Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry once said, “The strength of a civilization is not measured by its ability to fight wars, but rather by its ability to prevent them.” Source *
More about that later.
To begin this episode, titled, “Memento Mori,” (an object serving as a warning or reminder of death, such as, ‘He placed the picture in his room as a memento mori‘), security officer La’an Noonian-Singh (Christina Chong) recounts that the Enterprise is currently enroute to deliver an atmospheric processor upgrade to a distant planet. According to her log entry the crew is celebrating Starfleet Remembrance Day. This is a day to honor comrades and citizens who died in the service of the Federation and, in general, space exploration. Each crew member can wear a badge that names a ship that they served on prior to joining the Enterprise. Noonien-Singh chooses not to wear her badge commemorating service aboard the S.S. Puget Sound.
Concurrently, cadet Noyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) undergoes a rigorous walking exam of practical engineering given by chief engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak). Hemmer upbraids her shortened response to his question, to which she responds with complete chapter and verse, ending with the shortened response cleverly worked in at the close. Hemmer acknowledges her newer answer, but says, “Big ideas. To impress me, you’re going to have to do better than theorize.”
In true Star Trek fashion, the colony does not respond when the Enterprise gets there. There is some jiggery-pokery going on. Something destroyed the colony’s communication satellite, and an away team quickly discovers some power killed the colonists and dragged their bodies away. Sensors find a nearby cargo ship; there are passengers on board. The catch is that because the ship carried radioactive ore, it resists transporter activity. An extensible gangway will help rescue the colonists. Everything about this operation seems extremely sketchy to Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and he is clearly on edge even as the crew begins to evacuate the people from the transport ship.
Much as Newt informs Ripley about the aliens in the movie “Aliens,” a young colonist named Fig remembers more about the attackers, noting to her concerned mother that, “The monsters are coming.” She is able to remember that they make a certain clicking sound and she mimics the sound to Noonien-Singh. Intentional editing informs the viewer that the security officer knows something about this. She orders the captain to raise the shields immediately. However, because the two ships are still connected by the gangway, he can’t raise he shields.
As if on cue, the trap is sprung.
Cue The Bad Guys
An amazingly fast (and very angular looking) ship appears and attacks the Enterprise and the transport. The whole mission, with its many complications and exigencies, was set by aliens to destroy the Enterprise and everyone on it.
And all of that happens prior to this episode’s opening credits. Lions and tigers and GORN, oh my!!
And, yes, it is the Gorn, in all their glory.
BONUS: The Toys of Star Trek
Great Production Values
Everything about this fourth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds oozes classic Start Trek vibes, then goes way over the top in how it pleases fans of the original series by turning them into fans of this new program. In a nutshell, the Enterprise and everyone in it never looked so good.
The ship’s interiors are constructed to fit their function. The bridge is still very much bridge sized, as has been shown in innumerable bridges. The engine room is spacious and completely full of glowing components. The cargo bay featured in Memento Mori is roomy, as anyone would expect a cargo bay to be. As time goes by and more episodes debut, one can only hope for even more great for from the set designers!
Message In A Bottle
All of this helps with Memento Mori, because it is almost entirely a “bottle episode.” According to Wikipedia, “a bottle episode is produced cheaply and restricted in scope to use as few regular cast members, effects, and sets as possible. Bottle episodes are usually shot on sets built for other episodes, frequently the main interior sets for a series, and consist largely of dialogue and scenes for which no special preparations are needed.” The reasons for filming a bottle episode are to fill an open spot in the production schedule if a script has fallen through, or possibly to save money.
In the case of Memento Mori, it was probably done simply because it really fit the kind of script that Davy Perez and Beau DeMayo wrote. Keeping the crew of the Enterprise boxed in from their enemy increases the feeling of isolation for the viewer. The initial attack by the Gorn ship also places action in various locations, once again heightening the isolation and danger that those groups also feel.
- The Gorn attack traps Henner and Uhura in the main cargo bay with a malfunctioning coolant system unit that needs constant attention. Henner’s injury puts all the practical engineering in Uhura’s hands.
- Shrapnel to the abdomen takes down Number One during the attack. She needs to hold on in an infirmary that can’t use its advanced high-tech medical systems. Instead, Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) gets to practice her specialty, what Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) refers to as, “archaeological medicine.” Chapel gets to work with needle and thread.
- Lastly, Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck) and Noonien-Singh take off on a shuttlecraft to take the fight to the Gorn (though in a wonderfully strange way). Being in the smaller confines of the shuttle helps to narrow the focus of the story and allows for the two of them to employ some singularly Vulcan methods to gather important data on the Gorn.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Memento Mori succeeds because, in typical Star Trek fashion, the sum of the pieces is greater than the whole. When Captain Pike charges the crew to, “… be vigilant … be creative … you’re the best of Star Fleet. We’ll survive this by working together.”
Needless to say, and with no spoilers, they do. How they do it is pretty much genius level thinking and execution.
How Bad Is Gorn Bad?
At one point, Noonien-Singh describes the Gorn this way: “They aren’t supernatural, but they are monsters. The Federation teaches that if we can find a way to empathize with an enemy, then they can one day become our friends …”
Remember the quote from Gene Roddenberry at the beginning of the review when Noonien-Singh continues …
“… They’re wrong!
“Some things in this universe are just plain evil … We Are Prey!”
Star Fleet’s ability to prevent this war now seems pretty unlikely.
Strange New Worlds’ first episode hinted at the return of the Gorn. Security Officer La’an Noonien-Singh has deeply horrific memories of them and the terror they bring. Even this episode’s strictly vehicular return of the Gorn emphasizes how relentless they are and leaves us all eager for more. It is likely that they will become the Borg of this version of Star Trek. They’ll be here now, then away. Always lurking around the corner, surely putting more and more on the line for the Enterprise and its crew.
When word gets back to Gorn Central that Captain Pike & Co. deceived them and escaped, well, rapprochement will likely fly right out of the window.
** Source: YouTube – Gene Roddenberry 1982
** Source: YouTube – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds S01E04 Easter Eggs, Breakdown, Ending Explained [Who Are the Gorn??
*** Source: YouTube – Destruction of The Gorn Ship | Star Trek Strange New Worlds S01E04
**** Source: YouTube – Gorn Attack the Enterprise • Star Trek Strange New Worlds S01E04