Last week’s bit of a reset for Star Trek: Lower Decks’ premise has primed our ensigns to re-learn some of the lessons they need to understand before they go off trying to be the big heroes of their lives on the Cerritos. This week, at least two of them get to start learning them... by taking pages out of each other’s books.
“The Least Dangerous Game” is perhaps a little too Trek-trope burdened for its own good at times. Following the Cerritos as it tries to help out a nearby planet repairing a vital space elevator leaving civilians stranded on and off world alike, the episode feels like even more of a reset than last week’s knocking-down as Commander Ransom takes over Mariner’s “parole” aboard the ship. There’s a lot of funny referential gags going on, of course—from the opening Klingon Dungeons & Dragons knockoff—featuring the lovely return of J.G. Hertzler as Deep Space Nine’s Martok, narrating via PADD screen like those old Star Trek video and FMV games—to a veritable smorgasbord of classic premises: a ritualistic hunter alien aboard the ship! Planet of the pleasure people! A extended riff on Star Trek 2009's orbital jump!
But there’s so much going on just as “yes, this is a bit” gags that there’s not really enough time for the main story to focus on anything beyond Boimler and Mariner’s plights—much to the frustration of anyone hoping that the series had started to figure out how to give more time to Tendi and Rutherford, who largely here get to spend time as support to Boimler and Mariner, respectively. It seems like the show’s status-quo realignment has done more than just metaphorically put our heroes back in the place we first found them at its beginning, but returned to the comfortable, if occasionally frustrating, patterns its first season dipped into in its middle episodes already.
Thankfully, even if it’s repeating the kinds of hits Lower Decks has done before, those hits are still pretty funny. The ongoing Martok commentary is a fun send-up, as is the awkward game of hunter and prey Boimler finds himself in aboard the Cerritos after a new “say yes to anything” mantra means he finds himself the target of said ritual hunt. But let’s rewind a bit, because that’s actually the most important part of “The Least Dangerous Game.” Gags aside, the primary focus of the episode splits Mariner and Boimler up, as the former, alongside Ransom, Billups, and Rutherford, is tasked with going along on the elevator repair team, and the former is left on the ship to have an existential crisis over a former fellow ensign’s rapid rise to captaincy. Even split up, the duo have much to learn from each other as they end up having to take lessons from the other half of their friendship: Boimler, acting on Tendi’s encouragement, becomes more outwardly bold and social, vowing to say yes to any opportunity that could progress him in his dream of ascending to the captain’s chair some day. Mariner, meanwhile, being tested by Ransom as he forces her to do manual repair work and follow illogical orders just to see if she’ll snap back at him and give him an excuse to reprimand her, has to learn to temper her rebellious impulses and focus her attentions in the right place, even when it frustrates her to follow orders she doesn’t think are right.
It’s what takes what would otherwise be a serviceable, yet derivative episode of Lower Decks and gives it a much needed lift—not just because these are lessons these characters have to learn. If anything, they’ve learned them before in being friends with each other, and then gone back and forth on them ever since due to the nature of Lower Decks’ comedic, largely unserialized format. But what makes it more important this time is that Boimler and Mariner learn these lessons apart from each other. They are conclusions they have to come to on their own, instead of at the pushing of each other, and ultimately they both pay off. Sure, Boimler might get a little permanent shoulder damage from having an alien hunter fling a spear into him, but he takes to heart the idea that he can’t always just anxiously shy away from opportunity if he wants to one day be a leader. Mariner still might have an antagonistic relationship with Ransom, especially when he admits he was trying to goad her as a test, but she still rises to the occasion—and even if she doesn’t realize it stomping away from him at the end of the episode, manages to impress him too.
For an episode that otherwise retreats into Lower Decks’ creature comforts, it’s an important step for the series’ primary characters to take. Hopefully this time they’ll really take these lessons to heart.
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