Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Memento Mori, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Memento Mori, Review

Matthew Kresal wasn't Gorn yesterday.
This reviewer would like to open this review with an apology. It is fair to say that I have been under the weather for the better part of the last week, enough not to feel up to watching (let alone reviewing) much despite a holiday weekend here in the US. Thankfully, that meant I had a new episode of Strange New World when I recovered my reviewing senses.

And what an episode it turned out to be.

As far back as its debut episode, Strange New Worlds has hinted that viewers could expect an encounter with one of Classic Trek's most famous aliens. Indeed, it built a traumatizing run-in into the backstory of one of its lead characters, Christina Chong's La'an Noonien-Singh. Four episodes in Strange New Worlds deliver upon that with Momento Mori and a running battle with the Gorn.

Kind of, at least. Trek fans may recall that Captain Kirk didn't know what a Gorn looked like before famously dueling with one in Arena. Strange New Worlds keeps that in mind, as it has with La'an surviving an unconfirmed first contact with them. Not being able to come face to face with them might seem like a hindrance, but it's something writers Davy Perez and Beau DeMayo play to their advantage. The Gorn, from the scenes of an away team scouring through the remains of a Federation colony to the battle sequences that dominate much of the episode, looms large as an unseen threat. They're to Christopher Pike, La'an, and the Enterprise what surface ships are in a submarine movie: a lurking, looming threat that can rain death down upon you, but never from up close.

That submarine movie feeling is something that Trek has played to its advantage before, particularly in TOS episodes such as Balance of Terror and famously in the film The Wrath of Khan. There are strong vibes of both here, which the episode plays to its advantage, with director Dan Liu wonderfully playing up the tension throughout. Reviewing the climactic starship fight at the end of Children of the Comet, I noted that such sequences were something that even the feature film incarnations of Trek would have struggled with once upon a time. Momento Mori makes virtually an entire episode out of it, a series of running skirmishes with the genuinely alien-looking Gorn craft. Even composer Nami Melumad gets in on the act, with her score echoing some of James Horner's iconic work from Wrath of Khan's battle sequences.

One of the things that has helped Strange New Worlds bridge the decades gap between TOS and the modern day has been its focus on characters. Momento Mori is no exception, even among his tension-filled battle sequences. Christina Chong's La'an comes to the fore, unsurprisingly given how the Gorn are part of her backstory. Watching Chong's performance here is as much as experience for viewers as the character, as unresolved trauma and a (pehaps deliberate) lack of closure comes to play in a literal life and death struggle. How grief and survivor's guilt can drive human beings, and cloud their judgement, is central to La'an's journey here, which Chong plays to the hilt. As solid of a presence as she's been in the three previous episodes, it's in Momento Mori Chong's La'an come into her own and all the better for it.

Even so, there's an ensemble feel to the episode as a whole. Anson Mount's Pike shines, of course, and watching this Enterprise captain face the tough decisions while also working to build a consensus with his officers offers insight into the chracter. Melissa Navia's helmsman Ortegas also comes to the fore, bringing some welcome doses of humor to help alleviate the tension in-between some impressive flying. Everyone gets their moment, including Ethen Peck's Spock alongside La'an and Celia Rose Gooding picking up on the journey Uhura began making in Children of the Comet alongside Bruce Horak's Hemmer. It's a chance for the large cast to have a moment in the spotlight without overwhelming the episode's core storyline.

It's a combination of things that makes Momento Mori the single strongest episode of Strange New Worlds to date. More than that, it is one of the most satisfying hours of Star Trek this reviewer can ever recall. It's a sign of how far both television production and Trek has come that cinema quality work is so ably capable of coming to the small screen.

And long may it continue.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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