‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” Shows Pike at His Worst
“Lift us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” is the “weird kid” episode! Can Star Trek: Strange New Worlds succeed where other Treks have failed?
Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the show debuted arguably the best body swap episode in the history of the franchise. In addition to proving the show is funny on top of everything else, “Spock Amok” continued the show’s perfect streak. Every episode so far has been good to great! But, Mon Capitaine, my understanding is that all good things must come to an end.
To Boldly Recap
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds begins “Lift us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” with the Enterprise is on a cartographic mission in the Majalan System when they receive a distress call from a shuttlecraft under attack. Enterprise responds and finds themselves under fire by the same attack cruiser firing on the shuttlecraft. Unsurprisingly, Enterprise, the bigger ship, chases the cruiser off and beams the shuttle passengers aboard.
Three people beam in: a young boy dubbed “The First Servant,” the boy’s biological father Elder Gamal, and a woman named Alora. It turns out Alora knows Captain Pike from back in his lieutenant days. The two seem pretty sweet on one another! All three people are from the planet Majalis, a world which is extremely advanced, but also very secretive. Alora does not want an investigation into the attack on her vessel, but Starfleet regulations require it.
However, the big to-do on the ship revolves around Gamal and the First Servant. The First Servant is injured in the attack, but Gamal is able to heal him easily. Majalis is more medically advanced than Starfleet by A LOT. And Dr. M’Benga immediately wonders if they might be able to help his daughter Rukiya. Unfortunately, the Majalins do not share their technology with off-worlders.
Cadet Uhura shifts from duty roster to duty roster on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. This week she’s La’an’s security assistant! The two (along with Spock and Alora) investigate the remnants of the attack cruiser. They find two things of note: what appears to be a neural dampener in a child’s size and an oath coin. Alora insists she does not recognize the former, but the latter she knows all too well. The oath coin is held by the First Servant’s security guards. In other words: one of the guards is in on this attack.
Uhura, La’an, and Spock return to the ship. Pike and Alora kick it to Majalis to try and track the offending security guard. Alora tracks the offending guard quickly and he insists he is saving the First Servant not harming him. Alora kills the guard before he can kill her. Then Pike and Alora have sex. Yup! Pike tells Alora about how he’s going to get medically thrashed in ten years and she says she can help provided Pike becomes a citizen of Majalis. Pike seems like he’s considering it!
Back on the Enterprise, La’an has a ton of loose data chips she wants Uhura to enter into the computer and translate. And since Uhura is a real one, she translates everything and then some. It turns out that the attack cruiser isn’t owned by some mysterious, alien race. The ship is owned by people who originated from Majalis and moved away from the paradise planet. Why? Good question!
The First Servant’s No Good, Very Bad Day
Elder Gamal takes the First Servant to the transporter because he wants to return to Majalis. Instead, they both wind up on another attack cruiser – for a moment. Gamal is immediately beamed back but the First Servant is still on board. Enterprise puts the ship in a tracker beam, but the ship tries to escape anyway, destroying itself in the process.
Alora flips out. She tells Pike that, without the First Servant, Majalis is doomed. Not to worry, though. It turns out the First Servant is actually hidden on the Enterprise – by Gamal. Weird, right? Gamal goes to the brig and Pike takes the First Servant back to Majalis.
Gamal is helping the people on the attack cruiser because he wants to save his son. Una finds out the whole story from Gamal but Pike is conveniently out of communication range. On Majalis, Pike joins Alora and the First Servant for their sacred ceremony. It turns out that uh… the First Servant gets plugged into a robot chair of doom where he suffers immeasurably agony until he burns to death. We know this because they show the previous First Servant’s charred corpse.
As you might imagine, Pike absolutely hates this, tells Alora she and her culture are super duper messed up. She gives him the ol’ “don’t children suffer on your world” speech. And Pike, predictably tells her that the Federation doesn’t use children’s bodies as some kind of Cronenberg engine. Alora insists there’s no other way! She doesn’t even know who created the tech originally! Not her fault! Pike throws deuces and beams away. And that’s basically how this episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ends!
To Boldly Review
Woof. After five really solid episodes Star Trek: Strange New Worlds goes from hopeful to dark as night with disastrous results. I expect a lot of fans will scratch their head’s at this negative review. After all, “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” does, in many ways, exactly what every previous Strange New Worlds episode does before it. “What’s up with this kid” is a well worn Trek trope just like all the tropes this new series has used so far.
Here’s the problem: “What’s up with this kid” as a trope rarely (if ever) serves Star Trek well. And it is doubly not good when you incorporate child suffering. For the Star Trek lifers, I want to drop some episode titles on you: “Charlie X,” “Miri,” “Justice,” and “When the Bough Breaks“. Every single one of these are episodes has a focus on kids and none of them are very good. Some of them are outright terrible.
What’s the saying? Never work with kids or animals? But while I would contend that many of those older Trek episodes suffer specifically because of rough child actor performances, what really hurts “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” is the uncomfortable predictability of the story and the deeply unlikable characterizations.
(Bad) Villains Ruin Everything
From the very second Alora beams onto the Enterprise it is painfully obvious that she is bad news. In fact, this entire situation is obviously bad news. The First Servant seems indoctrinated, his father is clearly upset, and Alora basically screams “I AM HIDING SOMETHING” with every breath. And she is hiding something! She’s going to kill that kid horribly! And I think most people pick up on that immediately which makes the whole mystery of “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” entirely unmysterious.
Last week’s episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds features a canny Captain Pike shrewdly usher an unsure civilization into the Federation. Pike is a smart guy who is only occasionally blinded by his desire to do the right thing. So why is Pike so completely bamboozled by Alora at every turn? Pike is into Alora and apparently has had these feelings for a decade. But so what! If Pike can intuit how to utilize empathy with the R’ongovians, he can tell that Alora is up to no good.
Instead, Pike follows Alora around like a kid with a crush. Alora kills a man in front of Pike and then he sleeps with her! He even tells Alora his whole tragic future and contemplates becoming a citizen of her world! Why? This can’t be because Pike needs to, as Lewis Black once said of Bill Clinton, get his winky whacked. Pike has sex with Wynonna freakin’ Earp in the pilot! Pike is not hard up for lovin’. Every choice he makes runs counter to everything we as an audience know about him.
In the previouslies, we see Pike’s fate again as Star Trek‘s most tragic burn victim. And then, at the end of the episode, Pike sees the previous First Servant’s body all burned to hell. Oh no! Seeing a roasted baby reminds Pike that this whole situation is wrong! Are you kidding me? Pike should not need to see a pan-seared tween to feel sickened by this situation. And yet someone decided we, the audience, just had to see one mutilated kid’s body and then, promptly after, watch the other kid suffer the beginnings of the same fate.
But wait! This episode isn’t complete until Alora gives the ol’ “we’re not so different, you and I” speech. Because don’t people all over the Federation allow children to suffer? No, ma’am. This is the hopeful future and the whole point of Star Trek is that it sets an example for us in the present to aspire to. That is why Star Trek exists.
And real quick: Alora says that there’s no alternative here. For some reason, the Majalins live on a planet of burning lava and their forebearers decided to build protective technology around the suffering of children. And there’s no alternative because nothing else works. I get that sometimes Star Trek needs to get a little hand-wavey with the science, but seriously? This is bad writing. Someone started with this bad concept and then utterly failed to work backwards from it.
In the end, this idea simply isn’t worth seeing to completion.
La’an and Uhura
A bad episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds feels worse precisely because it’s usually so good! And the reason I dislike “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” so much is because I like these characters a lot and I know they deserve better. So as a parting note, I want to hone in on the aspect of this episode I did like: Uhura shadowing La’an in security.
Once again, Uhura is an MVP stand out. And once again, it’s not because she’s instantly great at everything. In point of fact, La’an repeatedly gives Uhura a bad time for not being good at security! It’s only when La’an shifts Uhura’s responsibilities to translating alien text that Uhura pulls everyone’s butts from the fire (except for that one kid who burns terribly).
Even though La’an is technically new to the Enterprise, everyone already seems to know her shtick when it comes to bugging cadets and ensigns. And the mix between Ortegas and Una joking about La’an and La’an actually being a good boss makes her more likable than ever.
I don’t have any fun observations for this episode, beyond saying I am glad it is over. Oh, and I’m also glad Dr. M’Benga has new technology to maybe help save his daughter in the future. That’s something! Next week, Spock meets a nonbinary person who gets one of the best costumes in Star Trek history. Thank goodness.
Until then, this is your humble recapper signing off. Live long and prosper!