“The Inner Fight”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4, Episode 9 – Debuted Thursday, October 26, 2023
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Brandon Williams
A solid episode that balances plot, action, character, and and heart and ties elements of the series and franchise lore together in surprising ways.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
“Why is my daughter trying to get herself killed!?”
Mariner, Boimler, and T’Lyn are on a mission to upgrade the energy barrier for a group of Federation outpost scientists on Persioff IX who study “tremble lizards,” adorable birdlike balls of deadly poison. When one of the barriers goes down, the scientists panic—and Mariner is all “I got this” and out the door before Boimler can get his anti-venom pants on. She heroically avoids the eye-exploding poison attacks, fixes the fence, and makes it back inside, barely giving the scientists time to scream “We’re all going to die!” Unfortunately, she didn’t notice one lizard on her back, so now one of those scientists is going to need a new set of eyes. Boimler is pissed. Back on the Cerritos, T’Lyn agrees Beckett’s behavior has grown “increasingly dangerous” and the lower deckers (sans Mariner) are called in for a conference by the Captain, who is also pissed that her daughter is being so reckless. She is especially worried as the Cerritos has been tasked with assisting Starfleet’s efforts to counter the mystery ship, which has gone from taking out alien ships to targeting former Starfleet officers. The specific civilian they have been assigned to locate before they are abducted is Tom Paris Nicholas Locarno, and Freeman orders the Lieutenant JGs to distract Mariner so she won’t end up in a danger zone spiral with the infamous former cadet who was drummed out of the Academy for his own dangerous exploits. Tendi has the perfect idea: Some space buoy has stopped responding, so they can check that out, leaving the Cerritos to find Locarno before he gets scooped up by the big bad. The plan is to trick Mariner into thinking the buoy mission is “super dangerous”… what’s that thing about best laid plans?
“We aren’t going to actively seek out danger, right?”
As they shuttle away, Mariner asks too many questions, so quick-thinking T’Lyn assures her the mission will be “2.47 times more perilous” if they withhold the details. The plan starts to fall apart upon arrival at Sherbal V. Fixing an orbital weather satellite is as boring as it sounds, even though Tendi thinks someone might have tampered with it. Soon after Mariner declares the mission “sucks,” a Klingon Bird of Prey decloaks and aims weapons, so she pushes an annoyed Boimler out of the pilot seat to do some cool evasive maneuvers. A Type 6 shuttle is no match for the Klingon ship, and they only survive the inevitable explosion thanks to Tendi beaming them to the planet moments before.
Lost in a stormy alien forest full of scary sounds, Mariner sticks with her “bring it!” defiance while the gang focuses on figuring out why they were attacked and why this uninhabited planet is full of random aliens like a Ferengi and Romulan facing off at spear-point. Turns out they were actually working together to trap a third mysterious figure, and true to form, Mariner jumps in to join the fight, trash-talking the Romulan who quickly gets the upper hand. The other lieutenants drag her off before she ends up as a Mariner kebab, and after another attack (from a Cardassian) is thwarted (by a T’Lyn neck pinch), they find shelter in a tall tree. Tendi spots the satellite monitoring station they can use to send for help, and the plan is to avoid the various nearby aliens, but Mariner counters they should just fight their way through. Her friends finally admit they are under orders to keep her out of danger because everyone is worried about how weird she has been lately. Obviously, she does not take this well. As the group sleeps, she sneaks off on her own and soon enough finds just the kind of thing she has been looking for: that apex predator from before who turns out to be a Klingon. (It’s Ma’ah, remember him?) Completely forgetting what just happened with that Romulan, she starts insulting the formidable warrior… in Klingon. Even with some impressive Kirk Fu, Ma’ah gets the better of her in combat… and then it starts raining shards of glass. Is that threat level high enough for you yet, Mariner?
“We’re just a classic roving gang.”
Unaware of the events on Sherbal, the Cerritos arrives at New Axton, which Shaxs assures is “twice as lawless” as old Axton but “without any of the charm.” It’s a classic wretched hive of scum and villainy, albeit with some very snooty folks in charge who are no fans of the Federation. Freeman is ordered to park her ship far away, next to a moon, while they let obvious nefarious types fly straight down. As a frustrated Freeman, Shaxs, and Rutherford arrive via the local moon shuttle, the captain knows they will have to “think like criminals.” However, the “Hoodlums and Racketeers” seminar she took doesn’t seem to be working as the bouncer at Locarno’s last known location will only put the Starfleeters (in full uniform) on a waiting list, helplessly watching as the scary bounty hunter and other unsavory types waltz straight into the seedy bar. When they eventually do get in, they find a familiar-looking information broker who is also not a Federation fan—and that’s before Freeman assaults the little alien, accusing him of being a puppet. The broker is now motivated to sell Locarno’s location to that scary bounty hunter as the officers are booted from the bar amid boos and a loud “Starfleet sucks!” from the patrons. Tough crowd.
“My mind clears up when something is trying to kill me.”
Mariner and Ma’ah pause their battle to hide in a cave until the “stupid knife rain” ends. She learns he was abandoned on the planet by his crew from the same Bird of Prey that attacked her shuttle. The Klingon captain is impressed she is a warrior, but she rejects the notion, so he accuses her of waging war with herself. The warrior’s keen insight cuts to her core and Mariner decides to turn this into her moment of truth. She has been acting out because she doesn’t want the responsibility that comes with that promotion. She loves Starfleet, especially the scanning and exploring stuff. Her cycle of promotion and demotion goes all the way back to her time at the Academy. She and her friend (and hero) Sito dreamed of being captains one day, but after graduation, Sito was killed by a Cardassian on a covert mission, and Mariner just hasn’t been the same since. The whole Dominion War thing didn’t help, either. Literally throwing her new pip away, Mariner rejects the possibility of having to send friends to die. Dr. Ma’ah quickly diagnoses the problem: Sito was a warrior and Mariner is not honoring her memory. She died so Mariner and others could solve alien plant mysteries or whatever and would certainly not approve of all this moping. Beckett agrees, she is acting like a biHnuch (idiot). The Klingon returns her pip and she puts it back on. With the storm now over, he is ready to return to their battle, but Mariner pulls a surprise move on him. “Klingons do not hug!” he protests. Too late. She has decided they are allies, trapped on this weird planet… so he is now stuck with her.
“Until we are off this s#!t planet we need to work together”
As various aliens tussle over glowing fruit at the relay station, Ma’ah suggests taking on the Orions and the others will scatter. Acknowledging what she is doing is harder than attacking, Mariner jumps in to try to stop the fighting amongst the gathered aliens from the abducted alien ships: Orions, Bynars, Cardassians, Ferengi, and Romulans. Thinking it’s a Starfleet trick, they aren’t ready for a time out until Ma’ah jumps in, and since they are all scared of him, they briefly agree to her “time out.” She digs into her Starfleet training to find that common ground; they are all stranded and hungry, so they should work together and focus on whoever is behind all of this. That Orion captain still can’t handle listening to a Starfleet officer and lunges for Mariner, only to be stopped in her tracks by the Mistress of the Winter Constellations. Tendi’s timely arrival (with Boimler and T’Lyn) has Captain Cosmia take a knee, giving Mariner a chance to go full Picard with a unifying speech about how all their species “chose to go into space and all the danger that comes with it.” If they work together then “nothing can stop us.” Cue the music! The alien adversaries put aside their differences and start working on an escape plan, but then Mariner is suddenly beamed away. WTF? Another Starfleet trick! Ma’ah again vouches for her honor—she was taken by the bad guys and they should continue getting that distress call ready as he has a cunning plan. As the Bird of Prey sweeps in close to take out the station, Ma’ah has positioned his makeshift squad on the surrounding cliffs and they leap onto the ship, soon making their way to the bridge. The bridge crew is quickly subdued but Ma’ah has other plans for the petaQ who took his command, lunging at the traitor and literally tearing him apart as his new allies try not to look too horrified at his (purple) bloodlust. This ship is his again, but Mariner is nowhere to be found… so where the hell is she?
“What the hell are you doing here?”
On New Axton, Rutherford is dejected their mission failed, but the captain declares it a success as the scary-helmet bounty hunter arrives and it’s Billups! She knew how the locals would react to Starfleet and used that against them, so now they have Locarno’s location. Maybe her seminar really worked. They arrive at a hangar hoping to get Locarno into protective custody, but the pilot-for-hire is nowhere to be found. What they do find changes everything: schematics for the mystery ship behind all the alien abductions! It was Locarno all along! Cut to Mariner waking up in a “minimalist hell” of a room on the mystery ship. When the door opens she is ready for a fight, but instead is greeted by a smiling Nick, who she recognizes. He is happy to see her declaring they are “going to cause some trouble together.” … Fade to black and “TO BE CONTINUED…” Dun dun duuun!
Wow, there is a lot to unpack for this satisfying episode that dives deep into Mariner’s backstory and underlying character along with the canon of the franchise and the show itself. There are laughs to be had, including some broad comedy in the teaser and in Freeman’s fun mission to the planet of criminals, but most of the humor is more character-based, relying on a love and understanding of the show’s protagonists. “The Inner Fight” also forgoes some of the usual comedy for a serious exploration of the underlying causes of Mariner’s motivations and why all season long (and all series long) she has rejected promotion and responsibility. Tawny Newsome really stepped up to show range as Mariner’s id wrote checks her body couldn’t cash to finally get real, revealing she isn’t a slacker or adrenaline junkie; she is wracked with survivor’s guilt along with some PTSD. It was clever that it took the insights of a Klingon for her epiphany as she has always had a bit of Klingon in her (as seen in the opening episodes of the series). Veteran character actor Jon Curry impressed with his return as the very-much-not-dead Ma’ah, delivering a nuanced performance worthy of some of the best Klingon stories from the TNG and DS9 era, albeit pushing the limit when it came to his brutal retaking of the IKS Che’Ta’. But why did it take Ma’ah (who didn’t even know Sito) to remind Mariner that Sito was a warrior as she was a security officer and protégé of Worf, so no stranger to the dangers of Starfleet?
Together with some of the elements of Freeman’s story on New Axton, Lower Decks once again was both having fun with but also commenting on some of the contradictions within Star Trek and Starfleet itself. Mariner saying that Starfleet can do better and “I’m not wrong to call out BS when I see it,” feels a bit meta, with the Lower Decks team talking straight to the audience. The best humor of the episode came from Carol’s Star Wars-tinged visit to New Axton, full of space criminal tropes and canon connections like the “Pickpocket’s District,” Mudds bar, and the Balok-like information broker. But it is also satisfying for fans to see that while Dawnn Lewis’ captain may not command the most important ship in the fleet, she is very much in command of the situation, showing keen cultural awareness and understanding of how Starfleet and the Federation are perceived from the outside, just as she has before (like the recent visit to Ferenginar). Is this outsider perspective the thing that has kept her from rising in the upper ranks? Of course, Jack Quaid is also always good for the laughs as Boimler has plenty of funny moments, this time getting some great assists from Gabrielle Ruiz’ T’Lyn, whose dry wit always cuts deep.
Beyond the straightforward episodic humor and character development, this episode’s ambitions stretch to the limit when it comes to tying everything together. Not only does it bring some resolution to both Mariner’s season arc, but also to the big mystery ship plot arc along with picking up on some beats from previous season 4 episodes, like Tendi’s command of other Orions and Mariner’s dangerous descent on display on Ferenginar. Yet that isn’t enough for episode writer and series creator Mike McMahan, who said at NYCC that the final two episodes of the season “just feels like the ultimate Star Trek, the ultimate Lower Decks.” He digs deeper into the series, making this episode a bit of a reunion from the Hugo-nominated season 2 episode “wej Duj,” which introduced both Ma’ah and T’Lyn. If you didn’t get the connection, T’Lyn brings up that battle with the Pakleds—although how is it she didn’t know the Cerritos was involved? Going deeper, Mariner’s backstory was tied into the origin story of the series itself, which was inspired by the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Lower Decks.” Making Mariner friends with Sito Jaxa from that episode was an astute choice and now everything starts falling into place on a number of levels, although one would need to be a superfan to see them all. And McMahan isn’t done yet as he dives even deeper into Sito’s story, going back to the TNG episode “The First Duty” and making that episode’s villain Nick Locarno into the big bad of the season. Having Robert Duncan McNeill return to play the former drummed-out cadet is certainly fun, although those who held that Tom Paris was secretly Locarno will now have to give up on that popular fan theory. All of these connections can be satisfying for fans steeped in lore, but to get there the show strains the small world of Star Trek.
After a nice steady build-up all season, the big mystery arc finally comes into focus, and yet is also completely woven into Mariner’s origin story as she apparently knew Nick Locarno from her time back at the Academy. Picking up on clues from this and previous episodes, it appears he has been building up his own little fleet comprised of disgruntled lower deckers from across the quadrant, and Mariner was his ultimate recruit. Very clever, Mike. One can see why he was so concerned about spoilers for this surprising twist, although holding back the episode title until release was a bit over the top. Leaving all the alien senior officers on the planet not only allowed for some of the fun of the episode but kept Locarno on the right side of mass murderer, hopefully, but we still don’t know his true master plan. This is a comedy show after all. So far this mystery is unfolding nicely and the season 4 story feels more nuanced than last season’s big bad, which devolved into another badmiral and fight against evil AI.
Even though this was a cliffhanger, “The Inner Fight” still satisfies as a complete episode while still setting up the season finale. The heart and humor were enough, but how it tied in the season, series, and franchise really is on a whole new level, albeit one that requires deep fandom to truly see, and perhaps at least one rewatch. This penultimate episode continues to cement how season 4 is the best yet for the series. That “TO BE CONTINUED…” still hits hard, evoking the best of the franchise, but at least this time we only have a week to wait.
- The episode title “The Inner Fight,” is a play on the title of the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light.”
- This is the second Lower Decks episode to end with the classic “To Be Continued…” (The first time was the season 2 finale “First First Contact.”) In both cases, the show uses the same ending type from the TNG season 3 cliffhanger finale “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.”
- This is Robert Duncan McNeill’s second time on Lower Decks. He voiced both Tom Paris and the Tom Paris Commemorative Plate in the season 2 episode “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris.”
- The Cerritos shuttle destroyed was the Death Valley, first seen in the series premiere “Second Contact.” The previous episode had shown the Kings Canyon shuttle crash-land, but it has apparently been retrieved and repaired as it was visible in the shuttle bay in this episode.
- Rutherford discovers that Starfleet uniforms (at least the ones worn by the Cerritos crew) do indeed have pockets.
- Rutherford’s eyepiece has an X-ray scan mode.
- The Federation outpost scientists on Persioff IX were dressed just like the ones that clashed with Boimler and Mariner at a recruitment fair in the season 3 episode “Reflections.”
Easter eggs and more to come
There were plenty of canon connections and more to explore in a follow-up Easter egg analysis, so keep an eye out for that. And every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast reviews the latest episode and 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.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays, streaming on Paramount+ in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Europe. It will stream on Paramount+ in S. Korea later in the year. Lower Decks also airs on Thursdays in Canada on CTV Sci-Fi Channel.
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