On Thursday morning, the season 1 finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streamed, bringing an end to the longest consecutive run of new Trek episodes we’ve been blessed with in a while. Among other things, “A Quality of Mercy” asks what would’ve happened if Christopher Pike had remained the Enterprise’s Captain rather than James Kirk. In spite of Anson Mount’s Pike being the lead of Strange New Worlds, the answer is a catastrophically bad one.
SPOILERS follow for the seaon 1 finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds!
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds‘ season finale takes us back to the events of “Balance of Terror” — the 1966 episode of the original series that introduced the Romulans to the franchise. But in this version, Christopher Pike has altered the events that would lead him to be horribly injured, thereby allowing him to still be in the Captain’s chair while Kirk (played by Paul Wesley) instead commands the USS Farragut. While Kirk winds up being instrumental in making sure the Enterprise survives the ordeal, because Pike is more committed to finding a peaceful resolution with the Romulans than Kirk was in “Balance of Terror,” the encounter ends up sparking a seemingly endless war between the Federation and the Romulans.
“A Quality of Mercy” is something of a mixture of two different Star Trek traditions. On one hand, it’s reminiscent of both Deep Space Nine‘s “Trials and Tribble-ations” and Voyager‘s “Flashback”; both of which returned to the events of earlier episodes or movies. On the other, it’s impossible to not think of TNG‘s “Tapestry,” in which Q (John de Lancie) shows Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) what his life would’ve been like if he hadn’t been so brash in his younger days.
Anson Mount’s version of Christopher Pike was introduced in season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, and during that series he learns he is fated to be scarred and crippled in an accident as was unveiled in the Star Trek: The Original Series‘ two-parter “The Menagerie.” Early in Strange New Worlds‘ season finale, Pike meets the child version of one of the people fated to die in that accident, and he begins to write a letter that he hopes will stop that child from eventually joining Starfleet (and so, he hopes, preventing that boy’s death). As he does, an older future version of himself appears wearing the red Starfleet uniform that first appeared in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The older Pike explains the same Klingon monks who gave Pike his vision of the future in Discovery, sent the older Pike back to convince his younger self to not change the future.
The older Pike uses the time crystal to reveal the future to his younger self. When it’s all over, the older Pike explains that not only do the events of the episode lead to war with the Romulans, but that in every timeline in which Pike changes the future it leads to the death of Spock (Ethan Peck). While we don’t know from exactly what year the older Pike comes from, judging by his uniform, we can guess the Romulan War has been raging in his future for at least 20 years.
With the season 1 finale here, we’re about to get our longest stretch without new Star Trek content in a while. There has been a regular stream of new episodes from either Discovery, Picard, and/or Strange New Worlds since February. While new episodes of Discovery, Lower Decks, and Prodigy are expected before the end of 2022, no firm premiere dates have been announced for any of those new seasons yet.