I don't think I would have believed you if you would have told me that the animated Star Treks: Lower Decks would be one of all-time favorite Star Trek shows–but its ensemble cast managed to endear themselves to me, and it doesn’t hurt that Lower Decks expands on the TNG era of Trek.
Star Trek: Lower Decks episode six, “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place” once again does what Picard and Discovery didn’t by giving us a peak at our beloved TNG-era characters to see where they’ve ended up. In this episode, the USS Cerritos is on Ferenginar overseeing their entrance into the Federation. Yeah, that’s crazy right? The Ferengi went from scene chewing, energy whip wielding, (inferior) Klingon replacements to being a race that is being considered entrance into the Federation. That’s a hell of a character arc.
And we get to catch up with Rom (Max Grodenchek) and Leeta (Chase Masterson) to see into the life of the now baseball obsessed Grand Nagus. At first, I thought they did Rom’s character a little dirty. While Rom’s character on Deep Space 9 always seemed a tad infantile and stupid, he was actually a brilliant engineer. I was surprised that the Lower Decks writers didn’t understand his character–and how wrong I was. This part of the plot mainly revolves Captain Freeman as she navigates this diplomatic hurdle, in a similar way we saw in "In the Cradle of Vexilon," but this time Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) comes off as much more competent.
“Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place” does a lot to expand on Trek lore in meaningful ways–something some of the other modern Trek shows tended to fumble more often than get correct. It manages to do this while also managing a “big bad” style season-long threat. It also manages to stay a show that uses its ensemble cast to great effect.
While Captain Freeman is wrestling with Ferengi-style diplomacy, the rest of the Lower Decks crew is on Ferenginar on a special assignment: they have to assess the validity of the Federation travel guide to Ferenginar by experiencing the sights and sounds of the always-wet Ferengi homeworld. Mariner (Tawny Newsome) meets up with an old friend–a familiar face from Season 1– and hashes out her issues in the only way Mariner can. Meanwhile, Boimler (Jack Quaid) discovers Ferengi television and his extremely ambitious plans get washed away by trash television. And Tendi (Noël Wells) and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) are stuck pretending to be a romantic couple.
Strangely, nothing really feels like the B plot here, even when a lot of the attention is spent on Tendi and Rutherford’s fake (and extremely awkward) romance. The Lower Decks writers are experts at shoving two or more plots into each episode. And while that’s something that was pretty common in the TNG era of Trek, it’s impressively done here within half the runtime.
Beyond a little “will they or won't they?” during the first season, Tendi and Rutherford’s relationship has been depicted as a close friendship. However, I get the impression that the writers are coming back to lean in on the Tendi and Rutherford ship–and I’m here for it. It’s also great watching them having to navigate the Ferengi culture’s idea of romance–and it’s obviously heavily commercialized and exploitative. No surprises there.
While we got to see another crew get obliterated by the mystery ship, we don’t get much more information about it. While I do like the lead up, I feel like the mystery ship story isn’t progressing any further. I get it: it blows up ships with no problem. Maybe I’m missing some clues that would make it more compelling, but I’d almost rather the episodes start giving us a little more information than “ship that easily blows up other ships.”
The season is quickly (and sadly) coming to a close, so I’m sure I’ll get my answers sooner than later. I know that Lower Decks is renewed for a fifth season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the answers are withheld cliffhanger-style. But unlike other shows that rely heavily on their season-long arc, if this season’s Lower Decks big bad is a dud, the entire rest of the season has been a delight.