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‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Gets Lit With “Ghosts Of Illyria”

11 Minute Read
May 19 2022
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The crew gets very horny for light in the latest Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode “Ghosts of Illyria”. What secrets from the past are revealed? Let’s find out!

Star Trek loves a transporter accident. Star Trek also loves a wacky space illness. So what happens when you combine the two together? You get the latest Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode “Ghosts of Illyria”. However, while there is a lot to enjoy in the main plots of this episode, the real meat is in the larger revelations. Last week we asked ,”Whose past trauma will we discover next?” And “Ghosts of Illyria” is a two-for-one sale. But don’t let that deter you! Not all tragic pasts are created equal. And these are incredibly well-told and add a ton to the mythos of characters and show both.

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To Boldly Recap

As this episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds begins, Pike and Una stand on an abandoned world once home to a colony of Illyrians. The Illyrians cannot be part of the Federation because they genetically modify themselves. Genetic modifications are a big no no because of the Eugenics Wars. However, the Illyrians from this colony intended to undo their genetic modifications in order to join the Federation. Unfortunately, they all seem to have vanished! Uh oh!

As a wind storm approaches, Una barely manages to get the away team back to the Enterprise, leaving Pike and Spock trapped on the planet below. And while it seems like the captain and his science officer are the ones in trouble, there’s bigger problems brewing back on board the ship. Ortegas discovers Ensign Lance stripped to his skivvies and violently slamming his head through glass portals – all to gain closer access to light sources. And Lance isn’t the only one acting strangely!

In her quarters, Number One craves light, too. Her reaction is very different – her entire body glows bright red, but then she seems totally fine. Contacting sickbay, Una discovers that a number of the away team members are having strange, horny reactions to light. Una does not, however, tell anyone she also had a reaction! Suspicious!

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No Making Light of Things

It’s clear that whatever is affecting the away team in “Ghosts of Illyria” must be a result of something they were exposed to on the planet below – but what? More importantly, how did something dangerous slip through the pattern buffers? Hemmer tries to investigate the illness’ origins while M’Benga and Chapel try to cure it. But things go from bad to worse when people who were not part of the away team catch the mysterious illness too.

How a seemingly non-viral illness is spreading remains a mystery until Una realizes who has not caught it – Uhura. While the rest of the cadets bunking with Uhura nearly burn themselves to death, Uhura sleeps unaware in the safety her closed, pitch-black bunk. It turns out that the illness travels on light particles and, by making the carriers crave light, the illness makes itself that much more transmissible.

Number One turns out the lights on the Enterprise as M’Benga places the infected crew members under sedation. But M’Benga is infected as well and it’s only a matter of time before the entire ship is. With the jig up, Una admits she is immune and why – she is an Illyrian. Una hopes this admission will lead to a cure, but M’Benga says that, as an Illyrian, her body does not have antibodies with which to craft a cure. Illyrians bodies simply adapt and any potential anti-bodies are already long gone. Swell! So, now what?

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La’an, Augments, and Resolutions

Throughout “Ghosts of Illyria” Una leans on her close friend La’an, but never confesses to being an Illyrian. La’an knows a lot about genetic augmentation because her ancestor is none other than classic Star Trek baddie Khan Noonien-Singh. She learns to hate “augments” after a lifetime of being bullied over her relation with Khan.

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La’an catches the disease just like the rest of the ship. After overhearing Una’s admission to being an Illyrian, La’an rushes to the warp care where she plans to expose herself to it. Light is a heck of a drug, apparently! As Una fights La’an away from the warp controls, the two trade verbal barbs as well. La’an is furious that Una kept this secret from her. Una knocks La’an cold, and, as the warp core leaks, Una’s Illyrian power activates protecting both her and La’an.

It turns out that Una’s powers interact with La’an to create a chimeric response – one Nurse Chapel can use to create a cure from La’an’s antibodies. Phew!

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Pike and Spock

As chaos reigns on Enterprise, Pike and Spock run into problems of their own facing off against the literal “Ghosts of Illyria”. The oncoming storm is set to make it so that the environment is not hospitable for organic, carbon-based life. Worse, there seem to be monsters made of light hiding in the storm – and they also seem to want to kill Pike and Spock. However, things take an unexpected twist at the last possible moment.

Pike and Spock try to blockade themselves inside a vault containing tons of information about the missing Illyrian colonists. When the mysterious monsters inside the storm break through, they don’t kill Pike and Spock – they save the captain and science officer’s lives. More than that, they reveal a specific section of data which tells their story. The “monsters” aren’t monsters at all – they’re the surviving colonists.

It turns out that in an effort to remove all genetic augmentation, most of the Illyrian colonists unwittingly allowed themselves to die at the hands of the storm. However, a few still had enough natural tendency to alter themselves that they essentially succeeded in becoming part of the storm as a totally new form of life. Pike leaves the experience with a drastically knew point of view on the Illyrians and their place in the Federation.

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Una And M’Benga’s Secrets Revealed

Una admits she is an Illyrian to Captain Pike. She attempts to resign, but Pike tells her no. Pike tells Una how he views the Illyrians entirely differently after his experience on the planet. He sees Una as an example of what makes Starfleet great and what can make Illyrians great, too. Pike promises Una that he will “take care of Starfleet” if they ever come after her for concealing her Illyrian origins.

Unfortunately, Una has to deal with two other difficult situations. For one thing, Una has to apologize to La’an for lying to her for decades. La’an is pretty pissed! But the two both know what it is to face discrimination over who they are and not what they’ve done. The two share a bowl of strawberries as the contemplate their shared frustrations and camaraderie.

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Una also has to speak with Doctor M’Benga who, it turns out, is responsible for the light virus making it through the transporter. M’Benga’s medical transporter can’t be upgraded, and, as it is attached to the rest of the ship, the other transporters cannot be updated either. M’Benga is keeping his daughter in the medical transporter buffer. She has a deadly disease with no cure. M’Benga plans to keep her in transporter stasis until a cure is discovered. Una connects the medical transporter to the warp core separately so M’Benga can continue protecting his daughter.

M’Benga reads a bedtime story to his daughter in between trips to the pattern buffer. And we close with Una questioning whether or not there will ever come a day where she can be open and safe being who she is.

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To Boldly Review

“Ghosts of Illyria” hits hard marking three strong episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds in a row. Let’s get all the cool Trek stuff out of the way first because it’s the deeper stuff that hits hardest. First of all, this is as classic as Star Trek gets. A mysterious planet with missing colonists? Check. An equally mysterious illness plaguing the ship? Double check. Our characters learning about themselves through the experiences of an alien race? Yeah, we get that, too.

Obviously, the first episode classic Star Trek fans will think of is “The Naked Time”. That episode also features an illness which causes the crew to behave strangely. And while there’s no explicit horniness in “Ghosts of Illyria” like there is in “The Naked Time,” the characters in the former do still rip their clothes off, so… yeah, it’s pretty horny.

Even the element of the story where Spock investigates an alien archive is familiar. In “All Our Yesterdays” the Enterprise attempts to save a planet full of people from a star going supernova. Just like in “Ghosts of Illyria,” they discover a nearly empty world. In short, Strange New Worlds connects itself with Star Trek: The Original Series in a way that is familiar and fresh at the same time.

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Number One is an Illyrian and That isn’t News

Fans of Star Trek always seek out new life for old stories. And as you might have surmised, Pike and Number One are characters people have wanted to know more about for decades. Even Star Trek‘s most famous writers wanted more form the duo – including beloved scriptwriter D.C. Fontana. Fontana went further than most when she wrote the 1989 novel Star Trek: Vulcan’s Glory. The book deals with Spock’s past and how he reconciles both his Vulcan and human halves. And it explores Pike and Number One as well.

Vulcan’s Glory is not officially a part of Star Trek canon. However, it is the very first time we find out that Number One is Illyrian. And now, over 30 years later, at least this one aspect of Fontana’s story is made official. It’s hard to overstate this, but, without D.C. Fontana, Star Trek would not be the beloved franchise it is. She is simply one of the most important voices in the history of science fiction and seeing this particular story of hers brought to light again is a beautiful thing.

And you know what else is neat? “Ghosts of Illyria” also adds texture to an episode of Star Trek: Short Treks called “Q&A”. In that short, Una and Spock get stuck in a turbolift. During their time trapped together, Una tells Spock he must conceal his weirdness in order to become a senior officer. When Spock asks what weirdness Una is hiding, the first officer belts out “I am the Very Model” from Pirates of Penzance.

At the time we all assumed Una was just a Gilbert and Sullivan fan! But now we know her singing was merely to distract Spock from learning a deeper truth. In Spock’s own words: fascinating.

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Invisible Differences Still Equal Real Struggles

At the end of “Ghosts of Illyria” Una says that she feels terrible. In spite of the fact that Pike stands up for her, Una does not feel safe or powerful. Being “one of the good ones” is not the same thing as being accepted. And Una questions when, or if, she will be able to just be an Illyrian. And then she deletes the entire log where she lays her soul bare.

That scene hurts because it’s so real and so, so honest. Up until “Ghosts of Illyria,” nobody knows Una is an Illyrian, but she carries around that secret like a wound that feels like it will never close. Una knows that a lot of people will hate her if they find out the truth. I would wager that most of us know that feeling all too well. How we love others, how we worship, and even how our minds might operate differently from the perceived norm are all secrets we often feel we must keep from one another. Because we are afraid of how someone might react.

Una may lose her commission over being an Illyrian. She doesn’t lose a friendship this time, but she always could in the future. If she hadn’t saved the day this time, would Pike still have stood by her? No matter how close Una may feel to Pike, she doesn’t know if she can truly trust him. That’s an awful, isolating feeling. But I feel less alone watching Una go through it. That’s the power Strange New Worlds has as a Star Trek show – it can use science fiction to tell validating stories that connect us even when we feel like we can’t connect with anyone.

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M’Benga and His Daughter

If there is one aspect of “Ghosts of Illyria” I am struggling with, it’s the story of M’Benga and his daughter. On a storytelling and character level, I am surprised that Pike doesn’t know about this. But, then again, just like with Una, M’Benga has no guarantee that the captain will understand. Still, I was sad on first viewing to see yet another character have such a sad backstory.

That being said, this is an active story and M’Benga is actively working towards a resolution. I will keep watching with great interest in how things shake out. In my heart, I desperately want a cure to be found. I want M’Benga’s daughter to run the corridors of the Enterprise as her dad struggles to keep up. Star Trek has never had an ongoing father/daughter story before – what a beautiful new direction Strange New Worlds might take. I hope they will.

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Stray Observation Deck

Look, I’m just going to say it: Ensign Lance looks like Timothée Chalamet, right?

We already knew that La’an is related to Khan, but now we know there are active consequences for her. But there may also be benefits? It’s hard not to wonder if that chimeric response she has in “Ghosts of Illyria” might not equate to more augment-related powers later on.

This episode is lovely, but I cackled when Una picked up “Hemmer” after he passed out. It is so obvious that Rebecca Romijn has the cheapest of rag dolls slung over her shoulder after that. We’re meant to see Una as being supernaturally strong. Instead all I could think was “we couldn’t afford a more realistic dummy, show?”

I knew deep in my Star Trek soul that Una would delete that log entry. I could hear Ben Sisko saying, “Leave that one in the drafts!”

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Questions, Queries, Quibbles

We’ve pretty much covered everything. Obviously this is not the last we’ll hear of the Illyrians. And Starfleet is definitely going to come calling on Una. Likewise, it is only a matter of time before Pike finds out that M’Benga has a daughter in the transporter buffer. But when it comes to La’an’s story at least, we won’t have long to wait. The next episode of Strange New Worlds is “Memento Mori” and it is our first look into La’an’s past with the Gorn. That’s exciting! Let us know what you think of this episode and what you predict for the remainder of the season.

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Until then, this is your humble recapper signing off. Live long and prosper.

Lina Morgan
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