Star Trek: Lower Decks

“The Inner Fight”

3 stars.

Air date: 10/26/2023
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Brandon Williams

Review Text

"The Inner Fight" might be the most plot-heavy episode of the season. It's more adventure than comedy, and that ends up working in its favor, because it feels like more meat than fluff. It also has a character core that's intriguing, although not outstanding. And it ends in a cliffhanger, setting up next week's season finale with the most unlikely of villains. The result is an entertaining, albeit very busy, episode that separates into a reliable A/B story structure that comes together at the end.

In the A-plot, Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and T'Lyn are dispatched by Freeman via shuttle to Sherbal V, which is supposed to be a safe and routine mission. Safe and routine is exactly what Mariner needs right now, because she has recently been acting out and putting herself in extreme danger (picking fights, risking her life playing the hero) for some unrevealed personal psychological reason. (Mariner's behavior reminds me of Torres' behavior in "Extreme Risk," which this episode strangely doesn't reference directly.)

Well, surprise — the safe and routine mission turns significant and dangerous when some Klingons attack the shuttle and destroy it, leaving our crew stranded on the planet surface below. There, they encounter the different leaders from the various crews who were attacked and abducted by the Serial Mystery Vessel and subsequently left here, marooned by their own crews, who were manipulated into turning against them. They spend their time fighting one another in hand-to-hand combat because ... well, what else are they gonna do while marooned, I guess? Our stranded Starfleet officers lie low to stay out of the fray (and to keep Mariner out of trouble).

Naturally, Mariner sneaks off into the night to embark on some dangerous reconnaissance. She ends up encountering Klingon Ma'ah, marooned here by his crew, and after an initial round of ass-kicking combat and then a flight from a literal storm of glass, they take refuge in a cave where they talk to each other and Mariner opens up about her reckless behavior: She never wanted the promotion to lieutenant. She wanted to remain an ensign like her academy friend and mentor, Sito, who sacrificed herself for a mission greater than herself in the very TNG episode this series is named after. In the years since, Mariner went through the Dominion War and became disillusioned with a Starfleet that seemed too preoccupied with wars and conflict and less with exploration and discovery.

While the character work is welcome — and the nod to this series' progenitor is an especially apt tie-in — the actual idea of how this manifests itself in Mariner feels contrived for a character who is typically so cynically self-aware. I guess it makes some sense since Mariner has clearly always had her self-destructive demons. But her read on all this is that she shouldn't rise above the rank of ensign because her mentor tragically died as one? Really? Ma'ah is right to point it out as an absurd dishonor to Sito's memory. Still, I appreciated the underlying thought and the resulting dialogue between Mariner and Ma'ah.

Mariner and Ma'ah return to the fray — which, weirdly/amusingly, takes place at a base in the middle of the forest that is designed to exactly resemble the Imperial base on the moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi, complete with a John Williams-esque score — where Mariner makes a big speech arguing that everyone needs to work together against the common enemy who brought them here rather than fighting among themselves. But then she is suddenly beamed away ... to the Serial Mystery Vessel.

In the B-plot, Freeman, Ransom, and Rutherford attempt to track down Nick Locarno, one of four ex-Starfleet officers (the others being Seven of Nine, Beverly Crusher, and Thomas Riker) who are the newest targets in the Serial Mystery Vessel's apparent kidnapping plot. (Why Starfleet thinks ex-Starfleet officers are the new targets in the first place is elided so thoroughly from the plot's rationale that it feels like invented intelligence.) This leads them to the seedy Mos Eisley-like New Axton (which might as well be M'Talas Prime), where someone has information about Locarno — and where they find that no shady character wants to talk to Starfleet, because they might as well be the FBI.

This leads to a mildly amusing bit where Freeman refuses to be conned by an alien puppet that resembles the one from "The Corbomite Maneuver" before learning the puppet is actually a small alien. It's an obvious punchline, but still a fun one. Ultimately, Freeman shows that the Cerritos crew can be competent and clever: She knew being Starfleet would get them nowhere, so she had sent Billups undercover as a bounty hunter to get the information they needed, playing the anti-Starfleet bias in their favor. The crucial piece of information leads them to a secret facility, where they find the real truth about Nick Locarno...

Locarno (Robert Duncan McNeill) is the one behind the Serial Mystery Vessel, and now he has Mariner as his prisoner, with unclear motives. This is a most puzzling development, albeit one that will probably make sense in its Lower Decks way before it's all over. What's more puzzling is that there's no joke here equating Nick Locarno to Tom Paris. That's a fastball right over the plate that the Lower Decks writers just stare at as it whizzes by. I'm guessing they're saving the joke for part two, but they probably should've gotten it out of the way now. I mean, it's not that great of a joke.

Previous episode: Caves
Next episode: Old Friends, New Planets

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25 comments on this post

    An excellent episode that ties together the two main arcs of the sea­son, to wit, the mys­tery ship and Ma­ri­ner’s self-de­struc­tive ways. On that mat­ter, it dis­clo­ses at least two long-await­ed mys­teries, and I like both of them. Ma­ri­ner’s con­nec­tion to Sito ex­plains some of her frus­tra­tion with Star­fleet, al­lud­ing to the age-old con­flict be­tween ex­plo­ra­tion and mi­li­ta­rism, and fol­low­ing up one of the very best epis­odes of TNG. On the other side, the si­tu­a­ti­on on Sher­bal V (some­what re­mi­nis­cent of “Basics”) fi­nal­ly ad­van­ces the plot of the Mys­tery Ship, and at the end we even learn about the vil­lain master­mind­ing the at­tacks, and I dare­say, no one had ex­pect­ed that.

    Speaking about Ma­ri­ner and her arc, I found it a bril­li­ant move to have Ma’ah talk­ing sen­se in­to her. He is a ge­nui­ne war­rior, while she is just a pre­ten­der that does not ap­pro­ve Star­fleet’s ack­nowledge­ment of mi­li­ta­ry ne­ces­si­ties forc­ed by ex­ter­nal cir­cum­stan­ces and para­doxi­cal­ly pre­sents her­self as an ob­noxi­ous über-war­rior (“I am the new apex-preda­tor around here”) out of pure spite. The scene of the twain in the cave was out­stand­ing, and neat­ly con­ti­nues the pre­vi­ous one (also in a cave) where her friends fail­ed get­ting through to Ma­ri­ner. I find it very plaus­ible that she would open up rather to a stran­ger than to her friends, and since the au­di­ence knows Ma’ah is ho­nour­able, the scene flows per­fect­ly.

    At the end of the day, Starfleet ideals win the day, and the ab­duct­ed crews suc­ceed by co­ope­ra­ti­on. Yet Ma­ri­ner gets ab­duct­ed by the vil­lain in his Mys­tery Ship, and that cliff­hanger end­ing gave me much to think about. Could it be that his mo­ti­va­tion is some­how mir­ror­ing hers, given the Sito re­fe­ren­ce ear­lier? He might ac­tu­al­ly be a sym­pa­the­tic vil­lain, and she might be tempt­ed to join him, which could give a lot of inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­ti­ons in the last epis­ode, ex­plor­ing the space be­tween or­der and cha­os, and be­tween be­ing prin­ci­pled and open for com­pro­mise.

    The rest of the gang gets a little bit side­lined in this clearly Ma­ri­ner-cen­tric epis­ode, al­though both Boim­ler and T’Lyn get a couple of good lines, and Tendi has an awe­some “Mis­tress of the Win­ter Con­stel­la­ti­on” mo­ment. Si­mi­lar­ly, the mis­si­on of the bridge crew to New Axton had its strengths in mak­ing fun the the ar­ro­gant at­ti­tu­de that any­thing that does not con­form to Star­fleet rules lacks rules en­tire­ly and is thus law­less; those who have tra­vel­led enough may have fal­len into that trap them­sel­ves at some point of time. Of course I also loved the Balok look­ali­ke and that the sub­plot again high­ligh­ted Free­man’s com­pe­ten­cy. Yet, amus­ing as it might be, it got over­shadow­ed by Ma­ri­ner’s sto­ry. The re­sult of this plot strand simply is that Star­fleet, by a se­ries of er­rors and hi­jinks, fi­nal­ly comes to know the iden­ti­ty of the villain.

    This episode, however, had another bene­fit: It was funny. Last week’s out­ing lack­ed in that de­part­ment, but now Lower Decks is back to its for­mer strength of suc­cess­ful­ly blend­ing humour, cha­rac­ter drama and plot in un­expec­ted ways (see “Cri­sis Point” as an exam­ple). There were many funny lines by T’Lyn (“Per­haps we should find shel­ter before any­thing is brought on”, “I have no doubt you would have tried”), Boimler (“[My adre­na­line] wore off, like, two pa­nics ago”) and Shaxs (“New Ax­ton — Twice as law­less as Old Ax­ton, but with­out any of the charm”). But I will give the Quote of the Epis­ode to Boim­ler‘s “Teach me how to tap-dance, Be­ver­ly Cru­sher”. What an un­ex­pect­ed call­back to The Danc­ing Doc­tor (“Data’s Day”)!

    Lower Decks has proved its toDuj again in this epis­ode. I ab­so­lu­te­ly loved it and give 3½ stars, hop­ing that the up­com­ing sea­son fi­na­le will do even more glo­ri­ous­ly and win most ho­nour­able four stars.

    Lower Decks closing a season strong again, with an excellent first section to a two-part finale.

    Mariner's character arc over the course of the season is finally paid off, with the hanging question from the sixth episode finally answered. I'm a little surprised that Sito Jaxa was a friend of hers. That seems to suggest Mariner is canonically in her early 30s though, which sounds about right. Regardless, I'm still astounded by the ability of this show to pull off character arcs better than Trek shows with full-length episodes.

    The other lower deckers get little to do here, though what they lack in emotional pathos they make up for in terms of humor. Boimler continues to get some of the best one-liners in the series (making up somewhat for his character arc being stagnant since Season 2), and T'Lyn's wonderful Daria-esque deadpan was a welcome return. Tendi and Rutherford don't get much to do, but you can't fit them all in here.

    Turning to plot, the payoff for the seasonal mystery was absolutely bonkers, and I can't wait to see where this is going next week. I'm happy that Ma'ah is back as well. Given the Bird of Prey was still active, and only a handful of crew were stranded on the planet, it seems like Locarno was really just kidnapping senior officers from each ship, and turning them over to the lower deckers? It might make for an interesting idea thematically, though I have a hard time taking it seriously, even in the lower decks world.

    The B-plot involving Freeman, Shax, and Rutherford trying to infiltrate the crime planet was pretty insubstantial, but it was mostly there to leaven the more heavy character drama of Mariner's arc with some more genuine jokes, and the twist that Freeman was indeed not an idiot saved this segment's believability. I was getting a bit of a Star Wars vibe out of the planet, and I wish they leaned into it a bit harder, but I'm sure Paramount didn't want to get sued.

    On the whole, pretty much everything you'd want out of the first part of a two-part Trek story. Lots of it was just setup. Let's see next week how the payoff goes.

    Two weeks ago, I said this about the resolution of the mystery ship arc:

    "Personally, I kind of hope that the force behind this turns out to be something stupid. If it's all a gag to make fun of serialized arcs that are dragged out over an entire season, I will laugh so hard."

    I'm happy to report that I have indeed been laughing so hard because the answer is even stupider than I could have possibly guessed (and I love it). In retrospect, maybe we should have figured it out because the basic shape of his ship is very similar to the Academy training craft Nova Squadron flew in "The First Duty."

    Well, I can honestly say I did not see that coming. At all.

    I predict that for the finale, Paramount shells out extra for the stunt casting and we get Tom Paris making a cameo appearance.

    Setting this episode of “Star Trek” in San Francisco was a bold choice and a clever callback to “Star Trek 2” that will surely please Trek-heads the world over. Somebody at Paramount (a movie company) needs to call Tim Burton to direct a movie of this episode, but only with Johnny Depp as Boimler.

    I give this episode five bags of popcorn along with a little figurine of of an eagle as a bonus for how it pays tribute to the father of the Star Trek Universe, the Big Bird of the Galaxy himself Mr. Jean Rodberry.

    - Gregg Turkington, movie/Star Trek buff

    That was so unexpected, in such an amusing way, that it's gone and got me commenting. I've been following this site for half my life, and I've almost never commented.

    What the hell, writers. Well played.

    I originally thought Mariner would have been one of the Enterprise children but it seems her connection is actually with being in the same general class as Wesley Crusher's group in "First Duty."

    The REAL question for me is whether Lorcano will be ringing the bell from that episode that the DS9 writers considered doing and showing that Sito has been in a Cardassian Prison camp for the past fourteen years.

    A very good addition to Mariners backstory, and a meaningful justification for her insolent behaviour towards promotions. Well done.

    I think the funniest thing the show could do with the Paris/Locarno thing is not mention it at all.

    I enjoyed the episode, but Maraner knowing Sito and that relationship being the core of her dysfunction felt too contrived for me. This is literally the first we're hearing of these characters knowing each other.

    I thunk the idea behind her not rising beyond ensign is supposed to be that she ordered troops to their deaths during the Dominion War, and *that's* why she got herself busted down and refuses responsibility, so that part makes some sense to me.

    One interesting thing this episode does is recontetualize "Much Ado About Boimler" and Mariner's relationship with Amina Ramsey. There was a lot of speculation that Amina was a kind of wunderkind and excessively young as a Captain. In fact, if Amina is the same age at 32-35 then she's a perfectly appropriate age for being a captain and her concern about Mariner still being an ensign becomes a lot more justifiable. It also affects Mariner's relationship/sexual tension with Ransom as they're probably the same age but just very different ranks.

    Impressive use of the various story threads throughout the season with an intriguing plot on the planet. Clearly something was bothering Mariner this year, and it was an inspiring choice to use Ensign Sito from the original episode of “Lower Decks” to illuminate her problem. What seemed oddly appropriate in an episode called “The Inner Fight” (heh) was that Mariner’s admission came about during a fight with Ma'ah. It somehow felt natural that a Klingon would be able to recognize what drove Mariner’s fight and be able to deduce her true motives. Later, Mariner seems to takes revelation with Ma'ah to heart, possibly guided by her memory of Sito’s bravery, and gives a rousing speech to all the random crews that were abducted this season. This bit not just great Lower Decks but great Star Trek.
    The B-plot with Freeman was less engaging, but at least proved that Freeman is no dope when it comes to dealing with outlaws. Locarno was also a great callback. It’s fun to see that he’s actually *not Tom Paris* but has a darker story of his own after his failure in “The First Duty”.
    This is a 3.5 and nearly a 4. The weaker B-plot drags it down a bit and the Sito connection needs some more explanation, but for the latter we shall see!

    I like how this episode ties Lower Decks the series to "Lower Decks" the episode, even if Mariner knowing (and being best friends with) Sito Jaxa contributes a bit to the "small world" feeling the series makes of the Star Trek universe sometimes. And I am also wondering if we're (finally) going to find out that Sito is alive! That's been floating around as a story idea for a really long time. I think they were very close to doing it on DS9 and just never got around to it. Personally I would like to see it. Some might feel it would cheapen "Lower Decks" the episode, but I don't think so. Not at all.

    I never, ever thought we would see Nick Locarno again. I thought Lower Decks would reference him, sure, but for him to actually show up? And played by Robbie again? Never, ever, ever, EVER, hahahahaha.

    It seems too much of a missed opportunity for Tom Paris NOT to show up, at least briefly, and interact with Locarno. They're already paying Robbie for the episode. We shall see.

    I do think the show finally needs to commit and tell us Mariner's backstory. Trying to piece it all together and make it fit is a bit of a headache. I've written this before, but my theory is that she was black ops during the Dominion War stationed on DS9, maybe ultimately reporting to Worf. And that burned her out and disillusioned her and explained her current attitude on the Cerritos. This latest information . . . is pretty close, except they're making Sito Jaxa's death the primary trigger instead, and the war stuff--however bad it was for her and whatever it was she was doing--just reinforced it.

    I really, really like how now, nearly four seasons in, the psychology of Mariner as a character makes perfect sense with these story reveals. How she came to be who she is understandable, even if the timeline of events isn't quite. To the point where I was (mostly) able to anticipate it, it feels like it was thought out from the beginning, and they didn't just decide to "create a wacky character just because." I know some viewers struggled with her as a character early on because that's what they thought the writers had done.

    Boimler, Mariner, Tendi--they've had so much development now they all feel like real people and we understand what makes them tick and it's believable, and we mostly know how they're going to react in a given situation. We need to get back to whatever is going on with Rutherford's implant at some point, but he's well on his way, too.

    Looking forward to what they do with this plot setup next week!

    I did enjoy the meta comment from Mariner lamenting the noticeable shift in Starfleet from exploration to combat - which mimics how Star Trek transitioned from TOS/TNG’s heavy sci-fi bent towards NuTrek action-oriented shows. DS9 started the trend, even it still being the best Trek show ever, so the Dominion War mention was particularly apt.

    "I do think the show finally needs to commit and tell us Mariner's backstory. Trying to piece it all together and make it fit is a bit of a headache."

    I don't know if Mariner's past is ever going to make perfect sense or even if the writers should try. Consider that this show could keep going on for years to come and they'll need to give more hints about Mariner's past without giving away the entire mystique.

    It's like DS9's Garak; the audience never learns the full truth but we get enough pieces to make up an interesting story on our own. It's just that in Lower Decks, Mariner's backstory has almost become a running gag — which is fine in comedy.

    I loved how this episode simultaneously tied in all the ongoing plot and character arcs while also being fun and entertaining A/B story in its own right. T'Lyn didn't have a lot to do, but she seemed more comfortable interacting with everyone in her limited screen time. Similarly, I loved how Tendi didn't shy away from her Orion status when it meant helping Mariner out.

    As soon as we heard Locarno in the first act, I kept thinking they would bump into him somewhere on the planet, or that the bounty hunter was him; I like how it turned out to be Billups and Freeman was shrewder than we thought, and wore Starfleet unis on purpose. I mean even the TNG dorks dressed down in "Gambit" to gather intel!

    While Jammer says it's weird there was no joke about the Locarno/Paris connection, I highly doubt it was a missed opportunity and rather a very conscious choice not to connect the two. In agreement with other commenters, I have no problem with them never mentioning it!

    I'll just note that when Sito passed in "Lower Decks", I remember being extremely sad about it...even moreso than "The Inner Light." It's almost like LD knew the emotional resonance of both those episodes when it chose that episode title. Trek had been so cavalier about redshirts (usually lower decks) dying, but "Lower Decks" showed that even the loss of a minor junior officer can hit just as hard.

    While I'm sad this fourth season is ending so soon, it looks like it's going to go out on a high note, and I'm buoyed by the news a fifth season is in the works. Hopefully it can go the full seven and take its place among the Trek "Big Boys" of TNG, DS9, and VOY.

    Being animation, there are few barriers to it going on longer than seven seasons, even. Who knows what P+'s business model for it looks like, though. I'm just going off what we see with other animated shows. They all seem to last forever. Even when they go away they seem to come back periodically, like Futurama. Why couldn't/wouldn't it be the same for Lower Decks? I wouldn't be surprised either way.

    Mariner's backstory regarding Sito was great to hear. It helped make me feel better about all the repetitive non-character development done by Mariner for the past season despite feeling out of character. I think the only thing I would add is that the Sito connection really came out of nowhere.

    Seeing Locarno again is awesome. I hope we see Thomas Riker at some point.

    @Jeffrey's Tube - "I do think the show finally needs to commit and tell us Mariner's backstory. Trying to piece it all together and make it fit is a bit of a headache."

    → I'm on board with this. So much of her motivations are a mystery, and this one filled in a meaningful gap, but I can't help but feel like there's more to it all.

    This recontextualizes Mariner's calisthenics program a bit. Also count me as part of the "waiting for a Paris/Locarno joke" crew. ^ And yeah, it's a way outside bet but Thomas somehow being involved would be neat, too.

    "Teach me to tap dance Beverley." No one found that laugh out loud funny?

    I shed a tear at the Sito scene.

    Locarno has found out she’s alive and going to rescue her with Mariner?

    Loved this.

    So what do we think it means that Locarno wears the symbol of the Kolvoord Starburst on his jacket? What does it mean about his psychology?

    Part of having it must mean that he's continuing his on journey for what he believes his purpose is in his life as he's tied to it, but it's also a representation of the decision for how he got his co-pilot and fellow classmate killed. I suppose it can also serve as a reminder and honor to his lost friend. But how appropriate is that given it's something Locarno pushed him to?

    The only thing that really bothered me about this episode was the treatment of Rutherford. I didn't understand why he went with the Freeman group rather than with his friends, and then he didn't do anything at all on that mission. What's up with that?

    Otherwise, this episode is the best of the season for me. I was happy to see T'Lynn again and loved the development of Ma'ah. Nobody has mentioned this I don't think, but after Marriner was beamed away the kidnappees got restless again, and Ma'ah took them in hand effortlessly. More Ma'ah!

    @Chrome, Andrew Robinson recently wrote a book about Garak’s backstory called “A Stitch in Time”. Much like Guinan, I always preferred the characters like that to stay fully mysterious (despite the “Mystic Negro” trope for Guinan that is often rightfully derided now) but the Garak book is quite good.

    My recommendation is for the audiobook, which is read by Andrew Robinson. It’s fun to hear his voice again as the character, and more fun when he does voices for Sisko and Odo.

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