Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, Episode 1 – Debuted Thursday, August 12, 2021
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Jason Zurek
Lower Decks returns with a funny, strong episode that finds time to explore our characters as well as the fallout of the season one finale.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
The torturer will see you now
Season two confidently jumps right in the middle of some Cardassian secret base action complete with a sadistic interrogator, scary implements with names like “excruciator,” and of course… four lights. Beckett Mariner is her usual unfazed self, using the experience as an opportunity to work out some of her never-ending mommy issues, as she catches the audience up with where things left off at the end of last season when Captain Freeman and Mariner were exposed as mother and daughter and then united in a new cause of off-the-books side missions.
As she effortlessly runs through an exciting and entertaining escape routine she also works through her abandonment issues with her BFF Brad Boimler, who quickly reveals himself—and therefore everything we’ve seen—to be a hologram. Once again, Beckett turns to the holodeck for therapy, this time in the form of an unorthodox exercise regimen. Fake Brad makes a good point when he calls her out on how maybe she pushed real Brad away by intimidating him—so shut up, holo-Boimler!
Unfortunately, before Mariner can have the real breakthrough she needs, her true nemesis appears. Jennifer the Andorian wants to do some yoga, and Mariner has been summoned by the Captain, leaving her to rush through the rest of her escape with a little help from a classic ship. You didn’t think you could get through a Lower Decks opener without cracking a few Easter eggs, did you?
Some sci-fi stuff
Like the season one opener, the USS Cerritos is on a Second Contact mission, but this time Mariner’s side mission to spread some non-Starfleet regulation good is done in cahoots with the Captain. Apparently, this kind of thing has become their routine during our time away from the show, evidenced by a box of mementos the captain is keeping for all the good work they have done in a poetic echo of Mariner’s box of contraband from “Second Contact.”
This new dynamic with the Freeman family has Ransom feeling like the odd Number One out. His orders are to wrap things up with the people of Apergos, a simple job of picking their preferred subspace frequency while escorting Mariner to show the aliens the benefits of power-washing. Yeah, Jack is not cool with that. His only consolation for all this sanctioned insubordination is the loyal support of Lt. Cmdr. Stevens, who has moved from his season one chest-bumping bro to a level of sycophantic toadie that would make Waylon Smithers implore him to dial it back.
Things get complicated when Mariner’s beautification project exposes some ancient building features that power up enormous strange energies—by the way, that’s the title of the episode. Showing that he is first and foremost a Starfleet officer, Jack rushes to Mariner’s aid but gets blasted by the aforementioned energy in a big way. Dr. T’Ana beams in for the diagnosis. Yep, he’s got a bad case of godlike powers, and he is going full-on “you mortals tire me” Gary Mitchell. Of course, being Ransom, he uses his godly power to start transforming the planet into his personal gym. This episode is literally all about working out all the leftover issues from season one.
The Apergosians are not cool with any of this, as Ransom-on-the-mount vanishes their moon, transforms historical architecture, and starts converting the population into “Ransomites.” But all of this classic Trek superbeing fun has a purpose as it cleverly exposes the underlying tension between Mariner and Captain Freeman, who can’t agree on a plan of action. Dr. T’Ana suggests Kirk’s dropping of a boulder as a tried and true remedy.
And this is where things get weird in a very Star Trek way, with Jack’s head detaching and heading into orbit, growing to match the size of his ego. But while being a deity appears to be going to his head—yeah I said it—The Ransom is the only one actually seeing clearly and speaking the truth. He knows both Mariner and mom are faking their newfound convivial collaboration, and he just wants to be her Number One again. To prove his point, he starts chewing the ship. “You’re both fakers and now you’ll pay the ultimate price!” he proclaims.
While all this craziness is going on, Tendi and Rutherford are also working out some issues from the season one finale, namely that Rutherford’s cybernetic implant was reset and erased all his memories of the past year. He is still his upbeat self, taking getting periodically lost on the Cerritos in stride, but Tendi is concerned—very, very concerned—about what she sees as profound changes. His sudden affinity for pears is the big piece of evidence she latches on to, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that—in another bit of episode one poetry—he is dating Ensign Barnes, and it is going well. Nope, D’Vana is totally cool what that.
Diagnosing Rutherford with the scary-sounding, brain-leaking disease of Synthetic Memory Degradation, Tendi hilariously tries to fix him with some friendly high-voltage electroshock along with some convivial pain therapy. (The surprise WWE-style hit with a folding chair was a particularly nice touch.) When all that doesn’t work, she brings out the big gun, which was actually a big gun, to shoot him with some kind of “medical venom” which she deploys during his date. Would it be racist to say she was green with envy?
Regardless, all this tender care escalates to Tendi chasing poor Rutherford around the ship, demanding to extract his brain for his own good. The irony of all of this is the only person in this episode who seems to be happy—at least until his friend went crazy and started hunting him—is the guy who can’t remember any of the events of the last season. The poor guy just wants to go swimming with the girls of Cetacean Ops.
Back to normal
With God Head Jack exposing Mariner and Carol as “fakers,” they admit he is right, and the pair return to the traditional squabbling. The captain stumbles on a way to get him to stop chewing up the ship, through stroking his ego of course. “I can end this with praise!” As his head starts to actually shrink she runs into a snag as Jack now wants to be captain, inspiring Freeman to possibly find her elusive catchphrase: “Full stop mister, this is my ship!” It took a team effort to get it all sorted as Mariner deals with the body on the ground by applying “concentrated pressure” to his “neutral zone” and T’Ana sealing the deal with her Kirk-inspired boulder.
As for Tendi and Rutherford, their crazy chase through the ship has them oblivious to the giant glowing Ransom head biting the ship right outside the windows. Their friendship is far too important for that nonsense as they both soon realize, in one of the heartwarming moments that this show has proven itself capable of. Bonding over science is well and good, but yeah… Rutherford, just stop dating Barnes, okay?
With a subspace code for Apergos selected, off the Cerritos goes to their next adventure. Mother and daughter return to their classic dynamic, and Mariner’s sent to the brig, but this time with love. All that’s left is for three of our favorite ensigns to ponder what kind of life their friend Brad is having with his dream assignment…
The biggest hanging thread from last season was Brad Boimler’s promotion and assignment to the USS Titan, under the Command of Captain William Jonathan T. Frakes Riker. But Brad’s Cerritos pals were wrong about him having the time of his life, unless they think screaming for his life is what he’d been striving for.
The smash cut to the Titan in the middle of a Pakled battle has Boimler deeply out of his comfort zone. With Jack Quaid delightfully conveying his terror, poor Brad can barely hold on as Riker and his crew of cool cucumbers relish in the battle mixing jazz terms and technobabble in a strange Starfleet symphony.
As they boldly head into a “gluonic disruption”—whatever the hell that is—Riker is literally loving his job. As for Brad—perhaps telegraphing how he will be reunited with his Cerritos buddies—not so much.
Same ol’ Lower Decks
Lower Decks literally hit the ground running for season two. Seeing no need to make big changes or course-correct, showrunner and episode writer Mike McMahan shows a level of trust in himself, his cast, and the audience. This is an animated Star Trek comedy and if you are cool with that and liked how they did it in season one, then you are going to like this too. There is even an element of a reset button in “Strange Energies.”
McMahan promised that season two would “pay the bills” left over from season one and it seems like he is trying to cut those checks in a hurry. The episode may have spent a bit too much time exploring and then resetting some of the character dynamics seen at the end of season one, but the humor is just as sharp, with the fun Trek-ific plot deftly woven around some key character exploration.
One way this season opener made up for the time is by cutting down on the references and Easter eggs that the show is known for and can sometimes overindulge in. And the references come with a purpose. Look past the “Chain of Command” homage in the cold open and you see an exploration of Mariner’s struggle to be real with real people, only exposing her inner self to her holographic Cardassian torturer, ably voiced by Missi Pyle.
While McMahan clearly worships at the altar of Trek, especially TNG, this show also comments on some of the tropes of the franchise. This is a welcome element of a series that should not be afraid to explore or expose things that may not make sense—or might even justify some ridicule.
This episode exemplifies Lower Decks‘ ability to find the humor in Star Trek. Mariner’s comment about knowing Starfleet crewmembers aren’t supposed to have interpersonal conflicts even though she openly hates Jennifer is a good laugh at the issue of the TNG-era’s “Roddenberry Box” that disallowed conflict for the crew, and frustrated writers’ rooms. And Stevens running around with a literal stack of PADDS—each apparently even unable to scroll down a list of numbers—is a subtle jab at Trek getting the future concept of the tablet almost exactly right, except for the absurd notion that you need multiple PADDs like you need stacks of sheets of paper.
Again, now that they know they have the audience’s trust that they’re here to celebrate and not denigrate Star Trek, they can have a bit more fun with the franchise’s foibles.
All that being said, this show can have its own ponderables. Why did Riker wait until shields were down to 30% before utilizing his catchphrase, “Red Alert!”? Hey, it’s Riker. We’ll allow it.
A strong season opener that weaves character moments with plot and humor satisfyingly quenches the thirst after a drought of new Star Trek that began in January. Lower Decks is as good as ever, without fixing what wasn’t broken. Having Jack Ransom out front in a big way was a welcome difference, with Jerry O’Connell stepping up in a big way to carry much of the episode. Noël Wells also delivers a fun performance that showed some range rarely seen in season one.
Fans of season one should be happy with this opener and maybe some who ding the show for being too reliant on references will welcome the character-based humor of “Strange Energies.” Can’t wait to see what comes next.
- Fred Tatasciore is still named in the main credits, despite Shaxs having died at the end of season one and not appearing in this episode
- The opening credits now feature Pakled ships, joining the battling Romulan and Borg ships from the original credit sequence
- The new Pakled ships are called Battle Harpies
- The USS Cerritos has had a few minor cosmetic changes after being repaired following season one finale battle
- Carol Freeman’s admiral husband’s last name was finally confirmed to be Freeman, leaving where their daughter got her last name of Mariner still a mystery
- Admiral Freeman’s pet name for his wife is “Carol bear”
- Among the items stored on Brad’s bunk is the bag of T-88 scanners Tendi and Rutherford stole in season one
- Rutherford’s implant is waterproof
- Mariner has added a castle drawing with her name on it to the wall of her favorites, with two check marks on it, perhaps denoting season two?
- “Words can hurt just as much as torture equipment.”
- “We’ve got some sci-fi stuff happening over here.”
- “It’s easy becoming a god, the trick is staying a god.”
- “Hey, don’t transform my constituents.”
- “Captain there’s a giant head approaching the ship” and “He’s growing hands. Brace for grabbing.”
- “You are trying to eat the ship, sir. I had to apply concentrated force to your neutral zone.”
- “F*** pears.”
More to come
Every Friday the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network. And on Saturday we will post our weekly analysis of Easter eggs and references for this episode.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It is available on Amazon Prime Video internationally on Fridays. It will debut in Latin America on Paramount+ in September.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.