Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3.
Ah, it feels good to be doing this again! After a ten-month hiatus, Star Trek: Lower Decks is back on our screens with a ten-episode third season to take us all the way to Halloween! Although the season premiere didn’t quite hit the high notes that I was hoping for, it’s still great to welcome the series back. There’s been some big news about Lower Decks over the last couple of months – a crossover episode with Strange New Worlds is on the cards for next year, if you somehow missed that announcement.
After Season 2 ended on a cliffhanger with an incredibly powerful episode, I was hoping that this new season would bolt out of the gate and keep the quality high. Unfortunately, Lower Decks’ tendency to go for the non sequitur ending meant that the season premiere, while fun and entertaining at first, fell flat as it reached its conclusion. A well-established cliffhanger that ended Season 2 was wrapped up in an odd and ultimately unsatisfying way, with all of the significant events taking place off-screen. While we got a fun adventure with our favourite ensigns that took up the first four-fifths of the episode, the ending let it down massively.
Grounded was an episode that was full of little nods and references to past iterations of Star Trek, and I certainly appreciated that. It was fun to get a look at Bozeman, Montana as it appears in the 24th Century, for example – including the infamous statue of Zephram Cochrane that we first heard about in First Contact. The outfits worn by the main characters recalled past Star Trek stories, including Rutherford’s Jake Sisko-inspired jumper and Boimler’s vest, which was first seen adorning Wesley Crusher in The Next Generation.
There was some gentle poking fun at Disneyland and Disney World in the presentation of the Bozeman, Montana complex, and that was certainly cute. The Phoenix “ride” that the ensigns hijacked to take to the Cerritos reminded me of the ride Star Tours at Disney World, particularly in the queue area. And the churros that Rutherford and Tendi were seen snacking on are likewise a Disney Parks staple!
Back to Star Trek, we had callbacks to and parodies of the Picard family vineyard – which has most recently appeared, of course, in both seasons of Star Trek: Picard, though here it was seen closer to its appearances in Family and All Good Things. Sisko’s Creole Kitchen – the family restaurant operated by Benjamin Sisko’s father Joseph – was the setting for one scene, and we also got name-drops of Tuvok and Captain Bateson (the character played by Kelsey Grammer in The Next Generation Season 5 episode Cause and Effect) during Captain Freeman’s truncated explanation of her trial and the events leading up to it.
Finally, and this was a neat inclusion, James Cromwell reprised his role as Zephram Cochrane – albeit in holographic form. The musical sting from First Contact brought a tear to my eye, and the launch of the Phoenix was an incredibly neat sequence. The addition of a random theme park guest (and a cowardly one at that) kind of detracted from the moment a little, but that was a classic Lower Decks move in its own way and one I can’t really hold a grudge against.
Once we’ve finished wading through the nostalgia, though, I’m left feeling that Grounded was a little hollow; an episode of false starts and setups that led nowhere – or to a disconnected, unpredictable conclusion that may have been “trademark Lower Decks” in some respects, but where the execution of its final twist and closing moments left a bit of a sour taste.
At first, Ensign Mariner seemed to be on a quest driven by emotion. But that emotional setup didn’t go anywhere, and her relationship with her mother arguably ends the episode in a worse place than it had been at the start. There seemed to be a story about Starfleet’s trustworthiness that could’ve harkened back not only to stories like The Search for Spock but that also could have connected with themes in recent seasons of Discovery and Picard – but it also didn’t go anywhere. And there was the fear that Ensign Mariner had that Captain Freeman was being mistreated because of her “lowly” status as captain of a California-class ship. That concept also hit the wall.
Then there was a particularly harsh judge for Captain Freeman’s trial who was mentioned once, never seen on screen, and whose influence appears to have had no impact whatsoever on the story. Boimler’s logs turned out to be unusable because of their content. That joke wasn’t even especially funny – yet it was the punchline of a whole chapter of the story, one that ended up going nowhere as a result. These are just some of the false starts and red herrings that Grounded threw at us.
The problem with these ideas isn’t that any of them are bad – it’s that Grounded threw them all out and then paid off none of them in a significant way. The idea of Starfleet being biased, or of a “conservative court” picking on officers from lower positions are both really neat concepts that even a comedic series like Lower Decks could have explored… but it seems to have dropped them just as soon as it had picked them up.
The first three-quarters of the episode did a decent enough job at setting up Mariner’s grief and fear, but the culmination of this storyline was far too short and one sequence on the bridge of the Cerritos wasn’t enough of a pay-off. When the rest of the ideas introduced to us in the first part of the episode went nowhere, there was basically nothing left and no way to salvage the story. Grounded’s “big twist” was that Captain Freeman was acquitted at her trial with no input from Mariner or the other ensigns, but it was just… nothing. It wasn’t especially clever, it certainly wasn’t funny, and the fact that it was rushed through with a brief montage to explain what really happened just felt incredibly anticlimactic.
Worse, Grounded picks up an unfortunate trend from earlier in Lower Decks’ run. By encouraging us as the audience to get invested in the ensigns’ story and believe that they were on a Search for Spock-type last-ditch mission to save their captain, only to turn around and show us that she was never in any real danger and didn’t even need their help, the show and its creators almost feel like they’re laughing at us. As if the audience’s investment in the story they set up is part of the joke. I noted this with disappointment in Season 1’s Veritas, and it’s a shame to see this unfortunate trope reoccur now that Lower Decks is entering its third season. The show should aim to be better than this.
When Captain Freeman walked through the shuttlebay doors, flanked by her senior staff, I admit it was a surprise. But it didn’t feel real – I felt sure that she’d turn out to be a hologram, a changeling, a disguised Pakled… basically anything else other than the real, newly-freed captain. And the reason for that is simple: the story doesn’t flow. This conclusion is, as I said at the beginning, a non sequitur; it doesn’t follow on naturally from the story we’ve spent the rest of the episode following. And for some people, maybe this kind of twist works. For me, it didn’t. And when the entire episode is built around this one big, explosive moment, its failure condemns the entire episode.
Perhaps that last statement was a tad harsh. There are neat moments across the first portion of Grounded that really plucked the right nostalgic strings, and others that were amusing in one way or another. I liked, for example, the kindly old man who operated the transporter, and how none of the ensigns had the heart to stun him and tie him up. That was a fun way to throw in a twist to what felt like a predictable storyline.
However, all of those neat moments feel soured by the episode’s ending. Partly this is because going back and rewatching a story with a bad ending always feels like a tainted experience, but also it should be said that it feels like some of these moments were wasted time. Captain Freeman blitzed through a montage and explanation of the Pakleds’ scheme and her trial that lasted barely a minute, and perhaps a longer sequence – that could have included flashbacks to the trial itself and/or the events surrounding it – might’ve gone some way to making up for the rug-pull. I’m not sure that would’ve saved Grounded, but maybe the episode could have been transformed from a disappointment into something merely underwhelming.
Had the Captain Freeman reveal been made at the halfway point, instead of three minutes before the credits rolled, more time could’ve been dedicated to explaining her situation, she and Mariner could’ve enjoyed a longer conversation to process what happened, and some of the ultimately unnecessary fluff could’ve been cut from earlier in the story.
So I’m sorry to say that Lower Decks continues a trend of season premieres that don’t hit the high notes that we know the series can reach. Grounded was undermined by the decision to have the ensigns’ story not matter – and while, in some ways, that’s the point of Lower Decks as a whole, the way in which it was executed here is what let it down. I don’t mind following the ensigns as they follow orders, complete insignificant tasks, and the like… but setting up a story in which they seemed to be on a dangerous adventure only to yank it away at the last minute and show how pointless it all was, well that just doesn’t make for a fun, worthwhile, or entertaining ride. At least not for me.
Star Trek references dripped from every orifice in Grounded, but the inclusion of so many locations, characters, callbacks, and name-drops couldn’t save an episode that was, unfortunately, spoiled by a poor ending. After First First Contact had set up Season 3 for greatness, this first episode feels like a swing and a miss from Mike McMahan and the team.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Discovery Season 2, and The Next Generation.
Where has the time gone?! It seems like just yesterday that we were settling in for the premiere episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, and now we’re already waving goodbye to the series as the season comes to an end. With a couple of weeks until Prodigy premieres – at least for folks lucky enough to have Paramount+ – and with Discovery Season 4 still a month away, there’s going to be a gaping hole in my entertainment schedule!
In the days ahead I’d like to take a look back at the season as a whole, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that here on the website. But for now we’ve got one final episode to get stuck into, so let’s talk about First First Contact!
The episode was surprisingly emotional, presenting the crew with a difficult scientific problem to solve and pushing them to work together, harder than ever before, to save both a stricken starship in jeopardy and an entire planet. It brought back a well-liked character from The Next Generation, gave all four ensigns moments of character development, and had a stunning climax that both mirrored the finale of Season 1 while showing how far the Cerritos and her crew have come. And then, to cap it all off, First First Contact ended on a truly shocking cliff-hanger – one we’ll have to wait until next summer to see resolved!
Sometimes Lower Decks has felt like it’s bitten off more than it could chew, with too many characters and story threads in play such that some or all weren’t all they could have been. But despite First First Contact giving each of its main characters a role to play, as well as bringing in guest stars and recurring characters, it primarily stuck to one main story throughout and thus allowed everyone to participate in that story in a way that felt natural. No character felt under-used, and the story was well-paced.
There were a handful of minor contrivances that we should acknowledge. In order to give all four ensigns a significant role in the story, particularly after three of the four were sidelined last week, the plot of First First Contact did include a little forced drama. There’s nothing wrong with that sometimes, and it isn’t a criticism! But things like Tendi being transferred and Rutherford’s sudden concern about saving backup memories did feel a little contrived. It was done to give everyone a role in the story as well as to give each of the four a strong emotional moment, so I think it’s excusable in that context.
Usually I’d pick on one storyline or sub-plot that I felt was the weakest, but honestly on this occasion every aspect of the episode feels as strong as every other. The drama began during the pre-titles sequence, when Ensign Mariner overheard that Captain Freeman will be offered a transfer to a bigger and better ship – and won’t be able to bring any of her crew or senior staff with her. From there the episode continually upped the stakes, resulting in a tense, exciting, and emotional episode. It was a wild ride from start to finish!
Since we mentioned Captain Freeman, let’s start there. It makes sense that, in light of her achievements particularly with the Pakled conflict but also in other areas, that she’d be a promotion target. She’s been a strong captain across the show’s first two seasons, and I’m sure that Starfleet is always on the lookout for officers like Captain Freeman. We’ve heard on a number of occasions that California-class ships are pretty low down in the Starfleet hierarchy, so transferring a senior officer from a “lowly” post to a more significant post is something I can absolutely imagine the organisation would do – it is, after all, a meritocracy.
What I didn’t like about this transfer storyline was the notion that Starfleet command appears to have essentially written off people like Billups, Shaxs, and especially Freeman’s first officer Commander Ransom. This is one of the aforementioned plot contrivances, as it was necessary for the senior staff to be upset with Captain Freeman to give this aspect of the story some more weight. But purely from an in-universe point of view, I didn’t really like that Starfleet was basically saying that the senior staff of the Cerritos are California-class quality and can never be anything more than that. It kind of undermines the meritocratic nature of the organisation that we were just celebrating!
It was interesting to see the senior staff and Captain Freeman at odds with one another, though. That’s something Lower Decks hasn’t really tried before, and it worked well. Both sides are right in their own ways – Captain Freeman wanted to wait for the right moment to discuss the subject, especially with an important mission at hand. But the rest of the senior staff had every right to be upset at being kept out of the loop.
Mariner was, of course, the instigator of this drama. But her arc across the episode didn’t undermine her character progression that we’ve come to see and love over the past two seasons. Her acting out on this occasion wasn’t caused by a desire to be a chaotic troublemaker, but actually came from a place of genuine love. She’s come to enjoy working with her mother, especially since the events of Season 1’s Crisis Point and the unveiling of their family connection in Season 1’s No Small Parts. The idea that she was going to lose her mother after having only recently begun to enjoy their new dynamic was something she found impossible to deal with at first, prompting her to tell the senior staff and cause what she knew would be a fight.
In some ways, the argument between Mariner and Freeman earlier in the episode – in which Mariner told the captain she’d never want to work with her ever again – did feel regressive. In the moment it seemed as though the progress Mariner had made in her relationship with her mother – which was also reflected in her attitude toward working in Starfleet – was slipping back to its early Season 1 state. But as the story moved along and we came to understand why Mariner was so upset it all made perfect sense and the pieces fell into place.
One of my favourite things about Lower Decks over its first two seasons as a whole has been the way Ensign Mariner’s characterisation has been handled, and First First Contact was the icing on the cake. We got to see firsthand just how much serving with her mother has come to mean to her, and how devastated she was at the thought of losing her. It wasn’t, as she claimed at first, because Captain Freeman would protect her from getting court-martialled! She genuinely came to care about their rebuilt relationship, and that changed her attitude toward at least some of the work she does as an ensign. It’s been a wonderful transformation to see play out, and it needed two full seasons with these moments scattered along the way to properly unfold.
We also got a moment between Tendi and Mariner that built on their solo adventure in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris earlier in the season. As Mariner was struggling, it was Tendi who snapped at her and finally got her to see sense. I loved her line about friendship, it really knitted together all of the loose ends of Mariner’s season-long character arc. We’ve learned how she’s been avoiding making friendships and pushing people away because she fears losing those friends when they inevitably move on, but as she found with Rutherford, Tendi, and Boimler she doesn’t have to be frightened of that. That conversation prompted her to rush to the bridge and have a heart-to-heart with the captain in what was perhaps the sweetest moment in the entire episode.
Jennifer the Andorian has been a background character this season, and if I were to nitpick Mariner’s storyline in First First Contact I’d say that the Jennifer rivalry wasn’t as well-developed as it could’ve been prior to its resolution at the end of the episode. We’d seen Mariner mention her a couple of times, particularly in the season premiere, Strange Energies. But Mariner’s big rivalry with a secondary character in Season 2 came with Jet in the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open. There was enough of a Mariner-Jennifer conflict to make the way they resolved things work – and I loved seeing Jennifer come to Mariner’s rescue – but it could have been developed further before they sat down together.
I wasn’t certain if Mariner’s line about “liking” Jennifer when they talked in the bar meant that she has a crush or some kind of romantic feelings toward her, though Jennifer’s reaction seemed to suggest that. Mariner has previously said that she’s dated males, females, and non-binary people, so I think we can infer that she’s pansexual and would thus not be averse to dating someone like Jennifer. Watch this space, because I think it could be interesting to give Mariner a romantic relationship in future.
Rutherford’s story was perhaps the shortest this week. He spent much of his time with Tendi, racing around the ship after she misunderstood Dr T’Ana and felt she was going to be transferred. The Tendi-Rutherford pairing has always worked well, and the pair revisited some of their earlier haunts, including the Jefferies tube where they spent time together in the episode Envoys back in Season 1.
His main concern this time came from his missing memories, and his desire to never again forget any part of his friendship with Tendi. It was very sweet that Rutherford would be so cautious about backing up his memories after losing them at the end of Season 1, but as with the only other real mention of this storyline this season, I feel like this story came a bit late in the day. Rutherford’s memory loss could have been more than Lower Decks ultimately made of it, and while this week it did lead to a couple of sweet moments both with Tendi and with Billups, I still feel it could’ve been handled better overall.
The visual gag of the pop-up was funny, though, and gave Rutherford a reason to let Tendi guide him – literally as well as figuratively. We know from episodes like Crisis Point that Rutherford has a great respect for Billups, so it made perfect sense for Billups to be the one he’d turn to for advice. He listened to Billups’ advice too, eventually deleting his backups to free up space in his implant.
Rutherford’s cyborg status had never been called into question. Everyone on the crew simply accepted him for who he was, and that appeared to be that! However, First First Contact has set up an interesting mystery in regards to Rutherford’s cybernetics: who were the mysterious figures seen augmenting him, and if he didn’t choose to be augmented voluntarily, why does he have his implant? I have no doubt this will be explored in Season 3, so watch this space!
Lower Decks has never been particularly bothered about borrowing themes and character types from Discovery, preferring instead to focus on The Next Generation era. But in Rutherford we have a character who has at least some similarities to Discovery’s Airiam – a character who really only came into her own shortly before her death in Season 2. Airiam was similarly a cybernetically-augmented human, though her cybernetics were a result of an accident she suffered. Rutherford’s suppressed memories could hint at a similar fate – perhaps he was injured while on some clandestine assignment for Starfleet. Maybe Section 31 are involved! In future I might write up some of my guesses about Rutherford’s pre-augmentation past, so be sure to stay tuned for that.
Though it went somewhat understated in the episode, Rutherford came up with the idea that ultimately saved the day – for the second season finale in a row! It was his plan to jettison the Cerritos’ outer hull that allowed them to make it through the asteroid field in time to save the USS Archimedes, and in an episode that wasn’t all about Rutherford it was nice that he got one of the most significant story moments. First First Contact had several key moments that mirrored the Season 1 finale, No Small Parts, and this was the first of them.
It never seemed plausible that Tendi was so bad at her job that she’d be kicked off the ship, and as mentioned this storyline did feel a little contrived. But it gave Tendi the opportunity to spend time with Rutherford and to give Mariner the talk that she needed to come to her senses and fix her relationship with Captain Freeman. I think it gets a pass in that regard!
“Overhearing something and misunderstanding it” is a bit of a sitcom cliché, but it was generally handled well in the episode, and the moments where Tendi felt like she had to run and hide from Dr T’Ana were kind of funny. It ultimately led to a cute resolution with the pair hugging it out – and Dr T’Ana purring! I’ve said on a number of occasions that I love how Lower Decks has played up the cat-like features of Dr T’Ana, and this was yet another example of that.
However, as a concept I’m not really sure I follow what this storyline wanted to say. Though medical and science are related departments they’re hardly the same thing, and transferring someone who wants to work in medical to a science position doesn’t necessarily feel like a promotion. To be fair, Tendi has never really settled into a specific role in a specific department on the ship – only Rutherford really feels settled as an engineer; the other three ensigns appear to get a variety of different roles depending on the needs of individual episodes. But having Tendi in sickbay has generally worked very well.
Tendi makes for a great medical officer, both from an in-universe and story point of view. We saw this firsthand this week when her quick thinking, ability to stay calm, and medical training helped her save Boimler’s life. Her kindness is a stark contrast to Dr T’Ana’s grumpy nature when dealing with patients, and she’s always seemed to know a lot about biology and medical science – even creating her own animal, The Dog, in the Season 1 episode Much Ado About Boimler. I just didn’t feel that Tendi was in any way trying to position herself for a transfer to a more scientific role, and as recently as I, Excretus a couple of weeks ago seemed thrilled at the idea of taking on the role of chief medical officer.
I wonder if this is just another contrivance for the sake of this episode, and whether we’ll actually see Tendi assigned to scientific bridge duties beginning in Season 3. It would be no bad thing to give her moments on the bridge, particularly if Mariner and/or Boimler are also present at the helm or navigation positions, so perhaps this should be seen more as an expansion of Tendi’s roles aboard the ship rather than a straight transfer. Hopefully shuffling her out of sickbay – if indeed it does happen – won’t mean we get to spend less time with Dr T’Ana; she’s one of my favourite characters!
Boimler got some sweet moments this week. Making a banner for Captain Freeman – based on the famous “Captain Picard Day” banner that recently reappeared in the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard – was incredibly cute, and I’m never not impressed with Boimler’s enthusiasm for his ship, his captain, and all things Starfleet.
He also got to save the day, diving down to release the final exterior hull panel while Mariner rushed to the bridge. Mariner, as mentioned, definitely needed this moment with Captain Freeman to resolve their conflict, but I liked that it gave Boimler the chance to play the hero for a change. We’ve seen Boimler step up while under pressure before, particularly in the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open earlier in the season. But on this occasion his actions saved two starships and a whole planet – so that’s pretty great going!
The change in Boimler’s characterisation across Lower Decks’ first couple of seasons has been more subtle when compared with what we’ve seen from Mariner, but when we see Boimler being prepared to take on a difficult task like this, it’s hard to see how the Boimler we met at the beginning of Season 1 would’ve had the confidence to do so. His friendships with Tendi, Rutherford, and especially Mariner – as well as his jaunt aboard the Titan – have seen him grow in confidence. He still has his anxieties and neuroses, but he’s become a more confident person since we met him. That arc has likewise been incredibly satisfying, and culminates in moments like this one.
Are the dolphins aboard the Cerritos Earth dolphins, do we think? It was certainly implied that they could be based on their familiar dolphin chittering! If so, it raises a very interesting question: is Earth now home to more than one sentient life-form? We’d seen with the Xindi that multiple sentient races can evolve on a single world, so it isn’t impossible! Dolphins are, from a real-world point of view, very intelligent. So are crows, so maybe Lower Decks could introduce us to a sentient crow one day! Crows have, after all, recently entered their very own stone age. That might sound bonkers, but it’s true.
It was very sweet that First First Contact brought back the character of Sonya Gomez. We first met her in Q Who, back in Season 2 of The Next Generation, and in the years since she’s clearly done very well for herself – rising all the way to the rank of captain. Lycia Naff, who played the character in The Next Generation, made a welcome return to Star Trek to reprise her role.
Captain Gomez got a very sweet, very poetic moment with an ensign on the bridge of the Archimedes that harkened back to her famous clumsy moment with Captain Picard in Q Who. For us as the audience – and perhaps for the actor too – that moment was a cute way to bring things full-circle, as well as showing off just how much Gomez has grown and changed over the course of her career. She’s in charge of an Excelsior-class ship – and the design of one of my favourite ships was beautifully incorporated into Lower Decks’ animated style.
Unlike a couple of other guest-stars across both seasons of Lower Decks, Captain Gomez’s role felt substantial. She and her ship weren’t on screen the entire time, but the role they played was significant, both as a driving force for the events of the episode but also in its own right as the reappearance of a significant and well-liked character. It was handled well and it was great to see Captain Gomez in action once more.
In a moment of symmetry with the Season 1 finale, this time the USS Cerritos got to be the ship that saved the day! In No Small Parts the Titan, under the command of Captain Riker, came racing to the aid of the Cerritos when the battle against the Pakleds seemed to be going badly. In First First Contact it was the Cerritos that swooped in to save the Archimedes – and a bridge officer aboard Captain Gomez’s ship even used the same line as Boimler in the Season 1 finale: “it’s the Cerritos!” That moment really got me; it was perfectly poetic, and a fantastic way for the story to end.
First First Contact presented the crews of the Cerritos and Archimedes with a scientific problem, not a military one. It’s easy to think that Star Trek is at its most exciting and action-packed when there are enemies to fight and battles to participate in, but for me the franchise has always been at its best when it’s looking at exploration and scientific puzzles. First First Contact absolutely epitomises the spirit of Star Trek as a show about science, exploration, and the wild, wonderful, and occasionally dangerous galaxy that awaits humanity beyond Earth.
By presenting the crew with a scientific puzzle, one that wasn’t easy to solve, First First Contact showed how amazing and exciting Star Trek can be when there are no Borg or Klingons or Pakleds bearing down on our heroes. The episode was so well-paced that we really got a sense of this race against time to get the ship ready to race through the asteroids and rescue not only the Archimedes but the planet it was threatening to crash into.
I was a little concerned, particularly as Commander Ransom did his best to navigate the asteroid field, that there’d be some kind of deus ex machina ending – the Archimedes would have saved itself or another ship (like the Titan) would have beaten the Cerritos to the punch, with the joke being that all of the crew’s hard work was for nothing. As a comedy series first and foremost, that kind of storyline is always a possibility. But having seen Captain Freeman and the whole crew go to so much effort such an ending would have really fallen flat, and I’m glad that, on this occasion at least, Lower Decks allowed the crew a huge win.
Rescuing the Archimedes was a very emotional moment in what was already an emotional story. The crew came together, despite their initial differences, and pulled off a one-of-a-kind rescue mission. We’ve never seen the likes of this in Star Trek before, yet the idea of stripping off a ship’s outer hull when not at warp feels like it fits perfectly with what we know of the way starships work. It was a fantastic story idea, and it came to fruition perfectly in the finished episode.
So we come to the final scenes! After expecting to be offered a promotion, Captain Freeman was arrested by Starfleet security, charged with bombing the Pakleds’ homeworld. This was a truly unexpected twist; it had seemed as though wej Duj last week wanted to draw a line under the Pakled conflict storyline. It was, somewhat unfortunately, the second “misunderstanding” scene after Tendi’s conversation with Dr T’Ana, but I guess that couldn’t be helped.
This epilogue was almost certainly added into the episode later, once the team knew that Season 3 was officially confirmed, as it didn’t flow at all from anything else in the story. It’s left Lower Decks on a cliff-hanger – one which we’ll have to wait a long time to see resolved! That’s not new for Star Trek, of course, as many seasons have done something similar in the past. It was definitely a shocking twist, and it was very well-executed. Even as Captain Freeman walked into the room I had no idea what was about to happen.
Obviously we know Captain Freeman is innocent – and surely she’ll be able to prove that. But we won’t get to see how that happens until Lower Decks returns next year (well, I hope it’ll be next year!) so I guess we’ll have to sit on our hands until then! Did the Pakleds accidentally blow up their own planet? Or did the rogue Klingon commander from wej Duj plant the bomb as a contingency plan to ensure war would break out? There are a few different possibilities – but if Season 2 has been any guide, Lower Decks won’t go down any path that we might expect!
So that was First First Contact – and that was Lower Decks Season 2! There were a couple of episodes that didn’t hit every high note that I’d have wanted, but overall the season as a whole was fantastic. We got some incredibly fun Star Trek hijinks with the crew of the Cerritos, plenty of unexpected twists and turns, the return of several classic characters, and some wonderful moments of characterisation and drama. It’s been an outstanding ten weeks – and I can hardly wait for Season 3.
Stay tuned here on the website, because sometime soon I’ll write up a retrospective look at Season 2. There are also a couple of theories relating to the Pakled bomb and to Rutherford’s background that might get the full write-up treatment in the run-up to Season 3. Although Season 3 is undoubtedly a long way off – ten months or more, at least – if and when we start to get information about the series, casting announcements, or a teaser trailer I’ll also be taking a look at those as well. It’s sad to bid farewell to Lower Decks – but it’s only a couple of weeks now until Prodigy arrives!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.
wej Duj – which is Klingon for “three ships” – was an exceptionally funny episode, and certainly one of the highlights of Season 2. What makes it stand out is that much of the humour came not from the main cast, nor even from secondary characters like the senior staff, but from guest-stars who gave us a glimpse at life on the lower decks of both Klingon and Vulcan ships.
Lower Decks promised us right from the beginning that we’d be looking at junior officers who get the worst assignments, so taking that concept and expanding it to show us the same kind of people on other vessels felt incredibly natural. It’s one of those ideas that just makes sense – and leaves you wondering why you didn’t think of it sooner!
The episode skipped the usual pre-titles sequence, so after the opening titles rolled we were straight into the action. The title of the episode was displayed in Klingon (or should that be Klingonese?), which was a very neat little touch. As an aside, wej Duj is the first Star Trek episode – out of more than eight hundred – to have a Klingon title!
The setup for the episode was interesting, and gave us a rare glimpse at a starship during a period of downtime. Most episodes naturally focus on adventures of one kind or another, yet when you think about it, at least some interstellar travel is going to be dull, waiting for the ship to arrive at its next destination. We’ve seen glimpses of that in episodes like Voyager’s Season 5 opener Night, but this was its first appearance in Lower Decks. As above, this concept feels like another natural fit for the series – showing us what some of the junior officers get up to while the ship is warping to its next destination.
wej Duj used that premise as an excuse to shuffle the ensigns off-stage, and the story progressed without much significant involvement from Mariner, Rutherford, or Tendi. Boimler got a B-plot of sorts as he tried to buddy up to Commander Ransom. This sub-plot relied on a lot of sitcom-style “cringe” humour as Boimler pretended to be from Hawai’i to ingratiate himself with Ransom and a couple of other officers.
This kind of humour, popularised by shows like Friends, isn’t always to my taste. While Boimler’s story definitely had some funny moments, its reliance on a sitcom cliché premise made it the lesser part of the episode – at least in my opinion. The way it ended was definitely amusing in its irony, though, as it turned out that neither Ransom nor any of the others were in fact from Hawai’i either – all having made up the same lie at different times.
The main thrust of the episode focused on two guest-stars: junior Klingon officer Ma’ah, played by Jon Curry, and Vulcan lower decker T’Lyn, played by Gabrielle Ruiz. Pinning the bulk of an episode on two brand-new characters was a risk, but it was one that paid off and worked exceptionally well.
Both characters – and their supporting cast of fellow lower deckers and the senior officers aboard their respective ships – were exceptionally funny in completely different ways. The juxtaposition of two of Star Trek’s best-known races was at the core of what made this comedy work; seeing the aggressive, barbaric Klingons drinking bloodwine and engaging in fights to the death then immediately hopping over to the stoic Vulcans who showed no emotion was key to making the episode as funny as it was.
wej Duj was also a very well-paced episode. In barely twenty minutes it had to bring together multiple story threads that began in very different ways and different places. It also had to balance three entirely disconnected segments and sets of characters, giving each enough screen time to allow for some development and for story beats to play out naturally. Not only did all of this work, with the pacing of each character’s story feeling just right, but wej Duj also connected the events every character experienced into the Pakled storyline that has been running since the end of Season 1!
I haven’t been afraid to criticise Lower Decks earlier in Season 2 when episodes felt overcrowded. Some potentially interesting storylines just didn’t get quite enough time to be fully-realised, and I stand by those criticisms. wej Duj was already an incredibly ambitious episode, considering everything it had to include, but seen in that light I think the fact that the writers, producers, and editors managed to pull it off is nothing short of remarkable.
It would’ve been easy to overlook one or more of the different stories considering the episode’s runtime and just how many characters and ships were in play. It really is a triumph of writing – and undoubtedly editing as well – that wej Duj worked as fantastically well as it did.
The Klingons were featured prominently in Star Trek Into Darkness as well as the first two seasons of Discovery, where some elements of their redesign proved to be controversial. Lower Decks returned the Klingons firmly to their familiar look – the one present from The Motion Picture right through to Enterprise. And as much as I enjoyed some of the Ancient Egyptian influence present in Discovery’s Klingon redesign, it felt absolutely wonderful to be back with the Klingons in their best-known aesthetic and to spend time aboard one of their ships again.
The aesthetic of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey on the inside was again very much in line with prior depictions. Everything from the lighting to the design used for Klingon computer monitors could’ve been lifted straight from Deep Space Nine or The Search for Spock – and I loved that the lower deckers were forced to sleep in hammocks that made the ensigns’ hallway look palatial in comparison!
The Vulcan ship was clearly based on the design of ships seen in Enterprise. Though Starfleet is the Federation’s main military and exploratory force, throughout Star Trek the Vulcans have been depicted as maintaining their own fleet of ships alongside Starfleet, so I don’t think it’s in any way a canon problem to have a Vulcan cruiser like this in Lower Decks. The relative power of the Vulcan cruiser compared to the USS Cerritos, which was on full display in the climactic battle, was very reminiscent of the way Vulcan ships would constantly outclass and outmatch the NX-01 in Enterprise – a neat little understated callback to Star Trek’s first prequel.
With the Klingon commander in league with the Pakleds, T’Lyn and Ma’ah – and later the USS Cerritos – were all drawn to the same place. The Pakleds had detonated a bomb given to them by the Klingon commander in the hope of destabilising peace in the Alpha Quadrant and sparking a war, and while Ma’ah challenged his commander, T’Lyn and the USS Cerritos both detected the residual after-effects of the Pakleds’ weapon detonation.
This moment set up the storylines coming together, and it was based once again on the Pakleds’ stupidity, which was pretty funny. The way Commander Togg reacted to the Pakleds’ detonating the bomb he’d provided was one of the funniest moments in the whole episode! Captain Riker had speculated that someone had been manipulating the Pakleds to become so aggressive, and wej Duj gave us the answer – a rogue Klingon commander.
As Discovery showed in its first couple of seasons, there’s plenty of life in the Klingons as villains. When stories get their warrior-barbarian culture right, the Klingons can feel very threatening indeed. I’d point to the Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Nor the Battle to the Strong as just one example of that. But having seen the Klingons as allies throughout Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War in particular, and having had sympathetic characters like Worf, B’Elanna Torres, and General Martok, making the Klingon Empire as a whole an enemy once again wouldn’t be my first choice in Star Trek any more.
wej Duj found a clever way around this by giving us a character somewhat inspired by The Undiscovered Country’s General Chang. By making it clear that Togg was acting on his own, without the backing of the Klingon High Council or Chancellor – which should be Martok at this point in time, surely! – the story managed to be interesting and entertaining, but without dragging the Federation and Klingons into open conflict with one another. I think many Trekkies like the Klingons far better when they’re allies, with their aggressive nature turned on mutual enemies, than when they come into direct conflict with Starfleet – and I’m generally in that place too. While the Klingons can and do make entertaining villains, I enjoyed the way they were portrayed in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and would be loathe to see them as enemies once again.
T’Lyn and her Vulcan colleagues also provided the episode with plenty of humour. The absolutely deadpan way that all of the Vulcans spoke to one another was hilarious, and the way they interpreted very politely-worded statements as emotional outbursts or insults was a very funny send-up of Vulcan culture from Lower Decks’ writers.
Though they featured prominently in the images shown off before the episode’s broadcast, wej Duj only contained brief scenes involving Tendi, Mariner, and Rutherford. I’d have liked to have seen a little more of the ensigns and their “bridge buddies” during their down time. Tendi’s rock-climbing outing with Dr T’Ana was a cute reference to The Final Frontier, which saw Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy enjoying shore leave at Yosemite national park. Rutherford’s pottery-making class with Shaxs actually contained a very sweet moment between the two, with Rutherford calling Shaxs “Papa Bear” when the latter became angry and upset by Boimler mentioning Bajor.
Mariner didn’t appear to be enjoying her time with Captain Freeman at first, as the pair engaged in some mother-daughter bonding time on the holodeck and later in the captain’s ready room. But as they parted ways, both admitted that they had a good time together – another very sweet moment, and further evidence of the change in Mariner’s character and attitude that we’ve been tracking since midway through Season 1.
As the crew of the Cerritos scrambled to their posts from their leisure activities, the ship was awash with out-of-uniform officers. It was a pretty funny mix of characters in different outfits, and the sight gag of characters in everything from ball gowns to winter coats worked very well. It also showed that the crew are capable, despite serving on a “lowly” ship. These are still professional Starfleet officers, after all!
Two questions remain now that wej Duj is over. Firstly: is the Pakled threat now over? Their reliance on Klingon weaponry has now been exposed, and with Commander Togg dead there isn’t anyone left to manipulate the Pakleds and push them closer to all-out war, so perhaps the threat is now largely at an end. I feel that the Pakleds have been very funny in Lower Decks as adversaries, but the way they’ve been presented has left them feeling like a one-trick – or one-joke – pony. Perhaps the “Pakleds are really dumb” joke has run its course, even though there was plenty of humour derived from that premise this week. Better to end it before it outstays its welcome, though!
Secondly, the end of the episode saw T’Lyn dismissed by her Vulcan commander and forcibly reassigned aboard a Starfleet vessel. Could she be making her way to the USS Cerritos, perhaps? T’Lyn provided ample humour in her own incredibly Vulcan way in wej Duj, and while there probably isn’t room for a fifth lower decker as a major character, bringing her in as a recurring character or in a different department could be an interesting way for the series to go as Season 3 beckons. It’s probably not going to happen… but you never know!
The worst thing about wej Duj is that now it’s over that means there’s only one episode left in Lower Decks Season 2! The ten-episode seasons that many modern television shows use are a double-edged sword in some ways. We get more shows, and the episodes that are made generally get a higher budget as a result. But it does mean that seasons seem to race by very quickly! I’m sure that Lower Decks has a suitably explosive finale planned for the end of the season, though.
wej Duj was a completely different kind of episode for Lower Decks. It saw guest-stars take centre-stage for the first time, and the episode was largely carried not by anyone aboard the USS Cerritos but by a pair of Klingons and some stoic, bickering Vulcans. Seeing the life of lower deckers on a couple of different ships was an absolutely outstanding premise, and wej Duj pulled it off with aplomb. The complicated story was expertly weaved together as it reached its climax, and appears to have exposed and perhaps resolved the lingering Pakled threat.
I had a lot of fun with wej Duj, and it will go down as one of the highlights of Season 2 without a doubt. It was funny almost from the first moment, with suitable moments of tension as the complex four-starship battle unfolded. It’s set a high bar for next week’s season finale!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.
For the second week running, Lower Decks managed to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters. The Spy Humongous spent time with the bridge crew, gave Boimler his own story, and gave Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford something to do as well. Crucially, the episode managed to make each of these three components feel significant; none felt under-developed.
Most importantly, all three storylines were fun! The bridge crew split up for this episode, with Captain Freeman and Shaxs on an away mission to the Pakled homeworld on a peace initiative, while Ransom and Kayshon played host to a Pakled “guest” aboard the ship. These two halves comprised a single story, while Boimler separated from the other three ensigns for his own character journey.
Tendi, Mariner, and particularly Rutherford took smaller roles this time in a story which put Boimler at the centre, but their paths crossed in a significant way toward the end. I’ve spoken numerous times about how amazing Mariner’s character arc across both seasons has been, and how enjoyable it has been to watch her grow. The Spy Humongous gave us some comparable character development for Boimler, as he came to realise that chasing a promotion isn’t everything – and that imitating great captains of the past isn’t any use in a crisis.
Several Lower Decks stories have felt like they could’ve been set in a school had the characters been different. I’m thinking of Mariner making up rumours about herself in Mugato, Gumato, as well as the “love triangle” in Cupid’s Errant Arrow last season. This time, the story of Boimler ditching his friends after being poached by a group of “cooler kids” likewise felt like it could’ve been about schoolkids. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way, if anything it’s a commentary on how the series takes familiar situations and gives them its own Star Trek-themed twist.
Having only just settled his conflict with Mariner regarding his decision to prioritise promotion over their friendship in last week’s episode, as well as seemingly learning a lesson in the process, it was a little jarring for that moment to immediately be followed up by Boimler again ditching Mariner (and the others) in order to hang out with a new group who he feels – at least in the moment – are more likely to be useful to his ambition. This is a consequence of scheduling more than story; I said last week that both pairs of ensigns got stories that resolved lingering conflicts from Season 1, and that those stories might’ve been better-served by coming earlier in the season. Boimler’s plotline this time only reinforces that; at the very least this episode shouldn’t have immediately followed on from last week as it makes it seem that Boimler learned nothing – or very quickly forgot the important lesson he’d learned about friendship.
Scheduling aside, The Spy Humongous gave Boimler a satisfying arc. He began the episode enticed by the “cool kids” to ditch his friends and follow only his ambition, and for a time went along with their shenanigans. But when Tendi was in danger, Boimler knew what to do, and while the other wannabes tripped over one another to try to give “inspiring” speeches copied from past captains that they admired, Boimler recognised the problem and took the necessary steps to solve it. Even though doing so meant abandoning the new group of “cool kids” and by extension his aim of getting promoted again, Boimler prioritised problem-solving and friendship. His reward was a compliment from Commander Ransom, something which clearly meant a lot more to him than any “acting captain” role.
This was, unquestionably, a deeply satisfying character arc for Boimler to go through. Had it not come immediately following a similar moment last week it would’ve worked better, but that’s the scheduling issue again. The way that the episode tied this arc into the B-plot following Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi as they collected “anomalies” that the senior staff had been working on was neat as well.
Tendi actually got one of the more emotional moments this week. I think we’ve all had an experience, at some point in our lives, of either feeling genuine excitement for something or trying to show excitement for the benefit of others, only to have someone else shoot it down. That feeling of being crestfallen or deflated is exactly what Mariner and Rutherford inflicted on Tendi after shouting at her for being too enthusiastic and eager during one of their most-hated assignments aboard the ship.
This moment set up the remainder of Tendi’s story – as she was transformed into a scorpion-like monster by a strange artefact – as well as led to the crossover with Boimler. But as a purely emotional moment that I think a lot of us can relate to, it was one of the highlights of the episode for me.
I created this website in part to share my love of Star Trek with a wider audience. But I can remember many occasions where being a Trekkie or even simply mentioning Star Trek was enough to have someone react with derision or dismissiveness. Even within the Star Trek fan community and among friends, I can remember moments where expressing passion for the “wrong” part of the franchise became an issue. When talking to a Trekkie friend excitedly about 2009’s Star Trek shortly after the film premiered I was hit with that feeling when they reacted angrily having pledged to never watch the reboot. So in a very meta Star Trek way, I can relate to what Tendi must’ve been feeling! That sense of showing someone you care about something you’re excited for only to have that excitement ripped away is a very real feeling.
Mariner didn’t get very much to do this week. The episode put her through a montage of unpleasantries to emphasise how bad this particular assignment was and build up to her shouting at Tendi. Aside from that she was relegated to a background role alongside Rutherford, whose characteristic love for all things Starfleet apparently doesn’t extend to Anomaly Collection Day either!
On first viewing I felt that Tendi’s loud and rather rude laugh at Boimler’s mess hall mishap at the beginning of the episode was a little out-of-character, but on reflection I can see that this was an attempt to set up the conclusion to her and Boimler’s stories. It’s not the first time that we’ve had an out-of-place moment like this which has become important later; Lower Decks isn’t always subtle in that regard!
The mysterious artefact that transformed Tendi was just a macguffin at the end of the day, but it was one that didn’t feel out of place in Lower Decks. The first episode of the season set up how “strange energies” were something Starfleet regularly has to put up with, and across the season we’ve also seen Lieutenant Kayshon turned into a puppet and met a self-duplicating species, so it definitely doesn’t come from nowhere! Star Trek has, in the past, leaned into this kind of weirder, inexplicable macguffin for many different episodes across basically every series, so again it’s right in keeping with the way the franchise has always operated.
As mentioned, Boimler was the hero of the day. He figured out that the macguffin was feeding off or amplifying Tendi’s emotions (though exactly why she became a giant scorpion is still not crystal clear!) and that the best way to save her – and everyone else – was to make her laugh. Looping back to what made her laugh uncontrollably at the beginning of the episode, Boimler used the mess hall’s replicators to cover himself in food, much to Tendi’s amusement and the disgust of the “cool kids” he’d been hanging out with all day.
Though much of Boimler’s time with the other ensigns followed a familiar trope, one moment which stood out was his inspirational speech. This sequence was also incredibly well-animated, as the empty stage faded into a truly outstanding recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise-D. Boimler gave a great speech, one which could’ve been given by any of Star Trek’s past captains. Though he may suffer from anxiety and be more than a little neurotic, Boimler can make a difference when it counts. We saw that not only with the speech, of course, but also with the way he saved Tendi.
I was reminded of Boimler’s speech in the episode Veritas from last season. The joke in that episode (which I felt fell flat, sadly) was that he and his shipmates were never in danger, and on this occasion he similarly gives an inspiring speech when there are no real stakes. But his ability to speak well and to give that kind of rousing address is in keeping with where we saw him last season, and I felt it was worth making note of that.
I really thought that the Pakled spy was going to turn out to be something different, perhaps something that challenged the notion that the Pakleds were all as stupid as they appear to be. For the entire time the spy was on the ship, and especially when he snuck away, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for some kind of revelation. Was Shaxs – recently and inexplicably back from the dead – going to turn out to be the real spy? Was the spy actually better at his job than he let on? It was a hilarious double-bluff that, in reality, the Pakleds truly are as dumb as they seem to be.
There’s somewhat of an old-school cartoonish charm to the way Lower Decks presents the Pakleds. An alien race who all seem stupid in comparison to the rest of the galaxy could easily fall into the trap of stereotyping folks with learning difficulties, but because of the overly-exaggerated way the Pakleds’ stupidity is presented, it doesn’t come across as offensive. It manages to just be funny – and even though there’s surely more to come from this Pakled conflict before the season is over, I can’t predict where it’ll go or how it’ll end. There was a mention this week of a Pakled bomb being sent to Earth, but it seems as though Captain Freeman will be able to alert Starfleet in time to prevent anything bad from happening.
Lower Decks has usually been great when it comes to depicting different-looking, aesthetically interesting planets. Pakled Planet was a little disappointing in that regard, as it felt rather generic. The action that took place there was fun and exciting, of course, but the background could’ve used a little spicing-up in my opinion. It could still have been kept simple – in keeping with the show’s depiction of the Pakleds – but a different colour palette (Pakled Planet was very heavy on yellow and brown tones) or some item or landmark of visual interest would’ve improved these sequences.
It was funny to see the various Pakled “leaders.” A queen, a king, and an emperor all seem to be parts of an overall hierarchy, one determined solely by the size of their helmets. I can’t help but wonder what consequences – if any – there will be for the Pakled revolution and overthrow of the previous leadership. Perhaps that’s something routine on Pakled Planet that won’t make any difference – but if so, why show that on screen? I can’t help but feel it’s setting up something that may be of importance later!
It was particularly funny how the group of “cool kids” referring to themselves as “The Redshirts” – a Star Trek fandom expression dating back to the days of The Original Series. Redshirts were disposable minor characters who often ended up dead on away missions! Seeing the Pakled spy drifting through space after accidentally shooting himself out of an airlock was also a really funny moment.
So I think that’s about all I have to say this week. There was a great story for Boimler – albeit one that might’ve benefitted from taking place at a different point in the season – as well as some advancement of the Federation-Pakled conflict. There were some hilarious moments for all of the main characters, and particularly the Pakleds. Ensign Mariner took a backseat for the first time this season, but giving her an occasional break is no bad thing.
All in all, a great episode.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
How on earth have ten weeks flown by? It seems like only yesterday that we were settling in for the premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and now we have to say goodbye to the series. On the plus side, that means it’s only a few days until Star Trek: Discovery returns with Season 3! After a somewhat stumbling start, Lower Decks improved massively to become a thoroughly enjoyable watch across its first season, and definitively proved that Star Trek can break new ground and do different things.
I was hoping for an exciting finale to end the season on a high, and in that regard No Small Parts delivered. It was almost certainly the funniest of the whole season too; the laugh-out-loud moments got going and hardly let up. There was also a genuinely heartbreaking moment, as security chief Shaxs lost his life.
The biggest disappointment with Lower Decks has been its lack of an international broadcast. The fact that the show has been segregated by geography has cut off not only Star Trek’s biggest fans in the rest of the world, but legions of potential new fans too. The entire point of a project like Lower Decks was to expand Star Trek beyond its typical sci-fi niche. Animated comedy shows are wildly popular all around the world, and this was the franchise’s biggest opportunity since at least the 2009 reboot to grow the fanbase and shore things up heading into the 2020s. ViacomCBS blew it. And there have been two big results: much of the hype for Lower Decks died before the first episode was even broadcast, as a huge potential audience came to realise it wasn’t going to be available to them. And the show became heavily-pirated, mostly by Trekkies who had no lawful way to access it. As I wrote when I looked at this issue in detail, ViacomCBS encouraged that. And it’s totally morally justifiable.
Of course, if you’ve been following my episode reviews you know I’d never partake in something like piracy. Heavens no. Instead I did the only sensible thing – I moved to the United States. I’ve had a wonderful time at my château here in the lovely state of Montana, but after ten weeks just outside the big city of Philadelphia I’m ready to head home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place, and there’s some wonderful waves to surf here on the Pacific coast, but I’m homesick. And if I have to eat another slice of this city’s signature dish (deep-pan pizza) I think I might burst.
So without further ado, let’s jump into No Small Parts. The teaser begins with a return to Beta III, the planet visited by Kirk and the USS Enterprise in The Original Series’ first season episode Return of the Archons. In that story, Kirk had to overcome Landru, a sophisticated AI that the Beta III natives worshipped and obeyed. In what was to become a theme for the episode, after that initial contact with Starfleet, the Beta III inhabitants slowly drifted back to following Landru, leaving Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom to once again tell them to snap out of it.
So the concept of Starfleet making first contact but not really following that up in a meaningful way would be a theme in No Small Parts. We’ll see that in a moment with the Pakleds, as well. This is something genuinely fascinating, as it shows us the “underbelly” of the Federation beyond the exciting missions of the Enterprise. This is what Lower Decks promised, and I’d argue that No Small Parts is perhaps the best example of this concept in the entire season.
There were several great references in the teaser. While Ransom is recording his log he looks at a picture of Kirk and Spock on a padd – the picture was the duo as they appeared in The Animated Series in 1973-74! That was great, and a fun little acknowledgement that both series are linked by animation. Ransom uses the term “TOS era” when referring to the time of Kirk and Spock – an obvious shoutout to what fans call it! There was also a hint at the changing nature of Star Trek’s storytelling, as Ransom comments that Kirk and his crew seemed to be “stumbling on crazy new aliens every week back then!”
As Captain Freeman gives the order to break orbit, an unnamed bridge officer tells her that there are still crew on Beta III – much to her annoyance! Of course, there was only one person who could have so brazenly disobeyed orders – Ensign Mariner. I started to worry that we were about to see a character regression, ignoring the major breakthrough in her relationship with Starfleet that we’d seen last week!
Speaking of last week, Boimler had learned of Mariner’s secret – that she’s the daughter of Captain Freeman. In a scene that once again showed Boimler being a very sore winner, which is not an endearing character trait, he tries to use it as leverage and rub her face in it, teasing her mercilessly and somewhat cruelly.
Unfortunately for Boimler – and everyone else involved – their conversation is broadcast to everyone on the bridge via an open com-link. Freeman and Mariner’s secret is busted wide open, and now the entire crew knows. Captain Freeman beams the two wayward ensigns directly to the bridge, but it was too late to stop knowledge of the secret getting out. Boimler has – unintentionally – ruined things for the pair of them.
The credits rolled, and this was the last time we’re going to hear the Lower Decks theme for a while! I know that I’ve commented on it a couple of times already this season, but it really is a lovely piece of music. As a Star Trek theme it’s adventurous and inspiring, and would be just as well-suited to The Next Generation as it is to Lower Decks. The themes for Picard and Discovery are, by comparison, very understated and slow. They fit their shows well, but I found them both to be far less memorable than the music used for Lower Decks. It’s not a stretch to say it’s the best post-1990s Star Trek theme, and I shall miss it!
After the titles we’re not immediately back on the Cerritos. Instead the action hops to another California-class ship, the USS Solvang. Like Cerritos (and other names used this season) Solvang is a city in California, between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. While visiting the Kalla system, which had been seen in The Next Generation, the Solvang is brutally attacked by a massive, imposing-looking starship. After the attack takes down their shields in a matter of seconds the captain gives the order to warp out of the system, but a grappling hook launched by the aggressive ship has clamped onto one of the Solvang’s nacelles. The resultant attempt to go to warp overloads the engines and destroys the ship.
One character who, despite having a handful of good moments across the season, has felt underdeveloped and rudderless on the whole is Ensign Tendi. Mariner, Boimler, and Rutherford each have a niche; a role within the context of the show that they fill. Tendi is still missing that as of the end of the first season, and the lack of any real character development – aside from one moment last week where she stood up for herself – made this next scene feel unearned. At the beginning of the season, Tendi was assigned Boimler as her orientation officer. And now, in the finale, she gets to be the orientation officer for a new recruit. If Tendi had seen any growth, character development, or indeed had any real impact on the show at all across the first season, there’s no question that this moment would have felt fantastic. As it is, though, Tendi still feels like a character the writers haven’t found a proper role for, and as a result this moment fell flat.
It was only for a moment, however, because the new officer Tendi is to mentor is an exocomp! The exocomps were introduced in Quality of Life from the sixth season of The Next Generation. The exocomps were originally conceived as tools, but grew to become sentient. Data in particular played a crucial role in defending them, and it’s great to see their evolution had continued such that one could join Starfleet by this time. It does raise a question, though. In Star Trek: Picard, synthetic life has been banned not just in the Federation, but across many other areas of the galaxy. What does that mean for the exocomps, I wonder?
There was also the beginning of a running gag here, as Rutherford messes with his cybernetic implant. Pressing a button cycles through a number of different personality quirks, and while some of them won a chuckle, the joke as a whole was overstretched. Despite not being especially funny on its own merits, however, this did serve to remind us as the audience of Rutherford’s cybernetics and his ability to manipulate them, setting up a moment later in the story and ensuring that a much more crucial scene doesn’t feel like a bolt from the blue.
In the captain’s ready-room, Mariner and Freeman are dealing with the fallout from the crew learning their secret. There was a reference to Wesley and Beverly Crusher, which was fun to see, and it seems as though both officers had something to gain by keeping the secret. Mariner didn’t want special treatment, nor to feel as though she was being given an easy ride. And because of Mariner’s poor record, it suited Captain Freeman that nobody knew her daughter was one of the worst officers in the fleet. Mariner’s fears seem to be confirmed when Commander Ransom arrives and treats her differently.
Tendi’s exocomp friend is named Peanut Hamper – a name she chose for herself, believing it to be the best available. Tendi, naturally, loves it, and begins giving Peanut Hamper the same tour of the ship that she received from Boimler and Mariner in the season premiere. Meanwhile, Mariner is having a hard time as the whole complement of the Cerritos is treating her differently. Everyone from senior officers like Dr T’Ana and chief engineer Billups, all the way down to her fellow ensigns and others on the lower decks are all behaving differently around her, and of course she blames Boimler for spilling the beans.
Even Boimler isn’t immune to trying to use his connection to Mariner, though, as he asks her to pass a letter of recommendation to the captain for him. Apparently there’s a promotion up for grabs, complete with reassignment, and Boimler wants it. Mariner decides that a role on a different ship where nobody knows her (and, presumably, where even if they did it wouldn’t do any good without Captain Freeman being present too) is just what she needs, and decides to play it straight for a while to win the promotion. She rolls down her sleeves, fixes her hair, and starts addressing Boimler as “sir.” In a funny moment at the end of the scene, Shaxs bursts in and, in his typical gruff style, tells Boimler that he wants to give Mariner a present, while carrying what looked like a wrapped-up Klingon batleth!
After a short scene where Mariner and Boimler both try to press Ransom for the promotion, we’re back with Tendi and Peanut Hamper. Rutherford is in one of the shuttlebays working on a shuttle, and Tendi is worried that Peanut Hamper may not be cut out for Starfleet – despite the fact that she must’ve graduated from the Academy. In sickbay, Dr T’Ana puts Peanut Hamper through her paces, and the little exocomp is more than capable thanks to her technology, despite Tendi’s fears.
Boimler and Mariner argue about the promotion while the ship arrives in the Kalla system (having previously answered the Solvang’s distress call). Any thoughts of the disagreement are immediately set aside as the ship finds the Solvang’s debris and jumps to red alert. On the bridge, the senior staff confirm that there are no life signs amongst the wreckage, and after the explosion we saw earlier I think that’s to be expected! It isn’t long before the aggressive ship rears its head again, this time targeting the Cerritos.
This giant, imposing vessel turns out to belong to a familiar Star Trek race. But it isn’t one we might’ve expected – it’s the Pakleds! The Pakleds were featured in Samaritan Snare during the second season of The Next Generation, and were depicted as slow and stupid. The concept behind them was “all the other aliens on Star Trek are really smart, what if some aren’t?” Which, if you think about concepts like interstellar travel, is a ridiculous idea, but regardless the Pakleds were created and became part of the Star Trek universe. After their debut in The Next Generation, they would occasionally serve as background characters in Deep Space Nine.
Of all the races that could outgun and outsmart the Cerritos, it’s funny that it’s the Pakleds – even though as a race I’ve felt since The Next Generation that they make absolutely no sense. Pakleds could indeed show a degree of cunning, and were known to be selfish and greedy. But the notion that this race could even operate a starship that they’d stolen – much less build one for themselves – is completely silly. Here they’re depicted as stealing starship parts to add to their already-monstrous ship, with their leader claiming he wants “all the ship pieces!”
The Cerritos tries to send a distress call, but the Pakleds jam their communications. Ransom orders the helm officer to take the ship to warp, but luckily Captain Freeman realises what happened to the Solvang and instead orders the engines shut down. The Pakleds also thought that they were attacking the Enterprise – presumably it’s the only Federation ship they’ve encountered. Regardless, Jakabog (the Pakled captain) is essentially a pirate, and after stripping the Cerritos of one of her nacelles, plans to board the ship to steal more ship pieces for his collection.
Boimler scans the Pakled ship and the crew realise that they’ve augmented their craft (which, in a nice touch, was the same design used in The Next Generation) with over thirty different parts from other races – including, as we saw, weapons. As the Cerritos is towed closer to the Pakleds’ hybrid vessel, phaser beams begin to cut into the hull. Ransom cries that they’re being carved up “like a First Contact Day salmon!” which was a pretty funny line.
With no other options, the captain turns to Mariner. She orders Mariner to think outside the box and come up with a way out, even if it breaks the rules. And here… I’m not 100% sold on this part of the story. Mariner’s rule-breaking has always had a distinct “teen angst” streak running through it. She’s childish, and while she does know her stuff – at least as much as Boimler – she’s never really demonstrated on screen that she’s the kind of person you’d want to turn to in a crisis for something like this. It didn’t entirely come from nowhere, as Captain Ramsey in Much Ado About Boimler told us this about her. But I’m a firm believer that stories should show, not tell, and while several characters across Season 1 have told us that Mariner could be this amazing officer if only she’d put in any effort, I think it’s arguably the case that we as the audience haven’t really seen it for ourselves.
Regardless of what I may think, however, Captain Freeman turns to her daughter for a solution, and Mariner provides. She asks Boimler about the Pakleds; they use a variety of different computer parts, which means they must need an operating system that can easily trust new pieces that are added in. Mariner then contacts Rutherford, who will provide a virus capable of disabling the Pakled ship. Without much time to come up with a computer virus, Rutherford turns to Badgey for help. Badgey had, of course, been the antagonist in Terminal Provocations.
Badgey gives a nonchalant answer when Rutherford asks if he’s going to try to kill him again, which seemed like a horribly bad omen! However, the Cerritos doesn’t have a lot of options at this point, and thus the crew go ahead with the plan. Badgey is unleashed as Rutherford disables the safety protocols on the holodeck, but the viruses he’s created will have to be manually uploaded; someone will have to physically sneak aboard the Pakled ship. I liked the return of Badgey. Given Lower Decks’ episodic nature this isn’t something I was expecting, but having been so well established in Terminal Provocations it would’ve been almost a shame not to bring him back!
The senior staff, led by Mariner and Boimler, evacuate the bridge as Pakleds transport aboard. En route to the armory they’re accosted by more intruders, and this was more in line with the way I expected Mariner to prove useful: she’d hidden contraband, including weapons, on the ship. She breaks out a bunch of them and the crew arm themselves. Mariner herself wields the Klingon batleth that she accidently hurt Boimler with in the opening sequence of the series, which was again a neat callback to events within Lower Decks.
During the fight, there was a touching moment between Mariner and Boimler, as he confesses that he considers her his best friend. Despite being kind of a jerk to him, especially in the first couple of episodes, Mariner has made good on her promise to mentor Boimler – at least to an extent. Their dynamic is still based on the likes of Rick & Morty, but most of the time the show has made it work. Boimler is armed with a fencing sword in this scene; a callback to Sulu in The Original Series Season 1 episode The Naked Time (and recently seen in the animated Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot).
The captain is wounded during the fight, and the gang race to sickbay. They get there in time, of course, and the captain will be okay. But she’s out of commission for much of the rest of the story. Rutherford has the viruses, but breaks the news that someone will have to go to the Pakled ship. With no transporters that will be difficult – but not for an exocomp! However, in what was perhaps the best subversion of the whole episode, Peanut Hamper refuses to go. She doesn’t want to put herself at risk, and she doesn’t really care about Starfleet after all! The way this played out was absolutely hilarious, and the voice acting to make the little exocomp sound so nonchalant despite the chaotic situation was just spot-on.
As Peanut Hamper makes her escape, Rutherford suggests himself as the next logical choice. His implant will allow him to take the viruses aboard the Pakled ship, and despite Tendi pleading with him, everyone agrees it’s their best chance for survival. Shaxs grabs Rutherford and the two race to the shuttlebay. Instead of taking the shuttlecraft Yosemite, with its blast shield, they take a run-down shuttle that we’d seen Rutherford working on earlier. Shaxs is having a whale of a time, and at one point exclaims that is is the “best day of [his] life!”
After phasering another hole in the hull, Shaxs and Rutherford blast their way out, then navigate through the Pakleds’ grapplers and weapons to make it to the enemy ship. Shaxs is clearly in his element here, and slams the shuttle into the Pakled ship’s hull, sending several soldiers flying. He and Rutherford then jump out and get to work on the Pakleds’ computers.
Rutherford is able to jack into the alien computer to upload Badgey and the viruses, but – as expected – Badgey still holds a grudge for what happened earlier in the season. While he will upload the virus to save the Cerritos, he’ll only do so after the Pakleds kill Shaxs and Rutherford. There’s no way to talk the homicidal little holo-assistant down, he’s determined to have his revenge!
Badgey then sets the Pakled ship to self-destruct – presumably that’s what one of the viruses was – and Rutherford doesn’t know what to do. In a moment of heroism, Shaxs steps in. He brutally rips out Rutherford’s cybernetic implant, trapping Badgey in the alien system. He then throws the unconscious Rutheford onto the shuttle mere seconds before the Pakled ship explodes. Poor Shaxs. This was a genuinely heartbreaking moment, especially when Shaxs called Rutherford “little bear,” a nickname he acquired in Envoys when he briefly joined the bears – Shaxs’ nickname for his security officers.
I wish we’d been able to spend more time with this gruff Bajoran. His death was heartbreaking, and although he didn’t have a lot of screen time, he’s been a constant presence in the series since the premiere. In some ways he could be seen as a stand-in for characters like Worf, but at the same time he was his own man. And as his final act of sacrifice proved, a Starfleet officer to the core. Lower Decks will have to find some way to fill his big shoes in Season 2. Alex Kurtzman (who is in charge of Star Trek as a whole) as well as Shaxs’ voice actor Fred Tatasciore have both confirmed that the plan is for Shaxs to remain dead; he isn’t coming back.
As the Pakled ship explodes, Ransom and the rest of the crew have managed to keep control of the Cerritos, neutralising the invaders. Mariner is in the captain’s chair on the bridge, with Boimler at the helm. From her bed in sickbay, Captain Freeman orders her to get the ship out of the Kalla system as quickly as possible.
Their escape won’t be so easy, it seems. No sooner has the Cerritos taken down one Pakled ship than they’re accosted by three more who come out of nowhere! This episode has been a wild ride for sure! In what was a callback to Star Trek: First Contact, Boimler detects another incoming ship: the USS Titan! Captain Riker – voiced, of course, by Jonathan Frakes and thankfully not spoiled ahead of time this time – is in command, and his superior vessel is no match for the Pakleds; the surviving ships beat a hasty retreat.
As the theme from The Next Generation plays, the Titan makes light work of the Pakleds. Just like in the sequence from First Contact it was paying homage to, this was another perfectly-executed moment. Riker’s last-second arrival saves the day, and was one of the highlights of the season. Naturally he knows Mariner, as everyone seems to! We also got Troi back, accompanying her husband on the bridge of the Titan. Talk about going out on a high! As a Trekkie this was perfect. In Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, I knew to expect the return of Riker and Troi. But here it was a complete surprise, and even though the Titan had been name-dropped earlier in the episode, that was one of countless Star Trek references. Forget just this one episode, the timely arrival of the USS Titan has to be one of the top moments across the whole season!
The USS Titan may sound familiar to you. It was mentioned in Star Trek: Nemesis, and indeed at the end of that film, Riker is promoted to captain and leaves the Enterprise to assume command of the Titan. A series of novels subsequently depicted Riker’s adventures aboard the Titan, but the ship wasn’t mentioned earlier in the year in Star Trek: Picard. In the finale, Riker was in command of the USS Zheng He (following his temporary return to duty). Fans had long wanted to see the Titan, though, and Lower Decks delivered!
This animated recreation of Troi and Riker came the same day that we heard that Kate Mulgrew will reprise her role as Captain Janeway in upcoming kid-friendly series Star Trek: Prodigy, and if anyone was sceptical about that concept on hearing the news, all they’d have to do is look to Lower Decks. Riker and Troi look great as animated characters – and this means that Jonathan Frakes has now acted in six Star Trek series: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Picard, and Lower Decks. That’s in addition to his four film appearances and directorial credits in all the aforementioned shows, two films, and Star Trek: Discovery! Michael Dorn may still have him beaten for total number of appearances, though!
It was another little callback to hear the Pakled commander shouting for his crew to “make us go!” as the Titan attacked. That line was spoken almost verbatim by the Pakleds in The Next Generation, and even though it’s something easy to miss, it was appreciated here.
With the Pakleds beaten, the action jumps ahead by an indeterminate amount of time. The Cerritos is undergoing repairs – though the captain insists it be left in its original design, and not upgraded. Rutherford is in a coma having lost his implant, and Tendi is staying by his bedside. Rutherford wakes up – but has lost his memory. He doesn’t know who Tendi is, nor remember anything that transpired this season. That could make him useful in Season 2, and could certainly be a point of humour… but it means the character we got to know is halfway gone, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Unlike Shaxs, Rutherford has been a major character. Here’s hoping that he recovers.
Shaxs is honoured in a Wrath of Khan-style funeral, which was a nice touch. I’m glad they didn’t just forget about him and rush to move on too quickly. The portrait of him at his funeral was funny – in true Shaxs style he looks pissed off! Captain Freeman says he’s with the Prophets – who are, of course, the Bajoran gods we saw on a number of occasions in Deep Space Nine.
Back aboard the repaired ship, Mariner and Freeman agree to put their differences aside and work together. The events of the episode, from the Beta III inhabitants going back to worshipping Landru and Starfleet failing to keep tabs on the Pakleds, have led the captain to come around to Mariner’s way of thinking – Starfleet is great at some things, but doesn’t do a good job of following through and maintaining contact with the races and cultures it meets. This led directly to the problems the Cerritos encountered, and to everyone’s surprise, the captain agrees with Mariner’s assessment.
To be fair, I don’t think we can say we know enough about Starfleet to say Mariner is correct – or that she’s incorrect either. We have seen Starfleet keep close tabs on races like the Dominion in the years preceding the Dominion War, but even in The Next Generation there were worlds like the Turkana IV colony that were warzones that the Federation left well alone and didn’t intervene in or try to help. So while the Federation, unlike in Picard, is clearly still a positive force in the galaxy, it isn’t perfect – and never has been. Perhaps Mariner is right; Starfleet is great at exploring (and warfare) but isn’t always great at following through.
And if that isn’t a bombshell to end the series on, I don’t know what is. You read that right… I actually agree with Ensign Mariner. Shocking stuff! But that wasn’t quite the end. In the Cerritos’ bar, Tendi, Rutherford, and Boimler are waiting for Mariner. Rutherford does remember her – so it’s only the events of the entire season he can’t remember, not his whole life! Riker is waiting too – for Captain Freeman! Apparently he knows her too; perhaps he knows everybody! Troi shoots down Commander Ransom in the most cold, Betazoid manner, which was hilarious.
Tendi and Boimler have been telling Rutherford about their exploits over the last few months, bringing him back up to speed. I wonder if he’s going to get his implant back next season. It was a great way to make use of it, and again something set up right at the beginning of the story that paid off in a big way at the very end. I love it when shows do that. Rutherford’s implant could just have been another piece of tech, occasionally technobabbled into usefulness but never really put through its paces. Instead, we can see clearly that the team behind the series set this up right from the get-go.
Lower Decks had one final twist to spring on us, though. Just as Boimler tells Mariner how happy he is to be with her on the Cerritos, Riker shows up and tosses him a padd. This was the promotion Boimler had been chasing all season long, and not only that, but a transfer to Riker’s command aboard the USS Titan. The episode, and the season, ends with Boimler having accepted the promotion (without telling Mariner, who’s constantly leaving messages for him) and ready to make his new life as a junior grade lieutenant aboard the Titan.
So that was No Small Parts. And that was Lower Decks Season 1. An episode clearly made for fans capped off a series that’s been made for fans, and I loved every second of it. The only concern I have was… did anyone else? No Small Parts, unlike some other stories in Lower Decks, was so full of callbacks and references that I wonder how a non-Trekkie would feel upon watching it. They wouldn’t get most of the references, and without them, many of the jokes would be less funny, or not funny at all. As a one-off episode that’s probably okay. At least, I hope it is.
CBS All Access is tight-lipped on viewership figures, and of course with no international broadcast we only have North America to go on. Unofficially, I’ve seen Lower Decks become one of the most-torrented series of recent weeks, and that doesn’t seem to have dropped off as the season went on. Perhaps that’s good news if it means CBS All Access managed to similarly retain its viewer base. However, without an international broadcast going forward, Lower Decks remains in danger. Unless that can be sorted out before Season 2, I doubt there will be a Season 3. And that’s a shame, because the series finally hit its stride.
The events of No Small Parts have clearly shaken things up. The loss of Shaxs will be noticeable, of course, but more significantly we have the change in Rutherford, whose lost memory and lack of implant will change his character, and also Boimler’s transfer. Alex Kurtzman and Mike McMahan have stated on the record that they won’t simply undo any of these things off-screen; Season 2 will begin with Boimler as a lieutenant aboard the Titan. How that circle will be squared is anyone’s guess! If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that somehow, Mariner will end up getting him demoted and reassigned. But that’s just a theory!
Lower Decks was a surprise addition to the television lineup this summer; its queue-jumping of Discovery clearly related to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a rocky start it’s been great fun to watch, and my initial worry that after fifty-four years, Star Trek would struggle in a wholly new genre proved unfounded. I’ve had great fun with the crew of the Cerritos, and despite the show’s premise, they managed to have some truly wacky adventures worthy of any other Star Trek production. I will miss my Thursday date with Lower Decks, and I’m already looking forward to its return – hopefully next year.
Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 3 kicks off on Thursday (Friday here in the UK). I hope you’ll join me then for reviews, theories, and more. If you missed any of my other reviews and articles about Lower Decks, you can find them on my Star Trek: Lower Decks page. Until next time!
All ten episodes of Season 1 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.