Last night, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds completed its first season on Paramount Plus with an episode that focused primarily on the repercussions of Captain Christopher Pike choosing a different path. A plot element that make fans have been speculating about since the show was announced. What’s even more interesting about the episode is how its scenario has a direct connection to a classic episode of the original series.
[SPOILERS AHEAD for the Finale and More Ahead]
The tenth episode of the first season is titled A Quality of Mercy and it begins with the Enterprise on the edge of the Neutral Zone on a mission to make sure that Outpost 4 supplied with the latest technology available given their location. If that name sounds familiar to Trek fans, it gets even better. After Pike meets the son of the station commander, he realizes that the child is one of the cadets who do not survive the mission that disables Pike in the future.
After making the decision to change the boy’s fate, Pike’s future self surprises him with another crystal from the Klingons and a warning about what will happen if he changes his fate. A warning he will have to experience to truly understand. What follows is Pike being transported seven years into the future where he is still the Captain of the Enterprise and presiding over a wedding. After getting over his momentary disorientation, the Enterprise is dispatched to Outpost 4 after they’ve been attacked by an unknown ship.
The Enterprise discovers the ship is Romulan and attempts to communicate with them. The episode also features the debut of Captain James T. Kirk commanding the USS Farragut. The two ships find themselves pursuing the Romulans after an encounter leaves the ship damaged and unable to make it out of Federation space. To sum things up, Pike attempts to make peace with the Romulans by offering mercy to the damaged ship as they both make repairs, but his attempt will lead to open war with the Romulan Empire. A war whose first casualty will be Spock.
If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
In 1966, the 14th episode of the original Star Trek series titled Balance of Terror debuted. The episode finds the Enterprise, captained by James Kirk, being sent to Outpost 4 along the Neutral Zone after other outposts have been attacked by a mysterious ship. One they arrive, they find themselves in a battle with a Romulan warbird and Kirk makes the decision to listen to Spock and Stiles and attack. After a cat and mouse game with the cloaked warbird complete with the Enterprise playing at having heavy damage to lure the Romulans in for a kill shot.
Kirk offers to rescue the crew of the damaged warbird, but the commander refuses and initiates a self destruct.
Balance of Terror and A Quality of Mercy showcase the different command styles of both Kirk and Pike. Kirk is calculated and methodical, but possesses a guile that allows him to be battle ready. Pike is also methodical, but his seasoned approach veers more towards caution and diplomacy. This is where the crossroads of the future meet. Romulans respect strategy, guile and aggression. While Kirk’s approach closes the door on negotiations, it also prevents the ship from returning to Romulan space and reporting the apparent weakness of the Federation. Pike’s approach garners him the respect of the Romulan commander, but also allows another Romulan to use the temporary cease fire between the two vessels to call in reinforcements and plunge the Federation into war with the Romulans. A war that will claim Spock as one of its first casualties.
The season finale has a great message for fans of Strange New Worlds and Trek in general. It establishes the cost of denying Pike’s fate. It solidifies the importance of Spock as well as the importance of their friendship. This definitely explains why Spock would risk his career to bring Pike back to Talos IV in the two part episode The Menagerie from 1966. It also does something else for fans of Strange New Worlds and Captain Christopher Pike. It solidifies for the viewer that it isn’t the destination that matters, it’s the journey.