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.