Well, imagine that. Right after I expressed my disappointment with the bulk of this season, Lower Decks went and turned itself around and put itself on a multi-episode roll. Now we have "wej Duj," the best episode of the second season so far, and one that works because it makes the effort to tell a solid story, link multiple threads together, expand the series' scope, and find a good deal of humor without needing to do a lot of "jokes."
This is like the "Lower Decks" of Lower Decks, in that it finds novelty in an off-format presentation, featuring a bunch of characters we've never met before. The episode is seen from the point of view of not just the Cerritos Lower Decks, but also the Lower Decks on a Klingon Bird of Prey and a Vulcan science vessel. That these three strands are on a collision course probably goes without saying, but one of the pleasures of this episode is seeing these vastly different takes on low-ranking officers and seeing how all their stories inevitably converge.
The Klingon ship features TNG-era Klingons doing TNG-era Klingon things. Low-ranking officers like Ma'ah are relegated to ignominious duties like disposing of the bodies of those who challenge Captain Dorg (and fail), and monitoring his targ's bowel movements. Like everyone everywhere, these peons just want to be respected and valued, while dreaming of glories larger than what they currently have. Their dreams and glories just have a Klingon bent.
Similarly, on the Vulcan ship, we have an officer named T'Lyn (named after the episode's writer, I presume?), who is too impulsive and emotional for her peers' and superiors' tastes. She has developed experimental technology she wants to test. She wants to follow the mysterious readings coming from the nearby sector of space. She wants to … not go through the daily motions, and instead express her ambitions. For her "outbursts," the captain orders her to mandatory meditation (or "punitive spiritualism" as T'Lyn wryly calls it). The joke here, of course, is that T'Lyn has absolutely the same calm Vulcan monotone as everyone else; what passes as emotional impulsivity is merely a desire to think outside the box while expressing an opinion. Ah, the insufferable TNG-era Vulcans — always overstated in their Vulcan-ness. Lower Decks manages to tap into this with a full awareness and an absolutely uncompromising deadpan rendition that's funnier with each scene because it exists simultaneously as homage and satire. (By the end of the episode, T'Lyn is banished to Starfleet, and if she doesn't end up on the Cerritos, it will be a crime.)
Meanwhile, Boimler, having no plans while all his friends do, keeps trying to crash everyone's party in an attempt to pair up with a senior officer during the crew's warp-travel downtime. He fails miserably a few times, setting off Shaxs with the slightest idle chat that would dare to imply Shaxs would've had any time for leisure activities back on Bajor while he was busy resisting the Cardassians. Boimler then does his Spock in Star Trek V thing in the holodeck (I never thought I'd be happy to see a reference to the El Capitan Mountain sequence, complete with "Go climb a rock" T-shirt). Later, he walks in on Mariner and Freeman working out their hostilities in the phaser-firing range. (Later, we see Freeman wearing a "RITOS" T-shirt, a hilarious and appropriately goofy nod to the "DISCO" shirts.) Ultimately Boimler happens upon Ransom's "Hawaii club," and keeps lying about being born in Hawaii, just so he can keep hangin' with the gang. This is sitcom fluff, but fun and breezy enough.
The plot thickens when we learn Dorg is actually behind a rogue plot to supply the Pakleds with weapons and has been using them as stooges for months to sow chaos in his first step of a larger plan to undermine the Federation. It's about here where all the plots and ships converge upon the Pakleds, and a battle breaks out. (During the battle, the Pakleds' sirens declare "red alarm" in a Pakled dullardness that's worth a chuckle, and we get a glimpse of the Lower Deckers on the Pakled ship, who play no part in this story except to be shown as existing, which brings the joke all the way around without spending one second more on it than is needed. Nicely done.) When Ma'ah learns of Dorg's plot, he accuses him of dishonorable conduct and challenges him to a battle to the death. This whole thing employs numerous Klingon tropes we've come to love over the years, and it does so with a surprising amount of urgency and legitimacy. (One missed opportunity: a reference that Martok is leading the Klingon Empire at this point in time, and perhaps a window into that perspective post-DS9.)
"Wej Duj" works by leaning heavily into the Star Trek action/drama aspects of its material and playing itself mostly straight, with a plot we can sink our teeth into, but also letting the humor bubble up in the process. And that tag with the Borg cube Lower Decks — what more needs to be said?
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