I guess it had to happen eventually on the episodic Strange New Worlds: The episodic season-ending cliffhanger. "Hegemony" hews closely to the TNG cliffhanger style, resembling one of that show's middle-season-capping two-parter setups. It's an effective and efficient sci-fi thriller with expectedly excellent production values and a nice sense of foreboding and a good balance between action and downtime. Is it on the level of "Mr. Worf, fire," the yardstick against which all Trek cliffhangers will forever be measured? Not remotely, but few are.
The question of how the Gorn figure into the Trek canon, and whether SNW's use of them can plausibly match up with TOS's "Arena" has never much concerned me, so I have few issues with the Gorn being used as SNW's mysterious Big Bad. With "Memento Mori" and especially "All Those Who Wander," the writers re-established them in the mold of Alien, with a creature-feature vibe (perhaps too much so) and an escalation in the (moderate) gore, and that continues here.
In the opening teaser, Captain Batel of the USS Cayuga is providing medical supplies (with Chapel on hand, en route to her three-month fellowship with Dr. Korby) to Parnassus Beta, a colony on a distant world, when an out-of-control Federation shuttle suddenly crashes just outside of town and then a massive Gorn ship enters the atmosphere and casts a shadow ominously over town, like in Independence Day. (I was confused at how this was supposed to be a "non-Federation" colony. Made up of humans with a small-Midwestern-U.S.-town aesthetic?)
The Enterprise is dispatched to investigate Starfleet's loss of contact with the Cayuga. Admiral April warns Pike to exercise caution in the engagement given how little is known about the Gorn. Pike calls them "monsters," which is not inaccurate based on how the series has presented them so far, though there may yet be things to discover about them. The Enterprise arrives at the planet to find Gorn ships in orbit, along with a debris field from the destroyed Cayuga, which Chapel was aboard. An image from the Gorn is transmitted to Starfleet. It shows a map of this region of space, with a line across it, with Parnassus Beta being just on the other side of the line. The Gorn are claiming everything on the other side of the line as their territory, and Starfleet orders the Enterprise not to cross into it.
Well, of course Pike is going to cross the line in an attempt to rescue the possible survivors (including his girlfriend!) on the planet's surface. Complicating matters, the Gorn have established a jamming field that disables use of communications and transporters to the planet. So the only way to the planet is on a shuttle. Using the debris field as cover, Ortegas figures out how to take the shuttle into the planet's atmosphere without alerting the Gorn sensors.
"Hegemony" is almost exclusively straightforward nuts-and-bolts mission-objective plotting. The characterization is limited to the simplicity of Pike's personal stake in rescuing Batel (and the other survivors), and Spock's personal stake in hoping to rescue Chapel, so he can assuage his regret of how they left each other. As an action story, this is perfectly competent, has good production design, and moves right along. There's not a whole lot to say. The landing party gets to the ground and we get our reconnaissance scenes in the town under cover of darkness, which is under the siege of Gorn younglings.
In the process, we meet Lt. Montgomery Scott (Martin Quinn), who was on the shuttle that crashed at the beginning of the episode. He had been running from the Gorn ship from a nearby outpost where he had observed an especially bright solar flare, which he believes may have prompted the sudden shift in movements of the Gorn — since they instinctively react to light patterns — and brought them to this planet. It's an interesting detail, although I have some trouble reconciling the Gorn's instinctual responses alongside a sentience that apparently allowed them to develop space travel.
The real headline here is that the casting of Martin Quinn as Scotty is as inversely correct as the casting of Paul Wesley as Kirk was wrong. I don't know if it's the accent that's doing more than its fair share of the heavy lifting in convincing me, but it's almost funny how instantly I accepted Quinn as the new Scotty. He's spot on.
Pike is reunited with Batel, and before long they're plotting with Scotty (who has a device on his crashed shuttle that he engineered into a Gorn transponder, which can mask Pike's shuttle as one of the Gorn's own) to plot an escape for at least some of the colonists. Meanwhile, aboard the Enterprise, Una, Spock, and the crew devise a way to take out the Gorn jamming technology, which is on the planet surface, by rigging the saucer section remains of the Cayuga with rockets to guide it to the planet and crash it into the jamming tower. It's actually a pretty nicely simple but technical plan.
Well, wouldn't you know, Chapel is the sole survivor in the Cayuga debris' saucer section (no one else, really?), and Spock is able to find her. This happens amid some slightly overwrought tension with the Gorn, who, for reasons that aren't clear, have sent crew members in space suits to survey the wreckage. If there's a disappointment here, it's the B-movie nature of the Gorn, who come across more goofy than scary, especially when Spock and Chapel end up in zero-gravity combat with one.
Still, as these things go, the execution is solid, and the screws tighten in the final act when we learn Batel is actually implanted with Gorn eggs (never a good thing), and that the successful plan to take out the jamming field allows Pike, Scotty, and Batel to be rescued — but the rest of the survivors are beamed to the Gorn ship before the Enterprise can retrieve them first.
The season ends with a fairly dizzying "everything going to hell" spiral as the Gorn send in attacking ships toward the Enterprise, which has orders from Starfleet to retreat, even as a bunch of Pike's people are held prisoner. It's a cliffhanger through-and-through, and even includes the old-school "to be continued" card.
This is not going to rank up there with the best of them, cliffhanger or otherwise. But as an hour of this type of show, it is effective and entertaining, as much of the last half of this season of Strange New Worlds has been. It's anyone's guess when we will actually see the third season of this show return. Given the delays from the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, it could be awhile. I guess even the show's return will be its own cliffhanger.
Previous episode: Subspace Rhapsody
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