Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Just Resolved One Of The Original Show's Longest-Running Mysteries

This post contains spoilers for the season finale of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds."

If one thing remains true about Spock across many decades and several iterations, it's that the trusty half-human, half-Vulcan holds logic in the highest regard. That's why it's so surprising to revisit "The Menagerie," a season 1 episode of "Star Trek: The Original Series" that sees Leonard Nimoy's Spock break rank and hijack the Enterprise to help his former captain, Christopher Pike (Sean Kenney, played in flashbacks by Jeffrey Hunter).

On one level, having Spock court martialed for commandeering the ship is a nifty way to use repurposed footage from the series' discarded pilot, "The Cage," presented here as transmitted image evidence in Spock's case. But on another level, it's an angle of the series that's never fully explored: what makes Spock so adamant about helping the man he worked with 13 years ago? Does he simply have a strong sense of duty to his former captain, or is their bond deep enough that he's willing to risk being stripped of his role or imprisoned to help him?

Pike sees his future

In its first season, "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" has done an excellent job filling in some of the original series' gaps, all while creating its own wholly unique story. "A Quality of Mercy," the season finale, is perhaps the show's most significant episode to date in terms of overall Trek lore. It's an alternate reality version of another classic Trek episode, "Balance of Terror," but it also enriches the story we see in "The Menagerie." At the same time, it has lasting repercussions for each of its main characters, including bonding Spock (Ethan Peck) to Pike (Anson Mount) in a very concrete way.

The majority of the episode takes place seven years into Pike's future, where he must figure out what decision he'll make that will put the fate of the galaxy at risk. He thinks maybe he's meant to stop Captain Kirk (Paul Wesley) from starting a war, but it turns out his own attempts at making peace are what put the Enterprise in Romulan crosshairs. The result is an attack that kick-starts a widespread and ongoing war, but one of its first casualties is its most important: Spock.

Pike finds Spock in the sick bay, where a haunted-looking Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) describes his grievous injuries and says he may not survive. It's a bleak moment, one that Pike carries back with him to the present day. There, his future self lets him in on a humbling secret: Pike's future doesn't matter for himself so much as it matters for Spock, and for everyone who Spock may save when faced with a Romulan war. "The best chance at a lasting peace between the Federation and the Romulans in any timeline: well, turns out he's lying in a bio-bed," future Pike says.

A debt of gratitude

"A Quality of Mercy" is an excellent Trek episode for much of its running time, but I think its final conversation between Spock and Pike elevates it to an all-time-great one. When Spock comes to check on his captain, he sees that his demeanor has changed, and instantly surmises from Pike's coded comments that the captain has somehow glimpsed his own future again. Pike says that he's decided fate's inescapable, and that even if he avoided his, "it might just fall to someone else." "Someone you know?" Spock asks, and Pike confirms it.

"Is that why you are very glad to see me?" Spock asks, and when Pike doesn't answer, continues, "I believe I may owe you a debt of gratitude, captain. Although for precisely what, I do not know." The whole conversation is mostly eyebrow quirks and minute facial expression changes, but it's also Pike meeting Spock on his level to tell him, as subtly as possible, about the fate he avoided. Spock, the universe-saving genius he is, reads him immediately and takes the act of heroism to heart without even knowing exactly what it was.

So yeah, it makes sense then that, years later, Spock would drop everything to help Pike, even risking his career and freedom in the process. It might be strange to call a character who was created over 50 years ago a breakout star, but that's what the captain is in "Strange New Worlds." He's thoughtful, genial, diplomatic, and selfless when it counts. And here, as he accepts that his fate will forever be marred so that Spock can continue on with his own mission, it definitely counts.