June 25, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Ep 8, "The Elysium Kingdom"


I don't know if the intention was for this show to separate its first batch of episodes into various shades of heavy drama and lighter character-based comedies, but that is more or less what has happened. The first four episodes were straightforward drama, and then we had the body-swap goofiness of "Spock Amok" and the "YARRRRR PIRATES" satire of "The Serene Squall." ("Please stop," begged Una.) (Of course, in between was the downer of "Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach," with the ghost of Ursula K. Le Guin looking on and raising her eyebrows.) This episode is a combination of kids' fantasy fluff, Anson Mount's pitch-perfect portrayal of a cowardly obsequious snake, and the real heart of a father who, for his daughter's sake, has to let her go. 

It's also Dr. M'Benga's episode, wrapping up the subplot of his terminally ill daughter whom he has been keeping in the emergency medical transporter buffer as he searches for a cure for her condition. This was always going to be a delicate balancing act, as he has to take her out of the buffer at regular intervals for a minimum amount of time (never pinned down, but I got the impression that it had to be at least once every twenty-four hours) to prevent her pattern degrading. This forced exodus from the transporter lets her disease progress despite M'Benga's best efforts, and in this episode he admits she doesn't have much time left. 

The Enterprise is surveying a nebula, and when they're done with the survey and try to leave they can't. On the bridge, Ortegas is thrown to the floor, and Pike summons M'Benga to the bridge. When he gets there the door whoosh open on a transformed bridge, festooned with greenery (I imagine the plant budget for this episode nearly busted the bank--vines, ferns and ivy was everywhere), and the bridge crew were wearing costumes that looked like they were lifted wholesale from a Rennaissance Faire. M'Benga is also wearing a costume and bearing a crown, and the others call him "King Ridley." He realizes that what he is seeing and hearing, and the character he is apparently playing, have been lifted from the book he has been reading to his daughter Rukiya over the months, "The Elysian Kingdom" (written by none other than Deep Space Nine's Benny Russell). The bridge crew members have been drafted into role-playing the characters from the book: Pike is the craven, foppish chamberlain Sir Rauth, La'an is the Princess Thalia, Uhura is the enemy Queen Neve, Spock is the wizard Caster (and Ethan Peck looks damn good in his outfit, wizard staff, and long wig), Ortegas is the swordsperson Sir Adya, Una is Zymera the Huntress, and chief engineer Hemmer (a very welcome return, especially with his line "THE MAGIC OF SCIENCE!") is another wizard, Pollux. 

M'Benga has to see the story through to the end, with the help of Hemmer. The resolution takes an unexpected turn when it's revealed that the entity behind this is one of Star Trek's go-to tropes, the godlike energy being: in this case a Boltzmann brain, a spontaneously generated intelligence in the nebula that sensed Rukiya in the transporter buffer and reached out to her. The entity is also managing to hold Rukiya's illness at bay, at least as long as the ship remains where it is. If the entity releases the ship and the Enterprise leaves the area, the illness will return. Which leads to M'Benga's unexpected, poignant choice: he lets Rukiya go with the entity to give her a chance to live. She returns seconds later as a grown woman (the entity, who she has named Debra after her [presumably dead] mother, can apparently bend time as well), to thank M'Benga for letting her go and to tell him she is happy. 

Well. That was an emotional turn, and uplifted the entire episode, though I'm a little surprised Rukiya's predicament got solved in the first season. But though this episode was generally enjoyable (particularly Anson Mount's brown-nosing snarkiness), I think the comedy well has pretty much run dry. However, since there are only two episodes left, I imagine we'll return to the heavier drama next time. 

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