Star Trek was always at its best when the crew of a given starship was faced with strange and unknown peril.
The exploration of different cultures, biological threats, and even alien conflict kept readers enthralled, never knowing how the crew would escape and survive. While Lower Decks still remains as one of the franchises’ lowest point, ‘Moist Vessel’ delivers the biggest surprise of the season by presenting viewers with an unusually watchable episode.
This week, the USS Cerritos has been assigned to work alongside the USS Merced (another reference to a California city) to relocate an abandoned, ancient generation ship filled with a unique terraforming liquid capable of turning inorganic objects into living plants.
After Mariner disrespects Captain Freeman in front of the Merced’s captain during the mission briefing, Freeman sets out to assign Mariner to the worst jobs on the ship, in the hopes that these awful assignments would force her to tender her own resignation.
However, as Mariner is able to adapt and is quickly able to find joy in her punitive tasks, Freeman instead promotes her to Lieutenant in the hopes that the banal work of the Bridge crew would result in Mariner’s request for reassignment.
Eventually, the Captain of the Merced becomes jealous that the Cerritos appears to be stealing the Merced’s thunder and instructs his crew to position their ship more prominently in front of their cargo.
This results in the terraforming liquid escaping from the generation ship and infecting both the Cerritos and Merced. As the liquid begins to tear apart the ship, the Cerritos and the crew of the Merced are saved after Freeman and Mariner put aside their grudges and work together to save the ships.
In the titular lower decks themselves, Tendi becomes obsessed with helping Lt. Connor.
This is a crew member on the verge of a spiritual ascension to the next level of consciousness after she ruins his ascension ceremony with her clumsiness.
Throughout the episode, Tendi attempts to find ways to help Connor find a ‘shortcut’ to reaching the level of ascension he had previously achieved. Eventually, in a particularly interesting scene, Tendi witnesses Connor’s accidental ascension but discovers that the process is more horrifying and painful than one could have imagined.
Though it’s been said before, the main issue with Lower Decks is that it’s simply the wrong avenue for this style of writing.
Case in point is how this episode’s primary plotline concerning the terraforming generation ship presents an interesting concept and execution. The idea of rescuing a wrecked ship full of an unknown alien substance would fit right at home in The Next Generation or even DS9.
This makes it somewhat disappointing that it was relegated to the backdrop for a Lower Decks episode.
This is further seen in the scene in which Tendi witnesses’ Cooper’s ascension. Though the act is described throughout the episode as a peaceful and fulfilling unification with the universe, it actually manifests as a painful, mind-rending transformation that leaves Cooper screaming for help in his final moments.
This moment is probably more terrifying than the production team intended, but that works in the episode’s favor, as it gives viewers a sense that Star Fleet truly is exploring a universe bigger than themselves and their understanding.
When Lower Decks presents such visually and narratively unique situations, they’re usually centered around the Bridge Crew, with the Lower Decks team serving mainly to (poorly) inject humor into serious moments.
These serious moments usually present a vision of Star Trek that’s familiar, interesting, and logical, that would entice most fans, but are undercut heavily by the immature attempts at sarcastic humor. In this sense, Lower Decks would almost feel right at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unfortunately, the character of Mariner has not improved and remains one of the most annoying members of the Cerritos.
This is primarily due to her constant need to rebel against authority. This is made worse in ‘Moist Vessel’, as while Mariner rebels and pushes back against the Bridge Crew during her time as Lieutenant, she does so by working within the framework of Star Fleet’s protocols instead of through childish insults and pranks.
In these moments, Mariner proves to be a respectable and heroic ‘rule bender’ along the lines of Jean-Luc Picard or Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk, but this development is instantly negated when Mariner slides back into her usual character and blatantly insults Star Fleet commander.
If Mariner were more believable as a slight rebel rather than a blatant insubordinate, the series might be a bit more palpable.
Overall, while the episode presented some interesting ideas that feel right at home in the Star Trek universe, they feel wasted serving as mere backdrops to an episode of Lower Decks.
Though the Bridge Crew is supposed to be presented as arrogant and hardheaded compared to the Lower Decks crew, their situations and tasks are regularly more interesting than that of the core protagonists. When audiences are more genuinely interested in the aspects you’re supposed to be lampooning, it may be time to return to the drawing board.
Things are better than they were in the series’ first episode, but not by much, and readers would not be advised to hold their breath until Lower Decks begins to produce truly entertaining episodes.
- The concept of the terraforming liquid and its overtaking of the Cerritos and Merced
- The surprisingly horrifying ascension of Lt. Cooper
- Interesting concepts are only used as backdrops for the poor 'comedy' writing
- Feels like a Marvel movie with so many quips