Darmok time: Star Trek: Lower Decks “Kayshon, His Eyes Open”

"Kayshon, His Eyes Open" --Carl Tart as Lieutenant Kayshon and Noël Wells as D'Vana Tendi of the U.S.S Cerritos of the Paramount+ series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved **Best Possible Screen Grab**

Just judging by the title alone, this episode is going to be an homage to the “Darmok” episode of The Next Generation, where our enterprising Enterprise crew encountered an alien species with a language consisting entirely of recontextualized references from a shared cultural corpus, baffling the universal translator. In my last recap, I suggested that Star Trek: Lower Decks should cool it on the member-berries and try to make broader satire; this would seem to charge in the other direction entirely.

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But it’s not entirely without potential: the “Darmok” angle could open the writers up to any number of jokes, such as how the episode unintentionally predicted internet meme culture. Or about how often the Universal Translator should be running into problems? I mean, how does it always translate idioms so perfectly? How does it flawlessly distinguish homophones? How does it know not to translate it when Worf sprinkles Klingon words into his sentences?  When Captain Sisko refers to the ships Rio Grande and Mekong, how does the thing know not to turn them both into “Big River”?

We cold-open on a towel-clad Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford on their way to the sonic showers. Lieutenant Jett, the bland guy introduced as a plot foil in “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” and inexplicably brought back for another episode or two, meets up with them, because he’s been reassigned to the Cerritos. The sonic showers, as it turns out, are all out in the open, Starship Troopers-style, but conveniently, the sound waves create a blurry visual effect that obscures breasts, butts, and genitalia, but not faces.

Thank God we moved past those antiquated water showers centuries ago! Now we sonically pulverize our butt dirt into a fine mist and just sort of stand around in it for a while.

Jett gets on Mariner’s bad side by taking Boimler’s shower. In response, she passive-aggressively turns the sound waves up. This leads to a battle of wills that ends with everyone running out of the showers and Mariner and Jett collapsing with nosebleeds.

After the episode proper starts, Captain Freeman logs about the Cerritos’s new assignment: a prominent member of the “Collectors’ Guild”, Kerner Hauze, has died. A squid person with a baffling smashed-together accent (I detect notes of New Zealand, Philly, and the Bronx) explains that the Guild wants Starfleet to comb through his collection and get rid of anything dangerous.

Freeman privately grumbles about having to deal with these greedy collector types. (“Didn’t he try to collect Data?” asks Cmdr. Ransom. “They all tried to collect Data!” says Freeman.) Dr. Migleemo, the ship’s counselor who’s a bird, is also on the bridge to do what he does best: deliver one line that’s not funny and then disappear.

“Captain, are you stressed out? You’re molting very badly—your feathers are nearly gone!”

You know who was funny? Shaxs! Too bad they Tasha Yar-ed him at the end of the last season. But, speak of the devil, the replacement security officer has just arrived: Lieutenant Kayshon, the first Tamarian in Starfleet. He strolls onto the bridge, issues an opaque mythological reference, then corrects himself and speaks normally, apologizing for his imperfect grasp of “Federation Standard”.

“Are you our new security officer?” “Bearded Chad wojak, facing left.”

Down in Lower Decks, the gang is talking excitedly about the mission and how enthused Boimler would be about it. We cut to Boimler on the Titan, breathlessly surviving yet another violent space battle, his nerves clearly frayed to their breaking point. The Titan is still pursuing the Pakleds, whom Captain Riker (guest voice Jonathan Frakes, clearly having a blast as always) theorizes must be taking orders from a bigger, heavier, bad. He calls a meeting to put together a classic Dangerous Undercover Spy Mission to try to discover the Pakleds’ paymasters, and Boimler, a unconfident spaz who breaks down at the slightest hint of trouble, is of course part of it.

“Captain Riker, this sheet music is too hard! I play classical piano! You really can’t find an accompanist who plays jazz?”

Mariner, Tendi, Rutherford, Jett, and Keyshon all beam over to the collector’s ship, and fan out to inspect the merchandise. Jett and Mariner butt heads over Mariner’s merry-making and off-goofing. Kayshon is still having trouble describing his various tasks with words instead of overwrought figures of speech.  The squid, whose accent has now settled on “New Jersey, kind of”, eyes the cyborg Rutherford greedily, confirming that only a few cyborgs exist. “Careful, Rutherford, he’s gonna try to collect you,” warns Mariner.

Who’s up for a game of Spot The Reference!

But suddenly, the big portrait of Kerner Hauze on the back wall of the room lights up in purple. A hologram of Hauze himself is superimposed on the painting, declaring itself to be an automatic security program.  He will defend his collection against the presumed marauders, and as a show of force, he shoots a purple beam…

“Argh! Jalad with wet pants!”

…which turns Lt. Kayshon into a hand puppet.

Everything in the room begins to attack them. Floating orbs fire lasers at them, entire sword collections launch themselves out of their cabinets, and boxes of snakes spring open. Jett and Mariner fight over the Kayshon puppet and only just make it out of the room before the doors swing shut.

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Mariner throws a quick eye over the ship’s schematics and finds an escape route through the very heart of the ship, necessitating a headstrong and heroic charge through the deadliness. Jett, meanwhile, finds a route that’s shorter and less dangerous, and the other unadventurous souls defer to him.

Ordinarily, Freeman would have tried to contact the away team, found out that comms are jammed, and gone to their rescue. However, a recent command evaluation has said she has a tendency to micromanage, so she’s sitting on the bridge and stewing instead, in order to demonstrate trust in her subordinates. On Hauze’s ship, the away team barely escapes an inorganic matter compactor and finds themselves in a museum gallery with the skeletons of all sorts of animals along with the giant clone Spock Two hanging from the ceiling.

“Careful now, that’s a very rare, very valuable reference!”

It’s revealed that the squid man caused all this mayhem by stealing “Kahless’s Fornication Helmet”, the one item from Hauze’s collection that wasn’t a reference.  He tries to get away against Jett’s advice and ends up tripping a booby trap that drops the Spock clone’s skeleton on him. Mariner bickers with Jett over his supposed “safe route”, and accuses him of just trying to… make her look bad or something like that; it’s not really clear. Then Mariner pisses off a bunch of floating Roombas who all band together and try to suck them to death, and Mariner and Jett get to bicker over how best to fight them off.

On the planet, the Pakleds are attacking. Boimler and the rest of the Titan officers are now undercover as miners (though Boimler isn’t fooling anybody). Their mission is to plant a tracking device on the Pakled ship, but a blue-skinned Titan officer spies a Pakled figure in the distance, and goes to stun it in order to leave no witnesses.  It turns out to be just a set of Pakled armor with a stash of hidden snacks underneath it.

“Hey!” say the Pakleds. “Those miners are stealing our snacks!”

“Get your own dried Tribbles and Vulcan jerky!”

Jett and Mariner have managed to create a barricade of giant bones to buy some time, but they’re still bickering over Mariner’s plunge-headfirst style vs. Jett’s think-things-through style. They each have one of those simultaneous epiphanies that TV characters have all the time, and realize that neither one of them should be in charge. They delegate command to Tendi and Rutherford, who come up with a plan to burn the alien bones to produce acid and get into the Jeffries tubes.

The Titan’s away-team, under assault by Pakleds, gets cornered by a huge mining drill and promises to go down fighting.  They join hands, but Boimler doesn’t join with them. He goes on a monologue about how he entered Starfleet to explore and study and find peaceful diplomatic solutions to things, not to fight high-concept space wars. This inspires the team to live instead, and Boimler finds a way to punch through the ion cloud above them so they can transport through.

“I’m gonna live just so I can give this goober the wedgie he clearly needs.”

This they do, but Boimler ends up getting transporter-cloned. Ya get it? Just like Riker did. It’s funny because it’s a thing that happened before.

“You know the rules. One of you’s gotta become a terrorist.”

Riker tells the Boimlers that there’s Starfleet regulations about identical people serving on the same ship, and one of them has to go back to the Cerritos. The original Boimler looks at his clone, nods, and then steps forward to volunteer, under the impression that his clone would also step forward and volunteer at the same time, but nothing of the sort happens. Riker sends Boimler off with his blessing, and then pours a glass of Romulan ale for the clone, who’s thinking of changing his name to “William”.

So now Boimler’s back on the Cerritos, Jett and Mariner are friends, and Captain Freeman’s micromanaging ways are vindicated. Hugging, learning, etc. Even Kayshon’s back to normal, after a stint in sickbay:

“It’s called a sight gag, captain. They were common in twentieth-century animated comedies. What it’s doing here, I have no idea.”

Next episode: Boimler gets cloned again, and has to go serve on an even shittier ship. Lt. Kayshon orders, “Shaka, atop a rugged mountain” from the replicator and ends up poisoned.

TV Show: Star Trek: Lower Decks

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