“A Quality of Mercy” is the finale for the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
What is old is new again, and it never, ever looked better.
One can make the case that “A Quality of Mercy” is a reboot of “Balance of Terror,” the episode in Star Trek: The Original Series that first introduced the Romulans to a waiting world.
Why would anyone do this? “A Quality of Mercy” is the finale and its customary to send the crew of the Enterprise off with a bang.
Before continuing, take a moment to watch the original show: “Balance of Terror.” Even those who have seen it before might need a refresher, if only for D&D (details and dialog).
The Enterprise and the USS Cayuga are stationary near a Starfleet Outpost that is protecting the Romulan Neutral Zone. It seems that humans and Romulans battled off and on for more than 100 years and the Neutral Zone was created to limit the friction between the two warring cultures. No one alive has seen a Romulan. They’re a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But they are also very deadly and, it seems, on the comeback trail.
After engaging in dialog with the station’s master, Commander Hansen Al-Salah, petitions Pike & Co. for better long-term methods for supplying his outpost. Number One promises state-of-the-art matter synthesizers and Spock notes that they will receive a small fleet of remotely controlled mining craft. While Al-Saleh comments that this is what he’s been requesting for a long while, it’s clear he is relieved that such gear is in the offing.
At this point the Commander’s son bursts into the meeting, hell bent to meet his Star Fleet idol, Captain Christopher Pike. As it turns out, the boy, Maat El-Salah, is one of two cadets that dies by accident seven years later in Pike’s life. It is this incident that cripples Pike and leaves him an invalid. Since he knows about his own fate and that of the cadets, Pike feels incredible responsibility for these events (even though they haven’t happened yet). He’s had deep conversations with Number One during past shows. The two of them debated whether or not Pike’s future was immutable. Pike isn’t sure about it, and this informs much of the remainder of this episode.
Upon returning to his quarters, Pike begins to dictate a letter that he hopes will alert the cadets of the danger that awaits them. Evidently this succeeds because a future version of himself suddenly appears to deliver a warning. Regardless of the possible danger, the same Klingons that facilitated Pike’s original vision of his future now allow the doppelganger Pike to journey into the past so that a horrific future-scape might be avoided, one that results because Pike saves the cadet’s lives and his own life at the same time.
After some amazing banter between future Pike (wearing a customized version of the VERY cool Wrath of Khan-era Star Fleet uniform), and today’s Pike, future Pike says this, “I’m here because the letter you’re about to write is going to wreck the future.”
After a bit more talk, future Pike produces a time crystal from the Klingon monks of Boreth that allows today’s Pike to travel ahead to the time where something is going to happen that will plunge humanity into chaos.
Back to the Future ain’t got nothing on this, baby.
Spock Knows Best
Upon touching the crystal, Pike is transported instantly onto the bridge of a future Enterprise, a version of time that he was not ever supposed to experience.
BONUS MATERIAL: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – 101
If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to review the events of the original “Balance of Terror,” (see the link above). The Strange New Worlds version of the show borrows heavily from the Original Series’ show, sometimes word for word. Because Captain Pike is taking the place of some other captain (wink wink), there is a lot of shared history. Pike confesses everything to Spock-of-the-future, and he is dubious. He mentions that it is his responsibility to assume command of the ship if the captain ever becomes “compromised.” Pike assures Spock that this has not happened and cuts to the chase by suggesting Spock mind meld with him.
This leaves Spock reassured, but also mystified.
Spock now recognizes the dangerous position he and the ship are in. “I would posit that in this present, you were never injured in the training accident, thus you remained captain of the Enterprise, putting you in charge at a crucial moment in the ship’s existence … All we can surmise, is that in the prime future, some other captain of the Enterprise must have commanded it differently. Thus, it is imperative that you not change what you would normally do on the ship.”
Problems with Romulans
Explaining the ins and outs of this plot demands spoilers, and that is against the Prime Directive.
Just as it was in the original “Balance of Terror,” an invisible ship fires on the Outpost and destroys it. In the current show, the Ferragut is close by and responds to the outpost’s destruction.
La’an Noonien-Singh now serves aboard the Ferragut, something that Captain Pike doesn’t know, though he feigns forgetfulness.
A familiar name commands USS Ferragut: Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
Sam Kirk serves aboard the Enterprise and tells Pike everything that’s important about his brother, The younger Kirk doesn’t like to lose, Sam says. “He does like to bend the rules sometime … No, more like all the time.” Pike openly wonders whether James T. Kirk might bend them too far, leading to open warfare with the Romulans.
Pike and the rest of the crew learn that the Romulans have initiated the Neutral Zone incursions. Ortegas wants to give chase, but Pike urges caution.
Once Kirk’s starship arrives, the two captains work together to try to outwit the Romulan vessel. These actions cleave wonderfully close to the original plot of “Balance of Terror.” But the Romulans are very clever and outwit both Kirk and Pike. The result: Ferragut’s destruction. Saved, however, is its crew.
At this point in “A Quality of Mercy,” there is a lot of informative communication between Pike and the Romulan ship’s captain. Both captains tire of continuous war. It seems like the two officers have a lot in common. This portion of the episode really exposes the contrasting leadership styles of captains Pike and Kirk. And that, in a nutshell, is the whole reason for Piked’s journey into the future. Captain Kirk very quickly objects to the path that Pike is taking. In the new timeline, however, he doesn’t have any way to object. With his ship destroyed, he’s an interloper on the Enterprise.
The quadratic equation between Pike and Kirk and the Romulan captain and the Romulan Praetor makes for very interesting viewing. Strong ties to “Balance of Terror,” deviating only at critical moments, makes it a most interesting episode. It’s also a very worthy season finale.
A Quality of Mercy We Expected
The third act of the show is fulfilling because it is packed with action, a really rollicking space battle, and more than a few unexpected plot twists.
One of these involves Number One, but that would be telling.
“A Quality of Mercy” is the last episode of the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Season Two is in production in Toronto. Release date: 2023.
As Spock might say, “Anticipation is extreme.”
* Source: YouTube – declaration of war against The Federation – Star Trek Strange New Worlds S01E10
** Source: YouTube – Pike meets his future self – Star Trek Strange New World S01E10
*** Source for featured image: YouTube – Enterprise go against a Romulan Ship – Star Trek Strange New Worlds S01E10