I just finished watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds S1, E6 Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach. I knew about the topic and the climax ahead of time and it still made me angry.
The Enterprise is on a routine mission to the Majalan System when they are hailed by a shuttle that’s come under fire. The shuttle had been traveling from a nearby moon to their world when an alien cruiser attacked.
Uhura is doing her security rotation and La’an is riding her pretty hard. The attacker refuses to break off after Pike contacts them and fires on the Enterprise. Pike gives the expected order to target their weapons and propulsion. Uhura is at the phasers and the enemy shifts course suddenly. She brings the spacecraft down instead. If it was that important, I probably wouldn’t have put an inexperienced cadet in that position, so it’s really La’an’s fault.
Survivors of the shuttle are beamed on board. There are only three. Alora (Lindy Booth) is well acquainted with Pike, having met him during a rescue mission when he was a lieutenant. He acts properly embarrassed which pleases Number One to no end. The other two are a little boy only referred to as the First Servant (Ian Ho) and Elder Gamal (Husein Madhavji). Gamal says he’s the boy’s father in only a biological sense, but he’s also his doctor.
In sickbay, M’Benga is reading to his daughter Rukiya when he’s interrupted by Chapel saying that the boy is injured and requires treatment. He’d put Rukiya back in the buffer moments before, fortunately.
The First Servant was chosen by lottery to serve his entire world. He’s also, to put it mildly, a genius. He even manages to impress Spock with his knowledge of faster-than-light communications at one point. He has quantum implants that the medical sensors can’t pick up. Elder Gamal refuses to reveal their purpose, but was he explains their operation, M’Benga sees they could be used to cure his daughter. He later asks Gamal if he’d be willing to share his technology for one of his “patients,” but the Elder says “no.”
Alora says that the attacking ship was from another planet in their system, one inhabited by an alien race. They may have realized the boy’s value to their civilization and tried to kidnap him for ransom. Little is (supposedly) known about the species of that world and they don’t have any sort of contact.
Pike wants to investigate the crashed ship. Alora tries to talk him out of it, but they attacked a Star Fleet vessel, so the regs say they’re going to. Alora invites herself along.
Inside the vessel, there are no life signs and oddly enough, no bodies. I was surprised but no explanation was given. Where did everybody go? La’an again rides Uhura pretty hard, but the ship is clean and Pike, Spock, and Alora are allowed in.
After La’an criticized Uhura for touching a panel instead of scanning it, Spock finds what looks like a high tech skullcap and picks it up. La’an either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, but Spock is obviously curious.
Alora finds an “oath coin.” They are given to the First Servant’s personal guard and considered their planet’s highest military honor. This one is defaced suggesting that one of the boy’s guards is traitor in league with their enemy.
Alora won’t let the boy stay on the ship and won’t accept an armed escort that Pike offers but does allow Pike to go with her. She plans to make the guards retake their vows and show their coins. Pike makes sure the audience sees that he readies his phaser.
A note about phasers. His looks like the type more traditionally used in Kirk’s time, but I was rather fond of the old, clunkier versions we saw in The Cage. It wouldn’t have killed anyone to reconstruct a similar looking prop for this show.
All of the guards have their coins, but one guard’s is damaged. He tries to make an excuse and then bolts. Everyone pursues including Alora and Pike. None of the guards have distance weapons which is stupid, and the traitor makes a break for it, but on one of the hundreds or more cloud cities, where can he really go? It would be like running away on a small island.
Pike stops him of course and warns that his phaser isn’t set on stun. Sounds tough, but I can’t imagine him killing a now unarmed man. The guard grabs Alora but she manages to break free and uses his knife to kill him. As he dies, he yells “Long live the First Servant.”
She laments to Pike that she’d known that man for years, and if he could be a traitor, so could others. He offers her a guard, but she seduces him instead. So Pike gets laid. Imagine that. At least she’s “protected.”
Back on the ship, La’an has “improperly liberated” a bunch of data chips from the enemy vessel. She says going through proper procedure would take weeks and she’s in a hurry. She can’t run them through the ship’s computer so she tells Uhura to translate them manually. After all, she’s an accomplished linguist.
In sickbay, Spock shows Gamal the “skullcap” and asks if he knows what it is. He denies it, but Spock has determined that it’s a neural suppressant and that its size suggests it was for the First Servant.
On the planet and in bed, Pike can’t resist telling Alora about his vision of the future where he’s mutilated. Can’t this guy keep his mouth shut? Does he have to tell everyone? Most people when they have some horrible problem only tell just a few close friends. Pike is a blabbermouth and something of a drama queen. Everybody has to know his business. I get it. They had sex, but this was the first time he’d seen her in ten years. Who is that attached to their ex after a decade?
Alora says her planet has very advanced medical technology but it can only be used on their citizens. She offers Pike a place with her but he declines. Still a long time until the accident, but he does suggest that you never know what the future holds.
In sickbay, Gamal is asleep and there’s no one around when M’Benga comes in with a tray of food. I guess they don’t have food slots in sickbay. He finds the boy missing but then hears noises from the transporter area. He finds his daughter and the First Servant playing. The boy apologizes and says he found a pattern in the buffer when he was searching for someone in sickbay. He puts Rukiya in the buffer and tells the boy to keep it a secret. Moments later, Gamal enters, obviously displeased, but the First Servant doesn’t talk about the girl in the transporter.
Uhura reports to La’an and tells her that the language and dialects used in those chips are almost identical to the Majalans. Alora lied when she said the people on the other planet were an alien race. They’re a colony of the Majalans which for some reason are acting like enemies.
Pike’s pretty put out when La’an calls him back to the ship, but she didn’t want to risk talking over the communicator in case Alora heard.
Gamal tries to transport the boy down to the planet, but Chief Kyle won’t do it without the Captain’s orders. Suddenly, they are both beamed off the ship. Moment’s later, Gamal rematerializes but the boy doesn’t. There’s another alien cruiser nearby and Pike orders it pursued.
The Enterprise holds it with a tractor beam but it tries to go to warp anyway. It will be torn apart, so Pike orders the beam discontinued. The ship immediately explodes and it seems the First Servant has been killed.
In the conference room, Pike, with Number One and Gamal present, are talking to Alora on the comm. She is inconsolable. Without the First Servant, their entire society will die, but she doesn’t explain why. Number One found that Gamal had made copies of his and the boy’s biopatterns, suggesting he arranged for the beam out while the Enterprise’s shields were down. At that moment, Spock calls Pike to deck 17.
Long story short, the First Servant wasn’t on the alien ship, he was beamed into a cargo container. Daddy pulled a fast one.
The boy knows it’s time for his ascension and insists on going down to the planet. Pike is allowed to go down with him, but Gamal is put in the brig. At the ceremony, Pike is really suspicious and tries to confront Alora but she remains secretive.
In the brig, Number One interrogates Gamal and finds he really does love his son. He collaborated with the other colony, surprised that the people he thought were enemies were willing to help him. He loves his son and wants to save him. But save him from what?
Once Number One finds out, she tries to hail the Captain. There’s a disruption in the atmosphere preventing communications and transporter functions. They can’t tell Pike.
Because Alora wants Pike to become “one of them,” she allows him to go to the sacred chamber. The boy is made to say he voluntarily agrees to servitude and sacrifice. He falters at the last minute but is escorted to a rather imposing machine.
Pike sees the dead husk of the previous child, all distorted and burned out, being taken away and tries to stop the ceremony. He’s stopped and knocked unconscious by the guards. The First Servant is locked in and multiple cables plug themselves into his body including his face.
Pike wakes up in Alora’s bed under guard. She releases the guards and explains that for reasons unknown, the ancestors who created the technology to keep all the cities afloat specifically made a machine requiring the “use” of a child. That child suffers terribly until he or she dies. Then another one is chosen and so it goes.
She says that they’ve searched for an alternative but so far, it has not been found. Pike is outraged and wants to drag the child out of the machine. Alora says it would kill him.
Then she gives him the lecture about how in the Federation there are children who “serve” their society by living in poverty and depravation. The Federation turns a blind eye. In her culture, they do the same, but the difference is only one child suffers and the Majalans don’t turn a blind eye.
I’ve had others who’ve seen this episode explain to me that although the ideal Federation society has no poverty, malice, or war, there must be colony worlds operating on the edge where there are people, including children, who suffer.
I call bullshit for reasons I state on my TikTok “three-minute or less review” (see below). Those who are in need, who suffer, even in our real world, are offered alternatives, support, some kind of help. Sure, it’s not ideal and suffering hasn’t disappeared, but it’s not like we don’t try and it’s not like we say “it’s okay,” at least if you have a conscience.
Poverty occurs when there’s a lack of resources or resources are distributed unevenly. In the 23rd century, cheap, fusion power exists. With that power, almost any other need can be fulfilled, maybe not perfectly, but better than we can do now. Certainly, no one in the Federation would feed a kid into a fusion reactor in order to power a city or a planet.
I’m sorry their world is hot lava and they can’t live on the surface. It must be why some of their people moved to another world, one where they can live on the surface, but without many resources. They couldn’t stand or understand how a race of beings could invent a system of living in the sky that required a child be sacrificed.
Besides, if that planet of lava is the home world of this race, how the heck did they evolve on the surface? There’d be no way. So where did they come from? The other planet is clearly referred to as a colony, which means it wasn’t their home world.
Besides the “sacrifice a kid thing because the writers needed the story to go that way,” it was one of the other huge ass plot holes in this episode.
I know the writers wanted to deliver a moral to the audience, but it’s rather shoddy writing to put it in such a poorly conceived plot.
The bottom line is you don’t excuse child abuse for any reason whatsoever. There is no justification for moral depravity.
Since this world doesn’t belong to the Federation, Pike has no legal recourse. He does find his feelings for Alora to be completely soured.
In sickbay, a now freed Gamal confesses his love for his son. He still can’t reveal the details of his world’s medical technology but says he’d like to see his “patient’s” files. He can walk M’Benga through the principles behind their tech. It wouldn’t be a cure, but it might prolong her life. Afterward, he’ll go to the colony world as the only place he’s got left.
The episode ends with Pike in his quarters having a drink and brooding. I wonder if the writing team didn’t have one too many when they put this episode together. Yes, science fiction in general and Star Trek specifically has a history of confronting uncomfortable things about humanity. But as I mentioned, the plot holes created to make that happen were big enough to fly a starship through.
See my three-minute or less TikTok review below for more. Don’t forget to support your indie authors and publishers. In a few years, we might be the only source of good storytelling left.