Thursday, July 27, 2023

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' - M'Benga Reveals His Brutal Actions From the Klingon War in 'Under the Cloak of War'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Episode 2.08 "Under the Cloak of War"

Captain Pike and his crew welcome a Klingon defector aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, but his presence triggers the revelation of some shocking secrets.

"Under the Cloak of War" was written by Davy Perez and directed by Jeff Byrd

This show is the only current Star Trek property that can adequately reflect on the Klingon War. That event happened on a different show entirely. However, Discovery took on its own set of original stories when it made the jumped into the future. Those characters left the Enterprise crew behind. Several of them fought in the war. They are left with trauma from those events. It's tense whenever they interact with a Klingon. That's especially true with Ambassador Dak'Rah. He defected. He joined Starfleet as one of its most vocal supporters. The organization has used his diplomatic skills to negotiate peace. Those conversations are still happening. Dak'Rah hopes to present as someone new. He has left his savage culture behind to embrace a new perspective. Many don't believe him. They are just wrong about what he is lying about. His story is framed by him slaughtering the Klingons who served under him after realizing the horrors of this pointless war. In reality, he did no such thing. He survived because he's a coward. He ran away while his army was attacked. M'Benga was responsible for those deaths. He carries the weight of the war every single day. The scars are deep and brutal. He understood the horrors of war. He didn't want to return home to his family as a changed man. That was inevitable. He believed in the righteousness of the mission. Starfleet has its roots in exploration, science and peacekeeping. At that moment, it was at war with the Klingons. They had to fight to preserve all that was known and loved throughout the Federation. This isn't what many signed up for. M'Benga got them to that point of acceptance. They then embarked on suicide missions. The battle for control of J'Gal was brutal. M'Benga had the resource to immediately turn the tides of the conflict. He was reluctant to take it. He wanted to save lives instead of take them. That's still what he wants to do. And yet, he also feels the pull to kill those who stand in his way. It's an absolutely brutal mindset. M'Benga tries to coach Ortegas and Chapel through spending an awkward dinner with the ambassador. They are loyally serving their captain. Pike wants to set a good example. He embodies the Starfleet ideal of treating everyone with respect. Everyone has the possibility for redemption and salvation no matter what they did in their past. M'Benga needs that blessing and good will later on. He carries the truth. It's a story that only he knows. That puts him in direct conflict with Dak'Rah who has benefited from the lie. He built a great life of importance for himself without being bogged down by the horrors of what happened on J'Gal. He talks a big game about the value of listening and leading with empathy. However, he loves hearing himself talk and being seen as the most important figure in the room. The Enterprise crew has accomplished a lot. They are capable of carrying petty grudges as well.

Una saw fit to shorten the amount of time Dak'Rah would have to spend on the Enterprise. It wasn't out of some deference for him. It was concern for the crew. Pike tries to lead by example. And yet, he can't dictate the terms for how members of his crew deal with their trauma. Many were spared from having to serve during the war. Not everyone could avoid that conflict. They are united in a new mission now. The scars of the past can't be ignored though. M'Benga knows the agony of those valiant Klingon warriors who put up a brave fight against him. He too motivated soldiers into battle. He never wanted that to be his own identity. That was who he had to be. He's not worthy of being lifted up as part of Dak'Rah's story either. The ambassador sees the good Starfleet could accomplish by putting two people from opposing sides together. He wants an ally. He sees the value he can bring to the Federation. M'Benga heals the members of the crew when they are injured. He has the expertise to help them. He provides counsel. So much darkness lurks as well. He leads with anger. He's different in the first few rounds of a sparing session. When Dak'Rah opens up a little bit, that's when M'Benga takes the power back. It's not a total release of his demons. In fact, he may further compromise his soul by ultimately killing the ambassador. Chapel completely supports him. She understands the horrors that were endured during the war. She was there too. Difficult decisions had to be made. M'Benga was more capable of making them. She still did her best to save as many lives as she could. They were ordered to evacuate when the mission seemingly failed. M'Benga ensured a different outcome. He made that happen. He has shared his experiences and pain with Chapel. She knows the consequences on his body. He can't enhance his senses forever. That resource comes with cost. He keeps it near in case he needs to fight out of any dangerous situation. He provokes one here. He makes that confrontation occur. In fact, he wants to deliver a convenient story of Dak'Rah never changing his ways. He was always deceitful. Starfleet was foolish to ever trust him. It's true gaslighting. Ortegas had that feeling all along. And yet, one of her trusted friends tricks her by believing in that overall simplicity. The truth is far more complicated. Pike realizes some of it because he has access to M'Benga's file. He can't prove that the doctor orchestrated the murder. It tears down trust at least. They have to be fine living in this limbo. M'Benga tried to preserve lives through that kind of stasis before. Life continued despite that gesture. He could find peace letting go of the lives he cared about. But now, he's the one with the most damage to inflict. He makes his choices. So much remains hidden. That complexity shrouds his actions. He's valuable to the crew. He's far from perfect. In fact, he's dangerous with the right provocation. He has changed. He's aware of that but that doesn't make any of this better for his well-being or those who carry the distress alongside him.