Review: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 4 “Among the Lotus Eaters”
After a somewhat lackluster episode in last week’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” Star Trek: Strange New Worlds returns with “Among the Lotus Eaters,” an enduring story that offers a sharp, timeless commentary on a fundamental aspect of the human condition.
This episode’s genesis stems from the Enterprise briefly visiting Rigel VII five years previously when an away mission went terribly wrong. Not only were some Enterprise crew members thought to be lost, but apparently Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and his crew accidentally committed some cultural contamination, as present-day surveys of Rigel VII show the Starfleet Delta front and center among the planet’s society. So, is up to Enterprise to fix its mistake.
A cool quick note on continuity first: Rigel VII and its inhabitants, the Kalar, were mentioned by Pike way back in The Original Series episode “The Cage” – the first-ever Star Trek episode. Doctor Boyce asks Pike if the “fight” on Rigel VII weighed on his mind, and Pike explained how the losses – including that of his yeoman – were distracting him and made him question his command responsibilities. Indeed, Zach, who we’ll introduce soon, in “Among the Lotus Eaters” notes he was a yeoman, so Pike in 1966 was likely referencing a character we now see in 2023. Neat!
The mission to Rigel VII isn’t even the most pressing thing on Pike’s mind, though, because the captain is having some romance problems. He only gets to see his girlfriend, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano), every so often, and their recent experience at Una’s trial in “Ad Astra per Aspera” has led to some complications in Batel’s career path. Pike starts to get a little worried about their relationship, and he decides to pull the plug for a while, much to Batel’s chagrin. He does have one last item to remember her by, as the other captain gives him a mariner’s keystone, a medallion that signifies sailors always being able to come home. You don’t have to be Roger Ebert to realize this will probably come in handy sometime in this episode.
“You know how it is as a command officer. We’re responsible for other people’s lives. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for our own.”
“Everyone deserves joy in their life. Even a captain.”– Pike and Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn), talking about Captain Batel.
Arriving at Rigel VII after traversing a volatile atmosphere poisoned by radiation from an asteroid impact years ago, it doesn’t take too long for the away team to start experiencing disturbing mental symptoms. Confusion, disorientation, fear, and memory loss all start to afflict our heroes, starting with La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong).
Upon arriving at the Kalar command palace, Pike finds a crewman, Zach Nguyen (David Huynh) who was thought to be deceased, as leader of the natives and definitely holds a grudge against Pike for leaving him behind. Concerningly, Zach appears to rule over the natives as a “high lord,” and subjects others to manual labor in service to him. Zach has just enough time to exposit to the away team that the planet hosts a kind of radiation that impacts memory loss, and soon enough the away team’s forgetfulness is so severe that they forget who they are or why they came.
It’s thanks to a Kalar native, Luq (Reed Birney), who describes how he and others deal with this day-after-day memory loss, that our heroes start to put the pieces together. A totem that is inscribed with various imagery of Kalar civilization and their laborious place in it is what keeps them focused on their daily life, but the details of their previous lives are all but lost to the memory-impacting radiation. Living in the moment is key, and Luq calls the memory loss process “the Forgetting.” One who suffers the Forgetting can expect to remember basic things, like walking, talking, and other aspects “deep inside” a person, but all other details are lost. For example, Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) knows he can heal people – something he tries to do for La’an when she gets injured in a fight with their guards – but he doesn’t remember he’s a doctor. Interestingly, the Kalar in the palace doesn’t suffer the Forgetting.
“Emotions can guide you where memories can’t.”– Luq to Pike as Pike identifies Batel’s gift as being important to him.
Luq asserts a life with daily Forgettings is a blessing, as memories that contain anguish and pain are wiped. It’s a blissful life, according to the native, and he also considers it a blessing that there are Kalar — those who live in the palace — who do keep their memories so they may guide the rest of the civilization. Our heroes are not content to live this life, and they know something is deeply wrong, so they storm the palace in search of a mythical casket that supposedly holds all Kalar memories. Luq actually asks Pike not to free his own memory, as he knows love, particularly familial love, is something the Forgetting can’t take. Deep down, Luq still has love-related pain he wishes to not fully remember. Indeed, he asserts he is “past the need to remember” his deepest memories, and he is “too afraid of the pain.”
Upon arriving in the throne room after a firefight in which M’Benga was injured and left to hold off the approaching guards, Pike learns the palace is shielded from radiation, which explains why those who spend their time there do not have memory issues. Soon enough, Pike regains his memory and incapacitates Zach. Zach, for his part, was hoping Pike would live out his life in menial servitude, but such was not in the cards for the revolution-starting Starfleet captain.
Interestingly, in this confrontation with Zach, we see a much angrier Pike than we’ve ever seen before. The captain is even set to kill Zach in cold blood before his memories come back, so this episode has piqued our interest in what truly lies at the heart of Pike’s emotions now that we’ve seen him stripped of his professionalism and a fundamental aspect of his humanity. Indeed, Pike himself ponders his behavior in this confrontation with Zach, as he notes to his former yeoman that Rigel VII doesn’t change people, it just shows them who they truly are.
“[Luq] was right: Not having a past could be nice for a while.”
“I know what you mean. But maybe some memories are worth the pain of others.”– M’Benga and La’an after they get their memories back.
While this is all happening to our away team, the crew of the Enterprise are dealing with similar problems. Lieutenant Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), a character who thus far has been perhaps this show’s most underutilized new face, gets a bit of time for herself to shine. This episode asserts there are things people are just inherently good at and can’t just forget, and such is the case with Ortegas as she clings to the idea she is an excellent pilot, even when she can’t even remember her name or why she is on the ship.
Without a pilot to maneuver the Enterprise away from the planet, the entire crew would be lost. Ortegas steps up to the plate despite her memory loss and relies on her instinctual ability to carry her ship away from danger. We are appreciative that Ortegas, who this episode initially asserts is replaceable (such as when Pike takes her place flying the away team, or when Una relieves her from her position to escort Uhura to sickbay), does indeed turn out to be an irreplaceable crewmember in the end. As far as first-time plotlines go, that’s a pretty decent one.
We also want to compliment this episode’s excellent guest star, Reed Birney, for symbolizing the theme of the episode so well. Luq puts a kind face on the idea that people should benefit from losing their memories, but Birney flips that notion on its head when Luq explains to Pike at the end of the episode that he is okay with remembering his tragic family history. It’s a touching character arc, and Birney’s performance puts the heart in the heartful message “Among the Lotus Eaters” presents.
Taken together, we are really fond of this episode for offering a keen commentary on a basic part of the human condition – that it’s okay to hang on to painful memories. Kudos to veteran Star Trek writer Kristen Beyer and co-executive producer Davy Perez for a solid script. Beyers and Perez remind us it’s all your memories that make you who you are, and if this sounds a little bit familiar, it’s basically the message of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Remember in that movie when Sybok helps members of the Enterprise crew rid themselves of painful memories, except for Kirk, who insists he needs his pain? The crew of Strange New Worlds’ Enterprise learns that same lesson. Because it offers such a fundamental look at humanity through the context of a distinct and fascinating sci-fi setting, “Among the Lotus Eaters” feels like it could be right at home in any other Star Trek show. That’s the sign of a good episode if you ask us.
- Captain Pike wanted to bring Doctor M’Benga along because he is a proven brawler, but we have only really seen the doctor’s abnormally effective hand-to-hand fighting in the first episode of the season, where he was also under the influence of a drug. What else in the doctor’s history would make Pike want him for muscle? M’Benga’s role in this episode adds to the breadcrumb trail this season is leading us on regarding the doctor’s past, so consider our curiosity piqued.
- Were there no security officers – trained for melee – who Pike could have brought?
- Near the end of the episode, Captain Pike leaves the injured M’Benga to hold off four incoming enemies. The next time we see M’Benga, the doctor is just fine and has successfully regained his memories. One injured man should have been overrun by four guards, right?
- Erica being able to maneuver the Enterprise through the asteroid field is a rewarding moment for the character but goes against the rules about memory loss this episode created for itself. Sure, Erica can remember she is a pilot at heart, but she shouldn’t be able to remember how to operate her console or the minutiae of piloting the Enterprise.
- This episode ends with Pike removing the memory loss-causing asteroid from Rigel VII’s surface, and notes to Spock it’s an okay course of action as far as the Prime Directive is concerned because the asteroid hitting the planet was not a “natural development.” But isn’t that false logic? The asteroid hitting Rigel VII was an act of fate and circumstance, just like any natural disaster afflicting a population. However, we can forgive this illogical act, because Pike’s reasoning leads to Spock asserting the captain’s solution does indeed “feel” right, which is a pleasing admission for the Vulcan and speaks to lessons learned during this episode. Indeed, this exchange between Pike and Spock feels like a classic way an Original Series episode would end.
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