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Star Trek Strange New Worlds: Ad Astra per Aspera

"Through her hardship, Una saw the stars."

An exceptional courtroom drama. What a surprise. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it so much.

Una grew up in a Federation colony with her family hiding their identity. Yes, they didn't have to say it: Jews in Nazi Germany, keeping their customs and culture a secret, attacked and persecuted for being who they were, choosing between living in a ghetto or trying to pass. Once, Una's parents even refused to treat her broken leg because it would have revealed their secret.

It was why Una longed to join Starfleet. The motto "Ad Astra per Aspera," to the stars through hardship, expressed her belief that exploring the stars is the answer to everything, and I really do get that. Starfleet was more important to Una than being herself.

Una said she turned herself in because she was tired of living a lie. But it seemed obvious to me that it was because she had just told Pike the truth and knew that it put him in legal jeopardy.

Of course, all of Una's shipmates were desperate to help her. But mostly, all they could do was sit in the conference room and watch her court martial unfold. You'd think that would have made this episode dull. It most certainly did not.

And that was because this episode was just expertly filmed. The camera kept moving, showing the action of the lawyers and witnesses in the courtroom, and the reaction of Una's shipmates in the conference room. Those reaction shots were just so good. We could tell at every moment what our crew was thinking and feeling.

It was all so personal, even while the proceedings were cold and professional. Pike couldn't testify because it would have revealed that he knew Una was Illyrian. La'an constantly blamed herself because she had recorded a personal log, but it was really because she was always afraid that she herself might have a genetically modified monster inside. Admiral April longed to defend Una's record but he couldn't because he had to say he would have reported her had he known.

Neera Ketoul (Yetide Badaki), the talented Illyrian lawyer that Pike acquired for Una, nearly suffocating in the process, was worth his efforts. She took the job to help her people, but when that didn't work out, she came up with a brilliant legal argument – the requirements to grant asylum – that saved Una, anyway. That ending, and Una's crew applauding Neera in the transporter room, was so earned. Starfleet isn't perfect, but this crew is so representative of its ideals. And I was so touched when Pike simply hugged Una, without saying a word.

Were Neera and Una a couple 25 years ago? They never actually said, did they? It was obvious, though, that Una's decision to join Starfleet was what broke them apart, and why Neera at first refused to help.

Did Captain Batel prosecute on purpose to hurt Pike, or help him? She tried hard to plead Una out, to get it over and done with. But when the tide was turning in the end, Batel was smiling. I've gotten the impression that Pike and Batel's romantic relationship was casual, but maybe it is not. Maybe it will survive this particular bump in the road.

The remaining mystery is, what the frilly heck is going on with Vice Admiral Pasalk? The early, humorous "Vulcan bros" scene in the lounge where Spock apologized to Ortegas and M'Benga for his emotional outburst was adorable. Turns out Pasalk was a former colleague of Sarek's, and Spock can't stand him. During the court martial, Pasalk was clearly directing Batel to implicate Pike for conspiracy. I'm sure we'll be seeing Pasalk again because something is clearly going on there.


— Stardate 2393.8. The Vaultera Nebula, where an Illyrian colony lives; San Francisco; and whatever colony it was where Una lived as a child. (Did they say?)

— The opener, with Pike refusing to leave Neera's office even though he couldn't breathe, was adorably reminiscent of a childish tantrum even though the stakes were life and death.

— Gold acting stars for Yetide Badaki, who gave a terrific performance as Neera Ketoul.

— In last season's finale, we were told that Una had been in prison for the past seven years. Does that mean that in that other reality, Pike's efforts failed and he just gave up? I'm not complaining; just nitpicking.

— The new formal uniforms are gorgeous. They're a lot like the original series ones, but much prettier.

Spock and Neera in "Ad Astra per Aspera"

Shaw and Spock in "Court Martial."

— The obvious original series homework would be "Court Martial," except that the storyline isn't similar. Something a bit more in line and much better is Data on trial for his rights as a sentient being in ST:TNG's outstanding "The Measure of a Man."


Neera: "Congratulations. You've discovered empathy. Let me know when the rest of your Federation catches up."

Una: "Twenty years for lying on an application?"

Pike: "April once told me that every good captain needs a first officer who will tell him when he's wrong."
It turns out Pike met Una when he gave a speech at the Academy and Una pointed out a mistake he'd made in re-entry.

Neera: "Slavery was once legal. Apartheid was legal. Discrimination against people for how they worshiped, how they loved, their gender, color of their skin – all legal at one time or another. A law does not make something just."

Spock: "Yes, I did get the sense that she was hiding something."
Neera: "What was she hiding?"
Spock: "An affinity for Gilbert and Sullivan musicals."
A reference to the Short Trek, "Q&A." Bravo.

What do you think? I thought it was amazing. Three and a half out of four Gilbert and Sullivan musicals,

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


  1. This is one of the best Star Trek episodes across all of the series. It was heartwarming that Captain Pike had granted Una asylum, and surprising that she turned herself in.

  2. I wanted to comment on this review (which was wonderful, as always,) but my thoughts don’t want to come together in a way deserving of this episode. I really, really liked it. I couldn’t believe how enthralling the courtroom drama was. Just about every line in the whole episode was meaningful and moving. So amazingly well done.

    And such a master stroke of writing: Did Pike knowingly grant Una asylum? Did she knowingly ask for it? Or were they just playing out the soul baring situation as it laid and Neera was brilliant enough to see what it meant? I think everyone in the room was surprised except Neera.

  3. Wonderful review, really captured my feelings on this lovely heartfelt episode! I wondered the same thing though about last season’s finale with Una having been in prison for 7 years. My only thought is that the two timelines have already significantly diverged. In the previous timeline, Pike warned the officers in his future explosion and my guess is that avoiding his fate became his priority and he didn’t even think to go through the huge leap of seeking out the Illyrian attorney. In this NEW timeline, demonstrated by the lovely finish of last season’s finale, Pike decided to accept his fate, enjoy the time left to him, and protect his family. When Una was the arrested, restoring his family through whatever means necessary became his primary drive. Just a theory!

  4. I liked the execution of this episode a lot, but I'm not sure the writers completely thought through all of the implications of the story they were trying to tell. As Billie said, the gesture toward Jews in Nazi Germany was clear, as was the episode's focus on the problems of discrimination and segregation generally.

    But the detail that bothered me a lot (especially given the Nazi parallel) and took me out of the episode was that this was in the context of discrimination against genetically modified people. And the episode seemed to be trying to equate genetic modifications with one's tradition and culture. That opens up a whole list of questions that the episode really doesn't address. What kind of modifications are we talking about? Just to prevent disease and breath in the harsh atmosphere, or to improve intelligence, physical strength, etc. too? If so, that does start to sound like the practice of eugenics, and do the writers really want to appear to fall so heavily on that side of the argument?

    Surely an individual like Una who did not choose to be genetically modified should not be condemned, but just because this practice is part of one's culture, does that make it beyond criticism? They don't get into the details, so I was left wondering.

    I don't think the writers were exactly trying to go in this direction, but by using genetic engineering as the context for telling a story about discrimination, they invite such questions. I think maybe another draft taking the issue of eugenics more seriously would have either gone away from the issue of eugenics (difficult given what they have already established about Una in previous episodes), or attempted to wrestle with it more seriously.

    1. Anonymous, it might indeed be interesting to learn more about the different modifications and what exactly made non-Illyrians start rioting. Maybe we'll be getting some of that in future episodes.

      But I thought the point was that the Illyrians, who had their own history, languages, customs, weren't trying to secretly start another war; they were just trying to live their lives in the face of a law that made their very existence illegal.

    2. I completely agree, that was supposed to be the main point of the episode, and I think they did it really well in the context of the Star Trek universe.

      But it wasn't the only point. This was also likely meant as a more expansive allegory for our own time. I believe at Neera even referred to what the Illyrians faced as "racial prejudice" at one point.

      And while I think we can all agree that the anti-discrimination message of the episode is commendable, when it is put in the context of genetic engineering, uncomfortable questions arise.

      For instance, as I'm thinking about it more, the link drawn in this episode between race/racial prejudice and genetic engineering is particularly problematic; are they trying to suggest that the Illyrians consider race to be akin to one's genetics? That would seem to fly in the face of what we know race to be, something socially constructed.

      These are the kinds of issues the episode raises when you think about the context. I'm not saying they shouldn't be able to raise those kinds of issues (what is Star Trek for otherwise?). But, I think they didn't think fully through the story they were telling in order to effectively address such complexities.

    3. Every Trek has a courtroom episode, and this was among the best. It's not a coincidence that this episode was aired during Pride month. Those of us who are part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community understand the need to survive by hiding who we are or face being persecuted. The episode clearly draws comparisons to outdated laws designed to weed out people who are different. This is not a part of our history, it is very much a present trend today, with 39 states in the US passing anti-trans laws. As much as gays and lesbians have the right to marriage and laws that prohibit discrimination, we still face violence and high rates of hate crimes. This is why many us are still in hiding today. I think the analogy is clear during the conclusion when Neera brings it back to the present day, stating the laws haven't changed, but hopefully they will someday. We need that hope right now considering the the backlash against 2SLGBTQ+ people. They attack us in the courts, they attack us in the schools, and they attack with legislation. However, we will not go quietly into the night.

  5. Big big sigh of relief! This is the Strange New Worlds I loved in season one, and such a huge improvement on the opening episode. Even though the main cast was largely sidelined, I felt the writers truly nailed their personalities in the few scenes they were in. In particular, the M’Benga/Ortiz scene while they watch the Spock interaction is just perfect.

    I’m not familiar with Yetide Badaki’s work, but her character was an absolute force of nature in this episode. I especially liked how she began with a takedown of Admiral April over violations of the Prime Directive early on, and then wove that into her narrative to portray him as heroic at the end. Did she have that planned all along, or was she just adjusting on the fly??

    Vice Admiral Pasalk proved to me that every species has a Dolores Umbridge. That was who I kept thinking of the entire trial. I agree I think we will see him again.

    Captain Batel has really grown on me. And really, Pike is such a good judge of character. I doubt Pike would be involved with her if she wasn’t truly a decent person. I think it showed in this episode as the tables turned in the trial.

    This episode was not quite up to the level of Measure of a Man, but it was very good, and up there among the best of SNW so far.


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