This week’s Star Trek: Lower Decks opens with a gag about the slow, majestic grandeur of the Deep Space Nine title theme. And if that was all Lower Decks had to offer for an episode set on the iconic show’s titular space station, that might be fine, if disappointing—and in line with the first half of this season. Thankfully, the show’s re-invigoration wants it to be more than that.
After last week delivered the first episode of Lower Decks’ first season that felt like it leaned more on the growth of its heroes than it did the Trek pastiche, “Hear All, Trust Nothing” continues that trend while somehow also arguably being the most gleeful, nerdiest fanservice episode of the season. As the Cerritos docks at DS9 when Captain Freeman is hauled in at the last minute as part of tense negotiations between the Federation and the Karemma—a Gamma Quadrant species seen in a few episodes of Deep Space Nine engaging in economic deals with the Federation through Quark and Ferengi contacts—our heroes find themselves with time to spare. As Rutherford, Tendi, and Boimler head out to geek out over the famous locale they’re docked at, an anxious Mariner finds herself dealing with an awkward mission of her own: being introduced to her girlfriend’s circle of friends.
Blessedly, Boimler and Mariner’s plots slide effortlessly into the background of the episode. Not because they’re bad or anything, but because they’re the characters that have already had so much of Lower Decks’ attention so far. Boimler pretty much sits this one out playing Dabo at Quark’s, and while it’s good to actually see Mariner properly interacting with her girlfriend—and growing their relationship past her own anxiety of being perceived as something of an outcast to Jennifer’s snooty, salon-hosting friends—that this takes up the B-plot rather than the A-plot is a welcome relief, allowing us to put the spotlight on two things Lower Decks does best: Trek nonsense and earnest character work.
And both of these things are really, really good this week. The Trek nonsense is, of course, a loving celebration of Deep Space Nine, given the setting of “Hear All, Trust Nothing.” We have wonderful guest stars in the form of Nana Visitor and Armin Shimmerman returning as Kira and Quark, respectively, and we have all the sort of finger-pointing “look, a DS9 thing!” you’d want out of a Lower Decks trip to the wormhole. As Tendi, Boimler, and Rutherford walk down the Promenade—the Promenade!—they giggle over the sorts of tropes that became part of the texture of DS9 across its seven seasons, the shops, the railings young Jake Sisko and Nog would dangle their feet over while hanging out, Quark’s itself (now the hub of a merchandising operation that has branched out into a whole chain of Ferengi franchisees, because of course it has). But it’s beyond that, too. This is an episode of Lower Decks, in the style of Deep Space Nine—travelers cutting deals with each other, no big stakes, the humdrum aftermath of the Dominion War, Kira being very much tired of Quark’s bullshit. This is beyond just homage and reference, it’s a love of Star Trek so sincere that Lower Decks just basically gives us a half-hour, two dimensional episode of Deep Space Nine season eight.
That love extends to Lower Decks taking a page out of Deep Space Nine by giving itself a story that is rooted in the banality of life in Starfleet, and life aboard a station like DS9. Following Tendi and Rutherford as they find themselves roped into carting supplies from the Cerritos to the Karemma ship, they’re joined by another Orion stationed on DS9, one who, much to Tendi’s discomfort, is very into their species’ piratical roots. It provides Lower Decks a chance to not just dive into Tendi’s character—something it frustratingly has not done enough before this—and explore a very Deep Space Nine idea in the view of a “perfect” member of a species, and how people accept and show parts of their culture to the people they trust most.
When things go awry with the Karemma negotiations—because, to the surprise of no one who watched Deep Space Nine, of Quark short-shrifting the Karemma and swiping some of their replicator tech for his bar—it’s up to Tendi, after blowing up at her fellow Orion for pushing their pirate heritage on her and Rutherford, to lean on what she learned before coming to Starfleet to save the day in uncharacteristically aggressive style. It’s great to watch Tendi kick ass and almost single-handedly stop the Karemma from running away with Quark as a hostage, but it’s even better for her to become the momentary star of Lower Decks here, and learn, in her relationship with Rutherford—poetic that he too was subject to some much-needed focus in last week’s great episode—that she shouldn’t hide who she was just because Starfleet needs to see “good” Orions, but accept the totality of who she is, is a great bit of character work.
It’s also something that’s deeply, well, Deep Space Nine. A show that used everyone from Kira and Odo, Quark and Worf, Bashir and Rom, and so many others to explore the dualities of people who serve, and the pressure of being torn between two cultures within the Federation and without it would’ve felt right at home tackling an episode like this, in some wild alternate reality where Tendi wasn’t a Lower Decks character. It’s fitting then its titular setting was indeed rather a literal home for it, rather than a metanarrative one—and no fonder a tribute from Lower Decks to Deep Space Nine could be possible, no matter how many cute gags and references it could throw in.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.