Compared to more mellow Starfleet commanders like Jean-Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway, Captain Kirk is often branded the “shoot first, ask questions later” captain. We were starting to wonder whether the franchise was trying to distance itself from Kirk’s more aggressive methods of cowboy diplomacy, and that’s why the season one finale of Strange New Worlds was such a pleasant surprise. The episode premise is basically “what if Captain Pike commanded the Enterprise during its first Romulan encounter,” and the show makes it crystal clear that Captain Kirk’s aggressive ways save the Federation and countless innocent lives.
Balance Of Terror
To fully explain, we’re going to need to back up to 1966. The first season of Star Trek: The Original Series brought us “Balance of Terror,” an episode in which Captain Kirk and crew encounter the Romulans for the very first time. A Romulan ship is using its cloaking device to destroy Federation starbases along the neutral zone, but Kirk’s quick thinking and combat savvy help him to destroy the vessel before it can escape to the safety of Romulan territory.
A Quality Of Mercy
In the Strange New Worlds episode “A Quality of Mercy,” Captain Pike faces a unique dilemma: thanks to some time crystals from the Klingon monks of Boreth, Pike knows that he will face a grisly fate in the future where, after saving many Starfleet cadets, he is horrifically disfigured by delta ray radiation. He contemplates writing letters to all the cadets who will be in danger that day, which will save some of their lives and potentially save his own future. Ironically enough, even as he contemplates this fact, a future version of himself shows up to discuss what a bad idea this is.
Conveniently, future Pike is sporting one of those time crystals, allowing his younger self to experience what would happen if he doesn’t get disfigured in the accident. We jump to the future where he is in command of the Enterprise during the events of “Balance of Terror.” Captain Kirk, meanwhile, is commanding the Farragut and is eager to help out with the Romulan incursion.
Pike Isn’t The Right Captain To Face The Romulans
The episode is a real treat for longtime Star Trek fans because it largely replicates “Balance of Terror,” but we see how Captain Pike makes very different decisions than Captain Kirk. The biggest decision is continually pursuing a diplomatic solution with the Romulans instead of trying to destroy them. It’s a good idea on paper, but this ends up making Starfleet look weak to the Romulans, who waste no time declaring war on the Federation.
It Needed To Be Kirk
Future Pike comes from this dystopian future, and he twists the knife even further by revealing that Spock ends up dying after the Enterprise escapes to safety. In addition to all the other chaos caused by the sudden war with the Romulans, the loss of Spock means he can’t help with the “end of the world stuff” he was destined to handle. The grim answer for Pike is crystal clear: he must face his own awful fate head-on so that Captain Kirk can command the Enterprise on that fateful day and unknowingly keep the Federation from plunging into a conflict it simply can’t win.
An Unexpected Story
Honestly, this was the last message we expected to get from NuTrek. When the first season of Star Trek: Discovery ended with Burnham deciding to spare the Klingon homeworld, we began to wonder if this kinder, gentler Star Trek universe still had room for mavericks like Captain Kirk. Now, however, Strange New Worlds has become the de facto flagship show for Paramount, and that series went out of its way to justify Kirk’s violent aggression out on the cosmic frontiers.
Congrats, Jim: winning everyone back over like this was the real no-win scenario. We’re just left with one big question for Paramount. When the heck are we going to give William Shatner his own Kirk standalone series?