For a series that has made no bones about its bent towards the nostalgic, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 10 manages to up the ante on several fronts.
Its faithful recreation of the encounter with the Romulans at Outpost 4 is richly nuanced in both look and sound. As with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 5, composer Nami Melumad has surpassed expectations in painting an audio backdrop against which our SNW cast plays out the infamous confrontation.
And not only do we meet the young Captain James T. Kirk, but the Scottish brogue of the Enterprise's "new" Chief Engineer is unmistakably Montgomery Scott. With all the legacy characters in place, Pike is the sore thumb in the canonical landscape.
The structure of the story is novel yet feels strangely familiar.
It's a clever twist on It's a Wonderful Life in that -- instead of seeing a world without his influence -- Pike lives a future he was never meant to have.
Interestingly, the unnamed Romulan commander speaks the exact words of speculative alliance -- "You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend" -- to Pike before he submits to execution that he speaks to Kirk on Star Trek: The Original Series Season 1 Episode 14, "Balance of Terror," before he activates the self-destruct.
The "Romulan Way" is an unforgiving and fatal condition, it seems.
Romulan Commander: You don't remember a time without war, but I do. Who wins an endless war with the Federation?
Subcommander: We will, Commander.
Romulan Commander: An endless war, by definition, can never be won.
In both scenarios, it's rather satisfying that the insurgent Romulan crew member (unnamed and scruffy-looking here but identified as Decius on TOS) suffers the same fate as his more noble and far-sighted commander.
I'm not sure that I like that Ortegas takes on the role of Stiles. Maybe something's happened to her in the intervening seven years, but the Ortegas we've grown to love would never have viewed Spock with such distrust and suspicion.
Seven years that place them six months on the other side of the reactor explosion where Ma'at is fated to die, and Pike is horrifically disfigured.
Seven years that see Uhura promoted to lieutenant and La'an made commander.
Seven years that Una spends in custody.
A lot can happen in seven years. Hopefully, we get to see some (most) of that on-screen eventually.
Seeing Pike and James T. Kirk's command styles side-by-side is a study of contrasts dressed as similarities.
I appreciate that Paul Wesley doesn't attempt to mimic the Shatner portrayal of Captain Kirk. If he had, there's no way the performance could have avoided turning farcical.
Pike: We may have different points of view, but do not question my combat readiness, Captain.
James Kirk: I'm saying, caution means you're not going to put everything you have into the punch, and that's a good way to lose because your enemy will see that and act accordingly.
Instead, we get a JT Kirk who commands the USS Farragut, a ship with nowhere near the prestige of the flagship Enterprise.
In some ways, he's a humbler Kirk, willing to accept the reasoning of a more senior and experienced captain like Pike.
But he's also, in the estimation of his big brother, a pain in the ass.
Pike is quick to pick up on Kirk's importance to the timeline. He knows that Kirk and he would never take the same path in dealing with the Romulans.
Pike's way is to learn first, then act on that knowledge. His sit-down with Sam Kirk is telling.
Sam Kirk: Jim was always at the top of his class. He's smart and highly skilled, obviously. But he's not above relying on charm or even luck.
Pike: Sound like a wild card?
Sam Kirk: A whole deck of them.
And while, in an ideal galaxy, Pike's way would always pan out, we see here that passing his fate onto Spock is more than Pike is willing to chance.
So while he agreed to accept his fate when he was on Boreth, the truth is he's never been able to accept that it's a fate that affects more than just him and the cadets at the reactor.
We all want to think our future is important, and ours -- yours and mine -- it is. Just not the way you think. Time is, um, it's complicated.Admiral Pike
Now that he knows what avoiding that fate will do to others, specifically Spock, it feels like he's reached that acceptance because he knows it's a crucial part of a bigger picture.
That acceptance seems to unburden him from the weight of his future in a counter-intuitive way. His return to his bridge in his time with his team is so full of joy, as seen in the lightness of his step and the knowing smile with which he greets his crew.
Only Uhura seems to notice how odd he's being, but she seems to accept that too.
In terms of production, as mentioned above, the care in bringing to life the details of Stardate 1709.2, the first encounter between the Federation and the Romulan Empire in a hundred years, is simply stunning.
From the recognizable musical phrasing right down to the lighting of faces on the bridge, there is a distinct effort to recall the look and feel of the TOS Enterprise.
Add to that today's VFX capabilities, and this space stand-off is executed at a motion picture level of quality.
Kirk's armada of robotic mining ships is truly a bluff of Kirk proportions, and his use of them to block the Romulan attack exemplifies the bravery and chutzpah that are James T. Kirks' trademarks.
There's a lot of bookending here. The season began with Pike and Batel sharing breakfast on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 1 in his Bear Creek, Montana, home.
So we probably should've clued in something was up when Batel shows up for breakfast here.
In fact, Anson Mount's first scene partner of the season is Melanie Scrofano, and she's in his last scene too.
Which begs the question, why is Batel the one to arrest Una?
When she and USS Cayuga leave Outpost 4, she's enigmatic about where she's going, referring to it only as "a date on the far side of the Neutral Zone."
Remember, they are at the far edge of Federation Space, where messages from Starfleet take days to relay. So how is it that, within a day of departing, she's back with orders to arrest Una?
If the orders came from Starfleet, when were they sent? Or did Batel's "date" share this information?
And even more pertinent, who leaked Una's secret? From how Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 3 ended, it's assumed only M'Benga, Chapel, La'an, Pike, and maybe Spock had learned of her Illyrian heritage.
Could it have been La'an? Did she let something slip to the wrong people while traveling with Oliana?
Production on Season 2 has just wrapped, which means there are many people out there with knowledge of how Pike plans to #FreeUna. Hmm...
With Captain Kirk's appearance here, was his Season 2 involvement a red herring? Will we see a seven-years-younger version of James T. Kirk?
What are your hopes and fears for Season 2, Fanatics? Hit our comments with your thoughts and theories, and until we convene again, LLAP!
Diana Keng was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond 'til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on X.