It’s Captain Freeman Day! — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “First First Contact”

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Sonya Gomez first appeared as a fresh-out-of-the-Academy ensign in the TNG episode “Q Who,” where she spilled hot chocolate all over Captain Picard. She was eager to sign up for the Enterprise because the ship was on the frontier. “Whatever’s out here, we’re going to be the first humans to see it. And I want to be a part of that.” She got a major lesson in being careful what you wish for, as shortly after that was Starfleet’s first encounter with the Borg.

Her next appearance was in “Samaritan Snare,” where she helped rescue La Forge from Pakleds, and while she was intended to be a recurring character, that didn’t really work out, and we never saw on screen again—

—until the second season finale of Lower Decks.

SPOILERS AHOY!

Gomez was played by Lycia Naff, who’s probably best known for playing the three-breasted hooker in 1990’s Total Recall. She had retired from acting, switching to journalism, but somebody at CBS, Secret Hideout, or Important Science must have convinced her to do some voiceover work, because Naff came back to voice Gomez for “First First Contact.” Fifteen years after she spilled hot chocolate on Picard, she’s now the captain of the U.S.S. Archimedes, which looks like an Excelsior-class ship.

I found this appearance both wonderful and annoying because in 2000, John Ordover and I put together the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, which was a monthly eBook series that I edited (and also wrote several installments of), which ran until 2007. Featuring a mobile Corps of Engineers team that flew around on the U.S.S. da Vinci fixing things that were broken across the galaxy in the year following the Dominion War, the lead character in the series was Gomez. A commander, first officer of the da Vinci, and head of the S.C.E. team on board.

Now nothing in “First First Contact” contradicts the Corps of Engineers series, at least (though it is at odds with later books that mention that Gomez took over as captain of the da Vinci in 2380, and was still her captain over the next few years, according to the Destiny trilogy by David Mack, your humble reviewer’s A Singular Destiny, and David McIntee’s Indistinguishable from Magic). But I also found myself frustrated by one aspect of Gomez’s character as seen here.

However, that’s a personal problem, due in part to how much work I invested as both an editor and a writer in developing Gomez. And I’ll get to that in a bit, as getting there was quite entertaining.

“First First Contact” gives us several Trek standbys: a character being offered a promotion that they eventually turn down because they can’t leave the show (TNG’s “Coming of Age” and “The Icarus Factor”), a day dedicated to celebrating the captain (TNG’s “The Pegasus”), the main ship having to rescue another ship that’s been damaged (too many episodes to count), the crew all standing in a row in the corridor to see someone off when they leave (TNG’s “Redemption,” Voyager’s “Homestead”), and the season-ending cliffhanger (TNG’s third through sixth seasons, DS9’s fourth and fifth seasons, Voyager’s second, third, fifth, and sixth seasons, Enterprise’s fist and third seasons, Discovery’s first and second seasons). Plus we get an old sitcom standby: Tendi thinks she’s being transferred off the ship, and she spends the entire episode bemoaning her outcast state. Rutherford takes her on a tour of all her favorite places on board (including the Jefferies Tube where the two of them watched a pulsar on a padd in “Envoys”). However, it all turns out okay: T’Ana thinks she’s too good to just be a medtech and transfers her to the main sciences division, where she might even be able to do bridge duty.

Image: CBS

However, my favorite part of this episode is when they go to Cetacean Ops. Established as part of the Enterprise-D in, among other places, the Enterprise-D blueprints by Rick Sternbach, it was never seen on screen mainly for budgetary reasons. It’s staffed a couple of dolphins, who help with navigation. After decades of wishing we could see it, Lower Decks (which already mentioned Cetacean Ops twice) finally shows it to us, and also gives me my two new favorite Starfleet characters, the dolphins Kimolu and Matt. These two are hilarious (they keep wanting everyone to join them for a swim, especially Rutherford and his broad shoulders, and they provided most of the funniest lines in the episode).

The climax of the episode takes place in Cetacean Ops because we have one more Trek standby: the lame-ass technobabble jeopardy plot! The Archimedes is on its way to a first contact, and the Cerritos is there as backup. A solar flare blows up an asteroid, which lets out some magnetized ionic particles that collide with the Archimedes, acting like an EMP. Power is completely out.

The Cerritos has to rescue them before they crash into the planet they’re supposed to make first contact with, which would be an extinction-level event. But the only way they can get through the magnetized ionic particles is to go unshielded through the debris field—and also without the outer hull, as it will attract the magnetic particles.

Inexplicably, they need the crew to do this—if any job would call for the Dot-23 robot drones we’ve seen on Discovery and in “Ephraim and Dot,” this would be it, but whatever—and one panel won’t come off. The manual override is only accessible through Cetacean Ops. But Kimolu and Matt can’t do it, because the manual control isn’t designed for flippers. (Kimolu and Matt are, justifiably, very cranky about that.)

Mariner is about to put on a suit and save the day, but she doesn’t get to, because this is the season of Badass Boimler. He actually tells her to shut up and apologize to Freeman, with whom she’d had a fight, in case the mission fails and they all die. Boimler goes down to do the thing.

As usual, Mariner is pissed that someone is abandoning her. She gets along better now with Freeman than ever before and now she’s leaving. But they do kiss and make up in the end.

Image: CBS

There’s also some artificial suspense when Boimler’s suit is breached and he blacks out while under water, but Kimolu and Matt get him out of the water—saying his blowhole is malfunctioning—and Tendi revives him with CPR.

The Archimedes is saved, and this is where I have my problem. Gomez came up as a Starfleet engineer under Geordi La Forge. In her second appearance she came up with a way to trick the Pakleds into returning La Forge. In the Corps of Engineers series, we spent a lot of time showing that Gomez is a prototypical Starfleet engineer in full “miracle worker” mode. Which is my way of saying that the Sonya Gomez I know would be able to her own damn self out of a situation where the ship was without power. We do see her trying to use the power from the shuttlecrafts to jump-start the ships, but that doesn’t work, and if not for the Cerritos they’d all be dead. It’s character assassination, I tells ya!

Okay, maybe not, but you understand my issue.

Still, it’s my only issue with a very strong finale to a very strong season. And it ends with Freeman under arrest. Apparently the Pakled planet has been destroyed, and Starfleet Security has “evidence” that Freeman colluded with Klingon extremists (whom we met last week in “wej Duj”) to plant a bomb on the Pakled homeworld. (One piece of evidence is the Pakled wearing a Cerritos T-shirt who was given a tour of the ship by Ransom and Kayshon in “The Spy Humongous.”).

We end with the crew all lined up in the corridor, intending to wish Freeman well, but instead they all get to see her perp walk. (It’s not clear why they’re lined up, as Freeman had already told the whole crew that she wasn’t going to take the new command, as she wants to stay with the Cerritos, but whatever.)

This is a jam-packed season finale, but it never feels overstuffed. It even has some nice feel-good bits as the crew all works together and get a lovely benediction from Freeman when she decides to stay on board. Oh, and the ship is mostly saved by Rutherford, who came up with the solution to the problem.

Plus, we get a strong cliffhanger, leaving us on tenterhooks for season three. Whenever that will be…

Image: CBS

Random thoughts

If you want to read about Sonya Gomez’s adventures on the U.S.S. da Vinci, check out the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers series. The individual novellas are all available as individual eBooks, and all but the final eight were collected into print volumes (which are also available as eBooks): Have Tech, Will Travel; Miracle Workers; Some Assembly Required; No Surrender; Foundations; Wildfire; Breakdowns; Aftermath; Grand Designs; Creative Couplings; Wounds; Out of the Cocoon; and What’s Past. In addition, I’ve been reading my contributions to the series (Fatal Error, Cold Fusion, Invincible, Here There Be Monsters, War Stories, Breakdowns, Security, and Many Splendors on my YouTube channel, “KRAD COVID readings.” This month’s is Many Splendors, which chronicles Gomez’s tenure on the Enterprise-D from the second through fifth seasons.
Rutherford is suffering a malfunction whereby he keeps getting error messages, which block his vision. Turns out he’s been making multiple backups of all his memories of Tendi, in case he loses them again like he did in the first-season finale. He purges the redundant backups, and also catches something where two shadowy figures are installing something into Rutherford. “What if someone asks why he has it?” “We’ve programmed that in. He’ll think it was elective.” That’s not ominous at all!
At one point, Jennifer-the-Andorian saves Mariner’s life, and afterward the two of them have a rapprochement. Mariner admits that she tends to sabotage relationships so she won’t get hurt. It looks like Jennifer may become part of the gang next season along with Boimler, Rutherford, Tendi, and Mariner…
Shaxs has the funniest non-dolphin line when they’re moving all volatile material to the center of the ship when they’re removing the outer hull. “Nothing explodes around here unless I’m the one blowing it up!”
When told she’s being transferred to sciences, Tendi squees, and says, “Like Jadzia Dax?” T’Ana just stares at her. “Who the fuck is that? I don’t know who that is! No, like Spock!” This is the second funniest non-dolphin line, partly because T’Ana’s initial confusion as to who Dax is serves as a cute commentary on the show’s proclivity for sub-referencing, and her followup of saying it’s like Spock is a similarly cute commentary on how little love DS9 tends to get in comparison to the original series and TNG.
Kimolu is shocked to learn that Mariner is Freeman’s daughter. Matt rather angrily tells Kimolu to keep up.
The senior staff is incredibly whiny about Freeman’s promotion when they find out—which they only do find out because Mariner overheard her talking with Gomez about it and tells the senior staff before Freeman was ready to, thus continuing Mariner’s character arc as a massive pain in the ass. I particularly love how devastated Ransom is, as he’s the ultimate suckup.
Having said that, Ransom also plays a big part in saving the day, as it’s his piloting skills that get them through the debris field—using a joystick, no less, just like Riker did in Insurrection. Which was, y’know, really dumb, but whatever.
While Boimler is more badass this season, he’s not completely de-Boimler’d yet. For “Captain Freeman Day,” he made a big sign that looks exactly like the “Captain Picard Day” sign we saw in TNG‘s “The Pegasus” (and which Picard still had in his storage unit in Picard‘s “Remembrance“). Of course, that banner was designed by children, which Boimler is dinged for. He also desperately wants Freeman to know that he designed it…

 

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Indiana Comic-Con this coming weekend at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. He’ll be at the Bard’s Tower booth for the majority of the weekend, alongside fellow word-slingers Claudia Gray, Michael A. Stackpole, Megan Mackie, Caitlin Sangster, Brian Anderson, and Christopher Ruocchio. Keith might also be doing some programming. Other Trek guests include William Shatner (assuming he makes it back safely from space) and Carlos Ferro. Come by and say hi!

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