Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, Season 2, Episode 4 – Among the Lotus Eaters

Referencing a tale dating back millennia, this adventure offers a fresh take on a well-worn theme.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Season 2, Episode 4
“Among the Lotus Eaters”
Written by Kirsten Beyer and Davy Perez
Directed by Eduardo Sánchez
Review by Clinton

Note: This article will concentrate on the adventures of the Rigel VII landing party. Some of the same observations could be made about the events unfolding aboard the Enterprise in this episode. But, for the sake of article length, I will let you, the reader, make those comparisons for yourself.

In Homer’s “The Odyssey,” there lived a small community of people who dwelled on a distant island. Perhaps they had been swept there during a storm at sea, or maybe they had been explorers seeking new lands. Not one of them could recall the story. They sustained themselves on the main foods available to them – the fruits and flowers of the lotus tree. While the supply was plentiful, there was a price to be paid for eating from this bounty. A narcotic in the lotus would cause every eater to fall asleep in a kind of blissful apathy. When they awoke, they would only have distant, fading memories of their homes and loved ones. Gone was all desire to do anything more than stay, eat of the fruits and flowers and sleep in peaceful lethargy.

Spock and Leila on Omicron Ceti II

This tale has been retold many times, including adaptations for “Star Trek.” The original series episode “This Side of Paradise” is the most obvious parallel. In that story, a team of scientists, who have set up an agricultural colony on Omicron Ceti III are affected by spores from a native plant. The team becomes content with their simple life, abandoning their research. While visiting the planet, the same fate nearly befalls the entire crew of the USS Enterprise.

While “Among the Lotus Eaters” clearly shares some basic DNA with these two stories, it also departs from the norm in some interesting ways. 

The script, by Kirsten Beyer and Davy Perez raises the disturbing issue of someone, rather than something, exercising control over those affected by memory loss. We learn that one crew member, Yeoman Zac Nguyen (David Huynh), listed as killed in action during the Enterprise’s first mission to Rigel VII five years earlier, had actually survived. Nguyen found himself falling victim to the memory-wiping effects of radiation emanating from asteroid fragments scattered across the surface of the planet. He managed to work out the fact that radiation-blocking ore had been used to build the huge castle which had featured so prominently in that ill-fated mission.

Yeoman Nguyen as Lord High Zacarias

But ingenuity and self-preservation soon gave way to more nefarious plans. In clear violation of the Prime Directive, Nguyen armed some of the locals with Federation-issue weapons, making them his de facto guards. He declared himself Lord High Zacariasa and did not share his knowledge about the radiation-blocking ore with those outside the castle. He knew that the material could be fashioned into helmets that would shield everyone from memory loss, but chose to keep that knowledge to himself, thereby consolidating his own power and safety. He reinforced the belief among those still affected by the radiation that they were meant to live by simply surviving day to day, while those inside the castle walls were different by nature.

This variation from “The Odyssey” places Yeoman Nguyen in the role of a callous god. He knows the cause of the misfortune the worker Kalar must endure and has the means to end it, but chooses instead to shield himself from such concerns, staying within his walled kingdom.

“Among the Lotus Eaters” also delves into the details of how a group that must survive without memories finds ways to cope with each new day. One of the stone cutters, Luq (Reed Birney), offers to help Captain PIke, Lt. Noonien-Singh and Dr. M’Benga (Anson Mount, Christina Chong and Bab Olusanmokun) adjust to life in this unfamiliar world. Through Luq we learn that the nightly “forgetting” robs the Kalar who live outside the castle of their long-term memories, while basic knowledge, like language, motor skills and “other things deep inside” remain. They use colors to know which type of work they usually perform; tattoos to recall their names. Each “field Kalar” lives in a hut, which can be identified by a marking that matches their name tattoo. 

Luq seems to be content with this life and urges the landing party to also accept their new future. The acquiescent Kalar believes that the inability to remember the past is a blessing. This way sorrows pass quickly and burdens are few. However, when Lt. Noonien-Singh is injured while protecting Pike, Luq sees Dr. M’Benga instinctively rush in to provide basic aid. And, despite the dangers, Pike “knows” that he must find a way to restore his memory, save his friends and return to the someone who gave him the small totem he wears around his neck. Luq realizes this is Pike’s truth. He agrees to help, even though it will put him in danger, too.

Once inside the castle, Pike corners Nguyen, knocking the yeoman to the ground and continuing to beat him while demanding a mythical cure for his memory loss. In desperation, Pike points a phaser rifle at Nguyen, seemingly ready to pull the trigger. But the radiation-blocking effects of the walls begin to clear Pike’s mind. He lowers the phaser and sits, knowing what he has done and had threatened to do.

“I told you Rigel VII changes people.”

 “No. It doesn’t,” Pike replies, “It shows us who we really are.” The captain points out that he was motivated by a need to protect his crew, while everything Nguyen did once he found himself stranded on the planet revealed a different, darker motivation.

“Among the Lotus Eaters” then asks the question, if you were given the choice to have your memories – both joyful and sorrowful – restored or have them buried forever, which path would you choose? This takes the story in a different direction than “The Odyssey” and “This Side of Paradise,” where those affected by a “forgetting” had little to no say in this matter.

While Pike assumes Luq is anxious to recall the past, the Kalar expresses a desire to remain blissfully ignorant. He shows Pike inked out names on his arm. He does not remember why he did it and he doesn’t want to know. His tone reveals his belief that the names were those of his family, including a child.

Dr. M’Benga gently presses the point, sensing Luq is an individual of compassion. “If you still carry the weight, don’t you want to know what it is?” 

“Would that make it any better?  You’re searching for your lost memories, but do you really know what you will find?…You are brave to face it. I am past the need to remember. I’m too afraid of the pain.”

But Luq has a change of heart. When he helps bring Lt. Noonien-Singh into the castle he decides to stay. The memories come rushing back. With tears in his eyes he acknowledges to Pike that he once had a family, including a son. He is grateful for the memories. 

“The story of your life. The details. They matter.” 

Which brings me to the last point about this variation on “The Odyssey” story of the Lotus-Eaters. The lives of the affected field Kalar was not one of blissful ignorance like that experienced on that long-forgotten island in the Mediterranean or that distant colony on Omicron Ceti III. It painted a picture of memory loss as a daily struggle; a battle against a silent enemy that must constantly be challenged. It was a fight that wore them down, memory by memory. It is a struggle that millions of people grapple with every day of their lives. 

“The story of your life. The details. They matter.” 

Yes. They do.

Next episode: Charades

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