It’s hard to believe we’re already at the first season finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks — this season flew by, and with this ultimate episode, Mike McMahan and his team deliver a funny, heartfelt, and satisfying conclusion that holds a lot of interesting implications for the second season of the show.
The entire episode feels like one big throwback, in a good way. Lower Decks has always played host to plenty of old references and deep cuts, but in this case they affect the main plot in a huge way. That’s not to say “No Small Parts” would have been difficult to understand if you didn’t pick up these threads, but it makes for multiple fun moments as the episode unfolds.
The episode begins with what appears to be a small, stand-alone throwback to the original-series episode “The Return of the Archons,” but unlike other introductions, this one has long-term repercussions across the episode and beyond: Not only does Boimler reveal to Mariner that he knows that she’s Captain Freeman’s daughter, but he does it over an open comm link, so the entire crew is privy to the mother-daughter secret.
It doesn’t change a lot for Freeman, it seems like. But in an instant, everything changes for Mariner. People are all of a sudden more deferential to her, trying to solicit her good favor so she mentions them to the captain. People who didn’t know her name are now trying to be best friends with her, and of course Mariner hates it. She can’t get away with the things she used to because all eyes are on her, and as a result, she decides the only solution is to request a transfer.
It’s unsurprising here that Boimler had absolutely zero chill when he found out the secret. If anything, I’m really glad that the writers didn’t draw it out, and we got to see the results pretty much immediately. I can’t say I blame him for being irritated that the person he considers his best friend (awww!) lied to him about something so important, nor do I think he’s out of line for being frustrated that Mariner begins competing with him for a promotion and transfer off the ship. It’s easy to understand her frustration with her situation, but it’s pretty clear her insubordination won’t really serve her when her mother isn’t the captain. Her long-term plan here isn’t really clear, but then again, she’s likely just responding emotionally, rather than logically.
All of those plans are put on hold, though, when the Cerritos rides in to rescue another ship and everything goes to hell. The Pakleds (whew, what a throwback), who were pretty much the joke of the Alpha Quadrant, apparently continued scavenging technology after their encounter with the Enterprise in The Next Generation’s “Samaritan Snare,” and guess what? It turns out that after a decade spent luring in, attacking, and harvesting powerful ships, you can cobble together something pretty massive and deadly! (Way to go, Starfleet, for clearly keeping an eye on the Pakled situation!)
The Pakleds, who are still after the Enterprise apparently, attack the Cerritos and deal major damage to the ship. Freeman needs an out-of-the-box solution to get the Cerritos and her crew out of this situation, so she turns to the one person she thinks can help: Mariner. It’s an incredibly sweet and well-earned moment; we’ve seen so much growth from the captain and Mariner individually, as well as together, over the course of the season. This is a very public trust in Mariner’s abilities and competence, and it’s pretty much a perfect turn of events for the season finale.
After a moment of self-doubt, Mariner, of course, comes through for her mom. She figures out a computer virus could disable the Pakled ship, and it’s up to Rutherford to come up with something quickly. He turns to his old nemesis, Badgey, who has not one but three computer viruses ready for the Pakleds.
I’ve experienced many different emotions watching this season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, but this was the first time I felt real, genuine concern for the fate of the crew. After all, it’s a season finale, so if someone is going to die, it will probably happen now — and it does. Shax and Rutherford head over to the Pakled ship to introduce the virus, but only Rutherford returns home. Our favorite aggressive Bajoran Shax (whom I absolutely love and am crushed!) sacrifices himself to save the Cerritos.
In the end, it’s the USS Titan, with Captain William Riker (!!!) in command, who comes to the rescue of the Cerritos, dispatching the Pakleds and also revealing that he’s not only Mariner’s mentor, but the source of all her contraband (this tracks, honestly). He swoops in, lightens the mood, delivers an outstanding performance, and then makes a dramatic exit, taking Boimler with him.
That’s right, Boimler got the promotion he’s so desperately wanted all season — he’s now a lieutenant (junior grade) aboard the Titan. Mariner is pissed beyond belief that Boimler left without telling her. Tendi is at Rutherford’s bedside. After Badgey turned on him at the last second aboard the Pakled ship (predictable, really), Shax ripped out Rutherford’s implant and got him to safety. The only trouble is it appears that Rutherford’s memory has been damaged as a result, and now he has no idea who Tendi is.
This sets the stage for a dramatic second season — of course Boimler’s going to have to find his way back aboard the Cerritos (unless Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis are becoming cast regulars, which somehow I doubt), and the fabulous foursome will reunite. I really don’t want to see Boimler demoted to make it happen, though, and I’d love for Mariner to move up in the ranks as well. It would certainly present some new challenges.
All in all, this was a strong and well-written first season. I do have some minor quibbles — I wish we’d seen a lot more of Tendi, and I hope she’ll have a bigger role in the second season, for one. But I really like the overarching story here, and the character development in both Boimler and Mariner. It’s a smart, funny show that’s done a lot to lift my mood in 2020 (no small feat, to be honest), and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
• The TOS era now stands for “Those Old Scientists.” If you don’t like it, sorry, I don’t make the rules; Ransom does.
• I can’t believe that an Exocomp became a Starfleet officer; except I can because this show cuts so deep.
• What happened to the Exocomps after the synthetic-life-form ban from Star Trek: Picard??? … Oh no.
• I love Will Riker so much, it’s kind of unreasonable. This was a really nice cameo.
• This is a great show.