“Get a crew to believe in miracles and they might just give you one.”
-Captain Christopher Pike
Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – We learned some of La’an Noonien-Singh’s backstory. She was captured by the Gorn at a young age, and hates pain killers. Hemmer, an Aenar, is blind, but “his other senses compensate.” And Cadet Uhura, though brilliant, is unsure that Starfleet is where she belongs.
The Enterprise is en route to deliver a desperately needed atmospheric processor upgrade to Finibus III – without it, their air will become unbreathable in a matter of weeks. It just so happens to also be Starfleet Remembrance Day, a day to remember those who’ve given their lives for Starfleet. It’s tradition to wear the insignia from a ship that one has previously served on.
Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is on Engineering rotation, and being quizzed by Hemmer (Bruce Horak) regarding the details of processor on board. When she doesn’t respond in the way he had hoped, he chastises her for “not reading the material.” So she quotes it, verbatim. Hemmer grants points, which also seems his way of apologizing. Uhura confesses that she’s enjoying her time in Engineering, leaning how different systems communicate.
La’an (Christina Chong) has decided not to wear her pin from the SS Puget Sound, her colony ship that was captured by the Gorn, and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) immediately notices. La’an says the past is the past and there’s no point dwelling on it. Also, that she definitely doesn’t need therapy. Una drops it just as the ship enters orbit. But no one on the surface is responding to hails. In fact, their last transmission was two days ago. Spock (Ethan Peck) thinks there may be some interference from a nearby Brown Dwarf and adjusts sensors – only to find that the communications satellite has been destroyed. Protocol states they investigate on the ground, and Pike (Anson Mount) orders Number One to put together a landing party.
Chin-Riley, Nonnien-Singh, and a team of 4 others beam down to find a dark, abandoned street where there should be hundreds of people. There are blaster marks on the walls, and streaks of blood on the ground, all leading to a central point, as if bodies were dragged into a pile. But they’re not there now.
An unidentified ship suddenly appears on sensors and Pike immediately orders the away team to beam back. The ship has its shields up, but is not broadcasting ID or responding to hails. Just as Pike orders a Yellow Alert, the Enterprise receives a hail from the ship. Professor Thandie (Angela Besharah) tells Pike that there was a blast from the sky, and then a loud ringing. “Everything gets blurry after that.” They’re on a cargo ship, but life support is over extended – and the hull is transport-resistant because it’s used to haul radioactive ore. Spock confirms there are no signs of other vessels, and Pike orders Zuniga (Oscar Moreno) to deploy a deep space transport tube.
As the Enterprise crew helps the refugees onto the ship, Thandie answers some additional questions from Una and La’an, but things aren’t quite adding up. Thandie goes off with her people, when a a young girl, Fig (Sophia Webster) comes running down the corridor, yelling that the monsters are coming and they need to hide. Her mother (Genevieve Adam) tries to assure her that monsters aren’t real, but Fig insists. La’an asks her what she saw. It was dark, so Fig didn’t hear anything – but she heard them, and they made clicking sounds.
La’an calls the bridge and tells them to scan for polarized EM signatures. Sure enough, Spock finds something generating a hologram near the second moon. La’an and Pike both call for Ortegas (Melissa Navia) to raise shields, but she can’t – because of the transport tube. As La’an watches from of the tube’s windows, a Gorn ship closes on the Enterprise. Una pulls her back as the Gorn fire on and destroy the cargo ship and tube.
La’an comes to surrounded by chaos. Several of the colonists have died, and Una is injured, but insists she’ll be fine and orders La’an to the bridge. Warp engines are down, but Hemmer needs to secure the atmospheric processor first, or else it could explode. Shields are at 60% and one of the nacelles is damaged. It’s clear that the Gorn set this trap and waited for the ship to be vulnerable. But La’an says they’re too powerful to fight. She wants Pike to retreat and practically begs her to listen to him.
Pike remembers that Brown Dwarf – but there are a few issues. Not only is it tethered to a black hole, but the ship would have to take primary and secondary systems offline, including sensors, long-range communications, and shields due to the atmospheric conditions. Operating on the assumption that the Gorn would have to do the same, they head in, with the Gorn in hot pursuit and Sickbay and the main cargo bay taking direct fire.
Things aren’t looking good. Hemmer’s hand has been crushed under some fallen crates, the door is blocked with debris, and the processor has a critical system failure. If it were to explode, the entire ship would be lost in the atomic blast. Transporters are offline, so Pike’s sending a team to dig them out, but Hemmer is just focused on repairs. And in Sickbay, everything’s offline and their cargo holds were also hit by Gorn fire, so they’re doing triage with severely depleted supplies. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) also reports that, so far, there have been nine casualties.
Una makes it to sickbay and immediately collapses. For the first time, we see that she has several large, deep wounds in her abdomen. The surgery bays are offline, so it’s a good thing that Chapel (Jess Bush) has an interest in “archeological medicine.”
In the conference room, Pike, Spock, Ortegas, and Noonien-Singh go over the situation once more. How are they supposed to take on an enemy they’ve never seen? Except, La’an has seen them. They’re monsters, and they see humans as nothing more than prey. Pike implores his officers to get creative and dismisses them, but asks La’an to stay back. He how she’s doing. She answers, “The enemy doesn’t care about my feelings, Captain, so I don’t waste my time having any.” Pike begs to differ, given her diatribe during their just-concluded meeting. He understands that she’s direct, looking for “outcomes, no emotion” – but right now, her job as Acting First Officer is about hope; she needs to get this crew to believe they can win. She acknowledge this, but refuses to lie. When Pike asks if there’s anything else he should know about the Gorn, La’an stumbles and admits that the memories are trauma-inhibited and fragmented. She doesn’t tell him that she’d been having visions of a young man, or that he’s currently standing next to Pike.
Hemmer is trying to work with a broken hand and becoming increasingly frustrated. He’s going to have to talk Uhura through the repairs.
Spock’s gotten creative. Although sensors are offline, the navigation system is taking in atmospheric data to help maintain stability. A ship moving through the Brown Dwarf would affect the atmosphere and create Coriolis forces, and the navigational computer’s readings would allow them to triangulate another ship’s position – they can track the Gorn. And they do it just in time – the Gorn ship is approaching, but there’s no way to know if they can see the Enterprise. So they wait… and the Gorn change course. But they’re not going to stop looking.
So, its Pike’s turn to get creative. They have a single remaining torpedo, but the guidance systems won’t work inside the Brown Dwarf – so they’re going to drop it on the Gorn. Ortegas brings Enterprise directly above the Gorn ship, and tilts 90 degrees so that once the hatch opens, the torpedo will be drawn out by the higher mass below. Direct hit – the signal from the nav system is gone, and Spock declares the enemy ship destroyed. But then several more blips, including a very large one, appear on their radar. It was another trap – now that the Enterprise has fired, the Gorn know where they are.
Enterprise needs to get out of there, but if they leave the Brown Dwarf, they’ll be seen, and if they go deeper, the ship will be destroyed. Pike wants to go deeper, even though the pressure could crush the ship. But if it happens to them, it’ll happen to the Gorn, too. So they evacuate the lower decks, where hull integrity is weakest, and start their dive.
The ship is creaking like a submarine. In Sickbay, Chapel and M’Benga stitch up Una. A different kind of pressure is getting to Uhura in the cargo bay, but Hemmer, though firm, does his best to keep her focused and calm. The hull is starting to buckle, but evacuation of the lower decks isn’t complete. Pike orders the bulkheads sealed to prevent loss of pressure from spreading throughout the ship. Kyle (André Dae Kim) runs through the corridors to get out of the area, but stops to help an injured crewman (Atticus Mitchell), who sees the bulkhead begin to close and pushes Kyle through, just before the deck collapses.
With hull integrity continuing to fall, Pike orders a full stop. One of the smaller Gorn ships approaches, but cannot withstand the atmospheric pressure. The hull collapses inwards and the ship im/explodes. Pike turned their relentlessness against them.
There’s one piece of shrapnel left in Una’s abdomen, and it’s intruding on her aorta, and that means a lot of bleeding. They can either do this the old way – with plasma via IV – or wait until the systems come back online and hope sepsis doesn’t set in. And there’s just enough plasma. So Chapel begins to sedate Una, just as another one of the medical staff has a patient that needs plasma. Una orders M’Benga to give them the plasma before she loses consciousness.
As if there weren’t enough problems, remember that black hole? It’s swallowing the Brown Dwarf. In just over an hour and a half, they’ll no longer be able to escape the gravitational well. La’an volunteers to take a shuttle out, and “pop her head up” to see if the coast is clear for them to escape. Spock volunteers to accompany her, and Pike tells them to take the Galileo, but to be back in 30 minutes.
La’an and Spock watch the two remaining Gorn ships from the shuttle, and they appear to be scanning one another. But no, La’an says it’s something else – she knows she’s seen it before, but she can’t recall the details. So she asks for Spock’s help, and he answers, “The mindmeld is not a shortcut for dealing with mental trauma,” it can be dangerous. She’s prepared to take the risk for the benefit of the crew.
In La’an’s mind, they’re on a Gorn breeding planet, where captured humans are brought to be food for the hatchlings. Her mind is resisting going forward, but she doesn’t want to stop. A flash, and then a man – the man she’s been seeing – and a young girl are running. It’s young La’an (Ava Cheung) and her older brother, Manu (Cameron Roberts). When they find momentary cover, he explains that the Gorn talk to each other with light, and gives her his notes, then tells her to run. Suddenly, our La’an is in her younger self’s place, pleading for her brother to go with her. But he can’t. She looks down and sees that he’s documented how the Gorn ships communicate, their version of Morse Code. She runs, and is suddenly back with Spock. Her mind has set a boundary. At the mention of her brother, La’an can suddenly hear Michael Burnham’s voice, and knows that Spock has a sibling who made a sacrifice. Spock abruptly ends the mindmeld and La’an has a plan.
Spock and La’an have modified Galileo’s phasers and are able to make it appear as if a message they send is actually coming from the smaller of the two Gorn ships. That message? Humans have boarded the ship. The Destroyer wastes no time, well, destroying the smaller ship.
In the cargo bay, Uhura finally has the atmospheric processor rebooting, but Hemmer is starting to fall asleep and she needs to keep him conscious. So he asks him how he wound up in Starfleet, as an Aenar and a pacifist. Hemmer makes a distinction between pacifism and passivity – he believes that pacifism is the active protection of all life in the universe. And another alarm goes off. The processors matrix overloaded while they were distracted. Their only choice is to vent the cargo bay into space, and they still can’t get out. Hemmer reports to the bridge that they have only 20 minutes until another explosion.
Spock and La’an return to the bridge as the ship creaks again. The Brown Dwarfs is dissipating quickly, removing their cover. Just maybe, they can use the black hole’s gravity to slingshot away. But the Gorn will see them… unless they also use gravitational red shift to their advantage. What is that sciencey nonsense? Pike asks Spock to explain: “Gravitational red shift is an optical illusion that occurs as an object falls into a black hole. The object falls faster than the frequency of light that it emits. To any outside observer, it would appears as though the object has stopped just outside the black hole.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. (Seriously the way gravity affects light is fascinating.)
The plan? Slingshot around the black hole, coming as close to the event horizon as possible, and dropping that pesky atmospheric processor to explode as a decoy. Or, as Ortegas calls it, The Pike Maneuver.
Good thing Hemmer and Uhura have EV suits in the cargo back with them. But Uhura’s shaking as she tethers them both to anchors in the cargo bay floor. Hemmer tells her she impressed him today, and to stop worrying – the Aenar believe that death only comes once you’ve fulfilled your purpose. Hemmer believes that his purpose has been “to fix what is broken,” but Uhura says he can add teaching and inspiration to that list. On the other hand, she still has no idea what her purpose is. They don their helmets and get ready.
After a shipwide address, the Enterprise heads towards the black hole with the Gorn Destroyer right on their tail, but it changes course as they approach the accretion disk. Spock vents the cargo hold, and Uhura and Hemmer hold onto one another as some bolts start coming loose from the anchors. After they see an explosion, the Gorn go on their merry way. Not long after, the battle-scarred Enterprise emerges. Pike contacts the cargo bay – with static on the channel and no immediate response, he’s about to send a recovery team… until Uhura appears and reports that they’ve both made it, to the great relief of everyone on the bridge.
Pike remarks on their miracle, but La’an can’t help wondering if they’ll be as lucky next time. The Gorn have never ventured this far before – it’s reasonable to expect they’re trying to open new hunting grounds. There will be a “next time.” All Pike can offer is, “Next time, they won’t catch us by surprise.”
Una awakens to find she’s connected to an IV. At the other end is Dr. M’Benga, who meets her gaze and gives her a slight smile while tending another patient (remember – mixing Human and Illyrian blood is against Starfleet regulations). La’an decides to wear the insignia of the Puget Sound. Pike pays his respects to the crewmembers whose lives were lost, as caskets are prepared for a funeral service. As La’an says in her final log of the episode, “Today, the Enterprise encountered the Gorn. Seven of the crew gave their lives. But we survived.”