In what is by far Lower Decks‘s best cold-open so far, the Cerritos arrives at Deep Space Nine for a diplomatic mission, but Captain Freeman needs the ship to stall so she can prepare for a last-minute diplomatic assignment. So, Ransom has them circle the station: ‘pretend you’re admiring the pylons’. Cue a beautiful, full orchestral rendition of the DS9 theme tune, as the camera pans lovingly as the Cerritos circles the station and the wormhole opens up in a recreation of the classic, super-boring title sequence. Then a pause. ‘Keep circling!’ says Ransom, and the sequence starts up again.
Deep Space Nine has felt horrifically under-loved in the new era of Trek. Picard is bringing back both Next Generation and Voyager characters; Voyager folk have turned up in TNG films; Janeway is present in Prodigy; the original series crew keep getting rebooted, including in Strange New Worlds; and Lower Decks so far has largely drawn on the same few series. So, it’s a thrill not to just get DS9, but to also get Nana Visitor and Armin Shimmerman returning to the roles of Kira (last seen, as here, as full Colonel and running the station) and Quark. Even if they don’t sound quite like they used to, it really does feel like meeting old friends. And Morn is in the bar.
As a hangout episode, this is a lot of fun. Boimler and Rutherford are just super-stoked to be on the station; Rutherford does the Jake-and-Nog thing from the balcony, while Boimler kills it on the Dabo tables, much to the Ferengi pit boss’s anger. Kira gets to reunite with Shaxs, and the two engage in one-ups-person-ship over who is most indebted to the other for their life, and it’s just so good to see Kira flying off the handle once more. And while it’s already been established that Quark’s Bar has become a franchise, both the ensigns’ excitement at seeing the original and the fact that this is so on-brand for Quark makes this a welcome chance to check in with him.
The main plot is a classic DS9-style Gamma Quadrant miscommunication. Trade envoys from the Gamma Quadrant are here to start negotiations, but are immediately offended that the Cerritos has been sent as a last-minute substitution. They are also angered by Quark’s new replicator tech – because of course, as we find out at the episode’s end, he’s ripped it off. And so there’s a kidnapping and an attempt to stop the ship from going back through the wormhole. Really, this is background – it’s great to see Kira and Quark back in their old dynamic but now with Freeman and the others as the Starfleet side, and it’s a straight-up old-school story, with surprisingly little comedy.
The meat of the episode is Tandy’s, though. On DS9 there’s an Orion security officer, who is psyched to meet another Orion in Starfleet. He tries to bond with Tandy over their shared (he assumes) love of pirating, and it forces Tandy to openly confront the fact that this is a part of her history that she has worked super-hard to move away from. It’s a great character story for her – she tries to be polite, but she’s also being pigeonholed and stereotyped in ways that infuriate her. The nice twist on this is that (a) the new guy was actually adopted and brought up on earth, and doesn’t know anything about pirating; and (b) her pirating past actually does help them when they’re trapped on the Gamma Quadrant aliens’ ship and she needs to take it over. The episode taps sensitively into the particular pressures of immigrants and diaspora populations separate from their home culture, and the ways in which they interact with stereotypes of varying levels of truth.
Mariner also has to work out her own truth – literally, as her girlfriend takes her to her friends’ ‘salon’ and they all have to do set-pieces sharing stories and skills, and clicking one another in congratulation. These women are the worst, but Mariner genuinely cares about Jenny and so holds her tongue, despite the sheer volume of passive-aggression she’s subjected to. It’s so, so wonderful when Jenny reveals that she had been looking forward to seeing Mariner take her friends down a peg or two and, with them trapped in a room where the air is being slowly sucked out thanks to ridiculous candles, Mariner gets to unleash by stunning all of Jenny’s friends while Jenny cackles. It’s a lot of fun, and a relief to see Mariner letting her hair down with a bit of casual aggression. And with that done, we’re away from Deep Space Nine – it was too short, but we loved to see you. And Kira still has Sisko’s baseball.