Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 3 Review: Ghosts of Illyria
Who doesn’t love a good spooky story filled with ghosts, secrets, storms, and mystery? Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 3 delivers it all with a proper sci-fi twist and a compelling two-pronged narrative.
With the Illyrian library on the ion-storm-swept Hetemit-9 as the figurative cabin in the woods, Pike and Spock are stranded in a situation filled with ominous danger and a mystery to solve.
Meanwhile, as the only healthy crew member on the ship, Una plays detective to solve the contagion enigma that is laying waste to the crew and putting them in peril as sensibilities become compromised.
Underscoring the novel yet familiar adventures is the message of how systems of inequity foster a culture of secrets and tragedy.
Whether it is the lost colony of Illyrians who died/transformed due to their attempt to un-modify themselves enough to gain Federation membership, Una’s big lie to join Starfleet, or M’Benga secretly hiding his daughter in the transporter buffer, we see what dire consequences are possible when people do not feel supported or safe to be themselves.
M’Benga: You put a lot of faith in Starfleet. That must be hard.
Una: Starfleet is right about a lot of things but not all of them. Not about us. If my blood…
M’Benga: I understand. Prejudices kept people from helping each other for centuries with no scientific justification. After we met our neighbors in the galaxy, we found new bigotries.
There are several clever twists on horror story tropes included in this narrative, but my favorite has to be the flip on the role of light and dark.
Because the contagion spreads via the light, the safest place is in the DARK. How topsy-turvy is that?
And yet, it takes the near catastrophe to bring to light the powerful secrets M’Benga and Una have been hiding.
It is worth taking a moment to look at said secrets side-by-side. M’Benga’s nearly destroys the ship, while Una’s provides the means to a cure. Both expect to be disciplined to the fullest extent of Starfleet regulations, and both are shown an incredible level of discretionary mercy.
This exemplifies the era of Strange New Worlds. This is not the protocol-laden order of Star Trek: The Next Generation, nor is it the Wild West of Star Trek: Enterprise.
We are in a stage of Starfleet’s development where captains like Pike have the confidence to make decisions that fly in the face of General Orders and the like.
The lights are back on, but that doesn’t mean we see clearly. People are always hiding things.
Pike welcomes the trouble keeping Una’s secret may bring because he believes in her and everything she brings to Starfleet.
As a captain, his crew knows he has their back and will go to the mat for them. That goes a long way to ensure the crew’s loyalty. Support like that has to go both ways.
Furthermore, by the time she tries to resign, Pike has learned more about the Illyrians through his time on the planet and recognizes the error in judging their culture of genetic modification harshly because of Earth’s experience with the Eugenics Wars.
Pike: It’s funny how genetic modification still puts everyone on edge. Even you, it would seem.
Una: I just don’t like loose ends.
He may even see previous conversations with Una on the topic in a different light.
Interestingly, he doesn’t see Una’s secret as a betrayal of their relationship like La’an does. My sense is that he has worked alongside her for so long that he knows her even if he doesn’t know all her secrets.
Una: All I’ve ever wanted since I first saw the stars is to join Starfleet.
La’an: I know. You’re the one that gave me that dream. And the fact that strawberries are my comfort food.
As Rebecca Romijn commented on the Strange New Worlds press day, “no one loves Starfleet more than Una.” Pike recognizes that, and, eventually, so does La’an.
Of course, learning about Una’s Illyrian background and genetic modifications will significantly affect her relationship with La’an.
For a trauma survivor with as many issues as La’an carries with her — including her very name — trusting people will always be a struggle.
The sense of betrayal she feels at learning Una’s secret isn’t going to go away quickly or completely.
You’re an abomination. An Augment. That’s what the other kids called me when they heard my name. Augment! Monster! Like you are.
That being said, one of the benefits of an episodic format is we don’t necessarily have to bear witness to every step along their path of reconciliation.
My question here is how far the knowledge of Una’s Illyrian-ness goes. So far, Pike, M’Benga, Chapel, La’an, and (presumably) Spock know.
How they explain the discovery of a cure to the rest of the crew will probably remain classified.
That’s probably also true of any questions about why there’s now a dedicated power source for the Emergency Medical Transporter.
Another query: Did M’Benga hide that he’s keeping his daughter in the transporter buffer because of ethical considerations? Is there an actual rule against this form of stasis?
This is a thorough account of the colonists’ initiative to renounce their genetic engineering in order to join the Federation. It would seem, even in death, they wanted us to be aware of who they really were.
Speaking of stasis, the actual cause of the disappearance of the Hetemit-9 Illyrian colony has a level of mysticism to it. What created the light-seeking disease? Did the Illyrians develop it in a lab? Was it in the bottles Ensign Lance was looking at?
Are they ghosts? Or are ghosts, as we know them, just plasma forms of deceased beings?
In comparison to the shipboard plot, which is rife with tension and potential fatalities, I find Pike and Spock’s experience on the planet a rollicking good tale that hits all the excitement buttons without tapping into any actual dread.
It’s an eerie ride one can enjoy comfortably as a respite from the life and death balance being fought for on the ship.
Much of the contrast and depth of feeling directly result from the musical scoring. Composer Nami Melumad has been hitting it out of the local star system with her work in recent years: first, on Star Trek: Prodigy and now with Strange New Worlds.
On the ship, the atmosphere set by the music is one of urgency and unease. The scenes with Hemmer trying to transport a part of the planet’s mantle and La’an attempting to release the “light” of the warp core are the height of peril as a success for either spells doom for the ship.
It’s essentially a zombie thriller in space, only instead of brains, they’re after light.
On the planet, Pike and Spock hunker down with some apprehension. The partial information Una conveys doesn’t do much for Pike’s calm.
Spock: I believe there is a human phrase, ‘A watched kettle never boils.’
Pike: It’s a pot. And, in this case, I’m pretty sure we’re going to get hit with the scalding water.
Spock: You are deliberately mixing my metaphor in order to indulge your anxiety.
Spock, at least, has a good read at hand. When stuck in a storm with communications down, a good book is exactly what you need.
Pike: Does that thing have a setting for stun?
Spock: I am arming us with knowledge.
Melumad’s score for the scenes in the library as the ion storm increases in intensity and the plasma entities are spotted builds to a blast of trumpets reminiscent of the best haunted mysteries of classic television.
Seriously, I’ve heard that fanfare in my most melodramatic dreams. It is a pitch-perfect moment.
And as the storm blows over, the musical backdrop resumes a calmness reflected in Spock and Pike as they prepare to return to the ship.
It’s fascinating how well the personal revelations are woven into the narrative. The former without the latter lacks context. The latter without the former lacks depth.
Time for you to chime in, Fanatics!
What do you think the fallout of Una’s truth will be? Will M’Benga find the cure for his daughter’s disease?
Will Hetemit-9 become a taboo planet like Talos IV? Or will Federation scientists return to study the plasma beings? Starfleet Ghost Hunters?
Hit our comments with your thoughts and theories!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.