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REVIEW – Star Trek: Lower Decks “The Inner Fight”

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Season 4 of Star Trek: Lower Decks is building to a big finale in this week’s ninth episode. As the penultimate entry in the season, it’s laying all the final groundwork for the season’s explosive conclusion. This week’s entry is Star Trek: Lower Decks “The Inner Fight” and comes to us from showrunner Mike McMahan himself! His past episodes have mostly been the season openers and closers, and giving him two episodes like this is a great chance to build a bigger story.

This episode sees Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) assign the Lower Deckers a safe assignment to try to rein in Mariner (Tawny Newsome). It sounds like a bit of an unconventional story, with marked “conflict” between the gang. They spent last week’s “Caves” bonding, which is a little out of left field. But what’s up with Mariner? Why is she acting out the way she is? And what’s up with the ship thieves? All this and more in this review of the latest Lower Decks escapades.

WARNING – Spoilers below for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 9 “The Inner Fight”. You shouldn’t read ahead if you’ve not seen it yet. There are some big surprises that we have to talk about that shouldn’t be spoiled.

L-R Tawny Newsome as Mariner, Jack Quaid as Boimler, Gabrielle Ruiz as T\’Lyn, and Noel Wells as Tendi in episode 9, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

The Boring Buoy

Lower Decks was pitched as a show following the people fuelling the replicators, doing all the unimportant jobs that Starfleet offers. The first episode of the series showed us the USS Cerritos doing a second contact, hardly the most important job. Compared to the hijinks of weeks past, from battling sentient Artificial intelligence to uncovering mysteries on Ferenginar, this fits that description much better.

It’s rare that such a low-stakes mission has such an emotional core to it. Mariner made it a matter of calming down for some pretty sweet viewing. It’s as if there were a couple of small assignments happening simultaneously, creating real dramatic and comedic layers to an otherwise routine story. Of all the writers, it’s pretty safe to say that series creator and showrunner Mike McMahan gets these characters more than anyone, which is on full display here.

Of course, not all is as it seems. As cool as a bit of a spacewalk or a bit of a stranded shuttle, nothing will ever beat a de-cloaking Klingon Bird of Prey! The routine mission being routine would be incredibly boring. The hidden nature of the ship means the scene goes from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds. I’m always a fan of a space battle, especially one that our Starfleet heroes don’t actually win.

L-R Tawny Newsome as Mariner and Noel Wells as Tendi in episode 9, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

The Shipyard

The gang manages to beam from the shuttle down to a nearby planet, but where have they landed? It’s a planet full of warring groups of Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, Cardassians, and even Bynars. If these species sound familiar, it’s not just their combined hundreds of previous Star Trek appearances either! These aren’t just the same species, but the same crews from the stolen ships which were presumed destroyed.

Our mysterious alien adversary has effectively turned this planet into a shipyard. We still don’t know why or what for, but some of the best Star Trek has been set around some totally stranded crews. However, to beat the odds and escape, they will need to work together. Considering the scars left by the Dominion War in particular, seeing these species work together made for some pretty powerful moments.

I also loved the callback to “Something Borrowed, Something Green”. Little moments like taht always make a season’s individual stories feel deliberate. I’m all for rewarding viewers when it comes to stuff like this. Connections like this aren’t usually something non-serialised Star Trek series engage with too often This is also just the beginning. Who knows, perhaps one of our AI characters will be making a return to fight alongside the Lower Deckers next week? Some great work keeping the season work even better together.

L-R Gabrielle Ruiz as T\’Lyn and Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler in episode 9, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Lower Decks Past

They mention him right at the start of Lower Decks “The Inner Fight”, but one of the big focuses here is none other than Nick Locarno (Robert Duncan McNeill) from the classic Next Generation episode “The First Duty”. It feels out of left field until you start thinking about it. That tragic incident would have been around the time that the Lower Deckers were around Starfleet Academy. It’s unexpected, but nice to see the series acknowledge episodes and characters that led to Lower Decks even existing as a series.

This only becomes more intense with the conversation Mariner has with a Klingon down on the planet. The final season of Next Generation isn’t quite as full of classics as we would’ve liked, but episodes like “Lower Decks” are just phenomenal. Connecting Mariner’s angst to the death of Sito (Shannon Fill) is tragic. While I think her being connected to both incidents is incredibly unlikely, I can suspend some disbelief.

Connecting Lower Decks “The Inner Fight” to the episodes that inspired the series feels almost as if the series is reaching a natural conclusion. It’s the sort of thing one would do before either ending the series or some really radical changes. We know for a fact that one of those things isn’t happening just yet either, with a fifth season confirmed. Whatever the finale holds for Locarno is going to be quite the nostalgia trip.

Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner in episode 9, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Information Broker

It’s not just the main four characters who get to see some action this week, either. On a planet eerily similar to Tatooine from Star Wars in more than a few respects, Freeman and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) fly down to track down Locarno. I don’t mean to imply that desert planets filled with small cities and bars are exclusive to Star Wars, but it’s one of those big iconic images for the series. Giving us a Star Trek version, and an explicitly comedic one, no less, is quite the kicker the episode needed.

There’s a hilarious callback with the broker to the episode “The Corbomite Maneuver”, with the appearance of an alien eerily similar to Balok (Ted Cassidy) from the classic episode. Beyond being a classic Original Series episode, the image of this puppet was put over quite a lot of the end-credit sequences in the series. It’s almost shocking that this hasn’t really been picked back up in the series since. Giving us an alien shaped exactly like the puppet but with hidden tiny limbs had me laughing like nothing else in the show.

I love jokes that are funny visually and work in making light of elements of the other shows’ productions. I hope the series explores again with Locarno, who’s famously got a body double out there in the form of Tom Paris. He didn’t really have much screen time this week, but that’s set to change. I’d love to get a couple of nice wisecracks in. Or maybe something crazier like the bounty hunter gag, which rounded out Lower Decks “The Inner Fight” in a funny and satisfying way.

L-R NoÎl Wells as DΓ­Vana Tendi, Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler, Eugene Cordero as Rutherford, Gabrielle Ruiz as T\’Lynn and Fred Tatasciore as Lieutenant Shaxs in episode 9, season 4 of Lower Deckstreaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

The Reveal Nobody Saw Coming

I’ve alluded to it a couple of times throughout, but wanted to hold out a proper discussion of it until the end here. It turns out that these mysterious “alien” ships were designed by Locarno himself. His motive for wanting revenge on Starfleet almost makes sense. But he’s gone after just about everyone else, and his motivation for that is definitely less than clear. A bit part of the reason nobody could’ve seen this coming is that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

It also wasn’t teased throughout the series. Unless there’s some kind of reveal or retcon in the season finale, there’s nothing. It’s a little dissatisfying when there are no clues throughout the series. Perhaps he’s just a pilot for hire, working for a greater cause? I guess we’ll have to find out next week. Although he’s definitely got a past with Mariner, perhaps trying to recruit her into whatever’s going on?

I’m a little mixed on this, to say the least. I love the callback, but am a little worried about the execution. It’s very much down to how the finale delves into and explains what’s been going on, and why Locarno’s involved. But I’ve enjoyed the past season’s finales, so have full faith in showrunner Mike McMahan to deliver a satisfying ending. There’s just a surprising amount of questions left around for a season heading into its finale next week.

Episode 9, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Conclusion

Well, the finale certainly looks explosive. There was no way I could’ve seen that ship twist coming. I wonder if we’ll find out he was working for or with other people in this endeavor. Only time will tell, but it’s nice to have this big-name Trek actor back in such an unconventional way. The Paris and Lucarno thing has been a bit of a running joke in Star Trek circles for decades. Giving it the classic Lower Decks touch was out of left field, yet totally right at the same time.

As a 2-part episode, what lies ahead is definitely going to be big. There’s a more than fair chance that this one will have some real lasting consequences for the gang. Although a Season 5 is all but assured at this point, some massive changes could be in order. I wouldn’t be surprised if a big character died, but permanently this time. Very exciting times ahead, and the stakes have never been higher.

You can find Star Trek: Lower Decks streaming every Thursday on Paramount+ in the US, Latin America, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Each episode is also broadcast on the CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The season will also stream in South Korea on Paramount+ later in the year when the service arrives there. For more reviews, news, and general geeking out about Star Trek, follow Trek Central!


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Connor Schwigtenberg
Connor Schwigtenberg
All round science fiction geek and a passionate Star Trek enthusiast. Can reliably be found nerding out online. Currently exploring the expanded media. A writer at heart, look out for deep dives, reviews, and feature articles.

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