After Star Trek: Strange New Worlds‘ series high point with last week’s “Spock Amok,” any new episode was going to have trouble following it. However, despite the unenviable placing of “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach,” blaming “Spock Amok” for overshadowing the episode would be disingenuous. The episode, sadly, is the worst of the season so far, all on its own.
As the first Pike-centric episode of the series, viewers would be forgiven for expecting something more. While the foreshadowing of his future death is touched upon, as is the fact he has a past way before what we’ve seen on screen, there’s little else. While we’ve previously seen some of the psychological motivations behind Spock, La’an, and others, there’s very little of that here, which leaves the episode feeling somewhat shallow.
The first Pike-centric episode is underwhelming
Arriving at The Majalan System at the edge of Federation space, Pike is reunited with an old love, Alora. Alora is protecting the First Servant, seemingly from a rebel attack. Everything, of course, isn’t as it seems, and Pike perhaps lets his old feelings get momentarily in the way of what’s obvious. The child being sworn to “science, service, sacrifice” from birth should be alarming enough on its own, but it becomes increasingly apparent as time goes on that the Majalans are not the “good guys.”
The episode attempts to present something of a grey area, with Alora believing that the sacrifice of the First Servant is justified. It brings to mind the old Spock quotation about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. There’s also a riff on the ancient Aztec practice of human sacrifice, with the First Servant going willingly to what is likely a horrific death. The sacrifices horrified the invading conquistadors, yet such disgust is contingent on a belief in universal morality. Was the practice any more outrageous than colonialism, war, plunder, and slavery?
Unfortunately, the episode never gets to answer these questions; the revelation about the First Servant’s sacrifice comes too late in the episode to provoke any meaningful thought. That’s a problem throughout the episode. While it’s visually stunning — the show truly goes to a strange new world here, one heavily influenced by fantasy — there are no real stakes for the Enterprise crew, nor any meaningful character development.
We feel Dr. M’Benga’s desperation on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
The most interesting subplot involves Dr. M’Benga’s ongoing efforts to save his daughter. Babs Olusanmokun conveys all the compassion, anguish, and hope that you would expect from a father in his position. The First Servant’s quantum bio-implants are a technological wonder and suggest the kind of technology that could help his child. Unfortunately for M’Benga, the world isn’t part of the Federation and is closed to outsiders. It’ll be interesting to see how far he’ll go to save his daughter over the coming seasons.
M’Benga’s desperation to save Rukiya is neatly contrasted with that of Elder Gamal, who kidnaps the First Servant and hides him in the last place anyone would look: aboard the Enterprise. However, it’s somewhat obvious that the kidnapping and shuttle explosion are staged. It makes Pike and the crew appear oblivious to what’s happening right before them until Uhura presents Gamal with the cold hard facts.
While we don’t learn much new about Pike here, the final scenes underline his willingness to bend the rules when necessary, as well as his firm moral foundations. And M’Benga gets a glimmer of hope as Elder Gamal imparts to him some of the planet’s medical knowledge. Alora points out that, compared to the way things are on this planet, children suffer more in the Federation. That raises some interesting moral questions, but they aren’t really explored.
Unfortunately, the “beautiful things aren’t always what they seem” plot line has been done to death, and after the high of “Spock Amok,” “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” is a series low point for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. While there’s nothing particularly awful in the episode, the story simply isn’t that interesting, with no strong characterization or cultural exploration to lift it up. Hopefully, the show can bounce back next week.