Spoiler Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, including the season finale. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Discovery.
This theory is going to get into major spoiler territory for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, including the very last scene of the final episode of Season 1. If you aren’t fully caught up on the events of Season 1 – and you decided to ignore the spoiler warning above – this is your last chance to nope out!
So today I thought it could be fun to speculate about Una Chin-Riley – a.k.a. Number One. Captain Pike’s first officer had an interesting season, with a truly unexpected backstory that connected back to the events of Star Trek: Enterprise while simultaneously setting the stage for some significant development in her relationship with La’an in particular.
The decision for Una to be an Illyrian was a genuinely interesting one, and I felt sure that there’d be something more to come after the revelation of her true heritage in Ghosts of Illyria. It took until the closing moments of the season finale, but eventually we got there! Una’s arrest was the perfect tease on which to end the season, setting the stage for what will presumably be the first part of Season 2 in truly spectacular fashion.
There are a few points to consider before we jump into the main theory list. First of all, the fact that Captain Pike visited an alternate future in which Una is still incarcerated almost a decade after the events of Season 1 does not, in itself, mean that that will be her fate. That was an alternate timeline, after all, one which Pike’s actions have now erased. So I don’t think we can dismiss Una, saying “that’s it, she’s off the show” and close the book! There’s obviously going to be something more to come – though whether it will fully restore her to a leading role in Starfleet is still an open question.
One of the interesting things about a show like Strange New Worlds is the potential it has to explore different aspects of Star Trek’s 23rd Century and answer questions that most fans didn’t even know they had! One such question could be “where was Una after the events of The Cage?” She didn’t participate in Spock’s off-the-books quest to transport Captain Pike to Talos IV, despite being one of only a handful of people who knew about his impending disability and the powers of the Talosians.
Una was also never seen, nor even mentioned, during the entire run of The Original Series and its films. On the production side of things that’s at least partly because Majel Barrett, who was the first actress to take on the role, was playing the character of Nurse Chapel. But again it leaves the question of Una’s fate open-ended. A senior officer with such promise serving on the Federation flagship would usually be gunning for a promotion and their own command; was that what Una hoped to do?
It could be that the explanation for Una’s absence from the events of The Menagerie and other significant moments in the second half of the 23rd Century is that she was either locked up or exiled for her deception and illegal genetic enhancements. That would be a pretty depressing way for the story to go, but it wouldn’t contradict anything we know of from other Star Trek productions. Personally, I’ve never felt any of these absences were glaring omissions that have been crying out to be explained away – but perhaps some of the show’s writers disagree.
There’s also a potential narrative reason to shuffle Una out of the way, and that comes from the character of Spock. Firstly, Spock long ago took over Number One’s original “cool and logical” persona that debuted in The Cage. And secondly, while Captain Pike was surprised to learn in A Quality of Mercy that Spock was his new Number One, as Trekkies we know that Spock’s arc will take him through being Captain Kirk’s first officer and trusted confidante all the way to becoming a captain in his own right, an ambassador, and beyond. Perhaps part of the next chapter of Strange New Worlds will involve setting the stage for Spock to step up and grow into that kind of role, either by serving as Pike’s XO aboard the Enterprise or potentially by pairing him up with a younger Jim Kirk.
However, I’m not convinced that we’ve seen the back of Una just yet. Strange New Worlds already killed off Hemmer – in one of the most shocking and tragic sequences in the entire season – and La’an’s request for a leave of absence to track down the family of Oriana could mean that she will have less of a role to play in future, too – potentially being absent for some or all of next season. With at least one and possibly two characters already gone, it would be one heck of a shake-up to lose Una as well.
With the exception of Lower Decks, modern Star Trek shows have struggled with consistency. Discovery has famously had four different captains across its four seasons, and Picard took two very different approaches to its characters in the two seasons that we’ve seen so far, with some noteworthy absences in Season 2. In short, it would be to the benefit of Strange New Worlds – and the Star Trek franchise overall – to settle down and to find room to breathe; to expand and develop the characters who are already in play before rushing off to make more and more changes. So if I had a vote, I’d find a way to keep Una around!
All of this leads up to my theory list about Una. The first part of the list will consider possible culprits for grassing her up to Starfleet Command and getting her arrested, and the second part will consider possible outcomes and options for Season 2 that could either bring her back into the fold or see her depart the series.
My usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything discussed here will be part of Season 2. This is pure speculation from a fan and nothing more! If Season 1 is any indication, Una’s story in Season 2 will go in a wildly different direction that I won’t be able to predict! Secondly, all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. If you hate all of my ideas (or I don’t include your current pet theory) that’s okay! There’s room within the Star Trek fan community for civil conversations and polite disagreement.
With all of that out of the way, let’s look at some theories!
I don’t believe that Captain Pike would have intentionally told Starfleet about Una’s Illyrian heritage. But in the course of his duties as captain, he may have had to log or otherwise record Una’s disclosure to him – or may have done so in a personal log. If those logs were then sent to Starfleet, it could be that Captain Pike inadvertently flagged up Una’s true origin.
There was room in Season 1 for more development of the relationship between Una and Captain Pike – a relationship that seemed well-established when they appeared together in Season 2 of Discovery. In a busy season, though, their time together was somewhat limited, and I’d like to see more interaction between the Enterprise’s captain and first officer going forward. Making Pike the one who got her arrested – even if it was completely accidental – would risk damaging that relationship. While that could give them a starting point to rebuild from, it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice.
As with Captain Pike above, I don’t believe that Dr M’Benga would deliberately reveal Una’s secret to Starfleet. Just as Una had something to hide, so too did Dr M’Benga, and Una was the only one who knew about his daughter being kept suspended in the transporter buffer. He would have no motivation to expose her, and from his perspective doing so may have compromised himself and his daughter’s safety.
However, Dr M’Benga is responsible for the ship’s sickbay and the health of all its personnel, so perhaps he logged somewhere that there’s an Illyrian aboard. Maybe Dr M’Benga noted that the treatment for the contagion that broke out aboard the Enterprise came from Illyrian antibodies; Starfleet Medical must surely keep records of these dangers and their cures for the sake of other ships and crews.
La’an is really the only character who would have any motive for deliberately and maliciously telling Starfleet the truth about Una. Although the two had resolved their differences by the end of Ghosts of Illyria – and grew closer over the rest of the season – La’an was incredibly angry at first upon learning who Una really was. It seems possible to me that La’an contacted Starfleet sometime during the events of Ghosts of Illyria, possibly while under the influence of the contagion.
This could set up La’an and Una for a confrontation, but one for which La’an already feels guilt and remorse. If she is responsible, I think there’s a pathway for forgiveness – and perhaps she’ll find a way to make it right, such as by advocating on Una’s behalf or even trying to break her out of prison.
On a number of occasions we’ve seen how Spock is a stickler for the rules – particularly at this early point in his life and career. In Star Trek Into Darkness, his decision to be completely truthful in a mission report ended up getting Captain Kirk in a lot of trouble, so even if Pike, M’Benga, and everyone else had chosen to conceal the truth in their logs, it’s possible that Spock wouldn’t. He may not even see it as a bad thing at first, regarding telling the full, unvarnished truth as part of his job.
One of the interesting things about Strange New Worlds is how it’s taking Spock on a journey; building him up to become the character we’re familiar with from The Original Series. Perhaps one of the lessons Spock will learn in Season 2 is how to bend the rules, how loyalty to one’s friends and the need to keep certain things private can superscede the official rules. That could make for an interesting story and a chance for growth.
Maybe Una was sick of hiding. Maybe she wanted to get caught. Maybe she hoped to give herself an opportunity to defend her people against Starfleet’s hardline anti-genetic engineering rule. There are a few different reasons why Una might have turned herself in, or anonymously submitted the evidence to get herself arrested.
This would be a bit of a twist, but it could lead to a wonderfully complex story and character arc for Una if it’s handled well. The idea that she was fed up with having to live a lie, or even that revealing the truth to Captain Pike, La’an, and some of her other shipmates was a weight off her shoulders could be an interesting angle to explore. It would also absolve anyone in the crew of any wrongdoing – intentional or not!
So those are the culprits!
Up next we’re going to look at a few different ways that Una’s story could go from here. As above, please keep in mind that all of this is speculation; I’m not claiming that any of these things will happen.
Una will stand trial with Captain Pike defending her.
Star Trek can do courtroom drama exceptionally well, and perhaps we’ll be treated to an episode that blends the likes of The Measure of a Man and Court Martial. I can absolutely see Captain Pike stepping up to be Una’s advocate – like Captain Picard did for Data or Captain Sisko did for Worf. How exactly this trial would go is unclear, but with Spock and the rest of the crew also working on it, maybe there’d be a way to win – or to convince Starfleet to make an exception for Una.
That wouldn’t be unprecedented in the Star Trek franchise. Dr Bashir, who was also genetically engineered and didn’t disclose that fact to Starfleet, was permitted to continue to serve after the truth came out. Perhaps what Captain Pike will have to do is convince Starfleet that Una is irreplacable and should be forgiven for her deception.
Una will be broken out of prison – but will have to go into exile.
If Starfleet insists that Una needs to be locked up and won’t budge, maybe La’an and some of Una’s other friends will stage a break-out. It wouldn’t be easy – and they could all end up in hot water if things go wrong – but they may see it as a last resort if the alternative is Una being locked up for years in a Starfleet penal colony.
However, even if they succeed it seems unlikely that Una will simply be able to return to the Enterprise. She may have to go into exile, either by returning to the Illyrians or by striking out on her own. Either way, that could mean Una will be departing the series.
Una is found guilty and imprisoned.
With the major caveat that what Captain Pike saw took place in an alternate timeline that has since been overwritten, this was Una’s destiny in that version of the future. Captain Pike, La’an, Spock, and the rest of the crew seemed to have come to terms with her imprisonment by that point, and while we don’t know what happened at the time of her arrest and trial, any schemes that Pike and the others may have had to get her released clearly didn’t work.
Again, this would surely see Una leaving the show, perhaps after one final episode in which she comes to terms with being locked up. I don’t think that would be a fun or satisfying end for her character, though. It would tie up the loose end of Una’s whereabouts as of The Menagerie – but as stated above, I don’t think anyone has ever really challenged or questioned that, making it a solution to a non-existent problem. If Una is to leave the show, I’d rather see her go out in a blaze of glory, saving the ship and crew!
Diplomacy with the Illyrians.
If Una is still in contact with her family or other Illyrians, perhaps the Illyrian government will attempt to intervene on her behalf. Just because the Illyrians are not permitted to join Starfleet that doesn’t mean that formal diplomatic relations between the Federation and the Illyrian government don’t exist, and perhaps they’d have something to say about one of their own being arrested, especially if the reason is basically “because she’s an Illyrian.”
This could lead to some kind of diplomatic mission for Captain Pike, and again it could conclude with Una being given some kind of special exemption and being permitted to remain in Starfleet. Having revealed Una’s true heritage, it would be interesting to see more Illyrians show up in Strange New Worlds – perhaps they still hold a grudge after their meeting with Captain Archer during the events of Enterprise!
So those are the theories!
There are lots of different paths that the story could take from this juncture, and the question of whether Una will be back in a big way in Season 2 feels kind of open right now. Along with the departure of Hemmer and the potential absence of La’an, that would be a pretty radical shake-up of the main characters after only one season of the show.
I suspect that Una will be back aboard the Enterprise before too long, though. There’s untapped potential in her relationships with La’an, Spock, Captain Pike, and everyone else that would be wasted if she were to leave so soon. I’d love to spend more time with Una, perhaps seeing her in temporary command of the ship, leading an away mission, or doing other things that first officers in Star Trek are often seen to do. So it’s my hope, at least, that we haven’t seen the beginning of the end for Una on Strange New Worlds.
I hope this was a bit of fun. I haven’t had many opportunities to dive so deeply into Strange New Worlds thanks to the frustrating and disappointing international distribution situation, but with Paramount+ now here in the UK, that’s all changing. Hopefully by the time Season 2 rolls around we can talk about more theories like these during the show’s run instead of having to wait until the dust has settled!
I had a great time with Strange New Worlds Season 1, and the fact that it ended on this shocking cliffhanger was fantastic. I’m looking forward to welcoming back Captain Pike, Una, and the rest of the crew – and getting a satisfying end to this storyline, too!
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the platform is available. Episodes of Season 1 are being released weekly in the UK. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.