Star Trek: Lower Decks – 10 (S1 Fin) – Nor Yet Favor to Women of Skill…

If you watched TOS you know about Beta III and how its pre-warp civilization was ruled by computer Landru until Captain Kirk shut it down. Apparently problem solved, but flash forward to the time of Lower Decks and the people of Beta III are once again under Landru’s heel.

While distributing art supplies, Brad tells Beckett he now knows she is the captain’s daughter, and since their comms are on an open channel, it isn’t long until the whole crew finds out. Beckett must contend with an uptick in nepotistic ass-kissing by her crewmates.

Elsewhere on the Cerritos, Rutherford tests out a new personality modifier that can make him optimistic, sexy, angry, and everything in between. This is as Tendi serves as liason for a new Exocomp crew member, Ensign…Peanut Hamper. Since the little guys were deemed sentient back in TNG’s “The Quality of Life”, it was only a matter of time!

Finally, Captain Bowman and the crew of the destroyed Rubidoux are breaking in their new ship, the Solvang, when they are captured (and blown up attempting to escape) by a powerful and gigantic ship made of a motley of cannibalized ship components…but the sharper-eyed nerds notice the ship at its core: Pakleds, last featured in TNG’s “Samaritan Snare.”

Needless to say, this episode is packed with stories big and small. And since this is the season finale, there are a number of big character changes to the status quo enjoyed in the previous nine episodes that will reverberate into the already-approved second season.

First is the cementing of Beckett and Boimler’s friendship in spite of their very different personalities. As predicted, Beckett is finally rolling down her sleeves, putting her hair up, and taking being a Starfleet officer seriously. Of course, this is for a very Beckett reason: she wants to run away from the hassle of being the Captain’s kid, and for that she’ll need to get promoted and transferred.

Tendi and Peanut Hamper turn get along like two space peas in a space pod, though the latter’s lack of hands makes it hard to manipulate objects meant for humans. Still, just when Tendi is about to warn the doctor that Peanut may not have the steadiest hands, Peanut executes perfect microsutures and even develops a new skin-grafting technique. The CMO is impressed, but is Tendi jealous? Of course not! She’s proud of Peanut Hamper!

Things take a sudden turn for the action-packed when the Cerritos receives a distress signal from the Solvang. When they arrive, the Pakled ship is already scavenging parts from the wreck of the Solvang. The ship gets its hooks in the Cerritos, but Freeman wisely notes that going to warp is probably what Bowman did, which doomed her ship, so instead she cuts power.

When they get their captors on screen and learn they’re Pakleds, everyone on the crew carries the same assumptions as the crew of the Enterprise: the Pakleds are slow and dumb, not a threat! And yet, here they are, carving the Cerritos up like a space turkey.

In such a strange and hazardous situation, Freeman leans on her daughter’s unorthodox methods for arriving at a plan to defeat the enemy. Beckett notes that the Pakleds are taking their time, meaning there’s time for Rutherford to create a virus that will hack into the Pakled’s “inviting” networks (due to the need to integrate so many different kinds of tech).

Ruthy turns to Badgey for help with the virus, but has to make a Faustian bargain: Badgey won’t cough up the virus without the safeties being taken off-line. Meanwhile, Beckett opens all the compartments where she’s hidden contraband (including her bat’leth) in order to arm the crew to repel Pakled boarders.

Just when it seems Peanut Hamper is the perfect crew member to deliver the virus to the Pakled ship…she declines, and beams herself into space to escape danger. Turns out she only joined Starfleet to piss off her mom. Hey, at least she didn’t go insane and try to kill everyone with her multi-tool nose!

Rutherford, who finally restores his “normal” personality, volunteers to deliver the virus. Tendi thinks he’s stuck on “heroic” mode, but he’s just being himself. Shaxs helps get him to a shuttlecraft and flies him to the Pakled ship, ramming through its hull in a nifty bit of tactical officering.

When Badgey, who Rutherford placed in his implants for the trip, refuses to finish downloading the virus unless his “dad” is killed by the Pakled. When Shaxs takes care of all the guards, Badgey sets the self-destruct, so Shaxs rips Rutherford’s implants out, tosses him on the shuttle, and shoves it back into space, before dying heroically in the explosion.

Rutherford and Shaxs have saved the day, but then three more Pakled ships just as huge and janky as the first converge on the Cerritos. Things are dire…until yet another ship dazzles the space-stage: The USS Titan, commanded by Captain William T. Riker (with his wife Commander Troi by his side).

It’s the second time he’s showed up in the nick of time (as he will decades later in Star Trek: Picard, though I’d prefer it if Picard took place in the future of an alternate universe. Do I buy that Riker knows Beckett? Sure, why not. They’re both the gregarious sort. The Titan scares off the Pakleds with its superior firepower and maneuverability, and the crew of the Cerritos can breathe easy.

In the final act, Freeman and Beckett agree to help each other out more rather than stay unproductively at each others’ throats. Rutherford loses his long-term memories, including his friendship with Tendi! She’s committed to becoming friends with him all over again, but it’s still a major bummer…the show just pressed a reset button on his character, and he wasn’t that developed to begin with!

Finally, Beckett and Boimler come to an understanding. He’s come to think of her as a valued mentor, but she insists it doesn’t have to be that way, they can just hang out as buds like they have been. However, when Riker offers Boimler a promotion to helmsman of the Titan, he takes that pip and runs, leaving Beckett in the dust. A captain mom, an admiral dad and years of experience, and a guy still gets promoted before her. Not that she wanted to leave, mind you, but she thought Boimler was happy where he was.

Will we follow his adventures on the Titan next season, or will he screw up and end up kicked back to the Cerritos? Only time will tell! Until then, this was a surprisingly strong first season of Lower Decks. I enjoyed it on a Star Trek level, a comedy level, and even an animation level; it looked consistently awesome and the classic orchestral soundtrack really sold the grandeur of space exploration and battle.

Trek-wise, it was able to pay homage and/or satirize without ever coming across as either too sappy or too mean; a delicate, difficult balance to be sure. The tone was always just-right, and even its bombastic finale managed to find time for the slice-of-life-on-a-starship moments that really immerse you in its world. I never thought I’d say this, but the extant live-action Trek series could learn a lot from Lower Decks. They probably won’t, but that’s okay…there’s more Lower Decks to come.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 09 – No Need For Theatrics

Ensign Mariner is in the midst of helping lizard people overthrow their oppressive masters (who also have a habit of eating them) and earnestly thinks she’s finally done something worthy of praise from her mom/captain, but Freeman isn’t having it, accusing Beckett of going against the Prime Directive.

Mariner vociferously protests in front of the aliens, and her mom orders her back to the ship, where she’s to report not to the brig, but somewhere even worse (to Mariner): therapy. Predictably, she makes no progress other than trashing a bonsai.

But when Boimler shows her a holodeck program of the Cerritos and near-perfect (and privacy-violating) approximation of its crew for the narrow purpose of practicing for an interview with the captain, it dawns on Mariner that the simulation could be used to work out her anger over her mom.

This results in one of the sendupiest good-natured sendups of Trek yet, this time focusing on the feature films. Appropriately, black letterbox bars appear to accommodate the wider aspect ratio and there’s suddenly a film grain and much more dramatic lighting and music. Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford are all along for the ride, but only Mariner knows the script.

What’s hilarious is that interwoven within Mariner’s unofficial holo-therapy session, Boimler still tries to use the modified simulation to determine what to say to the captain during their interview, even interrupting her birthday jet-ski session reserved only for senior staff.

But when the Cerritos is given a mission (which Mariner notes would normally be given to the Enterprise), we get the full Star Trek: The Motion Picture dramatic starship flyaround, with some truly epic beauty shots of the ship in spacedock, while the bridge and corridors are also more cinematically lit (a contrast to the usual TNG-style even TV lighting).

The impostor ship the Cerritos investigates suddenly decloaks off their bow; it’s a klingon ship crewed by Mariner in her vengeful villainess persona “Vindicta” (a clear reference to Captain Proton’s Chaotica from Voyager).

Tendi somewhat reluctantly portrays an Orion pirate (as she’s not your usual Orion IRL), Rutherford is similarly unconvincing as a baddie, while Mariner simply replaced Boimler (still on the Cerritos) with a knockoff she quickly vaporizes (the first of many grisly deaths) to show she means business.

Vindicta & Co. board the Cerritos and a corridor firefight ensues. Boimler is about to learn from Ransom what the captain is allergic to, cookie-wise, when he’s shot and killed before he gets the words out.

As Mariner seemingly takes more and more sadistic glee in massacring simulations of actual Cerritos crew members, Tendi is put off and leaves the holodeck (as well as the letterboxed format!) Tendi does not think it’s okay for Mariner to play up the Orion pirate/slave stereotype, especially if it means offering her Shaxs’ Bajoran earring as a trophy…with part of his ear still on it.

Still very much reveling in her Vindicta character, Mariner has the Cerritos crippled and it careens through the atmosphere of the nearby planet and crash lands in some snowy mountains, a truly epic scene that references both the saucer crash in Star Trek: Generations (albeit at a differen saucer angle) and the crash from Voyager‘s excellent 100th episode, “Timeless”.

Rutherford, who like Tendi really isn’t into this whole villain thing, instead decides to use the program the way Boimler intended, to get more insight into his engineering chief. He even manages to create a program that systematically transports the entire crew to safety before the ship crashed, impressing his superior.

Vindicta ends up in the climactic fight with Captain Freeman, but it’s not as satisfying as she’d have liked, since Freeman character has no idea who Vindicta is. That’s when we get a very cinematic twist and the “real” Beckett Mariner appears to beam her mom to safety and duel Vindicta (shades of Kirk fighting himself in Star Trek VI). 

Out on the planet surface, Boimler presents Freeman with some chocolate chip cookies on a blind gamble, but it turns out the captain is allergic to chocolate, and when Jet accuses him of trying to assassinate her, Freeman recommends Jet, not Boimler for promotion.

The two-Beckett fight ends in an apparent stalemate, but the one created by Boimler’s program never meant to win, only to buy time while the rest of the crew escapes and the self-destruct counts down. Vindicta (AKA the real Mariner) realizes that while sometimes she feels like blowing up the ship and stabbing her mom with a metal pole, at the end of the day she loves her mom, her friends, and her ship.

The self-destruct of the Cerritos ends the program. Mariner ends up making up with Tendi, Rutherford is unable to reach out to his superior, and most importantly, Mariner properly apologizes to her mom for how she acted with the Prime Directive-breaking. The movie transitions to a standard Trek All’s Well That Ends Well conclusion.

But that’s not all: when holo-Captain Freeman honors Ensign Mariner for sacrificing herself saving them, she no longer has any reason to conceal the truth: Mariner is her daughter. Believe it or not in all these nine episodes this is the first Boimler has learned of this! Unsure how to process the bombshell, he forgets his preparation and totally bombs in the interview with the captain. So he’ll remain an ensign for a little while yet.

As for Mariner’s movie, it ends a lot like Star Trek II, with a soft-landed photon torpedo tube in a lush jungle. But rather than a baby Spock, Vindicta rises and prepares for another round of bloody vengeance…only to be shot dead by holo-Leonardo da Vinci! That irreverent ending is followed by a more heartfelt homage, as the Lower Deckers’ signatures fly across the screen like those of the cast of Star Trek VI. 

It all makes for a marvelously-detailed, deliciously indulgent homage-parody of Trek movies while still moving forward the serialized character elements in preparation for Lower Decks first season finale.

Stray Observations:

  • The cold open’s statue-toppling is a reference to the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad following the capture of the capital by coalition forces in 2003.
  • The vehicle used to pull down the statue is an ARGO, first seen in Nemesis.
  • The Cerritos therapist wears civilian clothes but has a Starfleet commbadge. He is also apparently a green hyperchicken, similar to the attorney in Futurama.
  • Voyager’s Captain Janeway often visited da Vinci’s workshop for advice and inspiration. He was played by Jonathan Rhys Davies, better known as Gimli (and the voice of Treebeard) from the LoTR trilogy.
  • That said, I love how the Cerritos’ Lower Deckers just do skeet shooting with him!
  • Mariner’s messing with Boimler’s program is reminicnet of Tom Paris and the Doctor’s dueling holo-novels in the Voyager episode “Author, Author”.
  • Mariner fills Vindicta’s early viewscreen dialogue with quotes from The Tempest, which is a nod to Klingon General Chang’s similar tendency throughout Star Trek VI.
  • The Cerritos’ warp effect is given more bells and whistles for the movie treatment, while there are numerous lens flares, a nod to J.J. Abrams’ lighting style in 2009’s rebooted Star Trek.
  • Shaxs mentions Pah-Wraiths, who were the evil version of the Prophets introduced in DS9.
  • In his engineering technobabble, Rutherford mentions both “sativa” and “indica”, the two major strains of marijuana.
  • Rutherford also explains how he was able to transport the whole crew to safety as the ship was crashing with the hand-waving line “It’s a movie! We can do whatever we want!” For good or worse, many of the movies did just that.
  • Due to technical difficulties, I had to take screenshots…with my phone.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 08 – Out of the Space Loop

Hoo boy, this was one extra-stuffed, extra-caffeinated episode of Lower Decks! We begin by being thrown into an unknown situation with the core quartet: a sinister dungeon, then an alien trial on K’Tuevon Prime in which they are apparently being forced to testify against the senior staff.

One by one, they must speak into a Horn of Truth about the events of a specific stardate, starting with Mariner, who regales the court of a day when she and Boimler are late for bridge duty and have no idea what’s going on, only that the aliens they’re dealing with consider gratitude an insult.

Unsatisfied with her testimony, the aliens suspend Mariner over a vat of eels. Rutherford is next, and one would think his cybernetically-enhanced memory would be perfect, that is not the case as on that particular stardate his implants were undergoing constant system updates that caused multiple blackouts.

Everytime he comes to, it’s in a totally different situation. One minute he’s in a Cerritos corridor, then on a stolan Vulcan warp shuttle, then a kind of starship museum, then in outer space clinging to the hull of a cloaked Romulan Bird-of-Prey, and finally at a Gorn wedding.

Needless to say, Rutherford gets suspended over the eels along with Mariner, and it’s up to Tendi to tell her story. She was the assigned cleaner of the conference room when Ransom and a team of handpicked commandoes are briefed on a top secret mission. Ransom wrongly assumes Tendi is a cleaner cleaner, as in part of their covert operation.

The op unfolds as follows: they use the stolen Bird-of Prey acquired by Rutherford & Co. to slip past Warbird patrols, transport down to Romulus, and retrieve a secret “package”. Tendi shows off some Trek Fu on some Romulan guards, and the team manages to get out without detection.

Having failed to get what he wants, the alien consigns Tendi to the vat and all three are dumped in. That’s when Boimler saves them by telling the court that they are Lower Decks, the senior officers almost never fill them in on what’s going on, so they truthfully don’t have the info he wants.

Boimler goes even further to state that oftentimes even the senior staff doesn’t know what’s going on, such as whenever Q(!) shows up. But that’s okay, part of Starfleet’s mission of exploration is facing the unknown and…muddling through.

But it turns out this isn’t an alien trial at all…but a party, held by Magistrate Klar to honor the senior staff for rescuing him from Romulan captivity. As is the case with all Lower Decks episodes, it’s a subversion of the old Trek trope. Back on the Cerritos, Freeman promises to do a better job of briefing the Lower Decks, but as Mariner aptly puts it, “knowing things means more work”, so it’s probably better to keep things need-to-know!

So yeah, there was a lot going on this week—almost too much for 24 minutes—but it was still a hell of a fun ride, and the trial/party conceit held together all the loosely connected vignettes well enough.

Stray Observations:

  • The design of the “party silo” is heavily influenced by the Klingon courtroom in Star Trek VI.
  • There’s a mention of Roga Danar, a supersoldier from the TNG episode “The Hunted.”
  • Mariner warns Boimler if they wash out of Starfleet they’ll end up on Earth where all there is to do is drink wine (at Chateau Picard) and eat soul food (at Sisko’s dad’s New Orleans bistro).
  • Boimler suggests a Crazy Ivan, which is really more of a Submarine thing.
  • Shaxs warns about a Denobulan parasite that infects the peen from the same planet as Dr. Phlox on Star Trek Enterprise.
  • Tons of Trek ship references this week. The Vulcan museum contains Starfleet shuttles from both TOS and TNG, the Vulcan ship from First Contact, the timeship Aeon from the 29th century, a Klingon battlecruiser, a yellow Work Bee, a Ferengi shuttle, and a Jem’hadar attack ship.
  • The shuttle they use to airdrop into the museum is a Vulcan Warp Shuttle of the exact kind that transported Spock to the Enterprise in The Motion Picture.
  • Rutherford is asked to distract the guards with the “fan dance”, last performed on screen by Uhura on Nimbus III in Star Trek V. He really should be nude when he’s doing it.
  • The eels in the vat sound just like the Ceti Eels Khan uses to control minds in The Wrath of Khan.
  • Dr. Crusher’s ghost lamp pertains to the very bad TNG episode “Sub Rosa”.
  • Q shows up! Voiced by the inimitable John de Lancie. Love how he adds a little more floridness to his animated Q.
  • Klar is voiced by another Trek guest star, Kurtwood Smith. Known primarily for That 70s Show, he was the Federation President in Star Trek VI and Annorax in “Year of Hell”, my personal favorite Voyager two-parter. If he was going to yell “DUMBASS!” in a Trek episode, this would have been it. Alas…
  • When the guy tells Klar he only paid for the party silo for 22 minutes, exactly 22 minutes of time had passed in the episode.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 07 – Boim Us Outta Here!

Tendi has science’d-up the ultimate dog that is more than a dog (a la The Thing and with shades of TNG’s “Aquiel”). Captain Freeman, Ransom and Shaxs go on a super-covert mission (a la “Chain of Command”). Rutherford’s experiments in raising the ship’s transport speed results in Boimler shifting out of phase (like Geordi and Ro in “The Next Phase”).

Star Trek: Lower Decks is proud of its encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise, and not afraid of mixing and matching a variety of references to past series and films and putting just enough of a twist on them different and say something new about the characters of this show, while crafting a story that, while ridiculous and weird, probably works even for those uninitiated in All [Good] Things Trek.

Fellow Trek maniacs Mike and Rich Evans over at RedLetterMedia recently listed their favorite TNG episodes, and “Chain of Command” is one of them because, in part, it totally subverts the “crew having to pull together to foil the evil outsider captain” trope. Captain Jellico isn’t a bad captain, he just does things differently than Picard. It ends up painting Riker in a particularly bad light—a pretty bold move for TNG!

Anywho, in “Much Ado About Boimler” the replacement captain is Ramsay, a good friend and academy classmate of Mariner’s. Seeing those four pips on young Ramsay’s collar is a wonderfully simple and effective symbol of Mariner’s wasted potential—she really should be a captain by now!

Meanwhile Boimler, so eager to impress the new captain, ends up being ordered off the bridge since a side-effect of his phasing issue is an extremely loud transporter droning sound. In a break from usual Trek routine of the ship’s doctor finding a cure to a crewman’s unusual malady, Boimler is transferred to Division 14, a shadowy Section 31-like Starfleet org focused on, among other things, medical oddities.

Mariner and Ramsay are super chummy at first, but as Ramsay witnesses Mariner continually slacking off or performing simple duties sloppily, the act gets old fast. That applies when they’re on a second-contact mission to fix some alien water filtration system, and when they encounter their sister ship Rebidoux to be infected by some kind of parasitic alien.

Since The Dog Tendi made is also of interest to Division 14, Tendi accompanies Boimler aboard the division’s super-sleek experimental ship en route to a facility ominously called “The Farm.” Once aboard they encounter a veritable freakshow of Starfleet officers having suffered all manner of space diseases and mishaps.

When power is restored to the derelict Rebidoux, the alien awakens and the very seams of the ship start coming apart. Mariner drops her slacker act and suddenly becomes competent, which irks Ramsay even more because it’s clear now that Mariner was looking bad on purpose so Ramsay wouldn’t recommend her for a transfer and promotion to the Oakland.

While Ramsay is understandably pissed by seeing how low her former elite classmate, the one everyone thought would make captain first, has fallen, Mariner also doesn’t like how captaincy has changed her friend. Both have valid points, though it’s really hard to argue Mariner shouldn’t still be an ensign!

While the other Starfleet officers aboard the Division 14 ship are convinced the ship itself is “The Farm” and they’re being held there because they’re “inconvenient” to Starfleet’s veneer of perfection, the truth is “The Farm” is a real paradise planet, and it’s spectacular, while the division chief is just a little eccentric and has a sinister laugh you shouldn’t read too much into.

Tendi says goodbye to The Dog, who gets up on hind legs, says goodbye back, then flies away. Turns out Tendi, who after all isn’t human, had a lot of misconceptions about what a dog could and should do. As for Boimler, the phasing issue wears off, so he is no longer welcome at The Farm and its sensual massages.

Mariner and Ramsay may not be the happiest about how their friend turned out, but the two work together to save the Rebidoux crew as well as their away team. That said, they’re ultimately saved by Rutherford’s upgraded transporter. Everyone ends up suffering the same phasing issue as Boimler, but they don’t care; they’re alive, and it will wear off.

Finally, the alien itself doesn’t kill anyone, and isn’t evil at all! Indeed, it emerges from the absorbed matter of the Rebidoux as a jellyfish-like space-dwelling alien very similar to those first discovered in the TNG pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint”.

Harkening back to a 90-minute episode that aired back in 1987, it’s amazing to see how Star Trek has evolved with the times. By modern standards, quite a few episodes of the previous series (particularly the original) feel glacially long and stretched out. In contrast, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to tolerate an entire hour of Lower Deck’s energy and pace. Twenty-five minutes is the ideal length.

After Mariner showed what’s she’s truly made of on the Rebidoux, Ramsay’s promotion and transfer offer are still on the table. Mariner is flattered and grateful, but ultimately declines. She may have the ability to be a captain someday, but right now she’s happy where she is, where she can still figure out what she wants. In this regard she’s much like Riker, who passed up many a command because he loved the Enterprise and his family.

Stray Observations:

  • Mariner mentions “phase coils” as the kind of nonsense Captains often mention to their subordinates. Coils of one kind or another are omnipresent in Trek technobabble.
  • Tendi calling her dog “The Dog” may be a reference to people often calling Wesley Crusher “The Boy” on TNG.
  • It’s always fun to see alternate Starfleet uniforms broken out, and here we see Starfleet waders for the first time!
  • The Division 14 ship is a veritable smorgasbord of references, none more iconic than the crewman in the same beeping wheelchair as Captain Pike in TOS’s “The Menagerie”.
  • I love how the senior officers’ secret covert mission involves…planting a plant, when given the go-ahead.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 06 – Not-So-Hollow Pursuits

For its latest not-so-glamorous mission, the Cerritos is in a standoff with alien junk traders attempting to salvage 100-year-old Starfleet debris (you know it’s old when the registries are only three digits long). The cold open features Commander Ransom attacking the Lower Decks when he walks past as they all attempt to imitate the hum of the ship’s engine sounds (I myself used to do this as a kid). 

Then the Cat doctor tears into Mariner after she accidentally makes her spill her nachos. Both Doc and Ransom both hold the Lower Deckers in generally low regard in the opening minutes. We also meet Fletcher, Boimler’s academy classmate who feels like a third wheel throughout the episode.

This is also the second straight episode where the Lower Deck Four are split down the middle, with Mariner and Boimler in one plot and Rutherford and Tendi in another. While it makes a certain sense that non-command crew would hang out more, I’d still like to see more of the four interact, or end up in different combinations, something TNG, DS9 and Voyager did so well.

That said, it’s good to see the Rutherford/Tendi friendship continuing to grow. Tendi confesses she never completed a successful spacewalk at the academy, leading Rutherford to show her his holodeck spacewalk simulator. Tendi is so green in magboots hers end up sticking to his, leading to an inadvertent romantic embrace with a shimmering galaxy as a backdrop.

We also meet the Starfleet equivalent of the Microsoft Office Assistant Clippy, a cheerful and worryingly buggy anthropomorphic comm badge named Badgey.

When Mariner and Boimler leave Fletcher to complete their busywork so they can attend the “Choo Choo Dance”, something for which Boimler made special shirts for, we see that these two have clearly become more than bunkmates and colleagues, but genuine friends who make a point to hang out together when off duty.

Unfortunately Fletcher is not like them. When they return from the dance they find him passed out and one of the doohickeys they were working on missing. After initially blaming Delta Shift, Fletcher claims alien intruders could be involved, but as conditions on the Cerritos suddenly go south due to the junk dealers using their tractor beam to sling wreckage at the Cerritos, the doohickey turns up…in his bunk.

Fletch assures his crewmates he meant well, trying to hook the component to his brain in order to become smarter (shades Barclay in TNG’s “The Nth Degree”), but now they have a new problem: the component is now gobbling up all pieces of technology in its reach and becoming a huge menace.

Up on the bridge, Shaxs implores Captain Freeman to let him target the junk traders’ warp core (Worf almost always advised using the phasers and/or photon torpedoes). But here is where the true Starfleet spirit shines through better in Lower Decks than in either of the extant live-action series: Starfleet doesn’t just not shoot first; they prefer not to shoot at all. Freeman orders Shaxs hold on weapons while she tries to figure out a peaceful solution.

Due to the damage from the tossed junk, main power is compromised and the holodecks are locked and safeties disengaged. Also, the buggy Badgie turns evil and homicidal. When his suit is ripped Rutherford changes their environment to a Bajoran marketplace where Badgie proceeds to literally tear bystanders apart.

As they climb the seemingly endless steps up to the main Bajoran temple (also seen in so many a matte painting establishing shot on DS9) Rutherford apologizes for putting them in such a mess. He knew the program wasn’t ready yet but wanted to impress Tendi, whom it’s clear by now he likes.

The good vibes continue as Mariner and Boimler acknowledge they make a great team, restraining the mechanical monster Fletch made so they can transport it into space. When it grows even larger and harder to drag, they toss it out the nearest airlock instead.

The Cerritos shields eventually fall, but it takes forever, underscoring how unnecessary force is in this situation. The junk traders are ultimately a super-low threat, even to a not-state-of-the-air Starfleet vessel. But Freeman waits so long to finally order Shaxs to return fire, the weapons are offline too.

Luckily, the now space-bound tech-devouring monster soon attaches to the junk traders’ ship and disables it before it can lob any more junk at the Cerritos. In the aftermath of their accidental victory, Fletch begs Mariner and Boimler to cover for him—again—and they grudgingly do, following the adage Lower Deckers Stick Together.

When he notices Badgie laboring up the steps, Rutherford realizes his creation is not invincible, and changes the environment to a frozen waste. A brutal fight between Rutherford and Badgie ensues as Tendi escapes, but Badgie eventually freezes to death before he can kill his creator.

Shortly afterwards main power is restored, and with it holodeck safeties and control. Rutherford (harmed) and Tendi (unharmed) return to the holodeck grid to find a rebooted Badgie who is friendly again. But once they leave, Badgie admits he’s “always there”, which is creepy but also demonstrates that he’s attained a level of sentience not unlike Voyager’s doctor.

Due to Mariner and Boimler’s story about Fletcher intentionally creating the doohickey monster to disable the junkers’ ship, Fletcher is promoted to lieutenant and given a transfer to the Titan (the brand-new ship Riker commands after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis).

Titan transfer is something Boimler has always been working towards, but he’s oddly okay with it. Not only is this a factor of how hanging out with Mariner has softened his hard edges a bit, and that he doesn’t altogether dislike thatbut he also hopes it’s a learning experiment for Fletch.

Alas, it isn’t; he’s fired and demoted after just six days on the Titan (they clearly have a higher standard” and Mariner and Boimler are forced to fake interference to hang up on him. Like them, I won’t miss Fletch. He may have worn the uniform, but he wasn’t Starfleet.

Stray Observations:

  • There are some pretty relaxing YouTube videos of Star Trek engine sounds.
  • Something Boimler has in common with Picard? Both were once hassled by Nausicaans. They stabbed Picard in the heart, but just spat in Boimler’s face.
  • Frozen/in-stasis princess-like characters are a surprisingly common occurrence on the various Treks.
  • Probably everybody knows this, but flip phones (back when they were a thing) were inspired by the clamshell design of The Original Series communicators.
  • Rutherford runs down a litany of holodeck personalities with whom one can interact in the holodeck: Holmes, Freud, Einstein, Da Vinci, and Hawking all showed up at somepoint in Trekdom, while Picard and crew were sent to the world of Robin Hood by Q in “Qpid”, while Barclay played Cyrano de Bergerac in “The Nth Degree”.
  • I honestly don’t know what “Choo Choo Dance” is a referance to, if anything.
  • Jacket flaps were a bit thing in Star Treks II through VI. You undo that, and you’re either ready to rumble…or ready for a pot of black coffee.
  • “FUCK YOU!”: Best Viewscreen Sign-off line, or Bestest?
  • The captain’s yacht keychain sports a tiny, hopefully fake tribble.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 05 – Red(shirt) Herring

This is one of those fast-paced grab-bag episodes where nearly every member of the main cast is given time to shine, yet doesn’t feel overstuffed. We start with the C-plot, in which Captain Freeman meets the haughty captain of the USS Vancouver, which is newer and superior in every way to the Cerritos.

The two ships are tasked with removing a rogue moon on a collision course with a planet, but first Freeman has to wade into interminable negotiations with inhabitants of the planet who for various reasons don’t want the moon destroyed. I’m immediately reminded of two season 3 TNG episodes: “Deja Q”, which involves moving a moon, and “The Vengeance Factor” which involves mediation with aliens.

The Vancouver also happens to be the ship where Boimler’s girlfriend is stationed, which means they get to meet up, forming the A-plot. At first Mariner is convinced Lt. Barbara Brinson is either made up or a hologram, and when she finally meets her, she finds her to be a bit too perfect. Boimler also feels threatened when he learns Brinson will be working closely with Jet, her burly ex from the Cerritos.

Finally we have the B-plot, in which Tendi and Rutherford are instantly enamored with the Vancouver and all her advanced bells and whistles unheard of on the technologically modest Cerritos, including a nearly mythical diagnostic tool called the T-88. The two are assigned one each by Lt. Cmdr. Ron Docent with the promise that whoever does the most with it will get to keep it.

“When a Starfleet relationship seems too good to be true, then red alert, man—it probably is!” So says Mariner, who as the crew’s Trek Fan Surrogate, knows what she’s talking about. Not only have the TV shows been full of these kinds of one-off relationships in which the significant other turns out to be a spy or alien or parasite, but Mariner herself witnessed a friend’s face being melted off by her seemingly perfect boyfriend years back.

Worried about her getting back with Jet, Boimler ends up breaking work-life boundaries by visiting Brinson at work, while Mariner follows him to try to investigate Brinson’s true identity. Neither Brad nor Beckett come off particularly well.

But it doesn’t end there. Mariner becomes increasingly paranoid, to the point she sets up a bulletin board with string connecting possibilities (this board is packed with references) like Charlie’s “Pepe Silvia” investigation in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. What is effective is that based on past Trek and her own traumatic experience, it’s never 100% certain she’s not right, even though you expect the episode to subvert the trope.

Boimler than tries to compensate for what he feels are personal shortcomings by wearing the coolest outfit ever (as determined by computer algorithm) and joining Brinson and Jet in the mess for a beer. Trouble is, Brinson and Jet are still on duty. Then Boimler trips and spills beer on Brinson (pulling what in Starfleet should be called a Sonya Gomez), then a crazed Mariner snips off some of her hair.

When Boimler comes to Brinson to apologize for being such a jealous jerk she agrees to a reset, but still not convinced Brinson is a normal hot human woman, Mariner goes so far as to go on a totally unauthorized EVA to one of the orbital platforms where Boimler and Brinson are working alone. There, she encounters a naked Boimler who mistook her for Brinson. I guess disregard for regulations is rubbing off on him, eh?

Back on the Vancouver, Tendi and Rutherford get into a heated competition for who can scan the most with their shiny new T-88s, hoping to show them off to their division-mates back home. Docent announces they achieved the exact same amount of work, so they both get the tools, plus something they didn’t know they were vying for: a transfer to the Vancouver.

After Boimler bumps his head on a console and passes out, Brinson and Mariner start to fight. Turns out Brinson has been suspecting Mariner all of the things Mariner suspected of her. Why? Because Mariner is such a badass, it seems unlikely she’d be friends with a guy like Boimler.

Learning of Brinson’s esteem for her, the two start to hit it off as friends in their own right, bonding over their shared amusement with Boimler’s many greenhorn mistakes. Eventually, Captain Freeman orders the immediate implosion of the moon when she learns the last holdout and his wife were the only inhabitants of a second planet that would be made uninhabitable. As Spock once said, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

When checking on Boimler, Brinson and Mariner discover a parasite attached to his brain, which was making him chemically irresistible to select others of his species. This was a factor in Brinson’s falling for him so fast, but as she notes it isn’t the only factor—she actually does like the guy!

Unfortunately for him she likes her career a bit more, and the need to research the parasite from his head means it’s probably best if they part ways rather than exacerbate what is already an interstellar long distance relationship. That said, she’s made plans to hang out with Mariner in the future, so maybe we’ll see her again.

Finally, Tendi and Rutherford decide they don’t want to abandon their friends and comrades on the Cerritos, something Docent is furious about because he intended to swap with them, leaving behind the stress of being a Vancouver crew member, which is more akin to being one on the Enterprise-D: just about every week, something epic happens.

Back on Home Sweet Cerritos, Tendi and Rutherford reveal they both stole duffels full of T-88s for each other, thus confirming why they are friends. All in all, this episode was a great vehicle to further explore the main cast all doing their things while held together by the overarching moon mission. Well-constructed and imminently charming and entertaining.

Stray Obervations:

  • Mariner mentions a lot of possibilities for Brinson’s true form, but one of the funnier ones is “sexy people in rompers who will execute you for stepping on the grass”, a reference to the TNG first season episode “Justice”.
  • She also mentions “salt succubi”, referring to the monster in very first episode of Star Trek: “The Man Trap”, which aired fifty-four years ago next Tuesday!
  • She also mentions Q (who actually helped the Enterprise move the moon in “Deja Q” and Captain Picard Day, which was first celebrated on-camera in “The Pegasus”.
  • Mariner’s ship, the Keto, resembles Captain Beverly Picard’s medical ship, the USS Pasteur, in an alternate future shown in the TNG finale “All Good Things.” Its spherical primary hull is itself an homage to some of the earliest designs of the first Enterprise, before the saucer shape was chosen.
  • Furthermore, the Keto is docked at Deep Space Nine, while the Starfleet uniforms match those worn in DS9’s final season.
  • Mariner’s fake code prior to going on EVA is “Mariner 8”, which was a spacecraft meant to orbit Mars that, like Beckett’s carrer, failed to launch.
  • Mariner compares Jet to both Kirk and the Enterprise (NX-01)’s chief engineer, Trip Tucker.

 

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 04 – Bad Lieutenant

For a show with Lower Decks in the title, there sure is a lot of time spent on the senior officers. And while they’re an equally colorful bunch, I’d prefer the majority of episodes spend time with the gritty underdogs. This week we stick with Beckett for the A-plot and Tendi for the B.

In this case it’s impossible to avoid senior officers since Captain Freeman is Beckett’s mom. When the Cerritos and her sister ship Merced encounter a giant dragonfly-like generation ship with a cargo of Genesis-like terraforming fluid, the Merced captain’s briefing is just too boring for Beckett, causing a fit of yawning.

For whatever reason Freeman is loath to kick her daughter off the ship, so Cmdr. Ransom suggests they simply five her the worst and dirtiest jobs on the ship so she’ll request a transfer on her own. Considering her conduct, I’m a bit surprised Beckett is surprised by the shit jobs she ends up getting.

Meanwhile, Ensign Tendi, who cannot allow anyone on the ship to dislike her, acts like a bull in a china shop during a crew member’s “ascension” ritual, resulting in the destruction of his two-year sand mandala, and his ascension doesn’t occur. In response, he tells Tendi “I don’t like you” and “don’t talk to me”…which to be honest, is fair!

While doing holodeck waste extraction (yes, most crew members do that there, because of course they do) isn’t really her cup of tea, Beckett finds small ways to enjoy herself in other duties, like getting in a carbon-phasering race with her colleagues.

Ransom reports his failure to demoralize Beckett into transferring, and Captain Freeman has an even more diabolical idea: if her daughter won’t leave of her own volition and enjoys even the dirtiest jobs, she’ll just saddle her with more responsibility.

That’s how Ensign Beckett Mariner ends up swapping her red shirt for a gold one and gaining a pip to make her a full lieutenant. She gets her own quarters, but in exchange she’s constantly filing reports and audits and audits of audits, or sitting in interminable conferences about what style of chairs to replicate.

Beckett is even invited to the executive poker game (a staple on the Enterprise-D for both senior staff and lower decks), but she can’t even enjoy that because everyone always folds and there’s no real money involved! Since Beckett’s pretty sharp, she eventually realizes her mom promoted her intentionally to make her miserable.

The two in the midst of hashing it out when the captain of the Merced pulls a power move that ends up rupturing the hull of the generation ship and sending the terraforming fluid bursting out. All non-organic matter it touches turns organic, which means it isn’t long before both ships are transformed into biospheres, a process somewhat reminiscent of the TNG episode “Masks” when the Enterprise slowly turned into an ancient temple.

Once again, the limitless production budget of Lower Decks’ animation comes through as the cold sterile ship is transformed into a gorgeous psychedelic menagerie of caves, vines, and coral. Tendi is in engineering still trying to be friends with the guy who doesn’t like her, but they end up making up when they save each others’ lives.

Beckett and Captain Freeman are similarly able to put aside their differences long enough to devise a plan to restore the ship to its normal state and beam the too-far-gone Merced’s crew to the generation ship. Tendi’s friend ends up ascending after all (turning into pure energy as so many Star Trek characters have done) though it’s a much longer and more painful process than either of them expected!

Naturally, Beckett doesn’t remain a gold lieutenant for the rest of the show, and her kumbaya moment with her mom ends when she embarrasses her in front of an admiral after he awards them for their meritorious service. That means by the end of the episode everything’s back to normal—also a venerable trademark of TOS, TNG, and Voyager.

Notable this week: both male mains Brad and Sam barely appeared this week, which was pretty refreshing, as TNG in particular often had trouble creating episodes that focused on Crusher and Troi; I appreciate that as much of the Trek universe presented in Lower Decks is cozy and familiar, there have been notable improvements in non-white male representation.

Stray Observations:

  • The Cerritos and Merced are both California-class, but are not named after the cities you first think of when you think of that state.
  • I’m both surprised and relieved none of the crew of the generation ship were alive. Alien guest stars would have made this episode overstuffed.
  • The initial ascension ceremony really captured that warm lighting of the TNG crew quarters. I always thought those were pretty sweet digs.
  • The senior staff’s discussion about office chairs is a nod to the Burke chairs used in TOS, starting a tradition of interesting-looking conference chairs in Trek.
  • When Beckett and Captain Freeman break through the rock, they emerge into a turboshaft that’s been overrun by jungle. I was immediately reminded of the Genesis Cave in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • I’m gradually getting used to the character designs, which I’m told are similar to those in Rick & Morty, with which Lower Decks shares its creator. But I’ll be honest: I’d be just fine with more anime-inspired designs.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 03 – Buffer Time

While in the turbolift trying to make small talk with the captain, Boimler ends up letting slip two words no senior officer should ever hear: buffer time. Once she learns the lower decks are over-inflating work time estimates (the way even Scotty used to do) in order to secure more free time, the captain puts an immediate stop to it.

And I do mean immediate: suddenly everyone is equipped with a PADD that issues a ticking clock for every task they perform—like an Amazon fulfillment center technician. Free time is eliminated, which means stress and anxiety build up with no time for release…or adequate sleep! And as the TNG episode “Night Terrors” thoroughly demonstrated, Starfleet officers need REM sleep.

As a result of heightened anxiety and increased fatigue among the crew, mistakes are bound to be made. Mistakes like, say, when someone brings along not only the wrong cultural artifact for a diplomatic mission, but one that enrages the aliens to such an extent that they decide to launch an invasion of the Cerritos—the crew of which is in no condition to repel boarders.

Character-wise, Rutherford and Tendi are so slammed by work they come pretty close to taking it out on each other. Boimler, who was already operating on zero buffer time, is happy as a clam even as the rest of the crew crumbles, and Mariner ends up on the ill-fated away mission with the first officer, Commander Ransom, a Starfleet officer in the Kirk/Riker mold.

When the aliens do board the Cerritos, each member of the crew is so lost in their own personal hell of ticking clocks and trying to make up time that will never be made up, there’s barely any time to notice there are intruders aboard ship, let alone do anything about it.

As such, the intruders initially run wild, spraying graffiti all over the exterior and corridors of the ship, despite only being armed with spears, which as Boimler points out are no match against even one hand phaser. Soon he learns the senior officers and captain have also shifted to the new work schedules, resulting in the captain having to virtually run the bridge all by herself.

Down on the planet, the aliens (who are a pretty standard Star Trek alien race of the week) decide that if Ransom or Mariner can defeat their hulking champion, they’ll let them and the other officers go free. Mariner shows Ransom all of the scars that show she’s best suited to participate in the gladitorial match.

Even so, Ransom refuses to let his subordinate fight for him; indeed, he’d rather—and does—stab Mariner through the goddamn foot so that she has no choice but to stand down. While Trak makes clear part of command is being able to send junior officers to their probable deaths for the good of the ship, this is not one of those instances, and Ransom is personally eager to test his mettle—not to mention his honed physique, which Mariner can’t help but notice.

While Mariner and Ransom ultimately bond over their shared near-death experience (and Ransom’s righteous beat-down of the so-called champion, who turns out to be a lot more interested in reading books than fighting) Boimler snaps the captain out of her devotion to the scheduling system that could lead to the loss of the ship.

Realizing perhaps to late to be credible that eliminating down time is a bad idea, the captain makes a shipwide announcement to all crew to bend or break every regulation necessary to secure the ship. The crew then proceeds to use the very PADDs that had been oppressing them to beat the alien intruders back to their ships.

The ship is saved largely due to Boimler urging his captian to essentially backtrack on a system he believed would have ensured maximum crew efficiency. But realistically, that would only happen if everyone was a workaholic like Boimler: the real world is different. And so it is that Boimler’s name is affixed to an edict essentially calling for laziness where indicated, contrary to his hallowed values.

When Tendi assures him no one will ever remember “the Boimler Effect”, we jump forward to the distant future in which it’s being taught in school—and they built a statue of him. That said, he’s not as important a historical figure as Chief Miles O’Brien…obviously!

Stray Observations:

  • The entire main premise of the Cerritos-based plotline is an homage to officers like Scotty and LaForge being lauded as “miracle workers” for getting work done far quicker than estimated, when in reality they just know how to manage expectations.
  • Ransom’s duel with the huge alien champion is akin to Kirk’s battle with the Gorn in “Arena”, as well as other bouts that usually caused his uniform to tear or even fall off.
  • I appreciated Mariner’s mixed feelings about Ransom’s fight, both being outraged that he’d fight in her place and kind of turned on once it’s clear Ransom’s got this.
  • Interesting how Mariner and her Captain/Mom have barely interacted so far. One assumes Boimler/Tendi/Rutherford will learn about that connection at some point…
  • The gold plaque Boimler receives is similar to the dedication plaques that hang in some corner of the bridge of every Starfleet ship.
  • The future teacher describes the eagle on Statue Boimler’s arm as “The Great Bird of the Galaxy”—which was the nickname of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
  • Chief O’Brien probably needs no introduction. His illustrious career spanned from the first episode of TNG and the last episode of DS9 and beyond. He also devised Scotch-flavored chewing gum, bless him.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 02 – Sam of All Trades

I recently watched the TNG episode “Time Squared”, which featured a lot of sweet shuttlebay porn. The Enterprise-D’s shuttlebay is gleaming and spotless, but that’s just where the shuttles land. We never saw the dirtier storage and maintenance facility, but that’s the part of the Cerritos we get to see in just the second episode, where Ensign Boimler gloats about being assigned to co-pilot a shuttle escorting a decorated Klingon general to his diplomatic appointment.

Meanwhile, it’s become clear Ensign Rutherford has developed a bit of a crush on Ensign Tendi—can you blame him?—but his grueling engineering duty schedule conflicts with a date to watch an astronomical phenomenon. In order to make that date (he considers it beneath a Starfleet officer to go back on his word), he quits the Engineering division. Seems kinda rash!

Boimler could never have predicted a slacker like Ensign Mariner would not only be his shuttle co-pilot, but also old friends with the general they’re escorting, a closeness made clear when in the middle of introducing himself to the general, Mariner pounces on him and the two have a brief knife fight.

By-the-book diplomatic protocol and theory are fine, but Starfleet is just as much about who you know than what. The resulting shuttle ride is predictably chaotic as Mariner exploits the fact the general is a lightweight when it comes to bloodwine.

He’s passed out by the time they land in the Klingon district to grab him some local Gagh, but before they know it he’s “behind the wheel” and taking the shuttle for a joyride without them. With transport and ship-to-shore comms not an option due to the properties of the planet’s atmosphere, they’ll have to track him down on foot.

In a hilarious demonstration of how nice and understanding the vast majority of Starfleet officers are, Rutherford’s commanding officer is perfectly fine with him exploring other divisions. Things don’t go well with command, however, as Rutherford manages to muck up a basic holodeck command simulation that theoretically shouldn’t be muck-up-able.

Feeling that perhaps there’s some continuity to be found in the great engineering project that is the human body, Rutherford tries his hand at being a nurse, only to find his bedside manner is non-existent. We also observe how Tendi’s bubbly personality serves her well in calming and reassuring the patient Rutherford wound up.

Boimler once again exposes his greenness when it comes to missions on worlds other than Earth and Vulcan (which shouldn’t even count!) when they reach the Risian district. He’s suddenly seduced by an human-looking woman who turns out to be an alien interested in depositing eggs in his throat. Thankfully Mariner has his back…and a hose!

She has it again when Boimler recklessly jumps into the middle of a dispute in an Andorian bar he knows nothing about. Things escalate quickly into a big Alien Bar Fight (a Trek standard, to be sure) but cool (and thirsty) heads prevail when Mariner offers to pay for the next five rounds if everyone agrees to stop fighting.

Now that’s Starfleet—inadvertently starting fights, then amicably ending them. But Boimler starts to lose hope that he ever had a chance to be a Starfleet captain, and tosses his combadge in a puddle.

The last division Rutherford tries is security, and to the surprise of both himself and the buff Bajoran chief, his cybernetic implants give make him the perfect fit for security, as he dispatches a squad of holographic Borg without breaking a sweat, letting the implants do their thing.

Still, after a day(?) of trying out new career paths, all it takes is one glance at an open Jefferies Tube—spotless and gleaming—for him to politely turn down the offer to job the “bear pack”. Like the chief engineer, the security chief is supportive and happy for Rutherford.

Back on the planet, Mariner and Boimler encounter a shifty, Gollum-like Ferengi offering transport. Boimler is suspicious, but Mariner tells him she’s “pretty sure he’s a Bolian” and that he should listen to her since they haven’t let them astray yet. But when the Ferengi betrays them by pulling a knife, Boimler phasers it out of his hand, saving Mariner.

Once they learn the Klingon general safely reached the embassy, Boimler and Mariner return to the Cerritos. Despite asking to keep events between them, Boimler ends up telling everyone at the bar how Mariner confused a Ferengi for a Bolian. We later learn that the Ferengi was another friend of Mariner’s, who put on a performance in order to restore Boimler’s confidence.

As for Rutherford, he learns that Tendi wasn’t going to hold it against him for not watching the pulsar from a window—and certainly wasn’t something to quit the job he loves about! Instead, she joins him in the tubes and watches it on a PADD, in a very cute cozy scene of budding friendship.

Star Trek episodes don’t always have A and B-plots running side by side, but they’re definitely a common occurrence among the hundreds of episodes of television in the franchise. I felt both A and B worked well here, with the on-ship/off-ship plots complementing the characters and served as backdrops for their development. Tendi definitely got the short end of the stick this week, but she’ll no doubt be the focus of an episode (or an A or B plot of one) soon.

Stray Obervations:

  • The cold open features another TNG classic: the alien intruder depicted as a bright point of light. In this case, it’s one that is weak enough to be placed in a hold by Mariner, who threatens to stuff it in a canister unless it creates the cool new tricorder model that has a purple stripe…and a power crystal!
  • Mariner’s little singing but about the shuttle’s blast shield was as awful here as it was in the previews that made me initially weary of this show. Thankfully it and scenes like it are the exception and not the rule.
  • That said, why did she have so many bowls of broth, and why was it spilled all over the consoles? I know, I know…“it’s a cartoon!”
  • Boimler really was presenting himself to that Klingon general all wrong. Standing too far away and speaking too softly are both considering insulting.
  • The senior officers looking ready to get angry only to be totally understanding and supportive was a an example of why I love this show: even though it borrows so much from a franchise I know back to front, it can still surprise me!
  • Another practice that, while true to Trek, I found a bit problematic, was the alien stereotyping by Boimler and Mariner. Mariner’s barb about Klingons smelling bad was pretty cringey. As for Boimler ragging on Ferengi…Dude, the Alpha quadrant would have been lost to the Dominion without Quark and Rom!
  • At least the Ferengi dude was acting all “TNG first season” on purpose…IRL he wears a monacle!
  • As someone who does not mind tight enclosed spaces (as long as I can get out of them of course!) I always loved the Jefferies tubes growing up…even if they made no sense. You’re in space! Just make the ship big enough so the tubes are regular height!
  • I am so here for all the alien representation these past two episodes. Due to budgets, previous Trek crews were overwhelmingly human, which made the Federation feel small.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 01 (First Impressions) – The Optimism’s Back

We’re big Star Trek fans here at RABUJOI, and while I was both excited and proud to watch its return to TV (albeit streaming TV) in the form of Discovery and Picard, since it meant Star Trek was back and that could never be a bad thing, I’ve been ultimately disappointed in the negative and violent general outlook and worldview of those new shows.

I came into Lower Decks with extremely guarded expectations. I was not a fan of the art style in the previews nor what sounded like a lot of try-hard rapid fire comedic dialogue. Heck, even the logo of the show is ugly, with the words “LOWER DECKS” rendered what looks like a crappy free font, clashing with the iconic yellow/gold Star Trek word type.

Lower Decks is first Trek show since Voyager ended in 2001 to restore that upbeat, optimistic, cozy, joyful Star Trek milieu in which actually want to live and hang out. It felt more like those shows, and thus the Trek that I grew up with and love, than any of new live-action stuff, and pulled off that feat in less than half an hour!

Obviously, a show like ST:LD has the advantage of not having to spend too much time setting up its world—it’s basically TNG-era Star Trek, only animated. If you aren’t a Trekkie, I’m not sure why you’d watch this show, nor could I begin to imagine how it would come off not knowing anything about warp cores or the uniform colors or what-have-you.

LD can immediately focus on its scrappy underdog characters who populate the unremarkable Federation Starship USS Cerritos, starting with Ensigns Beckett Mariner and Brad Boimler. While Mariner comes off as an overly hyper chatterbox (she’s also drunk in her first scene), I’m pleased to report not every character chats at the same pace, and even she calms down for some scenes.

It’s clear Mariner’s authority-bucking, boisterous joie-de-vivre is a veneer to conceal the fact her round-peg personality in a square-hole Starfleet has caused her career to stall. There’s a lot of Tom Paris in her, right down to her admiral dad. She’s the opposite of the eager-to-please, by-the-book Boimler (ahem…Ensign Kim, anyone?), and between his discipline and her experience the two are poised to learn much from each other about life in the command division.

Rounding out the main quartet is medical officer D’Vana Tendi of Orion (hence the green skin) and engineer Sam Rutherford, a cybernetically-augmented human and to me, spiritual successor to Geordi LaForge. Tendi, also like Ensign Kim, is the definition of “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookie” without Boimler’s hang-ups, while Rutherford’s still-buggy implants sometimes add cold Vulcan logic to his human baseline at inopportune times.

There is a mission-of-the-week, and it involves the less sexy but very important second contact with a new purple porcine alien species. An aspect of Trek I believe really translates well to animation is the aliens and their worlds. Since it’s animated, the makeup and production design budgets are only limited by the animator’s imagination, and there’s never a chance of putting off viewers with either unconvincing makeup or falling into the uncanny valley.

Boimler was instructed to “keep an eye” on Mariner by the no-nonsense Captain Freeman, and that eye immediately watches Mariner break protocol by selling farm equipment to aliens on the side. Boimler ends up being sucked on by an alien spider-cow creature for far too long, but the whole incident demonstrated that his green instincts caused him to overreact on more than one occasion while Mariner got the feel for things and was able to improvise them out of peril.

Back on the Cerritos, Rutherford is on a date with Ensign Barnes that, unlike LaForge’s many dates, starts out pretty well! The issue is, the Cerritos’ XO Commander Ransom came back up to the ship infected by a bug bite that turns him into a vicious black bile-spewing zombie, and soon more than half the crew succumbs to the same transformation.

While it could have come off as too-cute-by-half to have the Rutherford and Barnes remain completely calm and even continue their small talk as their comrades start eating each other in the Ten Forward-style bar, the comedy worked for me since it tracks that Starfleet officers would keep their heads even under extreme conditions. Similarly, D’vana enters a gory hellscape of a sickbay, but feeds off the professionalism of her Chief Medical Officer (who is a Caitian) is, and comports herself well in triage duty.

What ties Boimler’s close encounter on the planet to the zombie virus aboard ship is the purple-pink goo secreted from the spider-cow, which cures and de-zombifies the crew. Thus it’s established that despite her refusal to submit to Starfleet orthodoxy, Mariner inadvertently saved the ship by letting the spider-cow suck on Boimler as long as it wanted. I got a really cozy feeling from the scene of the four officers taking a much-earned breather, their deeds going unsung as the senior staff takes all the credit.

While I hope she doesn’t back into saving the ship every week (something that would make her akin to early Wesley Crusher aboard the Enterprise) in a pilot it works pretty well at establishing the value of her approach to a Starfleet officer’s duty. If she breaks a few regulations, she’ll be able to rely on Boimler (who doesn’t rat her out to the Captain) and her other fellow junior officers to rein her in or bail her out.

“But wait, Zane,” you may ask: Why would you want to live in this Trek world—in which the crew turned into vomit zombies and a drunk officer cut another’s leg to the bone with a contraband bat’leth—but NOT want to live in Discovery or Picard? Because the violence, xenophobia, and general lack of human progress is too virulent and unrelenting in those live-action series, while the violence in Lower Decks is more stylized, comic, and by dint of being animated doesn’t feel as real (and thus depressing).

Also, it’s clear Lower Decks isn’t centered around violence, whether it’s threatening to blow up Qo’noS, enslaved androids being hacked into causing a massacre, or beheading people you don’t agree with. It’s far more aligned with the values of TNG. Its goal of being a Trek comedy inevitably bring up The Orville. I actually thoroughly enjoyed The Orville because it too took place in a lighter-hearted TNG-style world that’s futuristic but also bright and fun.

But as hard as it tries, Orville will always be homage with a hint of satire. Whatever else it is, Lower Decks is Star Trek, through and through. Production of live action Trek is delayed In These Times, and no telling if what we ultimately get won’t be filled with more violence and despair, and the further erosion of my preferred Trekkian outlook. I didn’t know this going in, but Lower Decks is just the Trek I need, just when I needed it.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The show’s logo may be hideous, but the opening sequence is beautiful, showing the Cerritos getting damaged in various ways against gorgeous space backdrops. The credits are also in the same font and color as TNG, which is just fine by me!
  • The USS Cerritos is the perfect balance of familiar details (like the Enterprise-D style deflector dish) in a new orientation. While a little awkward-looking, it’s a clean enough design, and I actually prefer it to the Orville.
  • The Senior Staff is mostly in the background, which is how it should be, but I do like the Riker-esque Cmdr. Ransom and the big burly Bajoran security chief. As for the doctor, she’s from a catlike species first depicted in the original Animated Series but a live-action Caitian admiral appears in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He was my favorite Trek alien for a long time, even though he was just in the background.
  • On that note, another great thing about an animated Trek is that you can have as many alien officers as you want without worrying about the makeup budget. Orions, Bolians, Andorians, etc.
  • It’s astonishing how many Trek lore Easter eggs this episode manages to cram into the half-hour, but most of them feel organically integrated, rather than shout out “Remember THIS?” or “Remember THAT?” The old didn’t get in the way of the new, but added texture and color.
  • This is a show that rewards die-hard Trekkies, not just with familiar sights and sounds but in how qualities of past Trek characters and episodes inform the crew of the Cerritos.
  • Mariner’s dad is an admiral, but her mom is also her Captain!
  • Rutherford’s date with Ensign Barnes ends up kissing him in a moment of passion after an emergency EVA, but he’s so preoccupied with a code fault in the airlock, and the fact she isn’t preoccupied with it, he later decides not to pursue a second date.
  • The second part of this joke is that Ens. Tendi agrees with his reasoning. Both of them are total Starfleet nerds and I love it.
  • That was a hell of a battle through the decks of the ship…reminded me of the DS9 Genesis game where Sisko has to run through the corridors of the Saratoga after the Borg attack.
  • I have never seen Rick & Morty, but I think part of why I think I’m okay with the very un-anime character design is that I’ve also been recently watching Avatar and Korra, which features an almost-but-not-quite anime style.
  • Other quick production notes: the voice actors all do great work bringing their characters to life, while the orchestral score does what a Trek score should.
  • I’ll be reviewing this series going forward, but future reviews will be shorter and feature fewer images, I promise!