SNW Recap s2e2: “Ad Astra per Aspera”

Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Number One was arrested for bein an Illyrian.  She’s been trying to reach out to a lawyer with no luck.  So Pike took a shuttle and went to find the lawyer and talk to her, face to face.

A young girl with an un-set broken leg stares out the window, as her parents argue over whether to take her to a hospital.  If her bones aren’t set, her leg won’t heal.  But her immune system glows.  And if the doctors find out, the family could lose everything.  Her father insists that Una will be okay.

Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano) offers Una (Rebecca Romijn) a deal:  “Plead guilty to knowingly submitting false information to Starfleet by failing to disclose your genetic modification status and we’ll accept dishonorable dismissal.  No prison time, no exile.”  She’d still be a Federation citizen, and her records would be sealed.  The Starfleet-appointed counsel encourages Una to take the deal.

Pike (Anson Mount) has arrived at a planet in the Vaultera Nebula – the atmosphere is inhospitable for humans, so he’s wearing a breathing mask.  As he sits in the lawyer’s waiting room, he’s running out of oxygen, but refuses to leave without seeing her.  Just a he’s about to pass out, he’s allowed into her office, and she’s adjusted the atmospheric controls, so he can take off his mask.  Her name is Neera (Yetide Badaki), and she’s an Illyrian civil rights lawyer.

Pike explains what’s happened to Una and asks for her help, but Neera doesn’t like Starfleet and no longer considers Una a friend.  She’s not interested.  He tries to appeal to her by admitting that he was wrong about Illyrians, but that doesn’t work.  (Have they met before?)  Okay, but if she takes this case – this very high profile case – a win could bring all of her other cases against the Federation a lot more attention.  And that’s a pretty good point.

Neera arrives in Una’s cell.  She wants the story in Una’s words – she as hiding her modifications, and her record was spotless until Starfleet found out.  “When they didn’t know, they didn’t care.”  Starfleet wants her to go back in the closet, so they can pretend that an Illyrian never made it to second in command of their flagship.  But Neera points out that some Illyrians have modifications that they can’t – or won’t – hide.  And Una’s decided that she’s done hiding.  That’s enough for Neera to take the case, and she’ll relay to opposing counsel that their deal is rejected.

Batel, upset that her deal has been rejected, goes to yell at Pike about it.  She called in every favor she had to get that deal approved.  He doesn’t seem to understand that she’s trying to help Una.  And now that the deal’s been rejected, the Judge Advocate General is looking into the case.

At Una’s arraignment, Batel arrives with Vice Admiral Pasalk (Graeme Somerville) to petition the court to amend the charges to include two counts of sedition.  They’re now seeking dishonorable dismissal and 20 years in a Federation penal colony.

While preparing for trial, Una asks Neera to put her on the stand and let her tell her story.  But Starfleet doesn’t care about her story – they’ll just use it to corroborate their evidence or even bring down her friends and crewmates.  But does Neera care about her story?  Neera cares that her client doesn’t sink her case.

On the Enterprise, La’an (Christina Chong) escorts Neera to a room where she can work – it just so happens to be Una’s quarters.   Before leaving, La’an mentions her suspicion that whoever reported Una to Starfleet got their information illegally.  Neera’s interested, but only if she can prove it.

Batel joins Pike at his table in the lounge.  He’s upset that he’s not on the witness list. Even thought he knows its a bad idea, he still thinks he’s the best person to speak to her character.  So Batel casually asks when they met.  It was back when he gave a speech to her class at the Academy – she came up to him afterwards and corrected him.  She less casually asks when he learned that she was Illyrian.  If asked that question under oath, he could end up charged with conspiracy, and the whole crew could be at risk.

On the other side of the room, Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and M’Benga (Babs Olosunmokun) watch Spock (Ethan Peck) and Pasalk at another table.  While Ortegas is playfully dubbing their conversation, M’Benga is carefully observing Vulcan body language – he can tell that they hate each other.  When Pasalk leaves, Spock approaches his colleagues and apologizes that they had to witness such an outburst.  They promise their discretion.

On the bridge, La’an asks Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) to search communications for last 6 months, and compile any mentions of Commander Chin-Riley… including all personal logs.  She can’t do that without an order from Starfleet Command.  La’an doubles down, and Uhura again refuses.  She won’t follow an illegal order.  They’ll have to find another way to figure out who reported Una.

Trial Day 1.  The charges are read, and Una pleads “Not guilty.”  In her opening statement, Batel claims that genetic engineering endangers natural evolution.  It is and should be illegal.  Neera concedes that it is illegal under Federation law – but slavery, apartheid, and kinds of discrimination were once legal.  “A law does not make something just.”  She acknowledges the horrors of Earth’s Eugenics Wars, but suggests that the fears stemming from that history have turned the Federation into oppressors.

Admiral April (Adrian Holmes) takes the stand and testifies that, although he sponsored Una’s application to Starfleet Academy, he would not have done so, had he known about her modifications.  They’re prohibited.  So Neera asks about General Order One.  Starfleet captains, including April when in command of the Enterprise, often use their discretion to violate this order, and interfere with the normal development of alien societies.  Una’s modifications were not her choice – Illyrian cultural practice is to modify children before they’re even born.  How can one rule be subjective and another not?  April speaks up – the statute against genetic modification is there to prevent genocide.  Neera takes that as an admission of fear and prejudice.  Feeling things have gotten out of hand, one of the judges strikes April’s entire testimony from the record.

Una’s furious that Neera is using her trial as a platform to attack the Federation, rather than mount a real defense.  Neera makes a comment about being left behind, but doesn’t want to talk about it further.  She said she’d try, and that’s what she’s doing.

Trial Day 2.  Neera calls La’an, M’Benga, and Spock to the stand as character witnesses. Each recounts stories of Una’s heroism, selflessness, and leadership.

Later, La’an drops off a printed copy of the Uniform Code of Justice to Neera in her temporary office.  Neera asks if she’s been able to find out who reported Una.  She’s hasn’t, but suspects it’s her fault.  When she learned Una was Illyrian, La’an recorded an angry personal log, and thinks someone else may have accessed it.  Neera pokes, wondering why a Noonien-Singh would be upset by genetic modification – “Could it be that you carry your family’s augmentations and you believe that because of them, you may become dangerous?”  “Yes, I do.”  Well, that’s news.  Neera assures La’an that there’s nothing wrong with her, and she’s not inherently dangerous.  Her genes don’t determine her actions.  What she feels is internalized prejudice.  And besides – it takes at least 6 months to subpoena a personal log, so La’an doesn’t have to worry.  But who turned in Una?  Someone who had something to gain.

Trial Day 3.  Neera calls Una to the stand, much to everyone’s surprise.  She explains why she wanted to join Starfleet despite the possibility that she could be exposed – she was inspired by the original Starfleet motto: ad astra per aspera, “to the stars through hardship.”

Una’s colony in the Vaultera Nebula was given provisional membership in the Federation before she was born, on the condition that all genetic modification stop.  It didn’t – not for everyone.  For her family, Federation membership meant they his their modifications, performed rituals in secret, and didn’t discuss their customs.  If they needed medical treatment, they looked for “friendly” doctors.  When she was a child, Una’s best friend’s cousin was arrested for genetic augmentation after he was injured and someone witness his immune system glowing.  He was 10 years old.

After that, some Illyrian families moved to other planets.  The ones who stayed were persecuted – insults, discrimination, attacks.  Una tried to break up a fight at school and broke her leg.  It became infected.  Luckily, he parents found an Illyrian doctor to treat her in the middle of the night.  That was all too common for Illyrian children.  Things got so bad that the government chose to segregate the colony.  Una’s family chose to go to the non-Illyrian city, because they could blend in, and left others behind – like Neera.  She still regrets it.

Just one more question – Who reported her to Starfleet?  Well, Una reported herself.  She wanted her crew to really know her, and accept her.  If they did, she could finally feel safe.  And maybe Starfleet could accept her too.  A Starfleet crew visited her colony when she was very young, and she was so impressed by how different they all were.  She wanted to be a part of something bigger, that strives for more.  She turned herself in because she believes in Starfleet.  Because for her, ad astra per aspera meant that the stars could deliver her from hardship.

Pasalk is unmoved.  He sees this situation as a breakdown in the chain of command of the Enterprise.  If Pike knew, and didn’t inform Starfleet, this isn’t just one officer’s fraud, but a conspiracy.  He wants to know when Pike learned about her modifications.  Una hesitates, but admits that it was four months ago.  Pasalk reiterates that this case is about law, not emotions.  Una Chin-Reilly broken the law, and so did her commanding officer.

Neera approaches Batel and askes her to read aloud Starfleet Code 8514:
In extraordinary and extreme circumstances, if the following conditions are met, 1) any person fleeing persecution, or fearing for their life due to political or religious beliefs, cultural engagements, or biological truths may 2) seek safety within Starfleet and 3) upon revealing themselves to authorities and making a request, may be granted asylum.  Starfleet captains must exercise discretion and judgement when offering asylum.  Status is confirmed by a Starfleet tribunal or designated authority.

Una fled persecution, joined Starfleet in search of safety, and turned herself in.  Pike granted her asylum.  The tribunal just needs to confirm it.  Yes, Una broke one law.  But this is also law.  Neera is simply asking them to enforce the law that favors her client instead of the one that would condemn her.

Starfleet is not ready to reverse its law against genetic engineering.  But in this specific case, Admiral Javas (Nicky Guadagni) and her colleagues have decided to confirm Una’s asylum and find her not guilty.  Something is repaired between Una and Neera.

In the Enterprise‘s transporter room, Una tells Neera that she’s sorry they didn’t do more for all Illyrians.  Even so, there’s a Starfleet crew proudly serving under an Illyrian commander.  It’s a start.  Neera leaves to applause from the crew before Una orders them back to their stations.  As they file out, Pike wraps Una in a bear hug, and welcomes her home.

Bechdel-Wallace Pass:  Neera and Una discuss the case.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *