Another Gorn attack comes with both claustrophobic horror and a stirring sacrifice.
People arrive on the Enterprise with baggage. What they find is solace. Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) comes with a certain grief and purposelessness in the wake of her parents’ deaths. La’an (Christina Chong) comes with her own lost loved ones and unspoken trauma due to a Gorn attack. Spock (Ethan Peck) comes with a well of anger and unbridled emotion from the human side of him he struggles to reconcile. Ultimately, each finds confidantes who see them, understand them, and help them to fix what’s broken. It’s a simple idea, but a powerful one.
This week, it also comes with a slice of Alien. Starfleet command tasks Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and his team with rescuing a Starfleet vessel that went missing on a visit to a class L (read: hostile) planet and any survivors. Extenuating circumstances leave an away team filled with senior officers to handle the issue while Number One (Rebecca Romijn) flies off in the Enterprise to tackle other problems. But when the away team arrives at the derelict ship, trapped in a frozen tundra and out of communications range, they find they’re not alone. A bevy of Gorn hatchlings decimated the vessel’s crew, and more emerge to stalk through the vents and feast on our heroes.
So much of Strange New Worlds’ first season has combed the depths of classic Star Trek to rediscover gems from the franchise’s past. It’s nice to see the series pulling from other venerable parts of the sci-fi pantheon. Alien has provided inspiration to scads of later works, and it’s easy to see why. The combination of an alien aggressor and an inherent inability to escape is brilliant fodder for tension and a chilling atmosphere.
“All Those Who Wander” mixes things up a bit, though. The broken-down vessel here is stranded on an inhospitable planet, not adrift in space. Most notably, those investigating are a team of trained professionals working together, rather than a motley collection of crossways space truckers. Still, a baby alien bursts out of a poor sap’s torso. The monsters prowl through the vents and drag unsuspecting victims away. And the good guys must sneak through the darkened corridors trying to avoid or otherwise neutralize their voracious attackers. Ridley Scott would be proud.
After all, the series’ ninth episode is genuinely frightening. A little more blood and guts than Star Trek normally offers, some POV shots of the Gorn babies scoping their victims, and portentous signs of what happened to the last crew all create an air of eeriness long before the attacks begin in earnest. The reactions of the players also sell the gravity of the threat. For instance, La’an’s determination, Sam Kirk’s (Dan Jeannotte) panic, and Nurse Chapel’s (Jess Bush) shock after seeing what the pint-sized killers did to her patient, communicate the horror in the offing. And strong choices in pacing, lighting, and direction make this a moodier, more intense outing than usual.
Credit goes to the design and effects teams, as well. Buckley’s extraterrestrial form is one of the most remarkable creatures ever to grace a Federation vessel. He is humanoid and tactile, but more alien in his physiology and bearing than the usual prosthetic forehead visitors who are the franchise norm. The sight of Gorn hatchlings bursting from Buckley’s body is a horrifying but visceral visual, melding practical and computer-generated effects in a harmonious and effective way.
The combination of an alien aggressor and an inherent inability to escape is brilliant fodder for building tension and a chilling atmosphere.
Likewise, the young Gorn themselves are well-integrated into the real space occupied by flesh and blood characters. They’re a far cry from the rubber-suited lizard being who fought Kirk, or even the CGI reimagining on Star Trek: Enterprise. The creatures move with weight inspire terror with their jagged and fearsome look and thrive on the Jaws effect of mainly lurking just off-screen.
The pacing helps the proceedings as well. The episode progresses from ominous hints that something terrible happened here, to Buckley’s gruesome demise which confirms the problems haven’t ended, to increasingly bloody attacks from the critters, to one final, gutsy scheme to trap and destroy the remaining Gorn. The enclosed setting and lack of the usual technological solutions add to the desperate nature of the predicament, and the plan to lure the cunning Gorn to the designated spot with a mix of heat and aggression is well established. So there’s catharsis when Uhura, Spock, La’an, and Hemmer (Bruce Horak) work their magic to bait, freeze, and smash their deadly pursuer.
Yet, the biggest moment in the episode has little to do with defeating the alien pursuers. In a late-breaking twist, Hemmer reveals that an earlier venom spray from one of the hatchlings infected him with more budding Gorn. In fact, he knew the whole time. Having put his life on the line to save his crewmates, Hemmer is willing to take one more incredible step to protect them. He says his goodbyes, imparting some of that trademark death’s door wisdom. The Andorian steps out of the cargo bay, takes in the chilly air that reminds him of home, and leaps to his doom, lest his unwelcome passengers start this grim dance all over again.
It’s a moving, surprising scene. There’s reason to have qualms with the show killing off its lone disabled performer. Along with La’an, the episode also writes off two of the series’ scant few wholly original characters. But his death has weight and meaning, and its poignance and beauty helps make up for broader concerns.
To wit, Hemmer’s dying message elucidates the abiding theme of the episode, the series, and maybe even Star Trek as a whole: there is great purpose, solace, and support within the found families who bolt into the final frontier. Find them. Join them. Connect with them. And maybe, you too can enjoy the same satisfaction in your final moments.
It comes through for La’an, who puts on a tough front but is plainly still affected by her family’s devastating encounter with the Gorn. In her furious, primal roars at the hatchlings and her frenzied destruction of the alpha’s frozen corpse, the wound still festers. Yet, it takes helping someone else — a little girl who’s the lone survivor of the original massacre aboard the derelict vessel — to push her a little further along on her own healing journey.
There is great purpose, solace, and support within the found families who bolt into the final frontier.
Comforting someone who’s lost as she’s lost, marking the difference between surviving and really living, allows La’an to genuinely connect with another soul. Pain remains, but that connection stirs her, enough to look beyond duty and even the Enterprise for fulfillment and peace.
Spock needs the same, as he’s upbraided by Sam Kirk for not showing enough emotion in response to the Gorn’s grisly deeds. It’s a touch contrived, but challenging the reptilian menace ultimately requires Spock to tap into the anger he keeps bottled up beneath Vulcan logic and stoicism. He succeeds, challenging the prime hatchlings in a way that leads them into the trap, belying Sam’s concerns in atavistic tones.
But once he uncorks that anger, he can’t just stuff it back into the bottle. His fury in the wake of Hemmer’s death, and an ensuing lack of control, leave him reeling. But as with La’an, it takes another caring soul to break him out of it. There’s a chaste but charged intimacy between him and Christine Chapel. Her going after Spock amid his fit of pique, holding his face, and validating the humanity he struggles so much with, is a supreme kindness. It soothes him, if only for a moment. Her compassion affirms Hemmer’s dying lesson and the solace and support that comes from opening yourself up to others.
The most important recipient of that lesson, though, is Uhura. Her tour of duty as a cadet is up, and she’s ready to move on. Pike asks her to stay. Hemmer diagnoses that her hesitance isn’t about not having a direction, but rather a reluctance to join in and put down roots after watching them ripped up so brutally. For now, though, she’s intent to leave.
It’s the sort of false decision that should have no meaning in a prequel. The audience knows that Uhura becomes a storied bridge officer of the Enterprise. There should be no stakes here given the fait accompli of Uhura’s known future.
Yet, the inevitable choice she makes to stay is a meaningful one, because it comes from taking Hemmer’s lesson to heart. She speaks at his funeral and her words have a double meaning. Nyota eulogizes the chief engineer as someone who fixes what was broken — a tribute not only to his facility with warp coils and deflectors but to his capacity to help her see how to move past her own conflicts.
The answer isn’t surprising. It lies in a freighted gaze at the famous bridge station she’ll one day occupy. But it comes in the shadow of lessons that began in 1966 and remain salient to this day. Traversing the stars and saving the day on the Enterprise is certainly exciting. But it’s also stirring, fulfilling, and even healing, thanks to the folks you steer her with.