"Strange Energies" opens with Mariner being interrogated in a Cardassian prison ("Chain of Command" style), which she breaks out of in a lively action sequence where she, as one individual, takes on an entire security force in a daring and fantastical escape. It's a holodeck "workout routine" fantasy, but a fun and inventive one that serves as a good curtain raiser for the new season.
Unfortunately, I can't really get behind most of the rest of the episode, which borrows from TOS and TNG highlight reels and amps them up with Animation Zaniness. The strategy seems to be: start with a smallish character story, then filter that through escalating, over-the-top cartoon action. This has the paradoxical but predictable effect of things becoming more boring as they get more outlandish. By the end, I was zoning out.
We have two character-based stories. In the first one, Mariner and Freeman are working more closely together, and Mariner's mother is extending her autonomy to call her own shots, which is vexing Commander Ransom, particularly on away missions. When Ransom gets zapped by some "strange energies" on the planet surface, he turns into a power-hungry superbeing, Gary Mitchell style. (Mitchell is specifically name-dropped, pursuant to this show's style of self-aware references.) The ensuing mayhem increases until Ransom's head detaches from his body, grows to a massive size, and goes into planetary orbit to attack (i.e., eat) the Cerritos. Freeman can only stave it off by assuaging Ransom's ego — while Mariner kicks Ransom's body repeatedly in the groin to beat him into submission, something that admittedly made me chuckle under the "repetition is funny" comedy axiom. But overall here: meh.
In the better, more initially grounded B-story, Tendi fears that Rutherford's memory loss and resulting slightly altered personality (he went on a second first-date with Ensign Barnes, which went well this time instead of ending in failure, and he now likes pears where he previously hated them) may result in her status as his best friend changing. This starts out as a decent character story, but again, it's not helped by its ensuing cartoon excesses, where the usually somewhat grounded Tendi becomes excessively crazed about the prospect of losing Rutherford as a friend — resulting in her giving him electrostatic therapy and chasing him around the mess hall with some sort of medical gun. You can feel the moment when this story goes off the rails, and it's not subtle.
This series really needs to trust the audience to invest in these character stories on their own merits rather than feeling the need to launch into these obligatory exercises in animated madcap excess. When it comes to character study, less is more. As a season opener, I was hoping for better.
Meanwhile, Boimler is facing all sorts of danger in his adventures on the Titan. But that's a story for another episode, merely teased here...
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