One of the great things about Strange New Worlds is that it truly is an ensemble show, perhaps more so than any past incarnation of Star Trek. The original series made headlines for being a diverse cast, but it was the rare episode that had Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov do a lot more than just say “Aye, Captain.” (Famously, Nichelle Nichols almost quit playing Uhura for this very reason, until a certain civil rights icon convinced her to stick with it.)
On SNW, if your favorite character doesn’t have a lot to do in one week, you can be assured that they’ll soon get a big hero moment or even an entire episode focused on them. Una got court-martialed, Spock got de-Vulcanized, La’an got to time travel and make out with James Kirk, Ortegas got to do some fancy flying through an asteroid field, M’Benga had to navigate the fairy tale version of the Enterprise, Chapel has had to confront her feelings for her crew mate, and now it’s Uhura’s turn.
The Enterprise and the Farragut have been sent to the Bannon Nebula to help get a deuterium refinery online. Deuterium is fuel for the Starfleet ships and the Nebula is on the edge of the Gorn’s space, making this a highly important facility. It’s two months behind schedule, so Temporary Fleet Captain Pike is sending Una Chen-Riley over to whip them into shape, along with Chief Engineer Pelia (Hooray! Let’s get an Emmy for Carol Kane next year, ok?).
Meanwhile, Uhura is hearing a strange drone. At first, she thought it was a transmission from space, but couldn’t find it on the scanners. Pike and the medical team are pretty sure it’s just exhaustion. She’s been working non-stop and not sleeping well, so M’Benga and the rest are pretty sure it’s sleep deprivation, combined with mild deuterium poisoning. But Uhrua is quite sure it’s more than that. She’s seeing vivid hallucinations – Hemmer, the former engineering chief who died last season as a decaying zombie. A field full of black smoke. A hallway in the Enterprise strewn with dead people. – and it is understandably freaking her out. She’s convinced she’s losing her mind.
As for the other ship in the fleet. Trekkers know that the Farragut is the ship James Tiberius Kirk was assigned to before becoming Captain of the Enterprise, which means we get our first in-timeline visit to the bridge by the once and future captain. (The other two episodes were alternate timelines, so, technically, this is his canonical first appearance.) Jim is about to become the youngest first officer in Starfleet history, which rankles his older brother. He’s annoyed that his dad – previous record holder of the youngest First Officer – clearly thinks Jim’s career is going better. It’s never outright stated, but you can read between the lines and guess that Kirk Senior thinks xenobiology is a big ol’ waste of time – like if your kid decided to major in improv comedy. Sam is annoyed that Kirk can’t see that and leaves him to his own devices – which include checking in on Uhura. Unfortunately, Uhura is hallucinating again and knife fighting herself, so she winds up breaking Kirk’s nose. Thankfully, he’s willing to overlook the whole assaulting a superior officer thing, if she lets him help her.
On the refinery, things keep going wrong, and Pelia has discovered that the reason is sabotage. Lieutenant Ramon was trying to blow up the station, and he was also suffering from the same hallucinations as Uhura, only much worse. He is paralyzed by the visions and the drone in his ear is overwhelming. He breaks out of sickbay and tries to jettison the fuel nacelle from the Enterprise, and only the quick thinking of Kirk getting them out in an emergency transport saves Uhura from the subsequent explosion.
This makes Uhura even more certain she’s going crazy, since her hallucinations are intensifying and Ramon’s medical records show he was about a day or two ahead of her. She keeps seeing her dead friend, Hemmer, and more and more vivid and realistic visions, which is making her distraught, and she demads to be confined to quarters lest she also try and blow up the Enterprise. But as she and Kirk go over Ramon’s logs, she has an idea. Since the language centers of Ramon’s brain was being attacked, just like hers, maybe this is someone – or something – trying to communicate with them, but the signal is too strong and it’s making it hard to comprehend.
Our resident xenobiologist Sam thinks that Uhura’s theory could be possible. Interdimensional creatures could be poking their heads through the deuterium nebula and trying to communicate. But then, it’s just a theory. There’s no proof of it. Still, Uhura thinks that because this started when she arrived at the Nebula, and because Ramon tried to blow the deuterium powered fuel nacelle, it must be related to the deuterium. Somehow, processing the raw deuterium into fuel must be hurting them. This is quite the leap in logic. (Was Ramon a communications officer, too? Is that why he was getting the signals? Uhura’s language centers are over-developed because she speaks about 18 languages. What about Ramon? And why only one person at a time? Surely there are other polyglots on board.)
In her visions, Uhura is seeing dead bodies and attacking herself, and she thinks that’s a sign from them that what Starfleet is doing in the deuterium field is hurting them. They call the bridge and tell Pike to not turn on the the refinery, but it’s too late. The refinery went online about five minutes ago.
Uhura races to the bridge and tells the Captain her theory – that refining the deuterium is causing some sentient creatures pain. Pike asks if she’s sure, like super duper sure. and she says yes. Pike then gives the order to evacuate the station and once everyone is clear, he sends it to hell. Uhura gets a vision of Hemmer again, this time serene and nodding and not at all zombified. Really? That’s all it takes for a captain to destroy a refinery? “You’re sure about your hunch? Ok then!”
Now, while it is good to have Uhura getting more to do – and all praise to the wonderful Celia Rose Gooding for her performance this week – I had some problems with the way the story played out. It felt like there were a ton of leaps in logic here. It’s great to see Pike unequivocally standing up for his crew, but after spending an entire episode asking “Is Uhura crazy?” it’s a little strange that Pike immediately decided to blow up the refinery without a shred of evidence. You would think that Sam would’ve created some test or scan on a subspace infrared spectrum that might have detected these sentient deuterium creatures. Then, he could’ve gotten the accolades he feels he deserves, Uhura would’ve been proven right, and Pike could blow up a multi-billion dollar facility with impunity. As it is, we’re kind of going on vibes here. And if this was intended to be an outpost meant to watch out for murderous Gorn, then I highly doubt they’re going to be respectful of the wishes on interdimensional microbes. (And what happened to the Gorn? It was ominously mentioned that the Gorn were on the move at the end of Episode 1 this season and they haven’t been mentioned since.)
Also, what was with the weird sibling rivalry going on between Sam and James? Was Kirk really so oblivious to Sam asking for a little validation? Reading between the lines, it was abundantly clear that their dad, George, favors Jim because he’s the stereotypical version of what a Starfleet officer should be, while Sam is into science. Would it have killed Jim to say something like “we wouldn’t have fixed this without you?” Apparently! I hope they are setting this up to go somewhere in the future, because it just feels badly out of character here.
Also, the whole plot thread where Uhura has to process her trauma about her dead brother and father (that’s what the black smoke in the field was – the shuttle crash that killed them) in order to more effectively communicate with the creatures…not a fan. That all seemed a little too pat and on the nose for me.
Still, that’s one of the hazards when you have to retcon past series, Some things don’t quite sit right.
Episode Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Classic Call Back: How cool was that final shot of Uhura, Jim Kirk, and Spock all sitting together? Makes my Trekkie heart go pitter-pat. And chess hustler Kirk made a reappearance, commenting on Spock blowing a checkmate in two moves because Uhura distracted him.
Next Week: We cross the Trek streams! It’s the long awaited cross-over with Lower Decks, where some sort of temporal rift sends Ensigns Boimler and Mariner from the Cerritos to the Enterprise. It would be terribly unfair of me to review this without the number one Lower Decks fan in the quadrant, so Mary Fan will join me next week.