From the episode’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Una must confront a secret she’s been hiding when a contagion ravages the ship, incapacitating the rest of the crew.”
When it comes to my fondness for All Things Trek, I’ve always been of the mindset that each new incarnation of the property understandably tinkers with resetting canon to a limited degree.
Now … what does that mean?
Well, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – or its characters, situations, and circumstances – wasn’t referenced aboard the seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation that were produced before it came into broadcast existence; so it should go without saying that DS9 had to tinker with canon in that it added a good number of new layers that had to be incorporated as seamlessly as possible. The same could be said for Star Trek: Voyager and the subsequent Star Trek: Enterprise – as they were entirely new each and of themselves they carried little weight so far as previous shows were concerned – and now the same can be said for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I approach new shows as having to add to the existence legacy rather than getting wound up in some of the – erm – fictional history; and that’s how I find it effortless to accept each on their own while not putting a whole lot of emphasis on what came before.
However, “Ghosts Of Illyria” – scripted by Akela Cooper and Bill Wolkoff – did take an existing legacy character and reshape her origin entirely.
How could that be?
It’s an easy answer, and that’s because the character of Una Chin-Riley (aka ‘Number One’) never really had an origin. Introduced in the original Star Trek pilot episode titled “The Cage” and then rediscovered in Trek’s two-part installment “The Menagerie,” Una was a blank canvas so far as canon was concerned. Thus, Cooper and Wolkoff’s tinkering was reasonably acceptable so far as I’m concerned. I don’t follow the wider Trek community that stretches across the Information Superhighway, so I can’t realistically sound off on how fandom may’ve felt about this new information … but I think it still has some hang-ups.
Chiefly, I’m not a fan of characters who so openly disobey a Starfleet oath of office, and – sigh – the Kurtzman Era of the Gene Roddenberry franchise is replete with them. I say this understanding full well that haters might love to debate with me the violations to the Prime Directive that Captain James T. Kirk may’ve made back in the day, and that’s all well and good. My point is, simply, this: show me a character in Star Trek: Discovery that hasn’t broken the rules – the always perfect Michael Burnham included – and then we can talk. In the meantime, I still prefer officers who exhibit good judgment, and – when in doubt – that generally means obeying oaths, orders, and the chain of command.
But that aside …
“Ghosts” also had me questioning the whole premise behind the episode or – if not the premise – the presented logic of the script.
The answer is that they weren’t. Instead, La’an’s background was largely used for a few character exchanges between her and Una, a relationship that really needs greater definition at this point. Were they friends? La’an mentions that Una rescued her and then kinda/sorta brought her back to civilization, but was there something more? I felt that there was a hint of a romantic entanglement there (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but perhaps I was reading a bit more into their affection. Either way, I’m hoping that the writing room can clear that up at some point, as I think it might be useful.
But back to the whole premise …
What we’re told by Una in her officer’s log is that the Enterprise was making a routine stop at Hetemit IX but given no definitive reason why.
So here’s where I struggled (and feel free to tell me that I’m overthinking): if the Illyrians were not a part of the Federation and were, in fact, kinda/sorta ostracized as a race for their work in genetic modifications, why oh why would the Federation have a standing order to stop by and have a look at one of their failed colonies? What was the purpose behind these ‘routine’ inspections? Were we looking for something – clues to why they went extinct – or were we just pillaging what was left of their civilization? Since trafficking in Illyrian technology was a huge no-no, then what were the crew actually doing other than trespassing?
I realize that some of you might suggest that it’s the job of scientists to study dead civilizations, and I’d be apt to remind you that the Illyrian people clearly aren’t dead. Because they apparently still exist elsewhere in the galaxy, why did they not go and reclaim all of their science, technology, belongings, etc. from Hetemit IX? Granted, we weren’t treated to a wide array of spaces and rooms, but clearly the lab/library that Pike and Spock holed up in to ride out the planet’s ion storms suggests that some useable tech was still there. I just wanted to know why, and no answer was really forthcoming.
Besides painting Starfleet as a situationally racist organization, Ghosts really makes light of officers breaking protocol for their own personal gain. Lo and behold, the ship’s physician Dr. M’Benga even gets into the act in a curious plot twist that harkens back to something Montgomery Scott executed in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yes, yes, yes: I understand the man was driven to dire straits in an attempt to prolong the life of a loved one, but why is it that Dr. Leonard McCoy didn’t do the same to his father as we learned from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? In Trek chronology, it appears that those events happened well after the shenanigans of Ghosts; and it’s this general laziness that does offend Trek traditionalists like myself. While I won’t say it breaks canon, I will say it’s lazy as it’s been done before and done better.
Star Trek: Strange New World’s “Ghosts Of Illyria” was produced by was produced by CBS Television Studios, Roddenberry Entertainment, and Secret Hideout. The episode is currently available for streaming on Paramount+, or it can be purchased as part of the show’s first season on DVD/Blu-ray released this past March 31, 2023. As for the technical specifications? It’s pretty clear that Paramount has pulled out all of the stops in bringing this incarnation of Star Trek to life as the show looks and sounds pretty fabulous from start-to-finish; while I could nitpick the quality of some space scenes or others (coming off as a bit too like a video game), the presentation never distracted from my enjoyment of it.
Recommended, but …
I think I left this episode of Strange New Worlds with a few more questions than probably did others. (Yes, yes, yes: I have a habit of overthinking things as I do try to make absolutely certain that all elements make perfect sense.) Also, some of the moral choices made by a few of the Enterprise officers struck me as flawed; while I might understand why they felt it necessary to bend a rule here and there, that doesn’t escape the fact that the hour still had an undercurrent painting the Federation as stereotypically racist in its attitudes. Sadly, writers with little to no background beyond writing do tend to take unwarranted swipes at government, so I’ll chalk up some of those quips to being part-and-parcel of the usual diatribe from creative types.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I watched this episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – “Ghosts Of Illyria” – from the 2023 DVD Release of the program’s first season.