Published Jul 28, 2023
RECAP | Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 208 - 'Under the Cloak of War'
'Some things break in a way that can never be repaired. Only managed.'
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains story details and plot points for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, while tending to an injured Klingon, Dr. M'Benga revealed he was stationed on the moon of J'Gal. The Klingon reacted with incredulity, because if that were true, the good doctor would be dead. As veterans of the Klingon War, M'Benga and Christine Chapel cannot shake the atrocities and lives lost that they witnessed.
In "Under the Cloak of War," Captain Pike and his crew welcome a Klingon defector aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, but his presence triggers the revelation of some shocking secrets.
- Christopher Pike
- Dak'Rah, Son of Rah'Ul
- Una Chin-Riley (Number One)
- La’An Noonien-Singh
- Nyota Uhura
- Erica Ortegas
- Jenna Mitchell
- Dr. Joseph M'Benga
- Christine Chapel
- Buck Martinez
- Va'Al Trask
- U.S.S. Enterprise
- U.S.S. Kelcie Mae
- Prospero System
- Moon of J'Gal
The U.S.S. Enterprise meets with the U.S.S. Kelcie Mae in the Prospero System to pick up a special visitor. Despite being under Starfleet jurisdiction since the end of the Klingon War, it has taken years for the system’s three planets to overcome infighting and reach a ceasefire agreement. In the Transporter Room, Captain Christopher Pike prepares to welcome the resolution’s architect, a unique Federation ambassador, aboard so he can be escorted to Starbase 12. The guest beams up and is revealed to be Ambassador Dak’Rah, a former Klingon general who had defected to Starfleet’s side. Most of Pike’s crew did not fight in the war, but some did.
A ceremonial bosun’s whistle is blown to honor Dak’Rah, Son of Rah'Ul, and the Klingon ambassador becomes intrigued with the tradition. Dak’Rah — or Rah — likens the practice to rolling out the red carpet. Although Pike remains upbeat and courteous, Commander Una Chin-Riley and Lt. La’An Noonien-Singh exchange concerned looks when Rah requests a tour of the Enterprise.
On the Bridge, Ensign Nyota Uhura enthusiastically cites the Summit of Scorpi Ten, the Klingon Free-Trade Agreement, and the Perez Accords as highlights of Rah’s diplomatic career, but war veteran Lt. Erica Ortegas responds with skepticism. Are the ambassador’s exploits a long con to gain Federation secrets? The pilot’s frustration grows, and she rises from the captain’s chair to defend her position. Ortegas counters Uhura’s enthusiasm with a list of Rah’s war campaigns — the Slaughter at Lembatta Five and siege at Starbase Zetta, as well as the rumor that he killed his own men to cover his retreat.
The lieutenant’s statement that the Klingons call Rah "The Butcher of J’gal” comes at an inopportune moment, with her fervor reaching a crescendo as the ambassador exits the turbolift alongside Pike, Chin-Riley, and Noonien-Singh. Number One alerts the room to their presence, declaring, “Captain on the Bridge!” The officers descend into an awkward silence, but Rah breaks the tension by admiring the view of local space from the vessel’s command center. He claims the Federation builds much better ships than the Klingons, and Pike remarks that Starfleet designs them with exploration in mind. The tour moves on, but the captain eyes Ortegas with a disappointed glance.
At the bar in the Enterprise’s Lounge, Lt. Spock assists Lt. Jenna Mitchell with coding a popular caffeinated beverage from Kronos for the ambassador, who surprises them by arriving ahead of schedule. Spock procured a recipe for raktajino from a recent encounter with a Klingon captain, but Rah expresses his disdain for his own culture, referring to Klingons as a warmongering species limited by ideology. He quickly apologizes, believing his distaste for the past influences his words, and welcomes Spock’s offer of a raktajino. The drink materializes, but the scalding hot cup burns the ambassador’s hand, prompting Pike to ask him to seek treatment.
The tour heads to Sickbay, where Number One points out a dermal regenerator that will heal Rah’s wound. Dr. Joseph M’Benga and Nurse Christine Chapel notice the group from a distance, and the doctor’s expression displays an uncharacteristic blend of anger, panic, and fear. M’Benga retreats to his office, collapsing to the floor and grasping at his chest.*
A few years before, Chapel endures a bumpy ride aboard Shuttlecraft 12648, an auxiliary vessel dispatched from a Federation ship with the registry NCC-7901, as it approaches the moon of J’gal. Starfleet and the Klingons are engaged in a fierce battle around J’gal, and the shuttle takes incoming fire as it beams Chapel down to the forward operating base approximately one mile from the front. Momentarily distracted by the violent scene, Chapel meets Commander Buck Martinez, the site’s Chief Medical Officer.** The pair walk into a field hospital marred by bloody blankets, and Martinez outlines the grim situation — they don’t even have an internal organ regenerator. He surprises Chapel by announcing she’s the new head nurse. The ground shakes from incoming weapons fire. The base scrambles sensors, but the Klingons know they’re there.
Outside, Martinez showcases an area filled with temporary structures known as “Tent City,” and Chapel spots Joseph M’Benga soaking in a tub. An alarm rings out to alert the facility to the arrival of new casualties via the transporter pad, sending the entire staff leaping into action. Chapel and M’Benga perform triage as wounded soldiers beam in, at least until a severely injured ensign named Alvarado draws their attention. Their patient has internal bleeding and massive damage to every major internal organ — trauma that can’t be healed without a regenerator. Chapel is unwilling to let him die, but M’Benga recognizes they must get Alvarado off the pad to clear it for other casualties. At the doctor’s suggestion, Chapel loads the ensign’s biodata into the buffer — something M’Benga does all the time with the critical patients*** — to keep him alive until a convoy of Federation starships can reach J’gal with a surgery bay.
Back aboard the present day Enterprise, Dr. M’Benga works to repair Biobed Two, which has been acting up since the Gorn attack at Finibus Three. The captain interrupts, having come to Sickbay in search of Deltan parsley from M’Benga’s apothecary. The doctor obliges, but warns Pike that the seasoning is deadly in excessive amounts. The Chief Medical Officer senses Pike has an ulterior motive, and the captain admits he wanted to see how M’Benga feels about their Klingon guest. Aware that M'Benga and Chapel served on J’gal, Pike delicately informs the doctor that — due to a protest during Rah’s last transport — Starfleet wants veterans to interact with him. Nevertheless, the captain does not want those orders to come at the expense of his crew. M’Benga assures him he is okay, as does Chapel when she joins the conversation. The medical staff agrees to attend a dinner for the ambassador, but the duo express trepidation after Pike leaves.
Disturbed by his memories, a tense M’Benga resolves not to be chased away from the captain’s table… but the discussion sparks a memory of an incident on J’gal from years before. M’Benga and Chapel are performing surgery on Ensign Inman at the moon’s field hospital. When the patient goes into cardiac arrest, the doctor orders Chapel to manually pump the ensign’s heart. The challenging procedure is a success, although no celebration is possible — they must move on to the next wave of casualties.
M’Benga notices Ortegas pacing outside of the captain’s quarters aboard the Enterprise, and the pilot confesses she wants to bail on the dinner honoring “The Butcher of J’gal.” The doctor notes there’s a chance that Rah has genuinely reformed, yet Ortegas is certain the ambassador is pretending. “Sometimes you pretend something long enough, it becomes the truth,” replies the Chief Medical Officer. They decide to put on a “Starfleet face,” and M’Benga draws a smile with his comment that Pike is serving jambalaya.
As the gathering proceeds, Rah regales Pike, Chin-Riley, and Noonien-Singh with tales from the negotiating table. Upon entering, M’Benga and Ortegas are welcomed by the captain. Spock speaks with Chapel in private, but Rah’s presence proves a distraction for the nurse. The Vulcan is concerned she is under duress, but the nurse urges him to change the subject. They overhear Rah comparing getting Prospero Alpha to agree to an armistice with convincing a Tellarite to give a compliment, causing Chapel’s anxiety to increase. Spock tries to help by asking the ambassador about Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, as well as how it measures up against the Klingon manuscript mL' parmaq Qoj. M’Benga seizes the opportunity to depart from the conversation and commiserate with Chapel over a drink.
M’Benga thinks back to his experience on J’gal, recalling time he spent with Ensign Inman during his recovery from surgery. The traumatized patient tells the doctor that General Dak’Rah’s men wouldn’t allow him to die, but M’Benga urges him to concentrate on getting better. As he touches the bandage on his chest, Inman mentions he is from New Angeles on Terra Luna — more commonly known as “The Moon.” M’Benga sets off to do his rounds and finds Lieutenant Va’Al Trask, an Andorian operative from Starfleet’s Special Forces, waiting for him outside the tent. As the battle rages nearby, the doctor declines Trask’s request to help him end the conflict by assassinating General Dak’Rah. The Andorian stresses that Rah’s troops are killing civilians — both human and Klingon. His scarred face filled with determination, Trask says he is aware of the story that M’Benga has the most confirmed hand-to-hand kills. M’Benga asserts that he is just a doctor now, rebuffing Trask’s plea for Protocol 12, a discontinued substance the doctor designed for Starfleet, as the formula’s mix of adrenaline and pain inhibitors harms your body. The doctor walks away from the frustrated Andorian.
At the dinner in Pike’s quarters, Rah emphasizes that what the Federation did for him had saved his life — J’gal changed him. Unable to resist, M’Benga interjects and states, “J’gal changed a lot of us.” Rah realizes the doctor also served on the moon — including, as Chapel notes, during the Massacre of Colony Athos — and seeks to outline how the experience altered his perspective on war. Barely restraining herself, Ortegas asks if Rah really did kill his own men so he could escape. The helm officer brings up the Klingon battlecry tlhIngan maH. taHjaj — Remain Klingon! — but the ambassador insists he is trying to make up for his past. Ortegas exits, and Pike apologizes for the exchange. Rah calmly guarantees he bears no grudge.
Uhura changes topics, highlighting the similarities between Rah’s outlook and Aenar Existentialism. The captain notices M’Benga tightening his grip on his armrest and quietly proposes he check on Ortegas. The doctor rises to go, but Rah grabs his arm as he passes by his seat. The ambassador has heard M’Benga practices full-impact Mok’bara — a Klingon martial art — and asks to participate in a session. An irritated M’Benga promises to check his schedule, yet the interaction has stirred more memories…
As the war rages on J’gal, Ensign Inman takes a moment to watch volleys of weapons fire from a position outside the field hospital. M’Benga joins him, explaining he joined Starfleet to find new ways of healing people. In his view, the war is a disease eating at the heart of the Federation, and they’re fighting to protect their loved ones from Klingon aggression. The conflict may change them, but their sacrifice ensures the people they cherish at home will have a chance to live in peace. That is Starfleet.
Shortly thereafter, M’Benga and Chapel gather with other officers for a briefing led by Trask. Command thinks this is their chance to take control of J’gal, so Trask’s team is going dark to locate General Dak’Rah while ground forces cover them with an offensive near Colony Athos. Noticing Inman approaching in full battle gear, M’Benga confides in the ensign that this mission is a suicide run. Buoyed by a renewed sense of duty, Inman joins Trask’s briefing, and the Andorian announces they’ve received the go-ahead for the dangerous plan.
In a corridor on the Enterprise, Spock apologizes to Chapel for his role in the previous evening’s dinner. The nurse believes their closeness makes Spock feel responsible, but the Vulcan explains the truth — it is difficult to see her experience such obvious distress. Haunted by J’gal, Chapel admits that war never leaves you, and there’s no way for Spock to understand something he did not endure. Chapel asks for time alone, and a disappointed Spock retreats down the hallway. Chapel leans against a wall, reflecting a turning point on J’gal…
As chaos erupts at the Federation’s forward operating base on the contested moon, Chapel works alongside M’Benga and Martinez to restore power to the medical transporter. The nurse recommends they use all auxiliary power, override the redundant systems, and route everything to the pads so patients from the front can be beamed in for treatment. Martinez approves, but the process will purge the backlogs. Chapel complies until the transporter’s display reminds her that such a purge would delete Ensign Alvarado’s pattern from the buffer. She hesitates over trading Alvarado’s life for a chance to save others, but M’Benga reluctantly presses the control button and erases Alvarado’s pattern. While the action shocks Chapel, the doctor insists they saved lives.
In the Enterprise’s gymnasium, M’Benga and Rah step onto the floor for their Mok’bara session. Surprised the doctor accepted the invitation to practice Klingon judo together, Rah vows he is more virile than he appears. They begin sparring, M’Benga arguing the ambassador has made putting J’gal behind him look “easy.” Rah refutes the claim, continuing the mock fight and tossing the doctor to the floor. The Klingon presents an idea — as former enemies, he and M’Benga working together for peace would send a powerful message. M’Benga is hesitant. The sparring resumes, with Rah subduing the doctor once again.
As M’Benga breaks for water, Rah insists they could advance Klingon-Federations. The doctor dives into the heart of the matter, asking if Rah really murdered his own men at J’gal. The ambassador sorrowfully admits he did kill the leaders under his command, but only because he was appalled by their atrocities. Apparently impressed by Rah’s ability to defeat three Klingon warriors at once, M’Benga wonders which subordinate fought the hardest. The ambassador answers — Commander Kiff — and professes that standing up for what was right caused his brethren to call him the Butcher of J’gal. Rah and M’Benga return to their Mok’bara session, this time at a much more intense pace. The doctor restrains himself from landing a blow to Rah’s face, stating that wars change people. The Klingon thanks him for sparring and exits the room.
M’Benga heads to the sonic shower and places his hand on his heart, the shower’s glowing lights diverting his thoughts to a fateful day on J’gal… Trask, Inman, and other casualties — including children — pour in through the transporters. The bloodbath causes the morgue to fill quickly, leaving the Andorian’s previous plea for assistance from M’Benga — the Ghost — resonating in the doctor’s ears. Snagging a Klingon d’k tahg from Trask’s corpse, an emotional M’Benga stalks off.
Back in the present day, Captain Pike reads M’Benga’s file in the Enterprise’s Ready Room. Number One joins him, putting forth a route through the Chantico Nebula that could get them to Starbase 12 by tomorrow. Crew morale is low, and she believes dropping Rah off would be beneficial. The captain is hesitant to send the message that some people aren’t allowed to make up for their past. Una agrees, but her point about not sacrificing the wellbeing of his victims among their crew persuades Pike to order the change in course.
Years before, on the moon of J’gal, M’Benga secures a dose of Protocol Twelve from his tent. Noticing the Klingon blade at his side, Chapel recognizes that the doctor intends to carry out the strike team’s deadly mission. Handing her a device so the approaching Federation convoy can beam him out, M’Benga concedes this war is bound to change him. Chapel encourages him to save as many people as he can and make the Klingon leaders pay for their crimes. The doctor also gives her a vial of the green serum from his case…
…the same case he now opens in the Enterprise’s Sickbay. Rah arrives, hoping to convince M’Benga to accept his offer to collaborate for peace. The doctor greets him with hostility and begs the Klingon to go on his way. With Rah unwilling to leave, M’Benga furiously accuses the former general of giving the order that anyone who wasn’t a Klingon soldier was to be considered an enemy on J’gal. Rah confesses, but the doctor disputes the ambassador’s earlier claim that Commander Kiff had fought the hardest — it was Captain Ruh’Lis. A perplexed Rah listens as a shaken M’Benga recounts his brutal assault against Kiff, Ruh’Lis, and General Gra’Val, the three Klingons who delayed him so Rah could escape J’gal. Having killed the Klingon leaders with a d’k tahg, Dr. M’Benga declares that he is the real Butcher of J’gal.
Rah is curious as to why M’Benga allowed him to take credit for the bloodshed. The doctor is ashamed of that night, but the ambassador is ashamed of his own cowardice. Rah has been using the blood on M’Benga’s hands to make himself a saint. The Klingon delivers an impassioned plea — if people knew the truth, his peaceful accomplishments would be undone. A disillusioned M’Benga opens the case containing the d’k tahg from J’gal and questions why the ambassador had to come here. Rah tries to soothe him, but the Klingon’s decision to put his hand on the doctor’s shoulder ignites a physical confrontation. A struggle ensues. Only Nurse Chapel, who enters at the last second, sees the standoff’s final moment, and the ambassador collapses to the floor with the blade plunged into his chest.
In the Ready Room, Chapel testifies about Rah’s death in front of the captain and La’An. According to the nurse, hearing M’Benga refer to him as a war criminal sent Rah into a rage. Chapel states the knife belongs to the Butcher of J’gal, with the DNA found on the blade matching the three dead Klingon warlords. Chapel pronounces that no one really knows what goes on in anyone’s heart.
Pike visits M’Benga in Sickbay, calling upon their long friendship as evidence that the doctor could talk to him if he did, in fact, instigate the fight with Rah. The doctor vows he did not start it, though he postulates whether he would have been wrong to do so if he had personally seen Rah killing children on J’gal. M’Benga points out that the Diplomatic Corps knew who the ambassador truly was, yet Pike holds that everyone deserves a second chance. M’Benga asks about justice — doesn’t everyone deserve to pay for their actions? Pike questions who gets to decide where the line is, leading M’Benga to mention the captain has the privilege of believing in what’s best in people. Having endured the war, M’Benga knows there are some deeds that don’t deserve forgiveness. The doctor reiterates he didn’t initiate the confrontation… but he’s glad Rah is dead. Pike gives a solemn nod, withdrawing to allow M’Benga to finish fixing Biobed Two. In his log, M’Benga acknowledges that some things break in a way that can never be repaired, only managed. As the doctor leaves, the biobed’s status display flickers…
* "It's Only A Paper Moon" - This memorable Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode explores the traumatic emotional journey for Rom following his injury in the Dominion War at "The Siege of AR-558," where he lost his leg, and tries to readjust to life with Starfleet and with his family and friends.
** "The Corbomite Maneuver" - Clint Howard, who portrays Buck Martinez, first appeared in the Star Trek universe with The Original Series, where he played a childlike being, Balok, of the First Federation who conducted his people's first contact with the United Federation of Planets. Howard would go on to appear as a human in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Past Tense, Part II," a Ferengi pirate in Star Trek: Enterprise's "Acquisition," and Orion in Star Trek: Discovery's "Will You Take My Hand?"
*** "Relics" - In the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, M'Benga preserved his daughter in the transporter buffer as he sought out a cure for her. We first see the preservation of a life-form in this Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with Captain Montgomery Scott. Presumed lost in U.S.S. Jenolen while it was en route to Norpin Colony, Scott was rescued from 75-year transporter loop aboard downed starship where he was the sole survivor by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D.
- Written by Davy Perez
- Directed by Jeff W. Byrd