While the new season of Strange New Worlds has been generally very strong, featuring showcases for Spock, Una, and La’an, I have to admit that I have been missing the assured demeanor of Captain Pike.
Anson Mount anchored the first season, and while I am thrilled to have the spotlight shine on the equally capable crew, he has been missed. He was barely in the first episode, basically tossing the keys to the Enterprise to Spock as he left to go find a lawyer for Una. In episode two, he found the lawyer, who then told Pike to keep his trap shut lest he get the whole crew court-martialed. Then last week, he was alternate-timelined out of existence for all but a minute of the episode. So I was very happy to see that Pike would be front and center this week. Alas, this is the weakest episode of the new season thus far.
Where other episodes take the tropes of Trek and do some new and fun twists with them — stealing the Enterprise, courts martial, and time travel, to name a few — “Among the Lotus Eaters” pretty much just succumbs to them. Much like the reference in the title, the crew seems to really just flounder about this week.
(For those of you who didn’t have a Greek mythology phase as a child: Lotus Eaters refers to a section of The Odyssey, where Odysseus’s men find an island inhabited by people who eat a strange fruit. The fruit robs them of all motivation and makes them apathetic and unwilling to leave.)
Pike is trying to have a nice dinner date with Mrs. McMurray — sorry, Captain Batel. (Once I found out the same actress plays the recurring role of a horny housewife on Letterkenny, I just cannot get it out of my head. It’s my problem, I’ll deal with it.)
Ok, now it’s also your problem.
Batel and Pike are trying to navigate a long-distance relationship. (You thought it was bad when your high school sweetie went to college in a different state? How about dating someone who works thousands of light years away?) They keep getting interrupted by hails from their respected crews. Batel gets told by the admiral that she didn’t get a promotion to Commodore, and immediately suspects she’s being punished by Vulcan dickhead Pasalk for losing the court-martial of Una Chin-Riley. This prompts Pike to suggest that they maybe take a break since he suspects she’s getting punished for dating him. This prompts Batel to storm off in a huff. C’mon, Pike! Kirk would never! But rather than chase after her, Pike is called away to the bridge to deal with another emergency.
Starfleet needs the Enterprise to go to Rigel VII, an M-class planet with a pre-warp society. The Enterprise made a cursory visit years ago but was immediately ambushed by the locals. Three crewmen died, and Spock would’ve as well if Pike hadn’t gotten them out. But, in their haste, they left some gear behind. Long-range surveillance photos show that the Kalars (the natives) have incorporated the Star Trek delta symbol into their architecture. The Enterprise has been ordered to go down and clean up the mess they made.
The away team is Pike, M’Benga, and La’an. Pike picked them because they know how to defend themselves without phasers. He can’t bring any more Starfleet gear because they have to bring back what was left and can’t risk any further contamination. M’Benga is not happy about it. We saw his reluctance to fight in the first episode, and the Captain — who later makes a huge deal about how he puts the lives of his crew ahead of his own — seems cheerfully oblivious to M’Benga’s PTSD. Ortegas was all psyched to go on the away team, but Spock pulled her off since they need her to navigate the asteroid field around the planet. (Aww… She picked out a furry hat and everything!)
Almost immediately upon landing, La’an starts getting a ringing in her ears and a migraine. She blinks, and suddenly hours have passed. The others start to get affected by this as well, struggling to remember basic protocols and ideas. When they arrive at the palace, they see guards armed with phaser rifles who quickly identify them as Starfleet and drag them inside. And here we get our first big twist of the episode. Yeoman Zac Nguyen, one of the crew who died in the aborted survey of Rigel VII, is actually feeling much better now. (He was only mostly dead.) Bitter at being left behind, and also trying to survive a hostile world, Nguyen quickly took over the planet by arming his troops with phaser rifles. Pike offers to take him home, but Zac scoffs at that. He violated the Prime Directive in a big, bad way by becoming a feudal warlord with off-world weapons, and Starfleet isn’t going to just let that one slide. Eager for revenge, Zac (excuse me, Lord High Zacharias) orders the away team to be stashed in outdoor cages. The planet’s radiation makes you forget everything about yourself, and he can’t wait to see the effect it has on Pike.
Now, it is blindingly obvious to the viewer what the trick here is. If Nguyen has been on the planet for years and still has enough memory to be bitter about Pike abandoning him, yet the away team loses all their memories in one night, it must somehow be the palace shielding them. I can forgive the crew for not figuring it out right away, since they lose all of their memories and get sent off to work with the Field Kalar (and, hoo boy, do I not like the connotations in that phrase) to go pound rocks.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, the crew isn’t faring much better. The radiation is affecting everyone there as well. Spock orders the ship into the asteroid fields, theorizing that the ore will shield them. Oopsie! That made it worse, and suddenly Spock and Ortegas can’t even remember their names.
Now, Mysterious Planet Where Strange Things Happen is a classic Trek trope, as is Crew Mysteriously Incapacitated. (And also Aliens Find Starfleet Tech and Build Their Civilization Around It), but the episode never really rises above the tropes. There isn’t anything interesting done with them. It’s only a puzzle to solve, and the solution is exceedingly straightforward: Pike starts a revolution and kicks his former yeoman’s ass. (Which is shockingly easy to do since he only has about five guards. Oh, and did you know that gold serving trays can deflect phaser blasts? Keep that in find for the next fancy dinner party you go to.)
Just as an example of how little the lost memory aspect is explored, the crew is told — explicitly — by one of the inhabitants of the planet that The Forgetting is a blessing. And all of the away team has things they would like to forget! Pike knows he’s going to get melted by radiation in about ten years and be confined to his wheelchair box. La’an would like to forget about all of her family history. M’Benga has PTSD from the Klingon War. But the memories are all wiped away so fast that there’s no chance for them to savor or contemplate what is being lost. There’s not really a moment where M’Benga forgets all about his trauma and then realizes he also forgot about his daughter. Just a lot of blank stares and going “Who are you? Where am I?” Also, it might’ve been interesting to have this turn into a Groundhog Day scenario, where Pike and company have been there for weeks or months. Nope, only takes a day to figure it out.
And the memory loss is wildly random. It’s helpfully explained that deep memories — like walking and talking — aren’t affected but learned behaviors are, like your name. Yet M’Benga can still do basic first aid, and Ortegas can still do emergency maneuvers in an asteroid field, both very much learned behaviors. It’s hand-waved away by a quick explanation about how these are actions they’ve done a thousand times, but wouldn’t you have said your name or heard your name way more than, oh I don’t know, flying a damn starship?
There are still some fun moments here. Spock trying to logic his way through memory loss, Ortegas regaining her memory with an AI assist, and Pike’s sad puppy dog eyes — whether from memory loss or apologizing to Batel — are all delightful.
Still, the episode never really took flight for me. The turns all seemed fairly predictable, and the memory loss aspect wasn’t explored enough to my liking.
Ah well, even the great shows get a mulligan now and then. Next week promises some more Spock hijinks, so that’s a promising way to get us back on track.
Classic Call Back: One of the crew killed on Rigel VII is C. Plummer, a nice shout out to the late Christopher Plummer who played the villainous, ham-tastic, Shakespeare-quoting Klingon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Episode Rating: 3 out of 5