Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Number One was put on trial for lying to Starfleet about her genetic modifications, and found not guilty on the basis that she was seeking asylum. M’Benga was confronted with memories of the Klingon War. Noonien-Singh doesn’t want to process her emotions, and Spock is learning to deal with his. And Ortegas regularly proves she’s the best pilot in the fleet.
*If you are sensitive to high-pitched ringing noises, please be aware that there are a lot of them in this episode.
The Enterprise and Cayuga are on a joint mission, charting a binary star system, and their captains are trying to get some alone time. As Batel (Melanie Scrofano) arrives, Pike (Anson Mount) receives a report from the Bridge. He acknowledges it, but request not further interruptions unless there’s a Red Alert. Batel then gets a call from her ship, but it can wait. She brought Pike a gift – an Opelian Mariner’s Keystone, worn by ancient captains to bring lost sailors home. And Batel gets another call. This time it’s Admiral Eldon, and she has to take it.
The call lasts a while, and it’s not good news. Batel was up for a promotion to Commodore, and William Geary got it instead. She believes this is Vice Admiral Pasalk punishing her for Una’s trial, which Pike interprets as being about their relationship. It was already difficult to maintain, and now it’s hurting her career. He suggests they “pull it back a little.” So Batel leaves with a curt “see you when I see you.” Before he can react, Una (Rebecca Romijn) calls again – there’s an incoming urgent message from Command about Rigel VII.
The Enterprise was on Rigel VII five years ago, doing routine exploration, until they found the inhabitants, the Kalar. There was an emergency evacuation of the landing party after they were ambushed, losing three crew members. Or did they? Scans can’t penetrate the planet’s atmosphere, so they’re scheduled for regular fly-by observation. The most recent took an aerial photo of the Starfleet Delta landscaped in a courtyard. So Command is sending the Enterprise to clean up its mess. Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), Ortegas (Melissa Navia), and M’Benga (Babs Olosunmokun) will join Pike on the landing party.
As they leave the briefing room, Una sticks around to find out why the Cayuga left so suddenly. Pike says he and Batel have decided to take some time apart, but she knows that means he pushed Batel away because things were getting too serious. He makes a bunch more excuses, which she shoots down, but there’s nothing he can do about it right now. They have Rigel VII to deal with.
Ortegas is super pumped about both piloting a shuttle down to the surface and joining the landing party – it’s not often pilots get to do that. Unfortunately, a debris field has moved in – likely the remnants of two formers moons – and is going to mess with the Enterprise‘s orbit. Maintaining stability will require manual adjustments every 20 minutes or so. So Ortegas will have to stay on the ship, and Pike, former test pilot, will take the shuttle down to Rigel VII.
The shuttle’s coming in under cloud cover, past a huge asteroid crater, and landing 20km from the settlement, so they team will be hiking for a while. They can’t risk further contamination, so there will be absolutely no Starfleet tech – just things consistent with the planet’s current development. That’s why Pike wanted M’Benga and Noonien-Singh. They’re going to be moving through hostile territory, and those two can fight.
They head out, and La’an starts to hear a high-pitched sound. Suddenly, she’s outside, disoriented. They’ve already been walking for 6 hours. La’an insists she’ll be fine, and M’Benga doesn’t think it’s medically necessary to turn around. So they press onwards.
By night, they can see the gates of the palace – the Delta is on those, too. They plan to talk to the Kalar who live outside the palace, to see what it means to them. If that doesn’t help, they’ll pose as servants and try to sneak in. La’an hears that noise again, but tries to pass of her reaction as a headache. Then she sees the palace guards handling phaser rifles. The last landing party had to fight their way back to the shuttle, and it seems some gears was left behind, too. Six guards approach their location, and Pike tries to stay undercover and attempt diplomacy. But the lead guard knows they’re from Starfleet.
The guards take them to see the king – it’s Zach Nguyen (David Huynh), aka High Lord Zacharias, a yeoman that was presumed dead five years earlier. And he’s still wearing his uniform shirt and Delta, but furious that he was left behind. The garden wasn’t a message to Starfleet, he adopted it as his symbol, after he gave the Kalar Starfleet tech to make himself their leader. This isn’t a normal planet. The radiation makes it hard to think, causes the ringing in the ears and lost time, and eventually makes it difficult to remember things. Zach isn’t interested in going back, but does want to see Pike suffer like he did. He throws them out, and by tomorrow, they won’t even remember where they came from.
They find themselves outside in a cage, not sure how they got there. La’an has fallen asleep in the corner, and when she wakes up, doesn’t recognize Pike or M’Benga. Pike’s forgetting even as he tries to remind the others what’s going on.
On the Enterprise, Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) hears the ringing, too. Number One ordered her to send a sitrep back to Command two hours ago, and she can’t remember if she did. Instead of getting angry, Una orders Uhura to sickbay, and tells Ortegas to make sure she gets there okay. The ship will be fine – Una flew it before Ortegas did.
Chapel (Jess Bush) has never seen this kind of synaptic degradation before. She’ll need to run a complete neurological analysis. She gives Uhura a sedative and steps away to start running tests. Before long, Spock (Ethan Peck) alerts sickbay that six crewmembers in Engineering are reporting acute memory loss.
In the morning, a guard unlocks the cage and tells the team to “move or starve.” They stay still, with no idea what’s happening. One of the men behind the guard takes pity on them, and tells the guard they’ve had a rough forgetting. He explains that the colors of their clothes indicate what jobs they do. He tells them to be in the moment, and follow him. He’ll explain totems later, and promises to guide them in tonight’s forgetting.
Palace Kalar sleep and remember, and field Kalar forget. They keep “deeply known” things – walking, talking, and other deep rooted things – but they do lose “remembered” things – like who they are and where they live. They have only each other, and a fruit with oil that stains the skin, so they can recall their names and other information. That’s how their new friend knows that his name is Luq (Reed Birney). But Pike and La’an notice they don’t have any markings, and their hands show no indication that they regularly do hard labor in a stone quarry. Pike also knows that the pendant he’s wearing was a gift. They don’t belong. He confronts one of the guards who’s harassing Luq, and gets in a fight. La’an joins in and takes on the other, but is injured. M’Benga rushes over and begins treating her. Luq offers to take them somewhere they can hide.
Chapel updates Number One on the crew’s condition – at least a third of them are incapacitated, and it could be less than an hour before they don’t have enough crew left to run the ship. Una’s feeling the effects, and has to go to Sickbay, leaving Spock in command. He hands out PADDs to everyone with their personnel files open, just in case they forget who they are, and orders Ortegas to set a course into the debris field. He believes the radiation from the planet’s atmosphere is causing these problems, and elements in the debris will help to block that radiation.
Luq takes the landing party to his house (the sign outside matches the symbols on his arm), where he expects them to just let La’an die. See, the forgetting is a blessing – tomorrow, they won’t even know this happened. For Pike, that sounds like a nightmare. He asks about the totem in the middle of the room, and Luq explains the history of the Kalar. The gods decided long ago that there who be two types of Kalar – those ones who remember would plan the future, and the ones who forget would do the work. It seems one-sided to Pike and M’Benga, but Luq says the forgetting keeps them free.
In order to save La’an, M’Benga needs his memories, and that means they have to get into the Palace. Luq sees that Pike is guided by his emotions, and for a Kalar, emotions are truth, so he’s willing to help. But he doesn’t want his own memories back. To change the subject, he asks Pike if he’s figured out anything else about that pendant. All he knows is that it’s a gift from someone he’s connected to. The forgetting can’t take away love, or pain from it’s loss. There are markings on Luq’s arm that he inked over, and he doesn’t remember why. But he knows it’s painful, and would rather not remember. Knowing won’t ease the pain.
On the Bridge, both Ortegas and Spock suddenly loose their memories. Ortegas knows she’s upset, but not why, so she leaves and enters the turbolift. She tells the computer she just wants to go home, so it takes her to Deck 6, and lights a path for her through the corridors. Several other crew, including Chapel, and just meandering around the deck. Ortegas makes it to her quarters, and the ship lurches. She looks out the window to see the debris field – as the ship continues to be hit, Ortegas begins to panic.
Pike an M’Benga attack and disarm the palace guards, but M’Benga’s hit in the leg with a phaser rifle. He can’t put weight on it. So he’s going to stay and try to hold off the guard’s backups, while Pike goes in after their memories.
Ortegas calls out and asks it for help – they need to get out of there. The computer asks if she’d like to plot a course. She knows that phrase. Why? The computer tells her she’s the pilot. If they’re going to get out, she’s going to be the one to do it. Thus is born a new mantra: “I’m Erica Ortegas. I fly the ship.” With each repetition, she gets a little more confident. When she gets back to her station, she asks Spock to trust her, and he does.
Pike makes it to the thrown room and bars the doors. Its just him and Zach now. After a brief fire fight, Zach yields, and Pike demands to know where he keeps the memories, and Zach realizes that he’s fallen for the stories written on the totem. Pike starts looking around and finds a Starfleet crate, but there’s just equipment inside. The items are familiar, but he doesn’t truly remember them. Zach explains that an asteroid hit the planet long ago. The palace, and the guards helmets, are made from the ore, and that protects them from the planet’s radiation.
Zach begins laughing at Pike – for losing his memory, believing the totem story, starting a revolution? But Pike is still furious, and begins to beat him. He grabs the phaser rifle, and Zach begins to beg for his life, when Pike’s memory begins to return. Zach warned him that Rigel VII changes people. But Pike believes it reveals them. He came all this way to save his Security Officer. He never would have intentionally left crew behind on a mission. And now he’s going to bring Zach home.
Once inside the palace, and with the Starfleet medical tech there, M’Benga is able to heal La’an. Luq also came in, and he’s dealing with some painful losses. M’Benga suggests that maybe he was right – it could be freeing to not have a past for a while. But La’an thinks “some memories are worth the pain of others.” In fact, Luq thanks Pike for giving him the memories of his son back. He also asks again about Pike’s pendant.
Ortegas masterfully flies the Enterprise to the other side of the debris field, and the crews memories return right away. Turns out, unknown elements in those asteroids were also causing the problem. Spock was able to adjust the shield harmonics to protect them from the radiation in the future, and Pike has a plan for Rigel VII. It may not be totally in line with the Prime Directive, but the way he sees it, it was the asteroid that was preventing natural development, and they’re setting things right. Two shuttles lift the asteroid from the planet’s surface, and Ortegas uses the ship’s tractor beam to fling it back into the debris field.
The Enterprise rendezvouses with the Cayuga for a prisoner transfer, so Pike has the chance to apologize to Batel. Relationships between Starfleet captains aren’t easy, but only one captain can truly understand another. And it was the keystone she have him that grounded him on Rigel VII, and brought him home. That’s too much to ignore. She forgives him.
Bechdel-Wallace Pass: Uhura and Batel discuss her hail from the Cayuga.