“Science. Service. Sacrifice.”
– The Majalan Maxim
Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Pike has been grappling with how to move forward, since he now knows his future (and I was enjoying that this particular thread was not in the last 3 episodes); Uhura’s a genius; and M’Benga has been keeping his terminally ill daughter alive by holding her pattern in the medical transporter buffer.
The Enterprise is in the Majalan System, at the edge of Federation Space. Pike’s (Anson Mount) been here before, and was nearly killed by a pulsar while on a rescue mission. But now, they’re just making maps. NBD. Uhura’s (Celia Rose Gooding) returning to duty after a break – she’s on Security rotation with La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong). The break was a trap. Before La’an can admonish the cadet, Ortegas (Melissa Navia) chimes in with, “There are no breaks in security, because threats never take breaks.”
This good-natured ribbing is interrupted by a distress signal from an unidentified shuttle that’s under attack from a small cruiser. They raise shields and go in. Pike tries to talk them down, but the cruiser fires on the Enterprise, and prepares to make an attack run. Uhura, under the supervision of Noonien-Singh charges phasers to minimum capacity, and gets the order to fire just as the cruiser fires again and changes course. She meant to graze them, but instead did significant damage. The cruiser is out of commission, and will crash on the moon below, and Pike orders the shuttle passengers beamed aboard. One of those passengers just happens to be a woman named Alora (Lindy Booth), someone Pike rescued met the last time he was in these parts.
Pike is quite tongue-tied when faced with Alora, much to the amusement of Number One (Rebecca Romijn). She offers to show their guests – Alora along with Elder Gamal (Huse Madhavji) and his son (Ian Ho), “in a biological sense only” – to the ready room, but the man insists they go to sickbay first.
M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) is enjoying his ritual of reading aloud to his daughter, Rukiya (Sage Arrindell), but he’s already read this part of the story. Sometimes, she says, he reads the same chapters over and over again. He explains that it’s hard to keep track of where to story is, since she can only be out of the transporter buffer for short periods. He often sets a timer, so they’re not interrupted – which means she doesn’t always notice that she’s dematerialized. When she disappears this time, he notices.
While her companions head to sickbay, Alora explains to the senior staff that this boy is the First Servant, a holy position on Majalas. They were leaving an ancient retreat when their shuttle was attacked. Since the First Servant will ascend to the throne in just a few days, it’s likely that the attackers were after a ransom. It’s assumed that they’re from the closest inhabitable planet, Prospect 7, populated by the “descendants of a long abandoned alien colony.” (I’m not sure how a colony is “abandoned” if the colonists descendants are still living there, but I’m not a political scientist.) La’an suggests sending a landing party to investigate the cruiser’s crash site on the moon, but Alora tries to dismiss it as inconsequential. However, Una informs her that an investigation required, since they were in an altercation with a Federation ship. Well in that case, Alora’s coming, too.
Chapel (Jess Bush) and M’Benga examine the First Servant, and begin to treat his head trauma when Gamal stops them – he just wants scans to check that the boy’s quantum bio-implants are functioning. These implants use quantum mechanics to repair biological function. Gamal used to be a doctor. But once he became father of the First Servant, he had only one patient – and the boy is already improving. That sure gets M’Benga’s attention. In theory, these implants could “realign peptide bonds within any degraded protein.” Gamal says that’s the minimum they would do – there is no disease on Majalas, everything has been cured.
On the crashed cruiser, Uhura is immediately drawn to a control panel, and gets a dressing down from La’an for wanting to touch it. It could be booby-trapped. For Security officers, the tricorder does the investigating. The tricorder tells her that the databanks have been wiped. With the crash site secure, Spock (Ethan Peck) and Alora arrive to look through the debris. Spock immediately finds a device that looks like it would perfectly fit on the head of a small child. Alora finds an oath coin, which the First Servant’s guards are given when they swear to protect his life. This coin has been defaced. A guard has betrayed the First Servant and joined forces with the attackers.
Spock believes it is a neural dampener, and logic suggests it was intended for the First Servant. He wants to know if Gamal recognizes it. The boy asks to see it, but Gamal quickly puts it away. So the First Servant strikes up a conversation with Spock, talking excitedly of the subspace frequency he developed. The boy is clearly a quite intelligent. But Gamal shoos Spock away – The First Servant will ascend tomorrow and he needs his rest.
Majalas is a planet of floating buildings, hovering above rivers of molten lava on the planet’s surface. (For me, it’s very reminiscent of Ardana from TOS: “The Could Minders.”) With Pike looking on, Alora addresses the guards, reminding them of their sacred duty, and asks them all to present their coins. As she inspects them, she notices that one guard’s coin-necklace-thing has a broken seal. When she asks to take a closer look, he runs, and then kills one of the other guards who chases after him. The traitor, Kier (Adam Maros), is eventually subdued by Pike. With the remaining guards aiming their laser-staffs at their former cohort, Alora approaches him to ask why. He answers, “The fulfill my oath, and to renounce everything this floating hell stands for.” He grabs her and holds a knife to her throat, declaring, “Long Live the First Servant!” Alora utilizes her self defense training and gets the upper hand, stabbing Kier in the process. Pike is very confused.
Uhura’s scarfing down dinner and reading a PADD when approached by Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte), who decides it’s appropriate to comment on how she’s eating (it’s not), and then tells her she deserves a full hour to eat. La’an appears, and Kirk makes a quick exit. She shows Uhura the data chips she pulled from the crash site. Technically, she broke protocols (“bent the rules”) in obtaining them, so she can’t put them through the ship’s translator. That’s where Uhura comes in. La’an leaves her to it.
While the First Servant naps, M’Benga looks over his healing progress and is totally astonished. He’d love to pick Gamal’s bran. Hypothetically, if he had a patient, say an 11-year-old girl, who had mast cell cygnokemia, could these implants reverse the cellular degranulation? Sure, no biggie… on Majalas. But they don’t share their technology with outsiders – it’s illegal. But maybe one day there will be an alliance.
Alora is shaken. She’d known Kier for years. What if there are others? Who can she trust? Pike offers to post a guard outside her room. She’d prefer it if he came in with her.
Later, lying in bed, Pike confesses that he was hitting on Alora when the first met. She always knew. And they both admit to thinking about one another from time to time over the last decade. They never imagined that the universe would bring them back together, since “it’s rare to know your future.” That’s all the opening Pike needed to bring up what he’s learned about his own future. The best Federation medicine won’t be able to help him. Echoing Gamal, Alora tells him that the Majalan doctors are capable of so much more, and he would be welcome to come join her on Majalas, and live their way. But that future is still 10 years away.
Dr. M’Benga returns to Sickbay after picking up some lunch, and finds Gamal alseep. He hears laughter coming from an exam room, and walks in on the First Servant and Rukiya playing space hopscotch. The boy wasn’t actually asleep earlier, and went looking for the girl with cygnokemia. When he couldn’t find her, he checked likely hiding places, which apparently includes the transporter buffer. Rukiya doesn’t want to go back – she was having fun – but M’Benga is hopeful it won’t be for much longer. After she dematerializes, M’Benga asks the First Servant to keep his secret.
Uhura, again displaying her genius, translated those data chips, parsed the language down to the root, and figured out who the attackers are. They’re not alien, they’re Majalan. Why would they leave the paradise of Majalas for a difficult life of Prospect 7? And why would Alora and Gamal lie about it? Based on his previous experience here, Pike knows that the Majalans are very private – there must be a “reasonable explanation.”
Gamal woke from his nap, and is tired of being on the Enterprise. He wants to leave with the First Servant now. Just as Pike and La’an try to convince them to stay, the two visitors disappear in a transporter beam. Someone else must have locked onto them the shields were down, and Kyle (André Dae Kim) does his best to get them back. A few seconds later, only Gamal reappears on the transporter pad. With another combat cruiser nearby, Pike take the ship to Red Alert.
Nearly everyone who was in the transporter room has relocated to the bridge. Spock’s detected the First Servant’s life signs on the cruiser, but they cant beam him back while their shields are up. They also can’t risk blowing him up. Jenna Mitchell (Rong Fu) gets the cruiser in a tractor beam, but it appears as if they plan to go to warp anyway – and that would tear their ship apart. Pike orders the tractor beam disengaged, and just as Mitchell complies, the cruiser explodes. Gamal doubles over in grief.
Pike has to break the news to a devastated Alora. Not only devastated, but hopeless. Their world is over. If the First Servant doesn’t ascend, their civilization with literally fall out of the sky. Pike still doesn’t understand how all of that can rest on the shoulders of a single child. Rather than explain, Alora ends the communication.
Pike wants to know how that child was beamed off the ship. And our resident genius has an idea: Uhura noticed that Gamal had accessed the boy’s bio-patterns right before they went to the transporter room. He also uploaded a full scan of himself. With the evidence mounting, it seems like Gamal is going to say something – maybe confess? – when Spock calls the captain to Deck 17. Pike orders Gamal be taken to the brig before exiting.
Spock recalled that the First Servant is also a genius, and mentioned created his own subspace frequency. So, naturally, Spock check it and found a distress signal coming from inside the Enterprise. Spock doesn’t believe the First Servant was ever on the cruiser, but that it was all a rouse. He opens up a storage crate to find the boy. Pike wants to get the boy back to sickbay, but he insist he has to get down to Majalas – the ascension is starting and his people need him.
As a token of gratitude, Alora’s invited Pike to witness the ascension – it’s nothing that any outsider has seen before. But he still doesn’t understand how so much could rest on a child. Or why Gamal would kidnap his own son, putting his whole planet at risk. Or why Alora would lie about the origin of the “kidnappers.” As Alora stares at him, the crowd around them erupts in cheers at the ceremony.
Una visits Gamal in the brig, looking for the truth. But all he will say is that he was attempting to protect his son from his unthinkable fate… Cut to the bridge. Una’s learned something important, but the planet is emitting an EM pulse that’s blocking communications, so there’s no way to contact Pike on the surface.
The First Servant and his entourage, which includes Pike, enter the Sacred Chamber for the last part of the ascension. And Alora begins a ceremonial exchange:
Alora: Do you freely offer this gift of self to the people of Majalas?
First Servant: With joy and gratitude, I do.
A: Do you freely choose your fate
FS: With joy and gratitude, I ….. oh my god
The boy is tripped up when he sees the body of the last First Servant being carried out on a stretcher. It’s a child. A child that’s practically mummified. Pike is horrified, and tries to stop the proceedings. Alora merely reiterates that the boy has chosen this freely (how “free” is this choice, really?), and the people will honor his sacrifice. The boy sits in a large, mechanical chair, and tubules connect to his head and face. Pike tries to fight, to free the boy, but is knocked out by the guards.
When he comes to in Alora’s chambers, Pike is ready to leave and he wants to take the First Servant with him. But even if he could get to him, severing the connection would kill the boy. His fate is sealed. So instead, Pike wants answers: Why? Alora explains that the machine needs the neural network of a child. They don’t know why, this is just how it’s always been, and the people of Majalas have been looking for centuries but haven’t been able to find an alternative. Pike is disgusted, but Alora asks if he really believes there are no children who are suffering to the benefit of the Federation. On other worlds, the privileged look away from children who are living in poverty or squalor. On Majalas, they don’t look away. Pike still cannot reconcile this, and beams out.
Gamal has decided to live with the colonists on Prospect 7. But before he leaves, he wants to talk with Dr. M’Benga some more about his “hypothetical” cygnokemia patient. Maybe he can take a look at her file and explain the theory behind the treatment. It’s not a cure, but it’s a step forward.
As the Enterprise leaves Majalas, Pike stares out the window at a pulsar, the one that nearly killed him a decade prior.
I watched this on Wednesday when it was released to P + and was underwhelmed by Pike/Alora so I watched it again today and clearly I was tired because everything came through on the second viewing. Anson’s Pike is a little bit Kirk but without communicating Kirk’s loneliness and need and probably more Patrick’s Picard who tripped over his connections though resolved to be unattached
On the question of the plot foundation this was discussed in the 19th century in the “Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life.” I used it as the back story for my not for profit novel the “The Furious Gods.’
For me having watched the West go through two years when the lives of the thriving and healthy were sacrificed for the elderly co morbid and a West that believes any kind of life is worth saving irrespective of quality/dignity/grace etc its always good to be reminded of the alternative in a science fiction context.
Kahless wept, it’s practically the plot twist from Ursula K LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”