Review: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 10 “Old Friends, New Planets”
Star Trek: Lower Decks is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is its ability to spotlight lesser-known aspects of the Star Trek universe. So, it should come as a pleasant but not shocking surprise that the season four finale, “Old Friends, New Planets,” effectively becomes a sequel to The Next Generation season five episode “The First Duty,” while competently tying in aspects unique to this wonderful animated show.
The Second Duty
Picking off immediately from last week’s cliffhanger, Beckett Mariner (Tawney Newsome) finds herself in the company of Nick Locarno (Robert Duncan McNeill), who TNG fans will remember from the aforementioned episode. It appears Nick never recovered emotionally or mentally from his ill-fated, ego-driven actions in “The First Duty,” and as such has held a grudge against authority for all these years. So, he explains to Mariner how he has captured ships from around the quadrant to form the Nova Fleet, the spiritual successor to the elite, rule-breaking Nova Squad from his Starfleet Academy days. This fleet is crewed by folks who, like Nick, want to break away from a command structure and live their own independent lives.
To help illustrate how Nova Squad conducted themselves during their younger years, this episode begins with a flashback to Starfleet Academy, complete with appearances from not only Nick, but Sito Jaxa (Shannon Fill, reprising her role from TNG’s “Lower Decks”), and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton, also reprising his TNG role). This flashback, which takes place before the infamous Kolvoord Starburst maneuver that caused the death of one of Nova Squad’s members, shows how Nick was the super-confident, authority-defying figure with a bright future, while Mariner met him briefly while walking the grounds of the academy as she formed a friendship with the ill-fated Sito.
In the present day, Nick believes Mariner is there to join the Nova Fleet, as he knows she is also a figure who eschews authority whenever possible. Mariner plays along to get a sense of what Nick is planning with his ragtag fleet, and she is on the bridge of his ship when he makes an announcement to the entire Alpha Quadrant: join Nova Fleet if you also want to rise from the lower decks and live without authority. As a deterrent to anyone stopping him, Nick has in his possession a Genesis Device courtesy of the Ferengi; our note from a couple of weeks ago about seeing that Genesis Device again was spot on.
During his bad-guy monologue, Mariner steals the Genesis Device right from under Nick’s nose and escapes his station in a Steamrunner-class Starfleet vessel. (If you are ship fanatics like us, you probably were joyed to see the little-known Steamrunner, as it has really only existed as background filler in various Star Trek shows.) With this ship, Mariner is able to escape Nick’s station, skirt along the deadly and nearly impenetrable Trynar Shield surrounding the system where Nick has stationed his fleet, and find refuge in a nearby planetary debris field while the Nova Fleet searches for her.
“I thought you were smarter than everyone else. Sounds like you’re just another apologist for a broken system.”
Hey, Starfleet’s not perfect. They mess up all the time. But in the end, they’re trying to do what’s right.”– Locarno and Mariner
Mariner seems to be in a real pickle as she escapes her pursuers and enters a nearby ion storm, inside which a game of The Wrath of Khan-esque cat and mouse plays out until Nick gets the upper hand and disables Mariner’s ship. Her back to the wall, Mariner decides to detonate the Genesis Device instead of allowing Nick to hold it over the Alpha Quadrant’s throat. Nick boards Mariner’s ship and tries to disarm the device as Mariner is whisked away by her savior, Nick is confident in his bomb-disarming capabilities until he runs across a staple of the money-hungry Ferengi: a paywall that prevents him from disarming the bomb. Nick’s molecules get scattered across creation as the Genesis Device destroys the ion storm in which it was detonated, and forms a new planet.
Who saved Mariner before the life-creating explosion? Her mother, Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), who, through no small effort, found her way inside the Trynar Shield to rescue her daughter. You see, Nick firmly had Mariner and the rest of his fleet behind the Trynar Shield, and the lowly Cerritos had no chance of punching its way through, nor would Starfleet offer assistance, as negotiations were currently underway between the Federation and the alien races whose members had joined the Nova Fleet. So, it was time to go rogue, as Starfleet captains are apt to do, which meant Captain Freeman approached the Orions for their biggest battleship.
This idea was the brainchild of D’Vana Tendi (Noel Wells), who, let’s remember, dealt with her fair share of family drama in “Something Borrowed, Something Green.” After the events of that episode, Tendi’s sister, D’Erika (Ariel Winter), is the Orion leader and allows Freeman to borrow the battleship under one condition: an Orion warrior must defeat a Starfleet defender in battle. If the Starfleet combatant loses, the Cerritos is D’Erika’s. For this contest, Tendi offers, of all people, Dr. Migleemo (Paul F. Tompkins). Tendi knows the Orion warrior set to fight in this battle is susceptible to allergies, which are triggered majorly by Migleemo’s feathers, but the bird doctor loses the fight anyway when the hulking Orion warrior comes crashing down on him after fainting from allergies.
Tendi is desperate to save Mariner, so as a last resort, she offers herself to her family if D’Erika allows Freeman to use the battleship. The Orion ruler is intrigued by this idea and allows the Starfleet crew to use the behemoth if Tendi keeps her word about returning to Orion after her mission is over. What Freeman and her crew don’t count on, however, is that the tricky D’Erika gave them a broken, unmanned, and inoperable battleship, which means the captain is going to have to be creative in how they use the colossal vessel.
The next time we see the Cerritos, it’s Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) who’s in the center chair, and he’s leading the ship toward the Trynar Shield at full speed while towing the Orion battleship behind it. We are meant to believe Boimler is talking with Freeman, who is off the bridge and must be leading a second crew on the battleship, but as the Cerritos releases its tractor beam and allows the battleship to ram into the shield, the Cerritos’ captain’s yacht deftly maneuvers through the hole in the field and to its last-minute rescue of the captain’s daughter. It’s an exciting, superbly animated sequence that gives Boimler a chance to shine in a command position, while effectively subverting audience expectations about what the Starfleet crew’s plan is.
“Oh, boy. Someone’s got captain fever.”
“Oh, do I sound “captainy” to you? Because Ransom was very happy with my captaining.”
“I like how this has in no way gone to your head.”– Mariner and Boimler
With Mariner rescued, Nick’s plan foiled, and Freeman’s rogue behavior forgiven by Starfleet command, all is well on the Cerritos… until a massive Orion ship comes to take Tendi away, as per the Orion’s arrangement with her sister. As she warps away to her new life, Tendi seems surprisingly confident, and perhaps even looking forward to revisiting her shady past, which is perfectly in line with how we’ve seen her character previously handle her Orion roots in front of her friends.
Unraveling the Tapestry
As a season topper, “Old Friends, New Planets” excels in tying together a few plot beats from the previous nine episodes, like a music composition that ends on a resolving chord to provide harmonic closure. Here are some notable ways writer May Darmon was able to do this:
- Boimler experienced a fairly hectic time in a command position back in “In the Cradle of Vexilon,” and seems to have learned from that experience in time to, however briefly, command the Cerritos during Mariner’s rescue mission.
- In “Something Borrowed, Something Green,” Boimler and Rutherford were able to resolve their impasse by cosplaying as Mark Twain on the holodeck. The same conflict resolution works in “Old Friends, New Planets” as Rutherford and his rival, Livik (Nolan North), try to get the Orion battleship up and running.
- “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place” made sure audiences remembered how money-hungry Ferengi culture is, even going so far as to display a memorial not to those who died in the Dominion War, but to the lost profits from that conflict. This on-the-nose branding was ultimately the reason why Nick couldn’t disarm the Genesis Device.
- T’Lyn has slowly come to realize the Cerritos is a neat place to be, a journey she started in “Empathalogical Fallacies,” and this plotline cumulates in her refusing a call from her former Vulcan commander at the end of “Old Friends, New Planets.” We’re glad she has decided to stay on the Cerritos, and for the time being, it seems she’s set to replace Tendi in the lower-decker friend group.
This narrative cohesion is greatly appreciated and illustrates how Lower Decks is more than just an animated comedy. It’s an engaging, thoughtful, and intelligent show that happens to tie in plenty of Star Trek humor and gorgeous visuals.
As a quasi-sequel to “The First Duty,” “Old Friends, New Planets” is surprisingly poignant. Having Nick be a former Starfleet lower decker out for revenge against organized command is appropriate considering the events of that TNG episode, and his life path mirrors Mariner’s in a surprisingly organic way. Nick’s fate, while arguably deserved, isn’t tragic. The planet formed from the detonation of the Genesis Device is named Locarno and will be used for refugee relocation, which is a nice tribute to a good-at-heart Starfleet prodigy who was dealt a bad hand and handled it poorly. Indeed, we think Locarno’s appearance here is a better use of Robert Duncan McNeill’s time than his guest appearance as Tom Paris in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris.” This quasi-sequel’s cherry on top is getting the original actors Sito and Wesley Crusher to reprise their roles.
What’s on the docket for season five? We’re curious how long it’ll take Tendi to return to her Starfleet crew, and what she’ll experience during her time back on Orion living in the shadow of her former life. How will Rutherford manage without his best friend? Mariner, meanwhile, is free from her existential angst, so will her personality change moving forward… or will she continue to be the rough-and-tumble Mariner we know and love? This season seemingly bid farewell to recurring characters like AGIMUS, Peanut Hamper, and Badgey, so the next season will have to find new antagonists… although we imagine we’ll see Badgey again when and if this show addresses the seasons-long mystery regarding the Koala. What does he know?? And let’s not forget there’s a clone of Brad Boimler out there working for Section 31; we hope to see that guy again. The wait for season five will be a long one.
- Despite all his planning, Nick makes a dumb mistake and allows Mariner to address the entire Alpha Quadrant during Nick’s appeal to lower deckers everywhere. He assumes he knows her and her values, even after 13 years since they were both at the academy. And yes, Nick may have accessed Mariner’s record covering the intervening years, but that’s still no basis on which to think Mariner would betray Starfleet.
- When did Nick capture a Steamrunner-class ship?
- How great is the animation in this show? Watching Mariner escape Nick’s station and shaking her pursuers looked suitably cinematic and polished. Likewise, the ion storm battle between Mariner and Nick, and the resulting Genesis detonation and aftermath, was strikingly pretty and paid respective homage to The Wrath of Khan.
- The only way Mariner had the foresight to not fire on any of the ships pursuing her is if she read the script for this episode and knew such action would endanger relations between the Federation and the species in question. Why wouldn’t Mariner defend herself as she was trying to escape the Trynar Shield?
- Why wouldn’t Tendi tell Migleemo or Captain Freeman of her plan to use his feathers to give his opponent an allergic reaction?
- The trope of heroes disobeying orders, and then not facing any consequences despite all reason, really needs to stop. Freeman should definitely face the music with Starfleet brass for taking her crew on the Mariner rescue mission.
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