I really only had one desire for season three of Lower Decks, and that was more Kimolu and Matt. The two cetaceans who run Cetacean Ops on the Cerritos were absolutely magnificent in their first appearance in “First First Contact,” and I’m thrilled to see them back in “The Least Dangerous Game.” It’s only for a few seconds, and they mostly just bitch to Boimler about jumping into their pool with his boots on. (“That’s messed up,” they grumble, also saying that Boimler is “such a drama magnet.”)
And that’s not even the best part of “The Least Dangerous Game”!
WARP SPOILERS AHEAD!
The best part of the episode is the introduction of a role-playing game called Bat’leths & bIHnuchs (which translates to “honor swords and cowards”), which comes complete with an interactive AI game master patterned after Chancellor Martok (voiced, natch, by J.G. Hertzler, who has already provided a voice for LD in “Terminal Provocations”). It’s actually a Ferengi knock-off, as Martok is way too busy running an empire to have had time to provide all that stuff for a silly game.
We open with all four of our lower-deckers playing the game, in which you are guaranteed to die, but the trick is to die with honor. I love the idea of an RPG with an AI game master, first of all—that would seriously cut down on rules-lawyering by the players—and it’s always a joy to hear Hertzler do Martok, even if it’s not really him. (We’ve now got three shows in the post-Nemesis timeframe, and none of them have given us any kind of clue about the state of the Klingon Empire under Martok’s rule, though the fact that he’s still chancellor in 2381, six years after he got the job in DS9’s “Tacking Into the Wind” is a good sign.)
While Bat’leths & bIHnuchs starts out as a gag, it later becomes important when Boimler gets in over his head.
It’s not unusual for our dear Bradward Boimler to get in over his head, of course, but this time it’s in service of character development. He finds out that Vendome—a Bolian whom we saw as an ensign on Cerritos in season one—is now a captain. Tendi explains that he always said yes to new opportunities, while Boimler only goes for something after a detailed risk assessment.
Between that and the urging of the Martok AI to be bold, Boimler decides to start jumping at more opportunities. First he accepts an invitation to play Springball. When Boimler screams in abject fear before being knocked down by Shaxs, the security chief invites Boimler to join his Bajoran dirge choir, which needs a soprano. Shaxs is so impressed with how he honored the Prophets with his dirge-ing that he says that if Boimler ever needs anything, Shaxs is just a combadge tap away. Transporter Chief Lundy then asks Boimler to sit for his drawing class, as they need someone “skeletal.” So emboldened by all this—particularly the fact that he’s not scared of Lundy anymore—Boimler also says yes to Kranch, an alien hunter who needs someone to hunt.
For most of the rest of the episode, Kranch chases Boimler around the ship, throwing boomerangs and spears and things. Boimler barely manages to stay ahead of him, and realizes that he shouldn’t have said yes to this one. He even tries to appeal to Freeman, but the captain just had brunch with Kranch, and he’s a swell fellow, and we should respect other cultures. It isn’t until he talks to the Martok AI in the Bat’leths & bIHnuchs game that he decides to take the offensive—and promptly gets speared in the chest, mostly because he speechifies that he’s going to fight back instead of actually fighting back.
Of course, it really is all fun and games: Kranch’s people respect life. All he does when Boimler is defeated is take a selfie. He says that Boimler has been excellent prey, though he does have notes…
The only reason Kranch is on board is because he is stuck there. They’re in orbit of the planet Dulane, which has an atmosphere that transporters won’t work in. They have a space elevator (Ransom insists on calling it an “orbital lift”), but it’s broken. So Cerritos is hosting the Dulanians who got stuck, while Ransom leads an away team to repair the orbital lift and make nice with the Dulanians.
We get to see the results of Ransom being in charge of Mariner’s entire on-duty life, insisting she show up early for away-team duty, and then insisting that she help him fix the orbital lift, leaving Billups and Rutherford to do meet-and-greet duty with the Dulanians. Billups and Rutherford are surprised, as is Mariner, who all figure that the engineers should be the ones fixing things and Ransom and Mariner should be the ones to meet up with the wellness-focused physically fit Dulanians, but Ransom insists.
This goes badly on every possible level. Mariner and Ransom take forever to effect a repair that Billups and Rutherford could probably do in a quarter of the time with their eyes closed. And Rutherford and Billups make a pig’s ear out of their diplomatic mission, because apparently they didn’t display their belly buttons, and then did it wrong. Eventually, the pair of them are condemned to death.
Ransom finally realizes that he’s being ridiculous, and he says that he and Mariner will skydive down (Billups and Rutherford took the shuttle) to save the day. The problem is that he decides this after Mariner has decided to flout orders and skydive down to save the engineers herself. Mariner then has to grab the side of the elevator and then run back up the distance she’s dived. She is only able to make it in time because Ransom stopped to pee….
They arrive in the nick of time, as the Dulanians, as ordered by their co-leaders, a telepathic baby and a sentient computer, are about to sacrifice the engineers to their volcano god. (Mariner’s comment: “Wow, psychic baby, evil computer, and a volcano? You guys never heard of overkill?”) But Ransom saves the day by ripping his shirt off and showing off his washboard abs to the Dulanians—who, as previously established, are wellness-based.
I’m enjoying the hell out of Ransom fulfilling the stereotype of the white-guy leading man action-hero-type, embodying the worst aspects of Kirk, Riker, Paris, and Archer and turning them up to eleven. Him saving the day with his mighty mighty pecs is just perfect.
I also must say that one of the things I like best about this episode is that it pairs up Boimler with Tendi, which is a combo we haven’t seen much. Tendi gives Boimler really good advice, too. Tendi and Rutherford are way better adjusted than Mariner and Boimler, and it’s nice to see Tendi thriving here, being rewarded for her hard work with the promotion she got at the end of last season, and paying it forward to dear old Bradward…
- There are apparently versions of Bat’leths & bIHnuchs with other Klingons as GMs. Boimler comments that he’s been trying to get the Gowron expansion for ages. Gowron was Martok’s predecessor as Klingon chancellor, having ascended to the position in TNG’s “Reunion” and “Redemption” two-parter, and then was replaced by Martok after Worf killed him in “Tacking Into the Wind.”
- Bajorans were established as having a very lengthy death chant back in TNG’s “The Next Phase” (which we saw a version of in DS9’s “Battle Lines”) so a dirge choir isn’t really that much of a stretch…
- This is the second time we’ve seen a space elevator in onscreen Trek, the previous one being in Voyager’s “Rise.” They called it an “orbital tether” there, probably because the writers thought “space elevator” was too pulpy, a silly bit of pretentiousness that is nicely lampooned here by Mariner insisting on calling it a space elevator, to Ransom’s annoyance. There was also a space elevator playing an important role in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Ring Around the Sky by Allyn Gibson. The notion was first proposed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895 and has been a staple of science fiction stories over the decades.
- The planet of hedonists who condemn Starfleet personnel to death for something silly is very obviously a riff on TNG’s “Justice,” where the planet full of Hedonistic Aryan Youth condemned Wes Crusher to death for falling on a flowerbed.
- Finally, the title is, obviously, a play on “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, one of the most popular short stories in the English language, and which has been adapted and riffed on many billions of times.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is a guest at Dragon Con 2022 this weekend in Atlanta, where he’ll be doing panels, workshops, readings, autographings, and more. His incredibly crowded and insane full schedule can be found here.