All good things must end, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1 is no exception to that maxim. “A Quality of Mercy” is a strong finish to the season, and successfully sets up the next one. It’s expert storytelling with skillfully layered character development. Heart and emotional nuance are balanced against galactic stakes.
[Warning: Heavy spoilers for Strange New Worlds below.]
First thoughts on Strange New Worlds S1 Finale
The season one finale episode is enthralling from start to finish, and the pacing is perfect. The cast has an easy chemistry with each other that translates to phenomenal performance on screen.
The finale delivers on the teaser’s promise of an even more terrible future while at its conclusion, retaining the optimism that has made Strange New Worlds such a standout show. It deals with the pointy-eared elephant in the room and gives us way more than our first look at an iconic Star Trek character.
The basic idea of this episode revolves around the vision of the terrible future that Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) saw in Star Trek: Discovery and in his flashbacks during the pilot episode of Strange New Worlds. The vision being that he would be horribly burned and maimed while trying to save several cadets on a training vessel.
This terrible vision of his future has weighed on and haunted him. It has also seemed inevitable – until this episode, where Pike encounters a younger version of one of the cadets from the accident. Pike gets the idea to send all of the cadets letters, warning them about the future.
The cadets heed his warning, and thus Pike prevents himself from getting injured. This is where the visit from his future self comes in. Future Pike, clad in a very TOS-era uniform, comes to see past Pike and brings the time crystal from the Klingon monks on Borath. Future Pike says past-Pike needs to “live the terrible future” to understand why he can’t escape his fate.
The future Pike causes by avoiding his accident is indeed bad. It ends with a war with the Romulans and with Spock horribly injured. In the end, because of the terrible future he’s lived through, Pike chooses to accept his fate. In a way, he’s freed by that – and there’s accompanying happy music to signify that. Freeing Pike from his own torment about his future allows a lot of freedom for where the story can go in season two.
“A Quality of Mercy” is the “Balance of Terror” redux
One of the biggest strengths of this episode and Strange New Worlds as a whole is that you don’t have to have seen all 800-plus episodes of Star Trek for things to make sense. The character development, world-building, and overall storytelling all stand independently. You can enjoy the show because it works as a standalone.
If you aren’t deep in the weeds with the Star Trek lore, however, every once in a while, your Spidey-sense might tingle that an episode is special. “A Quality of Mercy” is one of those episodes. It stands alone but is full of goodness for longtime fans.
If you’ve watched the original Star Trek series, you probably remember “Balance of Terror.” The episode not only gives us our first-ever look at the mysterious Romulans but also cements Kirk as a tactician. “A Quality of Mercy” is what would have happened if Pike had never been injured and Kirk never took command of the Enterprise.
Instead of Kirk investigating the outposts being destroyed in the neutral zone, as in “Balance of Terror,” it is Pike because he was never injured in the radiation accident trying to save the cadets. There are a ton of callbacks through the episode that should satisfy Trek fans.
The introduction of James T. Kirk
Throughout the first season of Strange New Worlds, we’ve spent some time with Sam Kirk. (I wrote about the character in my initial series review.) This is the first time we meet his brother, the legendary James T. Kirk, in this series played by Paul Wesley.
He’s charming and embodies the same brash spirit that William Shatner brought to the role. It will be exciting to see how they use the character as the show continues.
Glimpses of the future thanks to the Klingons
While Pike is experiencing the catastrophic future courtesy of the Klingon time crystal and his older alternate time self, there are nuggets about things that have happened along the way.
In “All Those Who Wander,” Enterprise engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak) sacrificed himself to save the away mission and the rest of the crew from becoming food for murderous Gorn babies. Hemmer is absent from the future Enterprise in the finale, but we did get a voice for his replacement, and it sounded decidedly Scottish.
While working on weapons repairs, Spock banters with the voice over the communications system. It’s not totally clear canonically when Montgomery Scott comes aboard the Enterprise. That gives the show’s writers some wiggle room if they want to include him in season 2.
We also discover that La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) was assigned to the Farragut at some point and seems to have deepened her friendship with Pike along the way. Indeed, that may be different now in the current Pike timeline, given that Kirk never commands the Farragut as he does in this episode. Kirk, according to cannon, served aboard the Farragut on a deep space assignment as Lieutenant.
The biggest surprise is the fate of Una Chin-Riley, played by Rebecca Romijn. She’s no longer Number One, as Ethan Peck’s Spock now holds that role. Indeed, she’s not even on the Enterprise and has been locked away and out of contact with her crewmates due to her lies about her altered genetic code.
The Warp Path to Strange New Worlds season 2
With Pike’s terrible future arc completed at the end of the episode, where else can the character go for growth? It’s an exciting question and Pike’s arc for the next season seems to revolve heavily around Number One.
During the Klingon crystal vision, we find out that Una Chin-Riley is incarcerated because of events of SNW’s “Ghosts of Illyria.” Starfleet knows she’s been hiding the fact that she’s Illyrian and, therefore, genetically advanced. Pike finds out, of course, about her Illyrian secret in that same episode, but his loyalty to her and his friendship with her override any concern about regulations.
“A Quality of Mercy” mentions that she’s been imprisoned for seven years – basically the entire length of the time jump. In the vision, this fact is one of the most startling reveals to Pike, but he can’t dwell on it for too long because there’s another pressing crisis. But as the episode closes, Number One is arrested by Captain Batel, played by Melanie Scrofano.
Pike, armed with the knowledge of the future again, is unhappy about this and tries to stop one of Batel’s security personnel. Una waives him off and declares that she knew the risk, but he isn’t deterred and vows to fix it.
Of course, this raises all sorts of interesting questions. Future Pike came back to warn himself against messing with time. If Pike successfully frees Number One in season 2, what does that mean for the timeline and the future? And will Pike get a visit from one of the temporal agents that appeared in Enterprise or Voyager?
Based on the events of the episode, we can also infer that the Romulans are (probably) off the Alpha Quadrant playing field for some time. It doesn’t mean we won’t see the occasional warbird with a neutral zone incursion, but it does seem like we’ll have to wait a bit for more significant Romulan-named character development. After all, it took seven years for Pike’s Enterprise and forever for the Federation to even see what a Romulan looks like.
Notably, future Pike explicitly says that Spock is the best chance of peace with the Romulans. The fact that Pike knows this is very interesting because Spock’s efforts don’t come to fruition until the 24th century with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s episodes “Unification I” and “Unification II.”
Spock himself appeared shocked at the revelation of Romulans’ appearance. It would make sense for some personal and professional maneuvering, whether with Starfleet or the Vulcans, to deal with that in season two.
Strange New Worlds will return for a second season. There’s no exact date for the return yet, but it’s been widely speculated that we’ll meet Pike and crew again in 2023.