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Star Trek Strange New Worlds: Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach

"Do you freely choose your fate?"

Unexpectedly upsetting.

"The Lottery." Yes, I got it. That disturbing short story is famous for a reason. We're all aware that deep down, we're superstitious beings that can justify the suffering and sacrifice of others for the sake of our own safety and prosperity. This episode was even worse because the little boy selected by lottery didn't just get stoned to death. That would have been a mercy.

It's an unspoken convention in television that you can put a child in danger as long as they're saved in the end. SNW just broke that convention. I have to give them a lot of credit for giving us such a hard core story with an excruciating and insoluble moral dilemma.

From the beginning, the "First Servant" thing felt off, and note that the boy didn't even have a name of his own. The kidnapping by the "aliens" made no sense. We were led to think that Elder Gamal, the boy's biological father, was up to something evil. But no, Gamal wanted to save his son from a fate literally worse than death, and he failed. If he had told Pike the truth up front and asked for sanctuary, he could have saved his son. Twenty twenty hindsight.

So many questions. How did the machine work? If their tradition had been broken, would the planet have indeed been overrun by lava? I was expecting that to be the denouement, by the way, with the sacrifice not made in time resulting in nothing happening on Majalis.

Ascension to the "throne" was voluntary (and sadly, did not involve a giant snake). But how can a child so young choose to do this? Would it have been more palatable if the chosen one had been old? If it were animals being sacrificed? The boy was so smart and caring, too, understanding complex scientific theories and able to create gaseous hopscotch for M'Benga's daughter Rukiya. He could have had such a good, productive life.


It's interesting that they combined this unbelievably awful child sacrifice plot with a Kirk-like old flame alien romance for Captain Pike. Minister Alora seemed genuinely kind at first, a hottie of a face alien who even offered to let Pike stay on Majalis as her honey just for her medical benefits.

(The First Servant story connected well with Pike's, of course. Just like that little boy, Pike has a future of unbearable suffering. No escape for Pike, either.)

But actress Lindy Booth was so good that we could see Alora was deeply conflicted. The Majalans didn't join the Federation for a reason; she knew her culture was poisonous even while drinking the Kool-aid. Which also explained why the Prospect 7 colonists would choose an almost unlivable L-class planet over a paradise with sky gardens and castles in the air. And why they called Majalis a "floating hell."

The Majalans had managed to cure all diseases, but they refused to share their cure with outworlders. (They're just pips, aren't they? And I just realized that the quantum-bio implant in the First Servant's head would keep him alive and suffering even longer. Omigod. Make it worse, won't you?) When Elder Gamal couldn't save his own son, he made a noble choice: to join the Prospect 7 colonists and try to prevent the next child from becoming First Servant, and to give M'Benga as much help as possible with Rukiya.


There were a couple of lighter plot elements I enjoyed. Like the way everyone imitated La'an and her "lessons of security" out of obvious affection for her. And I very much liked La'an not taking credit for Uhura's accomplishment. I didn't like La'an at all at first, and now she's become a favorite.

Finally, what was with Pike's hair? It is really, really tall, to the point where it distracted me from the episode. Is he channeling Michael Burnham's hairdo in the early seasons of Star Trek: Discovery?



Bits:

— Stardate 1943.7. A routine cartographic survey of the Majalan system, where Pike rescued Alora from a pulsar ten years ago.

— There was a woman named Mitchell at navigation. Any relation to Gary Mitchell? Just a small homage?

— It was foreshadowing that they kept showing the First Servant in a biobed, just like M'Benga's terminally ill daughter, Rukiya.

— Pike and Spock have now both had romantic scenes with their shirts off. Oddly, the way the bed scene with Alora was shot made it look like the bottom half of Pike's body was missing. Was that coincidence? More foreshadowing?

— Lieutenant Kirk was in one brief scene where he said he was "conflict-averse."

— There's a messy corridor on the Enterprise? Really? Never seen a messy corridor on the Enterprise before.

— This week's original series homework is "A Taste of Armageddon," an excellent episode with something of the flavor of this one but with a happier ending.

— I should also mention "The Cloud Minders," a poor original series episode that had castles in the air. Clearly, any time a civilization has castles in the air, it's a bad thing. Bespin wasn't as nice as it seemed, either.

Quotes, which were mostly La'an's "lessons of security":

Pike: (lesson one) "A Rigelian tiger pounces with no warning."
I loved Pike doing it with La'an's accent.

Ortegas: (lesson two) "There are no breaks in security because threats never take breaks."

La'an: (to Uhura) "Congratulations. You just flunked lesson three of security. 'Let your tricorder do the investigating.'"

La'an: "Lesson six of security: Know when to bend the rules."

Una: "They're ignoring us."
Ortegas: "I'll remind them we're bigger."

La'an: "I think my promising young cadet just demonstrated lesson seven of security on you. 'Leave no stone unturned.' I usually require cadets to look under Mugatan breathing stones for that one."
Uhura: (making a face) "Eecchh."
La'an: "That won't be necessary."

Pike: "Your whole civilization... all your... This. It's all founded on the suffering of a child."
Alora: "Can you honestly say that no child suffers for the benefit of your Federation? That no child lives in poverty or squalor, while those who enjoy abundance look away?"

I didn't want to rewatch this one because the end was so disturbing, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. And I can now state that when you know what's coming, it's an impressive episode. Four out of four oath coins,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

4 comments:

  1. I spent the whole episode expecting Pike to find a way to save the boy. The ending broke my heart but in some ways I was glad they didn't take the easy way out.

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  2. Reality will always be bigger than our rules, especially the Prime Directive, the most broken rule in SciFi. Good stories, like this one, dive into that gap between rule and reality. And It can get ugly in there.

    Pike wanted to interfere but was restrained by both guards and the PD. I wonder how other captains would have handled this. I think Kirk, Burnham, and probably Sisco would have said damn the PD and rescued the First Servant, for better or worse.

    One key here seems to be in the child's (implausible?) knowing acquiescence. The writers could have changed the stakes by making FS unwilling to be sacrificed. That might have made a rescue plan more ethical but would have still violated the PD, and made for a lesser story. Like you and Shari, I applaud SNW for not taking the easy way out. Plus the FS is not only willing but also an off the charts genius, not a blissfully unaware innocent, complicating things further.

    So far I like how they are handling Pike's foreknowledge of his own living death. It adds a layer of depth to his character and to relevant stories without being the elephant in the room. SNW being a standalone rather than serial drama is an asset here.

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  3. I too liked the "hard core" (nice phrasing!) of the episode. If hadn't thought about the Lottery in connection with this because I kept thinking about "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" (an Ursula K. Le Guin short story). You should definitely check it out if you haven't, it's a quick read! (The episode toes the line a bit of being a too straight an adaptation that it's awkward but everything you pointed out about the execution of the episode saves it from feeling entirely ripped-off.)

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  4. coluanprime, I don't know that LeGuin story -- will have to check it out.

    Shari and milostanfield, yes, indeed. I was both pleased and bummed that they didn't take the easy way out.

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