The season also spent a great deal of time on one aspect of Pike’s character that carries over from the events of Discovery season two, specifically Pike’s learning of his eventual fate (as chronicled in the episode of the original series that introduced Pike to audiences, “The Menagerie”) in “Through the Valley of Shadows.” Knowing that he is fated to be brutally injured saving the lives of a bunch of cadets is something that haunts Pike throughout the season. I was disappointed that they were harping on this, but it looks like Pike’s attempt to alter his fate—something he was explicitly told was impossible when he got the vision, something he did, by the way, in order to save all life in the galaxy—in “A Quality of Mercy” will have cured him of trying to change the future that we already know he can’t change anyhow.
Pike is dropped into the middle of a wedding ceremony—the same one between Angela Martine and Robert Tomlinson that Kirk performed at the top of “Balance”—which is interrupted by a distress call from an outpost along the Neutral Zone. This is one of several scenes from “Balance” that are painstakingly re-created, in some cases with Nami Melumad matching the music from the original episode as well. (In particular, the bit where they get a look at the Romulan bridge and discover that the Romulans are a Vulcan offshoot is shot-for-shot, beat-for-beat, and note-for-note a virtual re-creation of the like scene from 1966.)
All together, we have ten people on this landing party: Pike, La’An, Spock, M’Benga, Chapel, Hemmer, Kirk, Duke, Uhura, and Chia. So we’ve got six characters who we know survive at least to the original series seven years hence, two opening-credits regulars, and two guest stars who’ve never been mentioned before, one of whom just got promoted, and the other of whom is about to transfer back to Earth.
Guess who are the first two people killed. C’mon, guess!
Most of the episode is an excuse for the LARPing, but eventually, the real plot kicks in, and what prompts it is my favorite thing in the episode. What makes M’Benga realize that this isn’t just a re-creation of The Elysian Kingdom is when Zymera and Sir Adya hug, and make it clear that they’ve been lovers. In the book, Zymera and Adya have never even met. But Rukiya thinks they should be friends and lovers, and yes, the whole thing is Rukiya’s fanfic that she wrote in her head, and I adore the heck out of that.
One of the things I’m really loving about SNW so far is that they keep trolling us with regards to Spock and T’Pring. Thanks to the original series’ “Amok Time,” we know that some time in the future, Spock and T’Pring will not be anything like a regular couple. Their bond will still exist in some form, as Spock will be compelled by the pon farr to fulfill it, but T’Pring will, by the time Spock succumbs to the pon farr, have moved on to Stonn, having grown weary of being affianced to a legend. She will manipulate Spock and Kirk to get out of her marriage.
Every single time we’ve seen T’Pring on SNW, it’s been set up to appear to be where T’Pring gets fed up and walks away. We saw it writ small in “Strange New Worlds” when Spock interrupts their nookie-nookie to go rescue Number One. Both “Spock Amok” and this episode set up situations that seem tailor-made to sunder their relationship—
—and both times, it just deepens the relationship. This is, frankly, delightful, and I love how the show is messing with our expectations.
Alora is played by Lindy Booth—among other things, Rebecca Romijn’s co-star on The Librarians—and she fulfills the cardinal rule of one-episode romance-with-a-guest-star episodes. Episodes like this live or die on whether or not the guest actor has chemistry with the person they’re paired up with. In the transporter room when the pair are reunited, you could put a match between the pair of them as they’re facing each other and it would light on its own from the sparks the pair generate.
The casting helps, as Booth is never not delightful, and Mount has the ability to have chemistry with pretty much anyone he’s in a scene with.
The episode opens with a dream sequence where Spock finds himself in the wedding arena that we first saw in “Amok Time,” preparing to wed T’Pring, but what seems like a rehash of “Amok Time” instead turns into a rehash of Superman III, as Spock suddenly becomes human, and T’Pring invokes kal-if-fee. She chooses the Vulcan Spock as her champion, and so human Spock fights Vulcan Spock with lirpas. First of all, they do an amazing job re-creating the set from 1967, and then, bless her pointy little head, Nami Melumad also re-created the iconic fight music from the episode for the score, and it is glorious. (Da-da da da da da da da-da DA DA!)
While this is pretty much La’an’s episode in the same way that the previous episodes have been Pike’s, Uhura’s, and Number One’s, the real star of this one is Anson Mount. Throughout this entire crisis, Pike is constantly thinking, constantly trying to figure out a way to turn their disadvantages into advantages. There are echoes of the best of previous Trek captains here: a willingness to do something batshit crazy to get the job done (Kirk, Archer, Burnham, Dal), always thinking three steps ahead (Picard, Saru), and an easy and almost effortless confidence in his crew (Sisko, Janeway, Freeman).
The B-plot here is Pike and Spock down on the planet, and not only does it continue to solidify the Pike-Spock dynamic that would lead to Spock breaking dozens of regs to help Pike a decade hence in “The Menagerie,” but it’s also a master class by Ethan Peck in continuing the character of Spock. Every line of dialogue is delivered in a manner that is at once very Leonard Nimoy-like, and yet totally Peck as well. (Credit also to screenwriters co-executive producer Akela Cooper and supervising producer Bill Wolkoff for penning very Spock-y dialogue.)
And [Anson] Mount continues to be absolutely magnificent as Captain Daddy. Every moment with him is perfection. We start with his reaction to Uhura’s dress uniform, which is simple laughter at the prank and then moving on without comment. There are his delightful asides, from the line I used for the headline of this review to his “I love this job” to Number One to his revealing to Ortegas that he knows her rep to that fine old Trek tradition of taking a moment during a crisis to make fun of Spock (in this case, backing up Uhura’s complaint that Spock spends a lot of time reminding people of deadlines).