Every Way Strange New Worlds References One Of The Most Famous Star Trek Episodes Ever

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

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" has been an eventful ride from start to finish, but the series is closing out its inaugural season with a major bang. Its tenth episode, "A Quality of Mercy," drove home the overarching theme of fate and predestiny that's always loomed over the series, especially when it comes to Captain Christopher Pike.

Pike has known all about a particularly devastating aspect of his future for some time now. Years after the events of "Strange New Worlds," Pike is exposed to critical doses of delta radiation after a vessel inspection gone wrong. Pike manages to save the lives of a few Starfleet cadets, but the radiation leaves him severely injured, unable to speak or walk for the rest of his life.

A lot of fans — and even some characters in "Strange New Worlds" — have wondered whether Pike could somehow change his fate. "Quality of Mercy" does answer that question, and it does so by calling back to one of the most famous "Trek" episodes of all time.

Back to the future

The "Strange New Worlds" finale is pretty much a retelling of the original series episode "Balance of Terror." It shows exactly what would happen if Pike was still captaining the Enterprise during a fateful encounter with a Romulan warship, in lieu of his successor, James T. Kirk. This new reality manifests when Pike feels compelled to warn a future Starfleet cadet, Maat Al-Salah, about the accident that will claim his life. This prompts an appearance from an older version of Pike, one from an alternate future.

Older-Pike is sent by the Klingon Timekeepers to stop Prime-Pike from making a huge mistake, one that might save a few lives (including his own), but lead to millions of deaths down the line. With the help of a Klingon time crystal, Pike is catapulted seven years into the future to live out his own version of "Balance of Terror." It's clear he's been sent forward to a crucial moment for the Enterprise, one where his decision-making skills could change the course of history, possibly for the worse.

The original series episode begins harmlessly enough, with Kirk performing a wedding ceremony between two enterprise crew members, Angela Martine and Robert Tomlinson. The Enterprise is also en route to Outpost 4, one of the eight patrol outposts that monitor the Neutral Zone between Federation Space and Romulan Territory. Notably, Pike is actually in the midst of retrofitting these outposts at the very beginning of "Quality of Mercy." The Enterprise soon receives a distress call from Outpost 4, which sends the ship into red alert ... and takes Pike off the hook from officiating the same wedding ceremony.

Trading places

After Martine and Tomlinson's ceremony is interrupted in "Balance of Terror," Kirk returns to the bridge and briefed by Lt. Uhura: "Outpost 4 reported under attack, sir. Then message terminates." He speaks briefly with Spock, who sits in the captain's chair, and checks in with Sulu and Stiles at the helm. After speaking with Scotty, Kirk circles back to Uhura, who confirms that Outpost 4 has yet to identify who exactly attacked them. Stiles has already made up his mind about the attackers' identity — he's got generations' worth of beef with the Romulans, seeing as several members of his family fought and died in the conflict with the Romulans a century prior.

Only some of this carries over to Pike's alternate reality. Spock and Uhura are still members of the bridge crew (Uhura is even wearing the same outfit, green hoops and all), but Stiles and Sulu have yet to replace Lts. Ortegas and Mitchell. In this reality, Ortegas is the helmsman who's decidedly anti-Romulan, though we never really find out why. Fittingly though, all the blocking and camera work from "Balance of Terror" carries over to "Quality of Mercy." Pike mirrors all of Kirk's body language from the moment he enters the bridge — making the episode's homage to "Balance of Terror" abundantly clear.

The pointy-eared elephant in the room

"Quality of Mercy" continues to lift from "Balance of Terror" once the Enterprise makes contact with Outpost 4. In the original series, Kirk speaks with Outpost Commander Hansen, and eventually gets his first glimpse of the Romulan ship. Pike speaks with the same commander in his own timeline, now Hansen Al-Salah — Maat's father. Knowing that the two met briefly before Pike was sent forward in time puts a personal spin on the Commander's fate, especially since it mirrors the events of "Balance of Terror" to a T. Hansen's role remains largely unchanged in "Quality of Mercy," from his description of the situation ("Outposts 2, 3 and 8 are gone ... Unknown weapon ... completely destroyed") to his description of the attack ("Some form of high energy plasma ... Fantastic power!"). It all aligns perfectly with his appearance in "Balance of Terror."

The parallels continue once the Romulan ship decloaks to finish off Outpost 4. From the attack itself to the Enterprise crew's respective reactions — and even Spock's observations after the fact — it's all beat for beat what happens in "Balance of Terror" ... just with updated visual effects and a different captain at the helm.

After the attack on Outpost 4, the Enterprise meets up with the Farragut, captained by James T. Kirk in this timeline, while Spock and Uhura retrieve a transmission from the enemy ship. This allows the crew to get a look at the Romulans for the first time ever, and it's another opportunity for an overt homage to the original series. The Romulan Theme from "Balance of Terror" plays as Pike and co. watch the transmission from the bridge of the Romulan ship. Everyone is understandably shocked by the Romulans' uncanny likeness to Vulcans. All eyes now are on Ethan Peck's Spock, who coolly arches an eyebrow just as Leonard Nimoy did in "Balance of Terror."

Pike's quality of mercy

From here, events start to divert pretty drastically from the original timeline. Though the bridge crew holds a meeting to decide whether or not to engage with the Romulans (and even use the comet Icarus 4 to disable the ship's cloaking) just like in "Balance of Terror," everything is different with Pike around. The captain unfortunately lacks the out-of-the-box thinking needed to go toe-to-toe with the Romulans. He would rather open a dialogue with the intruders than attack them outright. That's not always a bad thing, obviously, but it's not the best approach to this particular crisis.

Pike's hesitation essentially gives the Romulans the opportunity to destroy that Farragut, and even disable the weapons system on the Enterprise with their short-range plasma weapon. While Kirk didn't hesitate to fire on the Romulan ship in "Balance of Terror," and managed to get the Enterprise out of range of a potentially-critical plasma blast, Pike failed to do either, setting off a chain reaction that completely alters the fate of the Enterprise crew.

Offensive capabilities are limited for the Enterprise after the Romulan attack, but Pike is able to buy some time to reestablish the ship's weapons system. He does so by making contact with the Romulan ship (something Kirk never considered in either timeline) and establishing a temporary ceasefire.

The Romulan commander

It's worth nothing that the Romulan commander actually agrees with Pike's desire to end hostilities between their two cultures. His weariness was evident in "Balance of Terror" as well, but he was still persuaded to attack the Enterprise in accordance with Romulan customs. In "A Quality of Mercy," however, the Romulan commander is more concerned with getting back to Romulus alive, not finishing off the Enterprise. This doesn't exactly gel with his subcommander, though.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk suggests that the Romulans could just as easily call for backup instead of honoring the ceasefire. Sadly, his instincts are right on the money. Though the Romulan commander is actually open to negotiations, his subcommander Decius brings the Romulan fleet to the edge of the Neutral Zone. This cheeky act of mutiny brings Pike face-to-face with the Romulan Praetor, who moves to destroy the Romulan ship and everyone aboard for compromising their stealth mission.

Not unlike Kirk in "Balance of Terror," Pike offers to beam the Romulan commander and his crew onto the Enterprise — but the commander responds just as he does in the original series: "It is not our way ... We are creatures of duty, you and I. Just one more duty to perform."

The Spock of it all

With the ship out of the way, the Romulans attack the Enterprise, which turns out to be disastrous in every way imaginable. The Enterprise takes a few critical hits from the Romulan fleet, resulting in several casualties. Ensign Martine — one of the officers scheduled to get married that day — is killed in the blast. This mirrors the death of her fiancee, Lieutenant Tomlinson, in "Balance of Terror."

Perhaps the most devastating result of the Romulan attack — apart from the war that follows, obviously — is what happens to Spock. Since Spock was tasked with repairing the phaser array during the ceasefire, he was in the weapons control room when the Enterprise took a direct hit. Nurse Chapel relays his injuries to Pike, which include cerebral trauma, spinal fractures, and major radiation burns. It's all an echo of the fate that Pike managed to escape in the current timeline, but the consequences here are much more dire.

According to Future-Pike, Spock is one of the only people who can secure lasting peace with the Romulan Empire. Without him, the war between the Romulans and the Federation will likely drag on without an end in sight, destroying millions of lives. It's wild that such a harrowing, widespread conflict boils down to one Enterprise captain, but it really gives even more meaning to Pike's eventual sacrifice. It also adds a touching layer to Pike's relationship with Spock, and the latter's unbreakable loyalty to Pike in the original series.

All episodes of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" season 1 are streaming on Paramount+.