The episode shows growth for its two leads as they take on a little of each other’s personalities when facing new challenges.
Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Boimler (Jack Quaid) are pretty damn fun just the way they are. Beckett is the freelancing ensign who bucks authority, and Bradward is the deferential young officer who hopes to become a part of it one day. Their opposing perspectives and personalities have fueled Lower Decks from the beginning and spurred plenty of humor and friendship between them.
But it’s also nice to see each of them grow a bit while taking on a pinch of the other’s philosophy for good measure. In the latest crisis of the week, Mariner must resist her natural impulse to go rogue and question her superior officer. And Boimler must resist his natural impulse to be cautious and deliberate rather than embrace opportunities outside his comfort zone. Each move leads to some growing pains but also some great laughs and genuine character development for both ensigns.
Mariner’s punishment of having to be babysat by Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) begins in earnest with her subjected to repairing an “orbital lift” (don’t call it an elevator!) above a nearby “health and wellness” planet. The mission gives “The Least Dangerous Game” an opportunity to spoof a cornucopia of tweak-worthy Star Trek tropes.
Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and Billups (Paul Scheer) enjoy their time in a free love, navel-venerating society that parodies the welcoming-but-doctrinaire people of Edo from The Next Generation. Mariner and Ransom skydive off an orbital lift in a sequence that pays amusing tribute to Star Trek ‘09. The fact that a combination of a sentient volcano, a psychic baby, and an evil computer rules the local civilization skewers a bevy of “Crazy Planet of the Week” stories from across the franchise, with trademark Lower Decks panache.
At the same time, though, there’s a character-focused core to these misadventures. Mariner grows increasingly frustrated with Ransom’s orders, and for good reason. In a puzzling move, he directs the engineers to handle diplomacy while tasking the command crew with fixing the lift. He wastes time lifting weights and botches the elevator repairs while Rutherford and Billups make a hash out of relations with the locals. It’s everything Mariner can do to keep obeying rather than simply taking matters into her own hands as usual. The audience shares in her frustration.
However, it turns out to be the test in a canny creative move. During Mariner’s surreptitious one-woman rescue mission, Ransom admits his funky orders were meant to challenge Beckett’s resolve. He shows pride in his subordinate for staying steadfast. In response, the remorseful ensign endures a harrowing climb to meet her supervisor and pretend she really learned to follow orders, no matter how dumb they seem.
That choice strikes the right balance, of Mariner still seeming disgruntled and characteristically ready to take matters into her own hands while also earnestly trying to straighten up and fly right, if only a bit, so that she can stick around in Starfleet. The fact that she and Ransom develop a budding mutual respect from their shared successes in all of this – replete with an ab-based reconciliation with the planet’s leaders – is the icing on the cake.
It’s another example of Lower Decks mining the silliest and most obscure corners of the franchise to find comedy gold.
Meanwhile, Boimler takes Tendi’s (Noël Wells) advice that if he wants to rank up, he needs to be bolder and more open to new experiences. It’s amusing to see him parlay some panicked screeches during a game of springball into a role in a Bajoran dirge choir, which then nets him promises of favors from multiple senior officers. As always, seeing Bradward out of his depth is good for a laugh, and the experiences teach him to take more chances instead of merely playing it safe.
Still, the fact that Lower Decks doesn’t leave its theme as trite as all that is even better. Tendi warns Boimler that the lesson here isn’t being bold all the time is better than being overly cautious all the time. It’s to avoid being married to a particular plan or approach. Instead, judge each opportunity individually. The nuance is commendable, even as it’s comically ignored in characteristic fashion by Boimler himself.
The overzealous ensign inevitably goes overboard, accepting the role of prey to a ship-confined hunter desperate for some sport. The ensuing hunt is roundly amusing, parodying scads of predator-type species in Star Trek. It shows Bradward the perils of taking any personal “setting” too far. The fact that he loses the game, but earns the respect and compliments of his pursuer, gives the kid a nice win, even as he takes this new philosophy too far.
Of course, what makes his newfound, misguided attitude all the better is that an homage to the infamous Klingon Challenge interactive VHS game that the ensigns play together spurs it. J.G. Hertzler gamely reprises his role as the intense General Martok (or a Ferengi-backed impersonator). While there’s sadly no bij involved, it’s another example of Lower Decks mining the silliest and most obscure corners of the franchise to find comedy gold.
Thankfully, though, the show’s also not afraid to mix things up, as Mariner and Boimler grow together, if only a little, in the face of challenges that force them to break out of their usual worldviews. It would be a shame to change them completely. The uber-daring rebel paired with the obsequious ensign is a dynamic that’s helped this show soar from the beginning. But as the crew embarks on the third year of their mission, there’s nothing wrong with the show’s leads evolving in unison, as each becomes a little more like the other.