Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has explored many themes during its first season on Paramount Plus.
The themes explored during the show’s first season have been very diverse:
- Strange alien encounters
- Rebellion against societal norms
- Space piracy
- Fantasy, and
- Finding family
With the arrival of Episode 9, “All Those Who Wander,” it is time to tackle horror head on.
That means … the Gorn are back.
The Set Up
The fact that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is episodic gives it the freedom to turn on a time – and this week it does.
En-route to deliver power cells to a nearby space station, the Enterprise gets orders to help the U.S.S. Peregrin, another starship that crashed on Valeo Beta V. This planet isn’t going to make it easy for an away team because its nitrate-charged atmosphere prevents both transporters and communications from working. Always ready for a challenge, Captain Pike subdivides the crew and plans to lead the rescue mission.
Pike understands basic command structure well enough to know that he and Number One can’t leave the Enterprise at the same time. Someone has to stay behind to lead the ship’s primary mission. Pike also knows that he wants to take the contingent of cadets (and one newly promoted cadet, Lieutenant Duke) along for one last away mission.
Number One: It’s risky. There’s no way the landing party could contact the ship.
Captain Pike: True, it is a communications dead zone, but I have faith in our crew to get it done. The Enterprise can pick us up on the way back.
Number One: Us?
Captain Pike: I’ll oversee this one personally. Get the cadets out on one last away mission with senior officers.
Number One: You sure you want to split up the crew?
Captain Pike: It’ll be fine, Number One. You get the supplies to K-7. I’ll pile the kids in the station wagon, take a road trip.
Spock: Sir? The station wagon?
Captain PIke: Anybody has to go, now is the time. Don’t make me turn this car around.
Talk about lightening the mood. Pike is good at that, but let’s see how long it lasts. It’s a little too late, but given half a chance, the good captain would absolutely choose to substitute Number One to lead this particular away team.
The team – Pike (Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck), nurse Chapel (Jess Bush), Lt. Kirk (Dan Jeanotte), Ensign/Lt. Duke (Ted Kellogg), Cadet Chia (Jessica Danecker), and a few others – heads down to the planet’s surface in two shuttles. The place looks anything but hospitable and communications with Enterprise get clunky as the craft enters the atmosphere and fail completely as it lands near the Peregrine.
Because the Peregrine is virtually dead, the away team works hard to reactivate life ops, life support, communications, and engineering. Outside, the cadets, nurse Chapel, and Lieutenant Kirk find scores of dead crew torn up and frozen by the elements. Those responsible remain unclear. When ops is restored, Uhura can see that two creatures are still aboard the ship, one human and one that’s unknown. Hemmer moves off to engineering and Pike, Noonien-Singh, and Uhura leave to find more about the survivors.
The tension begins to build because the interior of the ship is still without power and quite dark. The crew’s portable lights only show so much, and a lot is left to the viewer’s imagination. Outside, Noonien-Singh discovers the bloody remains of 20 crew members, including the captain. Pike notes that this leaves 79 crew unaccounted for. Not long after, they’re found dead and strewn in an area not far from the ship. Their ruined state indicates suicide is not an option. Lt. Kirk speaks for everyone: “What the hell did this?”
BONUS MATERIAL – Alien at 40 – A Space Nightmare
Pike’s party very quickly stumbles over the alien survivor and there is a standoff because it doesn’t speak English and the Peregrin’s universal translators are disabled. Uhura, the linguist, explains tersely to Noonien-Singh that she can’t help with translating. “That’s not how linguistic works!” she snaps through clenched teeth. Making lemonade out of lemons, however, she suggests lowering their weapons after hypothesizing the alien might be defending the other survivor – the human.
It turns out that she’s right. Score one for Uhura!
Buckley is the agent of change in this horror story. It’s common knowledge that everyone boarding a Federation starship is scanned to within an inch of their life. That should have been a red flag moment for Pike and his group of stalwarts. Everyone soon discovers that Gorn implant their eggs into a host and that host provides a measure of immunity from being scanned. That’s how the refugees first brought them on board, and that’s how they reestablish their presence on the ship. No spoiler here, but you can guess that Buckley has something to do with it.
Run Like Hell
Run like hell is actually what the crew cannot do. They must figure out a way to kill off the three Gorn that are now free to move about the ship. Noonien-Singh has ideas about what they can do and these ideas are reinforced when she recognizes that the Peregrine’s crew lured the original hatchlings out into the cold where they froze and died. She works with the others to devise a strategy where they draw the Gorn out of hiding by displaying overtly aggressive behavior and then force them into choke points by lowering the temperature in parts of the ship.
Sounds easy, but is it?
Good Horror Is Horrifying
While “All Those Who Wander” starts out like Alien 1.5, it ends up transcending that analogy. In actuality, the writers combined elements of some of the most successful horror flicks into one very compelling episode. They take Alien’s derelict ship and a lite version of its chestburster, and Aliens’ Newt-the-survivor, then combine them with Predator’s thermal-inspired Predator Vision to good effect. The away team’s overall knowledge and drive to survive help to fuse the borrowed story elements into a tasty goulash. To paraphrase an old adage is: if you can’t beat them, borrow from them.
The creature effects for the episode are absolutely over the top. For starters, the design and effects team had to have spent extra hours on Buckley’s makeup effects. While he is still a bipedal humanoid, he has his own genuine physiology and it goes way beyond the normal wrinkle treatments or prosthetic forehead. The scene where the little Gornlings pop out of his body is a very adept melding of practical and digital effects. Stan Wiston and John Favreau would be proud.
The Gorn are also extremely well created and animated. The shot where La’an Noonien-Singh is racing down corridors in an attempt to trap the last living Gorn is phenomenally well done. If you truly feel you couldn’t suspend your disbelief during the climactic battle, then you’ve got insanely high standards.
“All Those Who Wander” provides a transition point for growing the series into what it will become in the second season. Hemmer’s contributions to the show made it amazingly fun to watch and it is a shame to see him go. He provided a bridge for cadet Uhura, helping her to realize that she has a place aboard the Enterprise and that she was ready and able to occupy it. His dry humor provided a counterpoint to Captain pike’s more unrefined jokiness (in the same way that Spock’s does). He will be missed.
Near the end of the episode, as part of its denouement, La’an Noonien-Singh requests a leave of absence in order to find whatever family exists for Oriana. Pike extends an offer for her to return anytime in the future. As there remain Gorn to be fought, she will be seen on board the Enterprise again.
This begs the question: Who will transition in to become the Chief Engineer and the Security Chief. While the latter is open to debate, the former very likely is not. To quote a common exclamation from a character in Star Trek: The Original Series, “I’ve giv’n her all she’s got captain, an’ I canna give her no more.”
And to quote another character … a very stoic one, “Indeed.”
We’ll likely discover more about casting changes when the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1 finale drops on Paramount+ on Wednesday, July 6.
Be there or be Vulcan.
* Source: YouTube – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 9 BEST SCENES – RESCUE? s01e09
** Source: YouTube – Hemmer sacrifice himself – Star Trek Strange New Worlds S01E09
*** Source: YouTube – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 9 BEST SCENES – FIGHT ME!
**** The Gorn babies – Star Trek Strange New Worlds S01E09