“This Is Rigel 7!”
This week’s episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds sees Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Security Chief Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) returning to a planet the Enterprise previously visited five years earlier. In that earlier mission, Pike led a landing party to this Bronze Age world, where he was ambushed in a deserted fortress, and attacked by “the Kalar” (not to be confused with Mr. Worf’s ex, but one of Rigel 7’s brutal warriors).
That mission cost Pike three people, including his own yeoman, and nearly killed Lt. Spock. A glimpse into that fateful mission was seen (via illusionary flashbacks) in TOS’ pilot episode “The Cage,” footage of which was later incorporated into the two-part episode, “The Menagerie.” In “The Cage,” you can see Spock (Leonard Nimoy) still limping during the landing party mission to Talos 4, which took place weeks later.
Now the Enterprise—and Captain Pike—return to Rigel 7 in this week’s “Among the Lotus Eaters,” an episode that promises to fill in some details of that mission, which once haunted Pike to the point where he briefly considered resigning…
“Among the Lotus Eaters”
Written by coproducer Kirsten Beyer, Davy Perez and directed by Eduardo Sanchez, the story opens with the Enterprise assisting the USS Cayuga in the charting of a new binary star system, affording Captain Pike (Anson Mount) a rare date night with the Cayuga’s Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano). Both captains order their first officers to keep them incommunicado unless it’s urgent. We know that won’t last…
As Pike continues making dinner, Batel presents him with a gift; an Opelian mariners’ keystone— a rare antiquity she found on the planet Galt, which she had made into a pendant for him. As he thanks her, she’s called away with an urgent message from a Starfleet admiral; her promotion to commodore was denied. Pike then wonders if their relationship is holding her career back, which Batel not incorrectly takes as his ready-made excuse to avoid commitment. The evening’s mood is broken, as Pike also receives an urgent communication from his “Number One” (Rebecca Romijn).
Note: Galt is also the farming planet where a young Worf was raised with his adoptive human parents, the Rozhenkos, who rescued the orphaned Klingon when Chief Petty Officer Sergei Rozhenko served aboard the USS Excelsior (TNG’s “Heart of Glory,” “Family”).
Later, at a briefing with the senior staff, Pike and Number One discuss the planet Rigel 7, which the Enterprise visited 5 years earlier on a disastrous mission that ended after only four hours and left three people dead, including Pike’s yeoman Zac Nguyen. The mission nearly killed Spock (Ethan Peck), as well. The planet’s charged, choppy atmosphere—made worse by a recent asteroid impact—renders routine sensor scans impossible. Satellites take long-range reconnaissance photographs instead. The photos now reveal large, unmistakable Starfleet logos on Kalar architecture, including a large castle held by the ruling class. Fearing cultural contamination from the last disastrous mission, Starfleet Command would like the Enterprise crew to discreetly “clean up their mess” on Rigel 7. After the other officers leave, Una worries that Pike fears commitment with Batel, saying that she only wants them both to be happy.
Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), helm officer of the Enterprise, is excited about finally being able to join a landing party. Since Rigel 7’s charged atmosphere makes beaming down impossible, she will have to pilot a shuttle, carrying herself, Pike, Security Chief La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) and Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun). As the landing party walk to the shuttle bay dressed in native Kalar clothing, they are met by a similarly dressed Pike, who is then intercepted by Spock, who tells Pike that a debris field in Enterprise’s orbital path with unusual properties requires a skilled pilot, meaning that Ortegas will be needed at the helm. Pike will pilot the shuttle instead. Unable to mask her resentment of Spock for getting her kicked off the landing party, Ortegas—wearing a specially made hat for the occasion—storms off to change…
Note: Clearly this act of the episode was setting the table for an Ortegas-centered episode, even beginning with her personal log, but sadly, it doesn’t quite turn out that way.
As the shuttle makes its choppy descent through the atmosphere, Pike tells La’an and Dr. M’Benga that in order to blend in, they will forgo Starfleet technology for this mission—using only those tools available to this Bronze Age culture; optical hand telescopes instead of tricorders, etc. the only technology they’ll carry will be their sub-dermal translators. Pike wants to avoid all mistakes made on the last disastrous mission. Upon landing, M’Benga quietly expresses his resentment at being chosen as much for his combat skills during the Klingon war (“The Broken Circle”) as his medical expertise. The hatch of the shuttle opens, and they disembark. La’an hears a sudden, sharp ringing in her ears…
Note: I’ve always wondered about the universal translators; wouldn’t aliens notice that Starfleet landing party members seem to be mouthing another language as they speak? Maybe I’ve just seen too many badly-dubbed Godzilla movies…
The ringing in La’an’s ears subsides, but she finds they’re much further along in the harsh, snowy terrain than she remembers walking. She’s lost hours of memory. M’Benga attributes the ringing in her ears to tinnitus caused by the planet’s atmosphere, but he wonders if they should return her to the ship. Pike says it’d be after nightfall and much colder before they reached the shuttle. Other than La’an’s amnesia and brief disorientation, M’Benga deems her otherwise fit for duty. They decide to keep going…
Note: Did they really have to park hours away from the shuttle at foot speed, considering the last disastrous mission to this planet? You think the snowfall alone might’ve provided some cover for the ship if they’d landed a little closer.
Pike spots two native Kalar guards at the gate to the castle through his telescope. The ringing begins again. Suddenly, they’re inside the castle, in the custody of the Kalar. Pike and company realize the Kalar know all about Starfleet, thanks to their ‘ruler,’ Lord Zacharias, formerly yeoman Zac Nguyen (David Huynh) of the starship Enterprise. Pike is stunned not only at seeing his presumed dead yeoman alive, but wantonly violating the non-interference principles Starfleet believes in. Zac is bitter for being left behind by Pike—whom he accuses of never confirming his ‘death’ before returning to the ship. Nguyen then tells Pike how the planet’s unique radiation causes the amnesia, which changes people—amplifying their anger and baser emotions. Pike’s ears begin to ring again…
Note: Pike facing his resentful ‘dead’ yeoman Zac Nguyen should’ve been a Colonel Kurtz-“Apocalypse Now” moment, but it has little impact, since actor David Huynh doesn’t really carry the authority or gravitas to make one believe he was a ruler of anything, let alone a tough warrior class like the Kalar. We later see that Zac is a coward, too. Was Starfleet technology the only thing keeping him in power? If so, why did the last mission suffer so many casualties under the Kalar? These questions are never answered.
After Pike’s ringing subsides, he finds himself in a cold, outdoor cage with the rest of the landing party. La’an, suffering complete amnesia now, thinks that a concerned Pike is getting too close, and she punches him. She doesn’t remember either Pike or M’Benga. An old man named Luq (Reed Birney) tries to help the disoriented trio. With only two guards nearby, Pike plots to overtake them. With a warrior’s instinct, La’an joins Pike in overcoming the guards, but is badly wounded when a blade pierces her abdomen. Instinctively, M’Benga offers to treat her wound, leading Pike to suspect he might be a ‘healer.’
Note: These don’t seem quite like the same monstrous, growling Kalar warriors we saw in “The Cage”…
Once freed, Luq takes the landing party to his home. The old man then offers to teach them to focus, as he does, with the use of his totem—which contains all needed information about himself. Luq deduces by the color of their clothes that each member of the landing party belongs to a particular labor pool (woodsman, forger, etc). Luq tells them if they focus on their tasks, “the forgetting” becomes easier, day by day. The landing party notices that they don’t seem to lose deeper instincts, but only ‘remembered’ things. It’s also clear that the palace Kalar are able to retain their memories somehow…
Note: In addition to the more clever Star Trek: TNG amnesia episode “Conundrum,” this episode also reminded me of the two-part Star Trek: Voyager episode, “Workforce,” where Captain Janeway and her crew were conscripted into an alien world’s labor pool by use of selective memory loss.
With their callous-free hands, Pike believes that he and his party might be from the palace, not the labor pool. Luq says that if they are from the palace, they need to return as soon as possible to find “the casket” which will restore their memories, before the next ‘forgetting’ begins. “This is your moment,” Luq tells them. With La’an’s injuries requiring urgent attention, Pike asks Luq to join them, so that he can get his own memories back. But the old man refuses. Luq feels the sorrow for a loss he can’t remember, and fears that learning the full truth would only make his pain more acute. Pike, touching the keystone necklace given to him by Captain Batel, only recalls that it was a gift of love. Luq explains that love and grief are emotions that even the forgetting can’t take away from them. For that reason, Luq prefers to remain in ignorant sorrow, rather than uncovering the painful truth.
Note: The episode’s title “Among the Lotus Eaters” is a reference to a Greek legend of “the Lotus eaters”; a group of shipwrecked people who survived off an island’s native lotus flowers. The flowers’ narcotic properties allowed them to wallow in blissful ignorance, oblivious to their homes, families, or anything else other than their fellow lotus eaters.
Aboard the Enterprise, Ensign Uhura (Celia Gooding) hears the ringing, experiencing a hours-long gap in memory afterward. Soon, other members of the crew begin experiencing bouts of amnesia, as well. Before long, the ship is in full-blown crisis, with most crew members forgetting who they are and what they’re supposed to be doing. Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) explains that basic, instinctive information is retained, while other learned information is not. With an almost-empty bridge, Spock tries to evade the planet’s influence by ordering Lt. Ortegas to set a course directly into the nearby debris field—hoping its anomalous magnetic properties might shield them from the planet’s influence. Ortegas questions the order, but complies…
Note: This amnesia plague, already similar to the aforementioned TNG episode “Conundrum,” also reminded me of the more recent Strange New Worlds ‘pandemic’ episode, “Ghosts of Illyria,” where the crew were subjected to a disease which made them crave excessive amounts of light. No doubt the recent COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdown weighed heavily on the minds of the writing staff.
Soon Ortegas forgets how to fly the ship. Spock is suffering from amnesia as well; he even forgets how to read his personal dossier that he ordered the crew to carry on their persons to self-identify. The Enterprise is automatically on red alert, as debris begins slamming into the hull. With no one able to fly the ship, Ortegas only remembers that she was angry at Spock for something, but can’t remember why. In a panic, she runs to a turbolift and tries to go “home!” The computer takes her to Deck 6, where she sees Chapel and others wandering aimlessly. Using the computer to help her locate her quarters, Ortegas feels momentarily safe. Her feeling is short-lived however, as more debris impacts the ship, causing violent shaking. Ortegas asks the computer to make it stop, but the computer needs a pilot to fly the ship…
Note: Some terrific acting by Melissa Navia, as she gets to portray a more vulnerable and even terrified Ortegas than we’re used to seeing, since the character usually has an outward cockiness that masks any such fear or uncertainty.
Those words resonate with Ortegas, and she remembers that she’s “Erica Ortegas, and I fly the ship!” She begins chanting those words all the way back to the bridge, struggling to hold onto her identity. Back at her helm console, she and the equally-amnesiac Spock attempt to fly the Enterprise, with Spock taking the navigator’s station. As she touches the controls, it begins to come back to her, and soon she’s able to pilot safely through the debris without impacting it. Coming up on a sizable chunk, Ortegas fires phasers through its center mass, and elegantly “threads the needle.”
Note: If this is supposed to be the big Erica Ortegas episode we’ve been promised since the beginning of the series, then I am very disappointed; not in Melissa Navia, who does a fine job, but with the writers, who don’t reveal anything new about her character. We already know that Ortegas is an instinctive and intuitive pilot, who does seat-of-her-pants maneuvers for breakfast. So having an amnesic Ortegas remembering that she can fly is as ‘revelatory’ as Spock realizing he’s good at math. Speaking of Spock, he is unable to read his own dossier, which alludes to Star Trek: Discovery’s revelation that the half-Vulcan/half-human Spock also had to overcome a form of dyslexia as a child (“Light and Shadows”). No doubt the amnesic Spock forgot the learned techniques he must’ve used to overcome it.
Back on Rigel 7, La’an’s condition is worsening. Pike and M’Benga forge on ahead to the palace. As they near it, they hear the ringing, and the forgetting begins. The Kalar then attack unexpectedly, and Pike jumps in to assist M’Benga, who’s pinned down by a Kalar guard. The good doctor takes a shot in the leg, but keeps the slain guard’s rifle. With the wounded M’Benga forced to stay behind, Pike goes into the palace solo, phaser rifle in hand. Making short work of Kalar resistance, Pike soon finds himself confronting his former yeoman Zac Nguyen once again. After a brief firefight, the combat soon turns hand-to-hand. Pike, his anger amplified as a side-effect from the forgetting, savagely beats the would-be king to a pulp, as he asks about “the casket.”
Note: A darker, much uglier side of Pike is revealed as he savagely beats the cowardly yeoman to a bloody pulp. Another ‘side-effect’ of the radiation. The previous mission at Rigel 7 five years earlier only lasted four hours, so the landing party never experienced ‘the forgetting.’
A bloodied Nguyen insists that the ‘casket’ used for restoring memories is nothing more than a legend. The real reason those in the palace retain memories is through natural magnetically-shielding materials used to line the palace walls and their helmets. A mindlessly angry Pike, still punching the yeoman repeatedly, shouts, “I need our memories!” Soon, as the palace’s shielding allows his own memories to return, Pike comes to his senses and stops his attack on Nguyen. Pike then finds the legendary “casket”; a metal case full of Starfleet landing party equipment, including a tricorder—no doubt another source of cultural contamination, beyond Nguyen’s bitter loose lips. Pike tells Nguyen how much he mourned him when he was presumed dead, despite the younger man’s resentment. He then gets the medical equipment to Dr. M’Benga, who is able to treat both La’an and himself. Luq arrives at the palace, and soon the memory of his lost family is restored; despite the pain, he appreciates that they’re no longer forgotten. Pike, realizing that his mariners’ emblem medallion allowed him to hold onto his memories of love, owes Captain Batel an apology…
Note: I have to wonder how Pike allowed a case of sensitive Starfleet equipment to be left behind with a Bronze Age culture. I realize circumstances of that original mission must’ve been difficult, but you’d think getting that equipment back, in accordance with Starfleet’s Prime Directive, would’ve been paramount, somehow.
With the ‘king’ returned to Starfleet for disciplinary action, the cause of the ‘forgetting’ is revealed to be the nearby crashed asteroid spotted from surveillance photos—which came from the orbital debris field, and had the same unusual properties. With his own memories restored, Spock devices a shield harmonic which allows the Enterprise to fly safely through Rigel 7’s region of space. Pike then orders two shuttles with tractor beams to haul the asteroid off the planet’s surface and back into space. Spock is concerned that action may, in itself, be seen as another violation of the Prime Directive, but Pike disagrees, stating that it only restores a natural balance that existed before the asteroid’s impact. With that chapter closed, Pike is once again alone with Batel, finishing their interrupted date night. He apologizes. She’s not sure about resuming their relationship. He then asks her forgiveness. They kiss, and she says, “Let’s see how the next 30 minutes go…”
Note: Why do I expect to hear Shirley Bassey’s theme to 1979’s “Moonraker” playing…?
Summing It Up
Not one of the stronger installments of the series’ 14 episodes to date, “Among the Lotus Eaters” does a bit of a switcheroo on the audience by promising an episode about cultural contamination and delivering a lot of hugger-mugger about trinkets, totems and emotions defining us. The amnesia plague also felt a bit too similar to TNG’s “Conundrum.” Also, Pike’s presumed dead yeoman, Zac Nguyen (David Huynh), was a lot less interesting in person than the “Apocalypse Now” Colonel Kurtz-ish character I’d imagined. Zac’s confrontation with his former captain—who left him for dead on a primitive planet—had surprisingly little power or gravitas. Pike’s flippant line about letting Starfleet deal with Nguyen now shows little of the grief or remorse Pike alluded to earlier. And am I the only one who found the Kalar warriors of this episode a lot less menacing than the 7 ft, trimmed-down Sasquatch that Jeffrey Hunter’s Pike fought in “The Cage”?
Despite teasing this is as an Ortegas episode, it’s not. In fact, we’ve learned very little about Melissa Navia’s “Erica Ortegas” after 14 episodes of this series, other than she’s a gifted pilot, and that she’s quick with the occasional rejoinder. After 14 episodes of TOS Star Trek, we already saw Mr. Sulu cultivating a botany lab full of alien plants in “The Man Trap” and intoxicatedly brandishing a sword in “The Naked Time,” and this was from the same show that didn’t even give him a first name. To her credit, Navia does a great job showing Ortegas’ fear and confusion, but her character’s chanting of “I’m Erica Ortegas and I fly the ship” felt more like someone psyching themselves up for a job interview rather than a character-defining moment. I’m hoping that Navia, who has great personal charm, gets a better spotlight episode down the road, because “Among the Lotus Eaters” wasn’t it.
Overall, this episode reminded me of one of those 1980s-1990s Star Trek paperback novels you used to find at your local bookstore for $4 each (fitting, since cowriter/producer Beyer cut her teeth writing those). Those books often featured middling stories which never poked too hard at the boundaries of ‘official’ Trek canon. Some offered interesting character insights (Sulu got his first name “Hikaru” in 1980’s “The Entropy Effect”), but generally those books had a limited toolbox, since they couldn’t contradict (or upstage) TV/movie Star Trek. That’s what this episode feels like—a Star Trek paperback that has little bearing on the greater franchise, but which makes for a decent read during hospital visits or long layovers.
“Among the Lotus Eaters” probably won’t make many fan favorite episode lists. Mildly diverting, yes, but not terribly memorable, ironically (even totems and talismans won’t help). After the previous two outstanding installments, Strange New Worlds was due for a so-so outing. At least we’re not stuck with this story for a whole season, right?
Where To Watch
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is available to stream exclusively on Paramount+. 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).