32 Years Later, Star Trek Just Revealed Why Spock's Greatest Idea Was So Controversial
In Strange New Worlds, the future of The Undiscovered Country is still a long way off.
Guess who’s coming to dinner? In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the crew of the USS Enterprise-A all basically freak out when they have to host Klingons for not only peace talks but dinner, too. Now, a few decades before that, well before Kirk took over the previous Enterprise, it turns out Pike and his crew had a Klingon over for dinner, too. But, the difference is clear: In Strange New Worlds Season 2, the Klingon War is only a few years in the past. In The Undiscovered Country, there hadn’t been a shooting war for at least three decades. So, with the new SNW episode, “Under the Cloak of War,” Star Trek is making it clear why Klingon peace talks in 2293 were so tricky, by showing us a major scandal back in 2259. Spoilers ahead.
Written by Davy Perez and directed by Jeff W. Byrd, “Under the Cloak of War,” scans as an episode in which the creators intentionally paid homage to Nicholas Meyer’s Trek film The Undiscovered Country. Although the Klingons (and Romulans sometimes) were often analogs for a kind of Cold War situation throughout Classic Trek; the Discovery and Strange New Worlds era has taken us back to a time when a very real, very hot war was actually waged between the Federation and the Klingons.
Discovery’s Klingon War comes to SNW
Starting in 2017, Discovery Season 1 greatly expanded Trek canon by showing the specifics of a massive Klingon War, that started in 2256 and ended in 2257. In the recap at the top of “Under the Cloak of War,” we even get scenes from Discovery, not from Strange New Worlds, to make it clear that yes, while the Discovery was trapped in the Mirror Universe, and the Enterprise was assigned to deep space, a bunch of other people were involved in that war. In the Discovery context, Pike’s Enterprise had been intentionally kept out of the war by Starfleet, in order to preserve a few ships in deep space in case things got really bad.
In Discovery Season 2, this bit of canon tap-dancing was tricky, but now, SNW is actually making pretty good use of it. Pike and Spock didn’t serve in the Klingon War, but several Enterprise crew members who joined the ship at the start of this series did. Specifically, this means Ortegas, Chapel, and M’Benga have retroactively become the first Star Trek series regulars who have memories and experience fighting the Klingons in an actual war.
M’Benga’s story explains The Undiscovered Country
Referenced in the SNW Season 2 premiere episode, we now learn here exactly why M’Benga and Chapel had super-serum that allowed them to Hulk-out and beat-up Klingons with impunity. Called “Protocol 12,” it turns out, that at one time, M’Benga manufactured this performance-enhancing drug for Starfleet until it was banned. But, more than that, the episode fully details M’Benga and Chapel’s time in the war as physicians on the moon of J’Gal. A Klingon general, named Dak’Rah — who is now pretending to be a peace envoy — ordered the killing of civilians. This guy was a huge war criminal, and as Starfleet evacuated the moon, M’Benga got juiced up and went to kill Dak’Rah and his men. But, Dak’Rah escaped, and then later lied and told everyone he killed fellow Klingons in order to escape and defect to the Federation. This brings us to the “present day.”
Throughout the episode, Pike, Spock, and others believe that Rah is a reformed Klingon and that his work as an ambassador for the Federation is legitimate. But, Ortegas, Chapel, and M’Benga feel differently. Smartly, the episode hides one crucial detail: M’Benga knows for a fact that Rah is lying because M’Benga is the guy who killed those Klingons. The idea that Rah wants peace and acts as a peace envoy in the name of the Federation is, to M’Benga, horrible, because he knows that Rah is a coward, and capable of manipulating the truth.
In the end, M’Benga never really reveals that he was the one who fought off the Klingons as Rah escaped, but Rah is killed (apparently by M’Benga) and Chapel tells Pike that Rah started the fight. The episode ends with a defector Klingon dead on the Enterprise, (probably) killed by a Starfleet officer.
So, if you fast-forward to 2293, and the time of The Undiscovered Country, it suddenly makes a lot of sense why many older Starfleet officers wouldn’t want anything to do with a Klingon peace treaty. Spock’s most daring idea in that film — to actually make peace with the Klingons — is doubly jarring because Starfleet has a bad track record with Klingons who claim they want peace. The controversy of Rah is for Spock, in Star Trek VI, a retroactive historical precedent. If Starfleet remembers the time that the “Butcher of J’Gal” tried to bamboozle everyone in 2259, then that’s just one more reason not to trust Gorkon or his peace ideals in 2293.
In the end, The Undiscovered Country turns out, more or less, okay. But as Strange New Worlds charts the history of Star Trek before the classic crew, the reasons for, as Spock puts it, “years of unremitting hostility,” make a lot more sense.