HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Strange New Worlds has vacillated between incredible dramatic moments and camp, and “The Elysian Kingdom” is perhaps the series’ campiest episode yet. However, as has become typical for Strange New Worlds, the script layers the camp over a deep emotional core, and one for which I was, quite frankly, ill-prepared. The episode is also very much about the show itself and where it should go in the coming second season, but most importantly, “The Elysian Kingdom” gives us a fairy tale with a bittersweet ending, promising happiness deferred while reminding us to find contentment where and when we find ourselves.
Rukiya’s condition continues to stymie Dr. M’Benga, who is quickly reaching the end of his rope. After his latest experiment blows up in his face, Una reminds him to remember his obligations to the crew as well as those he owes to his daughter. He heads to his quarters when he gets an emergency call to come check over Ortegas who was injured in the ship’s attempt to free itself from a nebula.
M’Benga arrives on the bridge to discover that it has been converted into a scene straight out of The Elysian Kingdom, the book he reads to his daughter during their visits. Each member of the crew has been assigned a character from the book, and they look to him as King Ridley. They’re in desperate need of protection because Queen Neve threatens the kingdom in pursuit of Ridley’s powerful weapon, the Mercury Stone. M’Benga flees to Sickbay only to discover that everyone is mostly normal; they just keep acting the parts randomly assigned to them.
An encounter with Neve’s Crimson Guard leads him to discover that Hemmer also retains his personality and memories. M’Benga sets about rescuing Hemmer despite betrayal by wizard Pollux (played by Spock) and Sir Rauth (played by Pike). They deduce that a Boltzmann Brain has developed in the nebula and that the entire story has been gleaned from Nakiya’s mind. He and Hemmer find Nakiya, freed from the transporter buffer, dressed as a princess in M’Benga’s quarters.
Through Hemmer, M’Benga speaks to the nebula entity and discovers that the entity can cure Nakiya of her cygnokemia but only if she remains with the entity as a consciousness. M’Benga begs the entity not to force him to choose between the ship and his daughter, but he must. He gives Nakiya the option to choose her fate, and she decides to remain in the nebula with her new friend. M’Benga, releases her, knowing that this is the best thing for his daughter. Just after child Nakiya disappears, an adult version reappears to tell him that she’s had fantastic adventures and begs him to live for himself, not for her. M’Benga weeps with happiness to see his happy daughter, and as she disappears, the crew returns to normal, only without any recollection of the preceding five hours.
M’Benga eventually tells the story to Una, holding the book he’d read so often to his daughter.
Dear show, if you could stop breaking my heart with children, that would be great.
“The Elysian Kingdom” tells this fantastic story with incredible humor, not just through one-liners, though there are more than enough of those to satisfy. Rather, the decisions made with respect to the characters flow so naturally. Pike gets a chance to be afraid, which is something the character has battled the entire season. Sure, Anson Mount gets to mince around in tights with a center part, but underlying the foppery lies Pike’s real terror. La’an channels the most princess-y of princesses when she dons Thalia’s gown and purse dog, complete with matching outfit. However, before dismissing that as ridiculous, we need to remember that La’an is a girl whose childhood was wrest from her by the Gorn. She never had the opportunity to explore the more Lisa Frank side of being a young girl, and the moment she twirls in her sparkly gown just brings that reality home. Spock gets a chance to play out some of the darkness that exists within him. Uhura’s Queen Neve wants to conquer the entire world, which makes so much sense for a character that has been uncertain of her place. Where Uhura must adapt, Neve plans to create a space for herself. Finally, Nakiya casts herself as the Mercury Stone, which is an object of incredible power that must be set free by King Ridley, and her King Ridley is, of course her beloved father.
Nakiya is a child who has had no agency and no life since being confined to the pattern buffer. She’s at the mercy of her well-meaning father and the frailty of her own body. This episode restores that agency by empowering her to create her own story and giving her the power to choose her fate, which is beautiful on its own. However, the episode brings to a close what has been M’Benga’s defining arc by asking him to let his daughter go. As parents, that’s the inevitable conclusion of the relationship we have with our children. Eventually, we must set them free to create their own lives, and M’Benga does exactly this with quite possibly more grace than I can ever aspire to have. The episode also grants him closure sufficient that he can do as Nakiya asks—go on and live his life.
I can’t help but also feel that Nakiya’s words speak a bit to Strange New Worlds itself. While the season has been mostly fantastic thus far, it, too, needs to find its own path. The show has done an incredible job juggling the weight of canon with the need to tell a new story, but this episode serves as a valuable reminder that it still needs to find its feet a bit. I find it funny that this message comes out of the episode that feels the most as if it calls back to older Trek with its mysterious entity and rich costumes. I can’t wait to see where Strange New Worlds intends on taking us next.
Five Time Crystals
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Parts of this episode reminds me forcibly of “Imaginary Friend,” but I really love the humor the cast and writers bring to the table for this one.
- I love, love, love the bits of afrofuturism in the designs for Nakia and M’Benga, from the beading to the patterns. Adult Nakiya’s collar is just gorgeous.
- Celia Rose Gooding is clearly loving her role as the villain.
- Mount gives it his all, but that center part does nothing for his pompadour.
- I suppose I should have realized where this was going given the relationship between the episode’s title and the elysian fields of Greek mythology.