Time Travel in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW)

"Well, it's time crystal stuff." (Pike, SNW: "A Quality of Mercy")


SNW: A Quality of Mercy

Captain Pike is aware of his future since he touched the Klingon time crystal in DIS:" Through the Valley of Shadows". He knows that, in the year 2266, he will rescue a number of cadets from radiation exposure, which will leave himself disabled, as famously seen in TOS: "The Menagerie". The seemingly inevitable fate plagues Pike in the first season of Strange New Worlds, set in the year 2259. When he meets Maat Al-Salah in the season finale SNW: "A Quality of Mercy", he remembers that the boy will be among the cadets who do not make it. Pike decides to change this and begins to write a letter to Maat.

As he is writing, Pike's future self appears. He does not tell exactly from which year he has traveled back. But he looks at least ten years older and wears a uniform (only slightly reimagined) that Starfleet is known to use since 2278, possibly a bit earlier. The older Pike warns that the attempt to save himself and the cadets would have catastrophic consequences. Pike touches the time crystal and finds himself some time later in the year 2266. The accident never happened, and he is still the captain of the Enterprise. The scenario is apparently meant to be the actual year 2266 and not a simulation, as if he had used the Bajoran Orb of Time (DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations", "Wrongs Darker than Death or Night"). Pike assumes the role of his seven years older self, time traveling into his own body, a bit like Kes in VOY: "Before and After". On the other hand, it does not necessarily have to be real for Pike to change his mind (which is older Pike's intention after all). If it is real, we only have to wonder what would have happened, had Pike made different decisions than the one that led to the war with the Romulans. There should be a difference after all between the Pike who has just come from the past and the one who has lived seven more years. But somehow it seems inevitable that any Pike with any knowledge would either end up in the wheelchair or would make the same mistakes when dealing with the Romulans, which will even be explicitly mentioned towards the end of the episode.

Anyway, the story that we see is basically the same as in TOS: "Balance of Terror". The Enterprise is the closest ship to intercept the Romulan attacker, just as it was in the TOS episode, only the captain and some crew members are different. Of course, we are meant to disregard the huge visual and technological differences between TOS and the reboot or reimagination that is SNW. The coincidence that the wedding takes place at the very same moment in TOS and in SNW is more like a tip of the hat, rather than true continuity, just like Erica Ortegas taking over the role of Lieutenant Stiles as the one who is eager to take revenge and suspicious of Spock. We should just as well ignore that it is very unlikely that the USS Farragut under Captain Kirk happens to be a second ship that responds to the distress call.

With two ships against the attacker, the chances to win should be better, but here the opposite is true. Purportedly Pike makes a big mistake by negotiating a cease-fire with the Romulan Bird-of-Prey after the Farragut has been destroyed and the two other ships need repairs. The exact motives of the Romulan remain a bit mysterious. The Romulan Praetor, who arrives with a big fleet that was obviously ready to start a big war, rates the cease-fire that her commander agreed on as cowardice and/or treason and destroys his ship as a demonstration of power. Also, she apparently regards the fact that Starfleet would abstain from revenge as a weakness. On the other hand, why didn't the big fleet show up in TOS? The line of reasoning is that in TOS, Kirk's show of strength deterred the Romulans. But as we know now, it was just one Federation ship against a whole armada! In SNW, conversely, the Federation supposedly appeared as weak, but it makes no sense that based on a simplistic litmus test, without having any intelligence, the Romulans would immediately go to war against the "weak" Federation.

So far this episode still allowed the interpretation that, unlike it was insinuated in DIS: "Through the Valley of Shadows", Pike has a free will and can change his future. His attempt in "A Quality of Mercy" fails miserably. Not only does he cause a war with the Romulans that would cost the lives of millions, he also trades his fate for Spock's, who is fatally injured. We would normally expect that, under somewhat different circumstances and with additional knowledge, Pike could have accomplished what he wants: save himself and the cadets, preserve the peace and save Spock. He could simply try it again. But the older Pike explicitly tells him that every time he tries to change his path, Spock will die. He also mentions how much important Spock is supposed to be for history. Although it initially seems that there are always possibilities as they should realistically exist, the outcome is much the same as in "Through the Valley of Shadows": Pike's fate is inescapable.

From the perspective of old Pike, this is a classic past incursion that ends with a success (even though success in this case means he will have a miserable life or will be dead as a result). For the Pike of 2259, it is more like a lesson that he should not attempt to alter the future because for some reason it will always end up in a disaster. In a way, the story is a bit like time "correcting" itself, even though it requires the active support from the older as well as the younger Pike.

Classification: past incursion, successful


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