“The Elysian Kingdom”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, Episode 8 – Debuted Thursday, June 23, 2022
Written by: Akela Cooper & Onitra Johnson
Directed by Amanda Row
Another fun but perhaps a bit frivolous episode plays with some classic Star Trek tropes, allowing the cast to indulge themselves.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“But what if we could change the ending?”
The Enterprise is wrapping up a routine nebula scanning mission and Pike is happy to get back to the science and the quiet competence of exploration, with Spock surprisingly reminding the captain of the human superstition of jinxing a good thing by calling it out. And sure enough, as soon as they try to leave, the ship refuses to budge, and one last try with the impulse engines causes a jolt, knocking out Ortegas. This prompts a call for Dr. M’Benga, snapping him back to attention from the distraction of the ongoing plight of his dying daughter—his latest attempt at a cure only resulted in a minor explosion. He’s been especially motivated after putting Rukiya back into the transporter buffer after another heart-tugging bedtime story. “She has so little time left.”
But when the good doctor arrives on the bridge there is something odd… very odd. It has been transformed into a medieval throne room and everyone is dressed for court—including him, complete with crown. “All hail the king!” M’Benga starts to sort out that this is all taken from his daughter’s fairy tale, which makes him King Ridley, Pike is the sycophantic chamberlain Sir Rauth, and Ortegas (now perfectly fine) is the brave Sir Adya. And M’Benga is the only one who realizes they are all LARPing. The ship seems to be running fine, according to the computer (sorry, the “Oracle”), and they are still hanging out next to the nebula, now appearing as a dangerous fog surrounding the Elysian Kingdom (episode name alert!). Playing along, M’Benga announces he must travel to the sick bay (taken as a literal bay) to get a magical device called a tricorder, and thus his quest begins with the two knights coming along, although cowardly Sir Pike expresses some reluctance.
“Welcome to my kingdom.”
The Fellowship of the Tricorder reaches sickbay, now an enchanted forest overseen by the healer Lady Audrey Chapel, who busies herself with an actual cauldron. The scans are inconclusive, but Princess La’an Thalia shows up with a warning about evil Queen Neve, who is after the King’s MacGuffin Stone… sorry, Mercury Stone. The quest gets its next goal as they witness Hemmer (aka the wizard Caster) dragged away by Neve’s Redshirt Crimson Guard, but it looks like the Aenar engineer is still himself. The party heads off to free the wizard… after some princess singing, naturally. On their way they encounter Spock, the dark wizard Pollux who warns them of the Swamp of Infinite Death, which Sir Pike points out is “not a good swamp.”
Thanks to having read the book, King M’Benga uses his knoweldge that Pollux is Caster’s brother to get Spock to lead them around the swamp, so into the secret dark tunnel (actually a Jeffries Tube) they go. And as M’Benga expected, Pollux leads them into a trap, the throne room of Neve herself—well actually Uhura, looking majestic. The levels go to full ham as Pike immediately bends to her “kneel before me.” However, this is all part of the plan as now they get locked up in the dungeon (transporter room) where M’Benga can finally have a real conversation with Hemmer, who reveals he is self-aware due to his telepathic abilities, which blocked an entity inside the nebula from pushing into his mind. Now they just need to get to engineering to sort all this out, and thanks to Hemmer’s handy “magic” cutting tool, they are free again. “Abracadabra!”
“You must protect the child.”
After a confrontation with the Crimson Guard, Number One finally shows up as Z’ymira the Huntress, heroically saving and then joining the party. In engineering, Hemmer figures out the nebula is home to a spontaneously formed consciousness that must be using the story in M’Benga’s mind to create the fantasy. But as Z’ymira and Adya bicker like an old couple, the doc figures out the entity is connected to his daughter, who is changing the story: Ortegas’ and Una’s characters don’t know each other in the book, but here they know each other, “like really well.” Okay, we get it, Adya. Rukiya isn’t in sickbay, so she must be in his quarters, where she has always wanted to visit instead of being stuck in that buffer. Outside his quarters, the party is waylaid by Sir Pike, who betrays them for his new liege, Queen Neve. What a toady. It turns out that Rukiya is the Mercury Stone, and the evil queen wants her. Thankfully King M’Benga has a real wizard on his side, as Hemmer—with a nice bit of magician’s flourish—uses a communicator to transport all the bad guys to cargo bay 12.
Father and daughter are finally reunited and she has been having a ball watching him play out the story thanks to her new “friend,” who cured her too. OMG! Hemmer channels the nebula being who did all of this because it felt a kinship with the little girl’s loneliness. It also reveals that if the ship is freed and leaves, Rukiya will get sick again, giving M’Benga the impossible choice: “the crew or your daughter.” The girl breaks our hearts as she agrees to go back into the buffer but there is another way: She can choose to shed her sick body and live in the nebula forever. Reluctantly and full of love, M’Benga agrees to Rukiya’s wish and they say goodbye as she is transformed into beautiful light. I’m not crying, you’re crying. But wait, Rukiya returns—now older and wiser and happy, with tales of her friend “Debra,” named for her mom. Aww. They’re happy having adventures in the years that are just moments for her dad, giving him a more joyous farewell, for now. Hemmer wakes up with the telepathic hangover from hell and no memory; he and the crew all have a five-hour gap. But Joseph (first name reveal alert!) confides in Una about his extraordinary experience starting with, naturally, “Once upon a time.”
“The Elysian Kingdom” is quite a lot of fun, finding a way to do a holodeck-type costume adventure without the holodeck. And by the way, the costumes were amazing. These kinds of stories when Star Trek characters get to inhabit other characters have been done before, of course, but this was definitely a new spin on the sub-genre and the enthusiasm of the cast in their new roles was infectious. While Babs Olusanmokun stepped up to lead the episode with emotional range beyond his quiet steady state, the rest of the Enterprise crew threw themselves into the fantasy, with some really hamming it up, especially Anson Mount who has said this was a favorite for the cast; he particularly seemed to love playing against type as the sniveling chamberlain. Having Bruce Horak finally show up again was quite welcome and he, too, had fun both as the real Hemmer trying to science his way out of this problem and a bit of his own over-the-top wizard. He even hangs a lantern on it all with the question “Too much?” Yes, but it’s fine.
While one might expect the more prominent Spock to be the immune character that saves the day, Hemmer fits in better with Trek lore as the Aenar are much stronger telepaths than Vulcans. Having only two characters being aware of the fantasy through most of the episode, and all but M’Benga having their memories of the experience wiped, takes away opportunities for character development, but it was good to see the episode bookended with Number One, showing herself to be a good first officer with a growing personal bond with her friend, and nicely giving her the honor to reveal his first name.
The episode also took too long to get to the core sci-fi plot, and even needlessly put up a red herring early on with the failed sickbay experiment as a possible culprit. We never saw our characters struggling with being taken over, and as each of the fantasy characters had no connection to the real characters, there was nothing to learn from them beyond having a good time, which again, was quite a lot of fun.
What kept this episode from rising beyond just a bit of fun was the lack of any stakes or consequences for most of our characters. Unlike similarly themed episodes like TNG’s “Imaginary Friend” or Voyager’s “Killing Game,” no one appeared to be at any risk of harm, even with all the swords and arrows. And there was no sci-fi story ticking clock to save the crew from their fantasy world. Of course, this was to keep all the real drama on the heartbreaking story of Rukiya and the terrible choice faced by Dr. M’Benga. It was here where the tone of the episode took a quick turn to the serious, with a real question on what the right thing choice was for M’Benga and Rukiya. But the mystery of his daughter’s fate and bravery of his bittersweet farewell was lessened by adult Rukiya’s immediate return to absolve him of any concerns or guilt, which did tidy everything up, but really put too simple of a cap on this fizzy drink of a bottle episode that could have been decanted into something more.
One thing this episode made clear is that while Strange New Worlds is definitely an episodic series with standalone adventures, it is also highly serialized, more so than was imagined before the series arrived. We have seen this pattern in previous episodes of how the writers are playing long games with the arcs for all of their characters, like the introduction of Rukiya earlier in the season and the major elements of her favorite fairy tale bedtime story. Now it all fits well together, bringing a nice bit of closure to this arc for M’Benga, leaving him room to grow as we move on to the rest of the season and beyond.
If this episode has a theme, it might be embedded in the message of the fairy tale itself. King Ridley is faced with a choice to give up the power of the Mercury Stone and to find a way forward on his own. The message about how Rukiya was freed to “create your own stories” is a lesson for the show itself. Since its mid-season, Strange New Worlds has been striking out more and more to fulfill its true mission to tell new stories about new worlds, which it did this week with the Jonisian Nebula. The series does not need to rely on the familiar lore of Trek to succeed; these characters are engaging enough and the universe is literally designed for endless exploration. And for that, “The Elysian Kingdom” is to be praised. But it never forgets where it came from and it beautifully rewards loyal fans with subtle but powerful nods to the past: If you looked closely, you’d have seen that Rukiya’s fairy tale The Kingdom of Elysian was written by none other than Benny Russell. Nicely done, Strange New Worlds.
Strange New Worlds successfully delves into the quirky fun filler-type episodes that seemed to go out of fashion with shortened seasons. While there were some missed opportunities, “The Elysian Kingdom” was an undeniable hour of merry entertainment.
- The episode title is derived from Elysium, an idyllic afterlife in Greek mythology, and the wizards Caster and Pollux are named for twin half-brothers Castor and Pollux.
- This is the second Strange New Worlds writing credit for co-executive producer Akela Cooper, and the first-ever television writing credit for writers’ assistant Onitra Johnson.
- This is the first Star Trek credit for director Amanda Row.
- Stardate 2341.6.
- McNair Starbase was likely named for Ronald McNair, NASA’s second Black astronaut to fly into space, who was later lost in the Challenger Disaster.
- Trying to cure his daughter’s fictional disease of Cygnokemia, M’Benga created a substance called 3QND, which is a real synthetic inhibitor that could be used to fight viruses.
- Dr. M’Benga discovered the crew had levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, just like The Doctor found when the crew of the USS Voyager were under the influence of the telepathic pitcher plant in the Voyager episode “Bliss.”
- Hemmer’s theory is based on the real Boltzmann Brain thought experiment.
- The Swamp of Infinite Death is likely a reference to place names In The Princess Bride like the Cliffs of Insanity and the Fire Swamps.
- Ortegas/Adya’s sword was named “Starfall,” because why not?
- This episode established M’Benga’s first name as Joseph. In April, Paramount had to retract posters displayed at the Mission: Star Trek Chicago convention that showed his first name as “Jabilo.”
- We never got to see who the court jester was, but bets are on Sam Kirk.
- Princess Thalia’s dog Runa was played by Christina Chong’s own dog Runa.
More to come
Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe and discusses the latest episode. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.
New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debut on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., Latin America, Australia and the Nordics. The series airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada. In New Zealand, it is available on TVNZ, and in India on Voot Select. Strange New Worlds will arrive via Paramount+ in select countries in Europe when the service launches later this year, starting with the UK and Ireland in June.