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.