After the lighthearted tone last time out, this episode takes a decidedly darker turn. It's the darkest episode of the season so far. It's also based on (or inspired by, at the very least) Ursula K. Le Guin's famous short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas." This story is almost fifty years old, so I'm sure a sizable portion of the audience hasn't read it. I'm not going to say which is better, the episode or the original story, but I think you should read the story to get a fuller picture of what is happening.
This is another Pike-centric episode, with Dr. M'Benga as a secondary featured character. Arguably M'Benga gets the greater plot movement, as he receives a theory of a possible treatment for his daughter. We see his daughter Rukiya out of the transporter buffer for a greater length of time than previous, and it's evident that she's getting tired of staying there, even though it is keeping her alive. Christopher Pike reconnects with an old love, and gets an offer to join with her people, the Majalis, to avoid his fate. (Honestly, I wonder why this hasn't been discussed more often. He knows what's going to happen, and he knows when it is going to happen, so it seems to me somebody should be talking about inspecting/repairing the component that fails beforehand and making sure the cadets who are shown to be in danger simply aren't anywhere near the fated spot that day. The multiverse is a thing in Trek, y'know? So the circumstances are different, the timeline branches, and life goes on.)
(Of course, that would also upset fifty-five years of established Star Trek canon, but hey. Anson Mount is doing a good enough job with this character--a track record he continues here--that I wouldn't mind a little retconning.)
Cadet Uhura also has an important role to play in the plot, as does Security Chief La'An Noonien-Singh, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite new characters. One person who is absent for the second episode in a row is the irascible Andorian engineer Hemmer. Maybe they don't quite know what to do with him yet? Although the last time we saw him, in episode 5, "Memento Mori," we found out a bit more about him and got a glimpse of the person underneath the arrogant, egotistical mask. Perhaps the writers are thinking a little Hemmer goes a long way? That may be so, but I think he's an interesting enough character to support a brighter spotlight.
As for this episode....I think it's arguable whether it 1) stands up to the original Le Guin story; or 2) is a coherent narrative in and of itself. In the end, Alora is right that the Federation has no jurisdiction over what her people do; but on the other hand, Pike could certainly raise enough hell to force the Majalis to reach out to other Federation members to see if their centuries-old technology could be weaned away from demanding "the neural network of a child" to support it. There are other floating cities in the Federation, after all, going back to the original series' "The Cloud Minders." That wouldn't save the kid in this episode, but it would save other children going forward.
Thinking along that line, this is the first episode where this series' episodic format is not successful. This story and the fallout thereof really deserved another episode or two, I think. Perhaps it could be revisited further along the line? (Not that any of the powers-that-be are listening to me, but I'm going to throw my opinion out there anyway.) Unfortunately, while Anson Mount does his usual excellent job, and Babs Olusanmokum shines as Dr. M'Benga, this episode is not the best of the season (that spot is co-shared with "Memento Mori" and "Children of the Comet"). It's not quite a dud, but....well. I'll stop there, I guess.