On the eve of Uhura's cadet assignment ending and her announced intention to return to Earth rather than stay aboard the ship, the Enterprise is ordered to investigate the disappearance of the USS Peregrine, which went down on an icy planet and stopped transmitting in the high interference of the atmosphere. The crew's fate is unknown. Pike takes an away team down in two shuttles where they find the crash-landed ship. It turns out the crew members have been wiped out by the Gorn.
"All Those Who Wander" is a fairly straightforward and unpretentious sci-fi/horror B-movie that's elevated by a major sacrifice and a final coda that deals with the emotional consequences of the aftermath.
The only survivors found on the Peregrine are a young girl named Oriana (Emma Ho), who is being protected by a member of the world's indigenous species, whom the girl has named "Buckley" (Carlos Albornoz), and whose language the Universal Translator can't decipher.
The situation takes a hard turn for the worse when "Buckley" suddenly becomes ominously sick and very shortly thereafter has several Gorn babies burst from his torso and scurry off into the darkness. La'an, as the resident Gorn expert, makes it very clear that this is Really Bad and that even one of these creatures running loose can prove lethal to everyone.
This is a sci-fi creature feature, pure and simple, with perhaps too many ideas rather shamelessly — and not even obliquely — stolen from Alien and Aliens (the nasty way the creatures reproduce, the acidic slime they hurl at you, the young girl who is the sole survivor in this crisis, etc.) We even have Sam Kirk in the Bill Paxton role as he cracks under pressure and does and says dumb things. (With the amount of relative stupidity we've seen from Kirk, I wonder how long it will be before we see him cashiered from Starfleet.)
As a technical thriller, this is fine, but it's not a standout offering. (It at least isn't overlong and filled with DNA nonsense like The Orville's "Shadow Realms.") There are a few jump-scares, plenty of effective lighting techniques and production design (economically using the existing sets, since this is also a Constitution-class ship), and an overall competence that rehashes old formulas entertainingly without getting us too worked up or excited about them.
There are some good character details mixed in here as well. Hemmer and Uhura continue to make a good pairing (the reference to "Team Hemura" was cute). La'an's horrible bedside manner toward the little girl and her obsession with beating the Gorn ring true. M'Benga slipping up and accidentally calling the girl "my daughter" is a bit too on-the-nose, but at least he even realizes it. And Spock having to tap into his rage as a telepathic measure to try to defeat one of the creatures makes for a plausible use of emotion in what is approached as a logical tactical maneuver. The episode wisely uses the personalities of the characters to work the crisis.
Still, it's hard to understand whether the Gorn are supposed to be impervious to phasers or if the crew just doesn't figure out how to effectively use their weapons against them. Sure, these things are fast, but they shouldn't be faster than phaser fire. And yet phasers almost seem irrelevant here. As action goes, this is passable and not a whole lot more than that.
What elevates the episode are the closing passages. Hemmer gets hit with some Gorn slime, and it turns out this is how the young get into the body for incubation. It's only a matter of time before more Gorn hatch from Hemmer and put everyone in further jeopardy. After the crew puts down the immediate threat, Hemmer makes the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life to save the rest of the team in what is a fairly shocking turn of events. (Is this worth what is being given up? I thought Hemmer was a promising character well played by Bruce Horak, and to kill him off so soon seems unwise in the big picture — unless, of course, they are planning to undo this with some sci-fi cheat.)
The episode is made much stronger by the funeral and its aftermath, in which Uhura must grieve her friend while at the same time realizing the value of building relationships with her teammates even if there's always the risk that these attachments may be fleeting. Meanwhile, Spock realizes that he has uncorked something dangerous within himself by tapping the emotional well, and the Spock/Chapel sexual/emotional tensions are intriguing. And out of a need to make right by the young girl, with whom she identifies, La'an asks Pike for a leave of absence so she can help track down the girl's family. (I feel like Una is still largely on the periphery of this show, with nothing unique being provided for Number One in a long while.)
After a number of frivolous misfires, this episode is a return to form with some pretty significant consequences for all the characters. It demonstrates that although this may be an episodic series, there's still plenty of room for character continuity and an ability to suddenly shake up the status quo. What will all this mean for the season finale?
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