Star Trek has a long history of fantastical episodes where all rules seemingly go completely out of the window. The Next Generation did these episodes well, mainly when Q or the holodeck got involved. In that respect, this week’s episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, “The Elysian Kingdom” is almost a Q story without Q. The episode is in the traditions of episodes like “Qpid,” bringing the world of fantasy to the Enterprise.
“The Elysian Kingdom” focuses on Dr. M’Benga, a character we’ve seen too little of so far, and Babs Olusanmokun makes the most of his starring role. Olusanmokun is exceptional as he tries to figure out what exactly is going on and, toward the episode’s conclusion, is forced to make a heartbreaking decision.
While the focus is on M’Benga, everyone in the cast thoroughly enjoys the episode, which elevates “The Elysian Kingdom” to one of Strange New Worlds’ absolute best.
As we open the episode, the Enterprise becomes stuck in a nebula that is found to be home to an omnipotent alien consciousness. Ortegas is injured on the bridge and M’Benga is summoned to render assistance. Having just finished reading a fantasy story to his daughter, he is stunned to find that everyone on the bridge has taken on the roles of characters from the book. Whatever has transpired, however, goes beyond that, as the entire ship has transformed into a magical kingdom.
The Strange New Worlds cast gets to play in “The Elysian Kingdom”
It’s challenging to pick a favorite moment from the episode. Pike becomes the cowardly advisor to the king, and Ortegas is terrific as the violent leader of the king’s guard. Engineer Hemmer and science officer Spock get cast as wizards, but Spock; Spock’s long hair and stubble are sure to leave many hearts beating a little faster.
Besides M’Benga as King Ridley and Pike as the chamberlain, Uhura as the evil queen and L’aan as Princess Talia also stand out. Spoiled, pouty, and carrying a little dog like an interstellar Paris Hilton, L’aan is hilarious, with Christina Chong again showing her talent for comedy after the “Enterprise Bingo” segments of “Spock Amok.” Uhura, meanwhile, also goes against her regular characterization, being cast here as an ice queen fairytale villain, complete with a magnificent costume.
The story “quest” concerns the hunt for the Mercury Stone. What the stone is remains a mystery for much of the episode, which has all the twists and turns you’d expect from a fantasy story. Hemmer is taken prisoner, Spock has unexpected allegiances, and Pike turns to betrayal. Little moments from the actors stand out, showing how good this cast actually is. The withering looks Ortegas gives Pike at his most cowardly moments, Pike slapping his hand when he’s done something wrong…they’re a sign of a cast comfortable and confident in their characters.
The only downside to “The Elysian Kingdom” is the resolution to the story of Rukiya and her illness. The mysterious entity sensed her loneliness and created the fantasy would from within her mind. While the scenes between M’Benga and his daughter are exceptional, it feels like it happens too fast; the idea of preserving a human in the transporter buffer has a lot of mileage and could have been explored over multiple seasons.
Like so much of Strange New Worlds, “The Elysian Kingdom” is a whole lot of fun. Star Trek has always had that side to it; it knows that going too serious can drag down a show. Unfortunately, the franchise somehow forgot that during the J.J. Abrams era and into Discovery, replacing the humor and the exploration of the “strange” with constant threats and straight-faced conflicts. While we love it, much of science-fiction is absurd, and the fact that Strange New Worlds is willing to laugh with its audience sets it apart. With fantastic performances throughout, “The Elysian Kingdom” is one of Strange New Worlds’ best episodes of the season.