So far, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” has shown signs of steadily improving, even if the episode titles seem to be getting longer. This week it’s “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” and you try squeezing that into a two-deck headline. However, even an excessively long title can’t save this episode from sadly being the weakest of Season 1 thus far, but then one of them had to be.Hopefully, this is where the new minimum standard will be set and this extremely promising new show won’t descend into disappointing plots and lazy writing like the other live-action shows in this particular sci-fi franchise on Paramount Plus (opens in new tab).
Apparently, this past week’s episode is based upon an unused “The Original Series” script by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. According to IMDb (opens in new tab), it also bears a strong similarity to Ursula Le Guin’s 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” as both depict a seemingly utopian society whose prosperity is predicated on the suffering of a single child.
Regardless of its origins, it marks the first time Captain Pike (Anson Mount) has been dragged into an ethical crisis of this particular nature. Following the recap — which we’ll come back to shortly — we’re treated to a classic-style opening sequence, with a little bit of personal attachment, a dash of spirited fun, seasoned with light humor and served with a generous dollop of drama.
Honestly, anything could’ve happened after that: the crew could’ve had all the salt sucked from their bodies, been forced to amuse a demi-god or just stumbled upon a being from between dimensions. Roll those gorgeous opening credits.
While on a routine [cartographic survey] to [the Majalan system] the USS Enterprise receives a distress call from a non-Federation shuttle under attack by a small combat cruiser, also with no Federation ID. During the fracas that follows, the cruiser is inadvertently destroyed and all aboard are killed. The passengers of the shuttle barely survive and are beamed to the Starfleet starship.
Turns out that, while on a previous mission to this sector of space 10 years ago the then Lieutenant Pike was involved in a rescue operation to evacuate civilians from a dying pulsar and he has already met Alora (Lindy Booth), one of the newest additions to the Enterprise passenger list. The other two are a young boy, known as the First Servant (Ian Ho) and his apparent biological father, Elder Gamal (Husein Madhavji).
The primary plot takes up practically all the airtime this week, but there a couple of interesting sub-stories stuck onto the side, one of which is the training of Cadet Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) in matters concerning security by Lt. Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong). It seems her lessons are near-legendary in the Enterprise community. We are to understand there are seven golden rules of security, however, we only get to hear five of them:
#1 A Rigelian tiger pounces with no warning;
#2 There are no breaks in security because threats never take breaks;
#3 Let your tricorder do the investigating;
#6 Know when to bend the rules;
#7 Leave no stone unturned.
Unfortunately, with everyone on the small combat cruiser killed, Pike et al are only hearing one side of the story. That old chestnut. But, their story seems to be believable. Moreover, Pike seems to have forgotten about his partner, Capt. Batel (Melanie Scrofano) — who we met in the premiere episode “Strange New Worlds” — and he’s more than happy to slide under the sheets and get busy with Alora.
Tonight in Captain Pike Bingo, it’s Triple Points Night!
☑ Gets his shirt off
☑ Gets buff!
☑ X-rated extracurricular activity with an extraterrestrial
☐ Hand to hand combat to the death
☐ Use the double-fist punch
☐ Travel over to the Mirror Universe
☐ Find himself on a planet that looks a lot like Vazquez Rocks Natural Park
☐ Outwit a superior alien intelligence
☐ Meet the magnificent, mischievous Harcourt Fenton Mudd
☑ Save the galaxy (season 2 of “Discovery”)
Now, remember we mentioned that recap? Upon second viewing of this episode, you’ll notice a slight slant in the recap when it briefly focuses on Pike’s future — the maybe-it’s-imminent/maybe-it-isn’t accident when a baffle plate ruptures on an old class J starship, exposing many helpless trainees and himself to deadly delta-particle radiation. Specifically, the voice of Lt. Cmdr. Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) when she says, “Don’t throw your life away, Chris. I made a choice. I accepted my fate. What if you’re wrong? What if your fate is what you make it? “
And clearly, Pike is not throwing his life away, but rather he is it embracing it, every facet of it. And good for him. Sadly though, Alora has a somewhat unorthodox culture, but we’ll come to that momentarily. The Majalan people have an incredibly advanced medical technology; tissue can be altered, repaired or replaced at a “quantum mechanical level.” It offers hope to both Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) that he might be able to cure his daughter Rukiya (Sage Arrindell) and Pike, in that it could heal him of his future wounds.
As the story unfolds, it slowly becomes clear that Elder Gamal is aware of the fate that awaits his poor son, the First Servant; however, he was not a part of the initial plan to rescue him that resulted in the destruction of the small combat cruiser. Instead, he plans his own attempt to keep the child safe, from the Majalan people. And for a short while at least, it looks to have worked. That is until a crude distress signal is detected by Spock (Ethan Peck) and the young, incredibly gifted child is recovered and returned to the Majalan people.
This, combined with some rather damning evidence discovered by Uhura and Noonien-Singh, leads Pike down to the surface where he witnesses, but is unable to prevent, the “ascension” of the First Servant, thus fulfilling his somewhat short-lived destiny. The boy is, in essence, plugged into the machine that, we are to understand, needs the neural network of a child to function. “Our founders designed it that way. We don’t know why,” Alora attempts to explain to Pike.
And thus sadly ends the chance that the people of Majalan might join the Federation, for now at least. But all is not lost as Gamal offers to assist M’Benga in his search for a cure for his daughter. Although, it’s not adequately explained quite how these people have such an advanced knowledge of medicine and yet have not evolved past the need to sacrifice an innocent child every generation or so.
You know what would be really interesting, is an episode sometime in the future from the perspective of someone stored in a transporter pattern buffer, because everything around you could change in an instant, or the blink of a transporter beam, each and every time you had to go back in.
The plot seems to have a few more holes in it than usual and the dialogue — in particular between Alora and Pike, towards the end — is not terribly convincing. As we mentioned earlier on, this the weakest episode so far, but as we also mentioned, if this is as weak as they get, then we’re doing alright. It’s nicely layered, nuanced and and interest is maintained throughout. It just feels like it trips over a couple of times with the basics.
Finally, in other “Star Trek” news, the sixth season of “Discovery” has started principal photography in Toronto, as star Doug Jones comically tweeted (opens in new tab) this week. Will a strange anomaly threaten the entire galaxy? Billions could be killed. Will Starfleet unite as everyone must dig deep, face their own mortality and risk their lives for the greater good? Again??
The first six episodes of “Strange New Worlds” is now available to watch on Paramount Plus (opens in new tab) as is the entire second season of “Star Trek: Picard.” Season 4 of “Star Trek: Discovery” is also available on the Paramount streaming service in the US and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel.
Paramount has confirmed that its streaming platform will launch in the UK and Ireland on June 22, available both as a standalone service and as part of the Sky Cinema subscription for the UK cable provider. However, only the first three episodes (opens in new tab) of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” will be available on the streamer on that region’s launch date, as the show will continue on a weekly Wednesday release schedule through the conclusion of the 10-episode Season 1 run.