While making a visit to the Majalan system, which Pike visited a decade earlier, the Enterprise comes to the rescue of a Majalan shuttle under attack by a larger ship from a nearby alien colony. The Enterprise fends off the attackers, which crashes on the planet surface as its crew escapes. The shuttle's rescued passengers are beamed aboard the Enterprise for protection. Among them are a young boy, his father, and a Majalan official named Alora (Lindy Booth), whom Pike coincidentally had some sort of romance with a decade ago.
The boy is the new First Servant of Majalis (Ian Ho), a young genius who is imminently scheduled to ascend to the throne in a crucial ceremony. The boy's father, Gamal (Huse Madhavji), says he is the father in biology alone, as the First Servant actually belongs to all of Majalis. Alora seems friendly, and is really glad to see Pike again. Gamal seems a bit off, like something is wrong.
"Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach" is the first episode of SNW that really didn't work for me. It's one of those shows that's clearly toying with us for the duration, building toward a revelation that is guaranteed to be more sinister than what the episode is letting on. Crucial details are hidden or spoken about in euphemisms that are technically accurate but not true in spirit — like "ascend" to the "throne." Meanwhile, there's the mystery surrounding the aggression of the alien colony, about which the Majalans won't come out and say what's happening, even though they obviously know.
In being true to the spirit of TOS and TNG, this episode features a chase/fight sequence that's in the grand tradition of mediocre staging and stunt work. A guard has betrayed his sacred oath to protect the First Servant and was working with the alien colony to kidnap him. He flees the scene, only to be chased down, not stunned, then held at phaser-point, and yet he's still able to grab Alora and put a knife to her throat. (The only twist here is that she saves herself rather than Pike saving her. But the whole sequence comes off as contrived.)
The romantic angle, alas, feels completely by-the-numbers as Trek romances go. Pike is so tongue-tied upon his first reacquaintance with Alora that the whole thing comes across as hammy and oversold. (Is this guy supposed to be almost 50, or 20?) These two obviously still have the hots for each other, and gradually work back toward the inevitable. Hilariously, Pike's Awesome Hair™ doesn't even get messed up during sex. It's still absolutely perfect in the post-coital pillow talk scene.
In the meantime, this episode makes Pike far too passive in his own showcase. I really enjoy the laissez-faire style of Pike's command and his easygoing personality, but it should have limits; here he comes across as slow to catch on as the questions pile up. His approach to everything has that "okay .... then" half-amused half-confused roll-with-the-strange-punches sensibility. But at some point, this guy needs to get mad about the fact that everyone is lying to his face.
Meanwhile, Gamal hangs out in sickbay with the boy and M'Benga, and M'Benga learns that the Majalans have superior medical technology that has allowed them to cure all disease on their world. It could possibly hold the cure for his daughter. The Majalans are forbidden from sharing their medicine with outsiders, however. For M'Benga, it sure must suck to be on the other side of the Prime Directive. (Ultimately, Gamal is able to share some knowledge that may help treat but not cure M'Benga's daughter.) In keeping with this series' laudable characteristic of being an ensemble show, there's an entire fairly-well-integrated subplot where La'an shows Uhura the ropes of security.
The last act stops dancing around and drops all the revelations on us. Being the "First Servant" really means being connected to a machine and suffering for your entire life so that the society's floating cities won't literally fall into the boiling lava below. (This is a very unique problem that seems impossible to have developed organically. I have a lot of questions about how such a society came to be. It also makes the title literal to the point of goofiness.) The alien colony isn't alien at all, but a group of Majalan exiles who are against the way Majalis continues to permit the exploitative outrage that is the First Servant. All of this could've been made clearer sooner, but the story is deliberately evasive so it can yank the rug out from under us at the end. But it's not a huge shock, and it makes Pike look like a slow study for not being more suspicious and inquisitive.
Still, I did like that this episode's true resolution lay in its dialogue. The scene where Alora makes the pitch to Pike that the First Servant's suffering is a willing sacrifice and a noble purpose that their entire society genuinely reveres is something that gets to the heart of the concept of a "strange new world" and the difficult-to-swallow nature of the Prime Directive, which says we don't get to tell others how to live. (This is, of course, even harder to stomach because of the child's young age and the reality that all his choices were made for him, even if he didn't realize it. The Majalans are lying to themselves if they think the First Servant is truly "willing.")
But there's something off in the execution of all this, like they had the pieces, but couldn't figure out how to fit them together organically without ending up with a bunch of grinding gears. The episode feels manipulative and deceptive in the way it conveniently hides key information. The silver lining here is that even when SNW fails, it fails because it's being mediocre classic Star Trek, rather than mediocre generic serialized streaming TV.
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