James Osborne reviews the ninth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds…
Star Trek has always dabbled in horror, and that’s no surprise. The emptiness of vast space is the perfect setting for nightmarish adventures. The Borg, for a long time, were genuinely terrifying, and episodes like “Schisms” highlighted just how dark the series could go. This week, with “All Those Who Wander” Star Trek: Strange New Worlds looked to the horror genre for inspiration once again. It’s a shame that it didn’t work.
“All Those Who Wander” sees the return of the Gorn as antagonists, leading on from “Memento Mori”. The USS Enterprise sends an away team down to an icy planet to solve the mystery of a missing ship. On the planet the away team discover a crashed Starfleet ship, finding almost no survivors, and a lot of blood. It is quickly revealed that the ship’s crew were attacked by the Gorn, who are now suspiciously absent from the crash site. However, unbeknownst to Captain Pike’s away team, one of the remaining survivors (an alien creature with a lovely practical design) has been infected with Gorn eggs.
The unlucky alien unceremoniously bursts open as four tiny baby Gorn, which are actually quite cute, writhe out of his body and scramble into the darkness of the ship’s wreckage. But they won’t be hiding for long, and with their rapid growth they pose and imminent and increasing threat to the away team, who can’t be rescued by the Enterprise any point soon. From then onwards, it’s a cat and mouse game between the Gorn and the away team, which dwindles in number as the losses mount up. Eventually, after lots of screaming and frenetic action, the away team dispatch the Gorn by playing them at their own game. The away team are rescued, but not before Chief Engineer Hemmer is forced to sacrifice himself after being implanted with Gorn eggs.
“All Those Who Wander” is intended as Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ first true horror story, ostensibly a homage to Alien. However, it never really managed to be scary. The Gorn themselves were small and unthreatening, and there were no true moments of tension. The darkness aboard the crashed ship was never properly utilised, and there were only momentary glimpses where the away team were shown to be genuinely desperately afraid. That’s an issue, because without the fear factor, “All Those Who Wander” doesn’t have much going for it. Partly, this is because the episode depicts the Gorn as completely mindless. “Memento Mori” established the species as ship-building, space-faring, tactically astute antagonists. Here, they’re just depicted as little more than starving hyenas. It’s an inconsistency that’s puzzling and jarring.
And then there’s the death of Hemmer. Kill your darlings is a well-worn cliché, but it’s persistence as good writing advice is a sign of its essential truth. Killing off characters – especially those who the audience love – is a great way of developing stakes, and in a series where the outcomes of most characters are known, those stakes, so far, have been lacking. Being a crew member of a Starfleet ship is evidently a dangerous job, and one in which there’s a million ways to die. Star Trek should kill characters more often, and the only downside to the death of Tasha Yar was that no subsequent series was brave enough to repeat anything like it until Star Trek: Deep Space 9 killed Jadzia Dax. And yet, the death of Hemmer was deeply strange.
If the character is going to be killed off, then the audience need to spend much more time with him in the build-up, because Hemmer had always been at the periphery. But Star Trek: Strange New Worlds didn’t do that, and rather than being deeply moving (as it could have been, with better build up) the death of Hemmer was frustrating and bemusing in equal parts. Bruce Horak’s portrayal of the character had been one of the series’ highs, and it’d been great to have some representation for disabled actors. The character had a deep personality, and an interesting one at that: he had a pacifist philosophy, precognitive powers, and the capability for displaying standoffishness and warmth almost simultaneously. Instead of feeling like a great moment of stakes-raising surprise, his death just feels short-sighted, and like a waste of potential.
The worst possible outcome from this is that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds uses the death of their Chief Engineer to introduce the world to a younger Scotty. While Ethan Peck delivers great performances, his Spock, and the other characters from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds with previous Star Trek history, are the less interesting ones on the show. The show has already emphasised that it isn’t above self-indulgent callbacks and cameos, and bringing in Scotty instead of someone new would be a wasted opportunity to create a new character, though no surprise.
The great virtue of episodic storytelling is that an episode like this can be moved on from very quickly. Hopefully, the finale can end Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ first season with more aplomb.