“The Cerritos kicks ass!” — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “Mining the Mind’s Mines”

For the third straight episode this season, we’ve got an appearance by an illusory version of a character who appeared as a guest in a Trek TV show or movie who is voiced by the selfsame actor who played the real version in the past. We had James Cromwell as an interactive hologram of Zefram Cochrane in “Grounded,” and J.G. Hertzler as an interactive AI of Martok in “The Least Dangerous Game.” This week, it’s a hallucination of Dr. Leah Brahms, and yes, Susan Gibney is this week’s special guest star. I just wish they didn’t use her this way.

(I’m wondering if this is going to be a theme, and very much look forward to the holodeck re-creation of Dr. Miranda Jones voiced by Diana Muldaur next week. This is pure speculation on my part. I have no idea if they’re doing that, but they totally should ‘cause it’ll be cool!)

SPOILERS ARE THE COOLEST!

This week’s Lower Decks opens with what appears to be a tribute to the original series’ “The Man Trap,” with a bit of “That Which Survives” and TNG’s “Sub Rosa” mixed in, as a scientist is exposed to green mist that emits from a green globe. It coalesces into an image of his seventh-grade geology teacher in a revealing toga—and then turns him to stone. What’s especially fun about this bit is that the scientist in question is dressed in an outfit that looks like a costume from the original series…

This is LD, so we don’t see what happens next, but are told it in a quickie captain’s log voiceover from Freeman: the U.S.S. Hood responds to the distress call sent by the scientists when they find one of their own is a statue, it turns out the not-really-uninhabited planet is inhabited by silicon-based life forms, and all is well.

The Cerritos and the Carlsbad are assigned to relocate the science base and safely dispose of the green fantasy globes. Stevens is able to remove his head from Ransom’s ass and lead this away mission, which includes three of our four regulars. But while Boimler, Mariner, and Rutherford get to collect green globes (the Carlsbad away team is responsible for dismantling the outpost), Tendi is back on board the Cerritos to do training to be a bridge science officer.

Screenshot: CBS / Paramount+

The Tendi plot would’ve been fine except for everything around it. Tendi herself is magnificent, as always, but first they establish that her senior-staff mentor is Counselor Migleemo, who is terrible at it. Then she tries and fails to be aggressive with the captains, and needs a pep talk from T’Ana.

The problem there is the captains. The very young Carlsbad captain and Freeman bicker rather tiresomely over a gift being given to them by the silicon-based natives as they negotiate with them and the scientists. It devolves quickly into sitcom-level bickering, and it’s just idiotic.

The stuff down on the planet is way more fun. The Carlsbad away team is all business, and seem to be standoffish toward the Cerritos crew and determined to outdo them. Not to be outdone, Mariner, Boimler, and Rutherford work their asses off to get the green globes collected.

Things go horribly wrong when Stevens accidentally breaks one (and gets turned to stone). Soon, the crew doesn’t just see their heart’s desire, they also see their greatest fears. Here’s where we get the episode’s best and worst moments. The best is finding out that Mariner is dating Jennifer the Andorian and both her heart’s desire and her greatest fear revolve around Jennifer (prompting Boimler to very passionately urge Mariner to go back into therapy).

The worst is the use of Brahms. I went into great detail in my TNG Rewatch about how problematic the use of the hallucinatory version of the character was in TNG’s “Booby Trap” and especially how awful the treatment of the real version was in TNG’s “Galaxy’s Child,” which turned La Forge into a creepy stalker and took his side rather than hers when she justifiably called him on it. To bring the character back as yet another fantasy of a nerdy Black character with prosthetic enhancements is reductive, and not nearly as funny as the script wants it to be.

Screenshot: CBS / Paramount+

The two away teams hide in a cave system, where we get two major revelations. The first is that the Carlsbad crew were just as intimidated by the Cerritos as vice versa. The events of the first two seasons have given the Cerritos a rep as a bad-ass ship, at least by the standards of the support vessels. They’re considered the Enterprise of the California-class. The Carlsbad team was working their asses off trying to impress Mariner, Boimler, and Rutherford.

The other revelation is that the green globes aren’t natural objects. They’re machines created to read people’s minds and learn important secrets that can be sold on the black market. Turns out that the natives and the scientists were teaming up. The two away teams beam back to Cerritos to expose this plan, with Tendi delivering the coup de grace, as she shatters the gift for the captain to reveal that it’s a spying device.

I still enjoyed this episode, despite a lot of problems. There’s the tiresome behavior of the two captains. There’s the stereotypically doofy behavior of Migleemo, which fulfill a lot of tired stereotypes about therapists. There’s the icky use of Brahms. And there’s the whole notion of the Cerritos crew being the “Enterprise of the California-class ships.”

One of my least favorite tropes of Trek, particularly some of its older tie-in fiction, is the tiresome notion that the Enterprise did all the cool stuff. No other ship had as many talented people on board, nobody else in Starfleet did the weird-ass missions, no other ship had as great a captain as Kirk, as fantastic a science officer as Spock, as talented an engineer as Scotty, as magnificent a pilot as Sulu, etc., etc. TNG didn’t really do anything to change that, just extended it to the twenty-fourth century. The debut of Deep Space Nine and further spinoffs finally succeeded in steering the franchise away from that nonsense, with Station Deep Space 9 as well as the starships Defiant, Voyager, Discovery, Cerritos, Protostar, and La Sirena all encountering their share of weird-ass shit, too. So I resist the notion that the Cerritos crew is special. Indeed, the very notion contravenes what makes LD such a fun show in the first place—that this craziness is actually pretty mundane in Starfleet generally.

Still, I’m happy to see that it was a team effort that saved the day, which is the way Trek always should be. And it ends with everyone making good-natured fun of Boimler, which is the way LD should always be…

Screenshot: CBS / Paramount+

Random thoughts

  • Deep Cut #1: the scary thing that Stevens sees is Kukulkan from the animated series’ “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth.”
  • Deep Cut #2, and way way cooler: one of the Carlsbad away team members is a Zaldan. Introduced (and only seen onscreen) in TNG’s “Coming of Age,” this humanoid species with webbed hands values honesty above all else. Your humble reviewer did a lot with the Zaldans in the novels Articles of the Federation and A Singular Destiny.
  • The S.S. Hood was established in TNG’s very first episode “Encounter at Farpoint” as, among other things, Riker’s previous post. We saw the ship again in “Tin Man,” and met her captain, Robert DeSoto. Fourteen years later, the Hood has a new CO, Captain Murakami, but we only see him for a minute. DeSoto played roles in various novels, including your humble reviewer’s The Brave and the Bold Book 2 and Articles of the Federation, William Leisner’s Losing the Peace, and Dayton Ward’s Paths of Disharmony.
  • This is the third example of silicon-based life we’ve seen in onscreen Trek, the others being the Horta in the original series’ “The Devil in the Dark” and the “micro-brain” in TNG’s “Home Soil.”
  • Tendi: “I’m afraid my brain’s gonna explode from science!” Rutherford, with a wistful sigh: “That’s how I wanna go…”
  • Mariner was first seen to be in therapy in the first season’s “Crisis Point,” and Boimler urging her to go back to therapy leads one to the rather depressing conclusion that she stopped going. Then again, if Migleemo is the best option on the ship, I can see why she stopped…

Keith R.A. DeCandido is involved with two Kickstarters launching this month: Phoenix Precinct, the sixth novel in his fantasy/police procedure series, which is being crowdfunded alongside two other novels from eSpec Books, Yeti Left Home by Aaron Rosenberg and Esprit de Corpse by Ef Deal; and Double Trouble: An Anthology of Two-Fisted Team-Ups, co-edited by Keith and Jonathan Maberry, which will feature team-ups of classic characters, to be published by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. More information at this link.

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