Star Trek: Lower Decks ends its second season with an action-packed cliffhanger.
Since the first episode of Star Trek Lower Decks, the opening credits sequence has shown the Cerritos as a kind of “lovable loser” starship. It soars over a majestic ice planet—only to scrape a nacelle on the tip of an ice tower and drift off course. It arrives on the scene of a battle against a Borg cube—only to turn tail and run. The visual gags are funny, and fit the show’s “not your usual Starfleet” vibe.
But after “First First Contact,” the second season finale of Lower Decks, those opening credit chuckles may not be so appropriate! All season long, this little California class ship that can and her crew—lower and upper deckers alike—have been proving they’re more than capable of rising to the highest Starfleet standards when the occasion demands. And do the occasions in this episode ever demand!
The Cerritos is assisting the Archimedes—a gorgeous Obena class starship, commanded by none other than now-Captain Sonya Gomez (reprised by Lycia Naff)—in its first contact with the Lapeerians. But when an unexpected solar flare blows up a unstable planetoid in the system (a sequence animated as an homage to the destruction of Praxis in Star Trek VI) and utterly disables the Archimedes, the Cerritos mounts a genuinely epic rescue mission.
The plan involves nothing less than stripping the Cerritos’ outer hull, plate by plate, so it can safely maneuver through the debris field filled with highly charged plasma to grab the Archimedes by tractor beam before the bigger ship crashes into the Lapeerian planet.
Successfully saving the day requires the entire crew working hard and fast. But Boimler must dive through the pool in the occasionally mentioned but never before seen Cetacean Ops and swim to the maglock that releases the last hull plate. He succeeds, but loses consciousness when water rushes through a rip in his environmental suit. Thanks to quick action from dolphin crewmates and CPR from Tendi, Boimler survives, mentioning he saw the cosmic koala from season one’s “Moist Vessel” in his near-death experience.
Picking up on story threads from “The Spy Humongous” and “wej Duj,” “First First Contact” ends on a cliffhanger. While Freeman ultimately turns down a promotion she’d been considering, she still leaves the Cerritos—in handcuffs. Starfleet security arrives to arrest Freeman on charges she conspired with the Klingons to destroy Pakled Planet.
“First First Contact” serves up emotional stakes, character growth, and social commentary
“First First Contact” feels like it significantly raises the narrative and emotional stakes for Lower Decks.
Captain Freeman’s arrest is a season-ending cliffhanger worthy of any found in the various 1980s and ‘90s Star Trek series. And maybe I simply fell for some storytelling tricks (worse things could happen), but at various points I thought the series might actually kill off Freeman or Boimler—or perhaps both! We’re warned in the teaser of “tearful goodbyes” to come, after all. And even though Shaxs’ death last season didn’t “stick,” Lower Decks has proved it can serve up some truly shocking surprises. All the same, I’m glad all hands aboard both starships and on the Lapeerian home world survived!
Amidst all the action, Lower Decks’ fine character work continues. Mariner is angry with Captain Freeman, her mother, for considering accepting the captaincy of another ship. For her part, Freeman calls her daughter out for Mariner’s insistence on treating every situation like a fight and her resistance to opening up to other people. We also revisit Rutherford and Tendi’s charming friendship—Rutherford’s implant is malfunctioning because he’s been storing redundant memories of her, afraid he might lose them again (as he did at the end of season one). Even crusty, cursing Dr. T’Ana gets a warm moment as she promotes Tendi out of sickbay and into science officer training.
The episode also develops an intriguing and all too timely theme about the importance of having all the facts before jumping to conclusions and taking action you may later regret. Mariner overhears her mother talking about the transfer and blabs about it, not knowing it’s not a done deal. Tendi overhears Dr. T’Ana talking about transferring the ensign out of sickbay and assumes her tour of duty aboard the Cerritos is over. Rutherford “confirms” Tendi’s fears when he doesn’t see her name on the sickbay duty roster—but he can’t see everything because his implant’s 404 error message is obscuring his vision. Lower Decks continues to impress me with its amusing but adroit and apt commentary on human foibles.
All in all, “First First Contact” is a spectacular conclusion to Lower Decks’ successful second season. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait to find out Captain Freeman’s fate? But this much we know: Lower Decks has more than proven it belongs among all the other Star Trek series.
The Cerritos and its crew are no mere misfits or Starfleet “also-rans.” They embody, in their own idiosyncratic and often hysterical way, the finest traditions of the fleet—and the franchise.