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.

Qualidea Code – 01 (First Impressions)

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After the earth is attacked by an unknown enemy force, the children wake up from cold sleep, and grow up to become soldiers in the ongoing fight. Three cities in Japan fight from the ground, sea, and air to keep the Unknown at bay, often clashing with themselves in the process, due to the fierce competition borne of rankings.

Like Hundred, QC portrays a futuristic world in which a battle is ongoing with a foe but not to the point of desperation. Gleaming new cities tower over the ruins of older ones, and the humans seem to have enough military power to keep those new cities safe.

Unlike Hundred, not everyone is in love with the MC Ichiya. Indeed, few are, as he’s an arrogant little shit whose catchphrase “I’m all we need” wears thin fast. His speech about wanting to protect his world doesn’t jibe with his refusal to work with anyone…except Canaria, the girl he was with when the world ended.

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He and Cana aren’t a romantic item, just close companions. While he’ll barely interact with anyone else and forces himself to be nice to the adults who saved them all, Cana is the one person he doesn’t mind having around all the time…if she can keep up with him.

The two also happen to be in the top 10 in the rankings and head and subhead of Tokyo region. While he’s only ranked fourth, Ichiya clearly considers himself the best; those below him are scum and those above him are idiots; only he strikes the perfect balance.

That being said, the other two pairs of city heads and subheads at least have distinct personalities. There’s the young, naive, but kind and honorable Hime, ranked first, and her loyal and trusty lieutenant Hotaru. Then there’s the lazy, disinterested redhead, second-ranked Chigusa Asuha and her brother Kazumi, who’s down at #207.

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Ichiya seems like a kind of a dick so far, not the most likable protagonist, considering everyone else presumably went through similar horrors in the past and still managed not to come out as dicks. The most obvious example is Canaria, who was right there with him that day.

Cana calmed him then, and she calms and fortifies everyone still with her “world”, a songstress ability. Another difference form Hundred: the singing is actually animated. Ichiya helps her out by using his power of flight to put her in the best position for the song to be most effective.

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The Unknown are little more than pink CGI blobs of various sizes, like the ones we’ve seen in countless other shows. That aside, the multi-pronged battle involving ground troops, naval vessels, and broomstick air wings, had a nice rhythm and flow to it.

Indeed, even much of what would be the more boring bits of this episode are elevated by music from Iwasaki Taku, with theme songs by both ClariS and GARNiDELiA.

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There’s also the fact the show all but acknowledges the battle with the Unknown is a cakewalk, and so to avoid the three units and individuals from making it all about who earns the most points, Hime decides to end it with an overpowered attack that ends up destroying a section of a crucial bridge, thus nullifying whatever windfall of points she would have gotten from destroying the last of the Unknown.

This all seems pretty straightforward: post-apoc magic power school with clashing personalities at the top and an arrogant MC with a loyal and affable friend. That is, until one of the seagulls flying up in the sky suddenly vanishes in a pink spark, as if passing through some kind of barrier.

That caught my attention in an otherwise competent but uninspiring start to QC: what happened to these young refugees of a ruined world when they went into cold sleep? Is this futuristic new world, and their fantastical supernatural powers, all an elaborate simulation? We shall see.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 10

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This week’s episode of A/Z was spectacularly efficient and moving right from the get-go, as Inaho figures out that the Deucalion is down because Seylum is. Does he panic or scream? Who do you think we’re talking about, fool? (You’re not a fool. I apologize.) He enters Inaho Lifesaver Mode, using the CPR he learned (and took seriously) in high school, not hesitating for a moment to do what needs to be done to bring the princess back.

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Lesser shows would have played up the embarrasment a teenage boy would have at having to suddenly be so intimate with the girl he likes, but A/Z is not a lesser show. The scene is immensely tense and thrilling, and as the sweat gathered on Inaho’s brow and Seylum isn’t waking up, I’ll admit to getting a little leaky-eyed. And while in real life only 7% of people undergoing CPR are successfully revived, this is thankfully part of that 7%. Her first gasp for air is a viscerally satisfying moment.

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Then Seylum fingers her attacker, Rayet grabs an automatic, and it’s Standoff Time. Rayet confesses, she’s a Martian too. All this time she’s been calling them the enemy and scum unworthy of trust, she’s also been talking about herself, or at least what she once was, as shes been trying to become a Terran since her father’s death. Seylum counters Rayet’s bile with contriteness and kindness, admitting her rash actions have only made Earth-Vers relations worse.

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Rayet’s frustration is rooted far less in politics, or even the fact her father died, than her jealousy over Seylum’s “transition” in the midst of all these intense events, and that the Terrans so readily accepted her. To Rayet’s eyes, she’s gotten everything so easily, and it has eaten her up inside. She’s so taken aback by Seylum’s response, she loses her cool altogether and turns the pistol on herself. That’s when BAM, INAHO ACTION MODE disarms and restrains her, quick as a flash. This kid is cool as shit.

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As awesome and powerful as this “shower standoff” was, it only took up the episode’s A-part, which also managed to squeeze Yagarai giving Magbaredge a DVD containing his interview with Lt. Morito, in which he lays out the tragic but also very understandable circumstances of her brother’s death during Heaven’s Fall, maybe paving the path for Magbaredge to forgive him. That’s quite a frikkin’ first half.

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That’s a nice segue into the second half, since the day of Heaven’s Fall also carries great weight with Count Saazbaum. He and his betrothed Viscountess Orlane were sent on an advance mission to Earth’s surface, and her kataphrakt’s flight systems failed after the moon shattered. He was forced to escape, leaving her behind to die just as Morito left Humeray.

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But he and Orlane wouldn’t have even been there if it weren’t for the Vers Royal Family, turning the peoples’ discontent over degrading conditions on Mars onto Earth by making Terrans the scapegoat. And while revenge is extremely important to Saazbaum, his motivation goes beyond that. He’s tired of pretending Vers is any kind of place to have a civilization, especially since that civilization has only survived thanks to Aldnoah, which is controlled by the royals.

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This is interesting, because Saazbaum isn’t your Vers true believer, and yet he isn’t simply in this for himself: he has no regard to the empire he hails from. He built up his lands and his wealth all by himself, as did other counts, but always he had to live in the same shadow of Aldnoah as everyone else. Inhabiting Mars is a “fool’s errand” to him; only Earth can properly accommodate them.

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That Earth is already inhabited is of no consequence to him…and in any case, there simply don’t seem to be a whole lot of Terrans left on Earth anyway. When the Deucalion finally arrives at United Earth HQ they find the undergound shelters under-inhabited and over-supplied. Still, it’s all they’ve got, and Saazbaum is headed there to put the Terrans out of their misery.

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Can Inaho and the others wriggle their way out of it? Is Rayet destined to sit out the remainder of the show in the brig? Will Darzana forgive Morito, and will Morito be able to move forward? Heck, Asseylum even made Inaho flinch by calling him a kind person, no matter what practical excuses he gives for all that he’s done for her. Will these two go anywhere? What side will Slaine pick? There’s an awful lot of questions to answer. I sure hope two episodes is enough to do it.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 09

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With the human crew out of constant immediate danger for two episodes now, A/Z has had more chances to demonstrate its sense of humor. For all the horrors it’s presented, the show can be pretty funy, and its outlook has remained optimistic. One look no further than all the little side moments that have peppered more tense situations.

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Now those moments have more room to breathe, whether it’s Yuki’s alleged ability to interpret Inaho’s mood from his stonelike face, to her teasing of Inko and Rayet, to Nina managing to snatch up Asseylum’s princess gown for reasons both practical and selfish. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the continuation of the wry banter between Magbaredge and Mizusaki; a nice blend of bitchy and chummy.

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All this joking around early in definitely lightens the mood, but also softens us up for the blows that come later, as the episode suddenly descends into darkness. The seeds are planted when Rayet is in the simulator, and Yuki dials up the purple kataphrakt that killed Rayet’s dad right in front of her. The experience shakes poor Rayet to the core, and continues to be baffled by Asseylum’s calm, collected outer facade.

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What Yuki did was an accident, but Yagarai gets the idea to use the simulator to recreate Marito’s own ordeal. Again, the comedy peeks through when Marito initially dismisses the simulation as “blocky” crap. His mood changes on a dime when he sees a blocky version of the kataphrakt he and Humeray encountered fifteen years ago, and we dive along with him right into that memory in its entirety.

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Long story short, they were outmatched, tanks are cramped and suck, and there was nothing he could have done for Humeray other than what he did, which is shoot him so he doesn’t have to endure being burnt alive. It was an impossible situation, and he shouldn’t blame or torture himself for what happened. We’ll see how many more times he lets Yaganai make him relive it.

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But hold on, that flashback isn’t even the darkest, most fucked up thing to go down in this episode. Asseylum doesn’t mean it, but her very presence is driving Rayet crazy. While she and Eddelrittuo come in the shower prattling about how awesome she is, it’s the last straw. While Eddy is away for a moment, Rayet, seemingly in some kind of trance, slowly walks into Asseylum’s stall and strangles her with her necklace.

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Then the Deucalion shuts down and crashes, since Asseylum was its source of power…a fact we had forgotten right up until that point! I’m not yet buying that she’s dead—just unconscious—but it’s still serious business that Rayet’s passive disdain has turned active and unhinged. It’s also ironic that after all the Vers traitors’ attempts to off Asseylum in the most public and flashy way possible, it’s a human that ends up “getting to her” in the shower of a floating battleship.

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Finally, Slaine is now the guest of Count Saazbaum after the latter killed Cruhteo. Saaz comes right out and admits he is the traitor who plotted Asseylum’s assassination, but it’s not what we initially thought: Saazbaum isn’t just a selfish rich asshole, he’s a selfish rich asshole who felt used by the royalty fifteen years ago, whipping up wars to distract the masses back home, which led to the death of his beloved betrothed. He’s committed to taking out the royal family—Asseylum included—and no amount of surprisingly sharp butter knives will stop him.

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Blood-C 11

Tsutsutori, Nono, Nene, and Tokizane reveal themselves as actors in a grand experiment with Saya as the star. She is a not-quite-human entity with superhuman powers. Fumito captured her and began fooling around with her memories. Whenever she attacks an elder bairn, she’s drunk its blood, making her remember some of her real memories of meeting with Fumito. The teacher, twins and Tokizane are tired of this, and want out, so they try to restore her memories permanently to stop the cycle. But they run into Amino and Itsuki, and eventually Fumito also shows up, likely to stop them…

When it was finally clear last week that the whole story to that point had been some kind of simulation, I immediately thought of the Truman Show. Like Truman, Saya is initially utterly convinced that the world she’s living in are real and her friends are really that. It’s pretty cruel for it to turn out to be a production. Even more amusing is how different the actors are from the characters they’ve played: Nono and Nene are immoral, conniving, vain bitches, Tokizane is a greedy, selfish coward, and the teacher is…well, she was always flirty with Saya, so she didn’t change much. Class Rep Itsuki is still a stickler for the rules, but without the friendliness of his character. One of the best lines of the series came from one of the evil twins: “How are these uniforms realistic in any way?”

It turns out they are: black and red hides the blood. Just like a tiny, isolated village makes it easier to keep Saya involved. I’m surprised the elder bairns are real, and in fact still a threat (though not to the main cast, who bear protective talismans), and seem to also be variables in Fumito’s experiment. This is why they kept asking her to “honor the contract” – she was killing them during Shrovetide, a period when it’s okay to eat humans. Throughout all of this explanation though, Saya is fairly inert. She just kneels there on all fours, breathing heavily, unable and/or unwilling to take it all in. But however much she knows, now we know why those school scenes were so tacky!


Rating: 4