Life aboard the USS Cerritos seems to be settling into a groove of normalcy. Or at least, as normal as things can get on everyone’s favorite California-class starship…
First thing out the gate, we learn that Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) has kept up with her holo-therapy sessions, although her version of therapy is apparently a harrowing escape from a Cardassian (FINALLY) detention center while she talks out her feelings about working alongside her mother, Capt. Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis).
After the titles, the dynamic mother/daughter duo discuss the final steps of their latest second contact mission as the Cerritos orbits the newest Federation planet Apergos. Mariner asks permission for her latest side mission, the noble and selfless act of power-washing the Apergosian capital city in an attempt to convince the citizens to take pride in their planet. Freeman agrees off the record, and Cmmdr. Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) – who’s been standing there the whole time – reminds them that the away team is waiting for the captain’s orders to finalize the mission. Freeman acquiesces, reminding him to ensure that Mariner received whatever she needed as well.
Mariner goes to her bunk to make a personal log, gloating to Ensigns D’vana Tendi (Noël Wells) and Samanthan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) about her latest battle of wits with Ransom. Rutherford shares his excitement about his upcoming third date with Ensign Barnes – the same Barnes he dated back in the first season. Tendi is worried that Rutherford’s reinstalled cybernetic tech is malfunctioning, and decides to cure her friend of whatever’s ailing him. After finding her PADD in Boimler’s old bunk, Mariner pauses to reflect again on how his abrupt departure affected her.
Down on the planet, Ransom struggles to convince the Apergosian High Leader to choose a subspace number – any subspace number – to complete their acceptance into the Federation. Apergosians are apparently extremely choosy about numbers in general, and the High Leader insists on seeing a wider selection of subspace numbers to choose from. Ransom orders Mariner to bring them more PADDs, but she casually refuses, suggesting that the eager Lt. Cmmdr. Stevens does it instead.
Ransom’s frustration grows as Mariner proceeds to power wash an edifice, revealing an ancient mural, much to the surprise of the Apergosians. Mariner then inadvertently cleans an ornamental orb allowing the sun to peer through it, activating an enormous device which begins striking the ground with beams of powerful light. Ransom orders Mariner to stand clear as the Apersogians scatter, dashing to push her out of the way, getting struck instead.
Ransom awakes looking a bit singed, much to Stevens’ relief. Dr. T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) beams down to assess the damage, and concludes that Ransom has been struck by “strange energies” and should be handled with extreme caution. When Capt. Freeman asks for clarification, T’Ana references the curious case of Lt. Cmmdr. Gary Mitchell from The Original Series episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Ransom insists that he’s fine, and his new god-like powers manifest right on cue.
As Freeman tries to figure out what to do about Ransom back on the bridge, she receives a communication from Admiral Freeman (Phil LaMarr), by way of Starfleet Command. The captain takes the call in her ready room, and the admiral informs her how impressed Starfleet was by her management of the Pakled disaster from last season’s finale. He goes on to tell her that if things continue to go by the book, she’ll be reassigned to a different command in no time. Galvanized, Capt. Freeman returns to the bridge and demands an immediate resolution to the Ransom situation.
Meanwhile, Tendi is running tests on Rutherford in the cargo bay. After being subjected to electroshocks, a whack with a metal chair, and a little bit of waterboarding, Rutherford leaves in a huff, declaring that he’s late for his date with Barnes. Tendi steels her resolve, and decides to take more drastic measures.
Back on Aspergos, Ransom has graduated from hovering and levitating to altering the faces of several Aspergosians to look like his own. Mariner insists that she blast him to calm him down, but Freeman disagrees, the two of them bickering as Ransom grows more and more powerful. Freeman asks T’Ana how Kirk dealt with Gary Mitchell, and the doctor reminds us all that Kirk literally threw a boulder at him. This enrages Ransom, forcing his powers to grow even more. Ransom’s head actually swells and detaches from his body, moving swiftly towards the sky…and the Cerritos.
Back at the bar, at least Rutherford’s date with Barnes is going well. The pair bond as fluidly as they did before, until Tendi interrupts, armed to the teeth with a hypospray rifle and hypo-ammo tucked into a baldric beneath her lab coat. She proceeds to chase Rutherford around the ship in a crazed attempt to heal him, the two of them ignoring the red alert and Ransom’s attacking giant head. Freeman and Mariner bicker over how to deal with him before finally admitting that neither of them enjoyed their new partnership. Ransom’s rages on, his head growing large enough to dish out some serious damage to the ship. Tendi finally comes clean about her false prognosis, and together, she and Rutherford hug it out, despite impending doom.
At this point, Ransom’s giant head has developed matching hands and is moving to grab the ship. Mariner insists on firing torpedoes at him, and Dr. T’Ana volunteers to look for a boulder. Freeman refuses to cause more harm to her friend, and Ransom begins to relax. She continues to flatter him, but this ultimately encourages his lust for power. Just when it seems like Ransom’s ego truly knows no bounds, Mariner and T’Ana employ an…unorthodox procedure to bring the errant first officer back to his mortal state.
Ransom ultimately goes to sick bay for recovery, complete with Lt. Cmmdr. Stevens at his side. Mariner checks in with Freeman in her ready room, resolving their dispute about Mariner’s recklessness with a hug. Freeman still throws her in the brig, and Tendi and Rutherford visit her to keep her company. Together, the three of them lament over Boimler’s abrupt departure, deciding that he’s probably thrilled to be assigned to the Titan.
A quick cut to a shrieking Ensign Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) at the helm of the Titan in the midst of a complex battle scene tells us otherwise. Capt. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and his crew are thoroughly enjoying the mayhem, and Boimler looks as though he’s realized that transferring from the Cerritos may not have been the best career move for him after all…
It’s a wild ride from start to finish, this inaugural episode of Lower Decks’s second season. As usual, there’s references to both Trek-dom and fandom laced throughout the dialogue, with masterful exposition from last season to catch audiences up with the story. There’s an air of confidence in this year’s storytelling, supplying the cast and crew alike with courage enough to face the dreaded sophomoric season with enough fearlessness for this show to continue to boldly go wherever the hell it wants to.