“Someday, when you are grown up, you’ll write your own stories. And you can have any ending you like.”
Previously on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – M’Benga’s daughter, Rukiya, has a fatal disease. In order to keep it from progressing, she spends most of her time in the medial transporter buffer. To keep her pattern from degrading, she does need to be periodically rematerialized, and that’s when dad reads to her. Also, Hemmer, the engineer is a blind Aenar with precognition.
Note: Before we get started – If there’s any chance that you read these recaps before watching the episodes, I really implore you to break that habit this time around. There is so much excellent acting and so much camp and so many sight gags that I simply cannot convey. Also, a huge shout out to Bernadette Croft for these in-cre-di-ble costumes. Go. Watch.
The Enterprise has been surveying the Jonisian Nebula, and Sickbay ahs been pretty quiet, which has allowed Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) to continue his research on cygnokemia. Despite everything he’s tried, Rukiya (Sage Arrindell) has not improved, and he feels like he’s running out of time. During one of the examinations, she asks that he again read her the ending of her favorite book – “The Kingdom of Elysian” by Benny Russell. (Nice.)
M’Benga begins to read the tale: King Ridley is in a tough spot – Queen Neve’s forces are approaching and greatly outnumber his own; his chamberlain, Sir Rauth, betrayed him; and his only ally, Princess Thalia, has fallen to the evil queen. Rukiya hates this part. Wouldn’t it be so much better if the Huntress teamed up with Sir Adya to rescue the king? Well, sure it would, but that’s not what’s written – Instead, King Ridley has to choose between giving up The Mercury Stone or rescuing Princess Thaila. Rukiya wishes she could change the ending. M’Benga tells her that she’ll be able to choose the endings of her own stories when she grows up.
M’Benga puts Rukiya back into the buffer and returns to his research, and part of the experiment literally blows up in his face (shouldn’t he be wearing some protective gear?). A little later, Number One (Rebecca Romijn) stops by to check in on him – A shuttle crew came in hours ago and haven’t yet been cleared for active duty. He just got lost in the research. When she asks about his progress, he admits to being stuck. She sympathizes with him, but also reminds him of his duties to the ship – but first, orders him to take a nap.
On the bridge, the crew is wrapping up a nice, easy time, sciencing that nebula, and it’s time to head back to McNair Starbase (I’m guessing that’s named for Astronaut Ronald McNair, who is a Star Trek fan). Ortegas (Melissa Navia), hits it, but the ship doesn’t move. Mitchell (Rong Fu) reports that everything looks normal, but Spock (Ethan Peck) has detected a minor synchrotron flux that could be interfering with the warp drive. Pike (Anson Mount) calls down to Engineering, where Hemmer (Bruce Horak) also reports that everything looks totally normal. Spock suggests that the nebula itself is preventing the ship from generating a static warp bubble, so they should use impulse engines until they’re clear and can go to warp. Sounds like a plan. Ortegas again attempts to hit it, while standing, for some reason, and the ship lurches, causing her to fall and hit her head. Pike calls for M’Benga to report to the bridge before he can get any rest. (This would have been a lot less weird, IMO, if the console was a standing desk. Otherwise it’s just very apparent that story needed a medical emergency on the Bridge.)
The turbolift doors open, and an exhausted Dr. M’Benga finds everyone of the Bridge dressed for a Renaissance Faire – including himself. Sir Rauth (Pike, with a middle part) notices his arrival and leads all gathered in a bow. He came to see Ortegas, but she is now Sir Adya, and no longer has a head wound. At first, M’Benga thinks it’s all an elaborate practical joke, but no one is breaking character. So he asks for a systems analysis from the computer The Oracle and again, all systems are normal. So maybe is was that puff of 3-QND earlier that’s causing him to hallucinate. Better head back to Sickbay…
Which has been transformed into Chapel’s (Jess Bush) Sanctuary – Sadly, she doesn’t get a character name (it’s likely that she is Lady Audrey, but she’s never addressed as such). M’Benga scans himself and gets normal readings. But Chapel insists on “examining” him as well. He also scans her, to find very elevated dopamine levels (hey, can I get some of that?). They’re interrupted by Sir Adya and Princess Thalia (La’an Noonien-Singh/Christina Chong), who insisted on seeing Ridley immediately. Queen Neve has invaded her kingdom, looking for the Mercury Stone. But Thalia knows that Ridley has the Mercury Stone, and he must use its power to stop Queen Neve. Adya agrees. But if Ridley isn’t ready to use it, she is ready (and eager) to lead an attack on Neve’s Crimson Guard.
Suddenly, there’s a commotion in the corridor. The Crimson Guard have captured Hemmer, believing him to be Caster the Wizard, and are literally dragging him along. But he’s still lucid, and just as confused as M’Benga. Ridley orders the Crimson Guard to release the Wizard, and the refuse. He cites the Letter of Accords, which state that Lady Audrey’s woods are neutral territory, and they have no authority here. The head guard, aka Lt. Mitchell, informs him that Queen Neve no longer recognizes the Accords – these are her woods now – and drags Hemmer away as he begs for help from M’Benga.
Adya again suggests unleashing the power of the Mercury Stone, which forces Ridley to admit he doesn’t have it… but Caster would know where it is. They have to rescue him.
As they plan their rescue, a very cautious Sir Rauth advises against such brazen action, and instead suggests diplomacy. As much as Adya wants to swing that sword, Ridley agrees that diplomacy is step 1, and he wants both Rauth and Adya to accompany him to see Neve. Thalia and her dog Runa, however, should stay in Ridley’s kingdom where they’ll be safe.
On their way to see Queen Neve, they also encounter Pollux the Wizard/Spock, who confirms that Caster has been imprisoned, and the only way to reach him is to cross the Swamp of Infinite Deaths. But Ridley suggests that Pollux may want to help them on their quest, since Caster is his brother. (Gasp!) With a promise to free Caster and not just take advantage of his power, Pollux agrees to show our adventurers a secret way to Neve’s Kingdom – through the Jefferies Tubes.
Pollux leads them not to Caster, but directly to Queen Neve, portrayed by Cadet Uhura, who is focused solely on the Mercury Stone. If Ridley won’t tell her where it is, she’ll let her torturers take over. And they’ll get to see Caster, too – in the dungeon.
In the book, Caster helps Ridley find the Mercury Stone. But in reality, Hemmer is the only other unaffected crewmember, so M’Benga needs his help figuring out the real problem – why this is happening. When this started, Hemmer was in Engineering, and felt a consciousness. His telepathic training helped him push it away, which is likely why he’s retained his own memories. (Was this consciousness to powerful for Spock? Maybe he has less training or experience?) He suspects that their setting was pulled from M’Benga’s mind. Contact with the entity is unpleasant for Hemmer, but he was able to sense that it wasn’t on another ship, but part of the Nebula itself. They could use the scanner array to learn more about the entity, but they have to break out first. Thankfully, Hemmer’s hidden one of his engineering tools in his robes.
Queen Neve is furious, and sends Pollux and the Crimson Guard after the escaped prisoners – who run into each other immediately. Adya has had it, and finally gets her fight. A five-against-one sword fight. Rauth, on the other hand, asks and receives permission to scamper back to the castle. Adys holds her own, but the guards eventually gain the the upper hand, and have knives pointed at Adya’s throat… but they’re hit with arrows as Z’ymira the Huntress (Number One) appears. The guards run off.
Finally in Engineering, Hemmer is able to detect a brain activity coming from the Nebula itself, with no sign of a physical body. It might be a Boltzmann Brain – a spontaneously generated consciousness. But why would it trap the ship and make the crew play out a storybook? Hemmer again suggests that the entity is reading M’Benga’s brain waves. Therefore, hurting him might sever that connection. But Sir Adya will hear nothing of it, even when Z’ymira suggests shooting him with an arrow. And that’s when it clicks: In the book, Adya and Z’ymira don’t even know each other. The entity isn’t reading M’Benga’s brain, but Rukiya’s.
They rush back to Sickbay to rematerialize Rukiya, but her pattern isn’t in the buffer. And the computer won’t tell him where she is on the ship. Hemmer steps in to take over, and the camera pans back to reveal Pollux eavesdropping. He hurries back to Queen Neve, having learned the identity of the Mercury Stone.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Guard have captured Sir Rauth. In order to save his own life, he swears his loyalty to Queen Neve. It didn’t take much persuading.
Our adventuring party hasn’t been able to locate Rukiya using internal sensors, so instead, they imagine where she would want to go and M’Benga recalls that she’s always wanted to see his quarters. Just outside his room, they run into Sir Rauth again, who traps them as Neve appears. All Ridley has to do is give up the Mercury Stone – the girl – and everything will be just fine. But a threat to his daughter infuriates M’Benga, and Hemmer threatens to “unleash the full power of [his] powerful wizard powers” and transports Queen Neve and her entourage to Cargo Bay 12 with the help of a communicator he fount in Sickbay.
Inside his quarters, M’Benga finds Rukiya in a princess dress, staring out at the Nebula. He scans her to find absolutely no trace of cygnokemia. The Nebula woke her up to play, and cured her. But it’s time to stop playing. M’Benga wants to talk to Rukiya’s new friend and Hemmer volunteers to act as a conduit.
The entity is solely focused on protecting Rukiya, even if it puts the rest of the crew at risk. M’Benga also recognizes that the entity and his daughter are alike, and both lonely. It created this fantasy for her, to give her back a piece of her childhood. M’Benga is appreciative, but still pleads for the ship to be released. However, it’s their proximity to this entity that has cured Rukiya. If the ship is released, and departs, her illness will return – Like King Ridley, M’Benga is faced with a choice between his crew and his daughter.
Rukiya volunteers that she’ll go back in the transporter buffer if that’s what her father wants. But the entity offers another option: The ship can go and Rukiya can stay. Her consciousness could join with the entity, and be free from sickness and death. M’Benga understands that he has to let her go, that this is how she will write her own ending. But he wants to know what she wants. And she chooses to stay in the Nebula.
The entity’s consciousness leaves Hemmer and light envelopes Rukiya as she slowly fades from Human existence. Just a few seconds later, a young woman appears before M’Benga – a grown up Rukiya (Makambe Simamba) – who thanks him for his sacrifice. (If only we all got this kind of immediate assurance when faced with heartbreaking decisions.) Years have passed for her. She’s seen incredible things, all with the help of Debra, the consciousness, who she named after her mother. She’s happy and safe, and that’s all that a father can hope for. She makes him promise that he’ll be happy, too.
Aside: I once again find myself unsettled Star Trek‘s handling of chronic illness. Once again, Trek‘s narrative “solution” to these circumstances is to have a character transcend humanity rather than live (and potentially die) with illness.
As Rukiya disappears one last time, everything on the Enterprise goes back to normal, and Hemmer has a splitting headache. No one else remembers what happened, and the ships logs didn’t record anything for those five hours.
Una once again stops by Sickbay to check on M’Benga and he tells her that Rukiya is alive and safe – an usual choice of words to this point – and that he’s had an incredible experience. This brief scene also confirms the good doctor’s first name as Joseph, which is a bit disappointing, as “Jabilo” has been used in beta-canon for quite some time (but it is the first name given to him by the character’s creator, Darlene Hartman, in the unproduced TOS script “Shol”). He knows what happened to the crew, and she settles in to hear the story.