Strange New Worlds’ “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach” in Review
After the difference in tone between the action and thrills of “Memento Mori” a fortnight ago and the lightness and hijinks of “Spock Amok” last week, we have another complete change of tone for this week’s episode, “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach”. But is it a change in quality?
Cadet Uhura has rotated into La’an’s student in security, which sadly deprives us of the chemistry she’s had with Hemmer; but Celia Rose Gooding’s take on the character is working so well that she’s becoming very much an audience viewpoint/identification character. The cadet rotation thing is a logical way to use that viewpoint to show us different foci aboard the ship. Naturally, she becomes involved both as our POV and a linguist when the Enterprise answers a distress call in the Majalan system. The crew is tasked with rescuing a boy (played by Ian Ho from The Expanse); his father, Elder Gamal (Huse Madhavji from Saving Hope); and their leader, Alora (Lindy Booth from The Librarians) from an attack on their shuttle.
We soon learn that Pike met lora when he rescued her a decade earlier from a shuttle threatened by a pulsar. The Majalans are a more technologically advanced race than any in the Federation, of which they are not a member. This gives us an interesting, opposite perspective to how the Prime Directive and the Federation’s laws work – in which the Federation are the less developed culture. The Majalan child has been selected to be the “First Servant”, an important social figure in the same way the Dalai Lamas are chosen; but with the rationalistic twist that the Majalan creed is devoted to science, service, and sacrifice rather than to religious hagiography.
Soon, however, it becomes clear that others in the system have a grudge against the Majalan way, and someone wants to kidnap this scientific holy child. This development leads to a nice mix of mystery and tension, with familiar dramatic tropes from the franchise being reversed and played out in interesting new ways. Meanwhile, M’Benga is tempted with the possibility that the Majalans’ more advanced medical science may be able to help his daughter. This is a nice reminder of his character’s motivations, which Babs Olusanmokun sells so perfectly.
The focus of the episode follows the attempts to get the boy to his ascension ceremony. His father, Elder Gamal, is already reluctant, and now mysterious forces from a neighbouring alien colony are trying to kidnap the child to cause the downfall of Majalan society. Literally, in fact. The First Servant is vital to keeping the series of city blocks, held aloft in the air above a lava-strewn surface, from crashing down. Visually this is a treat, conceptually similar to Stratos from “The Cloud Minders” in TOS. Although in this case, the design is more akin to Naboo in the Star Wars universe, or – and this is far from its only connection to the rival franchise – Centauri Prime in Babylon 5. The episode is directed and edited spectacularly well, juggling an impressive mixture of plot strands with everyone having something to offer and something to hide.
When the boy is kidnapped, there’s a race against time to find out where he has gone. There is a pleasantly surprising resolution, though it’s not so surprising that his father Gamal is involved, since he had been opposed to losing the boy to First Servant status. With neither the Prime Directive nor Federation laws applying, Gamal has nothing to lose and no motivation to share anything with an inferior culture. But even he has something to offer to the neighbouring colony when their true nature as Majalan splinters is revealed. His royal guard co-conspirator is less lucky, though he does get to wield a cool staff weapon of which any Stargate’s Jaffa would envy.
It’s all very dramatic, of course, but the promotional synopsis text suggests this story is about the love of Pike’s life, which implies Vina from “The Cage”. She’s not in it, though, and what we’re given is a tense and changing reunion with Alora. There’s no sign in the dialogue that he considers her the love of his life. He does, however, get to do a Kirk thing (speaking of whom, Sam has a brief scene to remind us he’s still aboard) and bed Alora. Considering the events that divide them, this could be viewed as he being the love of Alora’s life, which makes for a rather tragic arc for her. The development proves that there’s nowhere suffering can’t reach, referencing both the title and Gamal’s mission statement. Then again, we can also see that the true love of Pike’s life is his shared core values with the Federation. Either way, Anson Mount really shows us the anger, horror, and sheer disgust of Pike so well. He really does echo some of what we see of Jeffrey Hunter’s version in “The Cage”.
The pivotal moment is perfectly timed, coming – depending on how sharp the viewer is, or how familiar they are with Babylon 5 – either as a total surprise or just after it dawns, confirming a growing sense of horror at what is about to transpire next. Why Babylon 5? Because what’s happening is basically the Great Machine from that show, only with a turn taken from the Dalek battle computer in Doctor Who’s “Remembrance of the Daleks”. If you’re not familiar with those, stay that way until after seeing this episode! These reviews are necessarily spoilery, but this twist deserves a sporting chance to take you by surprise.
There’s little triumph to savour for our heroes this week. But M’Benga and his daughter have received the first sliver of hope, and the audience gets a proper hard SF story with several interwoven threads of emotional heart and thought-provoking quandaries. This is what SF ought to be, and what Star Trek in particular aspires to be. This week, it succeeds in spades.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.