Tendi has science’d-up the ultimate dog that is more than a dog (a la The Thing and with shades of TNG’s “Aquiel”). Captain Freeman, Ransom and Shaxs go on a super-covert mission (a la “Chain of Command”). Rutherford’s experiments in raising the ship’s transport speed results in Boimler shifting out of phase (like Geordi and Ro in “The Next Phase”).
Star Trek: Lower Decks is proud of its encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise, and not afraid of mixing and matching a variety of references to past series and films and putting just enough of a twist on them different and say something new about the characters of this show, while crafting a story that, while ridiculous and weird, probably works even for those uninitiated in All [Good] Things Trek.
Fellow Trek maniacs Mike and Rich Evans over at RedLetterMedia recently listed their favorite TNG episodes, and “Chain of Command” is one of them because, in part, it totally subverts the “crew having to pull together to foil the evil outsider captain” trope. Captain Jellico isn’t a bad captain, he just does things differently than Picard. It ends up painting Riker in a particularly bad light—a pretty bold move for TNG!
Anywho, in “Much Ado About Boimler” the replacement captain is Ramsay, a good friend and academy classmate of Mariner’s. Seeing those four pips on young Ramsay’s collar is a wonderfully simple and effective symbol of Mariner’s wasted potential—she really should be a captain by now!
Meanwhile Boimler, so eager to impress the new captain, ends up being ordered off the bridge since a side-effect of his phasing issue is an extremely loud transporter droning sound. In a break from usual Trek routine of the ship’s doctor finding a cure to a crewman’s unusual malady, Boimler is transferred to Division 14, a shadowy Section 31-like Starfleet org focused on, among other things, medical oddities.
Mariner and Ramsay are super chummy at first, but as Ramsay witnesses Mariner continually slacking off or performing simple duties sloppily, the act gets old fast. That applies when they’re on a second-contact mission to fix some alien water filtration system, and when they encounter their sister ship Rebidoux to be infected by some kind of parasitic alien.
Since The Dog Tendi made is also of interest to Division 14, Tendi accompanies Boimler aboard the division’s super-sleek experimental ship en route to a facility ominously called “The Farm.” Once aboard they encounter a veritable freakshow of Starfleet officers having suffered all manner of space diseases and mishaps.
When power is restored to the derelict Rebidoux, the alien awakens and the very seams of the ship start coming apart. Mariner drops her slacker act and suddenly becomes competent, which irks Ramsay even more because it’s clear now that Mariner was looking bad on purpose so Ramsay wouldn’t recommend her for a transfer and promotion to the Oakland.
While Ramsay is understandably pissed by seeing how low her former elite classmate, the one everyone thought would make captain first, has fallen, Mariner also doesn’t like how captaincy has changed her friend. Both have valid points, though it’s really hard to argue Mariner shouldn’t still be an ensign!
While the other Starfleet officers aboard the Division 14 ship are convinced the ship itself is “The Farm” and they’re being held there because they’re “inconvenient” to Starfleet’s veneer of perfection, the truth is “The Farm” is a real paradise planet, and it’s spectacular, while the division chief is just a little eccentric and has a sinister laugh you shouldn’t read too much into.
Tendi says goodbye to The Dog, who gets up on hind legs, says goodbye back, then flies away. Turns out Tendi, who after all isn’t human, had a lot of misconceptions about what a dog could and should do. As for Boimler, the phasing issue wears off, so he is no longer welcome at The Farm and its sensual massages.
Mariner and Ramsay may not be the happiest about how their friend turned out, but the two work together to save the Rebidoux crew as well as their away team. That said, they’re ultimately saved by Rutherford’s upgraded transporter. Everyone ends up suffering the same phasing issue as Boimler, but they don’t care; they’re alive, and it will wear off.
Finally, the alien itself doesn’t kill anyone, and isn’t evil at all! Indeed, it emerges from the absorbed matter of the Rebidoux as a jellyfish-like space-dwelling alien very similar to those first discovered in the TNG pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint”.
Harkening back to a 90-minute episode that aired back in 1987, it’s amazing to see how Star Trek has evolved with the times. By modern standards, quite a few episodes of the previous series (particularly the original) feel glacially long and stretched out. In contrast, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to tolerate an entire hour of Lower Deck’s energy and pace. Twenty-five minutes is the ideal length.
After Mariner showed what’s she’s truly made of on the Rebidoux, Ramsay’s promotion and transfer offer are still on the table. Mariner is flattered and grateful, but ultimately declines. She may have the ability to be a captain someday, but right now she’s happy where she is, where she can still figure out what she wants. In this regard she’s much like Riker, who passed up many a command because he loved the Enterprise and his family.
- Mariner mentions “phase coils” as the kind of nonsense Captains often mention to their subordinates. Coils of one kind or another are omnipresent in Trek technobabble.
- Tendi calling her dog “The Dog” may be a reference to people often calling Wesley Crusher “The Boy” on TNG.
- It’s always fun to see alternate Starfleet uniforms broken out, and here we see Starfleet waders for the first time!
- The Division 14 ship is a veritable smorgasbord of references, none more iconic than the crewman in the same beeping wheelchair as Captain Pike in TOS’s “The Menagerie”.
- I love how the senior officers’ secret covert mission involves…planting a plant, when given the go-ahead.