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.

Terra Formars – 02

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Well, I was right: the show entered its element, as after thirty-eight days of milling around, flirting, and playing catch, on day thirty-nine all hell breaks loose aboard Annex One, as terraformars appear out of nowhere and start wrecking up the place (and the people). Now it makes sense why U-NASA recruited a guy who could hold his own against a bear in a Thai cage match!

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But herein lies the catch, and it’s a pretty big one: this show wants to show a lot that the network censors won’t allow. As a result, so much of the dismemberment and gore is totally blacked out, you can barely tell what the heck’s going on, which kind of kills the intended intensity of those scenes. I’ve a strong constitution for television violence, and can’t help but feel like I’m not missing out on the creators’ vision.

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As for the terraformars, they’re exceedingly dumb-looking. They manage to be terrifying anyway due to their size, strength, and inability to be brought down by huge guns, but they’d be a lot more terrifying if they didn’t have such goofy designs. For the record, I prefer Aliens to Predators, because the Aliens are just less humanoid in characteristics, and thus scarier to me. Ditto the briefly-seen aliens of Independence Day.

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Still, once the bugs appear, things go downhill quickly, especially when they destory all the precious medicine required to fight them. It’s all very bloody and hopeless…and I reiterate: they’re not even on Mars yet! Meanwhile, back in Japan, U-NASA employee and JSADF Major Hiruma Shichisei, finds a researcher from the Bugs 2 Project tending bar in Saitama, seeking information he’ll use to “protect Japan.” Major, after seeing what those bugs can do, good luck – you’re going to need it.

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Terra Formars – 01

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Curiously enough, this show begins with an underground cage match between a very muscular human (not a maiden fair) and a giant bear, held deep beneath Bangkok for the amusement of the super-rich. Hizamaru Akari isn’t doing so well, until he remembers why he’s in that cage: so his beloved childhood friend Yuriko can get a life-saving organ transplant, but even when he “hulks up” and wastes the bear, almost Ghoul-style, his handlers don’t do it. Yup, even in the 27th Century the rich are still assholes.

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Instead the richies “sell” Yuriko to a couple of sunglasses-indoors-wearing characters, Komachi Shoukichi and Michelle Davis of U-NASA, who regret to inform Hizamaru that they tried to save her but simply got to her too late. Hizamaru is wracked with guilt and grief, but they give him an opportunity to see to it no one has to go through what he and Yuriko did again, while saving the world in the process. That means traveling to the place where her virus came from: Mars.

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Upon resting and recovering from a surgery to toughen him (more than he already is) for what lies ahead, Hizamaru meets some of his colleagues, about half of whom are statistically dead already, including the trio of friends Marcos, Alex, and Sheila, along with negative newbie Eva Frost. They make up part of a group of one hundred that comprise the third expedition to Mars, the first two having ended in failure. The virus is believed to be capable of eradicating all of humanity, so developing a vaccine is of utmost importance, which explains the not inconsiderable resources of U-NASA.

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Of course, Mars isn’t just red dust; it’s been partially terraformed over the centuries by shipping algae, moss, and the highly resilient cockroach. Naturally, those cockroaches have evolved in no time at all into gigantic terrifying monsters who’d just as soon squash a human as a human would squash a roach back on Earth. So it would seem both the virus that threatens extinction and the titular “Terraformars” they must fight were originally created by humans in the first place. It’s a big mess, and it’s up to Hizamaru and a ragtag group of tough guys and gals to clean it up.

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We’re in for something totally different thematically speaking next week, be it the space voyage or their arrival on Mars, so as this first episode was more about introductions and exposition, I’m delaying my decision to review this show until I’ve seen it in its element. That said, this wasn’t a bad start, if TF keeps maintains its irreverent tone, “aw shit, what now” milieu, and amusing U-NASA camaraderie, I’ll forgive the uninspired character design and highly-censored (and thus somewhat pointless) gore.

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