Strange New Worlds‘ “The Elysian Kingdom” in Review
While the Enterprise is studying the Jonisian Nebula, M’Benga reads his daughter Rukiya her favourite book, The Kingdom of Elysian. She doesn’t like the way it ends, with Chamberlain Rauth siding with the evil Queen Neve and forcing King Ridley to choose between giving up his greatest weapon, the Mercury Stone, or rescuing the captive Princess Thalia, instead of the Huntress and Sir Adya teaming up to save the day. If Rukiya grows up, they can change the ending… Okay, we can see where this episode is going.
M’Benga is also still working on treatments for his daughter, and one blows up in his face. When the crew tries to bring the ship back out of the nebula, the vessel bucks as its engine fails, knocking Ortegas over the helm. Pike calls for M’Benga, who finds the bridge draped in Elysian flags, Pike as Chamberlain Rauth, and himself wearing King Ridley’s outfit…
In any other Trek series, someone would be looking for Q or checking the Holodeck controls, but it takes M’Benga a surprisingly long time to wonder if he’s hallucinating from the chemicals that blew up in his face. What he does quickly realise is that everyone except himself is now behaving as the characters from the book, who we meet in sequence. All of them are following the book characters’ goals, are displaying their attitudes, and are after the Mercury Stone.
Sir Adya turns out to be Ortegas, in a lovely frock coat outfit, with a longsword she’s eager to use. Yeah, helm officer and swords – someday, that’s what will probably give Sulu the seal of approval! Ortegas/Adya gets a good fight scene too, and is utterly awesome in all ways. Chapel is a witchy healer not far off Reg Barclay’s version of Deanna Troi in TNG, Princess Thalia is a vain and shallow La’an, Spock is an evil wizard, Uhura is the evil Queen Neve. All have delusions of fantasyhood, and all have elevated dopamine levels. The only other person aboard who doesn’t believe themselves to be a character in the book is Hemmer, who, thanks to actor Bruce Horak, is actually even more of the wizard that the book’s plot needs him to be than he would be if his persona was switched. Basically, he and Melissa Navia’s Ortegas get all the best scenes, while Babs Olusanmokun holds the whole thing together. Frankly, I’d be happy to see a spinoff with these three, so long as Navia can keep the outfit and longsword.
Anyway, it’s not actually long before Rukiya turns out to be on the loose, outside of the medical transport buffer, and gets captured. She, of course, is the Mercury Stone. I say “actually” there because it feels a lot longer than it is, with all the corridor-wandering and repeated low-key confrontations and betrayals. It doesn’t help that this is very obviously the budget-saving bottle show on the standing sets, and no amount of dry ice and plastic vines can hide that. It makes the ship look strangely underpopulated too, with very few extras. It feels like hours before we finally get to see who Una plays, and it’s the Huntress, a typical fantasy-elven-looking archer, who gets two or three scenes only, though bonus points for her and Ortegas’ vibes.
Of course, the Huntress teaming up with Sir Adya is the ending Rukiya wanted to create, so it’s not that surprising that the scenario is powered from her and M’Benga’s minds by an external force; M’Benga works that out from the elevated dopamine levels, while Hemmer was immune because of Aenar telepathic abilities. He’s able to act as a conduit for M’Benga to talk to the power behind it all, which turns out to be a noncorporeal sentience in the nebula. It wanted to help Rukiya because they were both alone. Now, M’Benga has to decide how to give up his Mercury Stone, by allowing Rukiya to ascend to be like the other being. It’s a really emotional and heartaching sequence, if unoriginal, and gives a beautiful closure to that arc in the season.
The music is also beautiful, though not all of the performances are. Actors, when called upon to play evil or possessed or otherwise weird alternates of their regular characters, often use it as an excuse to overact. La’an and Una become one-dimensional ciphers, and the performers stick to that too truly (we could blame script or direction too), Anson Mount veers into Shatner territory… Ethan Peck gets away with it, giving the best and underplayed alternate.
You can say the characters are from a children’s book, and they may be fitting in with that, but sadly the otherwise standout Celia Rose Gooding seems to not actually give us even that. On TNG, DS9 or Voyager, the fantasy story would have been one of two parallel stories, but here it isn’t and that hurts it. The outcome, though predictable (it’s Gene‘s “the crew meet a god who is a child”) is awesome and beautifully done, needed to be able to switch away to something else to part out the important bits, because – while there are awesome scenes (Hemmer’s wizardry, Adya’s fight) – there’s also a lot of repetitive bickering between one-note characters.
There are also some great nods to other episodes – it feels very like a Voyager episode in so many ways, and you could search/replace the characters, and it’d still play the same – and to other fantasy epics: Hemmer and Spock as the twin wizards are Dragonlance’s Raistlin split into one wizard.
Overall, fun, needed a B-story, is hurt by being the obvious bottle show, and there are some goofs when windows show a moving starfield instead of the surrounding nebula, but when I give it a middle/average score, that’s more reflection on how great the series is, that an episode with so much going for it can be the most average.
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.