“Among the Lotus Eaters”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 4 – Debuted Thursday, July 6, 2023
Written by Kirsten Beyer & Davy Perez
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez
A solid episode revisits a familiar location along with some classic Trek concepts and themes, all of which provide the backdrop for more action and important character exploration.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“Enterprise needs to clean up its own mess”
During a joint star mapping mission with the USS Cayuga, Captain Pike tries to have a romantic meal with Captain Batel, but Starfleet duties keep interfering. After he gets a nice pendant gift, Chris learns JAGoff admiral Pasalk from Una’s trial has made sure Batel doesn’t get an expected promotion. Pike’s guilt over hurting her career has him pulling back a little, so she counters by leaving with “See you when I see you, captain.” Ouch. The timing actually works out because Enterprise has been tasked to return to Rigel VII, an unfortunate blast from five years in Pike’s past when his landing party lost 3 crew members to an attack from the unfriendly bronze-age locals. With Spock injured, they were in a hurry to leave, but they must have left something behind. Long-range photography spotted a palace topiary shaped into a Starfleet Delta. Oops. After Una briefs the away team including M’Benga, La’an, and Ortegas, she counsels a morose Pike to not feel guilty over the original mission to Rigel VII and squeezes in some sage relationship advice: “Everyone deserves joy in their life, even a captain.”
Erica Ortegas is so stoked to get off the ship and have a chance to go incognito as one of the local Kalar, she even ignores La’an dissing her furry hat. Unfortunately, Spock ruins the fun with news that a nearby “volatile” debris field requires her unique skills to keep the Enterprise from being pulverized. Boring! Pike takes over as shuttle pilot and sets the party down far from the settlement to avoid any more contamination. With only period-appropriate tech this time, Pike has chosen La’an and M’Benga for the mission as they don’t need phasers if it comes to a fight (but how about a knife?). The security officer is first to notice the ringing in the ears and gaps in time, but they press on to the palace, finding it adorned with a big ol’ Starfleet delta. Oh, and the Kalar guards have phaser rifles. Okay, maybe Pike should feel guilty for leaving stuff behind. Soon enough they are hauled inside to meet the leader… and it’s Pike’s old yeoman, alive! Dismissing talk of how he was reported KIA, this crown-wearing former Starfleet officer demands to be called “High Lord Zacarias.” The garden sculpture wasn’t a message; the locals worship him and his symbols. “There’s no going back for me… reason doesn’t exist here.” So yeah, he’s gone full Colonel Kurtz. And that ear-ringing thing? It’s the first symptom from local radiation and Zac is looking forward to seeing his old captain suffer through the rest. The Enterprise trio next finds themselves waking up outside the palace in a cage as they struggle to remember where they are, and even who they are.
“We don’t belong here”
That ringing thing is happening on the Enterprise too. Uhura is the first to report to sickbay alarming Chapel, who sees something is blocking all of the communications officer’s neural pathways. Soon enough, others on board start reporting memory loss. It doesn’t take long for Spock to start handing out PADDs with personnel files so critical people can remember who they are. Suspecting the exotic radiation coming from the planet is the source, the science officer informs Number One they have an hour before no one will be left to run the ship. Una orders him to get the ship away from the planet just as she succumbs to the forgetting herself. Alone on the bridge, Spock orders a confident Ortegas to take Enterprise into the debris field, which he assumes will act as a “natural shield.” What did he say about famous last words recently?
Pike’s disoriented trio gets some help from Luq, a local “field Kalar,” who can see they had a “rough forgetting” but nothing some nice hard labor won’t sort out at the stone quarry. Luq’s a nice guy, but Pike isn’t buying this “our work is a blessing” stuff. Holding on to the pendant that Batel gave him, Chris senses he and his companions aren’t the manual labor types and perhaps they belong in the palace, said to be protected from the nightly mind wiping. Soon enough the captain overpowers the guards, but La’an gets wounded in the fight, and M’Benga knows he should be able to fix her but can’t remember exactly how. Luq takes them to his hut and reveals his “totem,” which, along with some Memento-style life story body art, helps center him and gives the group some insight into the local mythology. His biggest note: While you forget the details of your life every day, emotion carries through, so Luq is moved by Pike’s need to return to whoever gave him that pendent, as well as his conviction to save La’an. He agrees to help them get M’Benga’s memories back. As they near the palace, the field Kalar elects to stay behind with La’an, afraid to remember his own personal pain. After another loss of time, the captain and doctor find themselves fighting gate guards, where M’Benga gets grazed by a phaser. The doctor will hold off the gate guards as Pike goes in alone to get those memories, which apparently are kept in a box or something.
“I’m the pilot, just trust me”
Things are not very focused on the ship as Spock and Ortegas find themselves on a bridge of blaring alarms with no idea where they are, who they are, or even how to read the PADDs with all those answers. After arguing with the irritating Vulcan, Erica leaves, and the helpful lady (ship’s computer) in the turbolift takes her “home,” guiding her along the corridor filled with bewildered crew just wandering around. In her quarters, Ortegas just wants to “stop the rocks.” Her conversation with the ubiquitous voice only confuses her until the ship asks about plotting a course, informing her that she’s the ship’s pilot. Using “I’m Erica Ortegas, I fly the ship” as a focusing mantra, the determined officer returns to the bridge, telling the befuddled Spock she now knows what to do. Offering only encouragement (and a bit of backseat driving) he sits by to watch as instinct takes over Ortegas and she deftly maneuvers their way out of the debris field with some impressive flying that includes using the phasers to blast a hole through a particularly big rock. Take that, Mr. Vulcan.
Pike fights his way inside and just starts wailing on Zac, demanding the secret casket of memories. The self-made high lord can only laugh that Pike fell for the totem “nonsense.” Quick story: An asteroid hit thousands of years ago with daily memory-wiping radiation but palace stone protected Kalar leaders so they put it in their helmets and turned it all into a mythology to keep the workers in line. Zac thought it would be a laugh to have his former captain wander around the planet as a field Kalar and thinks it’s hilarious Pike fell for the fairy tale, but with a phaser rifle pointed at his head, the former yeoman calls backsies. Luckily, Pike finally remembers he is a Starfleet captain who doesn’t randomly kill prisoners. He feels bad for having left Zac behind, but there will be consequences for taking over the planet with Federation tech. Soon enough La’an is fixed up by M’Benga with more of the supplies left behind by the original landing party. Luq has decided to come inside and has no regrets over the rediscovered loss of his family, because “some memories are worth the pain.” Back on ship, all is well as Spock has fixed the shields to protect them all from the radiation. which it turns out was coming from the debris field he sent them into. D’oh. Back on the ship and in command, Pike wants to set things right as he orders Ortegas to grab that asteroid off the planet and fling it safely away—with just the briefest discussion over the Prime Directive, naturally. Wrapping things up, Chris arranges a rendezvous with the Cayuga and a dubious Captain Batel, but she wavers as he apologizes for being an “ass.” His time on Rigel VII and how that pendant guided him has him seeing their shared bond as captains is a strength, so of course she forgives him with a big ol’ kiss. Aww.
Back to where it all started
Strange New Worlds continues to mix things up with a revisit to a known planet but adds a new (yet classic) twist. A good mix of action, character development, and even some romance make “Among the Lotus Eaters” an entertaining adventure, but it also explores some philosophical issues about human nature. With echoes of classic episodes like TOS’s “Omega Glory” and “Patterns of Force” mixed with a bit of “The Cloud Minders” and TNG’s “Conundrum,” the story of cultural contamination, the hubris of power, and the importance of memories all feel familiar but get blended up for something new. There is also a hint of a recurring theme this season dealing with misinformation used to divide, this time exploring a two-tiered society with the contemporary analogy of the elites trying to use misinformation to manipulate the population. All of this adds up to an episode that stands on its own well but still feels very Star Trek.
With the focus on Pike, Anson Mount delivered a strong performance as he was put through the wringer dealing with relationship problems and confronting the guilt over a failure during a past mission, compounded when he learns his old yeoman was left behind only to go mad with power. Mount deserves bonus points for his portrayal of the memory-less Pike, who is different enough but remains, fundamentally, a leader. The episode also tests the notion of exactly who Pike is at his core when he shows a brutal side we have not seen before, bringing up some big questions about his true nature, which he himself acknowledged. Like “The Enemy Within” revealed about Kirk, this episode shows Pike has a dark side, which may be hard for some fans to see, but Mount did warn us season 2 would explore the limits of Trek’s idealism. As for the romance plot, Melanie Scrofano does a fine job as Batel (still no first name), but the two really don’t seem to have the chemistry of a love story and this all sort of feels like it is just being set up for something tragic.
The focus on the character of Ortegas, even as a B-story, was still very welcome. Like Mount, Melissa Navia nailed playing both sides of Ortegas, with and without memories. Our hearts were broken as she was denied her first big furry-hat wearing away mission and broken again as she cowered in her quarters with only the disembodied voice of the computer to keep her from going totally crazy. (Shout out to Alex Kapp, who pulled extra duty as the dutiful yet seemingly compassionate Enterprise computer.) Usually in these kinds of episodes where the crew is out of commission for some reason, there is one special character like Spock or Data or Seven who, by their unique nature, is immune, but here Ortegas is just a human whose superpower is being a kickass pilot and saves the day. While the logic of how the memory erasure worked was a bit inconsistent, like losing their ability to read but still being able to do other tasks, this did help set up Ortegas’ hero moment where she was the only person who could save them, raw natural talent and instinct was enough, helping her remember what truly mattered. Speaking of logic, it was nice to see Spock screw up by sending the ship in the wrong direction, showing he is still growing, even in his scientific prowess, or as Ortegas noted, “He’s still got a lot to learn.”
Hopefully in a future episode we can see an even bigger focus on Ortegas and maybe delve more into her backstory, possibly her history in the Klingon War as she, unlike Chapel and M’Benga, sometimes seems to miss the action.
While fans might yearn for more new worlds in their Strange New Worlds, this revisit to Rigel VII from “The Cage” was worth it for the exploration of Pike’s lingering guilt, although his exclaiming “This is a cage,” was a bit too meta. David Huynh was a bit one-note as Zac, the power-mad guy left behind, but in the end he wasn’t the real villain, which was the planet itself. The rules of Rigel VII and the “forgetting” may have gotten convoluted to serve the story, but the mythology of the planet was beautifully expressed by guest star Reed Birney as Luq. The Tony-award-winning actor who has been in everything did a fantastic job as the landing party’s guide, espousing the philosophy of just letting go of the pain of memory but then recognizing Pike’s pure emotion and joining in to help and eventually learning his own truth. One can imagine this guy will help lead Rigel VII to eventually become a tourist hot spot in the 24th century (if we are to believe the promotional displays seen on Station Deep Space 9). The planet itself was beautifully realized, as were fantastic costumes and production design for the Kalar village. The new version of the palace is nicely built on the classic Albert Whitlock matt painting and the redress from the location shooting, along with the village, all felt like just enough of an update from the TOS style. While the visual effects were good, the obvious use of the AR wall may have taken you out of the moment, unless that too was an homage to old-school planet sets from TOS (but it probably wasn’t).
Strange New Worlds continues to deliver on its promise of a grab bag of genres with each episode, along with the more emotional depth they are striving for in season 2. The show still takes shortcuts or allows for lapses in logic to get where they want to emotionally, but in the end, it usually pays off and it did again this week. Season 2 continues to be a worthy successor to an impressive first season and we aren’t even half way through it.
- The episode title reference to Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus visited an island of “lotus eaters” where the inhabitants (and his crew) forgot all their worries after eating fruit from a lotus tree.
- The episode was shot in the last weeks of March 2022 and used the Mount Community Centre in Peterborough, Ontario for the Rigel VII castle.
- The episode includes a captain’s personal log (Stardate 1630.1) and a pilot’s personal log (Stardate 1632.2) from Ortegas.
- Does Starfleet not track what they bring along on landing parties? Especially weapons to a pre-warp planet?
- Captain Batel’s USS Cayuga was seen briefly once before in the season 1 finale.
- Pike served Batel Chateau Picard wine, likely the same 2221 vintage Bordeaux he served his crew during a dinner party in season 1. You can buy a bottle for yourself from Star Trek Wines.
- Even without any other tech, the landing party was able to talk to the locals using subdermal universal translators.
- Ortegas quipped that Uhura had stayed up late translating Tellarite sonnets.
- Pike reminded Ortegas he was a test pilot, which was revealed in his Starfleet record shown in the Discovery episode “Light and Shadows.”
- Ortegas’ file reveals she was born in Barranquilla, Colombia on May 20, 2233.
- Ortegas’ quarters are on Deck 6, section G, room 629, and they are huge like everyone else’s.
- Among the decorations in her quarters is a model of the USS Enterprise and one of a Walker class ship (like the USS Shenzhou), both are likely Eaglemoss models.
More to come
Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe and discusses the latest episode. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.
Season 2 episodes drop weekly on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S, the U.K., Australia, Latin America, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Season 2 is also available on SkyShowtime elsewhere in Europe. The second season will also be available to stream on Paramount+ in South Korea, with premiere dates to be announced at a later date.
Keep up with news about the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.