Star Trek: The Next Generation: Lower Decks   Rewatch 
November 5, 2021 4:11 AM - Season 7, Episode 15 - Subscribe

Ensign Sito Jaxa's second contact with the Enterprise results in an unexpected mission and an unwanted promotion.

The Trekkies of Memory Alpha maintain a round-the-clock wiki for the benefit of FanFare:

• The story was partially inspired by the classic television series Upstairs, Downstairs. Freelancers Ron Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias took the unusual step of presenting the premise in the form of detailed character notes.

• Jeri Taylor commented, "The episode was a wonderful premise from Ron Wilkerson and Jean Matthias, who have given us other wonderful premises and a beautiful script with "Lessons". Unfortunately, we were in a time bind. I had to have a staff member do it, so René took it over and wrote a wildly off-concept show, but that's what made it work. It was: How does the Enterprise look to those little junior officers who don't get to go into the observation lounge and who don't know what's going on? It was just a really fresh, original idea."

• Ronald D. Moore noted that there was some initial discussion on how far to take the premise. "There was a debate early on about how much it was going to be their show and how much it was going to be our show. Ultimately, Michael said this is their show, which I thought was a good decision – especially since he usually says it has to be about our characters – which is what made the show so good."

• According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Barclay was briefly considered as one of the characters featured, but was dropped for being "too well-known".

• Shannon Fill reprised her role as Sito Jaxa from the fifth season episode "The First Duty". Events from that episode are referenced here by her and Picard when Picard gauges her suitability for the mission.

• René Echevarria recalled that casting a Vulcan was difficult. "There were big shoes to fill. We didn't use many Vulcans on TNG because Leonard Nimoy's Vulcan was so specific and indelible. It's hard to play a Vulcan without looking like you're doing an imitation. But Alex really pulled it off."

• Had the series continued, the production staff would have considered making Taurik a recurring character.

• Alexander Enberg later played another Vulcan named Vorik on Star Trek: Voyager. Producer Jeri Taylor, who is also Enberg's mother, suggested that Taurik and Vorik were twin brothers.

• In early drafts of the script, Sito Jaxa's death was somewhat more ambiguous. Taylor explained, "When I mentioned that to Michael, he said, 'Absolutely not, she's dead. She stays dead. That would undermine the whole episode.' So I said 'Fine.' The morning after Michael saw the episode, he came in and said, 'We can't let her stay dead. We've got to bring her back. She was wonderful.' He was really bowled over by the episode."

• A script written for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would have centered around the discovery that Sito Jaxa had not died after the events of the episode but had ended up as an inmate in a Cardassian prison. The story itself was never produced but did come to form the basic premise for the episode "Hard Time". Piller commented, "We were very impressed and very happy with the reaction we had to Ensign Sito who was lost along the Cardassian border and presumed dead. We have a plan to find her in captivity and to deal with what happens when somebody comes back from a long time in captivity, and the psychological impact of that sort of experience". Echevarria added, "There was a lot of talk about bringing her back but we never got around to it. This was always meant to be a story of loss, a coming-of-age story for those young people, and the death landed it for them."

• After the show aired, rumors emerged that the characters of the episode were being introduced to become characters on Star Trek: Voyager. Taylor remarked, "It was just a rampant rumor that would not die. I am just mystified was to why people thought that three middle-aged people – Rick, Michael and myself – would ever create a series that had nothing but a bunch of young 90210 people on it. It was just absolutely out of the question."

• This episode is the inspiration for Star Trek: Lower Decks. Series creator Mike McMahan describes it as his favorite episode of Star Trek, and screened the episode for the writers' room of that series.

"I'm Bajoran. No one knows better than I do what Cardassians do to their prisoners."
- Sito Jaxa

"Do you think Worf is chewing her out?"
"No, he always looks like that."
- Sam Lavelle and Ben

Poster's Log:
I can't think of any moment in all of Trek that is as The Office-style cringey as Sam's conversation with Riker at the bar. Frakes has to walk a really, really tough acting line there—realistically aloof without being a jerk—and IMO he nails it.

Anyway, this might be season seven's finest hour. Or, it definitely is if you treat the finale separately.

ICYMI: "The First Duty" (Sito's first appearance).

Somewhere or other in FanFare, it was mentioned that this episode is one of the "prerequisites" for DS9 (which I feel it is), but also, on rewatch I wonder if this is the TNG episode that feels the most like a DS9. "Preemptive Strike" definitely LOOKS the most like a DS9, but I dunno, this one is loose and yet darkly military in that way DS9 often was.

And speaking of DS9, "Hard Time" (mentioned above) has gotta be DS9's darkest "O'Brien Must Suffer" episode—maybe its darkest episode period, which would place it high in the runnin' for Darkest Trek-Wide—so I really have to wonder what the Sito version of the script looked like.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Oh no, I missed it!
posted by Servo5678 at 7:14 AM on November 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Lavelle is a total Boimler.
posted by hanov3r at 7:25 AM on November 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Such a breath of fresh air. It seems like they were willing to take quite a few risks this season, it's just that they whiffed on most of them.

My only major complaint is that Sito's assignment was basically a suicide mission; she's supposed to be taken into Cardassian territory by a double-agent and pretend to be a Beijoran terrorist? So if everything goes right she should expect to be treated as a war criminal in custody of a government known engage in torture? This kind of risk just seems callous, they needed to have some innocent lives on the line that she could somehow save once she infiltrated Cardassian space. That way, the Enterprise could be monitoring and confirm the mission was successful, but it's not clear at first whether she was able to escape. As it is, at the end I was just thinking "yeah, of course she fucking died you assholes".

Picard's fake-out with Sito is also pretty cheap drama, you don't test someone's courage by making them afraid that their career is doomed--that's how you find out who is willing to stand up to HR, not who is willing to stand up to the Cardassians. Still it's nice to have some continuity with previous episodes. Worf's fake-out was maybe a bit over the top, but I love his supervisor-as-concerned-dad-afraid-to-express-feelings persona so much it was worth it.

The direction in the poker scenes was really top notch, showing the two groups dealing with similar issues from contrasting positions, and calling back to character-development strategies they've employed in previous poker scenes to show parallel development.

They should have had Lavelle challenge Riker to a game of Parisses Squares. That's how you bond with a senior officer--by holding back enough to let them just barely beat you and feel young again.
posted by skewed at 7:39 AM on November 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

So if everything goes right she should expect to be treated as a war criminal in custody of a government known engage in torture?

No, the plan was that, as soon as the Cardassian mole thought he was in the clear and accepted, he'd toss her in an escape pod and fire her back into Federation space. There was no intent to leave her in the hands of the Cardassians if everything went right.
posted by hanov3r at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Great ep, and even better now that we've got two seasons of LD; it would be great if McMahan could figure out a way of having the Cerritos lower deckers meet their (presumably promoted, if they're still in Starfleet) counterparts from this ep. I've got a bunch of random thoughts about this one:

- hanov3r makes the correct point about Sito, and further, I think that the risk that Starfleet is willing to go to in order to keep their intelligence asset in place, along with the events of the "Chain of Command" two-parter, show how precarious things are with the Cardassians. I wonder if the purpose behind that was not only to support DS9 but also maybe set them up to be potential foes for TNG movies.

- I don't think that Picard's anger at Sito was completely faked; I do think that it's probably displaced from Picard's anger at Wesley for the whole Nova Squadron mess. And, ultimately, that may be Picard being angry at himself, still thinking that if he'd somehow set a better example for Wesley... plus, of course, some anticipatory guilt for putting Sito through the wringer, in a way that none of the other Squadders had to do.

- I said it before and I'll say it again: I think that it would have been neat to have had Gates as one of the Lower Deckers. Lavelle was fine, but I just like the concept of someone who's been in the background all this time getting showcased and developed. (Gates was even sitting with the featured crew at the end.) At least Ogawa got some screen time.

- I kind of liked Taurik; he came across as a little dorky, which is a relief after umpteen Vulcans being all cool and hyper-competent. (Maybe we'll get some of that from Lieutenant Spock in Strange New Worlds...)

- Interesting bit about people assuming that these crew were being set up for VOY, especially with that show having two different Lower Deck-type episodes, "Learning Curve" and "Good Shepherd", although those were more about junior crew being mentored/corrected under the guidance of Tuvok and Janeway, respectively. (And being a bit closer to PRO, especially with Holo-Janeway on that show.)

- The switching poker games was indeed a great scene.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

No, the plan was that, as soon as the Cardassian mole thought he was in the clear and accepted, he'd toss her in an escape pod and fire her back into Federation space.

Yeah, I got the escape pod plan, so it wasn't right to say that if everything went right she'd be in the hands of the Cardassians. It just sounded to me like a really implausible escape plan. But that is pretty standard sci-fi so I probably shouldn't get worked up about it.

I also noticed that Gates (whose name I didn't know but has been in enough episodes to be recognizable) was in this episode but not among the Lower Decks crew, which is a shame.
posted by skewed at 9:04 AM on November 5, 2021

The whole internet loves Lower Decks, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode which inspired the hilarious animated comedy series! *45 minutes later* I regret to inform you that Lower Decks is extremely depressing.

I really, really did not like the mind games that the command crew was playing with Sito. This crap is completely on brand for Riker, but I expect better from Picard. And Worf! "I will physically abuse you until you answer me these riddles three" is not a good look. But what really rankless me is that it didn't matter, because her actual qualifications for this mission were her race and that she was insecure enough to be browbeat into it in the first place. No one considered Ro for this mission, because she would have told them all to fuck off so hard it would have blown off the warp nacelles. So Sito is asked to volunteer, but only after impressing her with how precarious her position and career are.

So screw that. This was a great episode, and it made me absolutely furious at Our Heroes. They can't gear shift back and forth between "we must carefully consider the ethical consequences of our actions" and this brutal CIA great game nonsense. If you're going to make this a character driven show, fine, but be careful not to make your characters into monsters.
posted by phooky at 9:50 AM on November 5, 2021 [10 favorites]

I think that it would have been neat to have had Gates as one of the Lower Deckers.

Gates is very specifically a Bridge officer, though.
posted by hanov3r at 9:53 AM on November 5, 2021

Still an ensign after (checks) four years; does a job that used to be done by a teenage kid.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Still an ensign after (checks) four years; does a job that used to be done by a teenage kid.

Just got passed over for promotion in favor of a guy whose primary qualification is that he looks like a younger version of the First Officer.
posted by skewed at 10:41 AM on November 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

FWIW in the US Navy going from Ensign to LTJG to Lieutenant is basically automatic, more a matter of time than any actual level of ability. Beyond that you're entirely on your own. I'm led to believe this is how it is for O-1 to O-3 in every military branch, and mirrors the E-1 to E-3 promotions for enlisted.

Apparently Starfleet doesn't follow these rules because you can apparently stay an Ensign (or in "Tapestry" Picard's case, LTJG) indefinitely with no clear path to promotion other than "impress your superiors." Honestly this doesn't sound like much of a Utopian system but it does track with my headcanon that Starfleet is designed for people in the Federation (especially humans) who can't tolerate living in a frictionless paradise. Starfleet rewards people who take big risks that pay off, mourns those who take big risks that don't pay off, and tolerates those who never take risks.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:20 AM on November 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

Yeah, there's one ensign (I think he's in some of the earlier seasons, couldn't find a picture of him online, probably unnamed) who is a bit older, maybe 30s-40s, thinning hair, starting to go grey, never has a line, and I would always think, "What happened in this poor bastard's career? He looks like he's been in Starfleet longer than Wesley's been alive, but they are the same rank!" Or in the Voyager episodes about Equinox, Janeway mentions how Capt. Ransom was an exo-biologist who was promoted to captain when he (re)discovered a previously extinct alien race -- I mean, good for him and all, and I'm sure he deserves something for his efforts, but how does that qualify him to command a ship, even if it's a science vessel and not heavily armed? The Starfleet career path makes no sense.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:14 PM on November 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

The approach to promotion in the various incarnations of Trek is bizarre to anyone familiar with most contemporary militaries. Probably the most egregious example is the 2009 Star Trek movie, where Alternate Timeline Kirk is promoted directly from Cadet to Captain, but yes, TNG and Voyager in particular seemed to feature very junior officers who stayed that way for ridiculous amounts of time. Not just ensigns; Tuvok seems to have been a Lieutenant for decades.

For that matter, how does Starfleet deal with promotion for long-lived species? If a Vulcan could credibly have a century-long career, should she be promoted less quickly to avoid becoming an Admiral by pure seniority? What if a species with a very short lifespan joins the Federation? ("Yeah, F'trengix completed the accelerated Academy program in four weeks - he'd had died of old age before becoming an upperclassman otherwise.")
posted by Major Clanger at 3:21 PM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
The title of this episode goes with a fairly popular card, which increases the stats of all your personnel who you can play multiple copies of, who are often referred to as 'representatives' of minor functionaries. It also works on most Borg drones, ah well. We also got Alyssa Ogawa, who like Beverly got a stronger version in First Contact. Oh and a tribblized version. Taurik is mostly notable as the brother of Vorik. Sam Levelle came along later with a download of the title card and stats for your Royale Casino: Slots. Sito Jaxa was probably the best of the bunch when the game was new, other than Worf and Tasha she was about as good as you could do for Fed Security. Oh and she can report to The Emissary, my favorite card.

Second Edition featured a pretty useful 1-coster in Joret Dal, Patriotic Visionary, lots of skills for the price and an acceptable debuff if you weren't going around shooting all the time. 1 cost personnel were overwhelmingly popular in the early iteration of the game so Dressing Down was a strong counter.
posted by StarkRoads at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

My only major complaint is that Sito's assignment was basically a suicide mission...

This is my big issue with the story, too. It ends up feeling like Starfleet ordered Picard to pick a low-rank crewmember you don't really need to go die. And, if it's someone with a grudge against the Cardassians, even better.

It seems like this should have been a job for whatever special-ops, undercover intel branch Starfleet has (and, c'mon, you know they do), instead of sacrificing a fresh recruit.

There's a real "For the glory of the empire" feel about it. It's good drama, for sure. But it also leaves me feeling really torn about it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:09 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

There's a real "For the glory of the empire" feel about it. It's good drama, for sure. But it also leaves me feeling really torn about it.

Maybe that's part of why the ep strikes me as DS9-esque. The mission feels more like it comes from an actual 20th-century military than from the Starfleet we have come to know thus far.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:07 AM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I laughed when Ogawa said, you know how you get really carried away at the beginning of a relationship and you don't always notice the red flags, and Beverly answered with a completely straight face, no, I don't know what you mean.

posted by Athanassiel at 5:15 AM on March 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just rewatched this for the LD finale.

No one considered Ro for this mission, because she would have told them all to fuck off so hard it would have blown off the warp nacelles.

Probably, but the Watsonian explanation is that Ro is off at Advanced Tactical Training, per Preemptive Strike. The Doylist reason is that they could barely persuade Michelle Forbes to show up for that later episode.
posted by zamboni at 8:26 AM on November 3, 2023

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