This fourth episode, while not my favorite so far--that goes to "Children of the Comet"--was still damned good. It was a tautly written battle drama dripping with suspense, hearkening back to the past method of starship warfare, likening it to submarine war. In fact, you could call this episode the direct descendant of the original series' "Balance of Terror." The difference here is that we never see the antagonists, though we see their ships and their peculiar method of communicating ship-to-ship via light code (and we hear their clicking vocalizations, which serve to heighten the suspense). This is because the antagonists, which seem to be shaping up to be the series' Big Bads, are the reptilian race the Gorn from TOS.
People are of two minds about this, of course. We will first see the Gorn in the Trek timeline ten years in the future, when Kirk battles their captain in "Arena" and refuses to kill him. (Assuming we don't see a CGI glimpse of one in a future Strange New Worlds episode [at least I assume it would be CGI, although honestly anything would be better than that godawful 60's lizard suit]. That really wouldn't square with the canon that they had never been seen before, but I think La'an has a pretty good idea of what the Gorn look like, seeing as her colony ship was taken by them. Although when I watched the episode the second time, she doesn't actually say they are a reptilian species. She just says the people aboard the Puget Sound were hunted as prey and fed to their hatchlings.) Not seeing one onscreen is dictated by past canon, but it also ratchets up the tension very effectively in this episode.
This is La'an's episode, following the established pattern of spotlighting one of the regulars each time out. We find out more about what happened to her, and she comes to a bit of a epiphany as she works through her memories of the attack, which are pulled from her mind via a mind meld with Spock at La'an's request. (She also sees a bit of Spock's memories, specifically the existence of a sister who sacrificed herself for him, a sister that does not exist in Starfleet records. That's more than a bit of a plot hole, as Michael Burnham, y'know, started a bloody war with the Klingons, and served for seven years aboard the Shenzhou, but whatever.) At the beginning of the episode, the crew is celebrating Starfleet Remembrance Day, where crewmembers wear pins with the logos of ships crewed by their loved ones, ships that have been lost. La'an refused to wear hers, and gets into a bit of a tiff with Una over it, saying she will not go to therapy because she isn't broken. That remains to be seen, but at the end she puts her Puget Sound pin on. She also gets a lesson in inspiring the crew from Captain Pike, who gently but firmly tells her to stop being so pessimistic about the Gorn and proclaiming the Enterprise can't win against them (even though that probably would have been the case, were it not for Pike's leadership and Spock's thinking outside the box) and start giving the crew something to believe in.
We also find out a little more about the grumpy, irascible, arrogant chief engineer, Hemmer. His "I am superior; look at me" shtick was already wearing pretty thin, but here we find out he actually wanted to be a botanist. He doesn't really answer Uhura's question of why he joined Starfleet, but he does say he is sticking to his Aenar pacifist philosophy: "I will not fight for Starfleet, but I will defend its ideals. Pacifism is not passivity. It is the active protection of all living things in the natural universe." He also says he's going to give Uhura a passing grade on her engineering rotation, so hopefully he won't be so much of an ass in the future.
But it was Anson Mount who really carried this episode; he commanded my attention in all of his scenes, as Pike did everything he could to keep his crew alive and get out of this mess. Now, granted, some of the risks he took here may have been predicated on his knowledge of the future: that, for instance, Enterprise wasn't going to be crushed by its dive into the brown dwarf's depths (although this did give us a neat scene of the ship groaning as it descended to deeper pressure, which again reminds one of submarine warfare). Which I think should be a subject for conversation with Una at some point? Anyway, the final shot of Enterprise slingshotting the black hole's event horizon and dropping its decoy along the way, to make it appear to the Gorn as if the ship had been destroyed, was expertly done by the special effects crew. And the relief that flows across Pike's face when Uhura answers him, telling him both she and Hemmer are still alive, was just a tour de force of acting.
(And speaking of Una, that was the episode's biggest plot hole. Just last time out we had an extensive discussion of her super-duper Illyrian genetically modified immune system, which not only defeated a light-transmitted virus but cured her of fatal radiation exposure--and not only her, but the antibodies Una's immune system generated apparently jumped, er, somehow, to the nearby body of La'an as well. But Una gets skewered by shrapnel during the first Gorn attack and staggers into sickbay still bleeding and not yet healed? Now granted, it would not have been a good thing for her immune system to heal over the wounds while still leaving the shrapnel inside, particularly the fragment lodged in her abdominal aorta. Chapel would've had to re-open Una's wounds and remove the fragments if that had been the case. And certainly neither Christine Chapel nor Dr. M'Benga was going to blurt out, "Hey, your super-duper Illyrian immune system healed you already!" in the middle of the crisis. Still, something should have been said about it.)
Nevertheless, this was an exciting thrill ride of an episode, and is my second favorite so far. This series is hitting its stride much faster than Discovery did, and is shaping up to be one of the best of the new iteration of Star Trek.