How the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Finale Brings Classic Lore Back to Canon

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This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds article contains spoilers.

Expecting easter eggs and nods to Star Trek: The Original Series in any contemporary Trek series is normal. Discovery season 1 had a Gorn skeleton and a tribble. Picard season 2 basically hinged on the underrated TOS episode “Assignment: Earth.” Lower Decks season 2 had an entire episode focused on how to pronounce “Mugato.” And of course, nearly every episode of Strange New Worlds has had a least one wink-or-nod to something from The Original Series.

But not since the 1996 Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” has a new Star Trek episode boldly gone inside of a pre-existing TOS episode. But in the Strange New Worlds season 1 finale, “A Quality of Mercy,” that’s exactly what happens. When Captain Pike visits an alternate 2266, he lives through an altered version of the TOS episode “Balance of Terror,” in which he’s the captain and not Kirk. 

In other words, the SNW season 1 finale is basically a giant easter egg, containing several tinier easter eggs. Here are all the callbacks and references we found:

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“A Treaty From 100 Years Ago”

Pike mentions the existence of the Romulan Neutral Zone is “a remnant from a treaty from 100 years ago.” This references the Earth-Romulan War, a semi-famous Star Trek conflict that oddly has never actually been depicted on screen. In fact, the only character we’ve ever seen on screen who was a participant in this war was Captain Baltazhar (Idris Elba) from the film Star Trek Beyond. In terms of the chronology, the Earth-Romulan War happened sometime between 2156 and 2160, essentially in between the Enterprise episode “Terra Prime,” and the flash-forward to 2161 in “These Are the Voyages…” Although not considered canon, the Michael A. Martin novel The Romulan War attempted to reconcile the events alluded to in “Balance of Terror” with the chronology of Enterprise.

Because Strange New Worlds takes place in 2259, and the Romulan War ended in 2160, Pike’s “100 years ago” statement is pretty much right on the money. 

Asteroid Bases 

The Neutral Zone base that we see the Enterprise resupplying at the start of the episode is one of several asteroid bases that are destroyed later in the episode as well as in “Balance of Terror.” But in The Original Series episode, we were just told about these bases but never saw them.

“State of the Art Matter Synthesizers” 

There’s a bit of canon tap-dancing when Spock and Number One explain that the bases will use the raw materials of the asteroid with “state of the art matter synthesizers.” In the 2259 timeframe of Strange New Worlds, the replicators of the The Next Generation era don’t exist yet. However, in both Discovery and TOS, we glimpsed tech that was kind of like replicators, and it would seem “matter synthesizers” are their forerunner. All of this also references the Short Treks episode “Q&A,” in which Spock asks which matrix was used in the food synthesizers on the ship, and learns it was the “Una glucose matrix,” in reference to Number One herself. A similar replicator matrix, “Uno amino matrix,” was mentioned in the Picard episode “Maps and Legends,” indicating that synthesizer and replicator technology may have been heavily influenced by Una Chin- Riley. 

Nobody Has Seen a Romulan

Pike says of the Romulans, “Nobody’s ever seen one, nobody knows what they look like.” At this point in the Trek canon, most in the Federation have never seen a Romulan face-to-face. This detail comes from “Balance of Terror,” but was supported by the Enterprise episode “Minefield.”

Hansen’s Starfleet Emblem Is Different

In TOS, it was common for officers on ships that were not the Enterprise to have widely different insignia on their uniforms. Old fan lore claimed for decades that Starfleet only adopted the familiar “delta” for wide use throughout the fleet after Kirk’s five-year mission concluded in 2270. However, most of the newer series have contradicted that notion, that is, until now. Apparently, Strange New Worlds is moving closer to a point in canon in which it’s not uncommon for Starfleet personnel to rock oddly different insignia, which are unique to their starbase or starship.

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Hansen Al-Salah’s insignia also pretty much matches the basic shape and design of the original Hansen from “Balance of Terror.” 

Future Pike Rocks “Monster Maroon” 

When Pike from the future appears in contemporary Pike’s quarters, he’s wearing a variant of the maroon Starfleet uniform first introduced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This uniform isn’t exactly like the ones worn by Kirk and the gang in all of the TOS films post-Wrath, mostly because it retains some of the detailing unique to the Strange New Worlds uniforms. But other than the sleeves and shoulders being a bit more leathery than in the classic films, this is the 2280s Starfleet uniform.

In canon, this uniform is notable because in the Prime reality it’s the uniform style that remained in service the longest, from the late 23rd century in the 2280s (Wrath of Khan) all the way through at least the 2340s, during the era of the Enterprise-C. As seen in the TNG episodes “Tapestry” and “Family,” Jean-Luc Picard and Jack Crusher wore this style of uniform early in their Starfleet careers, making it one of the only uniform styles worn in canon by characters from vastly different eras. Basically, now Pike, Picard, and Kirk have all worn pretty much the same uniform.

Pike sporting monster maroon also (perhaps unintentionally) recalls a storyline from the 1997 Marvel comics series Star Trek: Early Voyages, in which an alternate timeline is created where Kirk leaves Starfleet at a young age, and Pike remains the Enterprise captain well through the events of The Undiscovered Country in the 2290s. In issue #14 of that series, Pike even punches out Kirk on the cover of the comic! 

Pike’s rank pin on his shoulder strap is the same as Kirk’s pin in The Wrath of Khan, indicating in this “future” Pike is an Admiral. Because this uniform was introduced in the “Prime” timeline sometime in the 2280s, it makes sense that this version of Pike is also from that era, or perhaps even the 2290s.

Finally, “monster maroon” is mostly a nickname this uniform picked up from fan creators. It’s a “monster” because of all the Trek uniforms, it’s historically been the hardest for cosplayers to recreate. 

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Klingon Monks From Boreth

Both Pikes talk about the Klingon Monks on Boreth. This references Discovery season 2, episode 12, “Through the Valley of Shadows,” in which Pike was shown his fate on Boreth in exchange for a time crystal.

The Wedding Ceremony Is From “Balance of Terror”

At the start of “Balance of Terror,” Kirk is performing a wedding between Angela Martine and Robert Tomlinson. In “A Quality of Mercy,” Pike is performing a similar wedding, though it’s not clear if the characters are supposed to be the same. Notably, the episode inverts the deaths of the bride and groom. In “Balance of Terror,” the groom, Tomlinson, died. But in “A Quality of Mercy,” the bride is seen dead, survived by her fiancé.

Uhura Is a Full Lieutenant

Uhura’s uniform is strongly reminiscent of the same uniform she wore in TOS. Celia Rose Gooding’s green earrings are also a near-match for those worn by Nichelle Nichols in “Balance of Terror.”

2266

Pike and Spock talk about Pike being thrown “seven years into the future.” Relevantly, in the Prime timeline, this is actually a full year after Kirk took command of the Enterprise. Most of TOS season 1 takes place in 2266 and 2267. But “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the first TOS episode (after “The Cage”), happens in 2265. This means that in terms of the “present” of Strange New Worlds, there are only six years between “now” and when Kirk should be in command of the Enterprise.

Spock References a Kelvin Universe Rule

Spock suggests that if Pike is “mentally compromised” he can no longer command the Enterprise. In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, Kirk reveals that Spock is “emotionally compromised,” and thus, has to be relieved of command. This is one of the rare instances of TV Trek referencing Starfleet rules established in the Kelvin universe.

USS Farragut

In the alternate 2266, Kirk is in command of the USS Farragut. In the Prime universe, Kirk served on the Farragut in 2255 as a lieutenant on his first “deep space” assignment. This was established mostly in the TOS episode “Obsession,” which would have taken place about a year before Discovery season 1.

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“A Quality of Mercy” also reveals that Farragut is not a Constitution-class ship as some books, comics, and technical manuals had previously indicated. We don’t know if this is an early Miranda-class ship (like the Reliant) or a class that hasn’t been defined. Interestingly, some notes in the behind-the-scenes book The Making of Star Trek indicate Kirk was in command of a “Destroyer” before becoming the captain of the Enterprise. If future seasons of Strange New Worlds reintroduce the Farragut, this vague notion could become canon.

“Balance of Terror” Dialogue and Blocking 

Much of the action lifts dialogue directly from “Balance of Terror” to the point where there are so many examples that it’s almost too much to document. Writer Henry Alonso Myers has indicated that he directly lifted from the “Balance of Terror” script whenever possible while writing this episode. In the aftershow “The Ready Room,” Anson Mount also mentioned that certain scenes were blocked to directly emulate the exact movement from “Balance of Terror.”

Some big examples:

  • Uhura’s lines to Pike about losing contact with the outposts is nearly exactly the same.
  • Hansen’s dialogue about the Romulan attack is basically word-for-word the same as “Balance of Terror.” “Can you see it, Enterprise?!!!?”
  • Spock’s speech in the briefing room about the Romulans retaining a “martial philosophy” and “weakness is something we dare not show” is all the same. 
  • The Romulan commander’s bittersweet tribute to Pike, saying “I could have called you friend” is identical. 
  • Many characters are lit with a specific emphasis on their eyes. This is exactly what director Vincent McEveety did in “Balance of Terror.”

Sam Kirk Describes Jim Kirk 

Sam mentions that Jim was “always at the top of his class,” which references “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” In that episode, we got the impression that Kirk was a great and straight-laced student. Sam also says “he doesn’t like to lose.” This, of course, references the Kobayashi Maru “No Win Scenario” from The Wrath of Khan, specifically Kirk’s line to Saavik in that film, “I don’t like to lose.” 

Fred Steiner Romulan Music Cue 

When the Romulans are revealed to look exactly like Vulcans (for the “first” time) the music from “Balance of Terror,” specifically a cue written for the Romulans, plays as we zoom in on Spock. This is actually the second time in two years that a new Trek show has played this theme. In the debut episode of Star Trek: Picard back in 2020, a similar re-phrasing of this theme was used when Narek, a Romulan, was introduced at the end of “Remembrance.” 

Romulans Love to Mess Around With Trilithium 

In a nice bit of retcon, Spock mentions the cloaked Romulan ship is “trailing trilithium fragments.” In Star Trek Generations, it was established that the Romulans were researching a trilithium weapon. And in the DS9 episode “Images in the Sand,” scanning for trilithium proved some Romulan weapons had been used.

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A Romulan Uncle?

In “Balance of Terror,” the Romulan commander (Mark Lenard) confided in an older Romulan colleague, only called “the Centurion,” played by John Warburton. But in “A Quality of Mercy,” the Romulan commander is questioned by a younger underling. At one point, the Romulan commander mentions that he fought with this young Romulan’s uncle, who died needlessly in another battle. Could that dead uncle be the older Centurion from the original episode? 

Because the young Romulan is the person who sends the signal to the Empire that there’s a cease-fire, that person is oddly to blame more than Pike. So, if for some reason this timeline altered the basic crew compliment of this Romulan Bird-of-Prey, then perhaps Pike wasn’t wrong to try for peace. 

Scotty Is NOT a Miracle Worker!

Although not named, we hear Scotty off-screen telling Spock he’s an “engineer not a miracle worker, Mr. Spock.” This is a double reference! Throughout The Original Series Bones often would say phrases like “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer,” or “What am I, a doctor, or a moon shuttle conductor?” 

But Scotty claiming he’s not a miracle worker also references Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, in which Scotty reveals that he fudges his repair estimates in order to keep his “reputation as a miracle worker.” In The Voyage Home, Bones says of Scotty, “Back home, we call him the miracle worker.” 

A Photo of April and Young Pike…Wearing Velour! 

When Old Pike is checking out Young Pike’s stuff, he notices a photograph that is clearly Captain April (Adrian Holmes) and Pike (Anson Mount), but in their earlier days on the USS Enterprise, presumably when April was still captain. And interestingly, the style of uniform they’re both wearing in this blurry photo appears to check out with the velour-style uniforms from the era of “The Cage.” This seems to indicate that if we ever get some Captain April flashbacks to the 2240s, the uniforms might get even more retro

Spock Is the Key to Romulan Peace 

Old Pike makes it clear that Spock is “the only chance for lasting peace between the Federation and the Romulans in any timeline.” This mostly references the events of The Next Generation, specifically “Unification I and II,” in which Spock goes undercover and tries to help support a peace movement on Romulus. Spock also tries to help the Romulans survive a supernova in the events of Star Trek 2009. 

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By the time of Discovery in 3189, in the episode “Unification III,” Romulans and Vulcans are reunited fully, and Spock is largely credited with getting that process started

“He’s Got Things to Do”

Pike also mentions that Spock has “things to do…fate of the galaxy type things.” This could reference many things, including:

  • Without Spock’s mind-meld, V’ger might have destroyed Earth in The Motion Picture.
  • Spock realizes the alien probe in The Voyage Home is attempting to communicate with whales. If he hadn’t figured that out, Earth would have been destroyed by that probe.
  • Spock forces the Federation into peace talks with the Klingons in The Undiscovered Country, which, obviously, saved millions of lives by preventing all-out war.

Kirk’s Background

As Pike is getting to know Kirk in the alternate timeline, we hear Kirk say,“I was born in Iowa, my father George, was the first officer on the Kelvin before we moved to Tarsus colony.”

Kirk being from Iowa was first established in “The Deadly Years,” and has been repeated throughout the franchise many times. The reference to his father George on the Kelvin is a direct nod to the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot, which indicates that in the Prime timeline, George wouldn’t have died on the Kelvin, because that temporal incursion would have never taken place. Furthermore, the last thing Kirk mentions is “the Tarsus colony,” which references the TOS episode “The Conscience of the King,” in which we learned that as a very young man, Kirk witnessed a horrifying massacre. 

At the end of the episode, back in the “present,” Pike calls up Kirk’s file. On the screen, we can clearly see that Kirk is “currently” on the USS Farragut, but before that, he was “assigned” to Starfleet Academy, and before that, he was on the USS Republic.

Why was Kirk at Starfleet Academy after he served on the USS Republic? Well, leaving aside the fact that we know cadets often serve on ships as part of their training, this little detail is actually an amazing deep cut. In “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” it was established that “Lt. Kirk” taught classes at Starfleet Academy. Meaning, that after Kirk’s tour on the Republic, he went back to Starfleet Academy, basically teaching as a graduate student. (Spock did the same thing in the alternate timeline in Star Trek 2009.)

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The Republic being Kirk’s first ship comes directly from the episode “Court Martial,” though some apocrypha suggests that Pike’s radiation accident also occurs on the Republic. This would mean that Kirk’s first ship is also Pike’s last ship — though it also seems unlikely that connection is actually canon.

Number One Cliffhanger 

When Number One is arrested at the end of the episode, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano) says “she’s an Illyrian.” This is a reference to episode 3 of Strange New Worlds, “Ghosts of Illyria,” in which we learned Una has been hiding her genetic modifications. Interestingly, this cliffhanger is very similar to the Lower Decks season 2 finale, insofar as the final scene featured a beloved officer (in that case Captain Freeman) getting arrested by Starfleet unfairly. This means that both season 3 of Lower Decks and season 2 of Strange New Worlds will both have to deal with clearing the good name of a Starfleet comrade, no matter what. 

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