Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - The Elysian Kingdom, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - The Elysian Kingdom, Review

"Once upon a time," begins Matthew Kresal this week.
One of the promises that Strange New Worlds has brought us as the latest Star Trek series is the ability to tell a different story every week. Doing so has allowed it to dip into genres differing from comedy to space pirates and even a pitched space battle. With The Elysian Kingdom, Strange New Worlds steps into a new genre: fantasy.

Or, at least, what passes for it in the Star Trek universe. And how it gets there is fun in its own right, having taken shape under our noses in recent weeks. Those keeping up with the series will have noted as far back as Ghosts of Illyria that Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) has his terminally ill daughter aboard the Enterprise secretly by preserving her inside a transport buffer. She's appeared only for him to check up on her and read her a favorite book of hers. Who reading this review hasn't always wondered what might happen if their favorite story came to life and what if that came true?

It isn't for this reviewer to spoil just how things come to life, of course, suffice enough to say that the Enterprise and her crew isn't quite how you remember them. Part of which means that the Enterprise gets a redressing, with the interiors given a fantasy-genre inspired makeover to turn rooms into everything from rooms in palaces to forests. There's been some suggestion online that this episode was a bottle show, hence everything being on the Enterprise. If so, it makes the most of it, with an intriguing mix of SF and fantasy.

The other thing it means, delightfully, is that the cast gets to play against type. Anson Mount's brave captain becomes a cowardly right-hand to the king, with Mount making the most of the comedy potential. Elsewhere, the normally tough La'an becomes the Princess Thalia with some impressive high notes, Oretga becomes the heroic Sir Adya, while Spock and Hemmer become sibling wizards on opposing sides in the kingdom defining conflict. Oh, did I mention that Uhura becomes the evil queen, played to the hilt by Celia Rose Gooding? Everyone gets a moment and a chance to shine, something they play to their advantage, often while sending up parts of the fantasy genre or their ordinary characters. While it may go too far for some, this reviewer found it a delight to watch.

The heart of this episode, however, has to be Babs Olusanmokun as M’Benga. One of the more overlooked characters in this debut season, M'Benga and Olusanmokun step into the spotlight here in a leading role. Realizing something is up and having to navigate the story he's been telling his daughter for so long, the good doctor's recurring storyline regarding his daughter eventually comes into play, as well. It's a tough ask for any actor to be thrust center stage into an episode that plays against the rest of the series around it as much as The Elysian Kingdom does. Olusanmokun proves more than up to the task, including shifts in tone that can occur inside individual scenes. It is the strength of Olusanmokun's performance which also sells the ending, sentimental as it is, into an emotional experience. After this episode, it feels safe to say that both character and performer have been hidden gems of Strange New Worlds, ones which hopefully the series will make more use of in the future.

While the use of fantasy and comedy alongside the sentimental might not appeal to all, The Elysian Kingdom has plenty with which to recommend itself for those willing to give it a chance. Particularly in the case of its cast, with Olusanmokun and Mount, especially, showing off new sides to their performances. It's also a reminder of the power of storytelling, even at its apparently simplest terms, and of the things we can take away from it.

And all the better for it.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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