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Star Trek Strange New Worlds: A Quality of Mercy

This finale caps an exceptional first season by retelling a classic original series episode.

Of course, Christopher Pike would try to change his fate. Who wouldn't? He was spurred to take action after meeting Maat Al-Salah, one of the two cadets his future sacrifice won't save. And voilĂ . Future Christopher Pike showed up in a Wrath of Khan uniform and said, Sorry, Chris. We can't do that.

So, our question for today is, what if Captain Pike had been in command during a critical encounter with the Romulans instead of Captain Kirk?

"Balance of Terror" is a perfect original series episode to explore the difference between Pike's and Kirk's command styles. The stakes, intergalactic war, were unbelievably high. Pike showed mercy to the Romulans, tried diplomacy, gave them time to think, and it was a grave miscalculation since the Romulans took his efforts as weakness. What Kirk did, pursuing the Romulan ship into the Neutral Zone and destroying it for attacking the outposts, was the right action for the universe at the time.

It's particularly sad because Pike was right about the Romulan Commander. The guy was indeed tired of endless war, and Pike's choices might have worked if it hadn't been for that nasty Subcommander doing an end run around him. But may I also say that Kirk was right that Pike flinched. Pike actually seemed a little old fashioned compared to Kirk. That bothered me because I can't help preferring Pike's way of doing things.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." If Pike tries to rewrite his terrible fate, millions will suffer in a war that should never have started. As if that weren't bad enough, Spock was as catastrophically injured as Pike is destined to be. A stunned, broken-hearted Nurse Chapel was the one to tell Pike about Spock's terrible injuries. Future Pike implied that Pike had tried more than once to change the future, and every time, it was Spock who suffered. Sadly for Pike, Spock has a brilliant future that is important to two planets. Spock is more important to the future than Pike.

That last moment in Pike's quarters, when Spock realized what Pike wasn't saying, was their best scene together this season. Of course, Pike would never sacrifice millions of lives in exchange for his own. It isn't even at that level, because Pike would also never exchange Spock's suffering for his own. I loved the understated way they expressed their love for each other. It was freaking beautiful.

Many early scenes in the "what if" segment were shot-for-shot recreations or just echoes of "Balance of Terror," from the aborted wedding in the chapel, Hansen's death on Outpost 4, to Spock's lines in the conference room about the savagery of early Vulcans. Ortegas and Mitchell switched stations on the bridge, undoubtedly because in the original, a butthead named Stiles at Navigation repeatedly spouted xenophobic comments at Spock. Ortegas provided that necessary negativity, although she of course wasn't as mean.

As a fan of The Vampire Diaries, I thought I'd be all in with Paul Wesley as Captain Kirk. I wasn't – at first. I did like seeing Kirk meet Spock for the first time, that Kirk was immediately impressed with Spock's work, and that Spock supported Kirk's command choice. The robot decoys were very like something Kirk would think of, too.

But after rewatching "Balance of Terror," I realized that Paul Wesley did indeed effectively echo William Shatner's performance in that episode – calm, deliberate, determined, always sure of himself and his actions. And Ethan Peck's Spock was more emotionless, more Vulcan, more in line with Leonard Nimoy. I found that to be a little sad. I've been enjoying younger Spock exploring his human side.

I'm glad SNW resisted giving us a cliffhanger season finale... okay, there was one. Una was taken into custody basically for being Illyrian (by Pike's honey Batel, who apologized). Pike said he wouldn't accept this. But in the future, La'an told Pike that Una had indeed been imprisoned for seven years. Does that mean Pike will fail in any efforts to have her released?


— Stardate 1457.9 in the present, and 1709.2 in the future. The Enterprise was on the edge of the Neutral Zone.

— The year 2266 was also mentioned as seven years from "now." Wasn't the accident supposed to be ten years from now? Don't tell me that three years have passed in just the first season?

— There was a change in the credits cast. No Bruce Horak. Sigh. The final credit was Paul Wesley as "special guest star."

— The Klingon monks from Boreth were responsible for the time shenanigans. A convenient plot device.

— The U.S.S. Farragut wasn't in "Balance of Terror" at all. It was mentioned as Lieutenant James Kirk's previous posting in the episode "Obsession."

— It was wonderful to see Spock as second in command, and Uhura at her comm station. I also liked Pike meeting with Sam Kirk to ask him about his brother. It's what I would do.

— I loved that they used original series music, starting the moment when Spock saw that the Romulans looked like Vulcans.

— La'an was still on leave in the present. In the future, she was a commander and a lot more relaxed, with unbound hair and hugs for Pike.

— In "Balance of Terror," Mark Lenard played the unnamed Romulan Commander, and he did such a great job and looked so much like Leonard Nimoy that he was later cast as Spock's father, Sarek. Which made me hope that they'd cast James Frain as the Romulan Commander. No such luck.

— In the original, the bridegroom, Tomlinson, was the only casualty. In this episode, it was the bride that died.


Batel: "You know, I think I miss the beard."
Pike: "Yeah, it felt like it belonged to a different era of captain."
Batel: "Thought that's what you were going for: man out of time."


Batel: "I'm always curious who the Chris of tomorrow is gonna be. Beard. no beard. Surprise me."
Geez. That opening romantic breakfast foreshadowing hit us over the head, didn't it?

Present Pike: "I've been doing this long enough that I'm not just gonna take the word of somebody who shows up in my cabin and says he's future me."
Future Pike: "Your first pony was named Sir Neighs-a-Lot. He broke his leg in a rainstorm. Your parents had to put him down and you cried for a week. Ever tell anybody that?"
Present Pike: "It's hard when your tragic backstory starts with..."
Future Pike: "...a silly name. Sorry."

Scott: "I'm an engineer, not a miracle worker."
Actor Matthew Wolf was listed as "Engineer." Was that him doing the James Doohan impression?

Pike: "Spock, you are... you are very important to me."
Spock: "As you are to me, Captain. Chris."
And I'm getting teary again.

"A Quality of Mercy" had a strong effect on me. When I watched the second time, I actually started crying when future Pike appeared in Pike's ready room.

An outstanding finale for an outstanding first season. Four out of four time crystals,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. I loved the episode although there were several moments that left me teary-eyed. And yet, the idea that mercy is the wrong answer to a problem in a Star Trek episode is sorry state of affairs.

    On the other hand, I smiled when Scotty showed up this week. But given that it was the future, I'm not sure what it says about your predictive skills. :).

    1. It was the future. I insist that it doesn't count. :)


    2. I have it on pretty good authority that there is a new Chief Engineer on Season Two, and it's not Scotty.

  2. I thought this episode was almost exactly what I wanted. Almost. Paul Wesley never felt like Kirk to me, not once. Kirk always has that spark of charm that makes his character shine, and it never manifested in Wesley's performance. Everything Kirk did really felt like him, his tactical thinking and paradigm shifting. But his dialogue always felt like it was written for Generic Captain Person rather than Kirk.

    This episode seemed to be trying to communicate why Kirk was a necessary Captain for his time, and I think it would have gotten there with a few changes. They wanted to show us that if Kirk was there instead of Pike, the situation would've gone differently. But they sent Kirk there anyway, and it still played out this way. As a result they painted it as though Pike's way of doing things was a weakness, rather than showing us that Kirk's approach could be strength in the right scenario. We were talking in my house, and we agreed Kirk should've died when the Farragut blew up. That way it's clear that Kirk's absence, not Pike's presence, is the reason the situation goes wrong. Plus, then when the crew comes for Spock, Pike is the only one defending him. Maybe he puts the rest of his crew above Spock and doesn't quite put his foot down hard enough. Maybe he sends Spock to go work on the weapons repair rather than stay on the bridge distracting the crew. Which is what gets him killed.

  3. CoramDeo, I think you read my mind. I thought for sure Kirk was going to die in the episode. For that very reason. Instead, I think they tried to have their cake and eat it too. It's the loss of Spock that changed history added to the idea that Pike would never sacrifice his friend to save his own life.

  4. It's an interesting thought. Maybe they decided that the focus should be more on Spock.

    Playing an icon like Captain James T. Kirk had to be difficult. Paul Wesley is a good actor. I'm hoping that I'll warm to him more in future appearances.

  5. What a wonderful episode in a fantastic first season. I absolutely LOVE this show. I don't think I have enjoyed Star Trek this much since Voyager (which had its ups and downs). Anson Mount and Ethan Peck are just perfect in the lead. Love love love them.

    Fantastic reviews all season, Billie. It's been a delight to read them.
    And yes, I also wonder why they hired Grace Jones' hairdresser from the 80s for Anson Mount. I don't mind though, Grace Jones was cool.

  6. TJ, thanks so much. Grace Jones' hairdresser. Lol. :)

  7. I finally got around to watching the season finale. I agree it's been a great first season, and I've enjoyed this show the most out of all the newer ST series. What was it exactly about the original series music that makes it so distinctive? I noticed immediately when it started playing. The one big quibble I had with this episode was Paul Wesley. I got absolutely zero Captain Kirk vibes from him. Every time he came onscreen all I could think of was that someone made a bad casting decision. (And I liked him in Vampire Diaries, btw.) Still, the show isn't about him, and I'm really looking forward to next season.

  8. Wow! I loved this episode, probably because "Balance of Terror" was one of my favorite original episodes. I agree that I was kind of hoping James Frain would be the Romulan Commander. I'm not sure how I feel about Paul Wesley, but I think that's going to come down to having a problem reconciling between the different actors to play Kirk (similar to how I feel about Uhura). I think I have an easier time with Spock, because he is so easy to mimic that everyone who plays him is almost as good (but not quite) as Leonard Nimoy.
    I agree with Shari above that it is strange to see Star Trek give a message that fighting gets a better result than peace, but at the same time, Romulans have always been portrayed as seeing a desire for peace as a weakness, so it made perfect sense that the attempt at peace was what would lead to war. And I know there is a small but vocal group of fans who are actively trying to end all of the new ST shows for not following Roddenbury's ideals, but I personally like that about the new shows. Roddenbury's dreams for the future may be bright and shiny, but they don't give us the kind of tension and drama that keeps a show interesting. And his dreams don't really make much sense anyway. I still get annoyed watching the TNG episode "The Neutral Zone" where the Enterprise picks up the cryogenically frozen people from the late 20th century. When Picard explains to the businessman that people no longer work for the accumulation of material wealth, but as a means of "bettering themselves", I have to laugh at the ridiculousness of the idea. I mean, that's a really nice sentiment coming from a captain, but what about the janitors of the future? Are they cleaning toilets because it brings them peace? If money wasn't a necessity in the future, could I just decide to sit at home, watch movies, and play video games all day, because I think it's my way of bettering myself?

  9. Thanks for the great review, Billie. I finally watched the season finale and loved it. When I first started watching this series I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I am a OS fan from when it first aired, and I kept stumbling over comparing the old characters with the new. Particularly Nurse Chapel, who I did not like in the OS. I keep thinking I disliked the new one, but kept liking her anyway. Finally, that dischord faded and I was able to appreciate SNW. This was a good end to the first season.

    The brief appearance of bearded Cul-, er, Pike, was a treat. And the mind meld sharply reminded me of Leonard Nimoy and made me sad. I also was one who didn’t quite pick up the Kirk vibe, but it was fun meeting him anyway. Looking forward to the new season. I hope, like you, that 3 years didn’t pass in just one.


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