This week’s episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is called “Among the Lotus Eaters“. Written by Davy Perez and co-executive producer Kirsten Beyer, it was a lovely episode where the crew of the USS Enterprise are forced to rediscover themselves. However, it was also one giant callback to the beginning of Star Trek, with more than a few other nods.
The Literary Origin of the Lotus Eaters
This isn’t so much a Trek callback as it is in keeping with The Original Series‘ penchant for references to popular literature. It’s not the first time an episode’s title has been inspired by a poem either, famously “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” took its title from George Herbert’s Jordan. In “Among the Lotus Eaters”, the work in question is Homer’s Odyssey, one of the oldest extant works of literature.
For such a famous part of The Odyssey, the Lotus Eaters only appear in a very small part of the story. In Book IX, Odysseus is relaying stories of his travels. Landing on the island of the Lotus Eaters, Odysseus’ soldiers are presented with the fruit of the lotus. After eating it, they forget about everything and want to stay on the island forever. Odysseus forces his men back onto the boats, displaying his effective leadership.
Lotus Eaters have since become embedded in the cultural imagination. Centuries later, Alfred Tennyson would use the same concept for his poem The Lotos Eaters. This same concept, of entrapping people through playing with their memory, was the same one used in “Among the Lotus Eaters“. The inspiration goes beyond a choice of title, creating a test for the leadership abilities of Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and presenting him as a hero.
One Giant Callback to The Cage
Now that’s enough talking about literature, because we are here to talk about Star Trek. I mentioned up in the introduction that the episode was all one giant callback to Trek‘s origin. As many of you are aware, the first Star Trek produced was “The Cage”, a pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter as Pike which was never picked up to series. The episode was featured prominently in TOS’ “The Menagerie” and Discovery‘s “If Memory Serves”.
The callback to the episode here though is not in the presence of Talosians. Rather, it focuses on Pike’s adventure on Rigel VII, which took place shortly before the events of “The Cage”. In the episode, the minor character of Yeoman Colt (Laurel Goodwin) is placed on the Enterprise after the “death” of Pike’s previous Yeoman on Rigel VII. Outside of the iconic fight scene, it was little more than a throwaway line.
For such a small line, the fact that this previous Yeoman gets to be the antagonist of an episode is amazing. Until this episode, he didn’t even officially have a name. The comic series Early Voyages, which SNW has taken bits of inspiration from, called him Dermot Cusack. Here, his name is Zac Nguyen (David Huynh). Not only does this obscure character get to return, but it’s a great mirror for how different Pike his 5 years after the mission.
Back to Rigel VII
As we mentioned, Rigel VII was a planet visited by Captain Pike at some point prior to the events of “The Cage“. But it wasn’t just a throwaway line where he mentioned a deceased yeoman. As well as that, the Talosians recreate his battle with a Kalar warrior (Mike Dugan). The swords, maces, and armour in this scene had a direct impact on the medieval style costumes of the episode.
The castle in the same scene was also a source of inspiration. They never explicitly state if the castle there and in Lotus Eaters are the same, but it’s safe to assume they’re not. While it wasn’t the same castle that was present in this episode, they are clearly similar to one another. Also, throwing the Starfleet insignia on the antagonist’s base was a nice subversion, where Nguyen feeling betrayed and vengeful is on full display.
Although, if the asteroid had been affecting Rigel VII for thousands of years, it stands to reason that it could well be the same castle. Otherwise it could have affected Nguyen’s memory. It’s still irritatingly different. I also wonder if, in removing the asteroid, it will go on to affect somebody else. While it’s unlikely as the asteroid would have to move some distance, crazier things have happened in Star Trek before.
Flying the Ship
Even though the landing party arguably gets the worse end of the stick, things aren’t too much better aboard the Enterprise. People are slowly losing their memories without warning, plunging the ship into chaos. Although she wasn’t selected for the landing party, this is the closest we’ve come so far to an episode featuring Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia). Coming onto halfway through the second season, it’s long past time, and she really shines here.
Interestingly, when handed her personnel file, it lists her as a “23rd Century Starfleet Officer”. While it’s not inaccurate, it is a little too specific. Either it’s just a cut/paste bio that they didn’t think anybody would pay too much attention to, or it’s a tease of some more time travel adventures to come. We learned from last week that the Department of Temporal Investigations doesn’t actually exist yet, so I’m looking forward to seeing if this hilarious specificity ends up building to anything?
When losing her memory, she needs to be reminded how to navigate around the ship. The computer generates a light path, the same way it took Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to the holodeck in “Encounter at Farpoint”. It’s a cool functionality of the ship, that given its size is something that I’m surprised isn’t used more. Interestingly, deck 6, the location of the crew quarters, matches the location given in “The Ultimate Computer”. What another obscure callback! Although it’s cool that starship schematic enthusiasts can rest easy.
The very beginning of the episode features the Enterprise flying alongside the USS Cayuga. This ship has been on a joint mission with the Enterprise before, in “The Quality of Mercy”. It’s Batel’s ship, and it’s unfortunately not onscreen all that long. It looks like a Constitution Class, but the Sombra Class ships are nearly identical. The jury is very much still out on this one. I thought the new shots of it in this episode would help, but no. No they didn’t.
Speaking of ship types, we see a few models in Ortegas’ quarters. One is the USS Enterprise, which makes a lot of sense. Another is of an as-of-now unidentified ship that appears to be Walker class. It’s the same class that the USS Shenzhou had in Star Trek: Discovery. However, this one is far more likely to be the USS Palenque, the other ship Ortegas served on. While we don’t know what it looks like, it was mentioned in “Memento Mori”. There’s a good chance that’s what we’re looking at here.
The necklace, or mariner’s keystone, given to Pike by Batel (Melanie Scrofano) has an interesting origin. It’s said to be from the planet Gault. Assuming I didn’t mishear anything, this is the same planet that Worf (Michael Dorn) will grow up on nearly a century later. It’s said to be a farming planet, but perhaps there’s a substantial ocean for sailors or other explorers. It’s a planet we’ve never seen onscreen, so we’ll have to work off what little we’ve heard from around.
Conclusion: Looking Forward to “Charades“
That’s everything that I noticed in “Among the Lotus Eaters“. While it wasn’t perfect, playing around with memory, and spending substantial amounts of time on Rigel VII was just awesome. I also had a great time letting my inner English major go wild this week. I’ve been waiting so long for the right chance, and I hope to do it again. Going all the way back to the origins of Star Trek was an interesting choice. Even nicer to see it outside of an anniversary year without a ludicrous amount of fanfare.
The next episode is called “Charades”. It looks like it’s going to be leaning into Spock’s (Ethan Peck) human/Vulcan dual identity. It also looks lighthearted, which is the perfect answer to the past few episodes being pretty heavy. Also the trailer has unveiled the return of Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner). I did speculate on this a few weeks ago, and it looks like I was correct. I’m looking forward to seeing her back in Trek after Discovery Season 2. I’m also looking forward to seeing Ethan Peck let loose a bit, it looks like a fun time.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams via Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Latin America, France, Germany, Brazil, South Korea (via Tving), France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland & Austria. As well as CTV Scifi / Crave in Canada, & TVNZ in New Zealand. And on SkyShowtime in the Nordics, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Central and Eastern Europe.
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