.
Later, La’an approaches Pike to apologize for not informing him of her personal history with Una, which leads to more backstory. The Gorn have a ritual: They send the last survivor out into space alone on a “raft.” And that’s when Ensign Una Chin-Riley on the King Jr. (assuming this is the USS Martin Luther King Jr.) found her and helped her find the way hope. Una’s the reason she joined Starfleet. Pike points out that she was afraid he wouldn’t trust her, so she didn’t trust him. But a Starfleet crew is strongest when working together in trust. And he thinks she can grow into that, and offers La’an a permanent posting as Security Chief on Enterprise.
As he walks onto the bridge from his ready room, a voiceover confirms that Pike once again feels at home on the Enterprise. Una lets him know that the crew rotation is now complete, and Lt. Kirk is on his way to the bright – Lt. Samuel Kirk (Dan Jeannotte), posted to Life Sciences, who will be reporting to Spock. We also briefly see Chief Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak) beam aboard as Ortegas asks about their next mission. Pike answers, “Our mission? We explore. We seek out new life, and new civilizations. We boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Uhura speaks for all of us when she says, “Cool…. sir.” And one more “Hit it” takes us into our next adventure at Warp Factor 2.