First of all, I've got to hand it to Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 9.
They managed to play the Star Trek movie tropes in an all-in, no-holds-barred, hilarious manner while still paying homage to those films which, for their time, were the pinnacle of epicness.
Secondly, regarding Mariner's epiphany about herself, CALLED IT. Check my receipts on Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 4.
The set-up with the Lizardmen and Rat Overlords was a quick, effective, and funny-in-a-clever way to introduce Mariner's frustration with her mother.
It's very Mariner to have a hand in the overthrowing of an unjust regime even if the oppressed seems pretty ambivalent about their lot in life up until now.
Screw the Prime Directive, indeed.
Mariner: The Lizardmen will no longer be subject to Rat oppression!
Rat Overlord: Aw, they're not oppressed. We raise them as food. They like it!
Lizardman: Well, we are delicious.
Conversely, Freeman is playing just as true to type by callously cutting down Mariner's achievement and then offering Federation tech to accomplish the same societal effect as revolution had accomplished.
And, honestly, Freeman is in the right here, providing the means to move to peaceful co-existence is always the better option to violent revolt.
Freeman: Ok, look. Will you stop eating these guys if we give you food replicators?
Rat Overlord: Huh. I dunno. Can they make nutrient pellets?
But that diplomatic approach is also super boring. And Mariner's way gave the Lizardmen a moment of excitement before they were allowed to pursue an uneaten life of basking.
Segue into holodeck adventure/therapy and the random bit where Tendi spends her free-time skeet-shooting with Leonardo DaVinci.
While Dr. Miglibo (sp?) definitely had some super helpful food-related strategies, making paella seems low on Mariner's priority list while fuming over her mother's treatment of her.
You're yelling at me for spreading freedom because you don't feel like filing a report?Mariner
So when Boimler presents a program complete with simulations of the entire crew of the Cerritos... how could she NOT take advantage of a little Westworld-like rage therapy?
I stated early on (Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 1, in fact) that Boimler was a lot of Barclay wrapped in a Wesley-ish skin but as this season's progressed I've seen even less Wesley as his neuroses have become more apparent.
Now, with the simulating of his own crew in order to practice interacting/interviewing, it's way too easy to see the Barclay for the trees.
Mariner, on the other hand, is becoming adept at repurposing her teammates' inventions for her own needs.
First, she ordered Rutherford to activate his weird-phasey transporter program on Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 7 to save Ramsey, the Oakland team, and the crew of the Rubidoux.
Here, she bastardizes Boimler's holodeck program so she can wreak havok on the Cerritos as a villain.
The ironic bit is how she's completely incapable of staying in character which confuses Freeman who thinks she's fighting a villain while the villain keeps trying to hold her to account for her actions as a mother.
Freeman: You'll never take my ship!
Mariner/Vindicta: I don't want your ship! I want you to stop treating me like I'm the bad guy all the time.
Freeman: You ARE the bad guy.
Mariner/Vindicta: No, I'm not! Why don't you EVER side with me?
Freeman: I don't even know you
Freeman: My god. You're crazy.
Meanwhile, Boimler's trying his best to memorize a cheat sheet for IRL interactions with the senior bridge crew but Rutherford's the one with the truly meaningful moments of emotional connection.
Despite the many dramatic personal revelations and Boimler's shocking last-act discovery, the star of this endeavour was undoubtedly the movie features and references.
The opening credits were cute and reminded me of Spaceballs in an echo-of-an-echo sort of way.
But when they got to the shuttle approach to the newly-upgraded Cerritos, a sight that moves Billups literally to tears... #Masterpiece
Out of a run-time of a mere twenty-six minutes, McMahan and team decided to devote a full sixty seconds to multiple fly-around views, orchestral music swells, and awkward observational commentary on the ship.
Freeman: She never fails to take my breath away.
Boimler: I wish I could kiss her and squeeze her.
Freeman: Excuse me?
Boimler: Uh, the Cerritos is a ... handsome lady.
Freeman: You're damn right about that, Boimler.
It is beautifully done, paced and storyboarded like a recreation of Kirk's team seeing the Enterprise again although, honestly, it's a scene that would fit in any Trek film.
The ships have always brought their own presence and the crews' affection for them is a foundational element to Trek.
And even California-class starships deserves a crew that loves them.
That being said, watching an animated ship crash land, sending its saucer section rolling over the planet's landscape like a runaway frisbee doesn't carry with it the gravitas of a live action disaster.
I was kind of hoping it would finish off with one of those wobbly clanging settles into a flat resting place.
And Rutherford rescuing everyone -- except Vindicta, Freeman, holo-Mariner, Billups, and himself of course -- using transporter magic (similar to his rescue of the Rubidoux) was cute.
Rutherford: Sir, are you okay?
Billups: I'll live but the rest of the crew...
Rutherford: ... will be fine. I initiated a rapid repeating emergency transport sequence and beamed the entire crew before we crashed.
Billups: What? That's not possible.
Rutherford: No, it's a movie. You can beam whatever you want. You can do all sorts of beam-y stuff in a movie.
I'm not blind to the fact Tendi is spot-on about Mariner being a little too into her role-playing. She phasers a LOT of her crewmates. That's pretty messed up any way you look at it.
Ultimately, Mariner's self-realization hinges on confronting herself instead of Freeman.
Despite her mother's ability to trigger her with their every interaction, it's during the Vindicta-Mariner fight where the therapy really takes hold.
There was a brief moment where I wondered if Vindicta might be the simulation and Mariner had actually cast herself as heroic Mariner.
Mostly, that's because holo-Mariner had all the lines I'd assumed real-Mariner would need to speak herself to realize her truths.
Mariner: I may hate protocol but I don't hate the ship. I don't hate the crew. I work with my best friends. The captain's my mom. I would do anything for her.
Vindicta: Oh, come on. No, you hate the captain. You complain about her non-stop. It's like your whole thing.
Mariner: Yeah, I mean she's hard on me, right? She's the captain! And I'm a pain in the ass. But if she kicked me off the Cerritos, I'd be done in Starfleet.
Luckily, real-Mariner is evolved enough to understand that holo-Mariner's truths are her own.
As the penultimate episode of the season, I appreciate the risk they're taking in actually developing Mariner's character.
We've known for most of the season that she's sabotaged her own career out of some insecurity about herself and her abilities, basically hiding out -- and acting out -- on her mom's ship because it's a safety net (again, CALLED IT).
But, between naming her demons and Boimler discovering the truth about her relationship to Freeman, we're now set up for an exciting finale.
This is a good time to rewatch Star Trek: Lower Decks online as a wind-up for the season. You're guaranteed to catch some easter eggs you missed the first time through.
How will Boimler spill the secret?
Will Tendi and Rutherford get past the friend-zone?
Will Mariner manage to remain Lower Decks?
What are you most interested in seeing in the finale? Transmit your wishlist straight to the comments below!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.