“Lost in Translation” harkens back to a classic original series adventure.
As I watched “Lost in Translation,” episode 6 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 3, I couldn’t help but think of a classic third-season episode from the original series. “The Tholian Web” first aired almost 55 years ago (November 15, 1968). I suspect it directly or indirectly inspired Onitra Johnson and David Reed as they wrote “Lost in Translation.”
My observation isn’t a criticism of the Strange New Worlds episode. “Lost in Translation” is among this sophomore season’s strongest entries. Like “Children of the Comet,” one of last season’s best episodes, it’s a story focused on Uhura, played to perfection as always by Celia Rose Gooding. Strange New Worlds takes Uhura’s chops as a professional communications specialist seriously—more so than the original series usually did, and building on the foundation laid by Zoe Saldana as Uhura in the Kelvin timeline films. Uhura’s ability to recognize and interpret the invisible aliens’ communications ends up saving the day—and the aliens.
The episode also gives us our first real meeting with Paul Wesley’s James T. Kirk. No longer playing Kirk from a possible future or alternate timeline, Wesley brings earnest and believable optimism, determination, and charm to the role. He also brings just the right amount of swagger.
The parallels I see between “Lost in Translation” and “The Tholian Web” in no way detracted from the episode. Indeed, they only made me appreciate both episodes more.
“Lost in Translation” and “The Tholian Web” both take place in a strange space.
In “Lost in Translation,” the Enterprise and the Farragut are “on the edge of explored space” near Bannon’s Nebula (named in tribute to Melissa Navia’s late partner Brian Bannon), which Uhura says is special because it is a stellar nursery. The region of Bannon’s Nebula is also special because it’s home to the invisible, extra-dimensional life forms living in the deuterium collected by Starfleet’s refueling outpost.
Similarly, in “The Tholian Web,” the Enterprise and its sister ship the Defiant are in a special region of space. It is a region where, in Spock’s words, “the fabric of space is very weak,” as though “space itself is literally breaking up,” allowing “interphases” of our universe with “a multitude of others.”
I am reminded of the ancient Celtic concept of thin places. “Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart,” Eric Weiner wrote in the New York Times, “but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”
“Lost in Translation” and “The Tholian Web” both feature Uhura fearing for her sanity.
In “The Tholian Web,” Ensign Chekov doesn’t appreciate “what’s so special about this region of space” because it’s slowly driving him, and several other crew members, mad—just as it drove the Defiant crew to commit mutiny.
Uhura sees Captain Kirk, who has been presumed dead, and is hospitalized in sickbay. She sees Chekov squirming in his restraints. She worriedly asks McCoy, “Will I become like Chekov, Doctor?” He reassures her she won’t, because his staff is searching for an antidote to the region of space’s mind-altering effects.
In “Lost in Translation,” Uhura alone experiences a vision of a dead person that sparks her fears for her sanity. She sees Hemmer, the chief engineer who died last season. She’s also hearing strange sounds, as did Lieutenant Ramon (Michael Reventar)—who himself saw a vision of a dead person—before sabotaging Starfleet’s outpost. It’s up to Jim Kirk to reassure Uhura she isn’t losing her mind.
“Lost in Translation” and “The Tholian Web” both deal with the theme of grief.
As mentioned, Captain Kirk is assumed dead during most of “The Tholian Web.” Spock tells the crew, “Each of you must evaluate the loss in the privacy of your own thoughts.” We get to see Spock and McCoy processing the apparent loss in their own ways after they view Kirk’s pre-recorded final orders.
Likewise, “Lost in Translation” is a story about processing grief. Like “The Tholian Web,” it gives us a look at Uhura’s quarters—but more important, Uhura’s quarters are the setting in which we see her processing grief. Hemmer’s deaths reawakened for Uhura the trauma she faced when her immediate family died in a shuttle accident.
Kirk counsels Uhura, “Our job puts us up against death more than is fair. And we might not like it, but we do have to face it.” Long-time fans can’t help but hear echoes of Kirk’s cavalier advice to Saavik in Star Trek II: “How we face death is at least as important as how we face life.” Sometime between “Lost in Translation” and The Wrath of Khan, Kirk started thinking of his words about death “as just words.” It took the death of Spock and a gentle push from David Marcus to get Kirk to take those words seriously again.
I don’t know how intentional these parallels between “The Tholian Web” and “Lost in Translation” are. But each episode is a strong story, ringing similar changes on central Star Trek themes: grief, concern for others, respect for life, and humanity’s continued willingness to push toward the edges in the cause of exploration.