Star Trek #1570: Memento Mori

CAPTAIN'S LOG: The Enterprise is attacked by the Gorn.

WHY WE LIKE IT: We learn more about the Gorn!

WHY WE DON'T: Be careful what you wish for.

REVIEW: We remember the Gorn as brawny, toyetic lizard men, but never really got much of a culture from them. Strange New Worlds provides that (with SOME fudging, perhaps) by turning them into Star Trek's answer to Alien's Xenomorphs - horrific monsters who feed you to their babies and are absolutely relentless and remorseless killers. At least that's La'an's experience, and while we will revisit this later in the season, Memento Mori features the Gorn as spaceships, luring the Enterprise into a trap so it can (presumably) board her and grab the tasty warm-bloods inside. In a pretty extreme redress of Wrath of Khan, the pea soup environment played by brown dwarf matter quickly being siphoned into a black hole, the outmatched Starfleet ship must not only survive, but beat the superior foe. Love the three-pronged look on the ships (reminds me of the bad guys in Space: Above and Beyond), and the desperate situation they cause.

But that's not really what the episode is about. The title refers to the Enterprise celebrating (the better word might be commemorating) Starfleet Remembrance Day, by wearing the insignia of ships you formerly served on, you honor the people you served with who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. A nice sentiment, much like our own Remembrance Day, but the episode goes further by showing us that the willingness to sacrifice (or at least risk) one's life for the common good is prevalent in Starfleet. A wounded crewman pushes Chief Kyle into a doorway just before he's trapped in a buckling section and exposed to dwarf star matter. A badly wounded Una gives up the last batch of plasma for another crew person, while she undergoes an operation where she might bleed out, then wakes up and sees M'Benga working on someone else, an IV running from his arm to hers. Hemmer and Uhura, trapped in a cargo bay (another gigantic room akin to Engineering), open the doors and risk being sucked into a black hole so they can fling a decoy explosive and make the big Gorn ship believe Enterprise has been destroyed. La'an and Spock readily volunteer for a "suicide mission" to spy on the Gorn ships. And La'an, with the help of a mindmeld, remembers how her brother delayed the Gorn and paid for it with his life so she could escape their hunt. In the meld, she hears Burnham's voice, a reminder of Discovery's secret sacrifice. One might even say that allowing Spock into her mind and unlocking traumatic events from her childhood, given who she is, is a sacrifice too. These often matter-of-fact sacrifices show what Starfleet is all about, from the captain down to the lowest crewman.

Principally, it's La'an's story. We go deeper into her back story, but more than that, she learns an important lesson about command. Driven by her trauma (no matter what she says), she's quick to judge the situation and fuel Ortegas' doomsaying. Pike's expressions say it all. So he reminds La'an that the crew needs hope so they can pull of an eventual miracle. When Ortegas gets lippy about their odds, he makes jokes. When he makes himself reassuring, La'an backs him up. They ask for a miracle and they get it. Hemmer and Uhura get the B-plot. She's currently assigned to Engineering, and Hemmer is very hard to impress, but pleasantly, she's hard to phase. Great dynamic which pays off later, and here a window into Hemmer's fairly mysterious character. How the Aenar's pacifism translates into an active protection of ideals rather than passivity. How they believe you can only die once you've fulfilled your purpose (will that save Uhura?). And when they survive, Pike's tangible relief. There's a lot of tech stuff in the episode, between the Engineering subplot and the Enterprise trying to find ways around its damage, but it all comes down to those human moments.

And of course, as a big special effects battle, there's lots to ooh and ahh about too: The umbilical corridor. The flip phone torpedo dropped rather than fired at the Gorn ship from a stalking Enterprise. Ortegas surfing the ship on a black hole's accretion disk. The new ship designs. Television Trek is pretty much delivering feature-quality effects these days.
Quite naturally, Starfleet can't set eyes on the Gorn until Arena, but in that episode, Kirk has never heard of them and is given the word by the Metrons. It's possible Uhura's revulsion is based on her earlier experiences - unspoken recognition - but it would be surprising if Kirk had never heard of these legendary boogeymen, especially given that the Enterprise tangled with them a number of times before his commission. One might further question the peaceful ending in Arena given that the Gorn are known to eat people and use them as egg sacs. Sure, we were in the wrong at Cestus III, but there's a whole history between the Federation and the Gorn that can't be addressed on the TOS episode. What we DO see of the Gorn here does reasonably match up with Arena, though their clicking language is expressed as more of a growling/hissing in Arena. The other episode that has a bearing on events in Dagger of the Mind, in which Spock says he's never mindmelded with a human before, forgetting La'an here.

LESSON: Sacrifice is a way of life in Starfleet.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: While the Gorn's make-over may raise a few eyebrows, the thematic focus on self-sacrifice isn't just effective, it's actually pretty touching.