The actual title of this week’s Lower Decks is rendered onscreen in the Klingon script. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t have that feature (and neither do most other web sites, given that all the publicity for this episode lists the transliterated title). You would be forgiven if you thought “wej Duj” translated to “lower decks,” but it in fact translates to “three ships.” Which is sort of accurate, though you could make an argument for “five ships” being more appropriate (which would make the title “Daj Duj”). But maybe the producers have the same confusion between three and five that King Arthur had…
SaS (that’s Klingon for spoilers…)
The three titular ships are the Cerritos; a Klingon ship, the Che’ta; and a Vulcan ship, the Sh’Vhal. In each case we get a look at the folks on the lower decks.
On the Cerritos, they’ve got a twelve-hour warp trip, and Freeman has decided to give folks downtime. Boimler wants to hang out with his friends, but they all have plans with “bridge buddies.” Tendi is going rock-climbing with T’Ana, Rutherford is throwing pottery with Shaxs, and Mariner is having mother-daughter bonding time with Freeman. Boimler is crestfallen, since he doesn’t have a “bridge buddy,” and his attempts to get one keep failing, whether it’s latching on to one of the others’ or finding one of his own.
That is, until he stumbles on Ransom and two other crew members (one of whom is a Benzite) who are apparently all from Hawai‘i. Boimler pretends to be from Hawai‘i as well in the hopes of finding his bridge buddy—which works right up until the ship goes to red alert and Boimler admits to not wanting to die in a Hawai‘ian shirt. However, it quickly becomes apparent that none of them are from the Pacific islands. Ransom pretended to be when he was an ensign, and it kind of stuck, and the other two officers are like Boimler: pretending to be from Hawai‘i just to suck up to the first officer.
In typical Boimler fashion, things still go poorly for him, as the other three bond over all being from moons, while Boimler is from a planet, so he’s once again left out. However, in keeping with this season’s redemption arc for Boimler, Ransom sends a young cadet who is trying to become more organized Boimler’s way. Boimler is thrilled at being a mentor. It’s actually a very touching moment, and a nice bit of character for the usually-stereotypically-macho Ransom.
Meanwhile, on the Che’ta, we meet Mach, who sleeps in a hammock in a corridor and is woken up by his three crewmates by being punched in the face. Mach is pretty much the Klingon Boimler. While his three fellows are doing things like combat practice and cleaning out the gagh containers, Mach is filling in at the helm—bridge duty! Much like Boimler, Mach is convinced that this will be a great opportunity for him, as being present on the bridge means that Captain Dorg might notice him after he kills his first officer, who has been undermining the captain.
This actually turns out to be prophetic. Dorg kills Togg, and then Mach tries to suck up, but mostly gets stuck doing menial tasks: disposing of Togg’s body, refilling the bloodwine barrel, walking Dorg’s pet targ, and so on. But Mach’s sucking up works: Dorg makes him his first officer, right when he meets with the Pakleds.
And this is the big revelation: Captain Dorg is the one who’s been giving the Pakleds their fancy weapons and usable intel. He is attempting to destabilize the quadrant and enable the Klingon Empire to return to past glories. Mach thinks this is dishonorable behavior, and so he challenges Dorg to a duel.
The lesson we learn from this is a very important one: always walk your own pets. Because they’ll be loyal to the person who walks them. When Dorg and Mach are fighting, the targ actually helps Mach out rather than the captain. This is enough to give Mach victory—and the captaincy!
And then we have the Sh’Vhal. Once again, we have four lower-decks officers. One of them, T’lyn, has improved the ship’s sensor capabilities—which she did instead of monitoring another system. T’lyn, it becomes clear, is this ship’s Mariner: she doesn’t follow the rules and does pretty much whatever she wants. In this instance, it proves useful, as she’s detected metreon radiation in a region where that shouldn’t occur. T’lyn proves to be very much guided by instinct and emotion, which distresses her crewmates as well as Captain Sokel. However, Sokel does agree to investigate the radiation.
They’re not the only ones who detect it: the Cerritos does as well, and Freeman orders a course change.
There’s a lot I love about this episode, but the thing I loved best was that when the crisis hit and Freeman calls red alert, everyone was off-duty, and there isn’t time to change into uniform. So Freeman’s on the bridge in a T-shirt, Shaxs is still wearing his pottery apron, the ops officer is wearing a pink coat and scarf, and there are people running through the corridors in period costume, bathrobes, Hawai‘ian shirts, etc. Which is not only a great visual, it just makes sense.
But that’s far from all that’s wonderful about this delightful episode. We get some forward movement in the Pakled storyline, as the source of their newfound badassery is revealed. Mariner continues to be annoyed by her mother now that their relationship is in the open, but even she admits that she’s enjoyed their bonding (despite the amount of shouting that accompanied a lot of it). Rutherford and Shaxs have become buddies after the former learned how the latter came back from the dead—and we also find out that you do not mention growing up on Bajor to Shaxs. You just don’t.
T’lyn and Mach are also interesting characters. For all that I said they were analogues for Mariner and Boimler, respectively, they’re not entirely. T’lyn, truly, is a mix of a Boimler’s eagerness and Mariner’s insubordination. In the end, Sokel transfers her to Starfleet (making me wonder if we’ll see her on Cerritos). And Mach actually succeeds where Boimler has so often failed: in the end, he’s the captain.
This sets up lots of possible plot threads, including the question of whether or not Dorg was acting on his own or if he’s part of a larger conspiracy.
And we also see more of the lower decks. During the battle among the Cerritos, the Che’ta, the Sh’Vhal, and the Pakled ship (which is just called Pakled), we look briefly in on four lower-decks Pakled crew. They are all sitting in a cargo bay; one says he’s hungry; another suggests that he eat; the first allows as how the second one is smart. That’s it, really.
But in the end, we do get a fifth ship, as over the credits, we see a Borg cube, and look in on their lower decks: it’s four drones, regenerating. Which plays over the closing credits. I have to admit, I laughed my ass off at that one.
This could easily have been a throwaway filler episode, showing the lower decks of two of Trek’s most venerable alien species in the Vulcans and Klingons. But it actually has some good character work for the Cerritos crew, and has a provocative revelation about the Pakleds. I have no idea if they’ll follow up on this in the season finale next week, but this episode continues the show’s tremendous improvement in its sophomore season.
- There are two T-shirt in-jokes in this episode. The first is when Boimler tries to join Tendi and T’Ana’s rock-climbing holodeck scenario. Boimler is wearing gravity boots, à la Spock in The Final Frontier, and Boimler is also wearing a T-shirt that says, “Go climb a rock,” just like Kirk was in when he went rock climbing in that feature film. In addition, Freeman is wearing a dark T-shirt that says “RITOS,” which is a delightful parody of the Discovery T-shirts that say “DISCO” (which your humble reviewer owns one of).
- Speaking of T’Ana, she has the single funniest line in a episode chock full of funny lines. When Boimler’s gravity boots fail, and he plummets groundward, Tendi says she’s glad the safety protocols are engaged—and then she looks nervously at T’Ana. “They are on, right?” T’Ana just stares at her and says, “I don’t know. Sure.” Then keeps climbing. I so love T’Ana.
- For only the second time in Trek history, Klingons are shown to have fuschia blood. They also did in The Undiscovered Country, but it’s been red every other time. Whatever.
- That’s not the only Undiscovered Country reference: Dorg at one point quotes Shakespeare (“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!”) just as Chang did in that film.
- We get Kayshon again, and he actually speaks! He’s Boimler’s first “bridge buddy” target, but he blows it when he tries to speak Tamarian to him. Apparently, “Carno in the forest with Myra” means you’re putting on weight, which was not what Boimler meant. And Kayshon is very sensitive on the subject, as it’s hard to maintain a svelte figure when you have access to replicators…
- Mach compares Dorg’s targ to Kor’s hound in the battle of Klach D’Kel Bracht. That battle—and that Kor fought at it—was established in DS9’s “Blood Oath.” The Enterprise episode “The Augments” established that Klach D’Kel Bracht is the Klingon name for the region known as “the Briar Patch,” as seen in Insurrection.
- The targ apparently ate Togg’s leg after Dorg killed him. Dorg instructs Mach to walk him until he passes the leg, otherwise he will have gas. When Mach brings him back to Dorg, the former assures the latter that, “it was an honorable movement.”
- One of Mach’s crewmates has combat training all day. “Save me a seat at lunch—unless I die in honorable combat. Then someone else can have it.”
Keith R.A. DeCandido contributed to each of the first two volumes of The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66, published by Crazy 8 Press. For the season one book, entitled ZLONK! ZOK! ZOWIE!, he wrote about “Fine Feathered Finks”/”The Penguin’s a Jinx,” the debut of Burgess Meredith’s interpretation of the Penguin. His piece for the season two book, BIFF! BAM! EEE-YOW!, is also Penguin-related, as he writes about “Hizzoner the Penguin”/”Dizzoner the Penguin.” He plans to contribute to the season three book, which should be out next year, though he probably won’t do another Penguin episode.