Get the hull off me: Star Trek: Lower Decks “First First Contact”

It’s a brand new (star)day and the well-meaning slobs of the USS Cerritos are deployed to assist an Intrepid-class starship called the Archimedes, captained by one Sonya Gomez (an officer featured in two episodes of The Next Generation, now all growed up) to assist in first contact with a species called the Lapeerians. They won’t accompany the Archimedes to the planet; they’ll just hang back around another planetoid in the system to make sure they don’t freak the Lapeerians out. Freeman isn’t sure what exactly she and the Cerritos are supposed to be doing, but she’s eager to be rubbing elbows with high-class starships.

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Freeman’s admiral/husband rounds out the meeting by saying, “I hear congratulations are in order.” Why? That will have to wait until after Mariner bumps into her enemy Jennifer the Andorian outside in the hallway and spills a case of Romulan ale. While collecting it, Mariner overhears Freeman and Gomez talking about how Freeman will have to make some “tearful goodbyes”, because she won’t be able to take any of her Cerritos crewmembers with her to a mysterious new posting.

Is there a reason we had to cut away before we actually found out where Freeman’s being posted? Some big reveal later? [Edit: nope.]

We open on a hangar bay, where Rutherford keeps getting an error message from his cyborg implant while trying to work, and Boimler’s making a big banner for “Captain Freeman Day”, and the joke is that he’s meticulously recreating the “Captain Picard Day” banner from “The Pegasus”.  I’m not sure what the internal logic of this joke is: is it that Boimler has the handwriting and artistic sensibilities of a toddler, or that he’s anal enough to duplicate a similar banner from another ship that there’s no reason for him to have seen or know anything about?  As with so much else on Lower Decks, the principal attraction seems to be “you’ve seen this before”.

“Once I hit this puppy with some macaroni and glitter, my promotion’s in the bag.”

Mariner rushes in with the horrible news that Captain Freeman’s being reassigned. God damn it. What exactly would make this person satisfied? She does nothing but complain about serving under her mother, and now she’s complaining about serving under somebody else. Boimler accidently gives her the idea to tell Ransom about Freeman’s reassignment, since he’d likely be “super-pissed” about it. And if Ransom were an admiral with the power to withhold her transfer, that might mean something.

Later on, Mariner drops the bombshell to Ransom, and Shaxs and Billups to boot, which leads to them acting all passive-aggressive and pissy when it’s time for the Cerritos to warp to the Laap system. Infuriated, Freeman calls the senior staff into the ready room to break the news. Mariner goes too, even though she’s not senior staff, so she can watch her mother get caught in the bitchstorm she’s unleashed, because that’s how the episode goes.

Speaking of people getting removed from the ship, Tendi goes by Dr. T’Ana’s office and overhears her saying, “She’s not cut out for medical,” and deleting a personnel file off the ship’s hard drive. Though we didn’t actually see whose file it was, Tendi assumes this is about her, because that too is the way the episode goes. Is this just a wacky coincidence, and Tendi’s insecurity is making her jump to the wrong conclusion? [Edit: Nope.]

Rutherford checks the crew roster with his implant and confirms that Tendi’s not on it. It looks like they’re not going to work together anymore, boo-hoo, wah-wah.

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To say farewell and see Tendi off the ship, Rutherford takes her on a tour through all their favorite spots. Given that this is the season finale, and Tendi and Rutherford are the closest thing this sitcom has to a will-they-won’t-they semi-platonic couple, you might expect a tearful declaration of mutual love. And we do get a mutual tearful declaration of love… for the Cerritos. LOL. Dorks.

And since they might never get another chance, Tendi and Rutherford decide to PHYSICALLY consummate their love… for the Cerritos.

Everyone’s still bickering in the ready room when the Cerritos enters the Laap system. The senior staff walks out to a red alert. It seems a freak solar flare has struck the planetoid that the Cerritos is currently orbiting. It pulverizes the planetoid into chunks of magnetized, plasma-covered debris, which strikes the Cerritos. Wait, scratch that: The debris strikes the Archimedes, which is in orbit around a whole other planet entirely, because this is magic debris.

The Archimedes somersaults away, propelled by the impact, and the plasmid rocks have eroded its shielding and produced effects similar to an EMP. All power everywhere across the entire ship is down and they’re uncontrollably careening through space. “Unless we figure something out, first contact is going to be us crashing into that planet.”

On the Cerritos, Boimler confirms that the ship will impact the planet in 20 hours, and the damage to the planet will be “catastrophic”. What? How tiny is this planet that one ship is going to kill it?

“Current projections indicate the ship will fall right on top of The Little Prince.”

The debris is also on its way to the planet.  Because the debris is full of Treknobabble isotopes and covered in magnetized plasma, the Cerritos can’t use its deflectors to get through it, or project any kind of energy field, because that would draw the debris to it and lead to the same fate as the Archimedes. Freeman decides to venture into the debris field on her own, piloting the captain’s yacht. Mariner angrily accompanies her, saying her piloting skills are too rusty and it’s a suicide mission. Unbeknownst to either, Rutherford and Tendi are also aboard the captain’s yacht, venturing into off-limits areas as part of Tendi’s farewell tour.

Freeman accuses Mariner of being her usual combative self, saying she has to learn to let down her defenses. Rutherford, who’s been monitoring both the plasma debris storm and their conversation, bursts into the room because he’s had a brainwave. The ship has to drop its defenses—”just like Mariner has to do with people!”—in order to avoid attracting the debris.

“We’ll have to keep lines of communication open… again, like Mariner should… And the SHIP should also try not to be such a bitch all the time and stop stealing my snacks.”

Freeman protests that even if they drop the energy shield, the hull itself is magnetized, and would draw the debris to them just the same. Rutherford thought of that. His suggestion? Remove the hull. It’s so crazy, it just might work.

The whole crew, no matter what their usual duties, gets deputized to help remove the hull plating. Now would be a good time for some of those repair robots from Discovery, but those appear to have been banned for killing blue-collar jobs.

Hit the road, Johnny-5! We’re making Starfleet great again!

Rutherford is having trouble working, since there’s another error message from his cyborg implant obstructing up his vision. That doesn’t seem ideal. It goes in your brain; can’t you make the error message like a rhythmic beeping, or an itching sensation or something? Billups scans him and finds out his storage is maxed out.

Let me snap your pic real quick! @keef_engineer just me and @srutherford climbing around on the hull like crazy guys!!!! #magnetboots #engineerlife #starfleetthings

This is because Rutherford, paranoid about losing his memories again, makes 3 backups of all his interactions with Tendi to make sure he doesn’t forget her. “Well, just download them into a thumb drive,” says Billups. Wait, no he doesn’t. He says those backups have to be deleted forever, or else Rutherford will lose the ability to make any new memories.

And now, everyone’s walking around the naked, skeletal Cerritos.

“Ooh, hee hee. This feels so naughty.”

Parts of the ship are exposed to the total vacuum of space, including the bridge, which as on all Federation vessels is right up close to the outside of the ship so as to maximize the amount of danger the main characters are exposed to. Ransom caps off the process by jettisoning the front wall of the bridge, so he can see out and navigate without powering up the viewscreen. 

Outside, Billups reports there’s still one stubborn hull plate that won’t come off, but they have to leave and Freeman says it’ll have to come off on the fly. Uh-oh, I smell a season-ending heroic sacrifice coming on! [Edit: nope.] Ransom throws a nu-Trek style map reticule up on his space suit’s HUD and the ship leaves.  

“Ignore the green markers; they’re side-quests.”

Rutherford tries to run to his station but gets another cascade of error notifications. He finally decides he has to delete all his memories, and hits the command, cycling through all his friend dates with Tendi and landing on one where he’s strapped to a surgical table. “What if someone asks why he has it?” says a shadowy figure. “We’ll program that in. He’ll think it was elective.” Woah, spooky!

With that out of the way, Rutherford and Tendi join Mariner and Boimler in Cetacean Ops, the oft-mentioned but never-seen section of Federation vessels where all the superintelligent dolphins and whales live and work. The stubborn hull panel that won’t come off has a release beneath the water, but the dolphins can’t work it… because the release lever wasn’t designed to be manipulated by flippers. Makes perfect sense.

“Why’d we bother to rescue you from the past? You guys are useless!”

Mariner volunteers to swim down and release the stubborn panel, but it somehow comes up that she left things on a sour note with Captain Mom. Boimler and Tendi encourage her to go make up with her, since at the end of this mission, they’re going to be either dead or on different crews. Mariner uncharacteristically agrees and leaves to let Boimler do the badass physical challenge for once.

He’s intimidated by the length he has to swim to reach the panel control, which, again, seems like really poor design. Mariner reunites with her mother, who tells her there’s “no time for emotional beats” and orders the ship into the debris. Boimler tugs with all his might and finally manages to get the panel free, but lacerates his space suit in the process. His suit quickly fills up with water, so he abandons his helmet and tries to swim away, but gets his body lodged in a narrow space.

“Alas, my robust and manly physique has ironically caused my downfall!”

The dolphin crewmembers fish him out and plop him in front of Tendi and Rutherford, saying, “He’s not breathing! His blowhole’s broken!” in Dolphin-squeak. Shouldn’t we hear them speaking regular English, because of the Universal Translator?

At the same time, Tendi is giving Boimler chest compressions, and the ship gets rocked by a large chunk of debris, which causes it to pitch forward and Mariner to tumble out of the open bridge. Jennifer, Mariner’s enemy, dashes after her and only just manages to grab her before she tumbles into the unknown. Shortly after, Boimler coughs and begins breathing again.

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The Archimedes has only five minutes until it impacts with the planet Laap.

“We have to make it! Think how mad Trek fans will be if we kill off Sonya Gomez!”

Everyone’s prepared to die a fiery death, when the Cerritos finally shows up and holds them in place with a tractor beam. Day saved. Wait, wasn’t all that debris going to crash into the planet also? Ehh, they lost interest in that.

Freeman steps in to do First Contact, which goes off without a hitch. Meanwhile, Dr. T’Ana calls Tendi away from treating the wounded to drop the long-awaited bomb on her. She confirms that she took Tendi off of Sickbay duty… because she’s instead fast-tracked her for Senior Science Officer training. “Wait, like, to work on the bridge? Like Jadzia Dax?” “Who the fuck is that, I don’t know who that is! Like Spock!”

“Of course, you’ll first have to go back to college and get a degree in some kind of hard science. Did you really think you’d just skate through that? You’re a doctor or nurse or something, not a scientist! That’d be like hiring a farmer to work as a chef because they both involve food!”

Tendi goes to break the happy news to Rutherford in the bar where everyone’s celebrating. A tipsy Freeman makes a speech to her crew, saying she’s going to turn down the planned promotion in favor of remaining with her beloved crew. And she plans to say the same to the team from Starfleet Command who’s just come aboard the Cerritos. But in a shocking twist of events, they’re not on board to promote her: They’re on board to arrest her.

It seems Pakled Planet, homeworld of the season-long antagonist/punchlines the Pakleds, has just been destroyed with a Veruvian bomb. The officious Starfleet representative says he has proof that Freeman colluded with an extremist Klingon faction to destroy them.

They lead Freeman away in manacles, accidentally parading her in front of the gathered Cerritos crewmates who were about to congratulate her, and she’s walked off into a good old-fashioned To Be Continued.

“Move along, folks! Nothing to see here!”

Next season on Lower Decks: It be continued.

TV Show: Star Trek: Lower Decks

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