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The Ending Of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Explained

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" launched in May 2022 and marked a return to the roots of the franchise. It featured self-contained stories for each episode, and classic, thought-provoking science fiction in true "Star Trek" tradition. The series was upbeat, optimistic, and adventurous, with a new cast of intrepid Starfleet officers aboard the Enterprise. Though Season 1 was brief at just ten episodes, it dropped to acclaim from both audiences and critics, who praised the storytelling, the strong characters, and the concept.

Though each episode was a standalone story, the show managed to fit in several ongoing character arcs. Pike was tortured by a vision of his future, seeing himself get horribly deformed following a Starfleet training exercise in which he saves a number of lives. He struggled to come to terms with his fate, agonizing over whether or not he could avoid it.

In the finale, Pike came face to face with his fate in a story that may be the boldest that the franchise has ever attempted, essentially a remake of one of the greatest episodes of "Star Trek" ever made. How did it all go down? This is the ending of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" Season 1 explained. Spoilers ahead.

A visit to the Neutral Zone

The final episode of "Strange New Worlds" Season 1 opens with the U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Cayuga meeting at the edge of the Neutral Zone, the demilitarized territory that separates the Federation from the Romulan Empire. In his personal log, Pike mentions that the region is a remnant of a treaty that ended a long war between the two sides more than a century earlier, a legendary conflict in "Star Trek" lore that has yet to be seen on the screen.

The Neutral Zone has been the center of several classic "Star Trek" episodes, but this was its first appearance in "Strange New Worlds." The two starships converge at Outpost 4, one of seven Starfleet installations along the border. Based on an asteroid, it's in desperate need of retrofitting and resupply.

Pike meets with his on-again off-again lover Captain Batel of the Cayuga, first seen in the opening moments of the series premiere. Over dinner, Batel shares concerns about rumors of the Romulans developing new and dangerous weapons, a concern that the Enterprise captain dismisses. The peace-loving Pike makes it clear that it may be time to put their prejudice against Romulans behind them. After all, nobody has ever seen a Romulan. They haven't even dealt with them in years, yet there are many who are quick to blame the Romulans for their problems.

Pike makes a decision on his future

In the briefing room, Captain Pike, Number One, and Mr. Spock meet with Hansen, the commander of Outpost 4. They promise the commander of the perilously located outpost that he'll be receiving all manner of impressive upgrades, for which he is grateful. But the arrival of Hansen's son Maat Al-Salah, who idolizes the Enterprise's captain, takes Pike off guard. All season long, Pike has been dealing with premonitions of a future event that will leave him crippled, an incident in which he will save the lives of several cadets. Maat is one of the cadets who will not survive the accident.

Shaken, Pike heads to his quarters. Finally being confronted with the reality that lives will be lost, he decides he is going to change the outcome. After a season of internal conflict, meeting the young boy has crystallized for Pike the need to chart his own future, instead of simply letting it play out. Unwilling to accept that his path is predetermined, Pike begins to write a series of letters — the first one addressed to Maat — that will warn the future cadets of the coming danger. He intends to ensure that none of them attend the training exercise that is still many years away, thereby altering his fate and his future.

Pike's future fights back

Out of nowhere, the finale gives us the season's biggest, most mind-blowing twist: The arrival of a future Pike who comes to warn his past self not to alter his fate. He's wearing a "Star Trek" movie-era style uniform with the rank of Admiral, a look that Pike never sported in our timeline, meaning that the future this version of Pike is from is very different indeed. But he's not just there to grab a cup of tea and have a chat — future Admiral Pike has arrived with a message and a dire warning. According to the Admiral, the letter that Captain Pike is about to write will wreck the future.

Admiral Pike claims that the letter his younger self is about to write will indeed accomplish its goal: The cadets won't attend the training exercise and no lives will be lost. Pike himself will avert the horrific accident and injuries that will leave him confined to a mobility device and render him disfigured and mute. The Admiral explains that it comes at a price, as his efforts to choose his own fate will have terrifying unforeseen consequences.

Pike is shown an alternate future

Pike understandably wants proof that this strange visitor is who he claims to be. Fortunately, Admiral Pike has a way to prove that his warning is gravely serious. He produces a relic that should help convince his younger self of his claims: a Klingon time crystal. According to the Admiral, the monks on the Klingon planet Boreth — the same ones who gave Pike his future vision in the first place — have given him the crystal and sent him back in time. With the relic, alternate timeline Pike will show his past self a vision of their potential future to warn him not to try to change his destiny.

Touching the crystal, Captain Pike is transported forward in time, though he doesn't realize that at first. Finding himself in the middle of a wedding ceremony aboard the Enterprise, Pike awkwardly attempts to improvise before the ship's red alert klaxons blare out and send the crew scattering. Pike is still aboard the Enterprise, and he appears to still be the captain, but something is very wrong. When he gets to the bridge, Mr. Spock is his first officer, Uhura is a full lieutenant, and reports are coming in that Outpost 4 has been attacked by an unknown vessel with a devastating new weapon of untold power. With other outposts going silent, it seems the Romulans may be trying to provoke a war.

A new balance

Departing from science fiction tradition, Captain Pike meets with Mr. Spock and tells him what has happened. The accident that took the lives of several cadets and left him mutilated apparently never occurred in this timeline, obviously due to the letters he sent to the cadets. Spock posits that Pike must have avoided the accident and created a new timeline where he remained captain and that the dark future he was warned of occurred because his presence altered a crucial moment in history.

With Outpost 4 under attack by an unknown vessel on the edge of the Neutral Zone, longtime fans will recognize the crucial moment in question: It appears that Captain Pike has been transported into the middle of the classic "Star Trek: The Original Series" episode "Balance of Terror." The episode saw the first appearance of the Romulans, with Captain Kirk narrowly avoiding an interstellar war.

At this point it seems like the "Strange New Worlds" Season 1 finale is going to take us back to one of the best "Star Trek" episodes ever made, but with a new twist as Captain Pike takes the place of the legendary Kirk. But don't expect it to be a simple remake, because, without Kirk at the helm of the Enterprise, events could play out very differently.

A deadly invisible enemy

Arriving at Outpost 4, the Enterprise is contacted by Commander Hansen Al-Salah, who tells them that a mysterious vessel attacked their installation, nearly destroying it with a horrifying new weapon. Despite being located deep beneath the asteroid's surface, the weapon has crippled them. And, upon firing, the ship somehow disappeared from sensors. According to Hansen, three other outposts have already been completely wiped out, and they may be next. Just as Hansen warns them that the ship is still out there, the mystery vessel re-emerges.

While the crew doesn't recognize it, Trekkies will no doubt know the unmistakable shape of the Romulan Bird of Prey, which takes aim for a second shot at the outpost. Still out of weapons range, Pike is helpless as the enemy ship obliterates what's left of the outpost with a powerful blast of red energy, killing Hansen in a fireball before disappearing once more. Realizing the ship has to uncloak to fire its weapon, Spock looks for a way to detect it before it can strike again. But if he and his crew are going to stop the Romulan ship, they may need some help.

Buying some time

As the Enterprise continues towards the Neutral Zone, they are hailed by a nearby Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Farragut. Uhura notes that this is the ship upon which his former security chief La'An Noonien now serves. But it's not La'An who comes up on the screen when the Farragut hails the Enterprise — Captain James T. Kirk pops up. In this alternate timeline, Kirk was never given command of the Enterprise and was instead promoted to captain of the ship he'd previously served on as a young lieutenant.

With Kirk on the viewscreen, Spock announces that he has figured out how to imprecisely track the Romulan ship, prompting Ortegas to demand they strike. Once again reluctant to be the aggressor, Pike refuses, not wanting to spark a war, even if he doesn't want to let them get away with their deadly attack.

Thankfully, Kirk has his own plan — and it happens to be the same one he used in the original 1967 episode "Balance of Terror." He wants to match the Romulan ship's movements move for move, tracking and following the vessel in such a way that the Romulans might confuse them for a sensor echo, a reflection of their own energy signature. With this tactic, they can buy time while they wait for Starfleet orders.

Trust issues

Kirk beams aboard the Enterprise and Pike greets him warmly, but he is cautious. He doesn't know this hotshot young captain, and he fears his reckless attitude could lead them into a war with the Romulans, given the precariousness of the situation. His own officer Sam — who happens to be Captain Kirk's brother — acknowledges that Kirk may be a wild card who relies on luck and charm, but, whatever his faults, he's still one of the best captains the fleet has ever seen.

As Sam Kirk is assuring Pike that he can trust his brother's judgment, Uhura intercepts a coded visual transmission from the Romulan ship. Putting it up on the viewscreen, Pike and his crew become the first humans to ever see a Romulan — who just so happen to share Mr. Spock's pointed ears. The entire crew is suddenly unsure if they can trust their Vulcan first officer. Kirk defends Spock's allegiance and theorizes that while the two races may be connected, it's also possible that the Romulans intentionally allowed them to view the transmission to sow discord between humans and Vulcans.

Headed for war

Assembled in the briefing room, Pike, Kirk, Spock, M'Benga, and Ortegas debate their next move. They can't let the Romulans get away, but Pike insists they not cross into the Neutral Zone to get revenge, which would surely incite a full scale interstellar war that could cost untold lives. M'Benga is firmly on the side of peace, insisting that no matter who is the aggressor, they should not retaliate when it would mean the certain death of billions.

Ortegas takes the opposing view, believing that war may be inevitable at this point and that they should attack the Romulans now. Kirk tells Pike he agrees with Ortegas, but not because he wants war, or even revenge. He instead ponders the consequences of the Romulan ship returning home with the news that the Federation is weak and won't fight back when attacked. But the real surprise is that Spock also votes for attacking.

If the Romulans do indeed share blood with ancient Vulcans as Spock suspects, and they have retained the savage emotions of his ancestors, then they cannot afford to show weakness. Spock's stance — and even his specific dialogue — mirrors "Balance of Terror." Just as he's outvoted, Kirk comes up with a plan, a brilliant pincer maneuver to flank the Romulan vessel. He thinks they may be able to detect the enemy ship as it passes through the tail of a nearby comet. Pike, however, internally fears that Kirk's brash action may be the reason he was sent into the future — to prevent Kirk from starting a war.

Peace or war?

Despite executing their plan perfectly, the Romulans still get the drop on them. The three ships engage in a battle in the tail of the comet, with the Farragut fatally struck by Romulan phasers. After beaming aboard the survivors from the Farragut — including Kirk and La'An — the two captains have a bitter confrontation. Kirk calls out Pike for being too cautious and hesitating, saying that Pike should have attacked. This seems to confirm Pike's fears that Kirk is going to lead them into war.

On the bridge, Spock learns that the Romulan ship is damaged and slowly limping back to Romulan space. Telling Pike that they can now overtake the enemy, Kirk pushes for an all-out assault, but Pike has other ideas. The Enterprise captain wants to use this opportunity to extend an olive branch to the Romulans, much to Kirk's dismay. In an impassioned plea, Pike offers the Romulans a ceasefire. To their surprise, the Romulans accept.

Aboard the Bird of Prey, it's clear that not every Romulan agrees with the decision. While the commander of the enemy ship acknowledges being tired of conflict and looking for a way out, his sub-commander has a thirst for war. He sees Pike's actions as Federation weakness and pushes for an attack on the Enterprise. The Romulan commander tells his younger officer that while he must see this "peace game" to its conclusion, it may not work, and if it doesn't, he'll get the war that he's looking for.

A shocking revelation

Back aboard the Enterprise, Pike is curious about one missing member of his former crew. Uhura is a Lieutenant, and La'An is the first officer of the Farragut, but Number One is M.I.A. In his briefing room, he confronts Spock about his conspicuously absent former friend, and we make a stunning discovery — Number One was arrested and is being held in isolation by Federation authorities. It appears as if some time in the past (not long after the time Pike came from), Lt. Commander Una Chin-Riley was taken into custody after the truth of her Illyrian blood became known.

This was the focus of the earlier "Strange New Worlds" episode "Ghosts of Illyria," in which it was revealed that Number One was actually an Illyrian, a race of people who use genetic augmentation that is illegal in the Federation. At the close of that episode, it's made clear that if this information ever got out, she'd be kicked out of Starfleet or worse. Pike promised to keep the secret to himself, believing her good heart to be more than enough for her to earn her place among his crew. Now we're forced to wonder: who squealed?

Kirk has a backup plan

Amid the negotiated ceasefire, the Enterprise and the Romulan Bird of Prey both hurriedly work on getting their ships back up and running, with Spock personally seeing to the repair of the phasers. Meanwhile, Pike visits Kirk in his ready room. Kirk reminds him that while pushing for peace is a noble goal, there's been no evidence that the Romulans can actually be trusted to live up to their end of the bargain. But, knowing that Pike is not going to be receptive to attacking the Romulans, Kirk instead offers a bold backup plan.

Proposing that he leave the ship and gather reinforcements for a potential confrontation, Pike reminds him that they're weeks away from any Starfleet vessel. Kirk smiles and simply asks for the use of a shuttlecraft, with a knowing twinkle in his eye. It's a reminder of the Captain Kirk that fans of the franchise know and love — a clever tactician who always seems to have a trick up his sleeve.

An inspirational speech

As the agreed-upon two hour ceasefire comes to a close, Spock still hasn't gotten the phasers back online. "Conventional wisdom suggests that our next move is to resume hostilities," Pike tells the Romulan commander. "Our strength comes from our willingness to see a partner instead of an enemy. In our culture, that is an act of faith and strength." He then pointedly tests the Romulan, asking, "Do Romulans have that kind of strength?"

It's a powerful message, and a very Picard-like maneuver, but decidedly not how Kirk would have handled it. Just as the Romulan commander agrees that war is not an option, a fleet of enemy craft comes warping in, led by the Romulan Praetor. In a shocking twist, the younger Romulan officer betrayed his commander and contacted his superiors in the Romulan Empire, who immediately sent a fleet to engage the Enterprise.

Confronted about his betrayal, the younger officer says that their mission had been to test the will of the Federation, and that Pike's reluctance to fight showed weakness, and now it was their duty to destroy them. He knew that the commander agreeing to peace was not something the Empire would have tolerated, and now they were ready to blow the Enterprise out of the stars and declare war on the Federation.

Kirk takes a risk

With the Romulan fleet ready to open fire, the Romulan Praetor contacts Pike and demands his surrender. With no other option, the Enterprise's captain is ready to get tough. But, right before things get messy, an entire fleet of Federation vessels warps in, led by Captain Kirk. These are not heavily armored cruisers or advanced battle-tested starships. Instead, Kirk has scrambled dozens of remotely controlled robotic unmanned mining and hauling ships. Though not equipped for war, Kirk reasons that after a hundred years, the Romulans wouldn't know a real Starfleet armada if they actually saw one. While it's not enough to fight off a Romulan attack fleet, it might be just enough for Pike to bluff with.

Now it's up to Pike to sell it — he contacts the Praetor and calls Kirk's fleet an "armada of Delta Class attack ships." The Romulan leader is outraged by the aggressive maneuver, but Pike points out the recordings they have of their Bird of Prey attacking their outposts in a series of deadly, unprovoked attacks. The Praetor seems surprised by this revelation, not because she was unaware, but because the attacks had been recorded. Instead of firing on the Enterprise, the Praetor sends one of her ships out to destroy the Bird of Prey for having been caught. She calls it a "culling."

Star-crossed friends

In a final overture of friendship, Pike hails the commander of the Romulan Bird of Prey that he has matched wits with all episode. The commander is facing a death sentence from his own people, and Pike offers to beam him and his crew aboard the Enterprise to save them. But the Romulan is a proud warrior and accepts his fate as a loyal officer of the Romulan Empire. "I'm sorry we had to meet this way," he tells Pike. "You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend."

Though the circumstances were somewhat different, this echoes the same line spoken by the Romulan commander in the original "Star Trek" episode "Balance of Terror." In that episode, the Romulan was speaking to Kirk, just before his ship was destroyed after a heated battle between the two starships. Even with the Bird of Prey on the verge of destruction, William Shatner's Kirk had offered to save the Romulan crew. Here, in the "Strange New Worlds" finale, the Romulan commander accepts his fate and assures Pike it is simply a matter of duty.

A turning point for Pike

Despite the presence of an apparent armada, the Romulan Praetor decides to attack the Enterprise. As Pike attempts to out-maneuver the enemy fleet, Kirk uses the remote piloted mining ships as a distraction, putting them between the Enterprise and the Romulans. But it's not enough — the Enterprise is rocked by enemy fire, and severely damaged. After getting Kirk back aboard, Pike warps the Enterprise away to safety just in time. As they get away, a message comes across subspace on all channels: The Romulans have declared war on the Federation.

The dark future that Pike has been sent forward to witness is now clear. If he is to live and prevent the incident that takes the lives of two young Starfleet cadets, it will lead to a devastating war with the Romulan Empire. The incident at Outpost 4 was a crucial turning point in history, and the Enterprise needed Kirk as its captain to avert catastrophe. But that's not all — one of the casualties of the disaster aboard the Enterprise is Mr. Spock. Though he may survive, he's lost a leg, is severely disfigured, and may never be the same again.

Pike to Pike

Back in his quarters, Captain Pike meets with his older Admiral self again. "I traded my fate for Spock's," he tells him. Pike can save himself and even the young cadets, but he cannot avert disaster, and a war with the Romulans would undoubtedly cost millions of lives. Admiral Pike goes further: Spock is the key to peace with the Romulans, in this and any timeline. This directly references the events of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Unification," the J.J. Abrams reboot film, the aftermath in "Star Trek: Picard," as well as the future seen in "Star Trek: Discovery," tying together a decades-long storyline. As revealed in the 32nd century, Spock plays a key role in peace between the Romulans and the Federation.

According to Admiral Pike, it's more than just this timeline — the monks on Boreth showed him that in every timeline where Pike tried to fix his future, Spock died. And that's something he cannot live with. Admiral Pike had finally realized that he was the result of a path that should have never been taken, and now he was here to convince his younger self not to take it.

A stunning cliffhanger

Upon his return to the present — seven years before the fateful encounter with the Romulans — Pike is a changed man. He has accepted his fate, and he is more appreciative of his science officer Mr. Spock. But one surprise is still in store, a cliffhanger that sets up a major storyline for "Strange New Worlds" Season 2.

As the Enterprise prepares to leave Outpost 4 after a resupply, they get a message from Starfleet Command. Pike's friend Captain Batel of the U.S.S. Cayuga is beaming aboard, and they want Pike and his first officer to meet them in the transporter room. When they arrive, they are taken aback by Batel's statement: Number One, Lt. Commander Una Chin-Riley, is to be taken into custody on charges of being an Illyrian, violating Starfleet's anti-genetic modifications directive.

Pike attempts to fight the order — physically — but Una stops him. "I've known this might happen for years," she says, accepting of her own fate. And with that, the final shot of Season 1 of "Strange New Worlds" is Number One being beamed away, with Pike powerless to stop it.