So, I’m going to cover the last two episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks season four at once because while they’re sort of standalone episodes, they also sort of aren’t. What they both do is touch on both episodes featuring Sito Jaxa: “The First Duty” and “Lower Decks.” I’ve written about Sito before—she’s a fascinating character who gets involved in Nick Locarno’s mad plan to attempt a Kolvoord Starburst maneuver, gets punished, redeems herself, and then sacrifices her life to protect a Cardassian spy asset. In season four’s ninth episode “The Inner Fight,” Mariner makes explicit that her self-sabotage stems from her fear that she’ll become a general who sends young people out to die like Picard was for Sito. Mariner stays an ensign allegedly because that’s as far as Sito made it before her death.
I don’t know that I quite buy into this backstory for Mariner for a few reasons. First, we seem to be getting a new backstory for her every season. In season one, it was about rebelling against her captain mother and admiral father. That bled over into season two, and then we get a great exploration of Mariner’s issues with Starfleet and authority in season three. Yes, we’re all walking libraries of issues, and I even get that the road to personal growth is not a particularly straight one. However, watching Mariner flip-flopping between resolving an issue and falling back into it is starting to feel a little stale. Even shoehorning in a relationship with Sito and Nova Squadron doesn’t really breathe fresh life into it.
I did love that we continue to get to see Tendi navigate between being Lieutenant J.G. D’Vana Tendi and the Mistress of the Winter Constellations, a title which epitomizes cool. Tendi’s arc this season has been one of the more interesting, and it’s about time not only that we got more time with Tendi but also that we get to explore Orion culture. In the episode “Something Borrowed, Something Green,” we, much like T’Lyn and Mariner, got our first look at what Orions look like when they’re at home. As exciting as that was—let’s be real, the Orions are one of those species overdue for some development—watching Tendi learn how to balance her history as a prime assassin and her current reality as a science nerd has been great. Tendi discovers that she can’t exactly be both given that Starfleet frowns on murder and piracy, but that she can embrace her past while looking toward her future.
More importantly, though, Lower Decks shows us a functioning Orion. Sure, their values and social structures are different, but Tendi’s Orion is actually a stable society that neither cares for Starfleet nor wants it to save them. We see even more of the wider community in “The Inner Fight” and season four’s tenth episode “Old Friends, New Planets,” and I’d argue that those episodes missed a tremendous opportunity to explore a bit more of how folks who live outside Starfleet regard it as an institution.
“The Inner Fight” flirts with this concept of having Starfleet officers try to waltz up to purchase information while wearing their uniforms and generally failing to navigate on this planet that doesn’t like them. Again, the joke is that the planet functions perfectly well, just as what Starfleet/the Federation would consider lawlessly. I say this as someone who is very firmly pro-Federation and pro-Starfleet, but the backdrop of “The Inner Fight” and “Old Friends, New Planets” is that while the Federation represents one way of life, it’s not the only one. Moreover, it’s not even going to be the best life for everyone. D’Erika certainly has no desire to step down from her pirate throne. She’s perfectly content living according to her Orion mores and values. That Locarno managed to build Nova Fleet suggests that there is actually a fair number of individuals for whom the status quo isn’t working, and honestly, Lower Decks takes the most interesting aspect of Star Trek: Picard season one and just drops it in as worldbuilding without ever doing anything with it.
I’m really hoping that the showrunners and writers will build on this idea in the next season. You can’t tell me Tendi doesn’t have an ace or two up her sleeve as a way to break away from the Syndicate and her sister. However, for a series that prides itself on showing us an entirely different view of Starfleet, it seems a bit out of character for them to create such a golden opportunity not only to show us this different perspective but also to highlight Starfleet’s imperfections using that outsider point of view. Mariner’s right when she says that Starfleet is far from perfect, but that its members keep trying to do better. Lower Decks has a unique ability to explore how other beings see Starfleet, and I’d like to see them capitalize on it going forward.
Three cups of Earl Grey Tea
Stray Thoughts From the Couch
- I have real thoughts about Locarno and why his plan is insane, but I mostly just want to laugh about the Ferengi putting a paywall on a bomb.
- The title “Old Friends, New Planets” makes a certain sick sense.
- Yes, yes, we all know what they’re spoofing off of with the title, “The Inner Fight.”