Aug 6, 2020
Star Trek: Lower Decks “Moist Vessel”
Well, what a pleasant surprise. This episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks got three; count ’em, three laughs out of me. Keep this pace up and we should have a watchable program by like 2022.
In the cold open, Captain Freeman is narrating her log entry. The Cerritos is assisting another ship, the SS Merced, with an ancient generational ship that broke down in space many years ago.
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The ship has stasis chambers with thousands of mummified alien corpses, and vast tanks full of weird molecular fluid that the aliens were going to use to terraform their destination. (Apparently, they couldn’t cook.) Starfleet has ordered the Cerritos and the Merced to tow the ship to a starbase for further study.
The captain of the Merced, a Tellarite named Durango, is conducting the briefing. Mariner is handing out the PADDs. She yawns ostentatiously at Durango’s droning speaking voice, which puts her in hot water with her mother.
After a blow-out argument that goes nowhere, Ransom sidles into the ready room and suggests to Freeman that she might trick Mariner into requesting a transfer by giving her all the most horrible tasks on the ship.
Down in the lower deck quarters, Boimler is so excited at getting to clean up the senior officers’ conference room that he’s actually dancing. In a truly depressing turn, what’s making him so excited is eating scraps from the senior staff’s “good” replicator programs. (Can you imagine if every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the ship got to eat gnocchi and fritters? That replicator would run out of molecules in a day!) Meanwhile, Mariner is assigned an entire slate of Miles O’Brien jobs.
While this is going on, Tendi rushes in with a B-plot. She’s spazzing out to Rutherford that she’s about to watch a fellow crew member who’s practiced alien meditation for years reach “ascension” and become an energy being, “like a Q or the Traveler”. Going down to this guy’s quarters, Tendi finds a bunch of crew members already gathered in lotus postures around an elaborate sand mandala. The excitable Tendi is distracted by a gong on the other side of the room. When people whisper that he’s about to ascend, she accidentally knocks the gong over, and in her attempt to catch it she faceplants right in the middle of the mandala. Enraged at the destruction of two years’ worth of work, the guy can’t ascend. He angrily kicks Tendi and everyone else out.
Next comes the part of the episode where Mariner sticks it to Captain Mom by finding little ways to inject joy into her horrible assignments. She has three such jobs, but they only bother writing an actual gag for one of them, and it’s so weak I won’t bother recapping it. Cmdr. Ransom reports this to Captain Freeman, who becomes furious that she can’t punish Mariner by having her clean people’s, um, bodily fluids out of the holodeck. (“People really use it for that?” “Oh, yeah. It’s mostly that.”) [Laugh #1: While Freeman’s talking, Ransom props his leg up on a chair and rests his elbow on it, in a manly Rikeresque pose; this makes his bicep pop out, visibly arousing Ransom when he happens to glance at it. It’s a nice little sight gag.]
But the captain’s got one more ace up her sleeve. Soon she’s calling Mariner down to the senior officers’ conference room, where she gives Mariner—dun dun DUUNNNN—a promotion.
Next up comes a montage in which Mariner grapples with all the piddly responsibilities of being a senior officer on a starship. She audits. She goes to meetings. She goes to a management seminar. She gets bored in the frustratingly low-stakes officers’ poker game. It’s not that she finds the work challenging; That’s the sort of thing you might find in an internally consistent comedy bit. No, it’s more that she finds all the senior officers annoying and doesn’t like spending time with them.
Meanwhile, Boimler is, of course, extremely salty that all his dedication and obsequiousness got him nowhere while the lazy, disrespectful Mariner got a promotion. He decides he’s going to start breaking some rules, since that’s apparently what it takes to get ahead on this ship. Boimler decides to make his move while on bridge duty. He “accidentally” spills hot coffee all over Ransom’s crotch, which causes him to stumble around the bridge in pain, which causes him to bump into the helmsman and pull the Cerritos off course. The tractor beam pulls a hull panel off the generation ship, and terraforming emulsion spills out and gets sucked up by both ships’ tractor beams, covering their hulls.
Or at least, that’s how a half-decent writer would’ve made that scene play out. What actually happens is that Captain Durango starts inexplicably feeling a sense of jealous rivalry with Captain Freeman, and orders his helmsman to break towing formation and move the Merced closer to the generation ship, causing the panel to break off, etc. And then, after the Cerritos is already at red alert, is when Boimler spills the coffee.
Meanwhile, Tendi is following around the guy who got cockblocked out of nirvana thanks to her. Desperate to ingratiate herself, she’s been studying many planets’ religious traditions and she’s using up her PTO to follow him around and chant prayers, burn incense, release swarms of sacred flies, and everything vaguely spiritual she can think of. Her friend begins angrily telling her off when the terraforming goo causes an entire marine ecosystem to erupt out of the warp core. [Laugh #2: Tendi shouts “Damn this gorgeous coral!”]
In a fit of frustration, Tendi shouts that she doesn’t particularly care if this guy ascends—she just wants him to like her. “It kills me when someone doesn’t like me,” she pouts. “I can’t sleep. It’s all I think about. It feels like ants in my brain!” (Subtext? Oh yeah, that’s like when you say something mean online but don’t specify who it’s about, right?) This revelation prompts the dude to tell her he wasn’t really ascending. He was faking his enlightenment because “It’s hard to stand out in Starfleet… I was the ascension guy! That was my thing!” He stretched the grift out for too long, however, and thus decided to use Tendi as cover to explain his failure to ascend. They bond over this, inspiring Tendi to use an explosive pink anemone to bust them both out. They’re barely clear of the water when a huge rock column falls near Tendi. Ascension Guy pushes her out of the way and is crushed for his efforts.
Freeman and Mariner have, by this point, broken out of the ready room, rappelled with vines down a turbolift shaft, and made it to the transporter room, bickering obnoxiously the whole way there. Mariner surprises Freeman by knowing exactly how to reverse the terraforming, which means she actually read the captain’s mission brief. (“Ironically, so I could make fun of it.”) She floods the ship with a bunch of flim-flam and hoodley-doodle and all the living things turn back into orange particulate. Ascension Guy expresses relief that he’s not dead after all, and all of a sudden begins to float up toward the ceiling and turn see-thru. Thanks to his selfless act, he’s ascending for real. It takes longer than you would expect, and it burns like a bitch; he screams the whole time.
The Merced is too terraformed for the Treknobabble to penetrate, so they beam the crew over to a sealed chamber on the generation ship. They tow the ship to a starbase, where an admiral gives Mariner and Freeman medals for their heroism. In a predictable turn of events, Mariner gets the giggles over the admiral pronouncing “sensors” Spock-style, as “sense-oars”. [Laugh #3: The outraged admiral declaims, “Is this how your crew behaves toward authority? When it’s known that I mispronounce things? Are you really making fown of me?”] Soon Mariner’s an ensign again, and back in the lower decks, where she soothes a bitter Boimler by giving him an access card for the senior officers’ replicator programs (“I’m gonna go get the mac and cheese with the breaded top!”).
Next week: Boimler has a girlfriend. Mariner can’t believe it. (I don’t know what’s so hard to believe. Starfleet is Dork Central—even Wesley got some on occasion.) She sets out to prove the woman’s a shapeshifter or hologram or something, and at least one hijink ensues.