HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
There’s something incredibly fitting about seeing Mariner wrestle herself in the Lower Decks episode that pokes fun at the differences between the Trek shows and the films. However, “Crisis Point” remains a character story at its heart, and once again reminds us that Trek in general and Lower Decks are both at their best when they tell stories about their people.
The episode opens with Ensign Beckett Mariner supervising the destruction of a statue while the subject of same looks on from his position between two lizard people. Mariner revels in having ended oppression on the planet and fully expects to receive her mother’s approval. Captain Freeman beams down and apologizes to the planet’s population and reprimands her daughter for having violated the Prime Directive. Mariner protests vociferously, but Freeman orders her back aboard the Cerritos where she will undergo therapy with the ship’s counselor. Under protest, Mariner does report to the therapist, but she storms out before the session can finish. Instead, she heads to the holodeck.
Ensigns D’vana Tendi and Samanthan Rutherford have been shooting clays with Leonardi Da Vinci, but Ensigh Bradward Boimler interrupts, asking if he can have the holodeck to use the extremely detailed simulation of the bridge crew he created in order to prepare for an interview with Captain Freeman. He hopes to learn about advanced diplomacy from her. He initiates the program after Rutherford and Tendi acquiesce, and both Rutherford and Tendi marvel at how complete his simulation is. Mariner storms onto the holodeck and realizes that Boimler’s simulation could be put to better use. She reprograms Boimler’s simulation.
She creates a movie, starring the bridge crew as the heroes and casting herself as Vindicta and Tendi and Rutherford on her crew of marauders. Boimler remains with the Cerritos bridge crew in order to attempt to learn how to curry favor with Captain Freeman. A simulated admiral sends the simulated Cerritos to a planet where an unknown ship has been pretending to be performing second contact on behalf of the Federation. The Cerritos warps to the planet, and Vindicta decloaks her pirated Klingon vessel and proceeds to threaten Freeman after shooting the simulation’s version of Boimler, who happens to be on her own bridge. Freeman discovers that the message onscreen is a recording and that Vindicta intends to take over the ship just as Vindicta boards the Cerritos and proceeds to slaughter her crew, including Winger of the infamous One Man Show.
Mariner keeps referring to Tendi has an Orion pirate, rendering Tendi visibly uncomfortable, and eventually Tendi calls for an arch as Mariner’s violence begins to spiral out of control. Rutherford, despite being a marauder, heads to engineering where he works closely with Billups to save the ship. Rutherford confesses his respect for Billups, and even though their communal efforts to save the holographic Cerritos are unsuccessful, Rutherford bonds with his holographic boss.
Mariner makes her way to the bridge and attacks her mother while the Cerritos plummets toward the planet’s surface. Mariner as Vindicta pummels Freeman while demanding answers about her childhood that the holographic Freeman cannot give her. Just as Vindicta prepares to stab Freeman, a holographic Mariner intervenes, transporting Freeman to the surface. Vindicta and the holographic Mariner attack each other, with Vindicta claiming to know everything about the holographic Mariner, including that she wore Toby the Targ costumes for Halloween well after the point she should have stopped. Holographic Mariner counters that Vindicta only breaks rules because everyone expects that of her. She goes on to assert that without her place on the Cerritos, Mariner’s career in Starfleet would be over, meaning that Freeman is protecting her daughter in the best way she knows how.
Vindicta narrowly achieves victory only to have the holographic Mariner reveal that she activated the self-destruct sequence, and the Cerritos explodes, killing them both. The simulation concludes with Freeman erecting a monument to her daughter and Rutherford heading off into the sunset with Billups. Real Mariner realizes her own truths and apologizes to her mother. Boimler bombs the interview because he’s too busy processing that Freeman is Mariner’s mother.
From the episode’s opening credit homage to The Wrath of Khan, we know that “Crisis Point” intends to invoke the Trek films, and using the holodeck to do so winks at previous Trek canon. More significantly, this conceit allows Lower Decks to poke fun at the differences in the two very different media. Rutherford’s throwaway line to Billups that he can do whatever he wants because it’s a movie highlights how much simpler the films are in both use of technology and storytelling. The movies hand-wave issues away because they’re self-contained in a way the Trek episodes cannot be. The episodes function in series, meaning that, in part, they build on the rules and story elements from one episode to the next. Movies are free from those concerns and can therefore streamline their storytelling. When Boimler snarks about how the Enterprise would be sent in lieu of the Cerritos, he mentions artistic license, which is exactly the point. As viewers, we understand and accept this difference between the television episodes and the films because we know the films require greater artistic license to work.
However, despite the episode’s emphasis on this difference, “Crisis Point” is very much a character piece, which is traditionally the realm of Trekepisodes. The holodeck becomes the method by which Mariner can literally wrestle with her mother and with herself, a metaphoric exploration of the character tensions we’ve seen throughout this season of Lower Decks. Mariner works through her problematic relationship with her mother, albeit a bit violently. She realizes not only that her mother does not know Mariner as she wishes to be known but also that Freeman tires to help Mariner the best way she knows how. She also learns that she herself is part of the problem. When Mariner wrestles with the holographic version of herself, which happens to be programmed to be the truest version of Mariner Boimler can manage, Mariner has no choice but to work through her own inner conflict. The program forces her to face her own truth, that while her relationship with the uniform may be complicated, it is not something she is prepared to keep throwing away.
Moreover, the simulation forces Mariner to accept that her shenanigans often have unintended consequences for her peers. She forces Tendi into a stereotype that doesn’t fit her, and as a result, she drives Tendi away. As part of her new personal growth, Mariner apologizes not only to Tendi but also to her mother, building on the glimmers of emotional maturity we’ve seen sprinkled throughout the show. “Crisis Point” is an excellent reminder that what the best Trek films share with the best Trek episodes is that insight into their characters, even if the films have to rely more on movie magic to get there.
Five Cups of Earl Grey Tea
Stray Thoughts and Reference Round Up:
- You may recognize the opening credits as mirroring those from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the closing credits from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I’m not even certain they didn’t use some elements of the actual signatures in the signatures they crafted for the Lower Decks character. In any case, Boimler’s little delta over the “I” in his name is adorable.
- The lens flare obviously comes from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek 2009.
- The saucer section crash takes us back to Star Trek: Generations.
- The long sweeps of the Cerritos recall similar sequences from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek 2009. The shot of the bridge crew watching the Cerritos from the shuttle recalls the end of Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home.
- Mariner’s Vindicta seems to have been lifted straight out of the “Bride of Chaotica” programs crafted by Tom Paris to entertain himself during Voyager’s epic romp through the Delta Quadrant.
- Boimler using a simulation of the bridge crew to prep for his interview works a bit like Tuvok’s holonovel regarding a Maquis takeover of Voyager in “Worst Case Scenario.” Da Vinci’s appearance also hearkens back to Voyager as does Toby the Targ. Boimler’s question regarding the “turtle-neck uniforms” could be referring to the Voyager/DS9 style uniforms as well.
- Freeman builds a cairn for her daughter, much like the one Picard builds for Kirk in Star Trek: Generations.
- Something about the shell of the Cerritos landing in the mountains says Star Trek: Beyond to me, even though the mountains from the movie were not snow-capped.
- Vindicta’s casket on the planet mirrors the shots of Spock’s casket from Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan.
- Mariner’s reference to fighting on a rickety catwalk likely refers to the fight sequences between Kirk, Picard, and Soran.
- Holographic Mariner stalling for time to keep Vindicta aboard the Cerritos until the self-destruct sequence activated could be a reference to how Kirk used the same command in Star Trek III: the Search for Spock. Certainly, the way the explosion worked, flinging holographic Mariner forward, recalls George Kirk’s death in Star Trek 2009 as do the fonts used onscreen when Freeman comes to in the destroyed Cerritos.
- The therapy joke and the 80’s reference probably refer back to Star Trek: the Next Generation, despite TNG being filmed and airing mostly during the 90s. There’s something very 80’s about the zeitgeist in the early seasons anyway. The therapist himself could be an Aurelian from “Yesteryear,” especially since Lower Decks referred to the species in “Envoys.”
- Vindicta quotes the same line from the Tempest General Chang does to Kirk in Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country.
- Pah-wraiths and Bajoran earrings all come from development found in DS9, though Ro Laren also extracts permission to wear her earring with her uniform in TNG.
- I really loved the moment when the black line appeared down the show’s image, recalling some of the visual artifacts that occur in actual film.
- I’m really interested to see if the show goes on to build on Rutherford’s hero-worship for Billups. The image of Billups alone at his table is just…sad.