Thursday, June 23, 2022

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' - A Playful Fantasy Depicts a Serious Choice for M'Benga in 'The Elysian Kingdom'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Episode 1.08 "The Elysian Kingdom"

The U.S.S. Enterprise becomes stuck in a nebula that is home to an alien consciousness that traps the crew in a fairy tale.

"The Elysian Kingdom" was written by Akela Cooper & Onitra Johnson and directed by Amanda Row

M'Benga refused to believe his daughter's condition was terminal. He has the opportunity to explore the galaxy for a cure. Saving her has consumed his entire world. It jeopardizes his obligations to the crew. They need him to care for their own medical needs. He can't completely step away from that job or pass it onto others. More possibilities were opened when he revealed the truth. Una cares about him. She checks on his well-being. She engages with the progress he's made. He was certainly pointed in the right direction. That hasn't produced an enduring cure. Time is running out. And so, he foregoes all other responsibilities to devote himself entirely to saving his daughter. That has to be the priority. It comes at the expense of so much. That even includes his daughter's freedom and happiness. She deserves a chance to be a kid. She should have fun. He can't allow that because it would be time wasted. She has a wonderful mind capable of conjuring so many stories. M'Benga tells her she'll have to wait until she's an adult to put that imagination into action. He controls her life and what's possible for her. It's an incredibly restrictive way to live. M'Benga believes he's doing the right thing. This is the only way to keep her a part of his life. He can't lose her. This episode is devoted to him having to accept what Rukiya wants. Her body failing because of this disease has determined the terms of this relationship. It can't be limited to just that. M'Benga works himself tirelessly to find a cure. Once he lets his guard down and allows fun to enter his world, he gains newfound perspective on what his daughter needs. It's such a fun concept. The story M'Benga has been reading to Rukiya is rendered to involve the entire crew. M'Benga and Hemmer are the only individuals aware of what's going on. In the end, it's an isolating experience for M'Benga. He's the one who gets to share this story. It carries so much personal significance for him. For everyone else, it's simply a mystery that needs to be solved. They are stuck in space. A nebula refuses to let them jump away. One disruption is all it takes to completely rewrite reality. It's a way for Rukiya to live out her dreams. She no longer has to be so lonely. That's true for the alien consciousness without a body as well. She saw a kindred spirit and rushed out to help. The universe was extending a hand of compassion. It carries real consequences though. The crew has no choice in the matter. Instead, they are forced into completely new roles. They are committed to their personas. It doesn't come with any understanding of the true environment they are in or what's at stake. Rukiya wishes to share this experience of love with her father. He gets to be the hero on this journey. It's fun. It also requires him to be of service to the entire crew and not just singularly focused on his own needs.

It's still absolutely devastating when the final choice is presented. Rukiya can either go with the consciousness and be cured of her disease or she can stay with her father and suffer in limbo. The latter isn't the life M'Benga wants his daughter to live. It's fundamentally her choice. A life of happiness would also mean being aware from her father. She may never see him again. They may have no clarity on how this situation turned out for the other. As such, the narrative extends a moment of beauty and grace by affirming how prosperous it was for Rukiya to leave. It allowed her to be who she is. M'Benga receives that confirmation moments after she departs. To him, it doesn't feel like a lot of time for her to evolve. To her, a lifetime of development has already happened. She can return with the clarity that he needs in order to grieve this loss and accept what it all meant. He can move forward knowing how happy she is. This serves as a peaceful conclusion knowing that everyone is as it should be. It's all searingly emotional. However, the show also gets so playful in how it reimagines these characters. The biggest transformation is easily for La'an. She is the serious head of security on the ship. And now, she presents as the needy and emotional princess who asks the king to save the day. The transformation for Pike is also significant. As captain, he is more than capable of handling anything that comes at the Enterprise. In fact, he's at peace in experiencing this simple mission to scan the nebula and report the results back to Starfleet. It's an examination of space that carries so much responsibility. It's up to these officers to treat the unknown with respect and consideration. And then, Pike turns into a coward. Him pushing for diplomacy isn't an inherently selfish or foolish idea. It doesn't naturally play into the story being spoofed. As such, the twist was inevitable to showcase just how dramatic all of this could be. It's something M'Benga also should have seen coming. He knows this story so well. He's told it to Rukiya so often. She has notes for how she would make it better. She wants more characters to interact. She wants them to have more fulfilling lives outside of the stakes of this story. She sees their complexities and wants to honor them. It's enriching while being very entertaining too. Sure, it's confusing for those who aren't in the loop of information. They simply see M'Benga as a changed man after these five hours of darkness. He can share the story with them. It's a fanciful idea he too can be playful with. As such, it's not sad because he lost what he cared about the most. Instead, he's at peace knowing this is the powerful way to honor all that comes from brilliant storytelling and the minds that create it.