Starting the season off with a bang, Star Trek: Lower Decks dives right in with “interpersonal conflict” in three different ways–the conflict between Beckett Mariner and Captain Freeman, between Tendi and Rutherford, and conflict between Ransom, Captain Freeman, and Mariner. I put “interpersonal conflict” in quotation marks because historically, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry said that in the world of Star Trek, interpersonal conflict was a thing of the past. All conflict occurred from outside the ship, outside of the Federation. Modern Trek has pushed back on that idea and Lower Decks offers a great critique of that idea in 2×01, “Strange Energies.” This theme of the episode is set up in the first scene, when Beckett says, “Look, I know we’re not supposed to have interpersonal conflict, but I really hate that Andorian.” I laughed out loud when I heard her say that because it was a clear jab at Gene Roddenberry. I really enjoy how that idea shapes this episode. Let’s explore that idea.
Mariner vs. Captain Freeman
One of the things I am curious to see in this season of Lower Decks is how the dynamic between Mariner and Captain Freeman might change and how it might affect the rest of the crew. I was surprised to see the two of them all buddy-buddy at the beginning of the episode, especially after the opening sequence of Mariner’s holodeck “exercise” program. The way they both actually talk about what they’re feeling is refreshing, even if it takes a near cataclysmic event with a god-like being to do so.
Tendi vs. Rutherford
After Rutherford’s near-death experience last season, Tendi’s protectiveness is rather sweet. However, in true Tendi-fashion, she goes overboard in everything she does, including trying to care for her friend. While this is the B-plot of the episode, it also provides much comedic relief. Even with its underlying comedy, there are some neat dynamics in play here. Tendi isn’t keen on Ensign Barnes’ renewed interest in Rutherford, and maybe a little jealous of Rutherford dating her again. Rutherford is understanding of Tendi’s motives in trying to care for him; she doesn’t want to lose him again. It will be great to watch how their relationship grows this season. And that hug at the end? So very sweet.
Ransom vs. Captain Freeman vs. Mariner
The driving conflict is sparked by Ransom’s transformation into a god-like being, a la Gary Mitchell, in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” While the humor in Ransom’s interpretation of this transformation is driven by his ego and exaggerated personality quirks, the frustration he has towards Captain Freeman and Mariner is understandable. I’m glad they were able to get everything out in the open, even if it took a near-cataclysmic event to do so. Also, the way they bring Ransom back to his human form? Priceless.
Deep-Cut Star Trek Trivia
One of the things I enjoy the most about Lower Decks is the way it draws on the rest of the Trek canon for its humor. In my reviews of each episode, I’ll be taking the opportunity to point out a few of the references I noticed. If you spot something that I don’t, leave me a comment! I love Easter eggs, and Lower Decks is full of them. Here are a few I spotted.
- Holo-Boimler’s “They keep showing me lights!” reference points to one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Chain of Commad, Part I.”
- The fact that Dr. T’Ana goes to find a boulder to stop Ransom in the same way that Captain Kirk stopped Gary Mitchell is the icing on the cake for me. By the way, if you’d like to learn more about the actress plays Dr. T’Ana, check out the most recent episode of Mission Log Live, where actress, Gillian Vigman stops by to talk Dr. T’Ana and Lower Decks.
- In the holosimulation that Mariner is in at the beginning of the episode, she escapes in a Miranda class ship with the number, NCC-1877, the U. S. S. MacDuff. There are so many layers of Trek trivia in this one aspect, it’s difficult to name them all here, but Den of Geek did a great job laying them all out for you. Check out their breakdown here.
Overall, “Strange Energies” is a strong opening to season two of Star Trek: Lower Decks. I love that they’re addressing things I was concerned about from season one right out of the gate. I also love the Easter eggs we’re getting. One thing I really want to see more of, and I’m sure we’ll get in the next episode, is a closer look at Boimler’s new life aboard the U. S. S. Titan with Captain Riker. I also love the sincere sweetness of Tendi and Rutherford’s relationship. I can’t wait to see where they go from here. What do you think? Leave me a comment and let’s talk Trek.
The next episode of Star Trek Lower Decks premieres on August 19, 2021. Star Trek: Lower Decks is streaming now on Paramount+.