“If you’re saying you’re more willing to take risks than I am, I don’t disagree. And let me remind you that you’re saying that on my ship after yours has been destroyed.”
Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Pike had a vision of his future, in which he is severely injured saving the lives of cadets. He can’t talk about it because it’s classified. But what if he could make a different choice?
Enterprise and Cayuga are on the edge of the Neutral Zone, retrofitting and resupplying some of the stations that maintain the border. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is once again cooking for his lady-friend, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano). She’s heard rumors that the Romulans have been developing new weapons, but Pike thinks the Romulans are nothing more than “boogeymen.” They get a lot of blame for an enemy no one’s seen in a hundred years. Before leaving, Batel notes that Pike seems to be in a much better place compared to the last time they were together.
Commander Hansen Al-Salah (Ali Hassan) wants to know how Starfleet intends to fix their supply chain problems. Una (Rebecca Romijn) assures him that the retrofit will include new matter synthesizers, which will draw power directly from the asteroid their station sits on. Spock (Ethan Peck) adds that they’ll be receiving fully-automated mining crafts that can be piloted remotely. Al-Salah couldn’t be more pleased – he’s been asking for that for years. Their meeting is interrupted by Al-Salah’s son, Maat (Chris River). He’s always wanted to join Starfleet, and so excited to meet Captain Pike… who recognizes his name. Pike excuses himself, claiming he doesn’t feel well.
Una catches up with Pike in the corridor – she recognized the boy’s name, too. Maat Al-Salah is one of the cadets in the accident, one that doesn’t survive.
Back in his quarters, Pike looks up Maat’s file, then begins to draft a letter to him. He isn’t sure exactly how to give his warning. No worries, he’ll figure it out – according to an older version of himself, who appeared from nowhere, wearing a(n updated) Monster Maroon. Current Pike is skeptical enough to not immediately believe Future Pike’s story, until the latter shares their embarrassing “tragic backstory” and that seems to do the trick.
Future Pike explains that the letter he’s about to write will destroy the future. He’s been there, and he figured out how to save everyone. He wrote to all of the cadets and told them to stay away, and everyone survived. But just like The Good Place Season 4, there are unintended consequences, dominoes that begin to fall. Future Pike could explain, but it’s easier to show – with the help of another Time Crystal from Boreth. That’s right, the Klingons sent Future Pike here (with a little convincing), because “this is serious; This is end-of-the-world stuff.” So Pike touches the crystal…
And he’s suddenly standing in front of a gathering of his crew, in a cargo bay, officiating a wedding. The bride (Megha Sandhu) has to remind him where he is in the ceremony. He continues shakily until he’s saved by the Red Alert klaxon. Spock calls Pike, identifying himself as Number One, and informs him that Outpost 4 is under attack by an unknown vessel.
Holy cats, it’s “Balance of Terror.”
Pike enters the bridge, and Lt. Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) can be seen at Comms, wearing an updated mini-dress style uniform with a neckline that more closely resembles what we saw in TOS. He also notices that Ortegas (Melissa Navis) and Mitchell (Rong Fu) have switched stations. Uhura reports that Outposts 2 and 3 have also gone silent. Ortegas thinks the attackers are the Romulans, but Pike’s not interested in guesses. He orders that they maintain course and speed to Outpost 4, and asks Spock to join him in the Ready Room.
Pike has jumped seven years into his future (earlier in the season, didn’t he say the accident was 10 years away?). Spock isn’t sure he believes it – it’s more likely that Pike’s been compromised than that he’s time traveled, and Spock is ready to assume command. But Pike insists that he is not, in fact, compromised. Spock suggests the doctor do a full scan, but Pike counteroffers a mind meld, and Spock agrees. He sees the accident, which would have been six months prior, and knows that in this timeline, there was no one present at the reactor incident. Since Pike wasn’t injured, it’s logical that he would have continued as captain of the Enterprise, putting him in command at a crucial moment – a historical inflection point. Some other captain must have handled the situation differently in the prime timeline, and the only way to find out what happens is for Pike to live this future, and act exactly as he normally would. As if that’s possible.
The Enterprise arrives at Outpost 4 and detects only debris. If they need backup, the Farragut, where La’an is currently stationed, is only a couple hours away. They receive a hail from the station – it’s Commander Al-Salah. He reports that Outposts 2, 3, and 8 have been destroyed by an unknown weapon. The first hit on Outpost 4 completely took out their deflector, and they wouldn’t survive a second hit. The command post is a mile deep on an iron-rich asteroid and this weapon nearly destroyed them. Thankfully, Al-Salah’s son was not with him. The attacking ship fired some kind of high energy plasma weapon and then disappeared.
And there it is on the sensors again – a Romulan Bird of Prey. The outpost doesn’t have weapons and the Enterprise is out of range. The Bird of Prey charges its weapon and fires, destroying the outpost. Then cloaks and disappears from Enterprise‘s sensors.
Uhura picks up another hail, this time from the Farragut, captained by James Kirk (Paul Wesley), there to offer assistance. As the captains become acquainted, Spock offers that the attacking ship can be tracked with gravitational microlensing (high five, Dr. Erin MacDonald – gravitational lensing is so cool). He also suspects that while their cloak makes them invisible to outside sensors, it uses so much energy that it also renders their own sensors inoperable (that’s also why they had to de-cloak to fire). And the cloaked ship is on a heading back into the Neutral Zone, towards Romulan space.
Any doubts that Ortegas had are gone, and she again insists that they destroy the Romulan ship. But that would be an act of war – as if destroying four Federation outposts wasn’t. Kirk suggests an alternative – shadowing the ship. Match course and speed, and maybe they’ll look like a reflection on sensors (which Spock just said they can’t use while cloaked). If anything, it should buy them some time while they wait for orders. Pike agrees to Kirk’s plan, but wants to speak to his brother.
Speaking candidly with Pike, Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte) characterizes his brother as smart and skilled, but not above relying on charm or even luck. He likes to do things his own way. And he’s a huge pain in the ass. But he’s as fine a captain as Starfleet has ever seen.
On the bridge, Uhura and Spock have detected a signal on an unused EM frequency which has been reflected off the tail of a nearby comet. Spock’s been able to decipher it, and believes it’s a feed from the enemy’s bridge. Pike orders it on screen, and the whole-ass bridge sees Romulans for the first time, who look very much like Vulcans. And all of the officers turn to look at Spock.
Jim Kirk beams aboard the Enterprise for a strategy session. Ortegas doesn’t pull any punches – she wants an explanation from Spock, but the similarities between Vulcans and Romulans were unknown to him as well. Kirk suggests that this was intentional – that seeing these outward similarities would sew discord between Humans and Vulcans. If they don’t act soon, they’re going to lose track of this ship. But the Romulans still have the tactical advantage, even with Enterprise and Farragut working together. This time, M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) points out that destroying this ship would just result in war. Kirk is leaning towards retaliation – imagine these Romulans reporting to their commanders that the Federation is too cowardly to fight back. It would leave them open to even more attacks.
Much to Pike’s surprise, Spock also believes they should attack. If the Romulans are an offshoot of Vulcans, as he’s come to believe in the last few minutes, then they’re likely to have maintained the martial philosophy of Vulcan’s “aggressive, colonizing period.” If so, the Federation cannot show weakness. Pike’s not convinced. Good thing Kirk suddenly gets another idea. They know the Romulans are headed for the comet’s tail, and the second they enter it, the particle distortion will reveal their location, allowing the two Federation ships to lock weapons. They will neutralize – not destroy – the Bird of Prey.
Pike, in his personal log, can’t help but second guess everything he’s doing, knowing that this is the future where everything goes horribly wrong. Any one of his decisions could make the difference. And he suspects that Kirk would draw the Federation into a war if he wasn’t there to stop him.
The two Federation ships wait at the edge of the comet’s tail, tracking the location of the Bird of Prey. The signal enters the tail, but they don’t detect any changes. It’s a trap! The gravitational signature suddenly appears again behind the Farragut, decloaks, and starts firing phasers. Farragut engages, but is hit by the plasma weapon and the Romulans speed away.
Though out of range, Enterprise begins to fire at the Romulans to get their attention, then actually clips them. But the Romulans fire their plasma weapon again, which somehow only damages a few decks and takes out weapons systems when it should have destroyed them – it must be less effective at long range. Farragut is critical, and now top priority it to beam off their crew.
Pike meets Commander La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) in the transporter room. He casually asks when she last spoke to Una… which is odd – she’s not allowed contact. Their awkward reunion is broken up when Kirk beams aboard.
In Pike’s quarters, things get heated. Kirk thinks Pike is too cautious, and Pike doesn’t like his combat-readiness being called into question. Pike reminds him that the risks Kirk took got his ship destroyed. Regardless, Kirk isn’t going to underestimate the Romulans again.
Called to the bridge by Spock, the two captains learn that the Bird of Prey is leaking trilithium, and it’s unlikely they’ll have enough power to make it home. While Enterprise could overtake them, it can’t fire anything. So Pike’s going to send another message, and orders Uhura to open a channel:
“This is Captain Pike of the USS Enterprise. Our two cultures have been at war for a hundred years, long enough that we don’t even question it. But I believe we can make another choice. Right now. I’m offering you a temporary ceasefire so that we can talk for the first time in a hundred years.”
And they get a response from the Romulan Commander (Matthew MacFadzean). Pike is direct: They know he attacked the Federation outposts, but he doesn’t know how or why this long conflict started a century ago. They can keep fighting, or maybe they could talk? In Romulan culture, such a proposal is a show of weakness – dialogue is nothing but delay. Though, as Pike sees it, they’d otherwise just be in a race to make repairs so one of them could make the next move. Ceasefire. Two hours. Agreed. (Okay, not to take anything away from Matthew MacFadzean, but how great would it have been if James Frain played the Romulan Commander?!)
Ortegas is at her wit’s end. Romulans lie, the cannot be trusted. Pike has to tell her twice to stand down. I’m really bothered by/uncomfortable with Ortegas taking on the role of Stiles in this alternate future. Not only does it seem out of character based on what we’ve seen for the first nine episodes of SNW (did something change her in the last 7 years? Did she also have ancestors lost in the Romulan War?), but I wanted to believe better of her. But maybe that’s the point: People we thought better of can sometimes let us down.
On the Bird of Prey, the Subcommander (Mathieu Bourassa) isn’t happy about this situation either. Most Romulans would take advantage of this situation and fire. But the Keras (yes, I’m using the Romulan Commander’s name from TOS beta-canon) is more focused on fixing the engines so they can go home. He’s been at this for a long time, and these young’uns just want to fight. In fact, Keras severed with the Subcommander’s Uncle Tarqan during the Reman Campaign. His death was a great victory for Romulus… Yes, Tarqan was brave, but their commander was a fool. He forced them to fight after losing weapons. Had they retreated, Tarqan need not have died. His death was a waste, and left them all weaker. Now, Keras has learned not to make his choices based on pride. Engines, then weapons.
Pike, confiding in Spock, reflects on the day so far. So many things have gone wrong, and any of them could be the turning point for the future. But he can’t help feeling that something worse is coming. Spock advises that he just follow his instincts. Pike’s curiosity gets the better of him, and he asks what happened to Una. Didn’t he know? She’s imprisoned at the Federation Penal Colony on Salias VI, for lying about her Illyrian identity.
Spock excuses himself as Kirk enters. Pike knows Kirk wants him to take a different approach, but like Keras, he refuses to act out of pride. Kirk admits he would have fired. He doesn’t know whether or not these Romulans can be trusted, and neither does Pike. So Kirk’s come up with a backup plan, in case the Romulans call for reinforcements. All he needs is a shuttle.
Spock is down in engineering, repairing the phaser array with the help of a heavily-accented Engineer (Matthew Wolf) – we don’t see a face, but it sure sounds like Scotty. They’re making progress, but they don’t have a lot of time.
With just two minutes to go, the Enterprise has engines, but not weapons. The clock his zero and nothing happens. So Pike calls Keras to DTR (define the relationship). He’s looking for a partner, not an enemy. And the Federation sees that as strength, not weakness. Keras is also sick of the fighting, but the rest of the Romulan Empire isn’t, because the whole damn fleet warps in, surprising even the Commander, who cuts communication. It was the Subcommander who called them, against direct orders. Their mission was intended to test the strength of the Federation, and they should have destroyed these ships as soon as they showed weakness. But Keras knows that no one can win an endless war. He orders the Subcommander from the bridge and calls back.
Enterprise receives another hail, this time from the Praetor (Carolyn Scott), expecting unconditional surrender. They have one minute, or she will destroy them.
Right on time, the Federation “reinforcements” arrive, lead by Captain Kirk. They’re all robotic mining or hauling vessels. But as far as the Romulans are concerned, that’s an armada of Delta-Class Attack Ships.
Spock is still working to restore weapons and the Praetor is hailing again. Pike leaves a secure channel open for Kirk, and puts the Praetor on a secret three-way call. He hopes they won’t have to use those ships, especially since they’re only here for a standard training maneuver. What a coincidence. The real act of aggression was when a Bird of Prey used cloaking tech to destroy Federation outposts. Pike has the receipts and sends over the recording.
The Praetor is most angry that her subordinates were caught. The Bird of Prey in question decloaks and breaks formation, moving in front of the flagship. Pike puts the Praetor on hold and calls Keras. But Keras is just doing what is asked of him one last time, but he wants Pike to know that he wasn’t the one who called for backup. Pike’s willing to beam him about, but Keras knows what has to happen. It’s his duty. Too bad, because in a different reality, they could have been friends. And the flagship destroys the Bird of Prey with all hands.
The Praetor calls and asks for surrender once more, but Pike’s not budging. The Romulan fleet begins to fire and Enterprise takes evasive maneuvers. They need to get Kirk back and warp out of there… but warp engines aren’t engaging. Hearing this, Kirk decides to pilot the drone ships to cover for Enterprise while they get the engines fixed. The ship takes a blast as a nearby drone is hit. Engines come online, Kirk beams aboard, and they get the hell outta Dodge, nearly missing a plasma torpedo.
As damage and casualty reports come in from all over the ship, the Romulans start broadcasting a declaration of war on all known frequencies. Several decks have hull breaches and weapons systems took a direct hit. Where Spock was…
Pike arrives in Sickbay to find the biobeds full and the medical staff scrambling. He sees the couple from earlier that day, the groom (Ian Rayburn) grieving for his bride. And then he finds Spock – unconscious, covered in wounds and burns, and missing his left leg. Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) adds that he’s suffering massive cerebral trauma, major blood loss, spinal fractures, radiation burns… He may not recover. “But if he does, he will not be the same.”
Pike’s back in his quarters, and so is Future Pike – to tell him it gets worse. Millions will die in the war. But it’s not just the war. The best chance for peace between the Romulans and the Federation is Spock – in any and every timeline (which comes full circle in Disco S3). And the monks on Boreth showed him that every time he tries to change his own future, Spock dies. Future Pike knows that he comes from a timeline that shouldn’t exist, and now our Pike understands.
Kirk drops by, and Future Pike is gone. The two captains share a drink. They tried for something better and lost. Kirk can’t help but point out that if Pike had just chased that Romulan ship and destroyed it when he had the chance, none of this would have happened. (Wink.) And Pike tells him Enterprise would be lucky to have him. And they get to talking. Later, alone, Pike touches the time crystal that Future Pike left behind.
Back in the present, Pike stares at the half-written letter to Maat, then deletes it. He heads to his ready room to read up on James T. Kirk. Spock drops by, curious why Pike left the briefing so abruptly. He also recognized the boy’s name, and was curious whether it had to do with Pike’s vision. But Pike seems calmer now, and knows that some fates are inescapable. Others, if they are escaped, may just fall to someone else. Spock believes he understands – somewhat.
Pike enters the bridge, and makes a circuit, similar to the one he made in the alternate future timeline. Everything’s as it should be… for now.
Cadet Uhura receives a hall from Starfleet Command. Pike and Una are ordered to meet Captain Batel in the transporter room. Batel is there with two security officers who take Commander Chin-Riley into custody for violations of the anti-genetic-modification directive. Una’s known for years that this might happen. Batel apologizes to Pike – twice – for what she has to do. But Pike says this isn’t over. And Batel, Una, and the security personnel beam away.
And that’s a wrap on Season One.