La'an stands in a red hallway on the Enterprise, looking at something off camera.

‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Beautifully Explores La’an’s Trauma

This article contains major spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2, episode 3, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.”

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At first glance, La’an Noonien-Singh, the Enterprise’s chief security officer in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, may seem like she fits a character type that Star Trek seems to love: stiff, unsmiling, and humorless. As the series has unfolded, though, we’ve gotten to see some beautiful and humorous layers of her character—and the latest episode, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” may be the deepest look we’ve gotten yet.

La’an is a survivor of not one, but two significant traumas. When she was a child, her family was killed by the Gorn, a species of ruthless alien predators. La’an was the sole survivor of the massacre, left adrift in space. La’an is also a descendent of Khan Noonien-Singh, the dictator responsible for the destructive Eugenics Wars, and because of her heritage, La’an has spent her life enduring bullying and disgust. La’an’s trauma is a burden that informs her entire personality.

In “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” La’an finds herself transported to 21st century Toronto with an alternate timeline version of James Kirk, and the two have to work together to figure out what error in the timeline they’re supposed to fix. At first, Jim’s freewheeling attitude is a perfect foil for La’an’s gruff demeanor. The two snipe at each other, with La’an poking fun at Jim’s middle name, and the two stare each other down after accidentally picking out the same outfit while looking for period-appropriate clothing. Of course, love begins to blossom between them, and that’s when La’an’s vulnerability begins to come out.

After she realizes that this timeline’s Jim has never heard of the infamous Khan Noonien-Singh, La’an opens up to him about having been treated like a pariah all her life. She compares her name to Hester Prynne’s mark in The Scarlet Letter, and then says something that many viewers can relate to. “People are usually difficult for me,” she says. “There’s always been a barrier, and it can get lonely.”

La’an could just be referring to the fact that many people can’t get past her last name, but I think there’s more to it. The barrier La’an describes is a common experience for those who have survived abuse, disaster, or other types of trauma. Trauma rewires your brain, and it’s hard for many trauma survivors to get close to people and form connections. The “barrier” that forms can feel almost physical, as if (to make another Hawthorne reference) you’re surrounded by a veil. People around you seem to get close to each other so effortlessly, as if they’re all speaking some secret code. Why can’t you figure out how to do it, too?

That’s why it’s so gratifying when La’an and Jim kiss—and so heartbreaking when he’s wrenched away from her.

After Jim and La’an fix the timeline, La’an finds herself back in her own reality, in which Jim has no idea who she is. Even worse, an agent from the Federation’s Department of Temporal Investigations—a TVA-like organization that doesn’t yet exist in La’an’s time—tells her she’s not allowed to tell anyone about what happened. Silence is yet another layer to trauma, making survivors feel even more alone and cut off, and the agent’s orders feel like a cruel coda to the grief La’an is already going through.

La’an tries to salvage the situation, finding a pretense to give this timeline’s Jim a call. When she sees for herself that he doesn’t know her, though, she only feels worse.

It can be tough to watch the ways that La’an struggles with her past, but that’s what makes her such a beautifully rendered character. I can’t wait to see where La’an goes from here—and I hope there’s a future for her and Jim.

(featured image: Paramount+)


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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>