“Crisis Point” finally gives us a Mariner-centric episode that develops Mariner in an important and very clever way. Another season stand-out.
This recap of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, episode 9, “Crisis Point”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
We’re almost at the end of the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and throughout it, the show’s fascination with Ensign Beckett Mariner has become increasingly obvious. And that’s great. Mariner’s a fun character. I like her too. But this has also meant that most of the episodes have been about her, and have fallen into a bit of a holding pattern regarding her development. We know she’s a maverick rule-breaker who has the right beliefs and values at heart and would be known as the traditional hero she is if she wasn’t so determined to be known as anything but. What Lower Decks has been reluctant to articulate, though, and what “Crisis Point”, the penultimate episode, gets around to exploring, is why Mariner is the way she is.
And what helps Mariner and the audience to discover this is therapy. That’s a decision I like for several reasons, one of which is the normalization of therapy in general, even if it’s framed as something of a punishment. (Some people will probably quibble with this, but I think the show’s ultimate sentiment that therapy works, which Mariner explicitly vocalizes, helps to offset it.) And she’s sent to therapy thanks to Freeman, her own mother, who’s furious that she has encouraged a species to overthrow their oppressors in violation of General Order 1: No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society, otherwise known as the Prime Directive, otherwise known as The Famous One™.
Mariner thinks the Prime Directive is nonsense, obviously, and she reserves the same sentiment for therapy. Her first session with a weird bird therapist doesn’t go swimmingly, in part because she’s determined not to work through her issues, instead doubling-down on her instinct to win and to do what she feels she needs to no matter what. What she comes up with as her own form of therapy, then, is hacking Boimler’s holodeck program, casting herself as a wacky Shakespearean villain, and setting a trap for her friends and crewmen with the ultimate intention of fighting her mother to the death. She’s doing with Boimler’s carefully researched simulation what episodes of Lower Deck tend to do as well – ensuring it revolves around her.
What’s very smart about “Crisis Point” is Boimler’s simulation being so well-researched that its version of the regular characters is virtually indistinguishable from the real ones, so how they respond to Mariner’s crusade actually doubles as development for them. Rutherford, for instance, is mostly okay with it because he’s mostly okay with everything, while Tendi doesn’t really want any part in it because she sees how much Mariner’s getting into it. It also gives a programmed version of Mariner an excuse to save the day, as usual, but this time the villain of the episode is herself, or at least the version of herself defined by her worst tendencies rather than her best. This is such a clever way of forcing Mariner to reckon with her own anxieties that I was honestly quite struck by it, and spared a thought for the fans of the franchise who nonetheless wrote this off as thoughtless off-brand nonsense.
So it’s the two warring aspects of Mariner who meet in the middle to help Mariner realize who she really is and what she really wants. It’s really a very elaborate version of the therapy which Mariner – and even Freeman – thought was a punishment. That’s why I think “Crisis Point” gets away with framing therapy in that way initially because it’s building towards a realization that figuring out who you are and being okay with that person is simply a good, worthwhile thing.
It’s the finale next week, and it’ll likely be defined by the fact that Boimler, in the course of this episode, figures out that Mariner is Freeman’s daughter. I’m interested to see what Lower Decks does with that.
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