Not going to lie, Fangirlish Trek fam. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War” is one of the heaviest episodes of Trek in recent memory, but perhaps also in Trek history. It’s a story of war, PTSD, forgiveness, repentance, and the ability to atone for past sins. It’s a difficult but important story. Buckle up, because this is going to be a bumpy ride. Here are my thoughts on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War.”
Even if it’s difficult to watch, one of my favorite things about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War” is that we finally get a bit of backstory about the members of our crew who served in the Klingon War. This does a few things for me. The first is that learning this kind of knowledge that M’Benga and Chapel faced on the frontlines adds depth to their characters. I used to think that military doctors saw less action than those serving in the actual fighting. Not true. By the end of the episode, I felt triggered every time I heard the line, “Incoming transport.” It’s haunting, all the horror they have faced and still continue to wrestle with.
Similarly, learning a little more about Ortegas’ experience in the Klingon War helps to satiate a bit of my craving for #MORETEGAS. Melissa Navia, as always, delivers mightily with every bit she’s given. I’ve said it before, but there’s so much about the character of Ortegas that makes me feel seen. When she says, “I’ve got a bad poker face when I don’t like someone,” that hit me right in the heart. If my BS senses are tingling, then my face will show it. And boy, were her BS sensors right!
I sincerely hope they give Melissa space to explore Ortegas’ character and backstory, like say, a full episode without it being crowded out by a Pike story that no one was looking for. *gestures wildly at “Among the Lotus Eaters”* She’s such an interesting character and obviously has a different war experience than Chapel and M’Benga. It would be great to explore that. Here’s hoping.
The way that wartime PTSD is handled in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War” is done respectfully. I am the daughter of a drafted Vietnam War veteran. Without going into too much detail, many of the things expressed in this episode are things I have watched my father process in the years since his military experience. It’s a tragic and painful thing to watch up close. What M’Benga, Chapel, and Ortegas are experiencing in having to face the person who lead the violence they were fighting in the Klingon War would fill me with insurmountable anger as well. I couldn’t have attended the dinner. I appreciate that they tried, but it was incredibly wrong of Starfleet to ask that of them and other Klingon War veterans.
The idea of “You weren’t there, how can you understand?” rings true. It’s a horrible thing. I have blessedly never personally experienced war. I hope I never have that experience. But I certainly have empathy for those who have. The ways Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War” have tried to demonstrate this idea are done with integrity. While it is a difficult story to watch, it is an important one. I’m grateful for the way this story has been handled by the Strange New Worlds writing staff and cast. The metaphor of the broken biobed is heartbreaking. It’s one that helps those who’ve not experienced this kind of trauma to understand what our characters are experiencing.
Forgiveness, Repentance, and Atonement
The themes of forgiveness, repentance, and atonement, are handled well in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War.” These themes are also personal to me as a Christian. I would not be a Christian if I didn’t believe that sin can be forgiven, true repentance can occur, and atonement for sin can and has been made. Now, how do those ideas play out practically in real life and this episode? General Dak’Rah has committed atrocities that must be answered. However, M’Benga’s measure of him is correct. Dak’Rah feels guilt for his role in the Klingon War, that much is true. However, he is unwilling to truly own the atrocities he’s committed. Anything built on a lie will not stand.
Also, the final conversation between Pike and M’Benga is difficult, but an important one. Pike has the privilege of believing the best in people. M’Benga has seen the worst of what people can do and can no longer believe that. I don’t blame either of them for how they feel because I’ve been on both sides of that equation. And Pike is right about this—who gets to decide? Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War” doesn’t give us a clear answer and it’s not meant to. It’s meant to make us ask that question of ourselves in what we encounter. The balance of forgiveness and justice is a difficult one to maintain. For me personally, I believe forgiveness can be given, but not at the expense of justice. Your mileage may vary on that, and that’s what this episode is meant to make us wrestle with.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War” is one of the most difficult episodes of Star Trek I’ve ever watched. And yet, I love that it made me wrestle with this very real, very painful question. My response is colored by my own experience and belief, as will be other responses to this episode. It’s learning to come to terms with those responses that help us to grow as humans. For that tension, I believe this will go up as one of the best dramatic episodes of Trek, and also one of the most difficult, akin to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “In the Pale Moonlight.” It asks the same question—can you live with it? Big props to Babs Olusanmokun, Jess Bush, and Melissa Navia for delivering incredible dramatic performances this week.
Finally, If you want a further exploration of the grief and loss that Melissa Navia is bringing to her role as Lt. Ortegas, watch this week’s episode of The Ready Room with Wil Wheaton. While I knew the story of her late partner, Brian Bannon, I still wept with her during the interview. Walking with grief is one of the most painful things a person can do, and the best thing we can do is hold space for those who experience it and walk with them. I walk with you, Melissa.
What did you think of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2×08 “Under the Cloak of War”? Leave me a comment and let’s talk Trek.