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 the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Voyage Home, The Next Generation Season 6, Deep Space Nine Season 6, Voyager Season 4, Enterprise Season 2, Short Treks, Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, and Prodigy Season 1. Phew. That was a lot!
The world can be a crappy place, and not just because of wars and pandemics. Sometimes we all need to switch off from current events and seek out some escapism. For me, films and TV shows with very heavy themes, lots of violence, or dark narratives don’t always provide the best escape, and on days when my mental health suffers I find myself reaching for something lighter and comforting. On this occasion, I thought we could pick out a few Star Trek stories that I believe fit that description.
The Star Trek franchise has long been an escape from reality for me. In both its older and modern incarnations, I find that jumping head-first into a future that looks safer and better than anything we could imagine today feels pretty great! Star Trek has always had an underlying setting that feels optimistic and hopeful for a better tomorrow – and that’s something we all need to hear sometimes.
So with that in mind, let’s consider a few Star Trek stories that I believe make for lighter, comforting viewing. As always, this isn’t a ranked list; the episodes are listed below in the order they were first broadcast.
Number 1: A Piece of the Action The Original Series Season 2
The Original Series made very creative use of some of the limitations of its time! It wasn’t always possible to visit a brand-new planet every week that looked and felt very “alien,” so The Original Series used sets intended for other films and TV shows in different – and occasionally silly – ways. A Piece of the Action sees Captain Kirk and the crew encounter a planet whose entire population have based their society around the Chicago mob!
When A Piece of the Action was written, the 1920s were only forty years in the past – the equivalent today of the eighties! So perhaps to viewers at the time it was more relevant and less… camp. But I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a light, almost comedic flair simply because of its setting; the ’20s-inspired dialogue, the old fashioned suits, and the general tone of a “Golden Age of Hollywood” gangster flick all contribute to that.
The notion of going to a faraway planet in space and finding a society based on the Chicago mob is silly, but A Piece of the Action sells it in the best way it can, making the very odd juxtaposition of scenes aboard the Enterprise and scenes on Sigma Iotia II flow surprisingly well. But above all, it’s a fun story that imitates, in a very Star Trek way, classic mobster films from a generation earlier.
Apparently A Piece of the Action was going to be the basis for a Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film that ultimately didn’t enter production. It seems as though I’m in a minority, based on the reactions to this news from Trekkies I’ve spoken with, but I’d have been interested to see what a director as undeniably talented as Tarantino would’ve brought to Star Trek. A new film from such a big name would surely have been a box office draw, at the very least! But maybe that should be the topic of a longer article sometime.
Number 2: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Also known as “the one with the whales,” The Voyage Home is arguably the most lighthearted and fun of all the Star Trek films to date! After the very heavy stories of loss and death in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, the third and final act of this trilogy came along like a breath of fresh air. I feel that The Voyage Home is the most dated of the Star Trek films thanks to being set in what was, at the time, the modern day. But that doesn’t detract from it; the kitschy eighties flavour is all part of the appeal!
There are some fantastic moments of pure comedy in The Voyage Home. I won’t spoil them if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, but suffice to say that bringing a 23rd Century crew to the modern day and forcing them to interact with basic things like cash and computers led to some absolutely hilarious, iconic moments.
There’s an ecological message at the heart of The Voyage Home, and the threat posed by the alien “whale probe” is definitely serious. But that theme doesn’t present as excessively weighty, and by the time Kirk and the gang are running around San Fransisco in 1986, the focus is more on the fun side of that premise.
With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 fast approaching, it could be fun to go back to The Voyage Home to see the most recent use of the “slingshot method” of travelling through time – something that may be making a return to Star Trek very soon!
Number 3: Relics The Next Generation Season 6
I wanted to put at least one crossover episode on this list, and this time it’s Relics that makes the cut! Bringing Scotty into The Next Generation was a lot of fun, and having him overcome his “fish out of water” status to eventually work alongside Geordi La Forge was absolutely fantastic, and made for a wonderful, heartwarming story.
With no evil villain to defeat nor a war to fight, Relics posed a scientific puzzle for Star Trek’s first two engineers to overcome – and in the process they were able to save the Enterprise-D from being trapped inside of a Dyson Sphere! There’s definitely a message in Relics: that older people have a lot to contribute if younger people are willing to take the time to listen.
When I first saw Relics back in the ’90s, I wasn’t prepared for Scotty’s arrival. This was before the days of spoilers on social media, so I went into the episode completely unaware of what I was about to see. When Scotty materialised on the transporter pad for the first time I was absolutely blown away! The Next Generation had been my first port of call in the early ’90s, but by the time Relics came around I’d seen all of The Original Series films and quite a few episodes, so I was really excited when it turned out to be a crossover episode.
Relics is, in a lot of ways, a very fan-servicey episode. But it’s also a comforting one, and more than that it feels almost like a slice of pure Star Trek. There’s a scientific mystery that’s both interesting and exciting, there are some wonderful character moments between Scotty and Picard and Scotty and La Forge in particular, there’s more than a dash of humour, and there’s an underlying message that may just strike a chord with some folks in the real world. It’s an all-around Star Trek episode!
Number 4: The Magnificent Ferengi Deep Space Nine Season 6
The Magnificent Ferengi takes what should be a dark and upsetting premise but manages to put a lighthearted, comedic spin on it thanks to the inclusion of the titular Ferengi. After a less than spectacular introduction in the first season of The Next Generation, in which they were originally supposed to replace the newly-pacified Klingons and become a major antagonist, the Ferengi carved themselves a new niche in Deep Space Nine thanks in no small part to a wonderful performance by Armin Shimerman as Quark.
We came to see the Ferengi as comic relief on a number of occasions, as in The Magnificent Ferengi, but they were also a people with depth. Issues within Ferengi society surrounding the pursuit of wealth at all costs, the second-class status of women, and so on were topics that Deep Space Nine tackled, and the fact that the Ferengi can be funny didn’t detract from those attempts to use them to examine some more serious subjects. But that’s not why we’re here today!
At the height of the Dominion War, Quark and Rom’s mother is captured by the Dominion, and Quark leads an all-Ferengi rescue operation. With the exception of Grand Nagus Zek, this episode brings together practically every Deep Space Nine Ferengi character, and musician Iggy Pop has a guest-starring role.
The plot descends into a comedic farce – naturally, given Quark’s leadership – and if you’ve ever seen Weekend at Bernie’s… well, you know what to expect! The Magnificent Ferengi is a ton of fun, and a great episode for showcasing some of Deep Space Nine’s recurring characters.
Number 5: Message in a Bottle Voyager Season 4
Once again we have an episode with a potentially dark premise that goes in a very different and fun direction! The Doctor is the star here, as he’s sent to the Alpha Quadrant to attempt to make contact with Starfleet for the first time since Captain Janeway and the crew became stranded 75,000 light-years from home… but he finds himself aboard a ship that has been captured by the Romulans!
Comedian Andy Dick guest-stars as a newer version of the Emergency Medical Hologram, and forms an astonishingly funny pair with the Doctor, who was often used for moments of comic relief during Voyager’s run. Seeing the two holograms working together to outsmart the Romulans in a comic story that could verge into slapstick is absolutely hilarious, and there are some real laugh-out-loud moments.
I also find Message in a Bottle to be a very uplifting episode. It marks the halfway point of Voyager’s seven-season run, and the first moment that the crew are able to contact the Federation. After four years of being alone, the crew finally get to inform Starfleet that they’re okay and working their way home, and there’s something incredible about the episode’s closing moments as a result.
The Prometheus-class ship is a pretty cool inclusion, too – a brand-new class of ship which has features that even the USS Voyager or Enterprise-E couldn’t match. I always wanted to see more from this ship, but aside from a couple of background appearances, we haven’t yet!
Number 6: Carbon Creek Enterprise Season 2
Carbon Creek uses a frame narrative to tell the story of the first time Vulcans came to Earth… and it wasn’t in the mid-21st Century, as Captain Archer (and us as the audience) had been led to believe! Instead, T’Pol tells the tale of her great-grandmother, and how she and a small crew came to be stranded on Earth in the 1950s during a survey mission.
Carbon Creek is fun for its fifties atmosphere, and Enterprise really manages to nail that feel through some wonderful sets, costumes, and dialogue. It’s also an episode that shows off how Vulcans can be unintentionally funny in Star Trek, particularly when confronted with different or unusual situations. In this case, T’Mir and her crew have to blend in with a town of very emotional humans.
There are definitely some lighthearted moments scattered through the entire episode, and the frame of T’Pol recounting the story to a stunned Archer and Tucker adds to that as well. It’s also a great example of how a prequel story doesn’t have to tread on the toes of anything established previously; nothing in Carbon Creek fundamentally changes what we already know about first contact between humans and Vulcans. In many ways it expands it – knowing that Vulcan had humanity under observation decades ahead of official first contact gives them a reason to be surveying the area during the events of First Contact!
All in all, a fun episode that steps away from many of Star Trek’s familiar elements like starships to tell a story with some interesting characters in a fun setting.
Number 7: Ephraim and DOT Short Treks Season 2
It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more Short Treks lately; the most recent batch of episodes ended with Children of Mars shortly before Picard Season 1 kicked off in early 2020. The idea of telling one-shot short stories in the Star Trek galaxy may have been a fairly blunt and obvious way for CBS All Access (since rebranded as Paramount+) to convince Trekkies to remain subscribed in between seasons of the main Star Trek shows, but several episodes ended up being fantastic in their own right.
Ephraim and DOT was one of two animated Short Treks episodes that were broadcast in December 2019, and it’s something that we hadn’t really seen the Star Trek franchise do before. Thirty-five years after The Animated Series went off the air, this was Star Trek’s first return to animation, and where The Girl Who Made The Stars was more of a conventional story, Ephraim and DOT was framed very differently!
Telling the story of a tardigrade named Ephraim and a DOT-type robot aboard the USS Enterprise, this Disney-inspired tale sees the unlikely duo team up to save Ephraim’s eggs. With an enthusiastic narrator who sounds like they’ve come from a National Geographic documentary, the short story is a lot of fun – and packs a surprisingly emotional punch at its climax!
Ephraim and DOT also shows off a handful of fun clips from The Original Series that have been reimagined for animation, and this “greatest hits” montage was absolutely fantastic; a blast from the past that elevated the episode.
Number 8: Nepenthe Picard Season 1
If you don’t have the same connection to the characters from The Next Generation that I do, maybe Nepenthe won’t be one of your “comfort episodes.” But for me, seeing Picard reunited with Riker and Troi was one of the highlights of Picard Season 1 – and Nepenthe is one of the best Star Trek episodes that I’ve seen in a long time!
After several tense and dramatic episodes in which Picard and the crew of La Sirena had to unpick the mystery of Bruce Maddox, the synths, the Zhat Vash plot, and so on, Picard was able to rescue Soji and use a spatial trajector to escape to the planet of Nepenthe – home to Riker, Troi, and their daughter Kestra.
There are some very sweet moments between Soji and Kestra as they bond, and while the story has some very bittersweet moments as we learn that Riker and Troi’s elder child had passed away, there are some absolutely incredible and heartwarming character moments as well. After more than eighteen years away from the 24th Century, Nepenthe felt like the homecoming I had been waiting for.
Seeing Riker and Troi enjoying a peaceful life away from Starfleet was something that I needed to see, even if I didn’t realise it beforehand! Although there were issues with the Picard Season 1 finale that meant that, realistically, taking an entire episode away from the main plot to slow down and hang out with Picard, Riker, Troi, and Soji was arguably a mistake, I just can’t find it in my heart to fault Nepenthe for the way it comes across on screen. It’s a beautiful, emotional episode, and sitting down to eat pizza with the characters after everything they’ve been through just feels right.
Number 9: First First Contact Lower Decks Season 2
First First Contact might be my favourite episode of Lower Decks so far. It isn’t as hilarious as some of the show’s other offerings, but as an uplifting story with a real “Star Trek” feel, I don’t think it can be bettered! The episode sees the crew of the Cerritos teamed up with the fancier and more powerful USS Archimedes – under the command of one Captain Sonya Gomez, no less – to undertake their first ever mission of first contact!
But naturally, things don’t go to plan. The Cerritos is called into action to save the stricken Archimedes, and the entire crew pulls together to perform the very difficult and dangerous task of literally stripping off the ship’s outer hull! Lower Decks ditched its usual two (or three) storylines format here, and put all four ensigns and all of the ship’s senior staff in the same story – and the result was absolutely fantastic.
Lower Decks goes out of its way to recreate the look of The Next Generation era, and I’ve always appreciated that. But it doesn’t hesitate to bring new things to the table, and we get our first look at Cetacean Ops in this episode – an aquatic department that had been mentioned in background dialogue in The Next Generation but never seen on screen.
All four ensigns have roles to play in the story, and after the Cerritos had to be saved at the climax of the Season 1 finale, the poetic symmetry of being the one to save a disabled Starfleet ship was absolutely beautiful, and a great way to bring the show’s successful second season to a close.
Number 10: Kobayashi Prodigy Season 1
The Kobayashi Maru test seems like an odd choice for a “comfort” pick, doesn’t it? But the way Prodigy pulls it off feels like a love letter to Star Trek, bringing in classic characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine in holographic form.
There’s more going on in the episode than just the Kobayashi Maru test on the holodeck, and Prodigy’s ongoing story arcs come into play in a big way throughout. But for me, the moments on the holodeck with Dal and the holographic versions of some wonderful characters from Star Trek’s past are what elevates Kobayashi and what makes it so enjoyable.
It’s such a shame that Prodigy remains (officially) unavailable in most of the world, because it’s been one of the most surprisingly fun Star Trek projects, and despite its kid-friendly atmosphere and intended audience, there’s so much to love for Trekkies. I hope that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally will see Prodigy grow in popularity and bring in hordes of new fans – and with episodes as strong as Kobayashi to ease them into the world of Star Trek, there’s a good chance that’ll happen!
The character choices may seem like an odd mix at first – and seeing Odo on the bridge of a Galaxy-class ship definitely felt strange! But each of them is given a moment to showcase their strengths, and what they brought to Star Trek in their original appearances. It makes the entire holodeck sequence feel so very special – and with such an eclectic mix of characters, there really isn’t anything quite like it in Star Trek’s entire official canon!
So that’s it!
Those are my picks for ten “comfort episodes” – or rather, nine comfort episodes and a comfort film – from the Star Trek franchise. We don’t need to repeat why the world feels so messed up right now, because we can all see what’s going on. Certain news stories have become omnipresent, completely taking over social media and other apps. If you find yourself doomscrolling, take a break. Do anything other than wallow in the mess of the real world.
The Star Trek franchise has been my comfort place for decades, and I find myself drawn to it when the world feels too much or when my mental health suffers. A future where humanity has succeeded at conquering not only the problems of today but also many of the baser, more primitive aspects of our own nature holds an appeal that can be difficult to put into words, and I find that practically every Star Trek story – even those darker in tone – have a lot to offer.
So I hope this was a bit of fun and maybe gave you some viewing inspiration! I had a great time going back to these episodes to put this list together, and with everything going on in the world I thought it could be a good time to share something like this.
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films 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.