Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, S2.2: “Ad Astra Per Aspera” is easily the best modern Star Trek episode to date…


Last season of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” ended with the USS Enterprise’s first officer, Commander Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn), aka “Number One,” being taken into custody by Captain Batel’s security team, once Starfleet got wind of the fact that she was a genetically-engineered Illyrian masquerading as a human (genetic enhancement is forbidden for Starfleet officers), and that she’d lied on her Starfleet entrance exam (“A Quality of Mercy”).  

Number One Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) gets beamed into custody at the end of last season.

It was assumed by many fans (myself included) that Season 2 of SNW would pick up that thread immediately in its opening episode, but that wasn’t the case, and instead we got “The Broken Circle”; a solid, if not exceptional outing.  Now the resolution to that cliffhanger, “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (“to the stars through difficulty”) has streamed, and as they say, the best things in life are often worth the wait. My apologies for not delivering this review earlier, but it took me longer than usual to fully process this episode.

Kudos again to writer Dana Horgan (“Supergirl”) and director Valerie Weiss, for reminding me exactly why I love Star Trek as much as I do.

“Ad Astra Per Aspera” (“To the Stars Through Hardship”)

The episode opens with a flashback to Una Chin-Riley’s childhood living in a Federation-controlled city on a planet within the Vaultera nebula. Young Una (Anna Claire Beitel) has a badly broken leg which has become severely infected, as her parents (Catherine Black, Jim Annan) argue about whether or not to take the girl to a doctor, who might expose the Illyrian family’s illegal genetic engineering.  We then cut to the present, as the adult Una (Rebecca Romijn) is in custody, meeting with Starfleet Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano) of the Judge Advocate General’s office, along with her ineffectual JAG-appointed lawyer (Iain Stewart), who urges Una to accept Batel’s plea deal that would keep her out of prison if she accepts dishonorable discharge. 

Today’s forecast calls for smoggy skies with a chance of asphyxiation…
Pike has to wear a breathing apparatus with a portable oxygen supply on Una’s homeworld within the Vaultera Nebula.

On Una’s home planet within the Vaultera nebula, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) is forced to wear a breathing mask with a portable oxygen supply that is rapidly running out, as he makes his way to the office of famed galactic civil rights attorney, Neera Ketoul (Yetide Badaki), who is well-reputed for her passion and conviction.  However, Pike is kept waiting in the lobby by a persnickety receptionist (Kimberly Ann-Truong) who refuses to admit him, citing Ketoul’s busy schedule.  Pike bluffs, telling the assistant he “can wait,” as electronic warnings go off regarding his dwindling oxygen reserves.  As his oxygen bottoms out, the receptionist folds, allowing Pike admittance into Ketoul’s office before he loses consciousness…

Note: “Ad Astra…” may be an Una-centered episode, but this is a great scene for Captain Pike, as he shows the near-death lengths he will go through for one of his own. It’s no wonder that Pike now chooses to accept his preordained fate in a near-future training accident.  Given the breathing mask, it’s also possible this episode was filmed at the height of the COVID resurgence in late 2021.

“You still haven’t said no.”
Pike strikes a reluctant deal with famed civil rights attorney Neera Ketoul (Yetide Badaki).

The tenacious and nearly-unconscious Pike is then led into Ketoul’s office, which is quickly pressurized to a breathable human standard.  Once Pike settles in, he and Ketoul talk about Una’s case. It’s strongly suggested that Ketoul has a bitter personal history with Pike’s first officer, but she hears Pike out. Despite the case’s sealed record, Ketoul knows the details. Ketoul’s bitterness with Una stems from Una’s choice to hide her Illyrian heritage instead of embracing it, as Ketoul does. Despite Ketoul’s reluctance, Pike notes “You still haven’t said no.”  Thanks to Pike’s tenacity, Una has herself a new lawyer. In her first action as Una’s counsel, Neera arrives at Starfleet Command, San Francisco to meet with her former friend and current client, Una. Through Captain Batel, Neera gets word to the JAG office’s Admiral Javas (Nicki Guadagni) and Vice-Admiral Pasalk (Graeme Somerville) that her client rejects the plea deal offered by Starfleet—a risky move that could see Una facing up to 20 years in a Federation rehab colony if she’s found guilty.

Note: I’m normally not a fan of guest stars who swoop in to draw attention away from the main cast, but in this case, I yield, since Yetide Badaki is so passionate and engaging that I could easily imagine her getting her own “JAG: Starfleet”-style spinoff. 

Friends with Benefits.
Pike has a less-than-friendy chat with his part-time lover, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano).

Settling in on the Enterprise, Neera sets up shop in Una’s temporarily-unused quarters where she’s paid a visit by Security Chief La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong), who offers to help her learn who turned Una in. To that end, La’an later tries to persuade communication officer Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) to allow her access to Una’s personal logs, but the new ensign refuses the order, citing Starfleet regulations. In the Enterprise’s lounge, Pike shares a table with Captain Batel, with whom he also shares (as we saw in the pilot episode) a “friends-with-benefits” relationship.  Batel asks Pike how he met Una. He tells her they met when he lectured at Starfleet Academy, where Una corrected him, regarding a risky flight maneuver.  She was right, and he admired her conviction.  With Pike wanting to testify on Una’s behalf, Batel plays devil’s advocate, grilling him on exactly when he knew of Una’s Illyrian heritage—a question that will be asked, should he agree to testify.  Point taken.

Note: Something tells me that those snowy days of pancake breakfasts, coffee and sci-fi movies after sex in Pike’s Colorado cabin are coming to a close…

Sorry you head to see that…carry on.
Spock (Ethan Peck) apologizes to Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) for his “regrettable outburst.”

Also in the ship’s lounge, we see Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) sharing drinks as they quietly eavesdrop on a conversation between Lt. Spock (Ethan Peck) and prosecuting counsel, Vice-Admiral Pasalk. Ortegas jokingly provides running commentary on the stiff, stoic, typically-Vulcan conversation she imagines the two are having.  Despite Ortegas’ ribbing, the more observant Dr. M’Benga reads the extremely subtle body language between the two Vulcans—noting they clearly dislike each other. After his chat with Pasalk, Spock walks over to apologize to his two shipmates regarding his regrettable “outburst” with Pasalk.  After the needlessly-contrite Spock leaves, Ortegas can hardly keep from laughing.

Note: This is the only humorous bit in an otherwise deeply serious episode, but it’s hilarious.  Melissa Navia aces Ortegas’ jocular wit, and it’s regrettable her character has yet to be spotlighted in an episode. Hopefully that changes as the season progresses.  Ethan Peck’s deadpan remorse for Spock’s “emotional outburst” is a Grade-A Spock moment.  It also provides subtle insight into neurodiversity, with M’Benga taking a more sympathetic view regarding Vulcans’ seemingly limited range of emotional expressiveness.  On a more pragmatic point, I wonder if his supersensitive Vulcan ears allowed Spock to overhear Ortegas’ mockery?

Una’s trial is presided over by an example of Starfleet’s diversity; a Vulcan, a human, and a Tellarite: Commander Chiv (Eugene Clark), Admiral Javas (Nicki Guadagni) and Space Command representative ZusTlagul (David Benjamin Tomlinson).

The trial begins. The trial board is overseen by Admiral Javas, along with Vulcan commander Chiv (Eugene Clark) and Tellarite Space Command representative Zus Tlagul (David Benjamin Tomlinson, who also played Saurian “Linus” on Star Trek: Discovery).  Javas rings the trial bell three times (a custom seen in TOS Star Trek), as a disc is inserted into a computer, which then reads the various charges against Una. Counsels give their opening statements. Prosecutor Batel cites Earth’s bloody history with “the Eugenics Wars” as the reason for Starfleet’s firewall against admitting genetically-engineered persons into its ranks. Una knowingly violated this rule when she lied on her Starfleet application. In her own opening argument, Neera agrees that Earth’s Eugenics Wars were devastating—and that a utopia emerged in their wake; a utopia the Federation is now protecting at all costs, even to the point of persecution.  On the prosecutor’s point that Una broke this draconian law, Neera points out that, in Earth’s past, laws were also used to protect the institutions of slavery, apartheid and other forms of racial injustice.

Note: Many of the court-martial proceedings seen in this episode harken back to TOS Star Trek episodes “Court-Martial” and “The Menagerie, Parts 1 & 2,” which saw Captain Kirk and Commander Spock facing their own respective court-martials. The gold-lined dress uniforms and medals seen in “Ad Astra…” are very similar to those seen in TOS, but with prominent shoulder epaulets added. 

Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes) is called to testify by the prosecution.

Captain Pike’s former commanding officer, Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes) is called to the witness stand.  As questioned by Capt. Batel, April attests to Una’s character, saying she’s a “gifted” Starfleet officer.  He also says that if he knew of her genetically-modified Illyrian heritage, he would’ve refused to her application for Starfleet service.  When cross-examined by the defense, April maintains his seemingly hard stand on the matter is not personal—he’s simply following regulations. Neera then questions April on Starfleet’s General Order One; its “Prime Directive” to never interfere with the natural development of an alien species.  She then cites three times in his career when April knowingly violated the so-called Prime Directive.  Over the vehement objections of the prosecution, Neera points out that, in certain circumstances, even Starfleet’s most ironclad rules can warrant exceptions. In a blow to the defense, April’s testimony is then stricken from the record.  Later, aboard the Enterprise, Pike meets with April, and offers his former captain a drink—which he bitterly refuses. 

Note: This bold episode puts canonical Starfleet hero Captain Robert April (TAS’ “The Counter-Clock Incident”), the first captain of the Federation starship Enterprise, in the unenviable position of defending Starfleet’s policy of racial bigotry. It’s especially unsettling, given that the character of Robert April received racist backlash on social media, after being recast in live-action with Black actor Adrian Holmes (who’s done a terrific job in the role, I might add).

“We served together on the HMS Pinafore….”
Spock takes the stand and recalls another secret Una kept from her shipmates–a love of Gilbert & Sullivan musicals. Note the ‘verifier scan’ upon which Spock places his right hand–a faithful recreation of the original series’ prop.

After the debacle with April’s stricken testimony, several of Una’s shipmates are then called to take the stand as character witnesses. The first up is Spock, who recalls meeting Una when he first beamed aboard the Enterprise as an ensign (Short Treks; “Q&A”). Spock is then asked if he ever suspected Una was keeping secrets from him. To the surprise of both the trial members and his crew mates watching on the ship’s monitors, Spock reveals that Una was indeed keeping a secret—a love of Gilbert & Sullivan musicals. He also tells the court that forcing Una to leave Starfleet would be an even greater loss for the service than for her.

Note: While I was never overly fond of the Short Treks series, the episode “Q & A” was an exception. It was delightful to see Spock and Una’s first meeting together, after the new science officer was first beamed aboard the Enterprise.  Una and Spock are then stuck in a malfunctioning turbolift together for several hours, where she adviced young Spock to never “let his freaky side show” and he indulged her with an impromptu singalong of “The Major-General’s Song,” which ended with the Vulcan ensign literally laughing aloud.

It Khan-not be denied.
La’an Noonien Singh’s own family history with genetic engineering is called out during defense questioning.

Next up on the witness stand is Dr. M’Benga, who considers Una a trusted friend, and whose discretion he values (“Ghosts of Illyria”).  We then see Security Chief La’an Noonien-Singh take the stand.  La’an is closer to Una than anyone else on the ship (“She’s family”), ever since Una rescued her from a Gorn breeding planet when she was girl.  Since then, Una has become a mentor-figure for La’an after sponsoring her admission into Starfleet. The two had a brief falling out after La’an learned that her mentor lied about her genetically-engineered status (“Ghosts of Illyria”).  Defense counsel Neera recognizes La’an’s last name, and asks if she is related to genetically-engineered Eugenics Wars’ tyrant, Khan Noonien-Singh—a relationship La’an is not proud of, but confirms. The sympathetic Neera reminds La’an that genetics is not destiny…

Una is then called upon by her defense counsel to take the stand.  When asked why she chose to join Starfleet, Una cites the original Latin motto of the pre-Federation Starfleet: “Ad astra per aspera,” which translates as “To the stars through hardship.” Una also believed that it meant the stars could offer salvation from her own bullied childhood growing up within the Vaultera nebula, on a planet made a provisional Federation member so long as its Illyrian inhabitants abandoned their cultural practice of genetic engineering.  After which, genetic engineering went underground.  Those who chose to practice it carefully sought out ‘friendly’ doctors to help them. Children often hurled insults at genetically-modified Illyrian children, calling them “augments,” “moddies,” and freaks

The Life of Riley.
Commander Una Chin-Riley takes the stand in what is the character’s greatest moment to date.

Una’s best friend in those days was an open Illyrian boy named Ivan Ketoul—her current lawyer’s brother.  Una broke her leg trying to protect Ivan, but was unable to see a doctor, for fear of outing her family’s genetic secrets (as we saw in the opening scene of this episode). Young Una nearly died, until her family found a sympathetic doctor.  Her world then divided into two separate cities—Illyrian and non-Illyrian.  Seeking a better life, Una’s family chose to live in the non-Illyrian city, since they could pass.  Young Una carried a dream of joining Starfleet ever since she was five or six, when her city was visited by a Starfleet crew.  All young Una saw was the diversity and the opportunity to see the stars.  The Federation wasn’t perfect, but it strove to be (per the United States Constitution’s line of “in order to form a more perfect union”).

Note: Una’s story speaks most strongly to trans-persons, who are ridiculed, bullied and persecuted for the ‘crime’ of choosing to be their truest selves, rather than their birth sex (which is no one’s concern but theirs, in my opinion).  More broadly, Una’s story also applies to DACA recipients, or nearly any other unfairly-marginalized group of people living on present-day Earth. Una’s line about families seeking “friendly doctors” also reminded me of the current situation with abortion in half of the United States, where many women—stripped of their once-legal right—are now forced to make horrific choices, such as carrying dead fetuses to term, for lack of “friendly” gynecologists/obstetricians. 

Vice-Admiral Pasalk (Graeme Somerville) and Captain Batel’s cold cross-examination exposes Captain Pike’s complicity.

Seizing an opportunity, Pasalk rises from his seat to take point on the prosecution’s cross-examination of Una. Pasalk coldly congratulates Una on her “emotional” speech (a subtle Vulcan insult), though he reminds her there’s still the more relevant (and logical) matter of whether or not she broke Federation law.  Pasalk then inquires about when Captain Pike first learned the truth of Una’s Illyrian heritage.  Reminded that she’s under oath, Una says she told Pike the truth of her heritage four months ago. Captain Pike is now complicit in a possible conspiracy to commit fraud against Starfleet. 

Una’s accidental involvement of Pike in her court-martial reminded me of when Spock (Leonard Nimoy) unwittingly jeopardized the career of his future Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in TOS Star Trek’s “The Menagerie” Part 1, 2 (1966). Ironically, future-Spock does this to Kirk in order to free his former Capt. Pike (Sean Kenney) from the prison of his horribly-mutilated body.

Note: Not content with simply placing First Officer Una’s career in peril, the episode takes a cue from TOS’ “The Menagerie” Parts 1 & 2, where Spock similarly placed Captain Kirk’s career in jeopardy after abducting the horribly-mutilated Captain Pike in order to take him to the forbidden planet of Talos IV, where Pike could experience an illusionary life free from his mute, burned body. Perhaps Una’s trial was where Spock first got the idea…?

The courtroom of Star Trek is, once again, a crucible, where irrelevance is burned away until the truth of a matter is laid bare, for all to see. I may be alone on this, but I’d be interested to see a Federation legal anthology series, someday…

With Pike in the hot seat as well, Neera places Capt. Batel on the witness stand, where Batel is instructed to read the Starfleet regulation with regard to asylum; anyone fleeing from unjust persecution (as Una did) has the legal right to seek asylum within the Federation. Neera also smartly interprets Una’s confession to Pike four months earlier as a formal request for asylum.  In view of Starfleet’s own asylum laws protecting those who are unjustly persecuted on their own worlds , the entire tone of Una’s court-martial has now been changed from one of an officer violating Starfleet regulations to that of a persecuted alien seeking asylum within the Federation—which was granted several months by Pike aboard his ship; where a captain still holds discretionary power, as previously established with Robert April’s testimony (even if April’s testimony was stricken from the record).  The law is not a mirror, Neera argues, but an ideal—a beacon—to be our better selves.  

Note: For a ‘space show,’ Star Trek does courtroom dramas surprisingly well.  This episode, along with TOS’ “Court-Martial,” “The Menagerie” and TNG’s “The Measure of a Man” in particular (one of my all-time favorites) are all very memorable episodes.  It’d be interesting to see a future Star Trek spinoff that deals exclusively with Federation law.  “Star Trek” meets “JAG,” perhaps…?

Having added the new wrinkle of asylum to the case, lawyer Neera Ketoul and her client Una Chin-Riley face the music. 

The trial board has made its decision, and Una rises to hear their verdict.  Starfleet’s own asylum law, as well the discretionary power of a captain to interpret such laws, absolves both Una and Captain Pike.  Una is found not guilty. Admiral Javas and her two colleagues maintain the Federation law banning genetically-modified persons from serving in Starfleet, but they also recognize the need for exceptions. Una’s asylum is formally granted, and she is allowed to return to duty.  Through hardship, Una Chin-Riley is once again allowed to see those stars she dreamed about as a child…

Note: In the entirety of Star Trek, there are few episodes that so perfectly define the humanistic spirit of Star Trek better than this one. It’s too bad the late Majel Roddenberry (1932-2007)—who originated the role of “Number One” in TOS’ pilot “The Cage”—never got to play this version of her character. All the same, Rebecca Romijn gives this episode her all, and she’s terrific. 

Giving heartfelt thanks from one Illyrian to another, Una reconciles with her old friend Neera.

The final scene sees “Number One” beamed back aboard the Enterprise.  Before reporting for duty, Una stops to give a heartfelt thanks to her lawyer, childhood friend and fellow Illyrian, Neera. Una’s shipmates are also on deck to greet her, and Una jokingly asks who’s left to run the ship, to which resident smart-ass Ortegas quips, “The thing practically flies itself.”  As Neera steps onto the transporter platform to disembark, she turns to face the crew, who burst into spontaneous applause. “I’m not the biggest fan of Starfleet,” Neera remarks, “but I’m proud to see a crew serving their Illyrian commander.”  After Neera departs, Una dismisses the crew, and they leave.  With only Captain Pike remaining, he gives his Number One a grateful hug, “Good to have you back.”  She replies, “Good to be back.”

Note: I’m not crying, you’re crying…

The End.

Episode MVP: Yetide Badaki as Neera Ketoul

Guest star Yetide Badaki, playing the Illyrian lawyer Neera Ketoul, is one of the most memorable guest stars of modern Star Trek.  Neera Ketoul is certainly a helluva better lawyer than Samuel T. Cogley of TOS’ “Court-Martial,” who seemed to win his case for Captain Kirk almost by accident.  Neera knows exactly what she’s doing every step of the way.  That applause Badaki’s Neera receives in the final scene feels as much from the cast as it does the characters they’re playing.

Order in the court!
Yetide Badaki owns every second that she is onscreen.

Neera’s last-minute appeal for asylum might be seen as a too-easy solution to her client’s issue, but this is television, not a book of easy answers to all of society’s challenges.  Badaki gives the character every bit of passion, intensity and resolve she needs and deserves, resulting in an extraordinary performance. I wouldn’t mind seeing her return to the show, no matter what excuse is conjured for her reappearance.

Summing It Up

I’m not exaggerating when I say “Ad Astra Per Aspera” is not only a new series-best for SNW, it’s also the best episode of all modern Star Trek, as well as an easy contender for future Star Trek top-ten lists. Yes, it is that good.  Star Trek has featured hallmark courtroom drama episodes in the past; TOS’ “Court-Martial,” “The Menagerie, Parts 1 & 2,” as well as TNG’s “The Measure of a Man” (another personal favorite of mine). “Ad Astra…” puts Number One on trial, but it also puts Starfleet values on trial as well (those same aspirational values of most modern western cultures).  Using an outsider guest character allows viewers to stare directly into the hypocrisies of Starfleet and the Federation; supposedly high-minded organizations which value IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations), yet still draw a line at those who aren’t considered “natural.” Right, because flying at warp speeds and beaming oneself into energy is perfectly ‘natural’…

Despite the heavy themes of this amazing episode, it still takes the time for a moment of levity between the characters of Ortegas, M’Benga and Spock, who apologizes for his extremely tepid ‘outburst.’ The three characters of this scene are also incidental reminders of Starfleet’s greater sexual/racial and even species’ inclusivity.

Star Trek’s future Starfleet is certainly an inclusive institution, where far-off aliens and humans of all kinds work right alongside each other in relative harmony for a greater collective good.  This makes the reasons for Una’s would-be banishment from that service all the more frustrating—despite all of Starfleet’s high ideals, the organization is still haunted by the ghosts of Khan Noonien-Singh and his destructive augments from two centuries earlier. Yes, Star Trek’s Khan is a clear-cut villain, but so were natural-born despots such as Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Putin, et al. 

The case for genetically-modified persons in the Star Trek universe draws clear and sharp parallels for the rights of trans-gendered persons today, while also making impassioned pleas for DACA recipients, and just about every other marginalized person currently living outside of “traditional” societal norms. This is the kind of story Star Trek does best—allowing us to see our present through the objective filter of metaphor, something more recent Star Trek has gotten away from by ditching the filter, and simply casting with broader racial/sexual inclusivity—a move I certainly applaud, but which fails to make a case for the unenlightened viewer (those who incessantly whine against “woke” Star Trek). That’s where metaphors come to play…

Una, under oath, tells the court–and her counselor–why she chose to leave Illyrian society and join Starfleet, despite its seeming hypocrisy; her argument is also the immigrant’s dream of helping America form “a more perfect union.”

“Star Trek” isn’t going to win over any prejudiced audience members by greater inclusivity—it has to appeal to a more basic, universal sense of right and wrong.  To do that, you make a case for a given group, disguise it under an equally valid parallel, and let the audience do the rest.  Does Una deserve to be drummed out of the service simply because she’s not “naturally-born”?  The argument for Una’s case is the same as a hypothetical schoolteacher in the Midwest who underwent gender-affirming treatments or surgeries to become something other than their birth sex. Those who fear such ‘unnatural’ persons corrupting their children would do well to remember all of the natural-born corrupters-of-innocence throughout human history (most of them heterosexual and cisgender).  The odds of people being decent or rotten are the same, no matter how they came to be in this world.

That Una had no choice in her genetic modifications also makes a case for those children brought into the US by parents or guardians without documentation or consent. To deport those now-teens/adults back to their ‘birthplace’ would be cruelly exiling them to a strange, foreign existence. And while Neera’s Hail Mary appeal for asylum in the final act might be seen by some as a storytelling deus ex machina, it’s still perfectly valid. The right of asylum is a fundamental value of western culture. Its presence in the story only broadens the episode’s scope. Having beautiful former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Rebecca Romijn play Una certainly doesn’t hurt her character’s chances of winning converts, but it doesn’t make Una’s case any less valid, either.  

Captain Pike meets his match in Illyrian lawyer Neera Ketoul.

“Ad Astra Per Aspera” is a reminder that each and every one of us are a roll of the dice, and that we all deserve the same chances to show the universe what we’ve got—no matter how we came to be in that universe.  This episode is an instant classic.

Where To Watch

“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is available to stream exclusively on Paramount+, along with all other Star Trek series. The first season of “Strange New Worlds” is also available for purchase on BluRay and DVD from CBS/Paramount, and is available for purchase wherever you can still buy physical media (Amazon, BestBuy, Barnes & Noble; prices vary).

Images:, Paramount+

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Full disclosure, I haven’t seen this episode, only read yours and others’ reviews (I kind of checked out of modern Trek other than Prodigy).

    I don’t see how genetic engineering is a valid analogue for real world minorities. For one thing, it’s a choice, unlike one’s ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. You can just… not do it.

    More importantly, though, there’s a very valid reason why the genetically modified shouldn’t be allowed in Starfleet: Entrance to Starfleet is a very competitive process that accepts only the best of the best.

    If you allow genetic enhancements freely, then you’d quickly reach a point where it’s impossible to join Starfleet without them, forcing an arms race where people resort to increasingly extreme and inevitably dangerous modifications to stay competitive. Same reason we don’t allow performance enhancing drugs in the Olympics.

    This reminds me of iZombie, a show I generally loved but whose attempts at social commentary mostly fell flat. They tried to use prejudice against zombies as an analogue for real world bigotry, but zombies are an existential threat to the human race, unlike real minorities, so it never really worked.

    1. The episode stresses the point that Una was genetically modified in-utero; the choice wasn’t hers. In that way, it had just as much in common with US ‘dreamers’ (undocumented migrants who came to the United States before an age of consent).

      As for genetic modifications causing some kind of instant, automatic biological arms race? I get that, but that’s also using humans as the only example; maybe other species, such as the Illyrians, have done so without the Khan Noonien Singhs.

      In the episode’s context, genetic engineering was less about creating supermen, and more about being the person they always wanted to be; i.e. the current struggle of trans-persons.

      1. That’s kind of missing the point, though. Even if you take way the possibility of people becoming Khan-style supervillains, you’re still in an environment where people without genetic augmentation can’t compete for Starfleet jobs with those who can.

        Basically Starfleet’s options are to let the genetically modified serve, or to let everyone else serve. There’s no way to have both groups co-existing in the long-term because one is always going to edge out the other, even if they’re aren’t trying to.

      2. No more than Vulcans serving alongside humans; a Vulcan supposedly has several times the strength of a human, so why aren’t they banned from serving in Starfleet?

        Every species, whether fully natural or augmented, brings their own gifts to the table.

      3. scifimike70 says:

        Spot-on right.

    2. scenario says:

      Humans in the future may use genetic engineering to fit in the world they are settling on. There are likely to be hundreds of almost Earths for every new Earth. So they modify their children to withstand a higher co2 level or a lower O2 level in the atmosphere or tolerate other things. Allowing only pure unchanged humans comes across as racist in a way.

      1. I also wonder about aliens with natural superior abilities, such as Vulcans. Should they be forbidden from serving on human starships?

      2. scifimike70 says:

        I think it depends how on we appropriately define ‘superior’. All beings in our universe are created by the same God and therefore are all equal enough. The only differences are how each species channels their gifts. Is someone’s gift for being an astronaut any more or less special than someone else’s gift for being an ocean explorer? Of course not. So thinking along those lines can help us all realize that each being or species is equally special in its own right. Even if it that species may for just cause need some kind of augmentation.

  2. scifimike70 says:

    The title of your review says it all. This is the best Star Trek episode I’ve ever seen too. Being a fan of Una (both the incarnations of Majel and Rebecca), it’s great too see her role brought to such special fruition so early in the series, bringing out the equally best in all her crew mates in the process and especially Pike and La’an. I don’t think any other Trek series had achieved that much as profoundly. Thank you for your review.

    1. Truly my pleasure. 🖖🏼

  3. Lorraine Fiel says:

    I very much enjoyed reading your synopsis of this episode. I don’t have Paramount+ so haven’t seen any of Strange New Worlds. I hope CBS shows the first season of it since they are looking to put shows on their streaming site on regular TV during the writers strike.

    1. I hope that happens.

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