The following article discusses spoilers for The Elyos Kingdom.
There is a genre of writing best embodied by the serial escalation of premises found on discussion threads in certain corners of the internet. That’s the kind of energy that pervades this week Strange new worlds because it takes a detour in one episode in a fantasy. Not content with dropping the crew in a , they’re all tasked with playing against type! Oh, and the only people who can save them are a clumsy buddy-cop duo of the noble doctor and the grumpy engineer! Stop that about five minutes before the end and it could easily be the second best episode of the show’s first season.
The Elysian Kingdom is both the episode title and the subject of the book Dr. M’Benga read to his terminally ill daughter Rukiya throughout the series. She is annoyed by the ending, which forces the noble king to choose what he is willing to give up at the end of the story. M’Benga tells her that when he heals her, she can rewrite history any way she wants. And before you could say damn it, that foreshadowing was kinda on the nose, the Enterprise is caught in the nebula it’s studying, unable to move.
By the time the doctor arrives on deck, the ship is covered in tapestries and old tiki torches. Everyone but him (and, ultimately, Hemmer), was wiped to become characters in the book. Pike is a cowardly courtier, La’an is a Disney comedy princess, Uhura is the big bad, and Spock is an evil wizard with a Fabio wig and stubble beard that reminds us all that Ethan Peck is, in do, hot under that goofy Vulcan haircut.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Star Trek lean into its oft-denied campy side and, as I said before, it’s a groove Strange new worlds works well. The fact that the show feels confident enough to make it just eight episodes into its first run says a lot about how well the creative team is doing. (You come from to know there’s a whiteboard in the writers room with Musical Episode (?) written on top, and that’s what I’m here for.) If there’s a downside, it’s that the set is big enough for some actors are short-changed in their moments for playing out of character. Of course, none of this would work without the central performance of Babs Olusanmokun to hold the story together, aware of the ridiculousness of the situation but remaining true to M’Benga’s inner turmoil.
Of course, I would not write about Strange new worlds if there was not also a small list of annoyances. The tone reminds me a lot by Futurama glorious parody with , the robot with a Maudlin/Irreverent switch on the side. This episode wants the switch stuck on both ends, mixing high camp with a meditation on, uh, Something.
Now we have to talk about the ending, (again, spoiler warning) which is a left turn so weird it feels on my scalp itchy just thinking about it. The episode’s denouement sees the Sentient Nebula offer to pull Rukiya off the ship and cure her illness, allowing her to live a fantasy life in the stars. She appears, moments later, as an adult, telling her father about her life and reassuring him that he made the right decision to let her go. Suitably resolved, he is back to work a few minutes later.
Sorry, it’s not okay. I can understand the idea of abandoning your child to save his life, and parents have thrown children from burning buildings on this basis. But the idea that he would make that decision in a half-minute or so conversation with a sentient space cloud of unclear motives? M’Benga spent the entire season working to find a cure for Rukiya, and even received a . This storyline has been seeded through enough series to feel like it’s the creative team correcting the course.
I’m going to take a risk and say that the abruptness of this is the resolution of a production problem. I guess no one has realized how quickly children age, which makes it difficult for Sage Arrindell to play a child trapped in time stasis. This is the reason Malcolm David Kelly left Lost at the end of his first season: You can’t pretend everyone only spent 40 days on the island if the kid visibly ages a year since he shot the pilot. (I’m also guessing the episode was shot in an effort to save money for the finale unless those gorgeous period costumes were flushed out of the show’s substantial budget.)
Alternatively, the writers planned this out and it was always meant to be something that got resolved in the first season. In that case, I’m forced to wonder who in the world thought a father handing over his child so arbitrarily was a smart emotional beat. Unless it’s one of those situations where the emphasis has been on surprise rather than logic, narrative, or emotion. For me it’s a bit like another Strange new worlds episode where, even if I want to offer praise, there is always something that leaves me a little cold.
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