Star Trek Just Retconned The Very First "Strange New World" In Canon
The original strange new world just got a whole lot stranger.
What happens on Rigel VII stays on Rigel VII. Literally. In Strange New Worlds Season 2, the first “strange new world” in all of Star Trek canon has been revisited. And, it turns out that if your memory of this planet is a little fuzzy, that’s by design. In Season 2, Episode 4 “Among the Lotus Eaters,” Strange New Worlds returns to the infamous planet that served as the backstory to the first filmed Star Trek episode, ever, “The Cage.” And this time, a few plot holes from 1964 are used as the jumping-off point into a brand-new story. Spoilers ahead.
The 1964 pilot episode of Star Trek, “The Cage,” has confusing canonicity. Although this pilot episode was rejected, and never released in its entirety until 1986 (or screened at conventions), the bulk of the footage was used as an extended flashback for the classic TOS two-part episode “The Menagerie,” in November 1966. Although hardcore fans might be aware of this fact, it bears repeating that the entirety of Strange New Worlds only exists because of “The Cage” flashbacks that were inserted into “The Menagerie.” Basically, the first retcon in Trek history happened in 1966, when Gene Roddenberry retroactively established that his rejected pilot episode was really just a prequel to the regular show.
Chronologically, the events of “The Cage” happened in 2254, which is about two years before Discovery Season 1, and as confirmed in dialogue in “Among the Lotus Eaters,” the mission to Rigel VII happened five years prior to the current season of Strange New Worlds, which is in 2259. But, didn’t “The Cage”(“Menagerie” flashbacks) happen on Talos IV? What’s the deal with Rigel VII?
Rigel VII explained
Although “The Cage” focuses on the Enterprise’s discovery of the telepathic big-brained aliens, the Talosians, fans tend to forget that the immediate unseen backstory is that the crew is recovering from a horrible time on Rigel VII. Navigator José Tyler has a bandage on his hand, and in several scenes, Spock walks with a limp. As Leonard Nimoy pointed out over the years, this limp wasn’t a real injury, rather, it was an artistic choice, saying “[Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry told me to limp.”
The idea was simple: there was a botched mission on Rigel VII, which is why Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) is depressed at the start of “The Cage,” and also why later in the episode, the Talosians telepathically recreate the fight on Rigel VII, complete with an ethereal castle, and a large, Kalar warrior for Pike to fight. Pike also mentioned in “The Cage,” that he lost his Yeoman, which, we learn in “Among the Lotus Eaters,” isn’t true. Zack survived! (Though we had no idea who this unseen Yeoman was in “The Cage.”)
In “Among the Lotus Eaters,” Pike (Anson Mount) mentions that “Spock was bleeding out,” and “We lost three people, we had to get to Vega colony before Spock’s injuries made it four.” This checks out with “The Cage” in which the Enterprise is on the way to Vega, before being diverted by the distress signal from Talos IV.
How Strange New Worlds retcons Rigel VII
So, because Rigel VII exists before the events of “The Cage,” it’s totally the first “strange new world,” ever. But now, in Strange New Worlds, we learn that a debris field of asteroids has created a strange memory-loss effect on and around Rigel VII. “Among the Lotus Eaters” makes a point of reminding us that the Enterprise wasn’t on Rigel VII long enough for anyone to feel these effects last time. And, at the end of this episode, Spock and Pike decide to get rid of the asteroid that is causing the memory loss, giving the Kalars their memories back. In the context of “Among the Lotus Easters,” Rigel VII becomes a Memento planet; a place where people forget why they’re doing anything, with sustained amnesia. The title itself refers to the “lotus eaters” from Greek myth; in The Odyssey, Odysseus hits up an island of people who consume “lotus” which makes them too chilled-out to get anything done.
Strange New Worlds' version of “lotus eaters” is arguably much darker than Homer’s, mostly because the memory loss effect here is pretty horrible for everyone. But, as a fantasy/sci-fi trope, it makes perfect sense to use this classic concept for a one-off episode of Star Trek. The entire set-up of “Among the Lotus Eaters” feels like an episode of the classic ‘60s show, so bringing in Rigel VII only adds another layer of retro-futuristic history.
But, relative to Star Trek’s own continuity, depicting Rigel VII as a planet that caused memory loss is kinda brilliant. Suddenly, Pike’s weird, over-the-top, memory of the “fight on Rigel VII” in “The Cage” makes a little more sense. Plus, there’s a funny nod to Picard Season 3 here, too. In the episode “The Next Generation,” Picard and Riker mention an unseen mission of the Enterprise-D in which their communicators were compromised. Yes, it’s another unseen mission, and Riker mentions that the planet was “Rigel Six,” which Picard corrects him, quickly saying, “Seven.” Even Riker can’t remember stuff that happened on Rigel VII!
More than a full century after “The Cage,” people in Starfleet still can’t keep their memory straight about Rigel VII. Maybe Pike and Spock didn’t move that asteroid far enough away?