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‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ probes the limits of redemption

The following contains spoilers for “Under the Cloak of War.”

“Some things break in a way that can never be repaired, only managed.” It’s the final line in a powerhouse episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. “Under the Cloak of War” lays out a host of questions about memory, grief and redemption – reiterating the key obsessions of this season – none of which it could possibly answer. For some shows, this would be a bad thing, but Strange New Worlds is becoming increasingly comfortable living with ambiguity. Much as I may be flush with recency bias, I already feel it may be the standout of the season.

The Enterprise has been asked to carry Dak'Rah (An unrecognizable Robert Wisdom), a successful, but deeply controversial, Federation ambassador to the Prospero system. Controversial because he’s a Klingon who defected during the recent war, who is also known as the “Butcher of J’Gal.” Not just because of the orders he gave, including massacring his own civilians, but because he killed all of his generals just before he defected. Dak'Rah is embraced by Pike, Una and Uhura as a beacon of hope for a more peaceful future. But Ortegas, who fought in the war, and M’Benga and Chapel, who actually served in a field hospital on J’Gal, can’t get over the past, or their own pain. 

We flash back to Chapel’s arrival on J’Gal, where she’s greeted by Trek good luck charm Clint Howard’s commanding officer. Her orientation lasts for all of a minute before she’s picking up casualties from the transporter pad and trying to save them without key medical tech. One soldier gets loaded into the pattern buffer to keep him alive until rescue arrives, while others get operated on the old-fashioned way. M’Benga and Chapel quickly bond over their rough time in the medical trenches, and develop a shorthand to help each other along.


In the present, Pike asks all three to quell their objections and come to dinner with Dak'Rah, who is trying to hold court over the captain’s table. None of them are able to make nice for too long, and Ortegas quickly leaves, with Chapel following behind. Pike notices that while M’Benga remains, he’s gripping the arms of his seat so tightly that he’s about to rip them off, and asks him to go look after the absent pair. But not before Ra, knowing that M’Benga loves martial arts, asks to set up a session between the two with an arm grip that’s a little too aggressive.

Back on J’Gal, M’Benga treats a wounded soldier who wonders what the point of this battle really is. The doctor gives a rousing speech, bringing to mind the “you want me on that wall” speech from Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men. He says the risk of Klingon expansionism is too great, and that Starfleet fights so that others can live their lives in peace. But while the speech is effective, it’s delivered a little too convincingly, especially given we soon learn that M’Benga used to be the guy wielding the knife rather than the scalpel.

Soon after, a special forces commander asks M’Benga for some Protocol 12, the green steroids M’Benga and Chapel used in “The Broken Circle.” As annoyed as I was that M’Benga himself created it – I’m never a fan of secret origin stories where the same five characters are at the center of literally everything in the universe – I was pleased we didn’t get an over-explanation of its genesis. The doctor refuses, so the commander asks if M’Benga himself, under his old guise of “The Ghost” will join the team on its daring mission given how effective his murder skills are, or were.

The military is planning to send a small unit to try and wipe out J’Gal’s leaders once and for all, while committing the bulk of its forces to a grand frontal assault as a distraction. The soldier M’Benga previously patched up is going back out there to get chopped up, everyone knowing ahead of time they’re being sent to the meat grinder. But the Klingons are ready for them, disabling the field hospital’s power generators, preventing them from saving the casualties as they pile up. Chapel gets a transporter online, but can’t activate it without wiping the soldier who was kept in the pattern buffer earlier, something M’Benga does with little hesitation.

Back on the ship, M’Benga and Dak'Rah start their sparring session, with Dak'Rah doing his best to try and make nice with the doctor. He talks about how good the symbolism of two former enemies, quite literally on the opposite sides of the same battle, standing side-by-side would be. But M’Benga can’t bring himself to be friends, just allies, and soon starts to ask Dak'Rah which of his generals fought the hardest during his final day on J’Gal. Dak'Rah can’t answer, because it wasn’t Dak'Rah that killed them, but M’Benga, hopped up on his own fury steroids and looking for revenge.

The Enterprise takes a shortcut to get their unwanted Klingon off the ship before someone gets hurt, but not before Dak'Rah once again goes to M’Benga. The Doctor is looking at his little personal effects case, which includes a D’k tahg he kept as a reminder from J’Gal. They discuss the fallout from their prior discussion, with M’Benga angry that Dak'Rah has used the deaths M’Benga caused to launder his own reputation. We cut, then, to the other side of the doctor’s office, through partially-opaque glass, as the pair scuffle, before cutting back to Dak'Rahdead on the floor with a dagger in his chest.

Chapel provides cover for M’Benga, saying Dak'Rah caused the fight, which M’Benga agrees to, despite Pike pressing him for an off-the-record admission of guilt. He tells his captain he’s not responsible, but he’s glad his old enemy is he kept as a reminder from J’Gal. They discuss the fallout from their prior discussion, with M’Benga angry that Dak'Rah has used the deaths M’Benga caused to launder his own reputation. We cut, then, to the other side of the doctor’s office, through partially-opaque glass, as the pair scuffle, before cutting back to Dak'Rah dead on the floor with a dagger in his chest.

Michael Gibson/Paramount+

If there’s one thing that Star Trek (both back in the day and now) can sometimes forget, it’s that history doesn’t just happen to other people. As much as it focuses on the great people of history making soliloquies on the bridge of their starships, that’s the start of things, not the end. Despite its apparent progressivism, it rarely engages with the material concerns of the ordinary people living and serving in Starfleet on that sort of level. That’s why the fact we got to see the Klingon war from something approaching the ground is a refreshing change.

And at the start of the season, I talked about how confident Strange New Worlds’ storytelling had become. Bursting out of the gate, even its weaker episodes were elevated by a production team pulling their hardest in the same direction. With a strong script, credited to writer/producer Davy Perez and directed by Jeff W. Boyd, there’s not much that can go wrong. It helps, too, that Strange New Worlds this year has restrained its urge to explain, and over-explain, every facet of what’s going on. But what really makes this episode is the towering, blockbuster performance by Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga who, once again, demonstrates he’s this series secret weapon.

It’s Olusanmokun who holds the broad tangle of ideas in this script together, including the key issues around memory, grief and forgiveness. There’s a clear dichotomy between those in the crew who are motivated for revenge and those who are looking toward a better future. I’m sure that particular conflict can be mapped over several real-world fault lines, for better or worse. The episode, wisely, doesn’t necessarily take one side over the other, although the fact M’Benga and Chapel are our POV characters this week means we’re already on side.

It’s a shame that there’s less emphasis on making Dak'Rah as fully rounded-out a character as he could, or should be. He’s not given space to justify Pike’s faith in him, and it’s clear pretty much as soon as he arrives that he’s ever so slightly phony. Much of this can be attributed to our old enemy running time, and the fact that Strange New Worlds’ storytelling is that much more ambitious this time out. But I’m never going to criticize a series for having too many ideas and not enough time to explore all of them in enough detail.

Oh, and I wanted to draw attention to Strange New Worlds’ excellent use of virtual stages both here and for much of the season. The world of J’Gal feels pretty believable, rendered as a living backdrop behind the field hospital in the flashback sequences. Given the cost and logistical demands of trying to set up a series of night shoots on rough terrain, I can understand why the team opted to shoot the scene in the studio. But while keen-eyed fans will be looking for the edges of the stage, the atmosphere feels a lot more real than if they were acting in front of a green screen.

It’s clear now that each season of Strange New Worlds conforms to a similar shape across its run. After a mission-setting premiere, you get three episodes exploring standard Trek tropes, with a focus on Una and La’an. Episode five is a Spock-heavy romantic comedy romp, followed by a heavy episode that emphasizes the season’s overall theme. Seven is a lighter episode, while eight is primarily focused on Dr. M’Benga, while nine is one of two big showcase episodes to cap the season. And I’m hoping I get some credit for clocking – last year – that we were going to see a musical episode, which is what we’re getting next week.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

This post first appeared on Engadget | Technology News, Advice And Features, please read the originial post: here

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‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ probes the limits of redemption


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