Star Trek The Next Generation: Lower Decks

"Lower Decks" is a fabulous episode, introducing memorable characters and giving us a glimpse at how the rest of the Enterprise must function.

Star Trek has always been a little strange, focusing on the command staff of a starship instead of the subordinates that would generally be the ones risking life and limb. Away teams wouldn’t likely have an XO going along, or the chief of security. Yet in the world of Starfleet, we see these very important people acting as front line combatants.

Why do I bring this up? Well, this episode focuses on junior officers, the people that we should be following as they go on away missions and deal with loss and the constant competitiveness of proving oneself for promotion or at least acknowledgement of their ability to contribute.

While Sito Jaxa and Nurse Ogawa were established characters, we are introduced to Sam Lavelle, a young ambitious Ensign who feels like a proto-Riker complete with little trademark habits like never sitting in a chair properly and playing poker like he is the best ever (although he has yet to hide his tells). There is also Ben, a waiter at Ten-Forward who is a civilian, much like the barber Mott. He has an easy rapport with the junior officers, since he is close in age with them. But he also interacts freely with our core cast. Finally, there is Vulcan engineer Taurik, who is brilliant and very Vulcan but with an unVulcan-like level of snark.

I can’t quite explain how good this episode does in introducing and immediately making us like and empathize with these new characters. With just a short conversation, we are given pretty much everything we need to know about these five people. Nurse Ogawa is in the middle of a romantic hiccup, Sito and Lavelle are both up for the same job, and Taurik is frustrated that his ideas are being overlooked by his boss (who happens to be Geordi).

While four of these characters are interesting and we get a significant amount of time devoted to them, the main character focus is on Sito Jaxa. She was a member of Wesley’s flight team in the episode "First Duty" that disobeyed orders, causing the death of a fellow cadet. Instead of quitting, she stayed in the Academy. And when she graduated, she ended up on board the Enterprise because Picard wanted her to get fair treatment.

This last point was played up, with Picard at first dressing her down and pushing at her to justify her presence on board the Enterprise. After a training scene with Worf where he showed her the value of standing up for herself, she pushed back at Picard and called him out on his accusations. This was a lovely character moment for her, which unfortunately confirmed for Picard that she was the right choice for a dangerous mission.

It takes a lot of skill to write something that can evoke emotions in such a short amount of time. The audience liked Sito, liked her enough that her death was both shocking and hard to accept. The writing staff had wanted to bring back Shannon Fill to play Sito for years, and when they brought her into this episode, they had a hard time pulling the trigger on her death – so much so that Jeri Taylor lobbied to bring her back in some form, suggesting that her death was faked and that she was actually captured by the Cardassians and ended up a prisoner for a couple years before eventually resurfacing on Deep Space Nine. At the time Michael Piller refused, insisting that bringing Sito back would rob the episode of a powerful ending.

The rest of the episode, especially dealing with the aftermath of Sito’s death, was very well done. While the grief was palpable, it was the little moments with each character that we’ve come to know and like that made it work so well. My favorite, of course, was Ben convincing Worf that he should not grieve alone, and the way Worf moved to their table without words and sat down.

Bits:

Shannon Fill has both national figure skating experience and dancing experience, which is why her sparring scene with Worf was so effective.

The moment in the shuttlecraft where Sito and Joret Dal had a moment of peace and understanding was really lovely.

The poker games in Next Generation have always been highlights for me, and this was no exception. Both the junior officers' game and our primary game were a great example of the themes of the episode, plus Ben jumping ship to the senior officer’s game was a lot of fun.

Lavelle wasn’t my personal favorite of the main characters in this episode, but his scene with Riker was hilarious.

Quotes:

Sito: "How would you like to be a spider under that table?"
Lavelle: "What?"
Sito: "A spider under the table."
Lavelle: "Is that like a fly on the wall?"
Sito: "I guess so."

Ben: "You sure about dessert?"
Deanna: "Yes, don't tempt me."

Lavelle: "What could they be talking about?"
Taurik: "Have you ever considered learning to lipread?"

Picard: "To all Starfleet personnel: this is the captain. It is my sad duty to inform you that a member of the crew, Ensign Sito Jaxa, has been lost in the line of duty. She was the finest example of a Starfleet officer and a young woman of remarkable courage and strength of character. Her loss will be deeply felt by all who knew her. Picard out."

This is definitely one of the best episodes in season seven, and perhaps in the top ten of the entire series.

4 out of 4 Junior Officers

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Such an exceptional episode. As you said, J.D., it is no small feat to create an episode with so many new characters and not only get it to work beautifully, but to move us emotionally. A season seven gem.

magritte said...

Of all the experimental TNG episodes, I think was the most successful. We're so used to seeing Star Trek's universe from the perspective of senior starfleet officers, it was a refreshing change. Their points of view on our regular cast, the uncomfortable mix of camaraderie and competition between them. Of course, it wouldn't have worked if the writing and acting of these new characters hadn't been so sharp. Hard to believe the same show went from the disastrous Sub Rosa to this in one week.