The following contains minor spoilers for Season Two, Episode Nine of ‘Star Trek: Lower Bridges. ‘
Throughout Star Trek history, it is generally believed that a Starfleet member will spend approximately three years as an ensign, the lowest officer rank in the fleet. This is the position given to the new graduates of Starfleet Academy, and the status of the four protagonists on Lower decks. However, as the show wraps up its second season and gears up for a third, it questions the character’s status as “the lowly Ensigns.” This week’s episode addresses, but does not resolve, the problem by exploring the universal concept of a “lower floor.”
In “wej Duj” (the first full Klingon-language episode title in the entire franchise), the USS Cerritos is in transit between missions, giving the crew much needed downtime. Mariner, Rutherford and Tendi are using their day off to spend time with senior officers, which causes Boimler, without a deck crew, to panic as he notes this will give them an advantage when it comes to being promoted. . He spends most of the episode trying and failing to befriend-buddy with various officers. If this all sounds like plot-level C shenanigans, well, it is. But as a result, the series takes its biggest step to complete its narrative in this episode.
“wej Duj” is Klingon for “three ships”, and we see the crew of the Klingon ship Che’Ta ‘, where a very ambitious Boimler-like Klingon tries to get along with the current captain of his ship. Old school fans will recall that authority over Klingon ships is assigned by force, with an officer taking command by killing the previous captain. Ma’ah isn’t that ambitious, but he’s perfectly happy to step on the captain’s pet targ if it helps him become a first officer.
The episode also shows us the events on a nearby Vulcan ship called Sh’Vhal, where a lower deck named T’Lyn has played with the sensors and, as a result, notices strange readings in the area she brings to the captain to investigate. The captain accepts the investigation, but he also berates her for making such unnecessary adjustments to the ship.
The entire episode could have been played out as a “slice of life”, with the three plots never intersecting and it would still have been a fairly successful episode of the series. This isn’t our first look at the internal life of a Klingon ship, but it’s our first look at a Vulcan crew, and playing those distinct societies against Starfleet culture is a big part of world building. Star Trek has never been good at showing life outside of Starfleet, touching only slightly on the awe-inspiring world in more recent shows like Picard and Prodigy. And even these still have tenuous ties to Starfleet. Lower decks enjoyed showing us the larger universe the characters exist in, and now we have the same sense of expansion without the worldview of Starfleet intruding.
This does not mean that the plots stand out, far from it. The three ships and their storylines come together at the end, not only pulling the episode into a cohesive narrative, but also continuing – and starting to resolve – a plot that has persisted since the end of the first season, namely the Pakleds. We finally find out why they suddenly became a huge threat in the Alpha Quadrant, thanks to a series of machinations reminiscent of the intrigues of The next generation and Deep Space New. All is not turned out in the end, presumably leading to a grand finale next week. It’s fair to say that seasons one and two essentially feature a full story arc, with season three possibly featuring a new slate.
And it’s right on time, too. Each season represented a year on the Cerritos. Next season will mark three years on the Cerritos for Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford, putting them up for promotion. And unlike Mariner’s deliberate self-sabotage, his friends have all proven to be competent and trustworthy officers. There’s no reason they couldn’t be promoted – and technically Brad Boimler was already at the end of last season, having only been demoted and fired to the Cerritos due to a transportation accident on the USS Titan.
While it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that the characters will be promoted in the season finale, that will have to happen next year for the series to maintain its verisimilitude in Star Trek canon. The Cerritos doesn’t have the luxury of being trapped in the Delta Quadrant as an excuse to keep his sign a sign (poor Harry Kim). But there is hope, given what happens to our lower Klingon and Vulcan decks by the end of “wej Duj”. These results, along with the episode ending with Brad giving wise advice to a young crew member, seem to suggest that the series is comfortable letting our protagonists move on when it’s time.