A Child’s Storybook – Review of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” Episode 8 “The Elysian Kingdom”

When someone watches Star Trek, they expect to be transported to alien worlds and science fiction technobabble. What they do not expect is to find themselves in a medieval fantasy that looks like your average trip to a Renaissance Faire. With the eighth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, titled “The Elysian Kingdom”, we as the audience get the best of both worlds. And I found the episode to be a delightful change of pace this late in the season, as well as being one of the more hopeful episodes so far.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watch “The Elysian Kingdom”, the latest episode for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

After the harrowing events of the previous episode, I was expecting a lighter, more crew-centric episode. Doctor M’Benga (played by the incomparable Babs Olusanmokun) has been struggling to find a cure for his daughter Rukiya, who suffers for a fatal disease. Time is running out for the doctor, who has learned that the disease is progressing further along each time Rukiya is pulled out of the transporter system, where she’s been kept in stasis. Before putting her back in stasis, Rukiya remarks that she doesn’t like the ending to the story her father has been reading her, The Elysian Kingdom. M’Benga tells his daughter than when she is older, she’ll be able to write her own stories with whatever endings she wants. While I have never been a parent, I can absolutely empathize with M’Benga trying to make the most of a truly horrible situation.

At this time, the crew of the USS Enterprise are studying the Josinian Nebula. When they go to depart, their warp drive fails to activate. When the ship tries to leave on impulse power, it comes to a screeching halt, causing Lieutenant Ortegas to smash her head on the console and fall to the floor. M’Benga is summoned from Sick Bay but as the lift doors open to the bridge, he suddenly finds himself in a fantasy setting with everyone dressed in medieval European finery. Captain Pike addresses M’Benga as the King (and we see M’Benga is now decked out in finery befitting a king).

What follows is some of the most fun I’ve seen watching this show (including the episode “Spock Amok”). The main cast are thrust into the characters from The Elysian Kingdom, with Pike as the cowardly Sir Rauth, Ortegas as Sir Adya (the King’s Guard), La’an as the Princess Talia (with a cute dog to boot), Spock as the sorcerer Pollux, Uhura as the evil Queen Neve, and Una Chin-Riley as Z’ymira the Huntress. It’s an absolute treat watching the actors playing out characters that are in many ways the opposite of their normal selves. It’s clear throughout the episode that the cast had an absolute blast filming the episode. The set changes to the Enterprise to make it feel like a fantasy forest were well done and the costuming was simply marvelous to behold.

Back to the story of the episode, though. M’Benga soon finds one other person who is not affected by the strange change of events, Chief Engineer Hemmer. Hemmer is immune due to his telepathic abilities but he did sense a presence enter the ship at the same time the change to the crew and ship occurred. The doctor and the engineer come up with the idea that a disembodied consciousness, one with exceptional powers to warp reality as long as the Enterprise is within the nebula. It’s at first theorized that M’Benga is the source of the story but the good Doctor soon realizes it is Rukiya who is controlling everything, as evidenced by the actions of Sir Adya and Z’ymira being comrades. Rukiya’s comment earlier in the episode revealed that she always thought these two characters should be allies, which is what tips of M’Benga that his daughter is behind the storybook setting they find themselves in. When M’Benga and the rest return to Sick Bay, they find that Rukiya is no longer in stasis within the transporter buffer.

M’Benga finally manages to locate Rukiya in his quarters, which the young girl mentioned she wanted to see. With Hemmer serving as a conduit, the Josinian consciousness speaks to father and daughter. The entity in the nebula sensed Rukiya’s loneliness and her sickness, so it connected with her, allowing Rukiya to recreate her favorite story using the crew of the Enterprise. In the process, the entity also cured Rukiya of her terminal illness but that only remains true so long as Rukiya stays in the nebula. If she leaves, the illness will return and she will die. M’Benga is left with a heartbreaking choice: allow the crew to stay as they are or leave the nebula and lose his daughter. It’s at this point the Josinian entity proposes a third option: let Rukiya stay and allow the Enterprise to leave.

What follows is one of the most touching scenes I’ve witnessed on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds so far. M’Benga wants his daughter to live but he knows he’s no closer to finding a cure than he was before. Eventually, after a heartfelt goodbye, Rukiya is whisked away by the entity. A few moments later, though, an adult Rukiya returns to show her father that everything is all right. While it was only a few moments for her father, Rukiya has spent years with the entity (that she named Debra after her mother), creating her own stories and living the best life she can. Babs Olusanmokun wowed me with his performance here, showing every emotion the good Doctor is feeling clearly on his face.

When Rukiya departs again (with the hope that she will see her father some day soon), the ship and crew return to normal, only having lost five hours of time in their memories. M’Benga sits in his office, clearly torn by not having his daughter with him any longer but hopeful that he will see her again someday. It is a bittersweet ending but a good one. This has definitely got to be one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to date. The strangeness of the sudden change was jarring at first but then it just became a delightful romp (particularly seeing stoic characters like Spock and La’an get to play so wildly against type as Pollux and Talia). If I had to pick an episode from this season to show someone and say, “This is why I love Star Trek”, it would be “The Elysian Kingdom”.

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