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.