"Old Friends, New Planets" seems to be an episode ripe for some sort of major character payoff, specifically around Mariner and/or Locarno. This seems especially true at the beginning of the episode when it smartly flashes back to 13 years earlier, where we see Locarno convincing his Nova Squadron team to take on the Kolvoord Starburst maneuver that would ultimately get their friend Josh killed in the accident at the center of TNG‘s classic "The First Duty." We see Mariner on the periphery of this group ("practically a junior member," Locarno notes), and we witness her hero worship of Sito Jaxa. Robert Duncan McNeill, Wil Wheaton, and Shannon Fill (the last of whom hasn’t acted since 1995) all return to voice the cadets from that episode. The opportunity for character backstory seems endlessly promising.
"The Inner Fight" might be the most plot-heavy episode of the season. It’s more adventure than comedy, and that ends up working in its favor, because it feels like more meat than fluff. It also has a character core that’s intriguing, although not outstanding. And it ends in a cliffhanger, setting up next week’s season finale with the most unlikely of villains. The result is an entertaining, albeit very busy, episode that separates into a reliable A/B story structure that comes together at the end.
In the A-plot, Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and T’Lyn are dispatched by Freeman via shuttle to Sherbal V, which is supposed to be a safe and routine mission. Safe and routine is exactly what Mariner needs right now, because she has recently been acting out and putting herself in extreme danger (picking fights, risking her life playing the hero) for some unrevealed personal psychological reason. (Mariner’s behavior reminds me of Torres’ behavior in "Extreme Risk," which this episode strangely doesn’t reference directly.)
I think maybe the modest goal of Lower Decks should be to use the Star Trek universe to tell fun, lightweight, comedic stories where the tone of the episode lands on something more pleasant than annoying. "Caves" does just that by employing two standbys: (1) The flashback episode told as a series of mini-stories, and (2) the Star Trek cave setting that was obviously filmed on the reusable cave set on the soundstage at the Paramount lot.
In the case of Lower Decks, where the animators could give us any setting they wanted, using a cave is a deliberate and knowing wink, as is the complete lack of surprise on Mariner’s face when the team becomes trapped by a cave-in — with a deadly growing mass of bioluminescent moss consuming the available space and threatening the four. The cave joke is something Trek fans will smile knowingly about, but that joke alone would not carry the day if this episode didn’t also win us over by ultimately telling a nice little story about these four people and their enduring friendship.
Ahsoka represents a lot of what’s currently wrong with the Star Wars franchise while maintaining just enough fleeting interest and general competence to keep me from throwing it away altogether. This is not awful, but it sure ain’t good.
Clocking in at eight episodes for a "season of television" — whatever that may mean these days — it starts off turgid and devoid of urgency and then gradually builds steam before ending on a major note of "to be continued" frustration. We’ve reached the point where a "season of television" is not even envisioned as an "eight-hour movie" but an "eight-hour half-a-movie."
"A Few Badgeys More" is a pretty well-balanced episode of Lower Decks‘ different sensibilities. It manages to advance a main plot that has an adequate amount of tension while also giving us the (tempered) madcap zaniness that is incumbent upon a cartoon outing. It does this by bringing back Badgey, one of the most notable recurring villains on the series, and weaving him into a plot that deals with the Evil AIs while also advancing the Serial Mystery Box of the season — kicked off here by an attack on the Bynars.
The result is good without being great — whatever "great" might actually mean on this series. There aren’t a ton of surprises here, but there is some reasonable plot advancement as well as an evolution in the crazy character of Badgey, who, we learn, was rescued by salvagers hoping to make a buck off Federation technology, but got a lot more than they bargained for when Badgey instead took over their ship.