Who doesn't love a costumed (melo)drama and happily-ever-afters? (If you don't, you should probably go read a different review. Seriously.)
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 8 delivers a story that is not only heart-warming in substance and joyful in presentation but also blows the lid off the standard use of narrative metaphor.
Its winky-face hat tip to The Princess Bride also endears it to me deeply.
What's particularly enjoyable is having the characters we've grown to know cast as mostly contrasting roles while elements of their true personality still peek through.
For instance, Uhura's ascension from eager cadet to the formidable enemy, Queen Neve, is gorgeous in its scope and dramatic in its divergence from her normal circumstances.
But the deeper interpretation is that Uhura has shown herself quite capable in all the starship departments in which she has worked and could easily command it all one day.
La'an's recasting as the helpless and incredibly affectionate Princess Thalia is a hilarious turn for the hardened Security Chief. However, if you were paying attention, Thalia has a bloodthirsty bent that belies her operatic swooning.
Ortegas/Adya: My king, the princess is right. If you are not prepared to use the power of the stone, then allow me to lead an attack against the Crimson Guard. Their heads will roll.
M’Benga: Perhaps we could refrain from any unnecessary head-chopping.
La’an/Thalia: Oh. That’s disappointing.
Ortegas, as Sir Adya, demonstrates all the loyalty and ability our favorite helmsman has proven herself to have. However, her clear disdain for Rauth/Pike is a noticeable difference from their true relationship.
Pike/Rauth: As Chamberlain, the king’s health is my greatest concern.
Ortegas/Adya: Your words could polish the finest of apples, Sir Rauth. Perhaps they are better suited to the kitchen.
Of course, Pike and Spock's characters are two of the most dissimilar from their starship personas.
Pike as Rauth is cowardly and conniving. If you were to squint at it sideways, you could argue both are good at finding a means to an end. Squint hard.
Spock, as Pollux, is an unscrupulous liar. Even more divergent from Spock, Pollux betrays his brother with glee. (Consider the implications of that in light of the Sybok reveal on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 7.)
Spock/Pollux: Why should I help you?
M’Benga: Because Castor is your brother?
Pike/Rauth: He is?
Ortegas/Adya: I had no idea.
Spock/Pollux: How did you know?
M’Benga: I read it in a book.
Of the crew, Chapel and Una seem to draw Elysian characters most similar to themselves in function.
Of course, Healer Chapel is a lot more holistic and empathic than Nurse Chapel. But the healer is equally quick on the uptake and ready to help anyone in need.
Una as The Huntress, Ximera, takes her sweet time making an appearance. Granted, it's her interactions -- highly entertaining ones, I may add -- with Adya that tip M'Benga off that Rukiya is the source of the narrative.
Beyond the fabulous costuming and clever repurposing of the ship's settings for the Elysian Kingdom, this is a fairy tale solution for M'Benga's desperate search for a way to save his daughter from death.
During the press day interviews before the premiere, Ethan Peck cited the show's executive producer (and co-creator and writer) Akiva Goldsman as describing the Strange New Worlds as "serialized emotion" carried through the episodic, standalone adventures.
In bringing Rukiya's story to a conclusion, we see that her introduction on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 3 and the evidence of her loneliness on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 6 are carefully calculated inclusions designed to build our affection for the child and our sympathy for M'Benga.
Serialized emotion, indeed.
The consistent activity of M'Benga reading The Kingdom of Elysian to her is also a key piece to the fidelity of this adventure.
However, there is a delightful Easter Egg in our first glimpse of the book's cover.
The author is Benny Russell. Did you hear that roar, Fanatics? Did you cheer along with the Deep Space Niners out there recognizing Sisko's vision-world identity?
How meta is it that Russell, last seen incarcerated in an institution trying to finish his story, wrote the very story that frees Rukiya from her life in the transporter buffer? I got chills, I tell you. CHILLS.
Furthermore, Rukiya's dream of writing a better ending perfectly encapsulates the unlimited potential of a child's imagination.
While M'Benga is mired by the reality and impossibility of curing her illness, she believes in all the possibilities. And I truly believe that is why the possibilities find her.
Rukiya: I hate this part!
M’Benga: But you wanted me to read it to you.
Rukiya: I know. It’s just I always wished The Huntress would come along and help. Y’know, like get together with Sir Adya and rescue the king.
M’Benga: But that’s not what happens. King Ridley is forced to choose. Give up his greatest weapon…
Rukiya: The Mercury Stone.
M’Benga: … or rescue Princess Thalia.
Rukia: I know, but what if we could change the ending?
M’Benga: Someday, when you are grown-up, you will write your own stories, and you can have any ending you like.
The parallelism between King Ridley's dilemma with the Mercury Stone and M'Benga's internal struggle with letting Rukiya go is heady stuff.
The vague descriptions of the Mercury Stone mask the true nature of King Ridley's greatest resource.
You know how in the story King Ridley has The Mercury Stone? He wants to keep it. It protects him, makes him happy. Until he learns that it has a soul and that it will die if he holds onto it. He has to let it go. Even though it means he won’t be happy anymore. You’re my Mercury Stone.M’Benga
Revealing that King Ridley has to let go of the Mercury Stone in order for it to live brings the two situations into stark relief suddenly and with significant effect.
Ultimately, the scene that stamps this venture as a genuinely fantastical and superlatively concluded tale is Rukiya's return as a grown woman.
M'Benga is granted what no parent ever gets; confirmation and reassurance that he made the right choice for his child.
I’m happy. I’m safe. You did the right thing. Someday, we’ll see each other again, I know we will. But you have to live your own life now, create your own stories. Promise me you’ll be happy.Rukiya
Parents are faced all the time -- every day of their children's lives -- with self-doubt and the insecurity that their decisions will ruin their offspring's future.
Every parent must let their child choose their own path one day, as M'Benga did.
No other parent gets to know within seconds that it all worked out perfectly.
As a parent myself, I don't begrudge him that peace of mind. I do envy it, though.
As a fictional feature, Rukiya's entire denouement is conceptually thrilling.
From living alone in the transporter buffer in a body that fails her to being able to take any form she likes!
M’Benga: There must be another way.
Nebula Entity: There is. You could leave and she could stay.
M’Benga: How would she live?
Nebula Entity: It is her body that is ill. But her consciousness could join with me. She would be free of sickness. She will never know death.
One might wonder if human consciousness is built for eternity. The question is if Rukiya's imagination has any limits. Ennui is only a possibility if she runs out of things to explore. I personally hope her creativity is as neverending as her lifespan.
As for M'Benga, there may always be a Rukiya-shaped hole in his heart, but it will heal faster knowing she is safe and happy and always out there.
What are your thoughts on this happiest of happy endings?
What would you give for a Short Trek episode showing Adya and Ximera's earlier adventures together?
Drop your most fantastical imaginings (um, maybe keep it PG?) into our comments!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.