Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2,
Here we go again! After more than seven months with no new Star Trek, Lower Decks has returned to brighten our days once more!
Despite problems caused by the lack of an international broadcast limiting fans’ access to the show, the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks was outstanding. The series broke new ground for the Star Trek franchise, being its first foray into the realm of animated comedy, yet at the same time felt familiar. Many of the jokes relied on references to past iterations of Star Trek, and as a whole Season 1 of Lower Decks felt like a love letter to the franchise and its fans.
Star Trek: Lower Decks has found an international home on Amazon Prime Video, and beginning with Season 2 fans all over the world are able to watch together, which is great news. I hadn’t realised until recently how much I’d missed my weekly appointment with Lower Decks, and it was wonderful to be able to step back into its fun take on Star Trek.
Having been excited to see trailers and teasers for the new season earlier in the year, as Strange Energies approached I felt that the marketing department at ViacomCBS went overboard with showing us clips from the episode. I wanted to avoid the dreaded “Simpsons Movie phenomenon” – where a production gives away all of its good jokes and clever moments in marketing material ahead of time – so in the final few days leading up to the episode’s arrival I actually tuned out of all of these clips. I wanted to go into Strange Energies in as unspoiled a manner as possible.
The episode was solid, but perhaps not the best Lower Decks has had to offer. There were some clever jokes, fun references, and an A- and B-plot just like most of Season 1. The A-plot looked at the relationship between Mariner and Captain Freeman as they dealt with the titular strange energies that effected Commander Ransom. The B-plot focused on Tendi and Rutherford’s relationship in the wake of his memory loss at the end of Season 1.
Both of these storylines had some great elements and some that weren’t so good. When it came to Tendi’s desire to keep Rutherford as her friend, the whole thing just felt rushed. Within seconds of the two characters appearing on screen, Tendi had jumped down the rabbit hole of obscure technobabble medical conditions, and their story then raced through several sequences before coming to an obvious conclusion. The only time either character had a second to breathe was in the episode’s final moments.
Tendi has been a character that I felt failed to really find a niche in Season 1, despite Lower Decks putting her in several different situations. The one constant in her characterisation had been her friendship with Rutherford, so this storyline did have a solid foundation to build on. Perhaps if more time had been dedicated to it it could’ve worked better; such is the peril of making an animated series with episodes that barely reach the twenty-minute mark.
As for Rutherford, though the memory loss was mentioned, it really served as little more than background for the unfolding story. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Rutherford coming to terms with his lost memories and re-forging the friendships he had in Season 1, not just with Tendi but also with Mariner, Boimler, and characters like Billups in Engineering. This story with Tendi worrying about the future of their friendship could still have worked in that context, but could’ve perhaps come in episode 2 or 3 of the season, after we’d seen a little more of Rutherford rebuilding after losing all of those memories. In that sense, one of the last big moments in the Season 1 finale felt like it was underused at the beginning of Season 2. There’s still scope for some Rutherford memory loss moments, I suppose, but they’ll come after this story has already effectively reset him to the way he was last year.
When the episode’s A-plot focused on the relationships between Mariner, Freeman, and Ransom I was concerned that we were going to see Mariner undo all of the growth and development that made her arc in Season 1 so powerful and interesting to watch. I was glad that it didn’t happen; the story built on that character arc and took the characters to different places without trying to undo what had come before.
It makes sense for characters as different as Freeman and Mariner to find it difficult to work together at times. And it makes sense for Ransom, as the ship’s first officer, to see Mariner’s newfound status and special treatment as an issue, so all of the building blocks that went into this side of the story worked as intended. Just as it took an extreme and unusual event in the Season 1 finale for Mariner and Freeman to overcome those differences and work together, it took another such event this time for them to realise that they didn’t enjoy their new dynamic as much as they pretended to. There’s almost a mirror feel to these characters’ stories in this episode and the Season 1 finale from that point of view; they form a duology.
Once a secret is revealed, though, there’s no way to cover it up again. And the show realised this; it isn’t possible to reset Mariner to the insubordinate angsty teenager that she was at the beginning of Season 1 because the nature of her relationship to Captain Freeman is now a known quantity, and we’ve already seen her growth in that regard. So Lower Decks charted a new path for Mariner, one which will hopefully allow her to do things on her own, keep some of her rebelliousness, but at the same time not completely regress or revert back to the way she was and undo that wonderful Season 1 character arc.
Mariner undergoing a character regression was one of my fears for Season 2, and I’m glad that – so far, at least – Lower Decks has managed to avoid that temptation. A show can still be episodic if it has character arcs and genuine character growth, and what I’m hoping Season 2 will deliver, at least in regards to Mariner, is the best of both worlds from that point of view.
It was an interesting choice to begin Season 2 with an episode that essentially sidelined Boimler. He got a few seconds of screen time right at the very end, but that was all. After all of the speculation about a possible demotion or a return to the Cerritos, for it not to have happened in the first episode was a bold decision – one which worked well.
Had Boimler been included in Strange Energies in any meaningful way (such as by returning to the Cerritos), realistically one of the other storylines would have had to be cut entirely in order to make his promotion-demotion story work. As it is there’s already a concern that undoing Boimler’s promotion so soon after granting it could be a problem, so keeping him out of the first episode and just teasing that things aren’t going well for him on the Titan was clever – it seems like it’s setting up a pathway for him to perhaps lose or voluntarily give up that role in a future episode.
Though I do have some theories that I posited before the season kicked off, I’m still not sure how Lower Decks will square that circle. Since we’ve been talking about Mariner and her Season 1 character arc, I want to repeat that I hope Mariner doesn’t intentionally sabotage Boimler’s new role and promotion. She seemed mad at him in the opening act of Strange Energies, but also said she couldn’t really blame him for leaving as the episode reached its conclusion. So there’s hope, from my perspective, that whatever reunites Boimler with the rest of the group won’t be all down to Mariner!
I’m curious to see if we’ll get a full Boimler episode next week – or at any point this season – showing him under Riker’s command aboard the Titan. If so, perhaps the conflict the Titan was engaged in with the Pakleds at the end of Strange Energies may have set that up. It was great to have Riker back, though, even just for a brief moment.
Ransom becoming a god-like entity was perhaps the weakest part of the episode, even though it served as the catalyst for a solid Mariner-Freeman storyline and managed to include some decent and clever jokes. Perhaps it felt too over-the-top, as if Lower Decks had turned the silliness up to 11 mere moments after the season debuted. Or perhaps there was just something about the way Ransom turned 180° from his usual laid-back self into a ship-eating monster that just felt forced or didn’t stick the landing.
Plus the whole “kicking him in the balls” ending was pretty silly and childish, even by Lower Decks’ standards. I usually enjoy even the lowest-brow humour that the show has to offer (the line “he’s got wood” was one of the funniest for me in all of Season 1, for example) but something about this being the ultimate resolution to Ransom’s newfound godhood just seemed… cheap? It was definitely exceptionally silly.
It was funny to see how casually Mariner, Dr T’Ana, and others treated what was happening to Ransom, as if these “strange energies” are something everyone in Starfleet has encountered or heard of at some point. And the callback to Where No Man Has Gone Before – Star Trek’s second pilot – was definitely appreciated, as was the way Dr T’Ana became convinced that squishing Ransom with a boulder was the only solution to the problem. Lower Decks has been packed full of these references and callbacks since it kicked off last year, and I was glad to see more of the same this time around.
The Cerritos is continuing its mission of second contact, and this week we met a new race – the Apergosians. Their design was okay, but nothing groundbreaking – though they really just served a role in the story instead of supposedly becoming a race we’re going to spend a lot of time with, so I guess that’s okay. Not every alien has to be unique and distinctive! Their leader, who was pretty much the only Apergosian to get a speaking role, was very picky and almost neurotic, and I wondered if Lower Decks was going to do some kind of story about autism or Asperger’s syndrome – perhaps the name of the alien race also contributed to that. As it happened the story went in another direction, which was probably for the best.
Dr T’Ana was great comic relief in Strange Energies, and she’s one of my favourite secondary characters on the show. The moment where Ransom used his new powers to turn her hypospray into an ice cream cone was already hilarious, but then the fact that she just shrugged and started eating it almost made me spit out my drink. I had to pause the episode and recover my composure! Her boulder obsession was also pretty funny; having become attached to the idea that this was the only way, she just went off in search of a boulder disregarding what Mariner and Freeman did. And seeing her driving a forklift was funny too.
So I think that’s about all I have to say about Strange Energies. It wasn’t the best Lower Decks has had to offer, dragged down a little by the Ransom storyline. Its B-plot also didn’t really accomplish very much and felt rushed. But there were some funny moments, good jokes, and satisfying interplay between two pairs of characters. The fact that Strange Energies has started to chart a path for Mariner that doesn’t revert her to her early Season 1 portrayal while still keeping her relationship with the captain and chain of command strained will hopefully lay the groundwork for more fun antics as the season rolls on.
A solid if unspectacular start to Season 2, then. All things considered I’m satisfied with that!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.