In the fifteenth episode of the seventh season ofÂ The Next Generation, several junior officers are conflicted about their roles in a secretive mission or theirÂ lackÂ of involvement in them. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.Â
This is such a cool idea for an episode, and I’m left wishing there was a lot more of this. I’m reminded of howÂ Veronica MarsÂ took this idea and launched it into the stratosphere, since much of my entertainment from that show came from the fact that secondary, tertiary, and side characters appeared so often in other episodes, often getting stories devoted to them, too. Still, I’m not saying that this means that “Lower Decks” suffers in comparison, as that’s not really a fair thing. I really liked this episode. IT WAS SO DIFFERENT. And after over six-and-a-half seasons of this show, I found it refreshing that the show was willing to experiment with the kind of stories it was willing to tell.
LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT STORY, FRIENDS. Even in terms of structure, this is an odd episode. There are multiple plots unfolding, many of them unevenly, some of them without any real conflict or “point.” If anything, I’d say that this episode provides us with a slice-of-life experience. I’m comfortable with that! What do the junior officers do day-to-day? What’s it like working under this specific senior staff? What happens when those same people go on high-profile missions?
Those questions are answered in a slow but interesting examination of life in the lower decks, so to speak. In some ways, it’s not all that different from the world that the senior staff live in. Ten Forward is still a popular place for the crew to unwind. Poker is just as entertaining for both groups. Alyssa even pursues romance in her free time. I think that “Lower Decks” adds depth to many of these characters, which is particularly important for Alyssa. We see her a lot whenever she assists Dr. Crusher, but what is her own life like? What is she like outside of the sick bay?
I also thought it wasÂ fantasticÂ for the show to bring back Sito Jaxa here. It took me until her confrontation with Picard to remember who she was, but GODDAMN. She’s such a smart choice because we get an update on her life as well as the insight that comes from her friendly competition with Lavelle for a promotion. I found it illuminating to see evaluations from the perspective of the junior officers, especially those up for the same job. We get to see Lavelle try way too hard to please Riker, just as much as we get a chance to see Taurik annoy Geordi for being an overachiever. But Jaxa felt the most interesting to me. After the events in “The First Duty,” Sito had a lot to prove. Part of that includingÂ stayingÂ in Starfleet after her punishment, but it also meant that she had more to make up once she arrived on theÂ Enterprise. Picard made his feelings on this loud and clear: even if sheÂ hadÂ a wonderful record on the ship in the last seven months, he still didn’t trust her after what she said.
Is that fair? Well, I couldn’t really say at the time. I knew the conversation stung hard, and I knew that I’dÂ neverÂ seen Picard so upset at a junior officer. Interestingly, Worf came to Sito’s defense, but not in a manner I expected. I mean, I SHOULD HAVE. Who else would make a point like he did? HE LITERALLY THREW HER ON THE FLOOR MULTIPLE TIMESâ€¦ forÂ morality. Okay, I jest. It’s actually a cool scene because he’s trying to get Sito to stand up for herself in the best way that he can.
So where does this lead us? It’s interesting enough to see these snippets of other lives, but I don’t think it’s enough to sustain an entire episode, at least not without some overarching conflict. Thankfully, the scriptÂ doesÂ have one of those, and it’s a hell of a mystery: someone was secretly transported into sick bay! They’re disguising a runabout! EVERYTHING IS A HUGE SECRET! But holy shit, the emotional weight of that secret hit me hard. Of all the ensigns, the team believes that Sito is most qualified to go on a dangerous mission into Cardassian space. To their credit, Sito volunteers to accompany a Cardassian (who is a Federation spy) back home, and she proves that she’s willing to rise to the occasion. But what an occasion that is! She’s Bajoran, and she agrees to help aÂ Cardassian, one who isn’t interested in saving Bajoran lives, but savingÂ CardassianÂ lives. And yet, she still sticks with her mission.
WHICH GETS HER KILLED. Honestly, I didn’t expect that outcome, and I’m still pretty shocked that she died on the mission. But that’s part of life in the lower decks, too. Isn’t it? How many ensigns have died in away missions? It’s part of life in Starfleet, though that doesn’t make me feel any less sad about what happened to Sito. Justâ€¦ what the hell,Â The Next Generation? SHE HAD SO MUCH POTENTIAL. I don’t know how I feel about this as a whole; it’s certainly a rapid change in tone in matter of a few minutes. “Lower Decks” ends on a completely different note than it started. I suppose if I knew I’d see more of the surviving three characters, I’d get excited. What happened with Alyssa’s fiancÃ©, by the way? Who was the woman Dr. Crusher saw him with? Oh, well. I don’t imagine we’ll ever get answers on that.
The video for “Lower Decks” can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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