Warp Factor Trek

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At a meeting of Starfleet officials, Admiral Buenamigo argues that the success of his new Texas-class AI ship rescuing the Cerritos has demonstrated that this hitherto classified project is now viable. He recommends that the automated ships replace the outmoded California-class vessels. Much to Captain Freeman’s shock, the Starfleet officials agree to this plan.

Meanwhile, Mariner and “independent space archaeologist” Petra Aberdeen are engaged in stealing back stolen relics from black market thieves by seizing a small idol from a group of Ferengi. It’s really nice to see Lower Decks continue to handle the Ferengi so neatly, getting just the right balance between the more comedic and scheming characters we grew used to in DS9 and the dangerous threat they were intended to be in TNG but never quite achieved. However, Mariner starts to become suspicious about who is funding the exploits of she and Petra.

While Mariner grows suspicious, Starfleet Command discusses the Texas-class

Back at Starfleet HQ, Freeman holds out for a race between the Cerritos and the Texas-class Aledo to try to prove the older crewed ship’s worth. Whereas the Aledo rescued the Cerritos last week, we will see which can carry out repairs, outpost installation, delivery of supplies, etc. the quickest and most efficiently.

Rutherford is meanwhile investigating a hunch – now that the Texas-class AI is declassified, he’s been able to get ahold of the coding for it. He thinks it looks familiar somehow. This is hardly surprising, given both that the interface in communications harkens back to the M-5 interface from TOS’s “The Ultimate Computer” and that the Cerritos crew (let alone Federation crews overall!) have encountered many dubious and scheming AIs, from AGIMUS to Peanut Hamper.

The M5-style communications interface

Once the contest has begun, it soon becomes clear that the Aledo is faster and more efficient at transporting supplies and building colony structures. The Cerritos crew are slower, partly because they’re organic and get tired and need breaks, and partly because Tendi finds some microbes on one of the planets which need to be double-checked by Dr. T’Ana to be sure they’re not complex lifeforms that would make the planet unsuitable for building on. Thanks to that, the Cerritos loses the race.

After it’s pointed out that the Aledo failed because it didn’t scan for potential lifeforms, Rutherford finds darker stuff in his investigations of the Texas-class code. It was familiar because he wrote it, before his accident and memory wipe. It turns out that Buenamigo was responsible for Rutherford’s memory wipe and personality change, so that he could steal Rutherford’s invention. It’s based on the same flawed code that Rutherford used later to make the patricidal Badgey… Yep, from here on in, things go gloriously awry for the Cerritos and her crew. And for Spacedock.

Buenamigo in his Spacedock office

Buenamigo is unaware that the code is flawed and obsessed with destroying its creators. He soon discovers this after he orders the Aledo to destroy the Cerritos. Instead of doing so, it opens fire on his Spacedock office, killing him. It then activates two other Texas-class ships, and they continue the assault on Spacedock’s defences.

Still suspicious about who’s funding their adventures, Mariner begins to investigate aboard her and Petra’s ship. She discovers that Petra’s secret backer is none other than… Admiral Jean-Luc Picard! Everything is actually all above board, but Mariner still misses Starfleet. She and Petra receive news of the attack on Spacedock, and the viewer can only hope that Mariner will save the day.

The menacing fleet of Texas-class ships

Realising that the creator of their programming is aboard the Cerritos, the three Texas-class ships set out to destroy the Cerritos – and Rutherford. What ensues is a thrilling battle and pursuit. Freeman has Boimler take the ship away from Earth so that the Texas-class attackers will have fewer innocents to turn on. The sequence is gorgeous, and the risk that our heroes and ship might not make it is genuinely concerning. The ship really, really takes a pounding, in heartfelt detail.

Finally, Boimler enables Shaxs to execute his long-held wish of remedying a situation by ejecting the warp core. Doing so causes a massive explosion that affects all three of the Texas-class starships.

The Cerritos ejects its warp core

Somehow, the Aledo survives the blast. Everything comes together when, just as the Cerritos crew are on the brink of abandoning ship, the combatants are surrounded not only by Mariner and Petra’s ship, but all the California-class ships too, with all their captains that we’ve previously seen in the series.

After the Aledo is destroyed, there’s a reunion in the Cerritos‘ bar while the ship is under repair. This scene adds to the feeling of closure we get in this season finale.

A malevolent AI returns

If you’re watching this episode for the first time, make sure you wait until the end of the credits. A post-credits scene shows a mysterious vessel engage a tractor beam around a piece of debris, which activates and displays the ominous image of Badgey. Could he still be alive? This scene was pretty much predictable as soon as Badgey was mentioned earlier in the episode and, in my opinion, it plays much more like just another gag than an actual season cliffhanger. Badgey was a good one-time villain, but he’s too generic and obvious to make an effective recurring one. I think we’ve seen just the right amount of him in the first three seasons, so I wouldn’t bring him back as an antagonist again. Tying him into the Texas-class code was the ideal extra mile to go.

Rating: 5/5

And so the season is over, with one of its best ever episodes, if not the best, and most satisfying. There are many lovely touches here – the mention of Picard; the follow-up on the story arcs of Mariner and Freeman as friends or foes; Rutherford’s memory wipe; Buenamigo sending the ship into known dangers to get an excuse to launch his project; Starfleet admirals being total nutters; even Shaxs’s long-held desire to solve a problem by ejecting the warp core. The Cerritos being shot to pieces is truly wrenching. The scene in which all the California-class ships arrive is a spine-tingling punch-the-air sequence, and a beautiful homage to the three seasons as a whole. The subsequent reunion is heartwarming. If there was never another episode, this would be the perfect wrap-up.

The music is great. The voice actors are all at their best, delivering their performances with so much range, and really making us feel how the characters have developed over time. Yes, there are all the usual easter eggs, continuity references, and so on, as you’d expect. But really, this is what a show’s climax should be. It’s even five minutes longer than usual. It feels both epic and like it flies along, so you don’t even notice the runtime. Perfect!

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