"Lower Decks"

Season Seven, Episode 15
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Ronald Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumount
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Capt Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Cmdr William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Cmdr Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Shannon Fill as Ensign Sito Jaxa
Dan Gauthier as Ensign Sam Lavelle
Alexander Enberg as Ensign Taurik
Patti Yasutake as Nurse Alyssa Ogawa
Bruce Beatty as Ben
Don Reilly as Joret Dal

It's coming up for crew evaluation time aboard the Enterprise, and four juniour officers eagerly await news of promotion. However, the world of these young friends is about to be turned upside down when Bajoran Ensign Sito Jaxa is assigned on a top secret mission to escort a Cardassian spy back into Cardassian territory. Sadly, Sito never returns from this mission -- and the young officers must deal with the loss of a dear friend.


If the writers were trying to make up for the abysmal Sub Rosa...they sure as hell succeeded! Lower Decks is a delightfully original episode which is told entirely from the perspective of four juniour officers. The result is a wonderfully refreshing Upstairs, Downstairs take on the Enterprise crew and one of the show's most enjoyable, poignant character pieces to boot. One of the more positive aspects of the seventh season has been a willingness on the part of the writers to utilise new and different -- often experimental -- forms of storytelling. Sometimes this has landed them flat in their faces, but Lower Decks is happily at the other side of this coin -- it's a gamble that paid off, and then some.

It's clear that central to the episode's success is its characterisation. Make no mistake, it was a gamble on the part of the writers to introduce five new characters and just hope that the audience came to care about them. It could so easily have gone wrong (just take a look at Voyager's Learning Curve which took a similar premise which, thanks to lacklustre characterisation, fell very flat) so I tip my hat to the writers credit for creating five well-rounded, reasonably three-dimensional characters that had clear elements that we, the audience, could relate to. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that I could relate far more to these characters than I can with a lot of the regular cast!

After all, we all have to start somewhere in whatever line of work we are in, and that somewhere is almost always the bottom. And so, with youthful brashness and bucketloads of ambition, we work to propel ourselves to the top. Watching the young officers express their hopes and fears about promotion and their careers was extremely refreshing. If TNG was getting at all stale at this point, Lower Decks was like a wave of fresh air. We also got to see our regulars in an entirely different light. We all know how chummy and personable the senior officers are in their tight little love nest, but imagine how daunting and imposing they must seem to the juniour officers. This is something that has rarely been acknowledged before and it adds a much-appreciated dose of realism and depth to the Enterprise's picture-perfect little family. Good work -- me like.

Of the guest characters, I wasn't altogether fond of Taurik (Alexander Enberg, who would go on to play a virtually identical character in Voyager) and I'm not actually sure why. I found him rather annoying, I guess, and of the characters was the only one I didn't relate to. The others, thankfully, fared a lot better. Alyssa Ogawa isn't a new face -- she's been Crusher's nurse for a good few years -- but this is the first time the character has received any real attention beyond being a glorified extra. Nice work -- nothing ground-breaking -- but nice. Sam Lavelle was the perfect counterpart for Riker. Despite the gulf between them and their refusal to acknowledge it, they were actually a lot alike. One could easily imagine that in his youth, Riker was Lavelle! But isn't it often the case that when two people who are very alike come into contact, they have an instant aversion to each other! I guess it's something to do with seeing your own faults reflected back at you.

As a civilian, Ben was the bridge between the juniour and senior officers. Altogether more laid-back than his eager, uptight friends, Ben didn't have the little matter of rank to contend with and provided a nice counterpoint to the Starfleeters. My favourite character, however, was Sito, who was first glimpsed in the fifth season's The First Duty. Thanks to a combination of good writing and acting, Sito came to brilliant life as the most compelling of the lot. Her chequered backstory is used to superb effect, although my jaw initially hit the ground when Picard cruelly reprimands her. Forget the Earl Grey, Jean-Luc -- switch to decaff! It came as a big relief that he was merely "testing" Sito's character, I can tell you. Sito's interaction with both Picard and Worf was beautifully-handled and her eventual fate is a surprisingly moving one. There were rumours that Sito was actually still alive and would be joining the cast of DS9, but this alas never came to pass, presumably as the producers decided to use Worf instead. Pity -- I think Sito would have made a great addition to the cast.

Did I mention how delightfully warm and sparky the characterisation was? These characters had a wonderful camaraderie that felt genuine and authentic -- you could well have been watching a group of close friends. I was actually sorry to see them go. If only it weren't so late into the show's run, I think it would have been nice had they gone on to become recurring characters. But seeing as they didn't, I'll be more than happy to settle for this little gem. Excellent stuff.

Rating: 9.5

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