The following article discusses spoilers for The Elysian Kingdom. There is a genre of writing best epitomized by the serial escalation of buildings found on forum threads in certain corners of the internet. It’s the energy permeating this week’s Strange New Worlds as it takes a one-episode detour into a fantasy parody. Not content with dropping the crew into a romp with swords and sorcery, they’re all tasked with playing against type! The only people they can save are a clumsy buddy police duo of the Noble Doctor and the Moody Engineer! Turn this off about five minutes before the end, and this could easily be the second-best episode of the show’s first season.
The Elysian Kingdom is both the episode title and the subject of the book Dr. M’Benga has read to his terminally ill daughter Rukiya throughout the series. She is annoyed at the end, with the noble king having to choose what to give up at the end of the story. M’Benga tells her that once he heals her, she can rewrite the story any way she wants. And before you can say that foreshadowing was a bit on the nose, the Enterprise gets caught up in the nebula it’s been studying, unable to move. The ship is covered in tapestries and old tiki torches when the Doctor gets to the bridge. Anyone who excludes him (and, as it turns out, Hemmer) has been confused with becoming characters from the book. Pike is a cowardly courtier, La’an is a comic Disney princess, Uhura is the great villain, and Spock is an evil wizard with a Fabio wig and two-day stubble that reminds us that Ethan Peck is, in fact, hot under that goofy Vulcan haircut.
Marni Grossman / Paramount+
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Star Trek lean into its oft-denied campy side, and, as I said before, it’s a groove in which Strange New Worlds works well. The fact that the series is confident enough only to do this for eight episodes in its first run speaks volumes about how the creative team is doing. (You know there’s a whiteboard in the writer’s room with Musical Episode (?) written on it, and that’s what I’m for.) If there’s a downside, the ensemble is large enough that some actors fall short in their moments to get out of character. None of this would work without Babs Olusanmokun’s central performance keeping the story together, aware of the ridiculousness of the situation but staying true to M’Benga’s inner turmoil.
Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about Strange New Worlds if it weren’t for a small list of annoyances. The tone reminds me of Futurama’s glorious M*A*S*H parody with iHawk, the robot with a Maudlin/Irreverent switch on his side. This episode wants the button to jam on both sides, high camp mixed with a meditation on something. We should now be talking about the ending (again, spoiler warning), which is such a weird left turn that my scalp itches just thinking about it. The episode’s outcome is that the sentient nebula offers to take Rukiya off the ship and cure her illness, allowing her to live a fantasy life in the stars. Moments later, as an adult, she appears to tell her father about her life and reassure him that he made the right decision to let her go. Properly resolved, he is back to work minutes later.
Sorry, it’s not right. I understand the idea of giving up your child to save their life, and parents have thrown kids out of burning buildings. But the idea that he would make that decision in a conversation of about half a minute with a conscious space cloud with unclear motives? M’Benga has been working all season to find a cure for Rukiya and even got a promising lead two weeks ago. This storyline is seeded through enough of the series that it feels like it’s the creative team correcting the course.
I go out and say that the abruptness of this is the solution to a production problem. I’m guessing no one realized how quickly kids get older, making it hard for Sage Arrindell to play a kid stuck in momentary stagnation. This is why Malcolm David Kelly left Lost at the end of the first season: You can’t pretend that everyone has only spent 40 days on the island when the kid is visibly older than a year since they shot the pilot. (I also assume the episode was included on the Enterprise standing sets to save money for the finale unless those beautiful period costumes wash through the show’s sizable budget.)
Alternatively, the writers planned this, and it was always intended to be something that resolved itself within the first season. In that case, I have to wonder who in the world thought a dad just handing over his kid in such an unexpected way was a smart, emotional beat unless it’s one of those situations where more emphasis was placed on the surprise of it rather than the logic, narrative, or emotive. To me, it feels like another Strange New Worlds episode where, as much as I want to praise, there’s always something that leaves me a little cold. Our editorial team, independent of our parent company, has selected all products recommended by Engadget. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through one of these links.