We’ve danced around Mariner’s inevitable departure/ejection from Starfleet for a long time. Honestly, it’s kind of amazing she lasted until Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 9, with Ransom breathing down her neck since the end of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 1.
However, being exiled to Starbase 80 for something she actually DIDN’T do (after all the crazy things she’s fully owned up to doing) is some top-shelf irony right there.
Meanwhile, the follow-up with the Ornarans is an awesome — possibly my favorite yet — throwback to one of the earliest moral quandaries of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The idea of Project Swing-By was introduced way back on Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 10, — which, incidentally, was also when we met Peanut Hamper AND thought we saw the last of Badgey — when Freeman comments to Ransom that the Federation should revisit planets they’ve made contact with before they get themselves in trouble.
I mean, it’s a slightly paternalistic perspective on “discovering” civilizations, but once contact has been made, there’s something to be said for taking responsibility for that exposure.
With the Ornarans and the Brekkians, their post-Enterprise societal paths are about as different as could be and yet, for the Ornarans at least, somewhat predictable based on what we learned on Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 Episode 22.
Even though the Ornarans were the victims of the felicium addiction, the Brekkians tell the Enterprise crew that their planet depends on the Ornaran’s trade because Brekka produces nothing except felicium.
The Ornarans, on the other hand, were technologically superior to the Brekkians before the plague and the felicium addiction caused their cognitive abilities and societal values to deteriorate.
Picard was absolutely right. It was the best thing to ever happen to us. Look, we even made a mural. See, there’s the Enterprise leaving us with no drugs. And here’s all of us, freaking out. We were in a bit of a bad place for the first, oh, ten … fourteen years. But we figured it out! Once we shook the old demons out, we focused on healthy diet and fitness. You could say we’re addicted to that now! [laughs]
So while an entire planet of narcotic addicts probably had a tough time going cold turkey, their civilization had a foundation in technology, agriculture, and a diverse economy, while the dealers no longer had clients and hadn’t bothered with growing any industries other than those related to felicium.
How the Breen became the Brekkians’ overlords is unknown, but I suspect Brekka’s lack of technology included not having any defenses or communications arrays with which they could call for help effectively.
Furthermore, the interplanetary trade between Brekka and Ornara depended on the Ornaran freighters. The Brekkians might not have any sort of off-world transportation at all.
If you think about it, their golden era of exploiting and victimizing the Ornarans was almost a fluke, considering their Pakled-like level of foresight. You’d think ONE of the Brekkians would consider the possibility that felicium would one day be worthless.
Oh wait, was that a 1988 commentary on the predatory tactics of … say, Big Tobacco? Wow, social commentary in Trek! Who woulda thunk it? #sarcasm.
Victoria’s ruthless exposé of Freeman’s tyrannical rule of the Cerritos seems pretty telegraphed.
Her smirk upon stepping out of the shuttle. Her passive-aggressive digs at Project Swing-By’s purpose and efficacy. Her incredibly naive chatter.
Victoria: Wow, Captain, I have to tell you, covering a California-class ship is really special for me. My family’s from Flagstaff.
Freeman: Yes, Arizona is very near California.
Reporters in Trek contexts never come across as honorable or well-intentioned. The interviewer on Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Episode 1 sought to push him to spill the tea on why he resigned from Starfleet.
Even Jake Sisko used a friend to get a story on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 6 Episode 22.
Ultimately, it’s Captain Freeman’s own paranoia and its resulting micro-managing that feed Victoria’s sensationalism media monster.
Rather than speaking to crew members like Mariner about her hopes for Project Swing-By and the news coverage, she ordered duty rotation changes, confined many of her most energetic crew to their bunks, and canceled recreational activities to the disappointment of many.
Ransom: Ensign, if I were you, I would make myself scarce for the next couple days.
Mariner: Please. Reporters love me. Plus, I’m so good at my job, I’m like a second captain. Yeah, like a mini captain. Like a little, sweet, baby captain.
Freeman: We may want to roll out some duty changes to make a good first impression.
Mariner, in contrast, exhibits patience, understanding, and flexibility, unlike anything we’ve ever seen her display before.
She acknowledges what her mother’s trying to do and even plays the Tendi by trying to cheer everyone up when the pie-eating contest is canceled.
Mariner: Come on, guys. There’s plenty to do around here that doesn’t end in sugary diarrhea.
Boimler: Oh, maybe for you!
It’s only when she realizes that she’s being excluded from being able to share her perspective on the Cerritos that she steps out of line.
Mariner’s own insecurity has always whispered that she isn’t going to last in Starfleet. Also, that she’s nothing without it.
With both parents so high up the ranks, her natural tendency is to push the envelope in terms of insubordination and flippancy.
But if Freeman wasn’t so wrapped up in her own self-doubt, she would’ve recognized that Mariner’s antics have always been fueled by good intentions or, at the very least, harmless ridiculing of redundant protocols.
It was established on Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 6, and more recently on Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 5, that Starbase 80 is the pits. Or even the pits of the pits. Its mention is enough to put Mariner on her toes.
So to be sent there for doing nothing wrong, AND to have the entire crew not believe you, INCLUDING the first person you’ve been seriously involved with… Well, it’s not a straw that broke this camel’s back. It’s a freakin’ California(-class) redwood.
It’s worth taking a moment here to admire the many on-ramps this season has built into its long arc narrative.
We may have started the season expecting a season of Pakled conspiracies and political shenanigans, but instead, we have, in fact, been treated to a real bildungsroman of character growth among our Lower Decks heroes.
Boimler’s discovered he can be bold and go berserk. Rutherford’s learned where he came from and who he used to be. Tendi’s found her voice, confidence, and goal in life.
And the transfer to Starbase 80 is the push Mariner needs to step away from the safety of Starfleet and fly on her own.
With a sexy, British-sounding adventurer. Petra Aberdeen, Indy Space Archeologist. If Lower Decks was going to spin off any character, I know where my money would be.
So is she gone for good? Will Freeman ever recover? What now for the Cerritos and the California-class fleet?
Hit our comments with your best thoughts and theories on how this season will close out!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.