Many of us experience the pressures of working under calloused bosses or supervisors in our careers. At times, it can seem like our efforts and our sacrifices go unnoticed and unappreciated. Fortunately, the majority of us don’t work on a starship like the USS Cerritos, where a boss’s neglect isn’t life threatening…
We open on our Fave Four performing maintenance on a satellite. When their work is complete, they pause to marvel at the splendor of space before them. Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome) begins to reflect on the unity of the crew when the Cerritos gets a distress call from another ship and straight up leaves them. You read that right. Standing on the hull of the satellite in the void of space with nothing but their EVA suits. Ensign Tendi (Noël Wells) remains the eternal optimist, insisting that the crew will notice and return for them post haste. Six hours later, our Fave Four are beamed directly to sick bay as they cling to each other for warmth. Not exactly a morale booster…
After they thaw, Mariner is understandably pissed all the way off. She mouths off to Capt. Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and the senior staff, berating them for their poor treatment of their support crew. Freeman brushes her daughter’s ire off, insisting that they focus on the upcoming performance drills mandated by Starfleet Command.
In the cargo bay, the crew gathers to meet their drill administrator, Shari Yn Yem (Lennon Parham), an enthusiastic Pandronian who explains that the parameters of each drill are based on previous missions from other ships and crews. She adds that the crew’s roles will also be reversed, placing the Fave Four in senior positions while the Capt. Freeman and her staff work the lower decks. All of that sounds great until the Fave Four discover just how difficult the senior officers have it.
First thing’s first, Mariner gets assigned a drill in the Terran empire with the goal of getting back to the Prime universe. There are a few gags regarding the crew’s “reflection”, including an uncharacteristically sadistic (and horny) Billups. Terran Boimler immediately figures her out, causing her to fail.
Next, Tendi ascends to chief medical officer in her drill, tasked with aiding a wounded Klingon in his attempt to experience a warrior’s death. She’s on board, but loses points when she tries to give him a painless death. His survival earns her a failing grade.
Mariner tries again, this time finding herself in the simulated Old West. Once again overly confident, she fails when she’s abruptly trampled by her horse. Meanwhile, Ensign Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) gets a chance to be a 23rd century chief engineer, a la Wrath of Khan. He’s tasked with fixing a warp core before it breaches moments before the containment field fails. However, without a pair of safety gloves like Spock’s, Ruthie keeps burning his hands on the warp core door. He improvises and uses his boots, but isn’t fast enough to stop the entire ship from exploding.
Up next in the drill pod is Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid), who has the simple task of surviving an encounter with a Borg cube. Because Boimler is thee biggest nerd when it comes to researching the missions of other ships, he swiftly figures out how to get off the cube and into an escape sphere, surviving the encounter unscathed and with the first passing grade we’ve seen from the drills so far. Unsatisfied with his score, he insists on taking the drill again. And again. And again…
Mariner tries the drills again, this time receiving a scenario called “Naked Time”. She’s charged with saving her crew from a virus that removes the crew’s inhibitions, and walks directly into an orgy at the bar. Scarred by what she sees, Mariner elects to yeet herself and everyone else out of the airlock, failing instantly.
After a grueling day of testing, Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi convene in their new fancy quarters over an elaborate meal. Together they lament about their scores, and begin to admit that maybe – just maybe – the senior staff had a rough job after all. Boimler, who ordinarily loves a spread of fancy food, is still taking his evaluation, obsessively pursuing a perfect score. As Mariner reluctantly admits defeat, Tendi offers that the senior staff probably struggled with their tasks in return.
Meanwhile on the lower decks, Freeman and her staff are settling comfortably into their new bunks. Just when they get comfortable, they’re jolted awake by a red alert. After staggering to their sole drill pod, they are tasked with supporting their commanding officer. Together, Cmmdr. Ransom (Jerry O’Connell), Lt. Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore), Dr. T’Ana (Gillian Vigman), and Capt. Freeman slowly discovery the inherent difficulties that come with the lower ranks.
After the senior staff fails their crate-stacking mission amidst a Klingon/Q encounter, Shari Yn Yem introduces a new drill where the crew’s swapped roles are reflected in their gym assignments. Amidst shattered egos and triggered memories of naked time, things quickly go awry. Managing to set a new low record in scoring, the crew retires to the bar. Freeman and Mariner slowly realize that both ends of the crew have taken the other’s job for granted, and by watching the rest of the crew commiserate, they come to the conclusion that team work must be the ultimate goal of the drills.
Together in a rare display of cohesion, Mariner and Freeman rush to thank Yn Yem for her help in recognizing worth across the decks. The instructor finally reveals her true intentions, stating that she’d picked the Cerritos specifically because of its record of poor performance with the hopes of protecting her career in Starfleet. Declaring that once the final test has been completed and its results submitted, the crew would be disbanded and reassigned. Realizing Boimler has been in the pod this whole time, Freeman and Mariner convince him not to finish to buy themselves time to foil the plan.
On their way to the bridge, Yn Yem starts talking all kinds of classist trash about the crew of the Cerritos, insisting upon their insignificance in the grand scheme of the fleet. Freeman and Mariner insist on their worth while Yn Yem eggs scoffs, boasting that she’s read all about life on starships. Freeman exploits the fact that the administrator has never actually worked in space, and sets out to find a dangerous scenario for the crew to prove their worth..
Still in the pod, Boimer is narrowly dodging drones, only to be cornered by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige). He briefly tries to reason with her before the drones drag him off to be assimilated.
Meanwhile, the ship pulls up alongside a crystalline entity feeding on unstable nebula radiation. Yn Yem is instantly intimidated by the size of the entity, but Freeman gives the order to investigate further. Shields hold despite the turbulence, but Yn Yem and her many parts are tossed about the bridge while the crew stays calm.
Boimler is now strapped to a Borg operating table like Data in First Contact. And, like that well-known scene, is being stalked by the Borg Queen while the drones prep him for assimilation. He tries to rationalize that his hay fever and acid reflux might not be the best distinctive trait to add to the collective, shrieking for Mariner to hurry whatever she was doing.
Back on the bridge, Freeman stretches out their escape specifically to terrify Yn Yem. Once they’ve gotten out of dodge, Freeman gives the order to find something else dangerous to explore. Yn Yem pleads with her to stop, but Freeman (much like her daughter) is relentless, choosing a black hole to investigate unless the administrator changed their score. Yn Yem reminds her of the safety of the crew, to which Freeman remarks with confidence in her crew’s ability to survive the life-or-death perils of space exploration. Terrified, Yn Yem concedes and passes the crew of the Cerritos. Snapping quickly out of harm’s way, Freeman snatches the test results, declaring to note Yn Yem’s fraudulent behavior to Starfleet Command.
Feeling rather pleased with their success, Mariner calls for Boimler to end his drill. Inside the drill, poor Boimler has already been assimilated. The crew cracks open the pod to drag him to the bar for a celebratory drink. Later, Freeman and her staff gift the lower ranks with new replicators, declaring that they deserved access to the best if they were going to be risking their lives for the sake of duty.
If there was ever a doubt that this show tackled the problems of classism within the confines of a military-esque space organization, this episode should leave no doubts in its wake. The parallels between the senior staff and lower decks are clearly defined here, particularly the intimate nature of Shaxs and T’Ana’s relationship as it hints to what could be in store for Rutherford and Tendi. Boimler houses the Borg in this episode, putting Picard and even Janeway to shame with the sheer number of times he beat that simulation. Say what you want, but Bradward Boimler shall henceforth be known as the Borg King.