The most devastating horrors are often masked in beauty. In literature, the examples are numerous. Dorian Gray. The folksy country town of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” The Eloi’s banal lives of ease in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 6 is even more insidious in painting the charm of Majalis. Not only is their representative a charming, attractive emissary with a romantic history with Pike, but their entire culture also ascribes to the philosophy of “Science. Service. Sacrifice.”
They really should add “Secrets” to that credo.
In the tradition of Star Trek outings like Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5 Episode 17, “The Outcast,” in the end, the crew is forced to leave Majalis to its own culture and traditions.
As wrong as Majalis’s First Servant system feels, it could be seen as the extreme end of the Vulcan adage that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
But while the Prospect VII revolutionaries are the few at the moment and the First Servant, by definition, is only ever one, the minority grows by one with Gamal’s defection.
By anointing the First Servant with love and adulation and celebrating his Ascension with festivities, the Majalins have bought their absolution.
Pike: Will he suffer?
Alora: Yes. We don’t pretend otherwise. We live in gratitude for him, and when a new First Servant ascends, we will live for her.
Pike: Your whole civilization, all your… this, it’s all founded on the suffering of a child.
Alora: Can you honestly say that no child suffers for the benefit of your Federation? That no child lives in poverty or squalor while those who enjoy abundance look away? The only difference is we don’t look away. And because of that, the suffering is borne on the back of only one. It’s what makes it a sacred honor. That’s why I choose our way.
By acknowledging his sacrifice, they believe it makes the act of sacrificing him acceptable.
And they are the many. For now.
In discussing the situation of Majalis — a situation I freely admit to finding incredibly disturbing –, a helpful colleague pointed me in the direction of the Ursula Le Guin short story, “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas.”
In the story, an idyllic thriving city exists only because they keep a pact wherein one child is kept in squalor and neglect, treated only cruelly when interacted with at all.
Alora: Serving Majalis is his destiny. His reason for being. Without him, Majalis could not be.
Pike: You plugged a kid into a machine. What’s it going to do to him?
Alora: We don’t know.
The point of the story is that despite the prosperity and abundance the pact provides, there are some residents who cannot abide knowing they live in a paradise bought with the suffering of the child. These people are the titular Those Who Walk Away.
In drawing the comparison to Majalis, Gamal walks away once his hope of saving his son is gone.
In contrast, the Prospect VII rebels are not content with walking away. They are invested in ending the tradition.
Now one could argue that the Omelas pact is founded on belief as superstitious as the stoning in “The Lottery.” In contrast, Majalis’s splendor is physically suspended over a planet of lava by some mechanized system created by the Founders.
So, the First Servant’s horrific Ascension could be argued to be necessary in a practical manner rather than symbolic ritual.
He chooses it freely, and we honor his sacrifice.
Which leads me to ask how the Founders figured out how to use a child’s mind to power their mechanized terraforming? I can only assume the Founders were not Majalins as they are now but rather a species without empathy. Or they bred the Majalins to power their machine, only to die off themselves.
Another theory is that this was all a test to see who would walk away. Prospect VII passes. Majalins fail.
It’s disheartening to hear that when she first met Pike, Alora was looking for an alternative to the First Servant, but now, ten years later, she champions the Ascension ritual.
Honestly, I didn’t really trust her to begin with. Una’s comment about Alora’s luck with shuttles seemed on the mark.
Alora: Why were you on that ship?
Kier: To fulfill my oath. And to renounce everything this floating hell stands for.
And when the knife the rebel guard Kier threatens her with conveniently ends up in his chest, it definitely rang some alarm bells.
I don’t doubt she cares for Pike and truly believes he would be happy with her if he only came over to her way of thinking.
This is why long-distance relationships that only hook up once a decade are so challenging. Also, the infanticide doesn’t help.
Of course, his attraction predates his relationship with Captain Batel, who we saw at breakfast on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 1, but I couldn’t help but feel a little outraged on her behalf.
After all, this is Pike, not James T. Kirk. I guess I expected him to be more fidelitous.
Sam Kirk: Tell her for me you deserve a full-hour.
La’an: You can tell me yourself, Lieutenant.
Sam Kirk: I would, but I’m conflict-averse?
Balancing out the problematic ethics of Majalis is the differently problematic Security training Uhura gets under La’an’s tutelage.
(I don’t know about you, but I really wanted the Lieutenant to bark, “Constant vigilance!” just once. Just once. Would’ve made me SO happy.)
That La’an’s rules are so well-known among the crew and yet still total surprises to new cadets is a fascinating ship tradition.
Uhura’s been impressing trainers all over the place.
First, she wins over the curmudgeonly Hemmer — by the way, where’s he gone? Hope he’s back soon — and now La’an describes her as “promising.” Gold star, cadet! Twenty points to Gryffindor!
Gamal: I was wrong. I deserve to be in here, Commander. I know that. I didn’t just violate the law of my planet, I violated my own principles, my most deeply-held beliefs.
Gamal: For him. For my son.
There are a couple of continuity issues I would be remiss not to mention.
When Una tries to contact the planet during the Ascension, she is prevented from communicating and transporting by interference. Pike wakes up in Alora’s quarters, has his conversation with her, then contacts Una with a simple, “Now, Number One,” and is beamed up immediately.
It just seems like we missed something there.
The other detail that bothered me is we are supposed to believe the oath coin they found on the Prospect VII cruiser is Kier’s.
But Kier has a coin in his pendant. Alora only says that the case is damaged. Did he steal someone else’s coin and put it in his case?
There are always things to nitpick on, but these two stood out in an otherwise immersive and highly emotional offering.
Finally, we have the parallel father-child relationships. M’Benga and Gamal are both willing to go to impossible lengths to save their children.
Seeing the First Servant and Rukiya playing together is one of the most touching moments so far in the series. The regret on M’Benga’s face as he puts her back into the buffer strikes at the heart of every parent.
For Gamal to reach out after losing his child with an ember of hope for M’Benga to build on demonstrates the Majalin’s character as both a man and a physician.
Questions I have for the writers regarding Majalin lore include: How often is an Ascension needed? Will the next First Servant now be voted in out of the planet’s babies? Does every First Servant get to keep a biological parent as an Elder?
And the most important one is probably: How do they know the machine still requires the child’s mind? In other words, has there ever been a break in the smooth transition? Did parts of the planet start falling into the lava?
What questions would you ask, given the chance, Fanatics?
How do you feel about this first conclusion without closure?
Do the needs of the many warrant the torture and death of one child?
Unload your ethical quandaries into our comments!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.