A perilous confrontation with the Gorn brings out the series’ action movie bona fides in a dramatic season finale.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
When a season finale rolls around, the current crop of Star Trek shows, like many before them, tend to go into action-movie mode. I get it. It’s your rollicking climax. People expect danger, dust-ups, and a heaping dose of explosions to cap things off. If you fail to provide that, you might very well face accusations of being disappointing or, worse yet, boring.
But those high-octane closers tend to be some of my least favorite outings from across the franchise because the things I love about Star Trek — the contemplativeness, the weighty themes, the smaller character beats — tend to take a backseat, if not fall away entirely.
“Hegemony,” the finale to Strange New Worlds’ outstanding second season, doesn’t completely fall into that trap. Some big ideas and intimate character moments are still at play amid the blockbuster battles and general chaos. But when the Gorn attack a Federation-adjacent colony, trapping some of those nearest and dearest to the Enterprise’s crew, the show opts to go fully into action movie mode, for better or worse.
Thankfully, SNW does action well! If the last big Gorn episode borrowed from 1979’s Alien, this one takes its cues from an array of other actioners: from Aliens to Jurassic Park to an array of zombie movies.
The terrifying extraterrestrial foes who stalk our marine-like heroes in close quarters scan as of a piece with James Cameron’s 1986 sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and company sneaking through a damage-ridden setting while evading reptilian pursuers plays like an homage to Steven Spielberg’s iconic dinosaur flick. (Dr. Phlox did once compare the Gorn to velociraptors, after all.) And the survivors hiding out in makeshift safe houses and coming up with schemes to evade the impending danger scans like dozens of episodes of The Walking Dead.
Apart from those influences, Spock (Ethan Peck) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) going toe-to-toe with a full-grown Gorn in zero gravity is the sterling showpiece sequence of the finale. In a wash of flashy firefights and splashy set pieces, the duo’s free-floating combat with their reptilian aggressor still stands out.
The first adult Gorn fans have seen in live-action since 2005 doesn’t disappoint. It offers a menace mixed with intelligence that befits Strange New Worlds’ most fearsome antagonists. The editing and direction underscore the challenges that open space and a lack of gravity create for Christine and Spock when facing down this aggressor, and that unique choice heightens the tension over whether these would-be lovers can improvise and work together to defeat their attacker in time.
The mortal peril of an alien invasion also provides plenty of opportunities for the good guys to deploy a little classic Star Trek problem-solving. Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) finds a clever way to sneak past Gorn sensors while masquerading as debris. (And she gets to show off her flying skills at the same time.) Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) and Pelia (Carol Kane) devise a sharp plan to use the busted saucer section of the USS Cayuga to destroy the Gorn tower that’s been jamming their systems. And Spock makes a daring spacewalk to the hull to put the necessary rockets in place to pull it off. Almost everyone in the cast has a worthy part to play, from the landing party fighting to rescue survivors on the ground to the crew on board devising grander solutions from above.
[T]his [episode] takes its cues from an array of other actioners: from Aliens to Jurassic Park to an array of zombie movies.
The former set includes (sigh) none other than Montgomery Scott himself. Martin Quinn does well enough in the role, channeling the right brogue and jury-rigging spirit that James Doohan made famous. But why do we need Scotty for this story? His vocal cameo from an alternate universe version of the character in last season’s finale was a cute little Easter egg. But with no fewer than six legacy characters in the main cast, a Khan descendent on board, regular appearances from Kirk, drop-ins from T’Pring and Amanda Grayson, a tease for Sybok, and the Gorn themselves as regular enemies, it’s just too much.
One of the best qualities of Strange New Worlds is how the series takes both big ideas and smaller elements from across franchise history and finds new ways to update or reimagine them for the here and now. That has allowed the series to chart its own path despite its place in the timeline. But the more it keeps invoking major characters and big parts of the 1960s show, the more it risks feeling like a mere prequel to The Original Series rather than its own worthwhile thing.
Despite the noise, the fireworks, and the cameos, “Hegemony” does have something on its mind. There’s a thematic undercurrent of the need to balance the high-minded against the personal and the choice to have hope or embrace harsh but practical realities. To wit, Pike has orders not to engage or otherwise incite the Gorn, but he just can’t sit idly by when his girlfriend, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano), may still be alive down there. Spock has retreated into his Vulcan detachment once again, but he nevertheless makes choices that suggest he remains deeply affected by a worry that Nurse Chapel may have been hurt or killed in the attack.
In the shadow of those anxieties, dilemmas like trying to reason with the ostensible monsters who put your loved ones in danger or defying orders and treating your foes like the brutes they seem to be are at the core of “Hegemony.” And questions of how one’s personal connections may clash with their professional duties in tough situations are just as much a focus of the hour.
[T]his is a solid, roundly thrilling conclusion that caps off one of the all-time great Star Trek seasons.
Better yet, despite featuring Pike and Spock worrying about their lady loves, this is not a damsel in distress story. Instead, both Captain Batel and Nurse Chapel have agency, acting out of equal and opposite concern for their beaus and making their own major choices in the face of danger.
The problem is that much of the tension of “Hegemony” is founded on false jeopardy. Maybe the creative team behind Strange New Worlds assumes that many, if not most, viewers don’t know the 1960s show particularly well beyond the usual pop culture osmosis. That’s probably the right call. But it’s hard for crusty old fans like me to worry too much about Chapel dying when we know she’s destined to make it to Kirk’s Enterprise. (Barring a questionable, Harry Kim-style alternate dimension switcheroo.)
Despite that fact, what matters here is Christine and Spock’s feelings for one another. The show smartly underplays the force of their connection, with the characteristically reserved Spock not exactly overflowing with emotion and Nurse Chapel herself either alone or under attack for much of the episode. But their actions to save one another, a simple gesture of linking of hands in a debris-ridden yet beautiful spacescape, and a brief but charged conversation in the transporter room show why their fear of losing each other here is more important to the story than any actual risk that either will perish.
The situation with Batel has a little more wiggle room since she’s one of the handful of Strange New Worlds characters whose future is unknown. But she also turns up alive halfway through the episode, minimizing any suspense from the Gorn threat. That’s not entirely bad, necessarily. In truth, I worried that “Hegemony” would fridge Batel and send Pike on a Gorn-ing rampage of revenge in response. So it’s nice to see her still kicking, holding the line as a fellow Starfleet officer and a peer, and standing firm on her own big decisions. Unfortunately, the quick reveal of her safety neuters some of the urgency and sense of danger at play.
Only it turns out she’s the latest character on SNW to become an involuntary host of Gorn hatchlings, throwing more mortal peril into the mix. Dun duuuuun! Sure, Pike, Batel, Spock, Chapel, and even Scotty make it back to the Enterprise in one piece. But we don’t know if they’ll be able to save Captain Batel before the worst happens. We don’t know the fate of the other officers and colonists on the planet who end up captured by the Gorn despite the Enterprise team’s rescue plan. And with trademark Trekkian dramatics, when Starfleet Command orders Pike to get the hell out of there before things get even nastier, we don’t know whether he’ll obey to avoid exacerbating an already fraught international incident or defy his superiors in the name of saving people he cares about.
Call it “The Best of Both (Strange New) Worlds” because we’re doing a season-ending cliffhanger, baby! The inspiration for “Hegemony” ’s final act is obvious. The Next Generation’s high water mark for seat-gripping excitement has an influence that’s still felt today, and there are worse blueprints to follow. Whatever my gripes, the prospect of waiting another year or so, not just a few months, to find out what happens next creates some major anticipation. You can’t knock the tantalizing quality of this closing tease.
And yet, it’s reasonable to expect that, like many captains before (and technically after) him, Pike will value his loyalty to his crew over his devotion to the chain of command. More than that, these events are splashy plot points and practical difficulties more than they’re any sort of personal challenge with thematic weight. Star Trek is a big tent. There’s undoubtedly room for lots of different moods and modes. But in Strange New Worlds’ swan song for season 2, the show delivers on excitement and danger, but not quite as much when it comes to connection and greater meaning, albeit with threads that admittedly can’t be fully evaluated until we see part two.
Nonetheless, this is a solid, roundly thrilling conclusion that caps off one of the all-time great Star Trek seasons. With high-concept swings, insightful farces, incisive courtroom dramas, stunning crossovers, and deep character explorations galore, Strange New Words deserves the leeway to go big before it goes home. The heart-pumping finale may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this remains a Star Trek series at the height of its powers, providing viewers with plenty of reason to look forward to season 3.