After Mariner's latest transgression (violating the Prime Directive, no less, but for reasons many Trek fans might argue is a case for violating it), Freeman orders her to attend therapy. Under duress, she does, and hates it. But when she discovers Boimler has an elaborate and realistic holodeck program of the entire Cerritos crew — which uses real personal data that makes the characters behave exactly as their real-life counterparts would — she gets an idea.
Mariner repurposes the program into an interactive holodeck movie called Crisis Point: The Rise of Vindicta, which comes with a dramatic opening credit sequence and is replete with all the Hollywood blockbuster trappings. She casts herself as the villain, on a collision course with the Cerritos, captained by her mother, upon whom she wants to acquire a grand fantasy revenge.
"Crisis Point" is in the tradition of the best holodeck episodes from Voyager ("Living Witness," "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy," "Author, Author," "Worst Case Scenario") that used the holodeck to analyze the characters in alternate situations, often to great dramatic or comic effect. The key to those episodes, and this one, are the characters under the microscope.
This begins as an exuberant and elevated cinematic take on the Cerritos that's more heroic than this show usually affords this crew. (There's a lengthy, half-parody-half-serious sequence where Freeman boards her new ship, and it plays like a meld of those lengthy cruise ballets in Star Trek: TMP, and Star Trek III, right down to the James Horner-esque score.) Then there's epic, melodramatic villainy in the part of Mariner-as-Vindicta, who hams it up like she's in a B movie. Tendi and Rutherford are having fun too. (Boimler, not so much, because all he wants to use the program for — which he created, by the way — is to understand how Freeman reacts to certain situations so he can be as possibly prepared as he can for his performance evaluation.)
Underneath it all is a simmering and very twisted darkness of rage: Mariner's plan to confront her mother and, as the villain, murder her. As we get closer to that realization, we begin to wonder just how far into the heart of darkness Mariner will go, and how far we will follow. It gets a little uneasy at times, and that's to the episode's credit.
Also here, however, is a holodeck version of Mariner herself, which, crucially, is also based on Mariner's actual logs and personality. So in order to kill Freeman, real-Mariner-as-Vindicta has to go through holo-Mariner first. It's an especially clever twist of the plot, because we get an angry role-playing Mariner going up against a holodeck version that may very well represent her truer self, rather than the one so currently consumed by anger and fantasy. This leads to an epic fight between the two that is as elaborate as any hand-to-hand combat sequence on Trek. It remains compelling because there's a true character psychology at stake (even if it's seriocomic). Who better to tell you the truth than an AI version of yourself? Similarly, there are things that are said between Mariner and the holodeck version of her mother that allow truths to be aired that wouldn't happen in real life.
Back in the pilot, I called the animation "purely functional," but I have to amend that after seeing much of the rest of the season. The animation can actually be pretty dynamic and inventive — and there are so many different shots in these episodes because of their breakneck pace that I must give the animators credit just for pure effort if nothing else, because of the sheer volume they turn out.
This is easily the best episode of the season. While these characters are still cartoons with mostly cartoon depth (by the end, Mariner has the epiphany that "Therapy works!" — it just had to be in a holodeck), "Crisis Point" shows an affection and deeper understanding for Mariner that I hope can serve as a turning point for her (although it may not).
It also ends on a great gag, with the holodeck version of Freeman revealing to Boimler that Mariner is actually her daughter, but in a way that makes it pretty clear to Boimler that this is a secret he can't let slip that he knows back to the captain, especially in light of his upcoming performance evaluation. When Boimler panics and runs out of the room at that evaluation, Freeman notes how he didn't prepare. This is funny because the writers put in the time to set up the joke and perfectly pay it off — always a better strategy than random one-liners.
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