Star Trek Lower Decks (LOW) Season 4
Stardate 58724.3: The crew of the USS Cerritos is tasked with transporting USS Voyager NCC-74656 to Earth, where the historic starship is going to be displayed at Starfleet Command. Billups and T'Ana are beamed back to the Cerritos just before Voyager goes to warp. However, a leaf from a plant causes their patterns to be fused to an entity named T'Illups, the same way it happened to Neelix and Tuvok. Captain Freeman learns that Janeway eventually solved the problem by killing the hybrid Tuvix. Freeman's goal is to find an alternate solution. Yet, T'Illups has already prepared to save their existence, by replicating the accident and combining the patterns of other crew members as well, starting with Freeman and Dr. Migleemo. Tendi and T'Lyn can escape. The Vulcan ensign takes control of the transporter and beams all the fused crew members into a confinement field. Unfortunately she thereby creates a meatball, whose individual patterns she can't isolate. Tendi, however, finds a way to separate the personal traits and restore the original people. Meanwhile on Voyager on the way to Earth, the bridge crew accidentally sets macroviruses free that reproduce and spread through the ship, launch harmful holoprograms such as Chaotica and eventually activate Borg nanoprobes. The ship is on the way to the Borg now, and Boimler is the only one of the crew not yet incapacitated. He confesses to Mariner that he doesn't want the promotion that Ransom announced to him, but Mariner tells him that it was her who suggested him because she believes in his abilities. With new confidence, Boimler confronts the villains, while Rutherford disables the ship's bioneural computer system using Neelix's cheese. As the ship is on display now as planned and the Cerritos crew has been restored to normal, Ransom promotes the Lower Decks ensigns except for Rutherford to the rank of lieutenant junior grade. Meanwhile in Klingon space, Ma'ah's Bird-of-Prey runs into a seemingly disabled unknown vessel that suddenly gets activated and destroys the Klingon ship.
Lower Decks returns with an episode that strives to celebrate Voyager in a similar fashion as "Hear All, Trust Nothing" was a homage to Deep Space Nine. Yet, although Lower Decks already featured Tom Paris in season 2, characters from the classic series are sadly missing this time. Also, "Twovix" reminds me even more of "Kayshon, His Eyes Open" where the references superseded the story likewise. I appreciate that on both occasions there are in-universe reasons for it. However, the concept to pack as many legacy exhibits as possible into 20 minutes is neither very special nor overly creative in a series that has like two dozen in-jokes in every single episode anyway.
Although I still enjoy the references in "Twovix" and in Lower Decks in general, they only become funny if there is something about them beyond their mere presence or mention. It honestly never really mattered which exact holograms or other items were chasing our friends. But I had to pause, laugh and rewind whenever there was a new twist, such as the computer saying "Safety protocols set to random", the virus flying around with Harry's clarinet or Boimler introducing himself as the "Son of Captain Proton" to the baffled Chaotica. There are only few moments like these that elevate the episode above the level of mere slapstick.
I may be asking too much, but I would have hoped for more thoughtfulness than usual in the story. Although it is in line with what routinely happens to mutated crew members in the series (the worst example being Ransom in "Strange Energies"), it would have been fitting for T'Illups to receive a minimum of character development instead of becoming a stereotypically mad villain. "Tuvix" is among the most controversial Star Trek stories still today. It gets mentioned multiple times in "Twovix" how Janeway committed an act of murder. It would have been desirable for the crew to find a solution without killing anyone (which may even have been funny). But the exact opposite happens when other crew members get fused as well and ultimately end up in a gross meatball, with several evil Tuvixes getting killed along the way. The tough issue of who is allowed to survive and why gets played just for laughs here.
On the other hand, in spite of the trivialization of the topic the LOW episode comes up with a new aspect to the ethical issue of Tuvix, one that I already addressed some 20 years ago. What if Tuvix hadn't bee an intelligent and charming person but a complete idiot? Would fans still accuse Janeway of murder? Pretty much this is the excuse that Tendi and T'Lyn cite when they split up the purportedly non-sentient meatball and restore the original crew members. I can't say whether the comical episode will rather fuel or kill the old discussion with this new input.
I am happy that Lower Decks is back, but I would have expected more of a story and less of a slapstick sequence. "Twovix" gets its points for being set on Voyager in the first place, for a couple of successful jokes and for a decent amount of character development.
- Neelix's cheese is from VOY: "Learning Curve", the macrovirus from "Macrocosm", the salamanders from "Threshold", the clown from "The Thaw", Michael Sullivan from "Fair Haven" and "Spirit People", Dr. Chaotica from "Night", "Bride of Chaotica!" and "Shattered" and, of course, Tuvix from "Tuvix".
- Mariner mentions "that Pike thing we aren't supposed to talk about", alluding to the events of SNW: "Those Old Scientists".
- We know from PIC: "The Bounty" that Voyager will be located in Geordi's museum still almost two decades later.
- Remarkable dialogue: "You know, growing up, I had a dragon named Fiddlesticks. He was such a good boy. He protected me from all sorts of affectionate..." - "Oh . Why is it people always have to tell me about their pets?" (Billups and T'Ana)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "I hope it's not a Romulan Neutral Zone thing. Spy stuff's so boring." (Mariner, with her mother saying pretty much the same a little later)
- "Oh, my god, we get to do something on Voyager? Uh, you know, 'cause, I mean, Boimler's gonna flip." (Mariner)
- "Safety protocols set to random." (Voyager computer)
- "This area is proud, confident and a little silly. Oh, that's the captain." (Tendi)
- "I am the son of Captain Proton!" (Boimler, to Chaotica)
- Remarkable ship: USS Voyager NCC-74656, which looks gorgeous as an animated version as well
- Remarkable change: The opening credits were changed to include the Whale Probe from "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" in the big battle that the Cerritos withdraws from.
Stardate not given: A Romulan ship gets attacked and destroyed by an unknown vessel. Meanwhile on the Cerritos, Mariner overhears a conversion with Shaxs, in which Commander Ransom mentions she won't be his problem for long. Mariner thinks he is giving up on her and starts to work actively on her demotion by provoking Ransom. Rutherford, on the other hand, is disappointed that he is now separated from his friends. He works on engineering improvements to impress Billups and get promoted. But a new guy named Livik always beats him to it. Ransom, Mariner and a fresh ensign named Gary arrive at a galactic zoo where two humans are being held against their will. The curator named Narj, a botanical lifeform, is willing to release them. But then a cute and seemingly harmless creature named Moopsy is set free and begins to devour lifeforms with bones. They run to a safe room, where Ransom and Mariner have a discussion about her defiant conduct. He clarifies that he said she wouldn't be a problem for long because he expects her to fit in her new position. Mariner affirms she didn't release Moopsy, which he believes. The ensign blames Narj, who is a tree after all and doesn't seem to have bones. But then Moopsy finds a way into their hiding place and swallows Narj. Mariner, Ransom and Gary escape and close the door behind them - only to notice that the creature is now in the main control room. The station is going to crash into a planet. Mariner volunteers to lure Moopsy out of the control room. Ransom, however, has a better idea. Using his teeth as bait, they manage to lock up the creature in a habitat and stabilize the orbit of the station. It turns out that the imprisoned humans actually released Moopsy to get control over the zoo. On the Cerritos, Boimler is unhappy with his new quarters, which is right next to the bright red glow of the Bussard collectors. He gets a new one that happens to be located between the thin walls of two holodecks. Rutherford is not happy either, as Livik is going to get a pip for his engineering efforts. He tells Tendi that he himself turned down previous promotions, upon which Tendi asks Billups whether Rutherford shouldn't be promoted right now. Billups gives the pip to Rutherford, who joins Boimler in his new quarters, once again next to the nacelle - but the engineer knows how to dim the windows.
"I Have No Bones Yet I Must Flee" appears like a cookie-cutter Lower Decks episode at first glance. We are familiar with most of the motifs and especially with the patterns of behavior of our four main characters. Mariner once again does everything to piss off her nemesis Ransom and becomes an "insubordination supernova", like already in "Temporal Edict", "Strange Energies" and "The Least Dangerous Game". All three instances are even explicitly mentioned, a bit as in a justification why the same happens all over again. Boimler keeps struggling with the cussedness of things, Rutherford with his honor as an engineer and Tendi with keeping the gang together, much like on several previous occasions. It seems that as much things have changed for the four junior officers, as much they stay the same.
Yet, I don't think this is a bad thing. I love how well the writers understand their characters and work out how they react to adverse circumstances. Perhaps it is a bit repetitive. Perhaps some more things should change. But the story comes with so many wonderful details. Especially the idea that Boimler's quarters would be bathed in the red light of the Bussard collectors or that it could be located between two holodecks is hilarious. I love to see the "Tucker tubes" (they finally have a name!) and the improved "Billups tubes". And although the way Rutherford receives his promotion after all is gratuitous, this is in line with how things always worked between him and his superior officer Billups. It also solves an issue that bothered me at the end of "Twovix" because I was worried he would become a second Harry Kim. My only real problem in the episode is with Mariner beating out Ransom's teeth, which is unnecessarily gross, although it too has happened before.
The human habitat in the galactic zoo is much like in the episode "Command Performance" of The Orville (although this in turn is based on "The Cage") and Moopsy is a similar creature as Nibbler from Futurama. I don't mind if concepts from other universes are reused, if they are funny, not too obvious and suit the story.
"I Have No Bones Yet I Must Flee" is a well-rounded Lower Decks episode, not very special in terms of the story but with strong characterizations and only small problems. I hope that next week's episode will reveal a bit more about the mystery ship because after two isolated incidents of it destroying a Klingon and then a Romulan vessel it will otherwise be boring if the same happens all over again.
- Ransom and Shaxs wear the same outfits and are doing the same exercises as in the infamous gymnastics scene with Troi and Crusher in TNG: "The Price".
- We can see the Una Chin-Riley poster from "Those Old Scientists" again - unfortunately including the nacelle pylons of the reboot Enterprise.
- The device that Rutherford works on in the end is Wesley Crusher's tractor beam from TNG: "The Naked Now".
- Remarkable dialogue: "Hey, Billups! Can Rutherford have his promotion for that time he removed the hull?" - "Oh, sure. Ah, sorry, Livik, maybe next time." (Tendi and Billups)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Hopefully, he [the sub-commander] doesn't get too comfortable, for soon my plans will come to fruition and his life will be disrupted." (Romulan officer)
- "Narj has to admit that Narj does have a hard time telling non-botanical creatures apart." (Narj)
- "Now it's trapped in the... station's main control room!" (Ensign Gary)
- Remarkable scene: Tendi orders Rutherford to continue to be her friend.
- Remarkable ship: The vertical Romulan starship is based on a draft by Andrew Probert for the Romulan Warbird, which he later modified to a more conventional horizontal orientation.
Stardate 58759.1: The Cerritos assists the Federation world Corazonia, which is an ancient ring structure controlled by a friendly computer named Vexilon. The problem is that Vexilon increasingly exhibits malfunctions. Captain Freeman arrives with Ransom. She decides she doesn't need help from an engineer and starts the repair of the ancient system herself. In the meantime, Boimler is supposed to remove Corazonia's old power relays with the support of T'Lyn and four ensigns. But he is not ready to delegate and does the work all alone. On the Cerritos, Lieutenant Dirk orders Mariner, Rutherford and Tendi to scan each single chip in the isolinear chip junction. After a while, he returns and reveals that there is a second layer of chips to be scanned as well. Annoyed by the tedious task assigned to them, the three decide to play a practical joke on Dirk by rigging his quarters so he would get trapped in a Chula game (from the anomaly storage) upon entering. Dirk, however, affirms them how crucial the chips are and he reveals that the Chula game traumatized him as a child. While Mariner distracts Dirk by conversing about boring Tellarite slop jazz, Tendi scans the remaining chips and Rutherford tries to remove the booby trap. But he ends up in the game and manages to clear the room just before Dirk approaches. On Corazonia, Freeman rules it is time for a software update, but now Vexilon shuts down completely. She remembers that there has to be a safe mode and reboots. However, that comes with a reset to the default configuration, and Vexilon begins to terraform the world anew, creating active volcanoes. Freeman discovers that, to restore the system the way it was, power needs to be routed through the station that Boimler's team (and actually just Boimler himself) is working on, so she orders him to put back all power relays. T'Lyn convinces him to involve his team this time. They finish the task. Then, however, a turbine overheats while Vexilon is still not up and running. Boimler stays behind alone and is ready to press the emergency shutdown. But the turbine explodes, and he has to be resuscitated. On the ship, Dirk and Ransom are amused that the three lieutenant JGs bought Dirk's melodramatic Chula game story.
"In the Cradle of Vexilon" forgoes the customary teaser and starts with the opening credits. This is probably supposed to buy time because three story threads are packed into the following 23 minutes: Freeman's struggle with ancient technology, Tendi, Rutherford and Mariner's struggle with the disagreeable Dirk and Boimler's struggle with his own responsibility. In my impression, this is too much for the episode to handle. The thread about Freeman trying to repair the computer and thereby doing even more damage provides the frame and would have been the one with the most potential in my view. I would have loved to see more interaction between her and Vexilon, more weird malfunctions of the ancient operating system, more involvement of the local population and more of their fascinating world. But that opportunity is squandered. The story switches to her and the eponymous computer only infrequently, and essentially only to establish that a new situation on Corazonia comes about.
This leaves some more time for Boimler's first mission as the leader of an away team. He is not used to have people under his command. And while he himself is sure about his abilities (at least after a "confidence boosting ritual" as T'Lyn calls it), he is uneasy about delegating tasks. Boimler is just too worried that his team could screw up or could even get killed, for which he would blame himself. I don't think this is unrealistic. In fact, it happens more often than not in real life that superiors would do something they deem important themselves, taking away responsibilities from their team. I like the pairing of Boimler with T'Lyn in this regard. She has a refreshingly direct way to tell him what's wrong but eventually comes across as almost empathetic when she motivates him to work with his team. Unfortunately this part of the episode ends in a way that is both inappropriately drastic when the building explodes with Boimler inside and unnecessarily unrealistic because he can be saved. I also think that the message "All for one, one for all" would have been more impactful with him making it in time. Aside from this one point of criticism, however, this part works well for me.
Yet, even the Boimler thread falls short of what should normally have been the side story. On the Cerritos, Rutherford, Tendi and Mariner are being hazed by Dirk and have to perform dull tasks like several times in the series before. I can see how this is supposed to demonstrate that, unlike temporarily for Boimler, not much has changed for them. It just doesn't get very interesting. Lancelot the ferret is lame and the idea to involve the anomalies that for some reason are stored aboard the ship (as already seen in "The Spy Humongous") and are not secured in any fashion is uninspired. Once again, like already in "Kayshon, His Eyes Open" or only recently in "Twovix", there seems to be an ongoing competition of how many legacy items can be squeezed into an episode. Well, the whole thing eventually becomes funny as soon as our three friends need (or think they need) to make sure the work is done and the trap gets removed. And at least the Chula game, the talking box and the variant of the Kataan probe have some limited story relevance after all.
Overall, "In the Cradle of Vexilon" is below average and could have been better, had it been all about the mission to Corazonia.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Statistically, ensigns serving under recently promoted commanders are more likely to experience death and/or dismemberment." (T'Lyn)
- "A mountain or possibly a volcano has appeared. - Ah. It is a volcano." (T'Lyn)
- "Was that an entire simulated life? - I miss my wife." (Betazoid box, after getting zapped by the Kataan probe)
- Remarkable fun scene: The Corazonian artist speaks of the terrible statues she made last week. Ransom has a look and says "Yeah, that's a pretty clumsy expression of form", only to learn that she actually meant the statues on the other side - which practically look the same.
- Remarkable props: The anomaly storage includes a Kataan probe (which looks different than in TNG: "The Inner Light" and LOW: "Kayshon, His Eyes Open", though), a lirpa, a bat'leth, Nomad, a Medusan box and protective glasses, a Betazoid talking box, a Romulan cloaking device, the Chula game by the Wadi and "the hat that turned Billups into a church tower".
Stardate not given: D'Vana Tendi's sister is getting married on Orion, for which Captain Freeman grants the lieutenant JG shore leave. Tendi is not happy to return to her planet but agrees to demonstrate the goodwill of Starfleet after the recent disappearance of an Orion ship (which was actually destroyed by the mystery vessel). As Tendi, Mariner and T'Lyn are departing for Orion, Boimler and Rutherford argue about the right way to take care of the bonsai in their quarters. They settle their conflict as they both dress up on the holodeck as Mark Twains. As Coqqor, a Chalnoth, threatens with violence because the Cerritos is going to scan a nebula he claims for himself, they suggest he should try out the holodeck scenario, but it maddens him even more. Only the bonsai pacifies the Chalnoth - he devours it. On Orion, it turns out that D'Vana belongs to one of the most powerful families in the Syndicate. She learns that her sister D'Erika has been abducted. Although bride kidnapping is a tradition, there is something irregular about it, and her mother wants D'Vana, the prime daughter, to rescue her. As she sets out to search for D'Erika's ex Nya'al, the main suspect, in the night life of Orion, everyone is in awe of the Mistress of the Winter Constellations. She eventually finds Nya'al, who turns out innocent but reveals that he has seen D'Erika at a ship graveyard. This is the place where the sisters used to hang around and where D'Vana made the decision to go to Starfleet instead of becoming an assassin for the Syndicate. D'Erika, who ran away from her wedding on her own will, shows up and challenges her sister to a duel. After D'Vana had left, she took over her role in the Syndicate, for which she isn't sad. But D'Erika is afraid that she wouldn't live up to everyone's expectations. After confirming that D'Erika performs well in her criminal career, D'Vana powers up the old Raven-type ship to make it to the wedding in time.
After Vina was seen as an Orion slave girl in a Talosian illusion as soon as in "The Cage", the species showed up on just a handful occasions in TOS and TAS. Although the Syndicate got mentioned, Orions themselves never appeared once in TNG, DS9 or Voyager, the three arguably most defining series of the franchise. Only the fourth season of Enterprise reintroduced them to Star Trek, picking up the "slaver" theme from TOS, rather than that of the "pirates" from TAS. The episode "Bound" came with the revelation that not the males but the ostensibly enslaved Orion women are actually in charge, thanks to their pheromones. In my view, this was meant more like a joke than as a serious explanation for how their society works. Maybe the ambiguity about slavery is the reason why modern Trek focuses on the pirate aspect again. We could repeatedly see Orions in that role in DIS, SNW and LOW, with nothing hinting at either a patriarchy or a matriarchy.
I can see how "Something Borrowed, Something Green" tries to bring the two stories together again. Mariner explicitly mentions the pheromones of the "Orion showgirls" (in "Bound") and insinuates they were made up by Starfleet to save a captain's (Archer's) reputation - only to be proven wrong by how the planet presents itself. Women are in charge everywhere on Orion. They are tough and aggressive, whereas all men without exception are sexual objects, suckers for pheromones or just dumb. It may be possible to align that with canon because, as I already mentioned, we know absolutely nothing of the Orions of the 24th century from classic Trek. But rather than explaining what has or what could become of the Orion society shown in ENT: "Bound" over 200 years later, the transformation of Tendi's world to a total matriarchy seems to follow a real-life feminist agenda, including unusually sexist comments about men from the two non-Orion women.
With the exception of the above issue, the story featuring Star Trek's first visit to Orion is strong. Many locations on the planet and other motifs are enjoyable because they are a bit like a naughty version of present-day Earth, like in gangster movies. Most importantly, the trip deepens the friendship of the newly promoted lieutenant JGs, which also includes T'Lyn, who clearly appreciates the little adventure as well. We learn a lot about D'Vana Tendi's motivation to leave the planet, but just as well about what "normal" Orions such as her sister would long for. T'Lyn and Mariner affirm that they see D'Vana as the person she has become and not the one she could have been as a Syndicate assassin. Conversely, D'Vana has to concede that D'Erika belongs on the "Crime Throne", a statement that might have left a bad taste in classic Trek, but that is still appropriate in Lower Decks. I think slightly overstepping the moral limits of the live-action shows is part of the fun.
Meanwhile on the Cerritos, Boimler and Rutherford seem to form an almost symbiotic relationship as "Brutherford" in their shared quarters, only to clash over the petty issue of how to take care of a bonsai. This is still the best part of their story, which becomes increasingly lame in the following. I don't get what is interesting about them arguing as Mark Twain impersonators with fake accents on the holodeck. If I'm not mistaken, there are no recordings of Twain's voice and I doubt he spoke like that. But it becomes downright absurd when Freeman and the Chalnoth try do the same to resolve their conflict. What in the world could have led the ferocious alien to partake in the first place? This element of the story is weird for the sake of looking weird. Likewise, why would the Chalnoth react to the word "bonsai"? I could have thought of much less contrived ways to get him to eat the bonsai and thereby to bring about the actual and only joke in the whole plot thread.
Tendi's personal journey in "Something Borrowed, Something Green" is both delightful and insightful, although it comes with unnecessary wokeness. The B-plot about Boimler and Rutherford, on the other hand, is lame. I also think that the destruction of alien ships by a mysterious new enemy has become boring by now, considering that we still don't learn anything new and that it still remains an isolated incident (with just one casual mention). There is no arc of suspense in the story that is apparently supposed to become a big thing in this season.
- This is the first time a story takes place on the Orion homeworld.
- A Chalnoth named Esoqq previously appeared in TNG: "Allegiance".
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Wait - wedding, sister, parents? Tendi, I'm sorry, I'm freaking out... This is more backstory than I have ever been able to get out of you." (Mariner)
- "Wow, everyone here really loves getting carried around on platters." (Mariner)
- "We don't trust Starfleet data. It's too nuanced and thorough." (Coqqor)
- "I know you're turning in your observations to the High Council, but maybe could you leave off some of the stabbings?" (D'Vana Tendi)
- "Why is Starfleet so obsessed with scanning?" (D'Erika Tendi)
- Remarkable starships:
- I love to see the Raven design from VOY: "The Raven" and "Dark Frontier", although it is incredible that it could be powered up after resting and rusting on the the planet for years.
- I also like that we see two Orion ship types that appeared on Enterprise, although we would have expected them to be new types after over 200 years.