Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 4 – Debuted Thursday, August 27th, 2020
Written by Ann Kim
Directed by Barry J. Kelly
In a return to form, “Moist Vessel” brings the humor and the heart of a family sitcom set on a starship. In what feels like the most traditional Star Trek episode yet, Lower Decks shows it can deliver laughs without relying too much on fan service.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Rank has its problems
“Moist Vessel” eschews the cold open teasers of the previous episodes, and kicks off with a traditional briefing from Captain Freeman outlining the mission for the episode: towing an ancient generation ship full of dead alien mummies and a precious cargo of terraforming fluid that turns inorganic material into life. Think vats and vats of liquid Genesis Device: What could possibly go wrong?
The USS Cerritos is going to be working with the USS Merced (another California-class ship), under the command of Captain Durango, a Tellarite who previously served with Freeman, and it’s clear the two have an ongoing rivalry. Before things get too expositionally boring, Mariner lightens things up with some very loud yawning. “It is just so much information, I don’t know how you guys aren’t yawning,” she says. This triggers Captain Mom big time, setting up the real main arc of the episode.
Nicely picking up on the complex family dynamics established in episode one, Captain Freeman is now even more motivated to figure out a way to get Mariner off her ship without raising the ire of her husband, who is also the admiral that transferred Mariner to the Cerritos to begin with. Ransom has the solution: Assign Mariner all the “nastiest jobs on the ship” to push her to request a transfer on her own. Brilliant!
But the scheming pair seems to have forgotten that this is Mariner, the same ensign who loves the brig. Sure, cleaning out the holodeck is gross, because we all know what people are doing on the holodeck. (Yeah… exactly.) But even though Boimler describes being assigned carbon scraping duty as “Klingon prison stuff,” Beckett figures out a way to turn the drudgery into a fun competition. Ransom is forced to report that Mariner is “finding little ways to inject joy into what are otherwise horrible tasks,” forcing the captain to come up with an even more cunning plan: promotion.
We’ve previously learned that Beckett is proud to have been demoted and prefers life as an ensign. After seeing the sheer boredom Lt. Mariner faces in Starfleet middle management, we can see why. There is no way to inject joy into auditing an audit, sitting through mandatory officer team building exercises, or playing a lifeless senior officer poker game that makes you long for the days of Data and Riker facing off across the green felt.
Meanwhile, poor advancement-obsessed Boimler is forced to watch all of this unfold from the sidelines, completely flummoxed as to why Mariner, and not he, was promoted. Lusting after her better replicator programs and nicer quarters, Brad is seduced by the dark side, and inspired by the notorious holographic baddie Moriarty. Taking Mariner’s offhand promotion theory that “bad is good” to his darkening heart, he begins scheming how he can fail upwards too. Boimler isn’t given a lot to do in this episode, but writer Ann Kim and Jack Quaid make every moment with him count for laughs.
The Tendi shall set you free
As for our other two lower deckers, Tendi gets her own story this episode, all starting with her excitedly attending an “ascension” ceremony. With her usual unbridled enthusiasm, the Orion ensign is excited to watch Lt. O’Conner meditate and transcend the physical realm, but she gets distracted and disrupts the ceremony, which ends up transforming O’Conner into a ball of anger—directed at Tendi.
Now she is a woman on a mission, determined to get O’Conner back on the ascension track if he wants it or not. Declaring she is going to “blow him away with spirituality,” Tendi tries all sorts of things, including Tamarian bugs. It doesn’t help. Feeding into the episode’s theme of transformation, he gives her some tough love: “You don’t get to be the hero here because you are the villain!”
Saved by the gas, again
With all the fun character stuff going on, it takes a while for the Star Trek plot to unfold, but once it does, it literally gushes in like an unstoppable torrent of sci-fi crises. His rivalry with Captain Freeman clouding his judgment, Captain Durango moves his ship to be in the closer position to the derelict ship, causing a breach and unleashing the terraforming goo into space and up the tractor beams.
Both ships are hit with the fluid, and onboard the Cerritos everything starts dissolving and evolving as if Carol Marcus was cooking up a whole new Genesis Cave inside the ship. Unhelpfully, the ship’s computer lets us know there’s an “unauthorized terraformation” happening. No sh-t, Shiplock.
Just as the red alert is sounding, Boimler chooses his moment to go bad, “dropping” scalding hot coffee onto Commander Ransom’s lap. Needless to say, the “bad is good” plan didn’t work as he expected. No pip for you, Brad.
The crisis turns the mother/daughter cage match into some effective command team bonding, as they literally dig their way through to a station where Mariner comes up with a plan to save the ship with a gas, which was actually how the ship was saved in episode one. But that gas was purple and this gas was more of a blue, so totally different. They did sneak in some classic Treknobabble here including stuff like “trigger a reversion with radiation from the main deflector.” Is there anything the deflector can’t do when you need to tech the tech?
The transforming ship also had the bickering Tendi and O’Conner stuck together in engineering, which was being altered into a nice coral reef that periodically explodes and is also drowning them, so there were downsides. Some since-we-are-about-to-die truth-telling leads both to some more nice bonding. And the ever-delightful Tendi declares, “I am about to die with my best friend!”
After some heroic escaping and selfless live-saving, the pair shares a kiss before O’Conner’s ascension finally kicks in, surprising him as much as it does her. He should have read the energy being fine print, as it turns out the process is painful AF. In one of the funniest bits in the episode, he is eventually rewarded by learning the universe is balanced on a giant smiling koala. There are so many questions about this koala, but they’re all going to have to be left to the next book on the Metaphysics of Star Trek.
I second that demotion
Safely back at the Starbase with the generation ship, the previously transformed Cerritos gets cleaned up pretty quickly. And speaking of reset buttons, Mariner mashes on her own hard by insulting an admiral. Some lessons may be learned, but this show is episodic. So with Tendi back to obsessing over who on the ship doesn’t like her and Mariner declaring, “I’m pretty good at getting demoted,” our four ensigns are right back to where they started, just as it should be.
Getting meta right
In many ways “Moist Vessel” felt very traditional. We had a standard teaser with some captain exposition. There was a crazy sci-fi crisis, with a tech solution. We had characters in conflict finding ways to bond and work together towards a common goal. It was perhaps the most Star Trek episode of the series so far.
And it was still another funny episode, which is important because this is supposed to be a comedy. But unlike last week, the humor was organic and mostly character-driven, plus the characters’ actions and situations all still felt well within the franchise. More importantly, this episode toned down the reliance of winks and nods to Star Trek. Sure there were references and plenty of Easter eggs for us to do our weekly deep dive into that sort of thing, but they were more subtle, and more naturally woven into the fabric of the episode instead of being in-your-face literal shout-outs like some past episodes.
A good example would be the gag about the Mariner having to clean up the holodeck. How many times have fans joked about what really goes on in there? Sure, Next Generation and Voyager hinted at some fantasies, but Commander Ransom finally spoke the obvious truth, “It’s mostly that,” and by that, he means the kind of thing that creates some seriously gross waste to clean up.
Another good gag that also worked on a deeper fan level was Mariner’s confrontation with the admiral, insulting the way he pronounced “sensors.” He was an obvious pompous blowhard, but his “sens-ORS” pronunciation was straight out of Spock’s vocabulary, a curiosity that many fans have pondered for decades.
“Moist Vessel” showed that you can get the Star Trek laughs, even ones some only fans will catch, without having to get too meta.
It’s a family show
Once again Lower Decks shows its strength as a solid family/workplace sitcom that happens to be set in the Star Trek universe. The show works best when it comes from the heart, and this episode features some nice themes about the characters learning to accept each other as they are. The humor is coming from this crew, who are slowly but surely being developed into our new multi-dimensional friends.
Writer Ann Kim seems to have a good grasp on these characters, especially the core complicated relationship between Mariner and her mother. Unlike the last episode where Captain Freeman seemed out of control, her conflicts in this episode felt more understandable, making it easier to follow and laugh along the way.
And even though “Moist Vessel” hits the reset button as a good bottle episode should, we are still rewarded with some character growth and serialization with threads being picked up from the previous three episodes. Lower Decks is in a good groove, setting up anticipation as we move towards mid-season.
UPDATE: All Access Star Trek podcast discusses “Moist Vessel” and more
Every Friday the new TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe, including a discussion on the latest episode of Star Trek. This week we cover “Moist Vessel.” The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network. See show notes for more details or to listen on the web.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It has not yet been announced where and when Lower Decks will be available outside of the USA and Canada.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.