The fourth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, “Memento Mori,” delivers nail-biting action, life-and-death situations, and a glimpse into La’an’s (Christina Chong) backstory. While she has divulged some information to Pike (Anson Mount) about her childhood trauma, “Memento Mori” forces her to reckon with it in dangerous new ways. The episode, directed by Dan Liu, starts out on Starfleet Remembrance Day, as the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise prepares to pay homage to their fallen comrades who paid the highest price to uphold the tenets of the Federation.
La’an relays to her Security Officer’s log that they are embarking on a mission to deliver an Atmospheric Processor upgrade to a colonist planet. When the landing crew arrives, they discover that not only has the communications satellite been destroyed, but the colonists have been massacred. Pike has the landing crew return to the Enterprise once they make contact with a small group of colonists that managed to escape the massacre on a transport vehicle. In order to bring the colonists aboard the Enterprise, the crew has to lower their shields—which causes them to play right into a trap that has been set.
A little girl from the colony starts talking about a monster that she saw and La’an realizes what is about to happen, because it’s what happened to her as a child. She tries to raise the alarm that they are about to be hunted down by the Gorn, but it’s too late to save the Enterprise from the attack. With the transport vessel attached to the ship, they can’t raise their shields and the Gorn fires upon the Enterprise causing swift and horrifying destruction. But the worst has yet to come.
Most of “Memento Mori” is a cat-and-mouse game between the crew of the Enterprise and the Gorn, which takes them into the heart of a brown dwarf star. The Gorn are not easily outsmarted and they’re more than willing to sacrifice their own crews in order to capture their prey. Some of the tactics that Pike is forced to employ are reminiscent of the oft-mentioned Kobayashi Maru, because they’re caught in a no-win scenario. To escape the Gorn, sacrifices have to be made. Pike is forced to make a lot of difficult decisions, which plays into the somber nature of Starfleet Remembrance Day.
While the central plot of the episode is dedicated to the conflict with the Gorn, there are several subplots that neatly fold into that storyline. Facing off against the Gorn again forces La’an to process old trauma and she finds unexpected camaraderie in Spock (Ethan Peck) who is still healing from the trauma of losing Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) in Star Trek: Discovery. La’an allows Spock to mind meld with her, in hopes that she can find something in her memory to help them escape the Gorn alive.
Continuing her training as a cadet, Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) starts out the episode working down in engineering with Hemmer (Bruce Horak), who seems less than thrilled about training a cadet. By the end of the episode, the situation with the Gorn forces Hemmer to rely on Uhura to survive. This exercise gives Uhura an opportunity to test, and further prove her mettle, as well as provide further insight into why Hemmer chose to join Starfleet.
Hemmer isn’t the only one forced to rely on someone to survive, as Una (Rebecca Romijn) receives a near-fatal injury at the start of the episode that requires M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) to test their skills with limited resources at their disposal. Una is willing to sacrifice herself to ensure that the other members of the crew are cared for first, but M’Benga ends up giving her a much-needed blood transfusion that saves her life.
The entirety of Strange New Worlds has featured exhilarating storytelling, but “Memento Mori” is easily the best of the first five this season. Not only does it skillfully tackle a no-win situation, but it reminds audiences of the gravity of life in space. Even the best intentions, and doing the right thing, can have devastating consequences because not everyone they encounter is going to be willing to compromise. Episode four also sets La’an up to have some of the best potential for character growth across the series. She suffered devastating losses at a young age, which have colored her views of the world, surely those experiences will be tested, changed, and molded moving forward. Even within this episode, she comes to terms with accepting grief as a part of life, and something worthy of offering remembrance to.
“Memento Mori” is a visually stunning episode, that perfectly bookends the inciting action at the start of the episode, delivering a really powerful storyline as things come full circle in the end.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is available to stream on Paramount+
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Maggie Lovitt is the Managing Editor of Entertainment at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery. She is also a freelance writer and News Editor at Collider. She has had bylines at Inverse, Polygon, and Dorkside of the Force. She is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association.
When she is not covering entertainment news, she can be found on one of her numerous podcasts or on her YouTube channel. In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.