Lower Decks’ “Old Friends, New Planets” in Review
Sadly, it’s time for a season to end… but happily, Season 5 will be coming next year. So, let’s see what plans Nick Locarno has for Mariner, and why…
After a recap of various ships being targeted by what we now know to be Nick Locarno’s ship, we return to Starfleet Academy thirteen years earlier, when Locarno and the rest of Nova Squadron are planning their dangerous Kolvoord Starburst maneuver and Mariner is with them, loving being a first-year cadet. Now having been beamed up from Sherbal V in the previous episode, Mariner finds that Locarno has created Nova Fleet, consisting of the stolen ships with rebellious junior crews who betrayed their captains.
Starfleet is up to speed with Locarno having conspired with non-Federation mutineers. However, Starfleet Admirals Vassery and Freeman argue over whether risking injury to any of the aliens would start a war, or whether they turned their backs on their own worlds when they joined Locarno’s fleet. Vassery forbids Captain Freeman from taking any action.
Locarno demonstrates a hatred of Starfleet authority — no carpets on his ship — and says he picked Mariner to be a Federation defector as she must hate Starfleet. He hails the Federation to announce this but Mariner has worked out her prior issues and doesn’t defect. Instead, she grabs the Ferengi copy of a Genesis torpedo, which he intended as his ultimate threat, and escapes his space station in an old ship with it. The Ferengi, Romulans and Orions all give chase, as does Locarno.
On Orion, an away team from the Cerritos tries to negotiate for a battleship strong enough to crash through Nova Fleet’s Trynar Shield. This involves Tendi haggling with her sister, D’Erika, and ultimately promising to return home.
While Mariner and Locarno stalk each other through a nebula, Boimler, as acting captain of the Cerritos, tows the Orion warship into the shield. This blows a hole in it, allowing the captain’s yacht through.
Locarno tries to order his supposedly equal alien allies around, which fails; the alien ships scatter. Mariner activates the Genesis countdown. Locarno, to salve his ego, tries to shoot Mariner, who is beamed onto the yacht. He then tries to reset the Genesis device but has overlooked the fact that, being a Ferengi version, it requires two bars of latinum…
With Locarno blown to bits and Starfleet having to admit Freeman succeeded in bringing down his organisation and achieving the first negotiations with the Orions, Mariner is reunited with her friends, including T’Lyn, who plans to remain on the Cerritos. All that’s left is for Tendi to board her ship home…
There’s something to be said for the episode being predictable in a way — specifically there being almost a remake of the battle in the Mutara Nebula from The Wrath of Khan while fighting over a miniaturised Ferengi Genesis torpedo. That said, the sheer level of colouration, angles from the movie in the episode’s shots and even the atmosphere and musical references means you can’t really say that it wasn’t going the whole hog with this homage.
Whether you like a brand new season finale to be effectively a remake of a forty-one-year-old movie is another matter, especially since Nick Locarno is absolutely no Khan Noonien Singh by any stretch of the imagination. Robert Duncan McNeill plays him better, if anything, than he did in “The First Duty” back in TNG, although that means he feels like basically a new character. Bonus points, though, for the running gag about Boimler not seeing any facial resemblance between Locarno and Tom Paris.
It’s also perhaps a little odd, with hindsight, that this finale wasn’t done back in Season 2, as the PR for Lower Decks has advanced each year to mirror the PR for each Star Trek film, with that season’s PR echoing the posters for The Wrath of Khan. With this season’s posters riffing on those for The Voyage Home, perhaps there was a case for Whale Probes or time travel. However, Season 1 didn’t create a new lifeform, nor Season 3 destroy the Cerritos in its finale. This is the first time a movie finale has been so fully remade as a Lower Decks finale… and it’s remade very well indeed. (Kudos for T’Lyn echoing Spock agreeing to disobey orders from The Undiscovered Country. It’s great she’s staying for Season 5!)
The Orion subplot to acquire a battleship to breach the shield is a nice follow-up on Tendi’s family story arc. It’s wonderful to see the crew all working together to save Mariner, in defiance of Starfleet’s “don’t do anything” policy. Captain Freeman is awesome, Doctor T’Ana is back in full mother-leopard mode and even Doctor Migleemo actually gets to have some value (possibly the most shocking surprise in the entire episode).
There are also some notable voice cameos. One standout is Wil Wheaton reprising his role as Wesley Crusher in the first scene, set at the time of TNG’s “The First Duty”. If you haven’t seen that episode, it’s worth checking out before watching this finale.
The musical score is fantastic, both in its reconstruction of the Mutara Nebula battle in The Wrath of Khan and in its original themes. It delivers triumphant, punch-the-air moments as the story reaches its climax.
Despite an over-reliance on chases and a notable absence of the stranded crews from the previous installment, this is an awesome episode. Its greatness lies in its exploration of the fundamental differences between Mariner’s and Locarno’s attitudes toward Starfleet and leadership. The episode skillfully reveals Locarno’s flaws, such as his ego and his attitude toward his co-conspirators, ultimately leading to his downfall. It’s a solid and exciting finale that delves into Mariner’s character, wraps up some story arcs and has some good gags… which is really all it needed to be.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.