I closed out my post for “Children of the Comet” lamenting the lack of screen time thus far given to Una (Number One) Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn). Obviously that’s not a problem with “Ghosts of Ilyria” as she is the central focus. One of the things that Strange New Worlds does that I really like is it rotates the standard “Captain’s Log” role around the cast. While there are some recurring characters who perform this role in the season, I appreciate the way that this gives us a hybrid third-person omnicient/limited perspective on the story—we certainly aren’t limited in terms of who can appear in a scene together, but we get that extra glimpse into the thinking of one of the characters.
Here, the episode opens with Una giving us an overview of the mission at hand along with some background on the Illyrians—a species we saw previously traveling through the Delphic Expanse in Star Trek: Enterprise. We learn via Una’s log that the Illyrians are considered outcasts by the Federation because they have used genetic engineering to modify themselves. We also learn that there was once a colony of Illyrians on the Planet of the Week (Hetemit IX) that has mysteriously vanished. Una, Pike (Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck), and another of Other Crewmen have beamed down to investigate.
Making things difficult is the approach of an ion storm that, as anyone who has watched Star Trek can tell you, will interfere with transporters and poses a threat to the survival of the away team. Compounding the problem, Spock is off in a location that cannot be reached by communicator, so Pike heads off to get him while Una and the others beam up.
Except something is happening with the transporter. We get to see Hemmer (Bruce Horak) “tech the tech” a bit which is another classic little bit of Trek. Unfortunately, Pike and Spock are not able to follow them because of the ever-approaching ion storm, so they run to take shelter in what appears to be an archive of historical documents.
Back up on Enterprise, things are getting…odd. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) runs across one of the away team members obsess over being exposed to light, to the point where he smashes his face through the wall. We later see Una show a similar attraction to light, only to emit a strange glow and suddenly appear fine afterwards.
Whatever tweaks your freak, pal.Erica Ortegas
It turns out that the away team has unwittingly brought aboard a virus that spreads by light. I absolutely love this concept in that, while we have seen many an Unknown Pathogen in Star Trek, the idea of one that is spread by light is something new and quite interesting. I also like the attention to detail that the virus produces a vitamin D deficiency, which in turn drives someone infected to want more light exposure. Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) are struggling to keep up with the spread of infection.
Meanwhile, Pike and Spock are dealing with an encroaching ion storm and what appear to be energy beings threatening to attack them. Anson Mount and Ethan Peck play really well off of each other here, and this predicament makes for a solid B-plot. Spock has also made the discovery that the Ilyrians on this planet had been attempting to “de-engineer” themselves to hopefully be accepted within the Federation. At the same time, a swarm of energy beings appear to be trying to break through the door.
At this point, I need to take a step back and address the bigger picture of this episode.
Ultimately, we come to learn that Una is an Illyrian and has been living as such in secret for her entire career. We don’t know the exact nature of the genetic modifications she has undergone, specifically whether she had them performed on her or if she is simply the descendants of people who did. I prefer to think it’s the latter, because I was struck by the parallels between her situation and issues today with sexuality and gender, particularly as I write this in the midst of Pride Month.
Una is an Illyrian. She didn’t choose to be an Illyrian, it’s simply a fact that she is one. She’s also a damn good officer in Starfleet, who would throw her out on her ear immediately if they found out the truth. As someone who is old enough to remember “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the U.S. military, the parallels couldn’t be more clear.
But I wouldn’t stop there—this could just as easily be analogous to experiences within the trans community today. “We don’t care if you’re good at what you do, we don’t accept you for who you are” is an all too familiar experience for many people who are rejected, not because of any choices they have consciously made for themselves, but how they were born. Full stop.
This link continues in the wonderful scene between Una and Pike towards the end, where she offers to resign from Starfleet not just for her own sake but to also protect Pike from any repercussions. I absolutely love Pike’s response to this: flat out rejecting Una’s request to resign because a) she’s a great officer and b) because Starfleet will have to go through him if they want to bring any consequences to her.
Still with me? Ok good. I had to put that all down as an aside, because I think it’s an an incredibly important theme, especially for the moment we are living in right now. I also wanted to pause because, and I hate to say this, but I don’t really care for the resolution of the episode all that much aside from the scene between Una and Pike. It’s not bad by any means, but there are a few choices that are either a little too obvious or convenient for my liking.
The light virus continues to spread. Earlier in the episode, La’an (Christina Chong) had just been expressing to Una in rather stark terms about her dislike of genetic engineering (largely stemming from her having a tough childhood bearing the surname of one of Earth’s most infamous genetic supermen) when she suddenly became more interested in the light coming from a nearby desk lamp.
With La’an seemingly sedated, next up is Hemmer, who reacts to the virus by attempting to beam up a chunk of the planet’s core (mantle, actually). Una is able to put a stop to this by stunning him, and she carries Hemmer to sickbay over her shoulder to the amazement to Dr. M’Benga and Nurse Chapel. At this point, Una finally confides that her Illyrian physiology was able to fight off the pathogen. Unfortunately, Dr. M’Benga says that this isn’t a cure that is adaptable to the others. Worse, La’an has woken up, run off to engineering, and decided to get her light fix by causing a warp core breach.
All this is good stuff. So is the confrontation between Una and La’an, which features a fist fight and La’an tossing out some epithets at Una. Ultimately, Una subdues La’an and starts to glow again as in her quarters. Apparently their proximity allowed Una to cure La’an, and this process is used by Nurse Chapel to create an antidote for the entire crew. It’s all a bit contrived, if I’m being honest, and it feels almost like the show ran out of runtime so the virus had to be dealt with as swiftly as possible.
There is also the conclusion of the B-plot back on the planet, where the energy beings come the door just as the ion storm breaks through a nearby window. They immediately surround Pike and Spock and protect them from the effects of the storm. Once the storm has passed, Spock reveals that he believes that the energy beings are the missing Illyrian colonists—they had also become infected by the light virus and had run into the ion storm as a way of satiating their need for exposure to more light. Honestly, this was something I had figured out a long time previously, and while it works story-wise, it wasn’t much of a reveal.
What is a surprise though is the reason the infection was able to get on board in the first place: M’Benga’s medical transporter. Apparently it was the only transporter on the ship that wasn’t upgraded during the last refit, and that’s because M’Benga has been keeping his daughter in the transporter buffer! Leaving aside the fact that this is decades before Scotty would do the same thing to save himself on the crashed Jenolan, this sets up a very interesting character arc for Dr. M’Benga. I’m not entirely sold on the ethics of keeping a child inside a transporter buffer, but that all goes out the window when I see that shot of him reading to her. This is another moment that hits all of my Parent Feels (and it won’t be the last this season).
Moment of Melumad
I’m going to focus on a theme that has appeared previously (I may have included it in one of my clips from “Strange New Worlds”) and seems to be a bit of a motif for what I will inarticulately call “Supportive Pike.” In “Strange New Worlds” it plays over the scene where he is describing to La’an how Starbase 1 came to be as part of his pitch to get her to stay aboard. Here, it is used in the scene where Pike refuses accept Una’s resignation.
- This is probably my own failing, but I cannot watch Una’s infection-cure flare-up and not think of the Doctor regenerating in Doctor Who.
- The show’s use of the AR wall is fantastic, providing a view of the auxiliary sickbay and engineering this week.
- I’m torn on the callback to “In the Pale Moonlight” with Una immediately deleting her personal log entry.
Akela Cooper & Bill Wolkoff