On the Season 2 premiere of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Spock takes control of the Enterprise while the regular commanding officers, who only make brief appearances, are focused on the upcoming legal defense of Number One, Una Chin-Riley. In the second episode, we check in on how Captain Pike and Chin-Riley's work is going.
This storyline has been brewing the entire show. In the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it is discovered that Number One is an Illyrian, an alien species known for genetically engineering themselves to help adapt to whatever planet they settle. Since the United Federation of Planets banned genetic augmentations, Illyrians were forbidden from joining Starfleet and were considered outcasts. Chin-Riley's secret finally catches up with her in the Season 1 finale when she is arrested.
During all the courtroom drama, Chief of Security La'an Noonien-Singh is dragged into the mud as well. Not only because she is a close friend of Chin-Riley, but also because her ancestors were known for being augmented themselves. Since Noonien-Singh's history has come into question again on this week's episode, we thought it would be a good time to dive into the character and how she has ties to the greater Star Trek universe.
Who is La'an Noonien-Singh of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
As a child, La'an lived on a colony vessel with her family. One day, the ship was captured by the lizard-like alien species known as the Gorn. She ended up being the sole survivor and she continually carries and manages the trauma she experienced, particularly the sacrifice her brother makes so she could live. Eventually, Noonien-Singh is set adrift in space by the Gorn where she is rescued by the USS Martin Luther King Jr., which Number One served on as an ensign.
The Gorn incident would have a long-lasting effect on La'an. She forges a strong friendship with her rescuer, Chin-Riley, who inspires her to pursue a career in Starfleet. In the series premiere, Noonien-Singh is part of the ground team that rescues Number One from the planet Kiley 279. Later, she finds herself bonding with a young girl named Oriana over the shared survival experience from the Gorn. Much like Chin-Riley did for her, La'an wants to make sure that Oriana is okay so she takes a leave of absence from Starfleet to help find her parents. This is where we find her in the Season 2 premiere.
If you're a fan of The Original Series and its films, then the surname Noonien-Singh rings a bell. La'an is indeed a descendant of the notorious Star Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh. She would have a complicated history with her family's past. On one hand, she grew very interested in Khan as a kid becoming a so-called expert. However, she would also be bullied and ridiculed because of her ancestor's dark past.
Who is La'an's descendant, Khan Noonien Singh, in Star Trek?
Khan Noonien Singh was a character played by actor Ricardo Montalbán. He was a genetically engineered superhuman that lived in the 20th century. The character had been a successful conqueror and a generally gentle and kind ruler. From 1992-1996, more than a quarter of Earth, predominantly in Asia and the Middle East, was under his control. While the majority of the supermen in power were deposed and killed, Khan managed to sneak away onboard the SS Botany Bay where he was cryogenically frozen and placed in suspended animation with over 80 of his peers.
Noonien Singh makes his first appearance in the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series on the episode 'Space Seed'. In the year 2267, the Enterprise discovers the Botany Bay in outer space. After his sleep chamber malfunctions, he is taken onto the starship. There, he convinces Lieutenant Marla McGivers to revive the surviving supermen in stasis and attempts to hijack the Enterprise. He is almost successful, but when he holds Captain Kirk hostage, McGivers turns against Khan and helps her Captain regain control of the situation. Due to the rebellion, Noonien Singh and his followers are banished to the uncolonized planet of Ceti Alpha V.
The antagonist reappears in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. When Pavel Chekov and another Starfleet officer are searching for an uninhabited planet to test a new terraforming technology called the Genesis device, they mistakenly land on Ceti Alpha V. Noonien Singh captures the pair and uses an indigenous creature to brainwash them and aid in his quest for revenge against Captain Kirk. In the final battle, the crew of the Enterprise are able to exploit Khan's unfamiliarity with space combat to incapacitate his ship and mortally wound him.
Why is genetic engineering so frowned upon in Star Trek?
Scientists first began attempts at selective breeding and genetic engineering in hopes of improving the human race. A race of superpowered men and women were developed known as Augments. They had enhanced abilities including strength, lung efficiency, intelligence, and senses. Unfortunately, these new creations were not as benevolent as hoped and soon rebelled against the scientists.
The Augments gradually rose to power beginning with Noonien Singh. A year following his ascent, a group of other superpowered men simultaneously took over in 40 countries across the globe. The 1990s was a dark time with the majority of the regular population being treated no better than slaves. During this time, a world conflict broke out known as the Eugenics Wars. Over 30 million people perished with entire people bombed out of existence. Eventually, humanity came out victorious overthrowing their enhanced rulers.
As a result of the Eugenics Wars, there was a great fear of enhanced beings that lasted well into the 23rd century. That is why there is such a strict policy against their kind and why Chin-Riley needed to keep her secret. Though La'an is a descendant of Khan, her superior genes diminished through the generations to the point where she did not possess any enhanced abilities. If she did, she would not have been permitted to enlist in Starfleet.
Here's a guide to all the upcoming Star Trek movies & shows, including Strange New Worlds season 3.