On Starfleet Remembrance Day, the Enterprise comes to the routine aid of a Federation colony only to find it has been attacked, with its inhabitants missing and blood everywhere. After tracking down and rescuing the remaining escaped survivors from a nearby ship, the Enterprise suffers great damage and casualties in an ambush by an unknown enemy vessel. Various clues have La'an convinced the enemy attacking them is the Gorn.
"Memento Mori" is a lean, mean, well-executed battle-siege episode in the vein of TOS's "Balance of Terror" and DS9's "Starship Down," with some Wrath of Khan thrown in for good measure. Because the Gorn never attempt to communicate and simply open fire, the enemy is faceless, mysterious, and implacable. This proves all the more effective for making a tense submarine showdown that's all about tactics, cunning, and figuring out how to out-maneuver an enemy with superior numbers and firepower (there are four ships chasing the Enterprise).
An episode like this lives or dies on its details and ability to sustain tension, and this episode crucially makes the nautical aspects believable and easy to follow, while delivering them with style, atmosphere, solid visual effects — and, of course, creaking sound effects that warn of the ship's descent into the atmosphere's crush depth. (When the first Gorn ship is destroyed, we oddly don't see it blown up, which felt like a strange omission, almost as if the producers were setting the crew up to have wrongly believed they were successful.)
In the midst of this, we have some solid characterization. Pike shows the right balance of world-weariness and optimism in the face of possible disaster. La'an's standoffishness and tendency to never sugarcoat anything is understandable given her personal experience with the Gorn, but Pike gives her a nice reminder about the need to project a note of hope to the crew, in order to allow them to believe they can overcome the long odds and rise to the occasion. Leadership matters.
Hemmer and Uhura have to manage a technical crisis in the cargo bay before it blows up the ship, which reminded me of the similar below-decks crisis involving an undetonated (but very armed) torpedo that Quark and the alien played by James Cromwell had to contend with in "Starship Down." It makes for a good character-building experience between the crusty engineer and the young cadet.
And the solution to overcoming the Gorn partially involves Spock mind-melding with La'an to help her remember key details about her Gorn encounter that she has suppressed — as well as solving for us the mystery of the young man with the evil shit-eating grin she keeps hallucinating; it turns out to be her brother, who sacrificed himself in that previous encounter (which, in retrospect, makes the shit-eating grin a particularly odd, villain-like choice).
There are some minor plot aspects that aren't completely convincing here, like the idea that sickbay would be so completely disabled that the medical staff is reduced to using archaic surgical methods like stitching people up with needles and thread. (Wouldn't handheld instruments still function, even if the surgical bays were offline? Or were they all conveniently blown up? And what about M'Benga's daughter suspended in the transporter buffer? Is she okay during this massive outage?) Defeating a Gorn ship by faking a communication with decoded light patterns is a clever way to advance the plot with trickery when we know brute force won't work, but it seems unlikely the Gorn would be susceptible in quite this way.
But the usual minor nitpicks aside, I enjoyed this a great deal. It gets a lot done with pure technique, even as it goes where numerous Star Trek episodes have gone before. That's the theme of Strange New Worlds season one so far. But considering they're still batting a thousand, I'm not going to complain about roads that have been traveled effectively just because they've been traveled before.
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