It’s the Federation vs. Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) in the second episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2. The timely trial episode was written by Dana Horgan and directed by Valerie Weiss.
A city skyline fills the window of an apartment. Next to the window is a girl whose leg has a compound fracture. Her parents are arguing. If they go to the hospital, the truth will come out. The girl’s leg glows, which “Ghosts of Illyria” revealed was indicative of Illyrian genetic augmentation. It is revealed the child is Una.
In the present day, Una looks at her reflection in a framed photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge, synonymous with Starfleet Headquarters. Starfleet offers Una a deal, presented by Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano). Una must plead guilty to submission of false information and “failure to disclose” her status as a genetic augment. She will be dishonorably discharged from Starfleet but will continue to enjoy Federation citizenship. Una’s record will be sealed.
Una says Starfleet wants to cover their mistake. Batel counters they appreciate her service. She further implies that further dragging it out might drag Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) in. Una’s counsel advises she won’t be offered a better deal. The charge carries at least two years of incarceration. Una asks how the advocate can counsel her when he works for Batel and Starfleet.
Pike’s personal log, Stardate 2393.8. He’s traveled to the Valteran Nebula to find legal help for Una. Because the atmosphere is not habitable for humans, Pike wears an oxygen mask as he staggers the streets. He notes that the unmasked locals have adapted. Soon Pike is inside a lobby decorated with plants behind glass. An unmasked secretary speaks to an unseen individual over an earpiece. The secretary says Pike has been informed he won’t be seen, but still won’t leave.
The secretary tells him Counselor Neera Ketoul (Yetide Badaki) can’t see him today. Pike says he can wait as his oxygen runs out. The secretary concedes, running away from her desk. In the next scene, Neera adjusts the air in her office so Pike can breathe. The planet is inhospitable to all but Illyrians. This is because Illyrians genetically augment themselves.
Neera says she and the rest of the Illyrians want to be left alone. Pike tells her Una has been revealed as an Illyrian and faces consequences. Neera says it was a matter of time. She says Starfleet will never let an openly Illyrian officer serve. However, that isn’t her problem. Pike says Una’s her friend, whatever happened between them. Neera says Una is not her friend and neither is Pike. She asks him to leave.
Pike recalls what he learned from “Ghosts of Illyria” to Neera. He says he’s seen what happens to Illyrians who try to reverse their engineering. He continues that old fears can be hard to release. However, he says he (and everyone) was wrong about Illyrians. Neera congratulates him for discovering empathy. She asks him to let her know when the rest of the Federation catches up.
Piece of Work Pike
Pike says Una will be dismissed. Neera says she’s getting off easy. Citing Starfleet’s draconian race laws, she says Una’s lucky she isn’t charged with sedition. Neera is familiar with her case, in spite of it being sealed. “I make it my business to know what happens behind closed doors,” she states. “Many of my clients’ lives depend on it.” She dismisses Pike.
Before he surrenders, Pike reveals he’s done his research as well. Neera has had ten cases against the Federation thrown out or overturned over “insufficient evidence.” Pike urges Neera to take the case. He notes its high profile means half the quadrant will be aware of it, and thus it may bring her other cases more attention.
Neera asks if she’s being bribed. Pike says he’s trying to convince her. He says he’s trying to save his friend. Further, he asks if Neera will let whatever happened between her frustrate her life’s work. He urges her to look at the case file.
Neera enters Una’s cell on Alcatraz Island. She makes it clear she isn’t here for a reunion and asks for Una’s version of the story. Una had been holding her comm badge but places it on her uniform, which is folded in a crate between them. Una says when Starfleet didn’t know, they didn’t care. Things changed when the truth was revealed two months ago.
Plus, Una lied about it. Neera says it must be nice. She observes that some Illyrians can pass as humans, and some cannot. Una continues that Starfleet is asking her to hide, so no one will know an Illyrian climbed the ranks. As though it never happened; as though Una never happened.
Neera asks why Una doesn’t accept the deal. She had her fun, now she can go home. But Una declines. She says she shouldn’t have to hide anymore. She acknowledges she should have already known better, but is acting now. Neera will inform the opposing counsel their deal is being rejected.
Una’s gratitude is rejected by Neera. She says this isn’t for Una, it’s for herself. “And for all the Illyrians who can’t – or just won’t – pretend to not be who they really are so they can run away to Starfleet.”
On the Enterprise, Batel arrives at Pike’s Captain’s Quarters and says Una rejected her deal. Pike (wearing an apron) replies, “Good.” Batel tells him she called in every favor to get the deal offered to Una, which wasn’t easy. Pike says she should have thought about that before arresting Una. Batel says she knows Pike thinks she betrayed him. Pike says that Una should be on the bridge doing her job, not sitting in a cell.
Batel says she doesn’t write the code. She says both of their jobs are to uphold it, regardless. Pike asks, “And what if the law is wrong?” Batel says she didn’t ask to be put on the case. She continues that she’s done everything in her power to help Una. But after she turned down the deal, Batel’s boss, the Judge Advocate General, is looking into the case. Batel says Una should have taken the deal. Then she tells Pike she’ll see him in court before departing.
In San Francisco, Batel and the Judge Advocate amend the charge against Una. They charge Una with “knowingly submitting false information to Starfleet,” violations of codes 614 – 617 (prohibiting officers from permanent bioengineering), and two counts of sedition. They seek dishonorable dismissal and two decades in a Federation penal colony.
“Ad Astra per Aspera”
In her cell, Una questions a twenty-year punishment for lying on an application. Neera observes that she decided to make it difficult for them, so they’re making an example out of her. She says they have to fight. First on their witness list is Admiral April (Adrian Holmes). The Counselor says they wouldn’t bring a friendly witness without a strategy. Una says to put her on the stand. The Counselor asks if she is being funny.
Una says they should see her: “A successful Starfleet officer. It’s a good story.” The Counselor says her story doesn’t matter. She says if she puts Una up there, they’ll use her to corroborate their facts, tear her down, or bring down her “so-called friends” with her. Una asks if she cares about her story. The Counselor says she cares about not handing the prosecution the case. She says they do it her way.
On the Enterprise, Lt. La’An Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) tells Neera that the Captain said she could set up shop in Una’s quarters. Neera asks for access to the Starfleet Uniform Code of Justice and Una’s service records. Instead of leaving, La’An brings up Starfleet V. Wick. The ruling exemplifies the principle of “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Evidence obtained through illegal means is inadmissible in court.
Neera postulates that La’An believes the evidence against Una may be rotten. This could lead to dismissal of the case. Neera asks if there’s something La’An knows that she should know. La’An says to let her cover all the bases first.
Across the Table
In the Enterprise cafeteria, Pike reads from a PADD as he eats. Batel joins him and asks if he’s upset because his name isn’t on the list of witnesses being called. Pike says he knows she’ll tell him it would be a terrible idea for him to be put on the stand. But he says he can handle it. He points out he’s served with Una the longest. He says that makes him the best person to defend her.
Batel asks when he and Una met. Pike gave a speech to her Academy class. Una pointed out a mistake Pike had made and had the guts to tell him. Pike cites April’s advice that a First Officer must always be able to point out when the Captain is wrong. April shared the same advice with Batel, too.
Batel asks when Pike first learned Una was Illyrian. The score by Nami Melumad becomes more intense. Batel repeats the question, more aggressively. She reminds him that on the stand, he doesn’t have the option of not answering. Pike says she’s made her point.
Batel says if Pike takes the stand, the case becomes about him. Given that he’s the Captain and he knew Una was Illyrian, he could be charged with conspiracy. This could put the whole crew at risk. Batel tells Pike that if he wants to help Una, he should leave the talking to others.
Elsewhere in the cafeteria, Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and Doctor Joseph M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) watch Spock (Ethan Peck) speak with the Judge Advocate. Ortegas imagines the conversation to be filled with Vulcan cliches. However, M’Benga observes tension in their body language. Spock approaches the table and apologizes to his crewmates for the “outburst” they witnessed. He reveals that he is a former colleague of Sybok (father of Spock).
On the bridge, La’An approaches Ensign Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). La’An requests any communications from the past six months that reference Una. She further requests all personal logs, shipwide. Uhura cites regulation stating personal logs remain sealed unless by order of Starfleet Command.
La’An says she knows the rules and is issuing an order. Uhura deduces La’An is acting to help her mentor, Una. But she says La’An was her mentor. She says issuing an illegal order will only get La’An in trouble if she’s found out. Uhura says that’s not what Una would want for her. La’An insists that it may be the only way. But Uhura refuses.
Shuttlecraft land at Alcatraz Island. A tribunal of three Justices are presiding over Una’s trial. Una consents to Batel as the prosecuting officer. The charges stated by Batel in the early scene are read. Una pleads not guilty. Batel’s opening statement cites the historical Eugenics Wars, widely cited as the reasoning behind the Federation’s ban on genetic modification.
Neera begins by conceding that genetic modification is legal. She continues, “Slavery was once legal. Apartheid was legal. Discrimination against people for how they worshiped, how they loved, their gender, color of their skin; all legal at one time or another. A law does not make something just.” She concedes that the Eugenics Wars were horrific. “The Federation built a utopia in its wake. And in an effort to protect that utopia, they became blinded by a centuries-old fear. So much so that they have – perhaps unknowingly – become persecutors.”
Neera says Una is here because of “who she is, and because she felt she had no choice but to hide that fact. Just like millions before her who were forced to hide how they worshiped, who they loved, what they truly looked like, because it made others uncomfortable” or “afraid.” Neera asks if a law is unjust, how can they trust those who created the law to serve justice?
The first to be called to the stand is April. April concedes that it’s fair to say he has an investment in Una’s career. Batel asks if April knew Una was genetically augmented. When he says he did not, she asks if April would have recommended her for promotion had he known. April begins to speak of how gifted Una is. Batel says that isn’t the question. Batel concedes he would not have recommended Una had he known.
Neera says it takes a big man to admit his mistakes. She asks why he would not have sponsored Una’s application specifically. April cites Starfleet regulations prohibiting genetically modified people from serving. He stresses that it’s not personal, it’s the law. Neera asks April to share General Order One: “No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.” Neera observes that it’s now referred to as “The Prime Directive.”
Next, Neera cites an incident in 2246 in which April chose to warn a pre-warp civilization about a possibly apocalyptic meteor show. She asks if he was following General Order One in this instance. April says it was different. She cites an incident in 2248 he sent a science officer to an industrial-age planet to solve an extinction-level water crisis using Federation tech. Finally, she cites an incident in which April revealed the Enterprise to a pre-warp civilization.
Neera states that it appears the rules of Starfleet only apply when a captain deems they do. Neera says April has repeatedly broken Starfleet’s first rule but is regarded as a hero. He can break the law if he chooses. Hiding behind protocol to explain why he wouldn’t have admitted Una is “a sanctimonious falsehood, is it not?” Neera says Una did not ask to be modified. As an Illyrian cultural practice, it is done to children before birth for survival.
Neera contends that April has just demonstrated that regulations “are flimsy and subjective at best.” April argues that Captains make decisions that save lives and prevent genocide. He repeats that he would have denied Una admission. Neera says his reasons are “not law, but fear and racial prejudice.” The tribunal rebukes her. One justice observes that Una is on trial, not April. April’s testimony is stricken.
On the Enterprise, Uhura asks if Una’s attorney just attempted to indict April. La’An questions how this helps Una. In Pike’s Quarters, Pike pours two glasses of brandy as April recounts Una’s accomplishments. Pike proffers him a glass and April says it’s a shame the court didn’t get to hear any of those things about Una today. Then he leaves without accepting the drink.
Neera arrives at Una’s cell. Una questions Neera’s strategy. Neera points out that most Illyrians don’t have Una’s privilege. This case offers an opportunity for incremental progress toward justice for Illyrians, whether they pass or not. Una says all Neera wanted was a soapbox, not to help her. Una says she’ll be left behind, but Neera says that Una isn’t the one who gets left behind. Neera says she’s trying, because with her, what you see is what you get.
La’An, Spock, and M’Benga are called for cross-examination. Spock and La’An recount how they met Una. All three are asked if they had the sense that she was hiding something. Spock cites her clandestine affinity for Gilbert and Sullivan (see: the Star Trek: Short Treks episode “Q&A”). Neera establishes that all-star officer La’An would not have joined Starfleet (or be alive) if not for Una. By extension, neither would the people whose lives she has saved.
Batel attempts to use logic to make Spock argue against Una. Spock says it would be illogical for Starfleet to punish itself by depriving itself of her service. All three Enterprise crew have nothing but positive things to say about Una.
In Una’s quarters, Neera asks La’An if she’s figured out how the prosecution discovered Una was Illyrian. La’An fears that Una was exposed because of an angry personal log La’An recorded during the events of “Ghosts of Illyria.” Neera asks why La’An was angry. La’An says because Una lied to her, but Neera says it’s not that simple. Neera asks if it’s because La’An carries her family’s genetic augmentations, and she fears they’ll compromise her. La’An concedes she does.
Neera says there’s nothing wrong with La’An. She says that’s because of how others make augments feel. Neera says the fear La’An has is not her own but was drilled into her by societal prejudice. Neera further reassures La’An that it could not have been her personal log. La’An concludes whoever leaked the information must have had something to gain for doing it.
Neera calls Una to the stand. She asks why Una joined Starfleet. Una cites the Starfleet motto before the Federation: “Ad Astra per Aspera,” which means, “We must endure hardship to get to the stars.” But Una says to her, it meant that among the stars, in addition to exploration, “we might each also find salvation.”
Next, the line of questions turns to Una’s childhood. While augmentation was outlawed under the Federation, Una’s family continued their people’s traditions in secret. This involved hiding from officials to avoid arrest. Una recalls a story in which one of her peers was outed as an augment. The ten-year-old child and his parents were arrested in his home.
Some families fled but those who remained were subject to persecution. Anti-augmentation laws allowed people to justify their worst impulses. Insults, discrimination in services and rumors led augments to fear for their lives. Una broke her leg defending another child accused of being an Illyrian. She subsequently nearly died of infection because of fear that a doctor would out her. She barely survived.
The colony was subsequently divided into Illyrian and non-Illyrian. Una’s family went to the latter because they could pass. Una regrets abandoning those who couldn’t appear human. And yet, Una wished to join Starfleet nevertheless. Neera asks Una who turned her into Starfleet. Una admits it she turned herself in.
Neera asks why Una would risk her career. Una says she was sick of living a lie. She wanted her crew to know her for who she really was. She thought this might help Starfleet understand Illyrians better. Neera asks why this matters.
Una says when she was a child, a Starfleet crew visited. “They were all so different from one another. So many crew members from so many planets. It was beautiful. I thought if all those people from all those worlds could work together, side-by-side, maybe I could too. Maybe I could be part of something bigger than myself. Starfleet is not a perfect organization, but it strives to be, and I believe it could be.”
Neera summarizes: she turned herself in because she believes in Starfleet. “Yes,” Una says. “Ad Astra per Aspera.”
In response, the Judge Advocate asks Una when Pike learned she was an augment. Neera objects and says Una is on trial. The Judge Advocate says the incident suggests a chain-of-command breakdown on the Enterprise. He says if Pike knew, it was a conspiracy. Eventually, Una admits it was four months before her arrest. The Judge Advocate says Una must be found guilty of all charges.
Neera asks Batel if she’s familiar with Starfleet Code 8514: “In extraordinary and extreme circumstances, if the following circumstances are met: (1) any person fleeing persecution or fearing for their life due to political or religious beliefs, cultural engagements, or biological truths may (2) seek safety within Starfleet and (3) upon revealing themselves to authorities and making request, may be granted asylum. Starfleet captains must exercise discretion and judgment when offering asylum. Status is confirmed by a Starfleet tribunal or designated authority.”
Scenes from the episode establish how Una’s case fits this code. Neera reveals how her questions to April help support Pike’s innocence. She says a law is not a mirror of society. It’s a beacon to remind us how to be our better selves. Neera says she’s only asking the law that would absolve Una with the same dispassion as the laws which persecute Illyrians are executed.
The Justice says that augmentation is a complex issue, and the laws are in place for good reason. But while lines must be drawn, they must shift when necessary. While Starfleet may someday change its position on augments, they must judge Una’s case independently. They grant the request for asylum and absolve Una.
Una beams back to the Enterprise. She’s greeted by the crew, Batel, and Neera. Una accuses Neera of setting her up. She thanks her for saving her life. Neera says, “What are friends for?” Una says she’s sorry they didn’t do more for Illyrians, as this was a technicality. Neera says it’s a start.
The crew applauds Neera as she steps on the transporter pad. While Neera admits she’s not the biggest fan of Starfleet, she’s looking at a crew who serves under an Illyrian commander. “So like I said: it’s a start.” Then she beams away.
Una orders everyone back to their stations. Once they’re alone, Pike hugs Una. Una says it’s good to be back.
New episodes of Strange New Worlds are released for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursdays.
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