James Osborne reviews the fourth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds…
After watching “Memento Mori”, the fourth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ debut season, one thing is immediately clear: Star Trek has never looked so good. From the offset, the visual effects on display in the episode are completely absorbing, and never more so than when “Memento Mori” comes to its stunning crescendo.
However – and maybe it’s due to the location-spanning remit of the episode – one other thing stands out about Strange New Worlds’ visual style. While the ship appears to be vast, with its impressively expansive engine room and cargo bays, this USS Enterprise feels strangely empty. The bridge is manned by, at times, no more than four people, and there is very little background coming and going, or ambient noise.
Perhaps, the potential to populate the ship with the kind of activity and life we see in other Star Trek series was restricted by the logistics of filming during a pandemic. Maybe it’s an intentional decision, to have a ship that feels more clean and controlled. Either way, background characters aren’t just fluff, they make a place feel lived in. And, as it stands, Captain Pike’s USS Enterprise does at times look and feel like a set.
Nevertheless, “Memento Mori” is supported by excellent production design and in this episode more than any previous one, the audience gets to take a look at Strange New Worlds’ depiction of a battered and bruised USS Enterprise.
Those bruises come thanks to a long awaited reintroduction, as “Memento Mori” brings back the Gorn. The Gorn were first introduced as adversaries in Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Arena”, which included the now iconic fight between Shatner’s Kirk and a hulking reptilian-looking rubbery alien. Sadly, that rubberiness is entirely absent from “Memento Mori”, because the faces of the Gorn are never revealed. Instead, they are seen only by their hurtling ships, which attack the USS Enterprise without any hesitation.
Here, the character of the species is reinvented relying on a well-worn Star Trek trope of ruthless, deadly hunters. Though they never have any direct contact with Captain Pike or the USS Enterprise, “Memento Mori” ’s Gorn are convincingly threatening. The episode makes it clear that they take no prisoners, and in some moments the USS Enterprise and its crew seems to be in a state of genuine peril.
“Memento Mori” eventually descends into a tense game of cat and mouse, with the Starfleet flagship hiding in the atmosphere of a nearby brown dwarf. The idea of a Starfleet ship seeking respite from a foe in some great gaseous entity is not new, but it’s pulled off here just as well as it ever has been. And, that isn’t all that “Memento Mori” is. The episode is just as much a homage to Star Trek staples like The Next Generation’s “Disaster”, as it is an homage to The Wrath of Khan, and it is carried along by consistently strong performances and a prominent score.
The return of the Gorn had been teased since the season’s first episode, and their eventual appearance concludes with a feeling of satisfaction, and eagerness for more. Whether or not they return in the future of the series (and cause more headache inducing debate about continuity) as “Memento Mori” fades to black, it stands as a modern classic, and one of the best new episodes of Star Trek in decades.