Star Trek: Lower Decks – 10 (S1 Fin) – Nor Yet Favor to Women of Skill…

If you watched TOS you know about Beta III and how its pre-warp civilization was ruled by computer Landru until Captain Kirk shut it down. Apparently problem solved, but flash forward to the time of Lower Decks and the people of Beta III are once again under Landru’s heel.

While distributing art supplies, Brad tells Beckett he now knows she is the captain’s daughter, and since their comms are on an open channel, it isn’t long until the whole crew finds out. Beckett must contend with an uptick in nepotistic ass-kissing by her crewmates.

Elsewhere on the Cerritos, Rutherford tests out a new personality modifier that can make him optimistic, sexy, angry, and everything in between. This is as Tendi serves as liason for a new Exocomp crew member, Ensign…Peanut Hamper. Since the little guys were deemed sentient back in TNG’s “The Quality of Life”, it was only a matter of time!

Finally, Captain Bowman and the crew of the destroyed Rubidoux are breaking in their new ship, the Solvang, when they are captured (and blown up attempting to escape) by a powerful and gigantic ship made of a motley of cannibalized ship components…but the sharper-eyed nerds notice the ship at its core: Pakleds, last featured in TNG’s “Samaritan Snare.”

Needless to say, this episode is packed with stories big and small. And since this is the season finale, there are a number of big character changes to the status quo enjoyed in the previous nine episodes that will reverberate into the already-approved second season.

First is the cementing of Beckett and Boimler’s friendship in spite of their very different personalities. As predicted, Beckett is finally rolling down her sleeves, putting her hair up, and taking being a Starfleet officer seriously. Of course, this is for a very Beckett reason: she wants to run away from the hassle of being the Captain’s kid, and for that she’ll need to get promoted and transferred.

Tendi and Peanut Hamper turn get along like two space peas in a space pod, though the latter’s lack of hands makes it hard to manipulate objects meant for humans. Still, just when Tendi is about to warn the doctor that Peanut may not have the steadiest hands, Peanut executes perfect microsutures and even develops a new skin-grafting technique. The CMO is impressed, but is Tendi jealous? Of course not! She’s proud of Peanut Hamper!

Things take a sudden turn for the action-packed when the Cerritos receives a distress signal from the Solvang. When they arrive, the Pakled ship is already scavenging parts from the wreck of the Solvang. The ship gets its hooks in the Cerritos, but Freeman wisely notes that going to warp is probably what Bowman did, which doomed her ship, so instead she cuts power.

When they get their captors on screen and learn they’re Pakleds, everyone on the crew carries the same assumptions as the crew of the Enterprise: the Pakleds are slow and dumb, not a threat! And yet, here they are, carving the Cerritos up like a space turkey.

In such a strange and hazardous situation, Freeman leans on her daughter’s unorthodox methods for arriving at a plan to defeat the enemy. Beckett notes that the Pakleds are taking their time, meaning there’s time for Rutherford to create a virus that will hack into the Pakled’s “inviting” networks (due to the need to integrate so many different kinds of tech).

Ruthy turns to Badgey for help with the virus, but has to make a Faustian bargain: Badgey won’t cough up the virus without the safeties being taken off-line. Meanwhile, Beckett opens all the compartments where she’s hidden contraband (including her bat’leth) in order to arm the crew to repel Pakled boarders.

Just when it seems Peanut Hamper is the perfect crew member to deliver the virus to the Pakled ship…she declines, and beams herself into space to escape danger. Turns out she only joined Starfleet to piss off her mom. Hey, at least she didn’t go insane and try to kill everyone with her multi-tool nose!

Rutherford, who finally restores his “normal” personality, volunteers to deliver the virus. Tendi thinks he’s stuck on “heroic” mode, but he’s just being himself. Shaxs helps get him to a shuttlecraft and flies him to the Pakled ship, ramming through its hull in a nifty bit of tactical officering.

When Badgey, who Rutherford placed in his implants for the trip, refuses to finish downloading the virus unless his “dad” is killed by the Pakled. When Shaxs takes care of all the guards, Badgey sets the self-destruct, so Shaxs rips Rutherford’s implants out, tosses him on the shuttle, and shoves it back into space, before dying heroically in the explosion.

Rutherford and Shaxs have saved the day, but then three more Pakled ships just as huge and janky as the first converge on the Cerritos. Things are dire…until yet another ship dazzles the space-stage: The USS Titan, commanded by Captain William T. Riker (with his wife Commander Troi by his side).

It’s the second time he’s showed up in the nick of time (as he will decades later in Star Trek: Picard, though I’d prefer it if Picard took place in the future of an alternate universe. Do I buy that Riker knows Beckett? Sure, why not. They’re both the gregarious sort. The Titan scares off the Pakleds with its superior firepower and maneuverability, and the crew of the Cerritos can breathe easy.

In the final act, Freeman and Beckett agree to help each other out more rather than stay unproductively at each others’ throats. Rutherford loses his long-term memories, including his friendship with Tendi! She’s committed to becoming friends with him all over again, but it’s still a major bummer…the show just pressed a reset button on his character, and he wasn’t that developed to begin with!

Finally, Beckett and Boimler come to an understanding. He’s come to think of her as a valued mentor, but she insists it doesn’t have to be that way, they can just hang out as buds like they have been. However, when Riker offers Boimler a promotion to helmsman of the Titan, he takes that pip and runs, leaving Beckett in the dust. A captain mom, an admiral dad and years of experience, and a guy still gets promoted before her. Not that she wanted to leave, mind you, but she thought Boimler was happy where he was.

Will we follow his adventures on the Titan next season, or will he screw up and end up kicked back to the Cerritos? Only time will tell! Until then, this was a surprisingly strong first season of Lower Decks. I enjoyed it on a Star Trek level, a comedy level, and even an animation level; it looked consistently awesome and the classic orchestral soundtrack really sold the grandeur of space exploration and battle.

Trek-wise, it was able to pay homage and/or satirize without ever coming across as either too sappy or too mean; a delicate, difficult balance to be sure. The tone was always just-right, and even its bombastic finale managed to find time for the slice-of-life-on-a-starship moments that really immerse you in its world. I never thought I’d say this, but the extant live-action Trek series could learn a lot from Lower Decks. They probably won’t, but that’s okay…there’s more Lower Decks to come.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 23

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Commander Carta Issue is ready to accept the consequences for her latest humiliating failure at the hands of Tekkadan, but Lord Iznario says she’s being given one last shot to redeem her pride honor. It’s thanks to an unlikely benefactor: McGillis himself, whom Carta can’t help but blush before when they meet on the stairs.

Carta may believe herself a worthless, humiliating failure, but she forgets that when she and McGillis were kids, she always treated him as an equal, despite everyone around them saying they weren’t because of Gill’s low parentage. All that mattered to Carta was that McGillis was a Fareed, and he should always stand proud and strong.

Now McGillis is simply asking her to do the same, and she will. But who knows the true reasons he wants her to fight Tekkadan once more, and how that coming battle fits into his grand plan to reform Gjallarhorn.

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As the Edmonton Express proceeds unabated, Merribit is increasingly concerned that the orphans of Tekkadan, including Orga, have gone mad in their thirst for revenge, and that it can’t possibly end well. But those same kids she wants to keep out of the fight tell her to back off. They’re fighting for Biscuit, and they will not be denied.

If only Gaelio could fight for his dead friend Ein. We see the toll Ein’s transformation into essentially a half-Gundam takes on Gaelio. Just as the Tekkadan kids are being metaphorically hardened into killers (which Merribit hates), Ein has been literally weaponized. He no longer has the luxury of choice, nor does he want it; he is still “alive” to avenge Crank and his other fallen comrades.

I never thought I’d be comparing Gaelio and Merribit, but here we are: both are appalled and scared of the sudden turn things have taken, but I don’t think either will be able to resist the force of the currents they’re caught up in.

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Even more unsettling is that Carta is, on some level, being thrown to the wolves by McGillis, with Gaelio and Ein sure to follow. Carta doesn’t realize the extent to which killing Biscuit radicalized Tekkadan.

She also quite wrongly assumes their patience and willingness to have a good old-fashioned 3-on-3 duel to decide whether they may pass or whether they hand over Makanai and Kudelia. Mika, in particular, isn’t having it. Why should they? Chivalry in this situation doesn’t do them a damn bit of good.

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Carta magnanimously gives Tekkadan 30 minutes to prepare, but Mika doesn’t need one. He rushes Carta and curb-stomps her two McGillis lookalikes. He doesn’t just disable their suits, he kills them, and then starts mercilessly whaling on an overwhelmed Carta. Even Lafter gets a little squemish at the sight of the carnage.

She rants about how this can’t be and who she is, but Mika doesn’t care about any of that, and neither do the kids who are watching (and won’t let Merribit send them away). Carta and Gjallarhorn are the enemy, and they’re in the way, so they’ll get crushed.

For a few moments, Mika is the bully, the antagonist in this fight, and Carta is like a lamb in the snow I’m feeling sorry for, even though she shouldn’t have expected anything else. It was a little hard to watch.

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A weeping, utterly defeated Carta is only spared from death at the last minute by Gaelio, but her injuries draw comparisons to Ein’s when he was last defeated. Could Carta end up the brain of another Gundam, like him? I don’t know, but Gaelio doesn’t have the heart to tell her he isn’t McGillis. McGillis, presumably, has moved on to other steps in his big plan.

The train makes it to the gleaming city of Edmonton, on time and ready to deposit their passenger right smack-dab in the parliament when the time comes for elections. Orga calls the city “the enemy’s grounds.” Mika listens, as he pops a snack in his mouth, unsurprisingly none the worse for emotional wear after his 3-on-1 beatdown.

But he used to just follow orders; take out those who he’s ordered to take out, because orders were orders. Now he’s finally seeing those he takes out not just as targets, but as enemies; those who stand in the way of Tekkadan getting to a place where they belong. If anything, this realization only makes Mika a more potent weapon.

As for Merribit, she seems to have taken on the thankless mantle of Tekkadan’s conscience, thinking about a future beyond the next battle’s outcome, like Biscuit did before. But is that future the “Final Lie” of the episode’s title?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 22

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This episode doesn’t stray far from the familiar patterns associated with the aftermath of the death of a major character. Rain clouds gather. Tekkadan’s march forward is suddenly halted. Their leader Orga withdraws to his room to be alone, racked with grief and guilt over the decisions he made that cost Biscuit’s life. The iron flower’s petals are wilting.

As predictable as this reaction and its resolution may be, it’s important to remember why they’re predictable: because they’re realistic. The loss of someone both dear to the Tekkadan family and integral to the Tekkadan business reveals that yes, indeed, these are still a bunch of kids. Even Orga can’t deny how few years he’s been alive, nor can he conceal the fact this is the largest loss in his life to date.

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Naturally, as the other kids of Tekkadan deal with their grief without their leader around to share in it, the adults don’t skip a beat. Fareed’s father orders Carta home, telling his chosen pick for Prime Minister that Carta has only proven to be a “worthless tomboy,” which is pretty harsh but not inaccurate. Carta’s job was to stop Makanai, period. She could not attain that result even with superior manpower and equipment. Carta is furious over her latest defeat and wants to keep going after the “space rats”, but follows orders.

The other two, non-shamed members of Carta’s childhood triangle, McGillis and Gaelio, are busy as well. McGillis makes Gaelio confront his prejudice and ignorance over the A-V system (the only thing at this point that can save Ein) by showing him the A-V research that continued even after the war. Gaelio laments the “loss of humanity” needed to embrace A-V, but McGillis remarks, not wrongly, that every time the world has changed, either for better or for worse, it was because someone abandoned or exceeded their humanity.

Revealing a squadron of new (or really old?) mobile suits, McGillis reveals his “plan”: Ein and Gaelio will both undergo the A-V procedure, and together with him eliminate Tekkadan and prove that they should be the ones running Gjallarhorn. In reality, McGillis intends to keep propping up Tekkadan and Kudelia as a relevant threat in order to use them as a stepping stone to power, i.e. overthrowing Gjallarhorn. In other words: he may only be their ally as long as they do what he wants them to do.

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Meanwhile, aboard the Montag ship, one of the “kids” is also moving forward without stopping. That’s Kudelia, and it’s no surprise: she already went through the pain Orga and the others are enduring after the loss of Fumitan. She decided long ago that no matter how much blood ended up on her hands, she wouldn’t stop fighting to become Hope.

That’s an important distinction from becoming a leader, as Makanai suggests after hearing her plans to get him to Edmonton via a train in Anchorage. A leader is just a person. She wants to be more than that, more than a mere human agent whose power is extinguished when she dies. She seeks an enduring transformation and influence. That’s the same area where McGillis is operating.

The adults on the Montag ship are powerless to do anything about the low morale. Merribit wants to do or say something to Orga, but isn’t confident she can get through to him. Laffter and Azee are more comfortable with their role right now, unable to fix the morale, but still committed to doing what they came there to do: support Tekkadan on behalf of Naze.

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As I supected, it’s Mika who breaks Orga out of his funk. Merribit is inches from knocking on his door, but Mika appears, and she suggests they both simply leave him be. But Mika comes right back and crashes Orga’s pity party with some cold hard truths. Way back when they were kids, they had an agreement, one that predates even meeting Biscuit: Mika would do anything, kill anyone for Orga, as long as Orga took the both of them to that place where they belong. That place was never simply an abstract concept for Mika: it’s a place.

Up to this point, since Biscuit died, Orga hadn’t been telling Mika anything. That ends right here and now, with Mika grabbing Orga and asking again and again what he wants him to do. He stands there, ready and waiting to carry out his will. He also puts it to Orga: are they there yet? No. So they must keep going. After bringing Orga back into the present with his eyes re-fixed on the future, lightning strikes; a nice, if on-the-nose touch.

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Orga emerges from his room, musters his boys, and tells them the best way to honor Biscuit is to make sure he rests easy knowing they’re continuing the job they have to do. At the same time, he makes it more about a job, which he probably has to considering how much of a jolt the kids need to keep going; he makes it as much about revenge.

After Orga’s pep talk, Tekkadan gets back to work, and the iron flower’s petals re-sharpen. As the credits roll, we see Makanai and Tekkadan already aboard the train bound for Edmonton, meaning they didn’t have any trouble getting to Anchorage or securing transport. That indicates the next three episodes are going to start taking care of business in earnest.

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