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Star Trek Strange New Worlds: Under the Cloak of War

There are a lot of good Star Trek stories about the horrors of war that are easy to follow and make a valid point. This is not one of them.

I'm not saying there wasn't a lot of good stuff here. Exploring the horrors of the Klingon-Federation war and its lasting effect on M'Benga and Chapel was dramatically sound. I thought the M*A*S*H scenes with the futuristic tents, meatball surgery and "incoming transport" in place of incoming helicopters were all good.

And they were trying hard to give us shades of gray, and I like that. I know our heroes aren't perfect. Doctors aren't just doctors; they're intelligent, complicated people with diverse experiences and interests. There's nothing wrong, and probably a lot right, about giving M'Benga such a violent and morally challenged past. And yes, I'm sure the writers went in this direction because Babs Olusanmokun has a martial arts background and they wanted to use it.

It was the writing at fault here, not the acting – and specifically, what they did with Ambassador Dak'Rah. We never learned what was really going on with this soft-spoken, diplomatic Klingon who was constantly apologizing for the evils of the Klingon Empire. Was he genuinely repentant, or was he playing a long game?

What I wanted for Dak'Rah was something with the depth of Harris Yulin's character in Deep Space Nine's "Duet," and we didn't get it. What a waste of Robert Wisdom, a great actor from The Wire.

By not showing us what happened between M'Benga and Dak'Rah behind that screen in Sick Bay, I think the writers were trying for what happened with Data in "The Most Toys." But the thing is, in "The Most Toys," we had taken an emotional journey with Data during his captivity, and we knew what an utter monster Fajo was. Dak'Rah had praised Aenar pacifism, had tried repeatedly to connect with Enterprise's war veterans; he didn't even react in anger when Spock accidentally burned his hand with the raktajino. It simply didn't feel to me like Dak'Rah was the appropriate target for M'Benga's rage.

Were we really supposed to believe that Dak'Rah turned on M'Benga in the end, and M'Benga killed him in self-defense? How could we? It was M'Benga's knife, and ultimately M'Benga's frame job. Will this be a one-off? Or will there be consequences for M'Benga somewhere down the line?

My second biggest complaint was the Pike character assassination. Pike always puts his crew first. Always. No matter how high-up the orders came from, I couldn't swallow Pike ordering M'Benga, Chapel and Ortegas to socialize with Ambassador Dak'Rah. Yes, let's traumatize our veterans and make them dredge up their PTSD, shall we? I also didn't quite believe that Pike would cover up the murder of an ambassador, even if he did always put his crew first.

My third complaint is that I found the episode hard to follow. I wasn't even sure what had happened until I watched it a second time. Too many cuts between the flashbacks and the present day? Too much darkness? Or was the muddiness and the plot ambiguity the point?

The uncomfortable Spock/Chapel love affair didn't work for me this time, either. Spock noticed how Chapel felt and tried to help, and she rejected his attempts. Why would she do that? Because of what happened in the previous episode when she realized her relationship with him would be fleeting? Wouldn't it be more in character for Chapel to go to Spock for comfort instead of pushing him away?


— Stardate 1875.4, the Prospero System. The Kelcie Mae brought Ambassador Rah to Enterprise so that they could transport him to Starbase 12. The flashbacks took place "a few years ago" on the moon J'Gal.

— M'Benga and Chapel met for the first time and almost instantly bonded. She even encouraged him to go kill the Klingon warlords.

— Buck Martinez, the chief medical officer in the flashbacks, was played by Clint Howard, a major-league Star Trek veteran. He was in the original series when he was a child, as well as an episode each of Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Discovery. I wish they'd given him something more substantial to do.

— M'Benga loaded the critically injured Alvarado into the transporter's pattern buffer, just like he did with his daughter. And then he pushed the button that killed Alvarado when the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the one.

— I liked the one-eyed Andorian who kept trying to get M'Benga to kill for them. I would have liked more about him and the organization he represented.

— Was Pike's green wrap-around uniform tunic a much darker shade of green, or was it the lighting?

— Deltan parsley is delicious but fatal in excessive amounts.

— Babs Olusanmokun definitely deserved gold acting stars for this episode.


Uhura: "A former enemy speaking on our behalf? It's incredible."
Ortegas: "Or it's a long con to gain access to Federation secrets."

Ortegas: "Put on the Starfleet face?"
M'Benga: "It's a good face. Plus, Pike made jambalaya."

M'Benga: "Some things break in a way that can never be repaired. Only managed."
The biobed that kept breaking down was a way too transparent metaphor for M'Benga himself.

I've been a major cheerleader for this show, and actually feel bad that I didn't like this one. But they can't hit it out of the park every time. Two out of four way-too-hot raktajinos,

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


  1. I did get the impression that Rah attacked first in sickbay. M'Benga was the one to escalate that argument and turn it violent. When Chapel was telling Pike about it I got vibes that she was covering for the doctor.

  2. Good review. Helped me understand some details I missed. It was a good, but strangely uncompelling episode. Not nearly as memorable as TOS episode “A Taste of Armageddon.”

    Kirk: “Death, destruction, disease, horror. That's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided." That quote stayed with me all these years.

  3. Whoa. Just gotta say, I’m looking forward to your next review! 😳


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