This episode of Strange New Worlds, written by Akela Cooper & Onitra Johnson and directed by Amanda Row, is infused with a fairytale twist. Doctor M’Benga’s story takes center stage, and it will be interesting to see his character arc going forward, given the episode’s rewarding trajectory.
We begin with the Enterprise crew wrapping up a routine mission surveying the Josian Nebula. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) gives the command to head to the nearest starbase. However, the ship’s warp drive fails, and they suddenly realize they’re unable to leave. The crew makes another attempt using the impulse engines, which jolts the ship, causing Ortegas (Melissa Navia) to blackout.
Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), who’d been distracted while attempting to cure his dying daughter, is summoned from sickbay to attend to Ortegas. Rukiya questions her father about her regular bedtime story: “What if we could change the ending?” M’Benga tells her she can write her own stories with any ending she chooses when she grows up before returning her to the pattern buffer.
Once Upon a Time
When M’Benga arrives on the bridge, something is amiss. The Enterprise has somehow assumed the medieval setting of Rukiya’s favorite fairytale, “The Elysian Kingdom,” and the crew no longer answers to their names. M’Benga meets the transformed team members; he figures out that Captain Pike is role-playing as the smarmy Sir Roth (with an amusing coif), Ortegas as the pugnacious Sir Adya, and that he is the gallant King Ridley.
Thinking he must be hallucinating, M’Benga decides to scan himself, proceeding to sickbay with the two ‘knights.’ His outpost is now an enchanted forest presided over by the witchy Lady Audrey Chapel. His scans read as normal. However, Chapel’s scan reveals her dopamine is at elevated levels.
La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), role-playing as Princess Talia (with a matching pooch, Princess Runa), shows up to warn the others about the evil Queen Neve (Uhura/ Celia Rose Gooding), who has seized control of her kingdom. She also reveals that the evil Queen plans to steal King Ridley’s Mercury Stone, but M’Benga doesn’t know where it is. Talia’s (La’an) scan also reveals higher than normal dopamine levels.
They witness Hemmer (Caster the Wizard/ Bruce Horak) being dragged away by Neve’s Crimson Guard. On their way to rescue the wizard, they encounter Pollux (Spock/ Ethan Peck) Caster’s brother, who agrees to show them a secret path. M’Benga tells Adya that Pollux can’t be trusted. However, this is their only means to find and free Caster. M’Benga’s anticipation of their capture is part of his plan to join Caster (Hemmer), who appears unaffected by the strange event.
There’s another reason M’Benga is eager to reach the wizard: in Rukiya’s book, it’s Castor who helps King Ridley find the Mercury Stone.
M’Benga and Caster trade notes, and we learn Caster (Hemmer) is immune due to his telepathic abilities. When the crew became trapped in the nebula, he felt a “consciousness” trying to merge with his but used his training to block it.
Caster (Hemmer) uses powerful magic to free the group, but Neve sends the Crimson Guard on their trail. Adya valiantly jumps into combat. Number One (Rebecca Romijn) arrives as Z’ymira the Huntress, taking down the remaining Guards and joining the party as they head to engineering.
Turning the Page
Caster (Hemmer) surmises that the entity within the nebula operates similarly to a Boltzmann brain. He assumes it must be the “consciousness” that has pushed into M’Benga’s mind to alter the Enterprise’s reality. M’Benga realizes the entity has tapped into Zukiya’s consciousness, where she is actively rewriting the story.
M’Benga reunites with Rukiya, who’s been watching her dad navigate the altered reality. She advises him that her “friend” has cured her. Caster (Hemmer) offers to act as a medium so M’Benga can directly communicate with the entity. It tells the Chief Medical Officer that it was lonely before it met Rukiya and urges him to let her stay.
It reveals that it sensed Rukiya’s loneliness inside the pattern buffer (no place for a child and one that she loathes) and cured her of her disease and pain. If she leaves, she’ll only revert to being drastically ill again. If she stays with the entity, leaving behind her sick body, she would never know death.
M’Benga is faced with the excruciating decision: “the crew or your daughter,” but agrees it is time for Rukiya to write her own stories. M’Benga hugs his daughter one last time before she’s swallowed by beams of light and disappears. After the telepathic episode, Hemmer collapses.
Moments later, adult Rukiya (Makambe Simamba) appears with stories about her new friend Deborah—she named the entity after her mother—and assures her father that they’ll see each other again.
Hemmer wakes up with “the worst” hangover. The crew’s uniforms have returned to normal, but they have no memory of the day’s events and five hours are missing from the surveillance logs.
“The Elysian Kingdom” ends with Una checking on M’Benga at his desk. The first officer was the only other crew member who knew of Rukiya’s existence and had hoped to meet her someday. M’Benga ends the mystery surrounding Rukiya’s fate (and the day’s happenings) with a story he naturally starts with “Once upon a time…”
All episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds are currently streaming on Paramount+.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Sasha Lee is a freelance journalist and editor who writes on all things pop culture and music. She has seen every episode of The Golden Girls at least five times and her work has appeared in a variety of online publications. You can connect with her on Twitter @ohsashalee