The following article includes significant spoilers for All Those Who Wander.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has never been ashamed to tip its hat to the stories it’s riffing upon, some more obviously than others. This week’s episode, All Those Who Wander, might as well just have been called “Screw it, we’re just going to do Aliens.” Thankfully, it’s so good that you won’t have time to care about the xeroxing from James Cameron’s 1986 original. This is the best episode of Strange New Worlds yet, raising the bar, and the stakes, for next week’s finale.
We start with the welcome and now familiar sight of the Enterprise crew hanging out around Pike’s captain’s table. It’s such a delight to see the crew spending time together and having fun, as the show puts in the hours to show that these people generally like each other. Ensign Duke gets a promotion, while cadets Chia and Uhura are given a send off as they end their tour of duty on the Enterprise. But the levity is punctured, first by Uhura still not sure if Starfleet is right for her, and second by an ominous message from headquarters. A Federation starship has gone missing while surveying an unstable planet, and Pike needs to go looking for it.
But the Enterprise already has an urgent mission to deliver power supplies to starbase K7, so Pike decides to handle a rescue mission with shuttlecraft. Dr. M’Benga, Chapel, La’an, Spock, Hemmer, Lt. Kirk and Duke, as well as cadets Uhura and Chia join him. Number One and Ortegas, meanwhile, take the ship on its original course, meaning this is the fifth or sixth episode this series where Number One has barely featured. Perhaps Rebecca Romijn negotiated far fewer filming days each week given her higher profile than the rest of the cast.
When the shuttles reach the planet, landing in the shadow of the crashed USS Peregrine, it’s not long before the episode switches into high horror. Corpses litter the ground, and the ship itself is covered in the sort of bloodstain made when someone’s trying in vain to cling to the ground while being dragged away. And despite the fact that this is another episode shot mostly on the standing Enterprise sets, clever lighting and direction make them feel altogether more like the sinister LV-426 from Aliens.
Newt Oriana, a young girl who has learned to survive previous Gorn attacks by going partly feral. This episode, much more than the flat Memento Mori, is designed to rehabilitate the Gorn from the comedy rubber suit seen in the ‘60s and the awkward CG from the early '00s. Now, they’re the Trek version of the eponymous Xenomorph, complete with acid bile, quadrupedal motion and body horror reproductive process. Worth mentioning that this ain’t the sort of episode you can watch with your kids, especially not when the blue-shirted Cadet Chia succumbs to a chestburster.
It helps, too, that the Gorn are rarely glimpsed properly, despite some excellent creature design, the shadows are always a better way to experience a villain like this. The episode’s conclusion sees the crew taking an Alien3-style chase through corridors as they lure the Gorn to a trap. Choosing to shoot from the Gorn’s perspective helps amplify the sense of dread and tension, too, since our crew is being stalked from all corners.
But the best moments are when the crew, trapped in sickbay, start to feel the screws turning on them. La’an starts berating Oriana, the child that she sees so much of herself in before Dr. M’Benga snaps at her to leave his daughter… his patient alone. Lt. Kirk, meanwhile, starts lashing out at Spock for his lack of empathy, not long before Spock lets out his own emotions in order to entrap the Gorn. And, best of all, this all feels entirely earned and in character as we’ve gotten to see how these people got these particular scars. Finally, the promise of emotional continuity comes good as we start to see the Enterprise crew almost break under pressure.
Of course, we have to offer additional praise for Hemmer, who once again gets paired with Uhura for some grace notes. The fact that even Uhura has given them a compound name (Hemura!) speaks to how delightful it is to watch the pair interact. And when Hemmer reveals that the blob of alien spit he received earlier in the episode means he’s loaded with Gorn eggs too, it’s a massive blow. I feel like Hemmer was already a figure we’d fallen in love with, and his departure hurts, even if he gets a graceful, Alien3-esque swan dive death for a sendoff. Give Bruce Horak his own spin-off, or something, please.
(I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed that Duke, Chia and Hemmer’s death means we’ve had a Yellow, Blue and Red-shirt demise in a single episode. Hacky standups will need to look for a better punchline to their Star Trek jokes in the future.)
Also, I feel like I’ve been neglectful in not offering enough praise for this cast, and especially Jess Bush. Bush often has to sell a whole bunch of stuff in her limited screen time and does so with ease. Here, as in The Serene Squall, she shows Chapel adapting to survive against a threat, and sells it so well.
The episode ends with plenty of fallout, Uhura decides to stay on board after Hemmer’s valediction encourages her to put down roots. La’an takes a leave of absence to try and reunite Oriana with her family, and Spock’s emotional outburst has left him scarred. Pike, meanwhile, must be headed for trouble given how freely he treats his life knowing that his future is already set in stone But again, all of this feels earned in a way that prior episodes haven’t quite achieved, and I’m excited to see how we land in the finale from here.