Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, S2.6: Uhura’s backstory gets a little “Lost in Translation”…

*****STARSHIP-SIZED SPOILERS!*****

From the previews, it looked like legacy Star Trek character Ensign Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) would be facing her personal demons through nightmarish images that may or may not be real. The horror elements from the teasers brought to mind Star Trek: TNG’s “Night Terrors” and The Orville’s “Firestorm,” both of which also saw starship officers challenged through surreal hallucinations and nightmarish scenarios.

The Enterprise enters the Bannon nebula, in “Lost in Translation.”

I apologize for this column’s possible tardiness, as I’m currently writing it from San Diego Comic Con 2023 (more on that one, coming very soon), but without further ado, let’s take a look at “Lost in Translation,” an episode written by prolific series writer Onitra Johnson, David Reed and directed by Dan Lieu.

“Lost In Translation”

The episode begins with a log from Enterprise’s communications officer (and Star Trek TOS legacy character), Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), who reports that the Enterprise is entering the Bannon nebula; a stellar nursery at the edge of Gorn space, rich in deuterium; a vital fuel for starships. A mining station has been placed within the nebula, but there have been various issues with its production quotas. Pike assigns his First Officer Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) to iron out those difficulties.

Ensign Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) monitors a new frequency only she can hear…

We learn that Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) has been temporarily promoted to ‘fleet captain’ for a joint operation with the Farragut. As Pike waxes poetic about the nebula being a “jumping off point for a new era of exploration,” an insomniac Uhura struggles to stay awake.  Pike orders Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) to open the ship’s ‘Bussard collectors’ and absorb some of the nebula’s natural deuterium. Uhura is then startled by a brief discordant noise across her comm station. Thinking it to be a signal, she is unable to get a fix on its source. The noise ends as abruptly as it began.

Note: Bussard collectors were first referenced in early design concepts for hypothetical starships. The collection ‘scoops’—or ramjets—worked by magnetically pulling in stray hydrogen or other needed fusion-fuel molecules from free space.  The idea was first proposed by physicist Robert W. Bussard in 1960, and quickly became popularized in various sci-fi works of Poul Anderson and others, including Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek.

Zombie-Hemmer, while well executed, doesn’t really work for this show.

Disturbed by the anomalous signal, Uhura offers to run a diagnostic on the comm system, which is routed through the ship’s nacelles (for some reason?).  She watches a video of the late Aenarian Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak) instructing her on how to run a communications diagnostic. Unable to achieve closure with Hemmer’s death, she runs into the new Chief Engineer Pelia (Carol Kane), who wonders aloud why Uhura has not yet spoken to her since she came aboard. Uhura excuses herself, before entering a turbolift to continue her diagnostic, as she is startled by an angry, zombified corpse of her late friend, Hemmer.

Note: The jump-scare of ‘zombie-Hemmer’ comes off as a bit gimmicky. Seeing a still-living Hemmer shouting accusingly at his friend Uhura might’ve been a more disturbing (and personal) hallucination for the character than a rotted-out zombie from “The Walking Dead.”

Sleepless in Space.
Uhura goes to see fellow Kenyan, Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun).

The story returns to see Uhura in sickbay, where she’s being treated by Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) who concludes that her hallucination of Hemmer came as a result of easily-treatable ‘deuterium poisoning’ from the ship’s warp nacelle.  M’Benga also records indications of insomnia, which would only make such hallucinations worse. She pulls her from duty and prescribes immediate rest.

Note: I’d hope that by Star Trek’s 23rd century, there’d be more effective prescriptions for sleep deprivation that just ‘rest.’ Part of the problem with insomnia is a feeling of restlessness. You’d think M’Benga could’ve prescribed a heavy-duty futuristic sleep aid of some kind…

“Just be friendly.  You know how to be friendly.  And they’ll be friendly…”
Una (Rebecca Romijn) gets into a verbal sparring session with old “space hippie” Pelia (Carol Kane).

Meanwhile, Una has beamed aboard the vast refinery station and begins to address the “underlying issues” on the station—one of which is the relationship between Una and her own Chief Engineer, Pelia. Pelia disobeyed Una’s orders, which led to her finding evidence of sabotage in the fuel distribution station.  Searching for a cause, or a saboteur, they find a frightened, speechless engineer named Lt. Saul Ramon (Michael Reventar), who is suffering from aural and visual hallucinations very similar to those experienced by Uhura. He is then beamed to the Enterprise for treatment.  As Una and Pelia’s squabbling continues, Pelia points out that Una’s ego can’t handle being confronted by someone equally intelligent, though Una correctly counters that she still outranks her. With the guardrails between them down, Una characterizes the impish Pelia as a “space hippie,” which Pelia says she’s never been called in her considerably long lifetime. As their verbal sparring cools, Pelia promises to have the station online in a few hours.

Note: Una’s hilarious characterization of Pelia as a “space hippie” is, of course, a reference to the infamous ‘space hippies’ seen in the infamous Star Trek TOS episode, “The Way to Eden” (1969), where a group of space flower children hijacked the Enterprise in their quest to find a mythical planet where they could just jam, groove and do their thang. I have to admit, while I love Carol Kane’s past works, the space hippie character of Pelia is starting to wear a bit on my nerves as well.

Field of Dreams…or nightmares?

Meanwhile, Uhura is still unable to sleep, as she hears the loud, discordant ‘signal’ once again, which buzzes through her brain and forces her to relive a painful memory on a grassy plain…

Note: While I appreciate this episode’s attempt to be ‘the’ Uhura episode, I find it too crowded with other subplots and characters to truly spotlight her as it should.  Nevertheless, Uhura is getting more attention here than we ever saw in TOS or the TOS movies (though not the Bad Robot reboot movies, which made her more central to their stories).

James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) beams aboard to antagonize his older brother Sam (Dan Jeannotte).
Their later meeting in “Operation Annihilate!” will go even worse

Since the Enterprise is working in tandem with the starship Farragut, James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) is beamed aboard, where he gets a chance to visit with his brother, Enterprise xenobiologist, George Samuel Kirk (Dan Jeannotte).  After a hug, older brother Sam offers a tour of the flagship which ends in the ship’s bar.  Sam congratulates Jim on being the youngest First Officer in the fleet—beating the record set by their Starfleet father, George Samuel Kirk, as Jim points out. Mention of their father is a sore spot for namesake Sam, who refuses to be called George. The tension between them rises, as it becomes clear that George doesn’t have the same competitive fire in his belly as his father and kid brother. 

Note: Sam only has a few years left to make roots on Deneva with his wife and son Peter before he meets his maker with the aid of the parasites seen in TOS’ “Operation: Annihilate!” (1967). We also saw papa George Kirk die in “Star Trek” (2009); his death sparked Star Trek’s “Kelvinverse” timeline—a timeline created by the destruction of George’s ship, the USS Kelvin.

Check, after mate.
Chapel (Jess Bush) and Spock (Ethan Peck) have a tense game of chess.

In another subplot, Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) is playing a game of 3D chess with Lt. Spock (Ethan Peck). The feeling between them (after their hookup in “Charades“) is decidedly messy now. Spock coolly mentions going public with what happened between them. Chapel prefers to hold onto that feeling privately, comparing it to Schrödinger’s cat—as long as they hold onto whatever it was, it still exists. Reporting it to their superiors might cause it to evaporate.  Their awkward conversation is mercifully interrupted by Uhura, as she reports her latest vision.  Chapel, concurring with M’Benga’s earlier diagnosis, tells Uhura she’s suffering textbook exhaustion. 

Note: While a part of me appreciates how this episode doesn’t ignore what happened between Spock and Chapel in “Charades,” I don’t think shoehorning this scene into an already subplot-heavy story was such a grand idea…

Kirk strikes and misses, as Uhura somehow manages to resist his cornfed charms.

Frustrated, Uhura then goes to the bar, where she orders a Saurian brandy. She’s then met by Jim Kirk, whom she thinks is trying to hit on her. Resisting his seemingly platonic offer of friendship, Uhura once again hears the loud disruptive ‘signal’ as she walks away…

Note: This moment between Uhura and Kirk is sort of a do-over for the scene in “Star Trek” (2009) where ‘farmboy’ Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) makes a sloppy, drunken pass at Starfleet Cadet Uhura (Zoe Saldana). 

Kirk and Uhura had a very painful first encounter.

Uhura exits the ship’s bar into a corridor—a corridor filled with bloody corpses. Repeating that “it’s not real,” she then sees a doppelgänger of herself, with whom she gets into a fight. With her ‘opponent’ knocked down, Uhura then sees the corridor mysteriously deserted—save for a bloodied Jim Kirk, lying on the floor.  Realizing he was her imaginary combatant, she offers to take him to sickbay, but he covers for her, insisting they keep it between themselves. Despite her hallucinatory beatdown of him, Kirk reiterates his offer of help, after Uhura fixes his bleeding nose with her personal dermal generator. 

Note: Once again paralleling his first encounter with Uhura in 2009’s “Star Trek,” Kirk once again ends up with a bloody nose—though this one isn’t the handiwork of several male Starfleet cadets.

“Correction sir, that’s blown out.”  
Spock and another bridge officer perform an unscheduled space walk…

Uhura then hears a red alert. Rushing to her station on the bridge (despite being off-duty), Uhura finds the ship under attack by an unknown force.  As hull integrity is compromised, the front viewscreen-window of the Enterprise is shattered, and we see Spock and another officer blown into the vacuum of space. Again, Uhura hears the signal loudly in her head, just before the entire scene on the bridge suddenly reverts to normal—with Pike insistently asking her why she isn’t resting, per doctor’s orders?  Talking to her in private, Pike is sympathetic.  Kirk then walks in, and he finally meets Captain Pike. Kirk has already heard about Lt. Ramon from the fueling station, and worries that the same thing is happening to Uhura.

Note: As referenced in Star Trek TOS’ “The Menagerie,” Part 1, this is the first meeting of Kirk and Pike.  In that episode, Kirk says “We met when (Pike) was promoted to fleet captain.” This shoehorning of Pike’s weird, last-minute ‘promotion’ into the story (complete with a new badge) feels like the writers remembered this detail only as they were writing it, since his ‘fleet captain’ status serves no role in the story.

Manhunter.
Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and a redshirt go on the hunt for Lt. Ramon.

In sickbay, they visit Lt. Ramon, who also hears the signal, but is now completely unable to speak. The evidence suggests that this signal causes madness, as Ramon tries to kill Dr. M’Benga, before breaking free. As a nearby security guard fires his phaser, Ramon flees into the corridors. Pike and the security guard give chase. The corridors suddenly go dark, as Pike sees an injured crew member lying in a pool of blood.  Security Chief La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) is, of course, looking for Ramon as well—trying to stop him before he hurts himself or anyone else.

Kirk assures her he’s the real McCoy–er, Kirk.

Meanwhile, Uhura thinks the entire incident with Ramon fleeing sickbay and endangering the ship might also be another hallucination of hers.  Kirk stops to assure her it is real.  Uhura then hears a noise, and as she turns to check it, Kirk is gone.  As the search for Ramon intensifies, Uhura finds him trying to access the warp nacelle fuel injection pod, which he’s trying to eject. Uhura desperately attempts to connect with the man, who’s still unable to speak or communicate. They struggle.  Kirk appears, and beams Uhura and himself out of the nacelle before the ejector pod explodes, sending Ramon to die in the near-vacuum space of the nebula…

Note: Well, Lt. Ramon was wearing red…

Don’t I know you from some other timeline?
Jim Kirk meets La’an (Christina Chong) and reminds her of that drink she owes him.

Pike and La’an split up in the darkened corridor where she bumps into James Kirk—with whom she had a brief but intense love affair during a top-secret time traveling mission to 21st century Toronto (see: “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”). Kirk, of course, doesn’t remember the incident since it involved his alternate self from another timeline, but he does remember La’an from a brief subspace call she made to him on a whim afterward. La’an seems a smidgen jealous (?) of Kirk’s involvement with helping Uhura. Kirk explains that his largely absentee Starfleet officer dad often spent much of he and Sam’s childhoods helping strangers. La’an says that she was one of those strangers, and that help was appreciated.  Later, in Uhura’s quarters, the ensign admits to Kirk that she used to hallucinate seeing the crashed shuttle that killed her family even though she wasn’t present at the event, and how her friend/mentor Hemmer’s recent death brought those feelings back. She doesn’t face death well, despite her Starfleet training. Kirk tells her not to let death win.  After Kirk leaves to get her a cookie (a real cookie, of course), Uhura reviews Lt. Ramon’s brain scan, noting his crippled speech center looked as if something had “burned out the receiver.”  This sparks a theory…

Note: Nice, subtle suggestion of jealousy in the performance of Chistina Chong, when Kirk talks about helping Uhura as best he can, just as his largely-absentee Starfleet dad would’ve done.

The Brothers Kirk; Sam (Dan Jeannotte) and Jim.

Putting the pieces together, Uhura surmises the burned out receiver of Ramon’s brain was perhaps a nonverbal alien attempting to reach his mind (and hers) telepathically. Incredulously, Kirk asks if she believes she’s receiving “a message from an invisible alien?” Taking her theory to xenobiologist Sam, Sam affirms the plausibility of extra-dimensional life forms attempting to use Uhura’s brain as a “universal translator.” From the horrific death imagery they’re feeding her, Uhura quickly realizes the aliens are made of deuterium, and that the mining operations are killing them. The refinery station is about to back online, after Pelia repaired the considerable sabotage caused by Ramon, who was acting on the aliens’ behalf; however, the late lieutenant was unable to communicate this without speech.

Note: The story reminds me of the TOS episode “Devil in the Dark,” where miners on Federation mining planet Janus VI were rounding up nodules of silicon and destroying them—unaware they were the eggs of a silicon-based mother creature. After this experience with deuterium-based life, you’d think Kirk and Spock would’ve seen the more obvious silicon-based lifeforms of Janus VI for what they were, since this is supposed to be a TOS prequel.

Uhura once again ‘sees’ the crashed shuttle that killed her family three years earlier.

As she rushes to stop the station’s deuterium mining operations, Uhura receives yet another signal from the lifeforms, including a vivid, painful hallucination of an event she witnessed only in her mind’s eye—the crash of the shuttle which killed her mother, father and brother. This time she sees their faces inside the shuttle, and she fully comprehends the aliens’ grief.

Note: I have issues with Uhura and (until recently) La’an being largely defined more by traumas than personalities. In season 2, La’an has been allowed to become more than the bitter Security Chief working through her angst with the Gorn (even doing some comedy and romance).  Hopefully someday we’ll see Celia Rose Gooding get another spotlight episode as they do the legacy role of Uhura justice. Perhaps they’ll even get a chance to show their comedy chops?  Then again, with the SAG/AFTRA strike currently shutting down TV/film production, it may be awhile; but this importance of this strike is worth far more than a few reruns. 

There’s an anti-fossil fuel message in here somewhere

Reaching the bridge, Uhura tells Pike that the mining operations are killing the aliens. As she speaks to the captain, she sees a hallucination of Hemmer (as she knew him, not a zombie) standing nearby.  Uhura’s urgency—aided by Jim Kirk’s conviction—convince Pike to evacuate the station.  Since the mining operation is running automatically, Uhura suggests destroying the station.  Before Pike can give his actual consent, Uhura herself orders La’an to fire photon torpedoes at the station, transforming it into an expanding fireball. The smiling image of ‘Hemmer’ then fades away. As she’s about to apologize for overstepping her rank, Pike assures her it’s his call—and perhaps Jim Kirk’s influence, as well.  Pike realizes they’ve just discovered a new lifeform here at the edge of Federation space, and that Starfleet can build new ‘gas stations’ elsewhere.  Pike tells his exhausted ensign to take her station, contact Admiral Nagawa, and then…take a much deserved nap

Note: Just speculation on my part, of course, but it seems the destruction of the refueling station is an apt metaphor for weaning off of dangerous and destructive fossil fuels.

Pelia makes peace with a bitter former student of hers.

On the shuttle ride from the destroyed station back to Enterprise, Una and Pelia are awkwardly sitting together in the two forward pilots’ seats.  Una says aloud, “Starfleet Maintenance 307.” That was the class Pelia taught at Starfleet Academy, and the class where Una was her student. After all these years, Una is still seething at her former instructor for giving her a C on a term paper, which Una insists was “meticulously researched.” Pelia suspects that Una is really upset with her for replacing her late friend Hemmer. Pelia is a reminder of that loss, and the two reach an understanding.

Note: Maybe the ‘space hippie’ isn’t so bad after all; though I’m still not terribly fond of her penchant for stealing and hoarding art masterpieces…

“Jim…your name is Jim.”

The final scene takes place in the Enterprise bar.  A jazz band is playing as Kirk and Uhura share a table together.  Kirk tells her she was exactly what the aliens needed to communicate. Sam approaches them and apologizes to his kid brother, and expects a return apology which doesn’t come—triggering another argument between the two. An eavesdropping Spock agrees with Jim that his brother Sam can be “frustrating.” Uhura takes the opportunity to make the historic introduction of Jim Kirk to Mr. Spock…and a legendary friendship is soon born.

Note: This really should’ve been Uhura’s story, but instead it’s almost drowning in subplots and historic character meetings that should’ve been spread throughout the run of the series.

The End.

Summing It Up

“Lost in Translation” is (on paper) an in-depth exploration of Ensign Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), offering the kind of focus the character never received in all of Star Trek TOS or even the movies. That’s why it’s unfortunate her story still feels a bit elbowed out by the presence of Lt. Kirk (Paul Wesley), who returns to “Strange New Worlds” for yet a third time (the first two were in alternate realities). 

“Captain, I’m frightened….”
Uhura (Celia Gooding) is startled by ‘zombie-Hemmer.’

While Paul Wesley’s Kirk is growing on me as a character, I don’t appreciate Kirk horning in on an already full cast whom I’d like to know better, such as Uhura. Or Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) who still hasn’t yet had her own spotlight episode (repeating “I fly the ship” isn’t character development).  Even though Kirk’s no longer being played by infamous limelight-thief William Shatner, the character is still siphoning moments from another Star Trek ensemble. Kirk’s canonical first meetings with Pike and Spock take away from what is supposed to be Uhura’s story. While I understand Anson Mount was on paternity leave following the birth of his child during filming of season 2, Capt. Pike’s minimal presence enables Kirk to ‘cocaptain’ this episode, making it as much about Kirk as Uhura (once again).

Just a reminder–Captain Pike is still in the center seat.
Wait your turn, Lt. Kirk.

As we saw with La’an’s ongoing struggle as a survivor from a Gorn breeding colony (don’t get me started on the lazy, “ALIEN”-ish reimagining of the Gorn), Uhura is being defined almost entirely by her traumas—the loss of her family and the loss of her mentor/friend Hemmer (Bruce Horak). While we do learn some trivia about her upbringing, such as her dad playing piano and her cat’s name, she is being outlined by her pain more than anything else. Real-life trauma survivors (myself included) don’t always appreciate being defined by loss. Uhura’s experience is further cheapened by cheesy horror hallucinations of ‘zombie-Hemmer’ in the turbolift, and gore-laden bodies lying in the ship’s corridors. Star Trek does many things well, but horror is not one of the franchise’s strengths.

Though buoyed by some fine character moments, “Lost in Translation” is largely a rehash-pastiché of Star Trek TOS’ “Devil in the Dark” (misunderstood aliens being slaughtered by humans) and Star Trek:TNG’s “Night Terrors” (aliens communicating through human subconsciousness). Not as good as the former, but nowhere near as bad as the latter.  What’s ultimately ‘lost in translation’ is Nyota Uhura’s big chance to take center stage in a crowded cast, as a future captain takes the conn a little earlier than planned…

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).

Images: Trekcore, Paramount+
Images: Trekcore, Paramount+

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