Thursday, July 6, 2023

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' - The Enterprise Is Tasked With Cleaning Up Its Past Mess in 'Among the Lotus Eaters'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Episode 2.04 "Among the Lotus Eaters"

Returning to a planet that dredges up tragic memories, Captain Pike and his landing party find themselves forgetting everything, including their own identities as he confronts a ghost from his past.

"Among the Lotus Eaters" was written by Kirsten Beyer & Davy Perez and directed by Eduardo Sanchez

Seven years ago, a Starfleet mission went awry. Simply referring to the planet is enough to district Pike from his decision to end things with Batel fearing their relationship is costing her a well-deserved promotion. He carries plenty of regrets from the past. The landing party was only on the planet for four hours. That amount of time turned out to be transformational for the civilization. It left three Starfleet officers dead. Pike mourned their loss. It's shocking when he realizes he left a man behind. Starfleet commands the Enterprise to clean up its mess. Federation technology was left on a planet that had not achieved those scientific advances on their own. It's a direct conflict to the Prime directive. The mistake was only recently unearthed. The symbols of Starfleet certainly call a lot of attention to this planet and what potentially lurks below. However, the story is much more a reflection on the past and all the emotions connected to it. Those feelings don't go away simply because people lose their memories. The civilization has adapted to forgetting their lives every night. Their basic functions remain intact. Moreover, they always sense when something is important. That allows them to trust the moments and instincts of each other. Pike, La'an and M'Benga are treated with compassion by one local. He has never challenged the nature of this life. He only sees the beauty in living in the moment. He recognizes the pain and sadness that happened before. He sees it as a blessing that he doesn't remember the details. That would only amplify those feelings more. It's better to forget because he can be a productive member of this society. And yet, choices were made within this caste system. One segment of the population is spared from forgetting. The rest seek guidance from totems every time they wake up. They suffer from headaches. It's all the repercussions of a radioactive asteroid that struck the planet. It wasn't powerful enough to end all life entirely. The effects are still being felt. Some people are simply lucky. However, they also have the tools of shaping this mythology. The leaders get to dictate what is acceptable. They laugh at the idea of memories being stored in coffins. It's a fairytale meant to keep the workers in line. A former member of Starfleet is atop this hierarchal structure. Zach has turned his back on the organization he devoted his life to. He was left behind. He had to find a way to survive. Pike has returned. Zach makes this new landing party suffer. They last much longer than the original did. But they can't forget who they fundamentally are. Those characteristics shine through no matter how much is lost. They don't become different people. They hold jobs of service. That defines them to a certain extent. However, the feelings that call to them reaffirm the importance all of those skills have not just to them but to the people they care about as well.

A lot of the plot is built on Pike knowing Batel gave him the medallion. It too was initially seen solely as a symbol. It provided comfort for any lost captain. Pike has certainly had his doubts and uncertainties before. He fears the pending doom of his future. That all seems inevitable. He worries about how his actions will impact others. He always tries to do his best as captain of the Enterprise. He trusts his team. He knows their skills. So many capable people serve alongside him. Erica isn't the only person who can navigate the ship. She's the person everyone wants at the helm when faced with the most impossible situation though. She too feels the terror. She is gifted the immediate information of what she is meant to do on the ship. She walks the corridors with complete conviction afterwards. None of it presents as logical to Spock. This is all built on people trusting their feelings. That's not reassuring to him in the slightest. However, he does it too. He trusts that the people coming forward can do what they say they can do. The audience always has that clarity. The story pushes the characters to the brink. They are lost without their memories. They never stray too far from the paths they have chosen. This is where they belong. That's a message that can be immediately understood when it comes to their roles within Starfleet. It's somewhat trickier as it pertains to Pike and Batel's relationship. That wasn't a major focus of the first season. It was something acknowledged without really being central to any given plot. Batel got a stronger focus when she prosecuted the case against Una. However, even that focus was ultimately given away to another character to make the division between following the rules much more clear. Batel always had sympathy for Una. She wanted to make the best deal possible for all involved. She thought she found it. Instead, a better solution presented itself. That made everyone on the Enterprise happy. However, it was costly to Batel. Pike loves her. That's an emotion just meant to be understood at this point. Una affirms it by saying how much she loves Batel as a person and as a partner for Pike. The captain obviously trusts the opinion of his first officer. It's simply a case where the audience is going off the words of the characters instead of their actions. This story requires Pike to realize he has made a mistake. He should enjoy however much time he has with Batel. It's never promised to be very long. However, they are willing to put in the effort to make it special each time. That's the central tenet of their bond. It's something they are both actively willing to pursue. It simply doesn't hit as deeply for the audience as not much time has been spent showing why the two of them are so perfect for each other. It's just meant to be accepted. That works in some cases. It doesn't detract from the overall episode. It simply has more limitations than when the narrative is working at its absolute best.