The first episode of the second season of Lower Decks, “Strange Energies,” was released for streaming today, August 12th, 2021, the one year anniversary of the second episode of the first season, “Envoys.”
The sophomore season of Lower Decks hits the ground running. But first things first: let’s talk about “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the second pilot for the original series!
“Where No Man Has Gone Before”
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” was the second pilot for Star Trek: Those Old Scientists (TOS)… a meta-textual fact that is integral to understanding why this classic episode serves as the subject of the parody that defines the second season premiere of Lower Decks.
The original pilot for TOS was “The Cage,” which was produced at Desilu Studios, the production studio founded by Lucille Ball and her then-husband Desi Arnaz with the money they earned from six seasons of the watershed television sitcom I Love Lucy.
However, “The Cage” was rejected for being too cerebral. In most instances, this would have been the end of a show’s story. However, thanks to the faith Ball had in the show, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” a second pilot that was more action-oriented was produced – and by extension, Star Trek made it to air, ultimately becoming the cultural phenomena it is today (of course, Spirk fanfic helped a lot, too, but we’re saving that for a subsequent recap).
In addition to the nonfictional meta-textual elements that accompany the story of the second pilot of TOS, there’s also the fact that fictional narrative details from “The Cage” were later integrated into Trek’s canon in spite of the fact that the pilot was remade.
For example, Captain Christopher Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter in the original pilot, is canonically the Captain who was in command of the Enterprise before James T. Kirk took the post (and Pike’s story gets expanded even further in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, and the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, in which the character is played by Anson Mount).
So why center the (second) pilot of TOS, which originally premiered on September 22nd, 1966, in this show’s sophomore season premiere? It’s clear that Lower Decks is taking the lessons learned over the course of the first season and immediately applying them.
Just like late season one episodes like “Crisis Point” and “No Small Parts,” the second season of Lower Decks immediately begins integrating the larger Trek canon in a confident and experienced manner – sort of the way the “Where No Man Has Gone Before” gave Trek a second chance, but with the benefit of applying the lessons learned during “The Cage”.
The second season premiere of Lower Decks, written by Mike McMahan and directed by Jason Zurek, opens on a Cardassian detention center. We cut to a torture cell, where a hooded prisoner who is swiftly revealed to be Mariner (Tawny Newsome), the “Federation spy.” The Cardassian interrogator asks Mariner if she’s ready to talk, and Mariner starts to spill – it’s becoming very quickly apparent that this is Mariner using the Holodeck for therapy, just like she did in the penultimate episode of the first season, “Crisis Point.”
Mariner admits to the interrogator that the arrangement she and her mother, Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), arrived at in the final episode of the first season, “No Small Parts,” isn’t going as smoothly as she had hoped.
As she continues catching the Cardassian interrogator up to speed, Mariner mounts a daring escape, using the excruciator to break open her restraints and beginning to fistfight the interrogator. Mariner continues updating the status quo, explaining that while her mother is happy with the arrangement, she doesn’t know if she can keep it up.
Mariner takes the interrogator hostage as she fights her way through multiple guards and advances through the facility. She finds Boimler (Jack Quaid) chained up as well… and declines to rescue him, admitting that she’s still mad at him. The hologram Boimler tells her that the real Boimler probably had his reasons, but Mariner isn’t waiting around to hear them.
The interrogator questions her decision to leave behind a fellow Starfleet officer, and Mariner responds that he did it first. They arrive in a chamber filled with ships, including NCC-1877, the USS Macouff. Mariner teleports herself and the interrogator onto the bridge of the Macouff as she wonders if she’s a bad person for accepting advantages that come her way.
Mariner pilots the Macouff out of the detention center’s docking bay, blowing up a few ships and destroying several access pathways on her way. The interrogator screams as she destroys asteroids and navigates away from enemy ships that swarm after her…
And that’s when the arch appears and Jennifer the Andorian Ensign (Lauren Lapkus) enters. Jen asks Mariner what she’s doing, and Mariner says she’s working out, which Jen reacts to with scorn. Jen tells Mariner that the Captain wants her in the Ready Room before leaving, leaving Mariner to admit that in spite of the fact that they aren’t meant to have interpersonal conflicts, she really dislikes that Andorian (you know, there’s one on every crew).
Then, Mariner resumes the program… and starts squatting. It’s leg day. From there, we head into the updated theme song – check out the Pakled ships at the battle between the Borg and the Romulans!
After the theme song, we get a log from Captain Freeman (with no Stardate) explaining that the Cerritos is completing second contact duties on Apergos. Freeman’s log goes on to express her own frustrations with working alongside her daughter, noting that Mariner’s endless side missions were taking their toll.
Meanwhile, Mariner digs through a crate of artifacts, stopping to sniff one before asking Freeman if she needs a trinket from every mission. Mariner goes on to request another side-mission: cleaning up some of buildings in the capital city on Apergos, never scrubbed up after their industrial revolution, in the hopes that it will motivate the citizens to continue the cleaning trend.
Freeman approves the mission in spite of the fact that Starfleet doesn’t prioritize aesthetics… and that’s when Lt. Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) clears his throat. Freeman had forgotten he was even standing there, and while she does approve Ransom’s mission, she also tells him to let Mariner do whatever she wants.
In the Lower Deckers’ sleeping quarters, Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) is working on her PADD and Ensign Samanthan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) is eating pears. We see that Boimler’s bunk has been turned into storage (including the duffle bag full of T88s stolen from the Vancouver in “Cupid’s Errant Arrow”).
Both Tendi and Rutherford speculate that Boimler must be loving life on the Titan before Rutherford says that Ensign Barnes has confirmed their date for the night. Mariner realizes that he went on a date with her back in the first episode of season one, “Second Contact,” and Tendi notes that the date didn’t go well… but Rutherford says that they’re already on their third date.
After he’s left, Tendi tells Mariner that she’s afraid he might be suffering from Synthetic Memory Degradation (SMD) as a result of the fact that his implant (and part of his brain) was yanked out and shoved back in (curse you, Badgey), citing the change in pear preference as proof. Tendi vows to save Rutherford… but Mariner is mostly just thinking about Boimler.
Down on Apergos, the away team is hard at work, with Ransom trying to get the Apergosian High Leader (Randall Park) to decide on a communication number. However, the leader insists that the Apergosians have a deep relationship with numbers.
Meanwhile, Mariner ignores Ransom’s commands for her own cleaning whims (and Ransom is not all that impressed with the over-eager Stevens, played by Lower Decks writer Ben Rodgers).
Mariner begins to clean one of the buildings, which seems to be going well as first, revealing ancient murals… But soon, a newly-revealed orb seems to respond to the sunlight. Sparks begin to emanate from the building, and Stevens tells Ransom that he’s reading a buildup of “strange energies”… and some of the energy leaps out and strikes the First Officer of the Cerritos!
Strange energies? From a building? It’s not as unprecedented as you might think! In the second episode of the second season of TOS, “Who Mourns for Adonis,” which originally aired on September 22nd, 1967, Kirk and the crew encountered a godlike entity whom claimed to be the deity Apollo. His power was directly tied to a temple, which, when destroyed, caused him to vanish.
Things Get Real Weird Real Fast
Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) beams down and assesses Ransom, confirming that he took a “full load of strange energies.” At Freeman’s request, T’Ana explains that “strange energies” are electrical phenomena with unknown properties, citing Gary Mitchell from the second pilot of TOS.
Ransom says those energies weren’t that strange, but he also immediately gets that weird eye thing that Mitchell had, rising off the ground and healing himself from his injuries. In addition to seemingly controlling the weather, Ransom develops telepathic abilities and shoots rainbows out of his hands (real weird real fast – just like the Doctor ordered).
Back on the Cerritos, Admiral Freeman (Phil LaMarr) checks in with Captain Freeman. The Admiral tells the Captain that she impressed “some important people” with their showdown against the Pakleds in the first season finale, and says she could get promoted to a capital ship this year… provided she keeps a clean record.
Captain Freeman assures the Admiral that the Cerritos is the model of Starfleet responsibility… right before we get a jump cut to the Captain walking onto the bridge and screaming orders at the crew in general and Mariner specifically.
Meanwhile, Tendi and Rutherford are in the room with the Sequoia, the shuttlecraft the Lower Deckers built over the course of the first season (which was pretty well beat-up in the first season finale). Rutherford is covered in disks, which Tendi is using to painfully shock Rutherford in order to “kick his neurons into place.”
The process grows increasingly intense as Tendi attempts to “cure” Rutherford. Rutherford eventually loses patience and heads off to his date, but that just leads Tendi to resort to more intense strategies, extracting a large medical rifle from a case…
On Apergos, Ransom grows more powerful still. He makes a moon dissolve by snapping his fingers and ruins their museum of popular music before “creating a race of Ransomites.”
Mariner declares that she’s just going to blast him, but Freeman tells her to stand down. Meanwhile, T’Ana attempts to inject Ransom with a hypospray, but he turns it into an ice cream cone.
Mariner and Freeman are nominally trying to work together, but it seems very tense, and Ransom says their pretending to like one another makes him furious before upgrading his outfit and declaring his superiority. Freeman asks T’Ana how they dealt with Gary Mitchell, and T’Ana responds that Kirk smooshed him with a boulder.
Ransom then turns his powers on himself, enlarging and disjoining his head, which flies away into the sky.
Swimming with girls
In the Cerritos bar, Rutherford’s date with Barnes (Jessica McKenna) is going pretty well (this time, the family member who she uses to relate to Rutherford is her sister rather than her father). Barnes invites Rutherford to go swimming with her and some other crewmembers from Cetacean Ops, which he gladly accepts… but that’s when Tendi arrives and tries to shoot him with the medical rifle, chasing him out of the bar.
Meanwhile, the First Coming of Ransom is taking place. The giant head is pursing the Cerritos, calling to mind the opening scenes of “Who Mourns for Adonis.” On Apergos, Ransom’s body is hard at work creating his own “Jack utopia” by transforming random objects into workout equipment.
T’Ana suggests they amp up his powers in an attempt to short them out, and Mariner relays the plan to Captain Freeman… but more power just makes him more powerful!
Freeman opens a channel and attempts to reason with him. Freeman says Ransom can work with her and Mariner, but that’s not what Ransom wants: he bites the ship in response.
Elsewhere in the Cerritos, Tendi admits to Rutherford that he does not have SMD.
And admissions are taking place all over the ship, as Freeman and Mariner admit to one another that they hate directly working together. Enraged, Ransom’s giant head flings the Cerritos with his mouth (which actually looks really cool, just – just trust me here).
In the hallway where Tendi and Rutherford are talking (although separated by a force field), Tendi admits that she was worried that Rutherford’s changing opinions might have led him to no longer like her. Rutherford realizes Tendi was using invasive medical procedures to solve a social problem, which just reaffirms their friendship: science as a solution to emotional issues is right up Rutherford’s alley, after all! …however, she still advises him not to date Barnes.
The Ransom deity grows hands and grabs the Cerritos by the shields. Mariner tells her to power up torpedoes, but Freeman says she’s not going to shoot her friend anymore. Freeman believes she can use praise to end the conflict, but Mariner says he’s a god – you can’t appeal to his ego forever. Soon, Ransom says he should be captain, and that’s a bridge too far for Freeman.
— Star Trek on Paramount+ (@StarTrekOnPPlus) August 16, 2021
However, as Ransom attempts to attack the Cerritos again, something interrupts him! His expression turns to pain as Freeman asks what’s happening down on the planet. We cut to Mariner, who is “taking matters into her own feet” by swiftly and repeatedly kicking Ransom in the crotch and thereby dispersing the strange energies.
Ransom notes that while the strange energies gave him powers, it was his ego that turned him monstrous, earning another crotch-kick from Mariner. In fact, his powers threaten to re-emerge several times, until T’Ana uses a forklift to drop a boulder on him. Hey… sometimes the old ways are the best ways!
With Ransom incapacitated, the weirdness he wrought on Apergos returns to normal, and the Apergosian High Leader quickly chooses a subspace number and tells the Cerritos away team to leave.
Back on the Cerritos, which is heading to the Bitrus expanse, Ransom is making a full recovery in the medical bay (where Stevens is reading him “Nightingale Woman”). Meanwhile, Freeman and Mariner agree that while working together as a team was fun for a while, they each work better on their own.
With the situation stabilized, Freeman calls a security team to haul Mariner off to the brig.
In the brig, Mariner has a conversation with Tendi and Rutherford, who confirm that they returned Rutherford to his pear-hating origins before going on to speculate about what fun adventures Boimler must be up to…
Unstable situation on the Titan
But Boimler isn’t having the time of his life at all. Under the command of Captain William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), the Titan is fighting Pakled battle harpies near a space anomaly. The bridge of the Luna-class starship is lit just like the bridges of the ships on Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard – in other words, Boimler has found himself aboard a Starfleet vessel that is pure New Trek!
Another bridge crewmember announces that he’s navigating the Titan into the anomaly and instructs the crew to brace for “gluonic disruption.” Boimler squeals in dismay as the Titan enters the anomaly. As the gluonic disruption occurs, Riker shouts that he loves his job, and Boimler screams at the top of his lungs…
Leaving us on a cliffhanger ending – just like an episode of New Trek. Is it next Thursday yet?
New episodes of Lower Decks are released on Paramount+ on Thursdays. Be sure and open a channel to let The Beat know what your favorite Trek references were in this episode, either here in the comment section or over on social media @comicsbeat.