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‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Gets Their Borg in “Memento Mori”

11 Minute Read
May 26 2022
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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds finds its villains in “Memento Mori”. TNG has the Borg, DS9 has the Dominion, and Strange New Worlds has the Gorn.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a show about exploration and seeking peace with new civilizations. But sometimes exploration leads to meeting people who are not interested in peace. And “Memento Mori” revisits one of the first truly scary villains The Original Series ever had: the Gorn.

In “Arena”, Kirk fights a Gorn captain with only his fits and his wits. In “Memento Mori”, Pike and company face off against a lot more than a single Gorn. Things gets pretty hairy! And since La’an’s whole family is dead courtesy of the Gorn, this episode is all about her.

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To Boldly Recap

It’s Starfleet Remembrance Day. That means members of the crew wear little badges with the names of ships they once served on. More importantly, it’s a day to remember comrades who lost their lives in the name of exploration. Basically everyone’s rocking a badge – except for La’an. But she wants everyone to know that she is fine. She’s fine! She is just fine.

La’an is not fine.

The Enterprise is on a mission to drop off some environmental equipment for a colony. There’s just one problem: the colonists are all missing. All that remains on the planet’s surface is a barking dog and a whole lot of blood everywhere. However, there is also a freighter ship with some 100 remaining colonists. Since the the ship is too heavily shielded, the Enterprise docks with it to transfer the colonists aboard.

La’an is there to help the colonists and figure out what happened. It isn’t long before La’an talks with a little girl terrified of the monsters who kidnapped most of the colonists. The little girl explains that the monsters make a strange clicking sound before they attack. La’an knows exactly who makes a clicking sound – the Gorn.

As a reminder, the Gorn killed everyone La’an knew as a kid and set her on a raft in space to die. La’an knows a little bit about Gorn strategy. She tells the captain to search for EM signatures, but it’s too late. The Gorn slip out of hiding and attack the Enterprise while it is still attached to the colonists’ ship and unable to raise shields.

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First Officer La’an: The Squeakquel

Pike commands Ortegas to pilot the Enterprise into the remnants of a brown dwarf. Said brown dwarf is currently being sucked into a blackhole. The good news is that this is a good place to hide out while a plan to fight the Gorn can be formulated.

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With Una blooding out in sickbay, La’an takes over first officer duties – and she is a real Debbie Downer about it! On the one hand, La’an is the reason Pike knows to hide rather than fight. But, on the other hand, the rest of La’an’s advice about the Gorn boils down to “it’s been nice knowin’ ya” and “kiss your asses goodbye”. After Pike tells Spock to think out of the box, he pulls La’an aside. Pike tells La’an that they need a miracle to get out of this alive and that miracles don’t happen when first officers tell everyone they’re boned and not to bother.

Spock realizes the Enterprise can use its external environmental detectors to detect movement within the cloud of the brown dwarf. In other words: Spock jerry-rigs a radar. La’an steadies the crew emotionally as Spock snakes the Enterprise above the Gorn scout ship and drops their one photon torpedo like a depth charge right on top of that sucker. The Gorn ship explodes. Day saved? Not quite.

It turns out that there’s more Gorn ships, including a massive mothership, waiting for the Enterprise to give its position away – which it now has. Uh oh.

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Spock and La’an Get Meldy

Pike is a smart but daring captain in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. He risks the whole ship on the hunch that, if he takes it closer to the black hole, at least one Gorn ship will follow. And he also gambles that the Gorn ships hull integrity will not hold as long as Enterprise‘s will. He is right, however, the lower decks of the ship get crunched by the gravitational eddies and a crew member dies.

Now there are only two ships remaining – that’s the good news. The bad news is that the brown dwarf is breaking up and the Enterprise can’t stay hidden much longer. Spock and La’an hop in a shuttlecraft and sneak above the dwarf to get their peepers on the last two Gorn vessels. They see the ships trading flashes of light which almost triggers a memory in La’an. La’an asks Spock to mind meld with her in order to push passed the trauma and remember what the flashing lights mean.

We get a flashback of La’an’s time on a Gorn breeding planet. You know… where her friends and family were used as breeding sacks and devoured. Good times! Anyhow, it turns out that La’an’s brother kept a journal of flashing lights over the Gorn planet which he somehow translated. Basically, the flashing lights are a kind of Gorn Morse code. During the meld, La’an hears Spock’s mind too and realizes that Spock also lost a sibling.

Armed with all this new information, La’an takes action. Pretending to be the last Gorn scout ship, she sends a signal to the mothership saying they’ve been boarded and overrun by humans. The mothership isn’t interested in a ship full of losers so they blow it up! Now there’s only one ship left to go.

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The Pike Maneuver

There are two other plots happening in “Memento Mori” – Una bleeding out in sickbay and one involving Hemmer and Uhura. Basically, Hemmer and Uhura are trapped in the cargo bay with a device headed to critical meltdown. Hemmer’s hand is broken so Uhura has to try fix the problem herself. She gets close! But Uhura is not an engineer and the device is effectively ready to blow.

So here’s what Pike does – he decides to blow the device out of the airlock. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is wild! The plan is to make it seem like the device exploding is actually the Enterprise in order to fool the Gorn. And then Pike tells Ortegas to use the gravitational pull of a black hole to slingshot the ship the heck out of there. Absolutely bananas! But it works. The Gorn ship leaves and the Enterprise escapes. Uhura and Hemmer almost die, but what’s life without a little insane risk, right?

The episode ends with La’an and Pike discusses the Gorn. This is the furthest the Gorn have ever come into Federation space. What does this mean? More attacks from the Gorn are inevitable. Pike assures La’an that they will not be taken by surprise ever again. I got my doubts, Chris!

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To Boldly Review

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds just made the Gorn scary and they didn’t even show them! I feel like such a broken record but “Memento Mori” is another absolute banger from the best Star Trek series in decades. Please understand: the Gorn are goofy. Their first appearance in the TOS episode “Arena” is great, but the Gorn captain in it is unintentionally hilarious. He wears the silliest tunic, he fights in slow-motion and his eyes are so fake that they had to add CGI blinking to them in the TOS HD remaster.

Since their first appearance, the Gorn have never been scary. They show up once in The Animated Series as background characters. And, as good as the mirror universe Enterprise two-part episode “In a Mirror Darkly” is, the CGI Gorn in that episode is extremely terrible. The second I knew the Gorn were showing up on Strange New Worlds, my loins, Captain, were heavily girded.

But they stick the landing precisely because they do not show them. No CGI required beyond the pew pew space fighting. And let’s be real: CGI spaceships are much easier to make believable than a full-bodied reptilian dude. Plus, by not technically showing the Gorn, Strange New Worlds doesn’t mess with the continuity.

Quick tangent, but if there’s one thing more annoying than bad CGI, it’s Star Trek dorks waggling their fingers over continuity. In “Arena” we’re told that Kirk is the first to interact with a Gorn face-to-face. La’an updates that by saying that people who meet the Gorn don’t usually live to tell the tale. It’s a minor alteration to the continuity, but one that makes sense. Granted, we are going to see those Gorn eventually, but at least the inevitable fan rage is kicked down the road.

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Is Pike the Best Captain?

“Memento Mori” is only the fourth episode of Strange New Worlds, but Anson Mount as Christopher Pike is already slotting in as one of the all-time best captains in all of Star Trek. Leaving aside how he outwits the Gorn, let’s focus on how well he works with La’an. As a first officer, La’an is as much a liability in this episode as she is an effective number one. Her trauma over the Gorn makes her scared and her fear and hopelessness are contagious.

The way Pike respectfully nudges La’an in the right direction represents everything a leader should be. Pike believes in La’an, but he needs her to believe in herself and trust her fellow crew members. More than that, La’an needs to keep the crew in line, too. There’s a scene in “Memento Mori” where Ortegas starts to freak out and there’s a real risk that she will go against Pike’s orders to hold steady and not engage the Gorn directly. If Pike reiterates his orders, he loses strength. So what he does is he nudges La’an to keep a tight hold on Ortegas and make sure she follows orders. Pike understands that every link in the chain of command has to be strong.

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I had a friend say that the problem with Strange New Worlds is that, as a prequel, we know that most of these characters will not die. But here’s the thing: Pike doesn’t know that. Pike only knows when he will effectively die, but everyone else’s fate is unknown. So when he is crushed over the death of his crew people, we feel it. We know Uhura is not dying this episode, but dang if you don’t feel it when Pike lets out that breath of relief when she and Hemmer survive.

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About That Mind Meld

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds covers a lot of genre ground in just a few short episodes. Part of what makes “Memento Mori” great is that it is the most action driven and the most scary the show has been so far. The horror part, especially, is a very welcome addition. There’s this great mounting dread that builds throughout the episode and it’s driven specifically by La’an’s point of view.

Early on, we start seeing glimpses of this guy smiling at La’an, but we have no idea who he is. He’s just… there. Smiling in the chaos. And it is deeply unnerving. The payoff inside the mind meld that this is La’an’s brother is both satisfying and horrifying. Yes, we get the answer for how Enterprise can fight the Gorn, but we also find out that La’an’s has a brother who seems to have sacrificed himself so she could live.

But here’s the great catch: we never see La’an’s brother die. On the contrary, Spock specifically says that memory is blocked off. What does that mean? Does it mean La’an’s brother isn’t dead? Did La’an betray her own brother in order to live? There’s a giant unresolved conflict here that keeps even this moment of triumph dark and scary. I have no idea if they will explain what actually happened on that Gorn breeding planet, but I know we haven’t seen the whole story. And I love that!

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Those Other Plot Lines

If there is a weakness to “Memento Mori” it is the two other storylines, but that’s splitting hairs. Uhura and Hemmer fidget with an obvious plot macguffin. But, on the other hand, do we get character growth out of their scenes? Yeah, we do! We have not talked about Hemmer being an Aenar since “Children of the Comet” and this is a cool way to go into further detail. Because, yes, the Aenar are pacifists, but that doesn’t mean they don’t actively find ways to keep peace and spread ideals.

Uhura could very quickly become one of those characters who is annoying because she’s so good at everything. Instead, “Memento Mori” has the guts to let her try and fail at something. Don’t get me wrong, Uhura makes a valiant effort at fixing the plot macguffin, but it makes sense that she would fail because she is not an engineer! It’s also nice to be reminded that she still doesn’t know what she wants to do in Starfleet yet. She is still growing and she is going to mess up sometimes!

The Una plot is even more thin, but it serves its purpose. Like Pike, Una puts the crew’s needs before her own. And just like with Pike, we see that the crew is willing to risk themselves for her as well. M’Benga gives his own blood to keep Una alive and that is a beautiful continuation of their growing trust from last episode, “Ghosts of Illyria”.

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Stray Observation Deck

The Enterprise‘s daring escape is dubbed the “Pike Maneuver” which is a lovely shoutout to the Picard Maneuver first established in the Star Trek: The Next Generation season one episode, “The Battle”.

La’an knows that Michael Burnham exists. This is the second mention of Michael, but still no mention of Spock’s other secret sibling Sybok!

The Gorn ship uses holograms to shield their ships from view. It’s interesting to see a type of cloak technology that isn’t the ones the Klingons and Romulans use.

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The Enterprise hides in the cloud left from a brown dwarf. This is a reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and when Kirk’s Enterprise hides from Khan in the Mutara Nebula.

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Questions, Queries, Quibbles

The biggest question is whether or not the Gorn will be the big bads of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. They could be, but to do so would break with continuity. Then again, the very existence of La’an Noonien-Singh on the Enterprise is a bit of a continuity breaker. Eh. What Kirk doesn’t know can’t hurt him! The much larger question is one of La’an’s brother and how his story really ends. Does it end? It seems strange that he knows the Gorn code, right? Maybe he’s working with them!

“Memento Mori” is tense and scary, so next week we’re going as far in the opposite direction as possible. Get ready for the Vulcan equivalent of hijinks! Let us know what you think of this episode and what you predict for the remainder of the season.

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

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Lina Morgan
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