Star Trek: The Next Generation – Lower Decks [7.15]

Four junior officers share life on board the Enterprise together, and from their vantage point outside the inner circle of the senior staff, learn bits and pieces about a top-secret mission related to the Cardassians.  One of the officers, the Bajoran Ensign Sito, is asked to undertake a dangerous undercover mission into Cardassian space.  She courageously agrees, but fails to return, apparently killed in the line of duty.

Teleplay by René Echevarria. Story by Ronald Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias. Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.

Previous Episode: Sub Rosa • Next Episode: Thine Own Self

Back when it was first on, Lower Decks was my favorite episode of the season–at least until the series finale.  It was a unique take on the Star Trek format, but one that was welcome and helped to make the Enterprise a more fully developed the place.  There’s more going on in the world of Star Trek than just what the Captain does with his closest colleagues.  It’s sort of like the Astro City of Next Generation episodes.  Of course, this same concept was played with a few years back in Data’s Day, but this time around the effect is a lot more salient.

Of course, the concept would be meaningless if the episode itself didn’t have a strong story going on, or if the characters were not interesting.  Taurik, Lavelle, and Ogawa are all fine characters, and it’s interesting to see the different ways they relate to the regulars, their commanding officers.  It’s illuminating of both the newcomers and the regulars to witness the warmth between Beverly and Ogawa, the irritation between Riker and Lavelle, and the growing respect between LaForge and Taurik.  And if that was all there was happening, that might be worth watching, but the episode gives us a lot more than that with the return of Sito Jaxa, who had been a fairly unimportant presence back in The First Duty, but who here is certainly the star of the show.

Shannon Fill didn’t have many roles in her relatively short acting career, but she was very impressive and genuine in this one, and it would have been easy to imagine the character returning and continuing, even as a regular.  It’s not often that any guest character from the series is so winning, especially one playing a relatively “normal” (ie, no one’s love interest, not a crazy villain, not a Q in disguise, etc.) person like Sito is.  I enjoy the interplay between her and Worf, and it’s a testimony to how well the episode is produced that Sito’s friendships with the other principle guest stars feels just as real as any relationship between the regulars, who have been at this for over six years now.

I’m not sure I entirely get the purpose of Picard’s “test” of her character (I suppose to test her ability to stay cool under pressure?) but the scenes between the two of them are really well played.  And Sito’s apparent death is possibly, in my opinion, the most moving the series has ever had.  Knowing what was coming, it was quite intense watching her prep for her mission, smiling under her slave make up and embracing the existence of nobility within the Cardassians.  The production team managed to make her feel like an old friend who was integral part of the family before shocking us all with her death.  Quite an achievement, really.

Guest Cast:
• Alexander Enberg, who plays the Vulcan Ensign Taurik, was in a handful of episodes of Star Trek Voyager as the Vulcan Ensign Vorik, who for ages I was convinced was the same character.

• Bruce Beatty, who plays Ben, just recently had a role in Straight Outta Compton.  He also had roles in The Negotiator and Falling Down, two not great but interesting movies.

Shout Out to the Past:
• There are extensive references to the events of The First Duty in the conversations between Picard and Sito, although Wesley himself is never specifically mentioned.

• There is a reference to Ambassador Spock.

Setting Up the Future:
• I believe this is the first time that Andrew Powell, Alyssa Ogawa’s boyfriend, is mentioned.  Their relationship will be referred to again.

• Sadly, Sito, Taurik, Ben and Lavelle are never mentioned again – even though Taurik’s identical cousin Vorik turns up on a bunch of episodes of Voyager.

• I like the response that Riker has to Lavelle’s “Aye aye, sir,”:  “One aye is sufficiant acknowledgement, Ensign.”

• One of the most interesting effects of the story is the feeling of being out of the loop that our main guest stars have whenever the senior officers leave for a meeting.  It’s like these guys are supposed to be like London palace guards or something, never showing any reactions no matter what is happening.  That’s why the Bridge is normally populated with non-speaking extras.

• I find Ben a slightly confusing character.  He feels a bit random, like he’s there because Guinan wasn’t available.  He serves the story, and he’s well acted, but the prominence he’s given in the story when he ultimately is not the focus is a bit strange.

• Sito had to find a lost puppy when she was at ops!

• Ben thinks that Riker is a Canadian.  That leads to a funny exchange between Riker and Lavelle about it, when Lavelle finds out Riker is from Alaska.  “Well, they both get a lot of snow.”

• Picard quite harshly dresses down Sito:  “Well, I’m really very sorry you didn’t enjoy your time at the Academy, Ensign.  As far as I’m concerned, you should have been expelled for what you did.  Quite frankly, I don’t know how you made it on board this ship.  You’re dismissed.”

Good reaction from Ogawa to the presence of the Cardassian

• This time we have two poker games playing concurrently, to highlight some similarities and contrasts between the senior officers and the junior officers.  Worf, Crusher, Troi, Geordi and Riker are in the one, and Sito, Lavelle, Taurik and Ogawa in the other, with Ben bridging the gap between them.  I like seeing Beverly chuckle when Troi calls Riker out on his treatment of Lavelle. .

• Lavelle has a big goofy smile on his face when he looks at his cards.  It seems like he’s a bit of a bad poker player himself.  Whereas Riker, of course, is an excellent poker player.  “I am your worst nightmare.”

• Worf is interesting during the sequence where he “tests” Sito, with the intention of teaching her a lesson.  During that battle, Sito keeps trying to go on the offense, which seems like a poor idea when you are blindfolded.  Worf gives her a memorable but maybe too pithy bit of advice at the end:  “But perhaps next time you are judged unfairly, it will not take so many bruises for you to protest.”

• Ahh, Picard wanted to make sure Sito had a fair chance to redeem herself — that’s the Picard we know.

• I didn’t remember that there were actually scenes in the shuttlecraft with Sito and the Cardassian

• We have not often heard the “all hands” communication whistle.  Sito’s death is horrible, and the reaction amongst her friends is excellent.  “To all Starfleet personnel, this is the Captain.  It is my sad duty to inform you that a member of the crew, Ensign Sito Jaxa, has been lost in the line of duty.  She was the finest example of a Starfleet Officer, a young woman of remarkable courage and strength of character.  Her loss will be deeply felt by all who knew her.  Picard out.”

• The scene at the end is nice, with Lavelle’s promotion, Ben talking to Worf, and Worf eventually bridging the gap between the two groups and sitting with the junior officers to commiserate about Sito’s loss.

Dialogue High Point
I really like it when Sito goes back to Picard, and speaks freely to him.

If you didn’t want me on your ship, you should have said so when I was assigned to it.  It’s not your place to punish me for what I did at the Academy.

Previous Episode: Sub Rosa • Next Episode: Thine Own Self

2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Lower Decks [7.15]

  1. This was a great episode. One of my favourites of the series. I love anything that makes a fictional world feel more complete, more real. I love seeing the stories of the people who aren’t main characters. And it’s always nice seeing Crusher and Ogawa – they come across as good friends.

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