“First First Contact”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, Episode 10 – Debuted Thursday, October 14, 2021
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Jason Zurek
The action-packed season finale does not disappoint, delivering on many season-long character and story arcs and having a lot of fun along the way.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Returning to its roots, the USS Cerritos is to be in the rear with the gear as the big shiny USS Archimedes makes first contact with the Laaperians. Neither Carol’s admiral husband nor her old friend Captain Sonja Gomez–who has come a long way since spilling hot chocolate on Captain Picard 16 years prior–foresee any problems with the mission, but they do casually mention an unstable glowing red object in the system which might as well be named Chekhov’s Planetoid. The much bigger subject is the announcement that Captain Freeman is getting a promotion to a new ship. OMG. And while skulking around the space station with her usual load of contraband, Mariner hears all about it. Ruh-roh.
Beckett is super pissed her mom is feeding into her abandonment issues, but none of her pals seemed worked up about it. If anything, they are excited for the captain and the possibility of tasty goodbye party finger foods, although Boimler is concerned he won’t be able to suck up with his Captain Freeman Day banner. Never grow up, Brad. Mariner finds more fertile ground for her petulance with the senior officers, infecting them with so much passive-aggressiveness the Captain is forced to admit she’s leaving. But the real bomb is the reveal Command doesn’t want any more California-class officers to go with her… that didn’t go over well with the boys. Not. At. All. Sadly, the Billups bleeps robbed us of a number of colorful Hysperian metaphors.
But all of this will have to wait. The milk run to the Laap system goes sour after a solar flare causes that unstable planetoid to go all Praxis, showering the Archimedes with ionic plasma that shuts down everything and turns the giant ship into a powerless tumbling bomb–complete with a twenty-hour ticking clock–headed straight for the inhabited planet. After the Cerritos crew runs through all the usual technobabble solutions to get past the energy-sucking debris field and reach the other ship–not warp jumping, not some deflector dish magic, not tractor beam grab, not even a crazy Mariner out-of-the-box solution–they are faced with this first contact becoming the last contact for the Laaperians.
The captain wasn’t the only one having a leaving-the-ship crisis. Tendi overhears Dr. T’Ana saying she wasn’t cut out for sickbay and watches T’Ana remove her from the roster. Tendi (of course) turns to Rutherford, who suggests a sort of goodbye tour of all of her favorite spots on the Cerritos, which includes admiring that big thrumming warp core, squeezing into cozy Jeffries tubes, and going into forbidden places. Together they embrace and are finally and tearfully able to admit their complete love… for the ship. Oh, so close! And Sam also has a crisis of his own: His implant is malfunctioning because he has been backing up all his Tendi memories in fear of losing another year of their friendship. Awww. Seriously you two, get a room.
Left with no options, the captain leaps into action to go it alone on her captain’s yacht. But Mariner still finds time to annoy the hell out of her mom, even in the middle of this huge crisis, as she tries to talk her out of the doomed solo rescue plan and dump years of baggage on her at the same time. Two seasons and many more years of issues continue to escalate as Mom drops some truth that Mariner’s cool attitude is just a defense mechanism, keeping others from getting close. So Mariner thrusts in the mek’leth, saying she never wants to work with her mom again. “I’m glad this is your last mission!” Wow. Seriously Mariner, there is a time and a place.
Thanks to some quick thinking from Rutherford, the captain doesn’t have to go it alone; instead, the whole crew has to work together more than ever before. The crazy solution to get through the plasma debris field is to remove the ship’s outer hull and go through manually without shields. Still smarting from Mariner’s wound, the captain rallies herself and the crew with some Picard-level “Cerritos strong!” speechifying, kicking off a montage of crew-wide action and heroics to get the job done before all that impending death and destruction.
The plan is put into peril when one plate won’t come loose, so Sam sacrifices his Tendi memory backup to be able to get the job done, and in so doing he triggers a whole new mystery memory of some shadowy nefarious surgeons installing his implant, revealing it was never his choice to have it. So yeah, file that under some serious sh*t to deal with in season three. Now the ensigns are ready to save the day with a delightful trip to Cetacean Ops where we meet Matt and Kimalu, two adorable Beluga navigators who really want people to join them in their pool.
In a perfectly paced mix of action and character moments, Tendi steps up to knock some sense into the self-absorbed Mariner. “The captain needs our support, especially from you!” Beckett is dispatched to patch things up with her mom while Brad is tasked with taking that dive into the unknown he has craved to get that last plate removed. He almost drowns in the process but is saved by Tendi—with some help from those fun whales. Over on the Archimedes, things have got to the “it’s been an honor to serve with you” level of dire. But now Ransom can finally Riker-in-Insurrection manually steer the ship through in one of the most visually stunning and dramatic sequences of all Star Trek. Not bad for an adult animated comedy! Oh, and Mariner got a growth twofer, hugging it out with mom and finally burying the hatchet with Jennifer after the Andorian saves her life.
Just in time, the Cerritos arrives to stop the Archimedes from slamming into the planet, leaving Carol to perform her first first contact–we see what you did there Mike–with the Laaperians. She was nervous, but just her luck, they checked out the First Contact DVD to learn from Zefram Cochrane just how drunk you need to be to do it right. This all leads her to realize the carpet isn’t grayer on a new ship, so she will stick around with “the best crew in the fleet.” Hooray! And while we are wrapping up character arcs, it turns out T’Ana was kicking Tendi out of sickbay because she saw bigger things for her as a Cerritos bridge science officer. More hugging… and purring. Brad was even able to repurpose his Captain Freeman Day banner for First Contact Day.
So, another nice Lower Decks episode wrap-up in the bar with everyone bonding and drinking in their character moments. What’s that? Starfleet Command has sent someone on board? No biggie, Freeman will just send them off as she has decided to stay… not so fast. Commander Mandel from Starfleet Security is there to inform the captain she is under arrest for her part in a conspiracy to blow up Pakled Planet. Before you can say “Best of Both Worlds,” the captain is perp-walked off the ship into a TO BE CONTINUED… title card. WTF!? See you next season for the exciting conclusion, I guess.
After an exceptional season, the Lower Decks team knocked it out of the park with a strong finale full of action, heart, laughs, and intriguing mysteries. Everyone was working at the top of their game with perfect pacing to blend the tension of genuine stakes with some gut-punch character moments. This was helped along greatly by an emotional, dynamic score by Chris Westlake. The visual effects were also some of the best of the series, blending some nice cinematic homages to the Trek film franchise along with some unique beats for the USS Cerritos, a genuine hero of the episode, finally showing up one of those capital ships: California class gets it done.
Perhaps the biggest heroes were Tendi and Rutherford, with standout performances from Noël Wells and Eugene Cordero. Throughout the episode, they acted as catalysts at pivotal points: Sam comes up with a unique solution to save the Archimedes and Tendi snaps Mariner into doing the right thing, then follows up by saving Boimler’s life. These two can see through to the truth of things, making their blindness to their obvious love for each other even more apparent.
Bringing back Sonja Gomez was an inspired idea, as she was sort of a Boimler of the USS Enterprise-D, and her awkward ensign to confident captain story was an organic way to use a legacy character. Unfortunately, Lycia Naff was not able to deliver the kind of emotional performance needed for the role, perhaps due to unfamiliarity with voice work and the fact that she has moved on from acting in recent decades to journalism and charity work. But it was still a nice touch to have her there, and she got in a couple of good lines, although it would have been nice if the character had interacted with Boimler or the other lower deckers to show them what’s possible.
With a bit less time devoted to humor, “First First Contact” delivered a complicated story worthy of a feature-length film, along with giving each character the time to work out some important issues and have their own epic adventures. A lot of the load was carried by Dawnn Lewis, who faced multiple personal crises in the middle of a planetary one. With so much focus on the Captain and her now in-peril freedom, the audience can genuinely believe that this could be the end for her (although almost certainly it isn’t).
The stakes of a first contact turning into a natural disaster and the solution to use science and engineering was pure Star Trek. Stripping the ship bare was a unique solution, which is hard to do in Star Trek, as noted by the hanging of a lantern on the rejected ideas like doing something with the deflector dish, which has too often been a technobabble crutch to get ships out of jams. You can almost feel you are in the writer’s room as everyone yells at Kayshon’s suggestion to just warp over the problem. And dropping all the defenses to parallel Mariner’s character arc was just a nice touch on top.
Even though Lower Decks happily embraces the episodic nature of the TNG-era shows, it still has found a way all season, going all the way back to the season one finale, to sprinkle in just enough mythology to keep serialized plot fans happy. It was a genuine surprise to see how there was even more to the Pakled conspiracy than the rogue Klingon captain who was killed off in the last episode. And now we have a whole new set of questions left with an earned cliffhanger, plus wherever it’s going on with Rutherford’s implant backstory, now a whole new source of speculation.
The second season finale was even more exciting than the first, which isn’t easy to do without Captain Riker and the Titan showing up. Mike McMahan and his team have crafted a strong sophomore season with a lot of variety that all led up to a satisfying conclusion, even with that cliffhanger. Lower Decks is the strongest two-season start since the original Star Trek. And there is no sign they are going to lose any steam in the third, and hopefully beyond.
- The episode title is a play on the TNG episode “First Contact,” as well as the Lower Decks series premiere Second Contact.”
- Stardate 58130.6.
- The USS Archimedes (NCC-83002) was named for the Greek mathematician, and the Greek theme was continued with a shuttle named for Adonis of Greek mythology.
- Phillipa Georgiou of Star Trek: Discovery once served on a 23rd-century ship called the USS Archimedes.
- The initial Paramount+ episode synopsis misidentified the Archimedes as an Excelsior-class ship, but executive producer Mike McMahan clarified it was Obena Class (named for Art Director Nollan Obena), which is “inspired by” the Excelsior, but “larger with some other changes.” The official synopsis on Paramount+ now simply says “another class starship.”
- The assembled Starfleet ships seen at the end included another California class, a Vancouver class, an Oberth class, and a Nova class, the ship that took Captain Freeman away.
- The Cerritos has a rubber ducky room, just like the USS Enterprise-D.
- While mentioned before, this is the first appearance of Cetacean Ops, where Rutherford apparently has regular shifts.
- Also the first appearance of the Cerritos captain’s yacht.
- Among the memories Rutherford flashed through was him and Tendi celebrating New Year’s Day 2381 and them in a life drawing class with a nude Ransom as their model.
- Billups showed his Hysperian heritage by using the phrase “dragon’s blood” when frustrated.
- Tendi remembers the Jeffries Tube she and Rutherford watched the Trivoli Pulsar in the second episode of the series.
- I’ll tell sickbay to brace for hangovers
- I don’t want a whole new captain, we could end up with some weirdo with a riding crop.
- It’s a vanity holiday to trick kids into respecting authority.
- You are lucky I am so spiritually centered, or I’d snap!
- I don’t think Dr. T’Ana cares about being nice. She’s more into hostility.
- Unless we figure something out, first contact is going to be us crashing into that planet. Okay, that’s enough existential dread.
- Because I am a Kirk-style free spirit who kicks butt and it super intimidates people.
- He’s not breathing! His blowhole is not working!
- Nothing like saving your friend than going skinny dipping!
- To work on the bridge, like Jadzia Dax? / Who the f**k is that, I don’t know who that is, like Spock!
- I guess when you almost drown in whale pee, you don’t sweat the small stuff.
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. On Saturday, we’ll 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 debuted 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.