‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’: Bruce Horak on That Heartbreaking Episode, Hemmer’s Purpose
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 9 “All Those Who Wander.”]
The penultimate episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 has everything that makes this show so good and so entertaining each week: emotional moments, jump scares with an Alien vibe as the Enterprise crew faces the Gorn, and a heartbreaking death.
The crew leaves the Enterprise to investigate after another ship activated a distress beacon before losing contact. After encountering the bloody remains of some of the crew, they soon realize they’re dealing with the Gorn — La’an (Christina Chong) was the sole survivor of an attack when she was young — and while they do kill them, they suffer some losses as well: an ensign just promoted to lieutenant, a cadet who finished her training rotation, and Chief Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak).
Here, Horak opens up about saying goodbye to Hemmer.
When did you know Hemmer would be dying and how?
Bruce Horak: I found out about the death of Hemmer from the very get-go. Henry Alonso Myers and I met over Zoom and he just flat out said, “Listen, this is what we have in mind for Hemmer.” And yeah, so I knew before I’d even had my head mold made.
Talk about filming that last scene saying goodbye.
Tough scene to shoot. Heartbreaking. Connecting over the four or five months with the cast and having to say goodbye was just one of the hardest things. I was really happy with how it turned out and even on the page, it just read like a really beautiful moment. And I feel really lucky that he did get to say goodbye, that he did get to have that moment, and ultimately that his sacrifice was noble. It felt like the perfect way to send this character off and that he would leave a lasting impression and the message that he was giving with his own his own death was one of sacrifice and love. As an actor, I couldn’t ask for better.
And you got the “live long and prosper” to Spock (Ethan Peck), which I absolutely loved.
So many things off the bucket list in this season and one of them is definitely getting to do the Vulcan salute and say “live long and prosper.”
One of my favorite dynamics all season has been Hemmer and Uhura’s (Celia Rose Gooding). Talk about working with Celia throughout and then Hemmer’s last piece of advice for her.
Celia and I connected really, really quickly. She’s just such a dynamic and fun person and brings all of that to what you see on screen with Uhura, so it was really hard to say goodbye to her, to get the wrap call. And realizing also that the character that I was playing was playing a really important part in her arc — obviously, the character of Uhura, we’re gonna be seeing through all the way to the movies and everything, so she’s got already that good chunk of the story that’s been told, filling in the gaps as it were — I feel really honored that that I got to play that role as a mentor figure. For me, my mentors have made all the difference in the world and I hope that I’ve paid tribute to the mentors that I’ve had and the people that I’ve lost in my life through getting to do this role of Hemmer and getting to go out in such a noble and beautiful way.
He was a mentor to her, but what do you think he learned from her?
We see that in Episode 4 where they’re trapped in the cargo bay and she teaches him to work as a team and to let his guard down a little bit and we learn about him, about how he wanted to be a botanist and his pacifism and how he feels about pacifism. It’s at that point where I think we actually see Hemmer smile for the first time and that sort of bubble and joy kind of leads through the other episodes in the season. I think that certainly the reflection in Episode 108, where he plays the wizard and he sort of gets carried away and is having fun, I think that’s a bit of Celia and Uhura’s influence coming through.
Speaking of Episode 8, I like how each episode of the show is so different and that works so well.
Yeah, I just adore that about the series. Every episode has just a different taste, a different flavor to it. It feels like the writers are certainly giving the fans what they want, but are not afraid to take risks. It’s a risky thing to be killing off a character and knowing very early on that they were gonna be doing this, I could feel that the writers were having as difficult time saying goodbye as the Enterprise crew and certainly the fans are gonna have. I think that people are responding in such an emotional way is just a testament to the quality of their writing.
It’s also risky because the way that Pike (Anson Mount) commands the Enterprise, they’re like a family, sitting down for dinner…
Yeah, that’s a beautiful bond.
The line from your character promo pre-premiere about the Aenar believing the end only comes once you’ve fulfilled your purpose has stuck with me all season. In this episode, he says he won’t kill but he will do what he must to protect the crew, and his sacrifice did that. At the memorial, Uhura says that his purpose was to fix what’s broken. Would Hemmer see it the same way, or would he lean more towards his purpose being to protect the crew, as he did, or both?
He does say that it’s to fix what is broken. I think his action in that final episode, ultimately as the engineer, it’s drawn from gotta fix this ship, gotta get it back online, and he eventually does. They’re successful in getting the ship off the planet, and from a purely engineering point of view, that’s what he does. When he sacrifices himself, when he puts his own life aside in order to save the crew, ultimately that I think is more of a spiritual fixing, if you will. He’s going into the unknown, he’s going into the cosmos, as he says, taking that leap into the unknown, knowing that what he is leaving behind will be repaired and will ultimately be made whole by him doing that. I think it’s a really beautiful way of showing what it was that he felt and what his motivation was.
Moving forward, how would Hemmer want the crew to remember him? We already see Uhura taking his advice and ready to make a home on the Enterprise at the end of the episode…
Yeah. I think about that, how he wants to be remembered, which is different than how Bruce wants him to be remembered, but Hemmer, I think, wants to be remembered as an excellent engineer, as a genius. [Laughs] I’d say that he was able to achieve his life life’s purpose and that he did fix things.
And how do you want him to be remembered?
The all-time greatest engineer on any Star Trek franchise ever. [Laughs]
How are you going to remember him?
Best year of my life, tops. Absolutely. Tops.
What was your favorite scene to film?
Well, you did remind me that I got to do this [does the Vulcan salute], which was so exciting. I remember when I read that in the script, I squealed, so excited to do that. I loved shooting the dinner table scene in Episode 2, that was so much fun. Finally after however many months — we were all in COVID protocols, so there was no socializing and there was no hanging out, and that just felt like a family dinner, which was so great, to finally get to hang out and chat with everyone. That was a great scene, so much fun to shoot.
Honestly, everything in Episode 109 was just made so brilliantly tense. The way that Chris Byrne set up the shooting, the lights were all low and it was cold and there was flickering stuff in the hallways, even when we were off camera. So we just constantly had this sense of, we’re in a horror movie, and anything could happen at any point, keep you on your toes. That whole episode shooting was just full of adrenaline and so much fun. I loved that.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 1 Finale, Thursday, July 7, Paramount+