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.