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|Star Trek: The Next Generation episode|
|Episode no.||Season 7|
|Directed by||Gabrielle Beaumont|
|Story by||Ronald Wilkerson|
Jean Louise Matthias
|Teleplay by||René Echevarria|
|Featured music||Jay Chattaway|
|Original air date||February 7, 1994|
While enduring the Enterprise's promotion evaluation process, four junior officers find themselves involved in a top secret mission.
Four young Enterprise junior officers find their friendship strained during personnel evaluations. Two of the friends, Sam Lavelle and the Bajoran Sito Jaxa, discover that they are being considered for the same job. Joined by their friend Ben, a civilian who works as a waiter, they learn that promotions seem to be already decided on for their other two friends, Nurse Ogawa and Vulcan engineer Taurik.
Worf soon detects an escape pod inside Cardassian space, which is off limits to the Enterprise, and Geordi and Taurik work to transport the passenger on board amidst a cloak of secrecy.
Ogawa seems to be doing nicely in the evaluations as Beverly Crusher has nothing but praise for her abilities and accomplishments. She orders Ogawa not to reveal what she is about to see in Sickbay, and Dr. Crusher takes her to where an injured Cardassian has been brought on board.
Meanwhile, during a poker game, Commander Riker and Worf differ on whether Lavelle or Sito should be promoted. Captain Picard chastises Sito for her role in a Starfleet Academy scandal. She leaves the meeting exasperated, as Picard has left her without the opportunity to defend herself. Considerations of promotions are interrupted by a baffling secret mission that all but Lavelle are involved in. Left out of the loop, Lavelle becomes convinced that this is a sign that he will not be promoted.
After teaching a class, Worf tells Sito to stay and that he wants to test her. He blindfolds her and engages her in a one-on-one martial arts fight. Sito is powerless to stop Worf's attacks, adding insult to her already bruised self-esteem, but finally stands up to him, saying it's an unfair test. Worf admits that getting her to stand up for herself when she is being judged unfairly is what he intended all along. She uses her newfound confidence to confront Picard about his earlier interrogation. Picard, to Sito's surprise, admits that the purpose was to assess her personal growth, along with her readiness for a dangerous secret mission where she will pose as a Bajoran captive taken by a Cardassian named Joret Dal. He also states that he had specifically asked for her assignment to the ship so she was given a fair chance. Joret is actually a Federation operative, and he needs to get back to Cardassia. The plan is for Joret and Sito to enter Cardassian space in a "stolen" Starfleet shuttle craft that has been made to look like it was damaged from phaser fire during an escape. At the first opportunity, Joret will launch Sito back to Federation space in an escape pod. Acknowledging the risks, Sito accepts the mission and leaves to prepare.
Sito's escape pod does not return from the mission, so after waiting 32 hours, Picard orders a probe to be launched into Cardassian space, despite being warned that doing so could be considered a treaty violation. The probe detects scattered debris that appears to be the remnants of a Starfleet shuttle escape pod. The Enterprise later intercepts Cardassian communications which report that a Bajoran prisoner overpowered her Cardassian captor and attempted to leave Cardassian space in an escape pod, which was then destroyed, leaving no survivors.
Captain Picard announces the loss of a fellow crew member over the ship's general address. Lavelle receives the promotion, but he and his friends, as well as the senior crew, are downhearted. Even the emotionally distant Worf has been affected by the loss they all feel. They comfort each other, and Worf joins them as the episode concludes.
This episode has proved influential on later television writers. In his "Production Notes: Doodles in the Margins of Time" in 2007, Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies cites "Lower Decks" along with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Zeppo" as an influence on his 2006 Doctor Who episode "Love & Monsters". The episode provided a television format which came to be known as the "Doctor-lite episode", an annual tradition for Doctor Who since 2006.
- The First Duty, the fifth-season episode introducing the character Sito Jaxa as a member of Nova Squadron.
- Star Trek The Next Generation DVD set, volume 7, disc 4, selection 3.
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