Star Trek: The Next Generation caused controversy by killing off Tasha Yar in season 1. Strange New Worlds does much better with its own major death.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode 9
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds comes perilously close to repeating The Next Generation‘s Tasha Yar mistake, but pulls some last-minute evasive maneuvers to avoid disaster. One of Star Trek‘s most controversial moments (and there’s been a good few) came in The Next Generation season 1’s “Skin of Evil” with the death of Tasha Yar. Played by Denise Crosby, Tasha enjoyed main character status throughout the first 21 episodes, making her death a bold and shocking moment – but not one fans appreciated. Popular opinion held that such an early demise wasted Crosby’s character, and that the death itself was depressingly lackluster.
In “All Those Who Wander,” Star Trek: Strange New Worlds very nearly drops straight down the very same pitfall. Since Strange New Worlds‘premiere, Bruce Horak has portrayed Hemmer, the Enterprise’s chief engineer. By holding such a prestigious position and receiving as much screen time as other main cast members, Hemmer was undoubtedly among Strange New Worlds‘principal crew … and then he died. Season 1, episode 9 sees the Aenarian become infected with Gorn eggs and sacrifice himself to avoid condemning everyone aboard to a grisly death once the reptilian bundles of joy hatch. Fortunately, Hemmer’s early death doesn’t invite the same damning critiques Star Trek: The Next Generation faced after showing Denise Crosby the door.
It’s superior execution and punchier impact that saves Hemmer from being Tasha Yar-ed. The Next Generation‘s biggest sin wasn’t just killing Tasha Yar (although that’s still a pretty big goof), but killing her very badly. Tasha gets offed relatively early in “Skin of Evil,” and by a sentient puddle of black goop, no less. It’s a man in a black sack that looks like a man in a black sack, and the whole ordeal is over in mere seconds with Tasha Yar alive one moment then dead the next. Her exit achieves nothing, means nothing, and even red-shirts have enjoyed more dramatic goodbyes. The same can not be said for Bruce Norak’s Hemmer, who actually receives a death befitting a main Star Trek character.
Where Tasha died almost instantaneously, Hemmer’s doom is given ample time to sink in, with crew members and viewers alike gradually realizing a huge character death is rapidly approaching. Tasha’s final words carried very little weight, but Hemmer bows out with a moving speech about his commitment to Starfleet and his purpose in life, before boldly stepping over the edge of a precipice after feeling the winds of his home planet one final time. It’s deeply upsetting, lump-in-throat stuff that allows Hemmer to at least finish with a bang rather than a whimper. More importantly, Hemmer’s death is already sending shockwaves through Star Trek canon. His final speech appears to convince Nyota Uhura to stay aboard the Enterprise, making Hemmer directly responsible for a key figure in Captain Kirk’s legendary Enterprise crew.
Hemmer’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds death may also serve a vital secret function. With the Enterprise now requiring a chief engineer whose stomach isn’t a breeding ground for angry lizards, Strange New Worlds might be heralding the arrival of Montgomery Scott. At the very least, Star Trek canon dictates Hemmer needed to die or quit sooner or later. Tasha Yar was subject to no such time limit.
Although Strange New Worlds averts the unmitigated disaster Star Trek: The Next Generation experienced with Tasha Yar, Hemmer’s death isn’t entirely problem-free. A major flaw in firing Denise Crosby so early was depriving Jean-Luc Picard’s Enterprise-D of a promising main character (even if said promise was not always allowed to shine). Hemmer’s exit might’ve hit all the necessary emotional and narrative beats, but episode 9 still feels ridiculously early to be bidding such an intriguing character farewell. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds had only barely begun scratching the surface of Hemmer’s motivations, psychic abilities and mentor-student relationship with Uhura, but all those threads have been abruptly snipped with the flick of a Gorn’s tongue. Still, it’s a better way to go than death-by-human-shaped-oil-slick.
More: Strange New Worlds Sets Up TOS ‘Classic Tribbles Episode
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds continues Thursday on Paramount +.
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