A routine mission to a menagerie leads to some adorable terror and a big epiphany for the series’ protagonist.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
I’ll admit when Lower Decks paired up Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) in the last season, I assumed it wouldn’t amount to much beyond some good laughs. The setup seemed like an amusing way to keep Mariner suitably annoyed amidst her last chance in Starfleet. Beckett, as the rebellious but tongue-biting subordinate, alongside Jack, as the bravado-filled blowhard of a supervisor, was, and is, a solid recipe for comedy. That would have been more than enough on its own.
But I like the show’s different approach to the pairing, which reaches new heights in “I Have No Bones Yet I Must Flee.” Despite their natural comic friction, the series has gradually revealed that the pair bring out the best in one another. Ironically enough, it’s the commander most poised to annoy Mariner, who ends up giving her the support she needs to flourish as a not-so-junior officer.
That revelation comes to the fore when Mariner overhears Ransom telling Shax that Beckett “won’t be his problem” for much longer. The seemingly damning comment plays right into Mariner’s preexisting insecurities. She’s long felt that her commanding officers will get tired of her for being “too real” and thus find reasons to demote her.
Deliberately choosing to act insubordinate and in-your-face is Mariner’s way of taking back control. If she does that, the demotion comes from her choices rather than being something foisted upon her. And what better setting to cause career-threatening trouble than a mission to one of Star Trek’s infamous menageries?
As always, Lower Decks plays for keeps when deploying familiar franchise tropes, and this is no exception. Mariner, Ransom, and a poor ensign named Gary, who doesn’t know what he’s in for, all venture on an ostensibly routine mission at an intergalactic zoo where things quickly go awry.
With that backdrop, it’s fun to see Mariner tweak her C.O. by calling him “Jack,” or by recklessly landing the shuttlecraft, or by questioning the ethics of Narj, the Menagerie’s vegetal proprietor. But it’s extra fun seeing the two of them have to contend with things going pear-shaped in a zoological exhibition of various creatures that let the animators’ creativity run wild.
Watching Mariner try to raise Ransom’s dander becomes all the more entertaining when a fluffy little terror is on the loose.
The peak of that tack is Moopsy, an adorable little white puffball who says its own name, Pokémon-style. Naturally, the Nibbler-esque twist is that despite Moopsy’s abundant cuteness, once the little critter gets loose, it becomes a bone-sucking terror that threatens every living creature aboard the station. Watching Mariner try to raise Ransom’s dander becomes all the more entertaining when a fluffy little terror is on the loose.
The stakes back on the Cerritos are a little more personal and a little less dramatic, but still plenty diverting. With all his chums ranking up and moving out of their familiar bunks, Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) strives to earn a promotion of his own so he can continue hanging out with his newly-promoted friends.
Rutherford’s efforts to muster a scientific achievement worthy of promotion lead to some great comic escalation. Each new technical advancement from Rutherford is amusingly topped by some grander accomplishment from the industrious Ensign Livik. Seeing Rutherford run himself ragged, only to have each incremental yet engineer-prized advancement be bested by his rival, lends itself well to some good yuks. And Rutherford’s angry cry of “Livik!” each time is a nice running gag.
On the other hand, Boimler’s subplot is all gags. His promotion comes with new quarters, but there’s something terribly wrong with each new spot he picks. Bradward finding a makeshift solution to the blinding light pouring in through his window, only for Rutherford’s competition with Livik to intensify the offending beam that much more, is a laugh and a half. Watching him deal with the sound pollution generated between Dr. T’Ana’s surprisingly brutal Robin Hood holodeck program and Captain Freeman’s presidential aspirations brings the laughs as well.
The two sillier stories dovetail together nicely. It’s heartwarming to see Tendi (Noël Wells) use her new rank to “order” Rutherford around, but only to get his attention and reassure him that despite her recent bit of seniority, they’ll still hang out together and gab about science and be best buds for life, so Samanthan doesn’t have to go to all this trouble.
The reciprocal reveal that Rutherford has turned down numerous promotions to stay with our favorite quartet of lower deckers is a little convenient, though no less sweet. And him realizing that he can ask for what he wants instead of constantly feeling the need to prove himself adds some character growth to the episode’s looser shenanigans.
Mariner and Ransom make a heck of a comic duo.
Rutherford and Boimler deciding to become roommates is a nice solution to both of their problems, keeping the gang close while allowing them to find new digs together. And despite an inevitable new set of problems for Bradward’s latest habitat, the fact that he finds a new “denty” to get comfortable with is a pleasant way to cap things off.
Along the way, there are other neat little shout-outs and hints. The episode’s title pays homage to the famous short story penned by one-time Original Series writer Harlan Ellison. The teaser sees a pair of hilariously conniving Romulan lower deckers destroyed by the same mysterious and deadly ship that destroyed the Klingons last week. (My theory is that it’s the work of a vengeful Peanut Hamper and AGIMUS team-up, but we’ll have to wait and see.) And even the concerning conversation among senior officers that Mariner overhears is a hilarious reference to the infamous stretching scene from The Next Generation.
The crux of the episode, though, is the revelation that Mariner misunderstood that confidence-shaking conversation. When Jack said that Beckett wouldn’t continue being his problem, he meant that he wasn’t going to take her bait. Instead, he planned to keep supporting her development into the great officer he knows she can be. The twist clicks with how surprisingly tolerant Ransom is despite Mariner actively testing his patience.
The reveal is excellent. Mariner realizing that she resorts to acts of self-sabotage for reasons even she doesn’t fully understand is a big moment of self-awareness for someone who’s always treated her junior status as a choice, not a predicament. And it shows a kinder, more devoted, even impressive side of Ransom, who goes the extra mile to detect that pattern from reading Mariner’s file and takes steps to make sure he doesn’t let her down, or allow Beckett to let herself down.
The ensuing flight from the darling but deadly Moopsy is a hoot the whole way through. Ransom’s unorthodox solution of having Beckett knock out his teeth so they can lure the cuddly beast back into its enclosure via those “breadcrumbs” is the right Lower Decks blend of clever and insane. And the menagerie twist that it was the humans they were sent to rescue who unleashed the calcium-craving creature in a bid to take over the place is a hilarious spin on the “The most dangerous animal is man” trope that Ellison himself was fond of.
But the real takeaway is that, despite all her monkeyshines, Mariner promises Ransom that she didn’t unleash Moopsy, and he believes her. For once, there’s trust between Beckett and her commanding officer. For once, she’s working with somebody who might annoy her but who genuinely believes in her and is even willing to go the extra mile to see her succeed. For once, she has reason to recognize her own self-defeating choices and accept the help of someone who won’t let her continue down that path.
Mariner and Ransom make a heck of a comic duo. But when it comes to helping each other grow as officers and friends, they might turn out to be something even better.