A visit with the Ferengis in Season 4 Episode 6 sees the show spinning brief yarns.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
“Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place” is a series of vignettes more than a cohesive episode. With four separate story threads, there’s not a ton of time for development. Each subplot features different characters doing mostly unrelated things, with stories that don’t really intersect. What unites them, then, is the setting and the theme.
All of the storylines take place on Ferenginar (the Ferengi homeworld), which Trekkies get to see in earnest for the first time since Deep Space Nine. That’s fun! As usual, Lower Decks makes the most of its lobe-centric setting.
We see the rainy, neon-lit landscapes of the planet’s big cities with more scope and variety than the live-action series could manage with matte paintings. Public libraries that double as dens of vice, Dominion War memorials that pay tribute not to fallen warriors but fallen profits, and hotel rooms with devices you must pay to use so you can pay to use the toilet are all amusing inclusions for the home planet of Star Trek’s most lovable, latinum-lathered species.
But the other thing that unites all four stories is something bigger and yet simpler — the idea that there’s something big in store for all of our heroes, something maybe even they haven’t figured out yet, but which nonetheless starts interjecting itself into their lives in ways that suddenly make it hard to ignore.
The most significant of these four stories stems from Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and her frustration with, well, her lack of frustration. As in the season’s second episode, there’s a sense of self-sabotage at play with our protagonist. Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) is a supportive supervisor. Beckett herself is fulfilled and problem-free. But for some reason, she finds herself still lashing out against the world and trending toward self-destruction.
On Ferenginar, that means linking up with an old Ferengi pal voiced by Dave Foley. He’s living a more settled-down life, which conflicts with Mariner’s desire to get drunk and start fights for no good reason. Given the pair’s history and their conflict, and the talents of the performers involved, the two of them have a strong dynamic.
The sense that Mariner’s well-lobed pal was once a partner in crime but has since moved on and now worries about where Mariner’s heading helps underscore the problems she’s grappling with. Her Ferengi buddy recognizes, as a friend and someone who’s moved on from that type of thing, that Beckett’s intentionally causing trouble in ways that are needlessly harmful to her life and her prospects, something she needs to hear.
It’s some of Mariner’s most fascinating character development in the series to date. The wrinkle is that she, and we, don’t know for sure why she’s sabotaging herself like this. My suspicion is that there’s a simple explanation — being the rebellious underdog is all she knows.
The promotion, the trust from her commander, and the institutional support to improve are all theoretically good stuff. But it leaves her wondering what her identity is if it’s not being the rambunctious and recalcitrant Mariner we all know and love. So if you’re that afraid of the future, why not stay stuck in the past, even if your friends, Ferengi or otherwise, are all getting on with their own lives?
There’s probably more to it than that. Mariner’s relationship with her parents has long been an important part of her character, and it hasn’t come up much yet this season. But this episode is merely another brick in the wall of Mariner’s ongoing crisis of self rather than a story with clear breakthroughs or answers.
That said, bigger things might be in store for her mother, too. Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) assists a Starfleet admiral in what’s supposed to be a straightforward diplomatic event — the earliest steps of the Ferengi potentially joining the Federation. Who better to kick that off on the Ferengi side of things than Grand Nagus Rom (Max Grodénchik) and his first lady Leeta (Chase Masterson)?
For Deep Space Nine fans, it’s nice to see Rom still enjoying this auspicious position and Leeta and him remaining an item all these years later. Lower Decks reverts Rom to acting like more of a dummy, even as DS9 gradually revealed that he’s smarter than he gets credit for. But perhaps the point is that he’s simply obfuscating stupidity so that he and Leeta could work their scheme on the admiral.
It’s some of Mariner’s most fascinating character development in the series to date.
Regardless, it’s entertaining to watch them hold the high-ranking dope over a barrel with their various standard Ferengi ploys. But it’s even better to watch Captain Freeman see through their ruses and eventually earn Rom and Leeta’s respect by turning the con around on them. Maybe it’s just a one-episode win for the Captain, but with diplomatic successes like this one and stumbles from the admiralty, there’s hints that our lower-deckers aren’t the only ones who might have a promotion just around the corner.
Of course, that requires support from the higher-ups, which is just what Boimler (Jack Quaid) ends up with in his storyline. His subplot is the slightest one in “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place,” but also the most amusing. There is something relatable in the way he overplans his review-heavy travel guide mission to Ferenginar, only to get caught up watching Ferengi trash T.V. in his hotel room instead. The big-eared spoofs of cop shows, crass product placement, and The Office are all amusing bits of parody to break up the episode’s other exploits.
There’s a point, however glancing, to Boimler’s story though. The young officer worries that Ransom’s going to chew him out for falling down on the job, only for Bradward to receive an attaboy for his willingness to go with the flow of the mission rather than overthink it (even if he has to be dragged kicking and screaming away from his televised junk food). Ransom’s quip of “I like that lieutenant” suggests there may be more good things in store for Boimler as well.
On the other hand, I have no idea what’s in store for Tendi (Noël Wells) and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero). In a somewhat contrived setup, the duo must pretend to be married to test out Ferenginar’s accommodations and entertainment intended for couples. What starts out as a silly joke of playacting martial familiarity between them starts to become uncomfortable when the pretend couple routine seems to dredge up some real feelings.
Frankly, the plot hijinks involved are fairly broad and mostly tepid. The show comes up with ever more ridiculous and sitcom-y ways for Rutherford and Tendi to be put in awkwardly romantic scenarios. The eye-roll-worthy nature of the setups, the absurdity of risking jail time for pretending to be a couple on Ferenginar, and the strange faux-love triangle/escape hatch routine with Dr. Migleemo (Paul F. Tompkins) all fall a bit flat.
But beneath the unavailing goofery, there’s an interesting, if somewhat cryptic, hint about Tendi and Rutherford’s relationship. They’re already kind of a couple, albeit a wholly platonic one. They geek out about the same things, take joy in time spent together, and, most importantly, are there for one another. Lower Decks has teased them as a romantic duo before, as early as season 1, but always suggested that they each might be a touch too wholesome and oblivious to ever actually go there.
Candidly, I’m not sure whether this episode is meant to be a reaffirmation of their platonic status quo or a suggestion that their feelings of attachment and affection for one another are breaking through. On the one hand, they spend much of the episode seeming to realize there’s some genuine attraction between them when pretending to be a couple starts to feel too real. And yet, they end the episode feeling comfortable crawling on top of one another in a repair hatch without a hint of sexual tension, so long as they’re doing it as friends. It could either be the end of something or the beginning.
That’s true for most of our Ferenginar-bound players here. Something tells me we’ll get answers to Mariner’s plight eventually. But it’s not clear whether Captain Freeman will be recognized for her diplomatic abilities, or Boimler’s vote of confidence from his commanding officer will pay dividends, or Tendi and Rutherford’s friendship will blossom into something more. In an episode full of more slips of storytelling latinum more than full bars, there’s hints of big things coming (and scary things, too, vis-a-vis the ship wiping out scores of lower deckers), but it’s still not clear exactly what or when.