The second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks gave us a chance to get to know some of the supporting characters a little bit better. For most Star Trek shows, this would mean the lower-ranking officers would have finally gotten a chance to shine, but through the inverted perspective of Lower Decks, this means the command crew gets the opportunity for more development.
Naturally, this means that the captain of the U.S.S. Cerritos herself, Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), finally gets the opportunity for more screen time… and while she may be in the Captain’s chair, when you’re at the apex of the pyramid on a California-class vessel, from the wider perspective of Starfleet any Captain of a ship beneath Luna-class is still sort of Lower Decks.
Freeman’s Season 2 Arc
While Freeman played more of a background role in season one, she plays a more significant supporting role in season two. This was partly borne of narrative necessity since Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) was admittedly left without many options for potential partners-in-crime, with Ensign Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) having accepted a promotion to the U.S.S. Titan and Ensigns D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) and Samathan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) practically attached at the cybernetic implant. With few options, Mariner begrudgingly accepted her mother.
Although the tenuous partnership formed between Mariner and Freeman in the first season finale means that Mariner does get to engage in her “off-the-books” missions with the Captain’s somewhat-clandestine approval, friction between the two (and a significant dosage of Strange Energies) see the alliance collapsing before the second season’s opening episode had concluded.
Despite this, Freeman continues to play a significant role in the second season. Part of this flows from the integral role she played at the Battle of Kalla, where she helped uncover the increasingly deadly but previously overlooked machinations of the Pakleds. While the Titan under the command of Captain William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) continues to form the tip of the Federation’s metaphorical spear as far as the assault on the Pakled’s machinations goes, Freeman continues to be instrumental in Starfleet’s efforts to bring peace to the Alpha Quadrant once again.
The sixth episode of the season, “The Spy Humongous,” sees Freeman (misidentified as Janeway) and Lieutenant Shax (Fred Tatasciore) beaming down to Pakled Planet to further negotiations between the Federation and the Pakleds. While the talks don’t really go anywhere (since no Pakled with a suitably sized helmet could be located), Freeman nevertheless utilizes her Cali-class cunning to eke vital information out of Rumdar (Rich Fulcher), the episode’s eponymous agent of espionage: the Pakleds are planning to smuggle a Varuvian bomb onto Earth’s surface and detonate it!
Although Mariner and her mother broke their formal alliance in season two’s premiere, they still agreed to work together as necessitated by the situation. That situation arises in the season’s eighth episode, “I, Excretus,” thanks to the arrival of the Pandronian drill instructor, Shari yn Yem (Lennon Parham). Once she’s been cornered by Freeman and Mariner, Yem admits that she’s rigged the holopods to ensure that the crew of the Cerritos fails, thus justifying her position within Starfleet. A foolproof plan… unless you’re up against an unstoppable mommy-daughter team, anyway.
As Ensign Casey (Neil Casey) tells the Redshirts, his fellow crewmembers that are united by their dedication to achieving promotion, you can tell a lot about a Captain by those they’ve selected for their command crew. Another one of the ways that we get to know Captain Freeman better in the second season is by becoming better acquainted with her command crew.
We discover that under the rough exterior presented by Dr. T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) is a passionate heart (and under her lab coat is an adorable little tail). Shax manages to return from the Black Mountain, inarguably proving his mettle, and new security officer Lieutenant junior grade Kayshon (Carl Tart) is the first Tamarian in Starfleet, demonstrating Freeman’s commitment to expanding Starfleet’s community. And while it’s true that the early-season dose of strange energies First Officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) received may have gone to his head, in the episode “wej Duj,” we see how perceptive Ransom can be when it comes to ensuring everyone onboard the Cerritos feels both valuable and included.
Nobody Respects California-class
Despite Freeman and her command giving their all to running the Cerritos throughout the second season, demonstrating that they’re worthy of wider appreciation, they continue to get no respect!
During “An Embarrassment of Dooplers,” Freeman expects to be welcomed at the Command Conference thanks to her actions in the battle against the Pakleds during the previous season’s finale. Instead, she and her command crew are turned away at the door after being told that only Luna-class captains and above are on the list. This in spite of a Captain’s speech that would make Ensign Casey proud!
In the season finale, “First First Contact,” it seems like Freeman’s hard work may be paying off with a promotion. The catch? It means leaving her crew behind since command likes to “maintain a sense of consistency” with Cali-class vessels, demonstrating that even Starfleet command doesn’t respect the class of ships enough to allow those who command them any significant degree of autonomy.
Why is it so hard to respect Cali-class ships, anyway? There’s no apparent reason, and the arbitrary distinction even drives the usually placid Billups to curse. It’s even cited as part of Yem’s motivation for selecting the Cerritos as the ship to take the fall in “I, Excretus,” as she suggests that anyone Cali-class is such small potatoes to be beneath the notice of the majority of those in Starfleet.
But while Freeman knows better than anyone that Cali-class ships are just as worthy of respect as any other class in the fleet, she nevertheless finds herself tempted by the idea of leaving the Cerritos behind. In “The Spy Humongous,” before they beam down to Pakled Planet, Shax tells Freeman that if she keeps negotiating peace deals on such a large scale, Starfleet will soon be rewarding her with the command of an Enterprise. While Freeman demurs, it’s clear that she finds the idea of a promotion tempting.
“First First Contact”
But as the Captain replies to Yem: the smaller the ship, the tougher the crew!
The axiom is tested in the second season finale, “First First Contact,” when the Cerritos serves as back-up on a First Contact mission in the Laaperian system, assisting the U.S.S. Archimedes. Just like the first season finale, in which Riker made an appearance and subsequently revealed he and Freeman had a history together, the second season finale of Lower Decks also includes an appearance by a significant person from Freeman’s past: the Excelsior-class Archimedes is under the command of Freeman’s good friend Captain Sonya Gomez (Lycia Naff).
Before “First First Contact,” the last on-screen appearance Gomez had made was during the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. During the pair of episodes in which Gomez appeared, she was an ensign aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-D, and in a memorable scene, she even spilled hot chocolate all over Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).
When disaster strikes the Archimedes in the Laaperian system, the Cerritos crew leaps into action to save the day. In the previous season finale, the Titan arrived at just the right time to rescue Freeman and her crew, but the Cerritos get the opportunity to step up this time.
Thanks to the orchestrated efforts of the crew at large – and especially Freeman’s command crew, with Billups and Ransom playing particularly instrumental roles during the tense rescue mission – the Cerritos can overcome immense odds and avert disaster. The gracious Captain Gomez then gives Captain Freeman the chance of a lifetime: the opportunity to perform the all-important role of making First Contact with a new civilization.
Once First Contact (and first, second, and third drinks) with the Laaperians has been accomplished, Freeman returns to the Cerritos, where Boimler has completed his “Captain Freeman Day” banner and put it up in the bar. The banner alludes to the “Captain Picard Day” banner seen in the TNG episode “The Pegasus,” in which Picard seems somewhat uneasy with the way his position as Captain of the Enterprise-D (a ship with, like, five daycares) makes him a role model for the younger children who reside on the ship under his command.
Just as Picard eventually grows to accept this role, saving the “Captain Picard Day” banner in his storage space at the quantum archive, Captain Freeman Day marks the occasion on which Freeman recognized that, regardless of how she or her ship may be perceived by the crews of other classes of Starfleet ship, as Captain of the Cerritos, she’s content with the role she occupies. She resolves to decline the promotion offered by Starfleet command and instead remain aboard the Cerritos, keeping our beloved crew intact.
To be continued…
But no sooner has Freeman achieved this peace than does Commander Mandel (Jim Piddock) of Starfleet Security arrive on-board and arrest Freeman, claiming she was responsible for detonating a bomb on Pakled Planet, with the Laaperian First Contact being a “convenient” alibi.
Obviously, this must be nonsense! While Freeman may be willing to bend the rules slightly – say, to allow her daughter the chance to clean off some Apergosian buildings during a Second Contact mission or to ensure the Cerritos doesn’t get an unfair failing grade under the rigged examinations of Yem – earlier in the season we learned that she’s never even been sent to the brig.
While we’ll have to wait for the arrival of the third season to find out how the plotline will be concluded, it seems incredible that Freeman could be behind the crime of which she has been accused. Let’s hope Starfleet Security’s judgment isn’t clouded with prejudice for the Cali-class so that Freeman can be soon reunited with her literal and metaphorical family aboard the Cerritos.
Avery Kaplan (she/her) is the Features Editor at Comics Beat. You can also find her writing on NeoText, Geek Girl Authority, Comics Bookcase, and in many issues of the Eisner Award-winning PanelxPanel. She is the co-host of the Matrix 404 podcast and the Comm Officer at Prism Comics. Find her on Twitter @averykaplan6
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States and Latin America on Paramount+, on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more, and in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.