Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 1 Episode 4, “Momento Mori,” introduces audiences to a terrifying and yet rarely explored villain, infamous in the world of Trek: the Gorn. When a rescue mission turns into a surprise attack, our heroes are thrown into chaos and several unlikely pairings must work together in order to save the crew and get themselves out of a dire situation. As an avid Star Trek fan, I would put “Memento Mori” down as one of the best episodes in the franchise. I’m actually shocked that the episode is only an hour as watching it feels like watching a feature film. The creative team of director Dan Liu and writers Davy Perez and Beau DeMayo do an incredible job of balancing intense action sequences with deep, emotional character moments — and the entire cast is firing on all cylinders as they deliver some series-best performances.
We open on Starfleet Remembrance Day as the crew of the Enterprise chooses to honor those they’ve lost and the previous ships they’ve served on — an episode remarkably fitting just ahead of Memorial Day. La’an (Christina Chong), who has been fairly emotionally closed off since we met her, has chosen not to wear the insignia of her former ship, the USS Puget Sound. Elsewhere, Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is set to team up with Chief Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak) for her next rotation as a cadet.
La’an and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) lead an away mission down to the planet to after the colony the Enterprise was meant to assist drops out of communications. In some particularly cool EV suits, the landing party discovers a decimated city covered in blood and fire with no discernable survivors — it’s a massacre. When a small group of colonists aboard a mining ship flags town the Enterprise, Captain Pike (Anson Mount) must extend a transport tube to bring them aboard. None of the adults can account for what happened, but when a small child starts telling tales of monsters, something in La’an’s memory raises alarms. As a threat appears while the Enterprise and the refugee ship are virtually defenseless, a few things become devastatingly clear: the Gorn are here, they planned this, and they won’t stop until everyone on the Enterprise is dead.
In the immediate aftermath of the initial blast, La’an heads to the bridge to confer with the Captain. As the only member of the crew with personal experience with the Gorn, she’s uniquely suited to help. For a moment, Pike insists on standing their ground, but he also shows an often overlooked aspect of high-quality leadership in knowing that La’an’s knowledge and experience in this situation are superior to his own. Ultimately, he takes her advice to prioritize seeking shelter over a firefight.
As the Enterprise finds a tentative respite inside a brown dwarf we begin to triage emergencies and issues all across the ship. With resources stretched to their limits, and wounded crew members arriving in droves, Med Bay is forced to get creative with its solutions. Number One arrives in dire condition, and Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) decide it’s time to test their knowledge of archeological medicine. Down in Engineering Hemmer has been wounded. With no way to reach sickbay, and emergencies occurring right in front of them, the stoic Chief must work with Cadet Uhura in order to save the ship.
This episode excels for many reasons and shaking up a few of the relationship dynamics to allow for deeper character development, while also delivering edge-of-your-seat action, is no simple feat. Hemmer and Uhura are very opposing forces, but with him frustratingly out of commission and her eagerness to help, they’re able to find a working rhythm that suits the two of them quite well. In the process, they begin to discover that though they view the world from different perspectives, their feelings about it are not all that dissimilar. Hemmer expresses that while his people are largely considered pacifists, “pacifism is not passivity.” He describes the ideal as the “active protection of all living things in the universe.” By sharing this he opens up to Uhura, allowing her to better understand him as his respect for her grows. While Hemmer refuses to fight, he does everything in his power to protect the crew of the Enterprise against a deadly threat.
When we were introduced to La’an we learned that she was the only survivor when her family’s ship was attacked by the Gorn. “Some things in the universe are just plain evil. Have you ever seen eyes that are both dead and hungry at the same time,” she asks the rest of the bridge crew. “Plenty of people have seen the Gorn, they just don’t live long enough to talk about it.” Though they were introduced on Star Trek: The Original Series, the Gorn have rarely been explored until now. It’s exciting to see those gaps in Star Trek history begin to be filled in.
Strange New Worlds also uses this situation to explore the way our feelings pour out of us whether we think we’re in control or not. Spock (Ethan Peck) and La’an represent two types of repressed emotion. Half-human, half-Vulcan, Spock was raised to prioritize logic over emotion — and because of her tragic past, La’an has had to compartmentalize her feelings in order to function and be a good officer, making her very blunt and direct. Pairing the two of them up, and having them face a very intense emotional connection to serve the emergency at hand is incredibly compelling. In order to unlock crucial knowledge needed for their survival, Spock performs a mind-meld on La’an. He witnesses her initial escape from the Gorn, in which her brother gives her the tools to survive and sacrifices himself to save her. While in the mind-meld, Spock’s memories of his sister Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) are triggered by La’an’s feelings for her brother. As a fan of Star Trek: Discovery, it’s nice to see that Strange New Worlds has no plans to simply forget about this relationship.
On the bridge, Pike seemingly goes through the five stages of grief all in the space of this episode. He exemplifies why he’s one of the best captains in Starfleet as he expertly relies on the skills and advice of his crew, inspiring each of them to use their unique talents in a desperate situation. In contrast with La’an and Spock, Pike allows his emotions to flow through him and drive him to be an even better leader. The whiplash of one plan succeeding before being immediately faced with an even bigger threat would bring just about anyone to their knees. Pike takes the waves in stride ebbing and flowing through the emergency to find the solution that keeps as many people safe as possible. Because he doesn’t cut himself off from feeling the pain of loss or the joy of victory, each of these beats are punctuated by sincerity.
When their final attempt to escape and outsmart the Gorn means risking Hemmer and Uhura’s lives, the gravity of the situation is not lost on Pike. When it works, he doesn’t allow the full delight of the moment to sweep over him until it’s confirmed that the pair made it out of the situation in one piece. Mount does some spectacular acting through this scene, compelling you to feel every bit of Pike’s relief at the knowledge that almost his entire crew has made it out of one of the most dangerous situations they’ve ever faced.
In Med Bay, Number One sacrifices her plasma to save a junior officer, only to realize when she wakes that M’Benga has attached himself to her using an IV to save her from excruciating pain. Every character with whom we’re familiar understands what it means to make sacrifices for their fellow officer. They honor each other by contributing in any way that they can to make life better for everyone around them. Additionally, “Memento Mori” highlights that vulnerability is actually an incredible strength when it comes to the crew of the Enterprise. By allowing themselves to rely on each other, and share deeply intimate parts of their lives with people they aren’t necessarily that close to, these characters are able to unlock new solutions through collaboration. It’s a beautiful message delivered by a breathtaking, heart-pounding episode filled with very earned moments of triumph and connection.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is streaming now on Paramount+.
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