‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Returns With Serious (But Funny) “Grounded”
How does Captain Freeman’s arrest resolve in the season three debut of Star Trek: Lower Decks? Surprisingly neatly!
Last season on Star Trek: Lower Decks we learn that the Pakleds and the Klingons are in cahoots! Klingons supply Pakleds with weapons, Pakleds use said weapons to assert domination, and the Federation both literally and figuratively goes boom. That’s the plan anyway, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Somehow Pakled Planet explodes. Who is responsible? And why?
Starfleet believes that the perpetrator is Captain Freeman, but they are wrong. And that leaves us with a lot of big questions beyond who is responsible for Pakled Planet’s destruction. What is Freeman’s fate? What are the Lower Deckers going to do about it? And how does this stay funny?
To Boldly Recap
According to the FNN (Federation News Network) the Cerritos is in dry dock while Captain Freeman awaits trial. The evidence is damning. Video footage shows Freeman on Pakled Planet with a bomb in hand. Worse, the judge is apparently part of some “planets rights” fringe organization. And even worse still, Mariner is stuck with her father who thinks it’s best to just let the system sort things out.
But obviously, that’s not what Mariner is going to do. Instead, she tracks down Boimler (who is picking grapes for his family’s raisin vineyard) for help. And together they find Tendy and Rutherford at Sisko’s Creole Kitchen. The good news is that Boimler keeps exhaustive logs of the Cerritos’ missions which they can use to prove the captain’s innocence. Rutherford’s plan is to break into a secret transporter location, transport to the Cerritos, and get Boimler’s logs.
All (unsurprisingly) does not go to plan. While the transporter chief is willing to help, there’s an alien migration of something called the Verugamint preventing transporters from working off-world. Thankfully, there are other options. And since Tendy and Rutherford had already planned to visit the site of first contact in Bozeman, Montana, the whole time goes instead. And they aren’t sightseeing. They’re stealing a ship.
Mariner Aims to Misbehave
Apparently, Bozeman, Indiana is a major tourist trap. And it includes taking an imitation version of Zefram Cochrane’s ship the Phoenix on a flight that imitates his first warp travel. The Lower Deckers seize the Phoenix and take it to the Cerritos instead. There, they find Boimler’s notes. Great! Boimler’s notes are so embarrassing that no sane person will take them as evidence. Less great!
And while Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendy insist that this evidence is enough to save Captain Freeman, Mariner still kicks her friends of the Cerritos in an automated shuttlecraft while she steals the Cerritos. Her plan is to track down the Klingons who supposedly supplied bombs to Freeman, capture said Klingons, and force them to admit they lied. As you might expect, things do not go according to plan.
Instead, Boimler, Tendy, and Rutherford manage to get back on the Cerritos and stop Mariner just as the ship is in the path of the Verugamint. When security asks what the Lower Deckers are up to, they lie and say they are on a mission to study the mating life of the Verugamint. Security asks who authorized the test.
And that’s when Captain Freeman walks in free and clear.
A Happy Ending?
It turns out that Mariner should have trusted the system. Freeman is free thanks to an illuminating covert mission by Captain Bateson and a little mindmeld from Tuvok. It turns out the Pakleds blew up their own planet. Apparently, the plan was to frame Captain Freeman and convince the Federation to give the Pakleds a new, more resource-heavy homeworld.
Great news all around, right? Well, the downside of stealing the Cerritos is that Mariner is in big trouble with her mother. And since Freeman feels incapable of kicking her own daughter out of Starfleet, she brings in a ringer. From now on, Mariner reports directly to Commander Ransom, who is free to do whatever he wants – and that includes drumming Mariner out of Starfleet permanently.
To Boldly Review
“Grounded” is good. It’s not great. But it does what Star Trek: Lower Decks always does — make a ton of references to Trek‘s past while reminding us why we like the characters on Lower Decks, too. That latter part is what works best in “Grounded.” Tendy and Rutherford going on adventures together and being pals is adorable. Mariner and Boimler pushing each other is funny and sweet. It’s a good cast.
A lot of this is individual beats misfiring a little. Now in season three, the stuff with Boimler being a suck-up or oblivious to women obsessing over him is starting to get boring. The extent to which Mariner avoids the rules while breaking everything around her is also starting to get a little played.
But the biggest nitpick is the resolution of “Grounded”. Because while, yes, part of Lower Decks focuses on how the Lower Deckers never know what’s going on, Freeman’s freedom still comes a little too easily. Especially since there’s apparently some kind of “planet’s rights” organization on Earth. Feels like that should’ve gone somewhere. It’s not a big deal. The ending is still mostly satisfying, but it rankles ever so slightly from a narrative perspective.
However, one thing Lower Decks always excels at is Easter eggs. And there are a ton of great ones in “Grounded”.
References: Gotta Spot ‘Em All
Let’s go through these Star Trek Easter eggs quickly and then declare a “best reference” at the end. Ready?
Mariner points to the Golden Gate Bridge which has been a mainstay of Starfleet since the TOS movies. Boimler’s outfit at the vineyard is that same as the one Picard wears in the TNG finale “All Good Things”.
Sisko’s Creole kitchen is a reference to Joseph Sisko’s restaurant on Deep Space Nine. Similarly, Rutherford and Boimler’s civilian outfits are also very similar to something Jake Sisko would wear. And wrapping up the DS9 shout-outs, the hot sauce on the table at Sisko’s is Ketracel White Hot Sauce which is a reference to the drug all the Jem’Hadar are addicted to.
Stealing the Cerritos (and especially the transporter scene) is a reference to Kirk and co. stealing the Enterprise in Search for Spock. Everything in Bozeman, Montana is a reference to First Contact. These references include the theme song to First Contact, Zefram Cochrane’s hat, ship, and love of “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf. James Cromwell even reprises the role of Cochrane.
There’s a reference to the TNG episode “Samaritan Snare”. 3D chess (a staple of TNG) makes an appearance. And the spherical Verugamint egg sacks are a reference to the Horta’s spherical eggs in the TOS episode “The Devil in the Dark“.
Cause and Effect
However, without a doubt, the best reference in the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode “Grounded” is to the TNG story “Cause and Effect”. In that episode, the Enterprise D gets caught in a time loop where it keeps ramming into a ship that seemingly comes out of nowhere. That ship is the USS Bozeman – which has been stuck in the same time loop for 90 years.
The eventual fate of the Bozeman has never been disclosed until now. Apparently, her captain Morgan Bateson becomes the kind of person who does a lot of covert ops. It’s his team (which includes Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager) that captures the aliens responsible for faking the data that falsely implicates Captain Freeman in the destruction of Pakled Planet.
Consider the fact that both the USS Bozeman and Bozeman, Montana appear in “Grounded” to be a two-for-one fire sale on great Trek references. Nice.
Star Trek: Lower Decks opens with a solid, but not incredible premiere. While some of the plot stuff gets a little wonky, the humor is definitely there. Bobby Moynihan’s appearance as the cuddly, old transporter chief Denny is an especially fun moment. And the resolution that Mariner will report to Ransom from now on sets up some fun tension for the rest of the season.
All in all, “Grounded” does what it needs to, it’s funny and heartwarming, but it’s not destined to be a classic. Three out of five stars.