Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first nine episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There may be further spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I didn’t enjoy last week’s episode of Lower Decks on the whole. It tried to push the boat out and try some different things – which I admire – but that didn’t work for me. I’m pleased to say that this week’s episode. Crisis Point, was a return to form and an enjoyable story. Not only that, but Ensign Mariner, who had been a weak link in the series, especially in the first couple of episodes, appears to have made a breakthrough in her relationship with Starfleet. Lower Decks has been an episodic series so far, so whether that will stick around for the next episode and for Season 2 is unclear, but I really hope so!
There was a troubling point in Crisis Point which we’ll look at when we get to it, but overall I had a good time with a fun story that had several callbacks to the Star Trek film series. After a disappointment last week I was very pleased to see a return to form, especially now that there’s only one episode left in the season. Time really flies, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday we were talking about the premiere!
As I’ve done throughout Season 1, I’m going to continue to call attention to Lower Decks’ lack of an international broadcast. With the season ending in a matter of days, it’s such an immense disappointment to me that the show’s potential to bring in a whole new audience of prospective Trekkies has been wasted. All the hard work Mike McMahan and everyone behind the scenes put into the series has been squandered in an appalling business decision that hasn’t only stopped new fans discovering this amazing franchise, but has upset millions of Star Trek’s most loyal existing fans too. There were better options than denying Lower Decks to Star Trek’s international audience, and with the pandemic continuing to disrupt production as it drags on, holding the show back six months for an early 2021 release worldwide would have made a lot of sense. As things sit right now, we’ll have Discovery Season 3 in a couple of weeks, but potentially nothing after that for many months.
Of course, you guys know I’d never sink so low as to pirate Lower Decks – even though doing so is totally morally justifiable. Instead I’ve moved to my second home here in the good old U. S. of A. The wonderful city of San Francisco overlooks the Mississippi delta, and is famous for its clam chowder. Yummy stuff.
So let’s crack on with Crisis Point, shall we? The episode didn’t begin particularly strongly. We started at what appeared to be the end of a potentially-interesting mission for Mariner, in which she has interfered in a planet’s development by overthrowing a leader. Captain Freeman steps in to restore order, and while this was clearly set up to portray Mariner in a positive light – helping out aliens who were being oppressed and eaten – I couldn’t help but feel it was a character regression for her. Past episodes had seen Mariner come to work at least slightly better as a team player, and going off all on her own to do something she considered right, but without the approval or authorisation of her captain and without any support from her crewmates felt like a backward step.
Luckily this was just the teaser, and we got the first of many great jokes at the end as the captain finds that the entire situation can be easily resolved by simply offering the planet Federation replicators. Again, though, this just rubbed in that Mariner was acting out of line – had she followed the chain of command the same resolution could have been arrived at without her getting in trouble.
I’d like to take a moment to once again praise the title music Lower Decks uses, because it’s fantastic. It will be heard multiple times in the episode, including in an amazing and somewhat emotional sequence that we’ll come to in a moment. Lower Decks has one of my favourite Star Trek themes; certainly the best we’ve had since the 1990s.
After the opening titles we see Mariner in her mandatory therapy session. After misbehaving on the away mission, Mariner had been expected to be sent to the brig, but instead Captain Freeman insisted she attend therapy. It clearly isn’t her first time, as she’s familiar with the therapist. This is where the character regression that I was disappointed to see from the teaser appeared to continue. Like a petulant child, Mariner bangs her fist on a plant when she didn’t get her way.
On the holodeck – presumably after the therapy session has ended – Mariner is sulking while Rutherford and Tendi play through a holodeck programme. Leonardo da Vinci previously appeared (in hologram form) in Star Trek: Voyager, where he was played by John Rhys-Davies, better-known for his role as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings films. It was a nice little callback!
Boimler interrupts and asks if he can use the holodeck to prepare for an interview he has with the captain. Like Barclay in The Next Generation, Boilmler has created a holodeck programme that simulates the entire crew! In this case it’s less of a fantasy and purely practical, as he can practice what he wants to say and how to behave without doing something wrong in front of the real crew. Still pretty creepy, though, especially because he used the crew’s personal logs to simulate them.
Mariner takes over, and starts messing with the programme’s code in order to set up a fantasy of her own, and moments later the holodeck is transformed into a Lower Decks movie, complete with credits scrolling by. I loved every little touch here – the screen narrows from its usual 16:9 widescreen presentation into something more akin to a film, the credits (on the holodeck) use the Lower Decks/The Next Generation font (which Rutherford comments on in a cute scene) and the music was a riff on the Lower Decks theme that made it sound much closer to the score from The Original Series-era films.
We also got one of the most obscure Star Trek references in Lower Decks so far – Mariner tells Boimler he was “kind of a Xon.” Prior to The Motion Picture being, well, a motion picture, it was a television series called Star Trek: Phase II. Phase II would have brought back the original cast – but without Leonard Nimoy. A Vulcan character called Xon was to be his replacement, and had even been cast and screen-tested. When the pilot episode of Phase II was later expanded into a feature film, Xon was initially retained, but when Leonard Nimoy agreed to reprise his role, Xon was cut from the project. A couple of small remnants of the role remained in the film – not only in the role of deceased science officer Sonak, but also in the role of the Epsilon IX station commander, who was played by David Gautreaux, the actor originally cast as Xon. If you want to read up a little more on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I wrote a piece last December for its fortieth anniversary which you can find by clicking or tapping here.
So if you weren’t sure what that line was all about, now you know! Mariner tells the ensigns she’s written roles for each of them in her holodeck movie, and while Boimler insists his programme is a work tool and not something to have fun with, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford depart to get into costume.
The movie begins with Boimler interrupting the captain’s vacation, as she and the senior staff are using jet-skis. Boimler is still trying to use the programme to accomplish his original goal of learning how to act around the captain, which was kind of funny. He’s aware that what’s happening is just on the holodeck, so we see Boimler acting a little differently – and perhaps more assertively – that he usually does, especially when the captain is around. In that sense, perhaps we’re seeing that the holodeck can, in a weird way, be helpful for someone like Boimler. Despite the ethical concerns of simulating a person without their consent, for someone with anxiety issues I can see how it would be helpful to do so.
The next part has to be my favourite in the episode. I was genuinely getting emotional! After a meeting with an admiral aboard a Spacedock-type Starbase in which the Cerritos is given an assignment, we got a prolonged sequence of Boimler and the simulated senior staff transferring to the ship via shuttlecraft. The music in this sequence was perfect, another riff on the Lower Decks theme, but this time one that mimicked the sequence in The Motion Picture where Scotty and Kirk board the Enterprise. The shuttle made several passes by the Cerritos, and while I’ve always felt the design of the ship was fine, here Crisis Point slowed things down so we could really appreciate its design. It was a beautiful sequence that paid homage not only to The Motion Picture, but also to several other occasions in The Original Series-era films where the ship was the star of the show. I loved it.
After the Cerritos warps to its destination, Mariner appears aboard a cloaked Klingon ship. She’s cast herself as a villain called Vindicta, and she has Rutherford, Tendi, and a simulated Boimler has her “henchmen.” While she distracts the captain with a rambling speech, she and the others sneak aboard the Cerritos and begin to attack – and murder – the crew. I liked Mariner’s over-the-top acting performance in her role as Vindicta (credit to Tawny Newsome, who plays Mariner!) and I liked that she cast herself as the villain rather than the hero. I think Mariner’s therapist might have a thing or two to say about that!
Realising that Boimler has perfectly simulated the entire crew of the Cerritos, Rutherford rushes away to confront his commanding officer: chief engineer Billups. This is the second episode in a row to expand Billups’ role, and as the role of chief engineer has typically been important in past iterations of Star Trek, that was a touch I appreciated.
Tendi seems increasingly uncomfortable with the violence, but continues to play along with Mariner for a time. However, here’s where the episode’s only significant issue comes into play: Mariner displays racial prejudice towards Tendi. There’s a famous story that Gene Roddenberry hated Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when it was screened for him shortly before he passed away. In particular he detested anti-Klingon racism, particularly from Kirk but also from other Starfleet officers. Roddenberry believed such attitudes had no place in his vision of the 23rd Century. When I reviewed episode 3, Temporal Edict, I mentioned this as well. In that episode, Captain Freeman and an unnamed admiral display similar anti-Cardassian sentiments. This time, Mariner keeps bringing up the fact that Tendi is Orion, and that “Orions are pirates.” This is unquestionably racial stereotyping. Even though Orions are a fictional sci-fi species, I found this uncomfortable. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be from the audience if Tendi – or any other character – made similar remarks about Mariner’s African heritage. While I enjoyed the episode overall, and in the context of a story about Mariner going off the rails it makes a kind of sense, this is as close as Lower Decks has come to being completely the opposite of what Star Trek has always tried to be.
One positive to come out of this is that Tendi stands up for herself, telling Mariner to stop the stereotyping and race prejudice and storming off the holodeck in disgust. At times, Tendi has been a difficult character to follow. The writers of the series haven’t really found a niche for her, and for much of the season she’s just been floating in the background. Here, though, Tendi has a strong moment where she stands up for her heritage and her people, and shows that she won’t take Mariner’s nonsense. Good for her.
With Tendi gone, Mariner is all on her own. Rutherford has gone to the simulated main engineering to tell Billups what he really thinks of him… which, in true Rutherford style, is that he thinks he’s amazing. The things he wanted to say, far from being rude or anything of that nature, are kind-hearted compliments. As the simulated ship is under attack, Rutherford and the hologram of Billups work together, complimenting each other as they go.
After making her way to the bridge, Mariner confronts Captain Freeman. After another argument, she reveals she’s rigged her Klingon ship to self-destruct; the resultant explosion causes the Cerritos to lose orbit and plummet to the planet below. The crash sequence was very well done, as the ship loses a nacelle, then its lower hull, before the saucer comes to rest at a steep angle by a mountain or rock formation. We’ve seen ships crash-land in Star Trek before, but never quite so violently or catastrophically! Even the Enterprise-D’s saucer in Star Trek: Generations was in better shape!
A short scene with Rutherford and Billups reveals Rutherford saved the Cerritos’ crew by beaming them off the ship. In a funny line he says that “you can do all sorts of beaming stuff in a movie!” Her business with Captain Freeman unfinished, Mariner continues her attack after the crash. The captain orders her surviving crew to evacuate, and Mariner tells her to “drop the act” of being a captain who cares.
Their fight continues (in what was probably a slightly over-long sequence but I’ll forgive it!) and when Mariner seems to finally have the upper hand and is ready to kill the captain, she’s interrupted by the holo-version of herself! The obvious parallel in the ensuing Mariner-versus-Mariner fight is when Kirk fought a changeling with his appearance in The Undiscovered Country, but as this was the emotional climax of Mariner’s story, I didn’t really think about that on first viewing.
Mariner (the real Mariner, that is) is upset and annoyed at being unable to finish her movie the way she wanted, but as the fight progresses it’s clear that she comes to realise something about herself – she does care about Starfleet, and she does care about her mother. The ship, crew, and captain all matter to her more than she realised, and she comes to regret going to such a silly extreme. This is the emotional breakthrough Mariner has needed to have all season long, and I hope it signals a turnaround in her character that will become permanent.
There’s no question that Mariner can be a fun character. She can be sweet and funny and entertaining in equal measure, but where Lower Decks has stumbled more than once is where Mariner has been the antithesis of a Starfleet officer. A bad or lazy Starfleet officer can be funny. A laid-back Starfleet officer can be funny. But someone who behaves the way Mariner has numerous times across the season misses the point, and speaking for myself, I haven’t found that side of the show’s humour very effective.
The childishness and the teenage rebellion streak that run through Mariner needed to come to a head in some kind of scenario like the one depicted in Crisis Point so that they can be excised from her character permanently. We can still see Mariner the rebel, Mariner breaking rules, Mariner being laid-back, and so on. But the anti-authority, anti-parent nature of some of her rebelliousness hasn’t been enjoyable to watch – and I’d argue won’t be for anyone over the age of about 14.
Holo-Mariner and real Mariner are well-matched in their fight, and as it draws to a close, holo-Mariner plays a blinder: the fight has just been a distraction while she set the Cerritos to self-destruct. Obviously with the holodeck safety protocols on, real Mariner was unharmed! Though she didn’t get the outcome she wanted from the movie, she learned a valuable lesson and got the outcome she needed.
Boimler, who remained with the crew, is still on the holodeck, and listens to Captain Freeman eulogise Mariner – and finally learns the truth of their connection. I can think of many reasons why Starfleet officers may choose to conceal family ties; Tom Paris in Voyager made it clear that being the son of a high-ranking officer came with a lot of pressure. Some may argue that it would be difficult or impossible to cover up something like that, but I don’t see why that has to be the case. It fits fine with established canon, and there’s nothing wrong with the way it was handled here.
Stunned by the revelation, Boimler messes up his interview with the captain – the one that set the scene for the whole holodeck movie. Mariner, to her credit, apologises to Tendi for her anti-Orion comments, and Rutherford has the same appreciation for his commanding officer as before, but is satisfied he got the opportunity to express it.
So that was Crisis Point. After how I felt about Mariner, especially in the first couple of episodes of the season, seeing her come to realise that she does actually care about Starfleet and her mother was almost a cathartic experience. As the audience we’ve seen glimpses of this side of her, of the “heart of gold” beneath the laid-back, uncaring exterior. And those moments have been fantastic. But there’s also an anti-authority, teen angst, almost nastiness to her that can – at times – make for unpleasant viewing. It really feels as though Mariner learned a lesson and turned a corner this week, and I hope at least some of that sticks with her into the finale and Season 2.
Boimler, despite setting up the main storyline, was mostly absent this week. However, learning the truth about Freeman and Mariner’s family connection has surely set up a bigger plot for him next week. Tendi finally stood up for herself, which was great. She’s been a character who, because she lacks a well-developed personality of her own, can sometimes feel that she goes along with whatever anyone else is doing. It was nice to see her take a stand, especially against such stereotyping and prejudice. Rutherford is just adorable, and his story this week was too cute.
I had a wonderful time this week, despite Mariner going off the rails for practically the entire episode. There were some great callbacks to past Star Trek films, and I loved the sequence with Boimler and the senior staff taking a shuttle to the Cerritos. That was the high point of the episode for me. I’ve always loved that sequence in The Motion Picture, and seeing it paid homage to here was beautiful.
Only one episode left now! Where does the time go? Swing by next week for my review of the Season 1 finale, and perhaps at some point in the next few weeks I’ll do a recap/review of the season as a whole.
The first nine episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.