The Amazing Visual Easter Egg Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Uses In Its Season Finale

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

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is a lovingly crafted return to form for "Star Trek," harkening back to the classic original series while also managing to feel completely fresh. There's a lot of attention to detail that makes every episode feel authentically "Trek," from the uniforms to the dialogue, but the season 1 finale, "A Quality of Mercy," features a much more subtle reference to "Star Trek: The Original Series." 

"A Quality of Mercy" references the "Original Series" episode "Balance of Terror," both in its story and in its cinematography, bringing one of the best episodes from the 1960s series into the present. Including that infamous "Original Series" lighting. 

The eyes have it

In the "Strange New Worlds" season finale, the lighting on the Enterprise bridge becomes much more dramatic, mimicking the visual style of "The Original Series," with its highlights on actor faces — especially the eyes — and darker backgrounds. It's instantly identifiable, a style of lighting inspired by classic films of the 1940s and '50s like "Rashômon" and "Sunset Boulevard" that was often utilized to evoke a film noir aesthetic. (Director Roman Polanski also used the technique in "Chinatown" in the 1970s and Ridley Scott used it for "Blade Runner" in the 1980s, so it's a lighting technique that's truly lasted the test of time.) The lighting style gave "The Original Series" a signature look, and it was used heavily in "Balance of Terror" to heighten the drama. So it makes sense that the folks behind "Strange New Worlds" would want to reference it for their own episode. 

In an interview with /Film, co-showrunner Henry Alonso Myers explained that the nod to the original series was important to the "Strange New Worlds" team: 

"Chris Fisher, who directed the episode, and Magdalena Górka, who was the DP on that episode, they really wanted to return to some of the hallmarks of that original series. What's wonderful about that episode in particular, is it's really a bottle show. It's a show that's set almost entirely on the Enterprise, with the exception of the stuff on the Romulan bridge. So, we wanted to give it that really distinct flavor. [...] You want to put stuff in there for the folks who love 'Trek,' who can see it and be like, 'There's a scene that Chris Fisher wholesale shot-by-shot recreation from "Balance of Terror."' The push in on Spock with his eyebrow and everything, we did it, but you don't need to know that, and if you do know that, it doesn't make a difference. I mean, it doesn't make a difference to the story, but if you know it, it makes everything much deeper and more fun because you realize the level at which we're sort of commenting on it. Because we're not criticizing the previous episode, we're trying to use it as a template for telling a new story."

"Star Trek" has a long history of being self-referential and "Strange New Worlds" is no different, so the lighting feels right on-brand. 

A slightly more subtle approach

There are a couple of shot-for-shot references to "Balance of Terror" in "A Quality of Mercy," including the above-mentioned Spock zoom and Captain Pike (Anson Mount) presiding over the same wedding as James Kirk (William Shatner) did in the original episode. Both are similarly interrupted by Romulans, and they each have a bar of light over their eyes that is unmistakable. The entire episode doesn't lean into the classic lighting, but the bridge in particular stays starkly lit, utilizing hard shadows to mimic the lighting of "The Original Series."

The crew continue to have strong lighting across their eyes and faces whenever they're on the bridge, though it's never as boxy or as obvious as the ones from the 1960s. That's probably a smart style choice, given how slick the rest of the series looks, but that first hard shot of Pike at the pulpit is pure classic "Trek," and it rules. Here's hoping they continue to do these kind of smart, deep-cut throwbacks in season 2. 

Season 1 of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is available to stream on Paramount+.