Review: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 9 “The Inner Fight”
Star Trek: Lower Decks goes back to its roots in an episode that brings us to the cusp of unraveling the mystery surrounding the alien ship that has been terrorizing the quadrant, while we also finally learn what is driving Mariner’s years-long battle against herself.
Beckett Mariner’s (Tawney Newsome) renewed intrapersonal angst following the Cerritos’ visit to the Ferengi homeworld is not lost on her friends nor her captain/mother. Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) orders Mariner’s friends, which include Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), D’Vana Tendi (Noel Wells), and T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz), to try to protect her daughter from self-destruction. They will do this by repairing a weather buoy stationed above a backwater planet in the Sherbal system, a supposedly innocuous mission that should keep Mariner out of trouble.
After their repair mission ends, the lower deckers’ shuttle is attacked out of nowhere by a Klingon bird of prey, and our heroes are forced to beam down to the planet’s surface. There, they find a variety of alien species fighting each other for dominance – these alien species happen to be the same ones abducted by the mysterious alien ship throughout the season. Finally, we are getting answers to this season-long mystery.
The rebellious and eager-to-fight Mariner ditches her cautious away team overnight and proceeds to a nearby weather monitoring station, in the hopes she can send a distress call. On the way there, she meets a Klingon warrior, Ma’ah (Jon Curry), and after some fighting, they end up having a heart-to-heart about Mariner’s inner angst. Mairner also learns that Ma’ah was betrayed by his own people and left on this planet. The puzzle gets more and more curious.
We learn in a soliloquy from the perpetual lower decker that she used to be friends with a promising Starfleet ensign named Sito Jaxa. TNG fans’ ears might perk up at this name, as this was the same Bajoran (played by Shannon Fill), who suffered an off-screen death in the memorable episode “Lower Decks,” which, yes, is the episode that inspired Mike McMahan to create Lower Decks. How long have they been planning this reveal?
“Sito was everything I wanted to be. I mean, she made some mistakes, but she rallied. She graduated ahead of me and was stationed on the Enterprise.”
“The Enterprise? I have heard tales of its triumphs.”
“Oh, yeah. So did she. And it got her murdered by Cardassians.”– Mariner and Ma’ah.
Mariner and Ma’ah make their way to the weather monitoring station, and, with Tendi’s timely help, convince the alien menagerie to stop fighting and work together to discover who trapped them and why. Shortly after their peace agreement, the group is surprised when Mariner is suddenly beamed away by an unknown captor. But at this point, it’s worth backing up a bit.
While Tendi, Boimler, and T’Lyn repair the weather buoy with Mariner, Captain Freeman is responsible for tracking down… wait for it… Nick Locarno, a character known to The Next Generation fans from the episode “The First Duty.” Nick was played by future Voyager star Robert Duncan McNeill. (We bet you didn’t have Nick Locarno on your Lower Decks bingo cards, yeah?) Nick is just one of a few ex-Starfleet officers who are apparently being targeted by the mysterious alien ship. Other people of interest include Beverley Crusher, Seven of Nine, and Thomas Riker, all familiar names to Star Trek fans.
Captain Freeman initially has trouble ascertaining Nick’s location on the planet New Axton, and it’s only after she smartly enlists Andy Billups (Paul Scheer) to cosplay as a bounty hunter to play the natives’ Starfleet bias against them that she gets the information about Nick’s whereabouts. They find Nick’s lair and… gasp!… designs for the mysterious alien ship. Moments later, we learn Mariner was beamed aboard the alien ship by her captor, Nick, voiced by Robert Duncan McNeill.
“The Inner Fight” is a revealing and pivotal episode for Lower Decks. Most importantly, it pays tribute in a touching and organic way to its genesis, the TNG episode of the same name. Having Sito’s death be the source of Mariner’s career-spanning fight against herself totally makes sense, and adds a layer of emotional complexity to Mariner we really appreciate. Sito’s eagerness to excel in Starfleet was the ultimate reason for her demise, so it’s completely rational that Mariner would be scarred by that event and fight her own inner battle against rising through the ranks. This plot development in Mariner’s overarching narrative is such a clever turn by the writers – we are slightly surprised they didn’t save it for the show’s eventual last season.
Speaking of clever turns, who would have guessed the person behind the mysterious attacks was Nick Locarno? This one-off character is really only known for being Robert Duncan McNeill’s jumping-off point into the Star Trek franchise before his regular role as Tom Paris on Voyager. True to its name, Lower Decks continues to adroitly weave lesser-known Star Trek characters into the wonderful Star Trek tribute tapestry that is this show. What Nick’s plan is, however, will have to wait for the season finale.
We have to wonder – is he working with Sito? She only died off-screen in “Lower Decks,” so anything is possible at this point. What was Nick’s goal in putting those aliens on the same planet? Did Nick and his cohorts somehow sabotage the weather beacon above Sherbal V knowing Mariner would find her way there? So many questions and only one episode left.
- Tendi emergency beams her and her friends down to the planet, and their landing point just happens to be where they find other aliens fighting. How enormously convenient!
- Why did Rutherford join Freeman and Shaxs on the away mission? Moreover, why didn’t Freeman clue her staff into her plan to use Billups as a bounty hunter?
- The name of the establishment Freeman tries to get information in, Mudds, is probably a reference to the famous scoundrel from The Original Series.
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