“Why is it taking so long?” — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “Moist Vessel”

Maybe it’s just because I’m old, but I don’t get the whole meme that’s been going around the last few years that there’s something inherently funny and/or icky about the word “moist.” It’s a perfectly fine word, one that’s very onomatopoetic. So I was really worried that “Moist Vessel” was going to be full of characters going “oooh ick” over the word moist.

Once again, the title led me down a garden path. The word “moist” is never even used…


The title does apply, however, because the Cerritos and their sister ship, the Merced, are assigned to relocate a generation ship. The ship itself malfunctioned and the people on board died, but there is raw material for terraforming and repopulating a world on board, and so the two ships are towing it to a base.

Things go horribly wrong, of course, because if things didn’t go horribly wrong, the episode wouldn’t be about this, and the terraforming material gets loose on both ships, transforming the starship into a verdant world full of waterfalls, plants, and so on.

For the first time, we see Mariner and her mother, Captain Freeman, actually interacting with each other significantly. Fed up with Mariner’s insubordination—she keeps yawning while distributing padds in the midst of the mission briefing—she tries several tactics to get rid of her. First she assigns Mariner the worst duties on the ship, but, while turbolift maintenance and holodeck waste extraction nearly do her in, she finds a way to make scraping carbon off the carbon filter fun, thus ruining Freeman’s plan.

So she goes with Plan B: promoting her. The freewheeling Mariner chafes horribly under all the boring paperwork duties that come with higher rank, not to mention the socializing, which is apparently enforced by Freeman. (Though it’s perfectly possibly that Mariner is the only one that has to be forced to attend the poker games and such…)

But then the terraforming goop gets loose on both ships. Freeman and Mariner are in the former’s ready room when the ship goes bonkers, and they have to work together to save the ship. It’s Mariner who comes up with the plan, while Freeman just kibitzes and also criticizes everything Mariner does. It’s a stereotypical mother-daughter dynamic, which is tired, but at least not as actively annoying as the usual Mariner nonsense.

They save the ship, of course, and mother and daughter almost have a moment, but then Mariner sabotages it by making fun of an admiral’s pronunciation of the word “sensor,” which gets her demoted, to her glee.

Boimler’s initial reaction is my favorite part of this. He’d kill to get promoted, to get his own quarters, to do all that boring paperwork. He doesn’t get that it’s being done to punish Mariner. Unfortunately, that side plot falls over a cliff when Boimler decides to emulate her behavior in the hopes of likewise getting promoted, which is just a dumb sitcom plot (and yes, this is a sitcom, but still), and results in him spilling hot coffee on Ransom’s groin when the crisis hits.

Credit: CBS

My biggest problem with the ship-in-danger plot, besides the fact that it’s kinda hoary, is that it all starts because Captain Durango, the Tellarite captain of the Merced, decides to change his position in the formation because he’s the senior captain. Durango up to this point has been established as being boring, but not stupid, and his actions here are utterly nonsensical, done solely to move the plot along. But it’s unnecessary—this is Star Trek, there are, like, eighty million technobabble reasons you could come up with for why this happened. The willful incompetence of a captain to stroke his own ego at the expense of mission sense just rings completely wrong and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Tendi is thrilled to learn that one of their crewmates, O’Connor, is about to ascend to a higher plane of existence. This is an old Trek cliché, one that we’ve seen with John Doe, Wes Crusher, and Kes, among others (not to mention Daniel Jackson and dozens more on Stargate), and I like the way it’s played with here. O’Connor isn’t actually trying to ascend, he’s just pretending to in order to make himself more interesting. But Tendi’s boundless enthusiasm ruins the ceremony, as she messes with the sand sculpture he’s spent years on, and the peace of the whole thing, making O’Connor lose his temper and sacrifice all his serenity.

For the rest of the episode, Tendi keeps trying to make it up to O’Connor, which just pisses him off more. Rutherford tries to convince Tendi to back off, but she is determined to help him ascend, dagnabbit. When the ship falls apart, Tendi and O’Connor both save each other’s lives, and O’Connor reveals his fraud, and they bond—

—and then that gives him the final bit of serenity he needs to ascend. Turns out that he faked sincerity a little too well, and all the playacting he did really did prep him for ascension. But—and I have to say, I loved this part—the actual process of turning into a being of pure energy is slow and painful and horrible and agonizing, and apparently involves a smiling koala.

Several things are becoming apparent as we’re 40% through Lower Decks‘s first season. One is that Mariner is still extremely annoying. Two is that Mariner is more interesting when playing off a senior officer (her mother this week, Ransom last week) than she is among her fellow lower decks denizens. And three is that invariably, the B plot involving Tendi and Rutherford is going to be more interesting than the A plot involving Mariner and Boimler, which is a problem insofar as the latter two are the primary leads.

Credit: CBS

Random thoughts:

  • The unrelated comedy teaser that isn’t funny is eschewed this week in favor of a teaser that sets up the story, as we open with the mission briefing where Mariner keeps yawning in the middle of it. Let’s hope that trend continues, as I’d rather the teaser actually tease the episode…
  • My least favorite part of “Second Contact” was two officers chest bumping and finger-pointing while setting up a post-away mission beer, which had 21st-century stuff intruding on the 24th. This week, we get another one of those, and this time it’s one that doesn’t even track with what’s already been established on Trek. Boimler is thrilled to get conference room cleaning duty because it gives him access to the “better” replicators that the senior officers use. Except the replicators are all the same. They can all produce the same stuff. That’s been the case on every single 24th-century Trek show prior to this. The idea of an “executive key” that only certain people have access to is one that is not only not the case on Starfleet ships of this era, but one that was actively described as anachronistic nonsense from a stupider past in TNG‘s “The Neutral Zone.”
  • When told by Tendi that O’Connor is becoming a being of pure energy, Rutherford’s first thought is, “Oh, like a Q or a Traveler.” I gotta say, I love the idea that ascending like that is relatively commonplace and well known in the Trek universe.
  • Also, while O’Connor’s body and uniform and underclothing and socks all ascend, his boots do not. Make of that what you will.
  • Apparently, the poker game on the Cerritos is so friendly that everybody always folds. Also Dr. T’Ana wears a visor, because of course she does. (If it’s good enough for Data…)

Keith R.A. DeCandido wants you to know that, if you like what he writes here for Tor.com, you’ll love what he puts on his Patreon, including one movie review and anywhere between one and six TV reviews per month, as well as excerpts from his works in progress, cat pictures, vignettes featuring his original characters, and more!


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