Captain Christopher Pike cannot catch a break on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Confronted with his seemingly inevitable fate ten years from the current point in his story, Pike grapples constantly with how to live his life knowing that in a relatively short amount of time, everything he is now will be taken away from him. In the latest episode “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach”, Pike meets an old flame and learns a sickening truth about the culture she comes from.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the Episode Six of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Captain Pike and the USS Enterprise are out on a potential survey mission when they encounter a distress call from a Majalan ship. The occupants of the ship are under attack from an attack cruiser, who quickly turns their guns on the Enterprise. Once the occupants are beamed over, Pike is reunited with Alora, a Malaran scientist Pike saved the last time he was in this system (when he was still a mere Lieutenant). It’s clear from the get-go that Pike has a soft spot for Alora and she has one for him as well.
Throughout the first season of Strange New Worlds, we as the audience have gotten to see different facets of Captain Pike, which is due to the excellent writing and the masterful performance of Anson Mount. In “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach”, we get to see the softer, more personal side of the Captain, who is smitten beyond reason with Alora. Lindy Booth, who portrays Alora, conveys a flighty, almost incandescent personality with her performance, making it easy to see how Pike could have fallen for her so quickly. The interplay between the two characters is enjoyable to watch and there’s clearly chemistry between the two main actors, which helps quite a bit.
Unfortunately, this bliss is not meant to last. The other two occupants of the Malaran shuttle craft are a young boy who is given the title “First Servant” and the boy’s physician/father Gamal. The boy is taken to sickbay where Dr. M’Benga discovers a wonderous technology literally embedded in the child’s body: bionic implants that use quantum mechanics to repair the body, leaving it free of disease. Given that Dr. M’Benga’s daughter Rukiya suffers from a terminal illness, the news of this miracle of science gives him hope for finding a cure for his child. The Majalans, however, have strict rules regarding sharing their technology with outsiders.
We learn from Alora and Gamal that the First Servant is a child chosen by lottery to live out the Majalan’s supreme maxim of “science, service, sacrifice”. There’s an underlying tension throughout the episode as it becomes apparent a plot is unfolding to kidnap the First Servant and prevent his ascension. Through quite a few twists and turns, Cadet Uhura (who is undergoing a rotation with La’an Noonien Singh in the Security department) is able to piece together some of the mystery. Alora states early on that the kidnappers are from a distant world that is foreign to the Majalans. Uhura discovers (too late) that the kidnappers are from a desolate planet called Prospect VII and they are, in fact, Majalans who have decided to leave their seemingly utopic homeworld.
The homeworld of Majala is wonderfully rendered, with floating cities connected to golden threads of energy. As Pike and Alora work to uncover more on this conspiracy from Majala, they rekindle their romance, even spending the night together. This isn’t Captain Kirk, who seemed to have a “special” lady in every port. Pike is a romantic at heart and that clearly shows as Alora and he talk about his preordained future. While the two of them reconnect, we soon learn that Gamal is part of the conspiracy to kidnap his son and prevent him from ascending as the First Servant, which ultimately fails. When Una Chin-Riley interrogates Gamal, she learns an awful truth but we the audience are not privy to it just yet. She tries to contact Pike on the planet’s surface but cannot reach him.
Pike watches as the citizens of Majala celebrate the ascension of the young First Servant, with Alora heaping praises on the young child. It isn’t until they reach a massive network of technology under Majala that we learn the terrible truth: the original builders of Majala’s technology built their system to require a neural link with a child. As the previous First Servant is carried away and the latest child is walked up to the machine, Pike’s expression of abject horror as he sees the desiccated remains of the previous Servant is an expression I wore as well. Whomever is plugged into this machine will die and from the looks of the previous occupant, it will not be a quick, painless death. Before Pike can intervene, he is subdued and knocked unconscious. When he awakens, Alora is waiting for him.
Understandably shaken by the experience and disgusted with Alora’s inability to see the terrible price her civilization pays for their continued prosperity, Pike informs her that he will tell Starfleet the first chance he gets, ending any potential alliance between the two cultures. But most importantly, you can see in Anson Mount’s performance the moment any affection Pike feels for Alora wither away. Alora is clearly hurt by this loss of trust and affection as Pike is beamed away by the Enterprise. You can’t help but feel for Pike by the end of the episode as he stares out the window of his quarters at Majala while sipping a drink. For a few days, he was happy and content and then it all came tumbling down.
This is one of the first real downer endings in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and it hits like a freight train. For many who are used to Star Trek episodes where the Federation prevails in the end, this one may be difficult to stomach but it is no less an impactful story.
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