Perpetually reckless Mariner has been taking even bigger, wilder risks than usual, and that has her friends (and her mom) concerned. So when the Cerritos gets a dangerous mission, Captain Freeman wants to make sure her daughter isn’t anywhere near it.
Someone’s targeting ex-Starfleet officers, including Next Generation deep cut Nick Locarno, who was drummed out of the Academy when his daredevil flying got a classmate killed. Worrying that putting he and Mariner together will act as a multiplier on her risk-taking, Captain Freeman assigns the Lower Deckers (with T’Lyn in place of Rutherford) to the safest possible mission, while telling Mariner it’s a matter of life and death.
Of course, it’s very hard to fool Mariner into thinking that repairing a remote weather satellite is dangerous. But predictably, the safest possible mission almost immediately turns dangerous, when the Klingons take issue with the satellite for reasons unknown, and fire on the crew’s shuttle. They escape to the planet, which is overrun with electrical storms, hence the monitoring satellite.
Freeman and the Cerritos also get a surprise reversal, as the lawless planet where Locarno operates turns out to be an overly-organized bureaucratic nightmare, whose residents express their open disdain for Starfleet not through violence, but through parking regulations and very difficult dinner reservations.
Meanwhile, the uninhabited planet the Lower Deckers are stranded on turns out to be very inhabited, as they’re variously attacked by a Romulan, Klingon, Ferengi, and Cardassian, with campfires in the distance suggesting a whole menagerie of Trek’s favorite aliens. The crew hide out to avoid further attacks, and when Mariner objects, they admit that they were ordered to keep her out of trouble.
Naturally, she sneaks out at night to look for trouble. She quickly finds it in the form of the Klingon they met earlier, and as the two tussle, the planet’s weather gets dramatically worse — shards of glass start falling from the sky. She and the Klingon have no choice but to put their fight on hold.
There’s an old internet meme about how Klingons would actually make good therapists, and this one shows the truth behind that. Trapped in the cave with nothing to do but talk, he gets Mariner to open up what’s behind her often-unreasonable lust for danger, and her insistence in pissing off her superiors.
One of the biggest dramatic holes in Lower Decks thus far is a lack of real motive for Mariner’s behavior. We’ve had several episodes that question why she is the way she is, but never any answers, until now. The payoff is worth the wait.
The reveal is a powerful emotional moment that also calls back to the Next Generation episode from which Lower Decks takes its name. It’s the best kind of reference, one that isn’t “hey, remember this?”, but adds resonance to the earlier episode and shows how events that might appear to be a one-off episode have repercussions that ripple outwards.
After four seasons of simply being an unreasonable Chaos Muppet, we come to see that Mariner loves her job every bit as much as her over-enthusiastic friends, but that that part of her is walled off behind resentment and loss that she’s never really processed. And all it took was a little therapy, Klingon style. There is much honor in emotional honesty and confronting one’s demons head on. Mariner may just win a glorious victory over her issues yet.
• And that’s not even the end of the episode! We get a climactic fight with more Klingons, and we finally get a reveal on the mysterious ship that’s kidnapped other ships in several episodes this season. After a few slight episodes, this one’s packing in a whole lot.
• The orderly criminal planet is a pretty slight B story, but it does have a nice twist at the end.
• Maybe it’s my imagination, but the lawless planet’s visuals seem very directly based on Star Wars, from the Galactic Empire-style uniforms on the space traffic controller to the Greedo-like woman walking past in the Mos Eisley-like hive of scum, villainy, and long waits for a table.
• As reverent as Decks (and Boimler in particular) is towards Trek lore, it’s easy to forget that the series only takes place a few years after TNG and Deep Space Nine, and that these characters are contemporaries of various TNG guest stars.