Star Trek Lower Decks (LOW) Season 1

Season 1

Second ContactEnvoysTemporal EdictMoist VesselCupid's Errant ArrowTerminal ProvocationsMuch Ado About BoimlerVeritasCrisis PointNo Small Parts

 

Second Contact

Synopsis

"Second Contact"

Stardate 57436.2: The USS Cerritos is tasked with making "second contact" with the Galardonians. During a stopover at Douglas Station, new crew members board the ship. Among them is Ensign Tendi, an Orion science officer, who is impressed about her new assignment. Ensign Brad Boimler, a timid but ambitious young officer, is officially assigned to show her round, but they are joined by Ensign Mariner, who is notorious for her problems with authority. On the Galardonian homeworld, Commander Ransom is bitten by an insect but does not deem that important. As the cybernetically enhanced Ensign Rutherford has a date with crewmate Ensign Barnes in the ship's lounge, Ransom begins to attack and bite other crew members, infecting them with what will be identified as the "rage virus". Rutherford and Barnes stay calm and escape unscathed. In the meantime, Mariner supplies a Galardonian farm with what looks like weapons to Boimler, who was ordered by Captain Carol Freeman to report Mariner's breaches of conduct. But it turns out to be just farming equipment. A giant spider escapes from the stable and attacks the two, but the animal turns out herbivore and just sucks moisture out of Boimler's body, engulfing him in slime. When the two beam up to the ship, Doctor T'Ana finds that the slime cures the rage virus, and distributes an antidote through the ship's environmental systems. Boimler reports that Mariner did not breach regulations. It turns out that Mariner is actually Captain Freeman's daughter but no one on the ship is aware of that.

Commentary

I was cautiously optimistic when Lower Decks was first announced. I think the Star Trek Universe is big enough for a comedy show, if done the right way. I was not worried that Mike McMahan, known for writing and co-producing Rick and Morty, would helm the new show. Yet, the trailer and the first minutes of "Second Contact", released just a few weeks before the premiere, put me off. They made it look as if the humor of Lower Decks consisted of farts, slime, zombies and monsters. And of sexual innuendo, alcohol and violence, to earn the "adult" label. I was afraid it could become mere slapstick without further significance, or nihilistic just like Rick and Morty. I like Rick and Morty, but its ethos is diametrically opposed to that of Star Trek.

I am glad that "Second Contact" largely dispels my apprehensions. The humor is appropriate for the most part. I dislike only a few of the jokes that I think are misplaced. And ultimately the jokes may not be the most important aspect about the show anyway.

Not only is Lower Decks totally recognizable as Star Trek as the visuals and sounds are concerned. It so far also comes with a good deal of Star Trek spirit, once we look beyond the overdrawn characters and events. It all boils down to concepts we already know and we have accepted in live action. The shy and hypochondriac Ensign Boimler reminds me of fan favorite Reg Barclay, and Mariner is not unlike Ro Laren with her defiant attitude. Ensign Tendi relays the sense of wonder about going into space as it was still palpable in the early TNG era (and in Star Trek Enterprise, for that matter), while Rutherford qualifies as a Star Trek character on a meta level, with certain traits of a Big Bang Theory nerd. "Grumpy Cat" T'Ana is like Dr. Pulaski with furry ears, and I am willing to accept her comment on Boimler being worthless as sarcastic or as an allusion to the disregard for redshirts. In fact, despite the exaggerated idiosyncrasies there is not a single bad person on the whole ship, unlike in the two other recent Trek shows. I would not have expected that, but to me the Lower Decks characters are relatable and Trek-like.

Although the morality of the show comes with the caveats that this is not the bravest crew and that the accomplishments of the low-ranking officers are not sufficiently recognized, Lower Decks is anything but nihilistic. And while the general tone of the first episode is "girls: cool, boys: meh", it doesn't become a wokefest. The characters, or at least those who are in the focus this time, have motivations, and what they do has a meaning and has consequences. Even Mariner's issues with discipline (that I was very apprehensive of) gain a surprising significance that will likely be further elucidated in future episodes. Boimler and Mariner are antithetical characters in the tradition of The Odd Couple. And I like how they still attempt to commend each other in the end and how this too hints at a development.

Overall, the story of "Second Contact", as simple as it may be, is more coherent than those of many live-action episodes if we neglect the comedic overstatement for a moment. Also, it is amazingly efficient for a pilot episode of only 30 minutes.

It is too early to judge the series after just one episode, but it looks like Lower Decks could accomplish the feat to turn Star Trek into fun without making fun of it. Its makers seem to have understood that the combination of Star Trek and comedy, as an official part of the franchise, must not ridicule this franchise, must not bite the hand that feeds them. I have seen funnier animated comedies. I have seen better Star Trek. But Lower Decks tries out something new, something that may turn out successful and also find the old fans' approval. I can understand that it plays safe for this purpose. The delay of the international release gave me plenty of time to read other reviews, some of which called Lower Decks "comfortable" rather than exciting. This is a feeling that I share, but not really in a negative sense.

One important reason why Lower Decks appears as comfortable is its highly recognizable 24th century look and feel. Reproducing the existing canon as faithfully as possible, this animated series goes in the extreme opposite direction than Discovery - although this still doesn't mean it has to be canon itself. I think it wouldn't have been possible otherwise. An animated spin-off, and a comedy show at that, needs more than just a few visual cues to its live-action prototype. Also, it is much easier to reproduce the sets and props of a show that aired more than 20 years in animation than it would be to rebuild the real things from scratch. It requires a good deal of research though, from which Mike McMahan's team obviously didn't shy away. Kudos to them for bringing the world of TNG to life again! As a purist, I was actually a bit concerned that the TNG era was chosen for a comedy show, and as the target of a parody of sorts. But it was just the obvious choice, considering that TOS has already been parodied to death and that Discovery is much like unintentional comedy itself and hence not a candidate for such a treatment.

One general point of criticism, however, is that the series is not meant for and not suited for kids, although in my view that would have been easy to achieve. Just leave out a few instances of "adult" humor (sex, alcohol, blood, swearing) that are not so funny anyway. If Star Trek (at least the old one, before Discovery) is for kids, why shouldn't the same apply to a comedy show based on it?

When Lower Decks premiered in North America on August 6, 2020, the rest of the world was locked out. Whatever the actual reasons are, this may be seen as a sign of disregard for international viewers. Mike McMahan attempted to comfort fans abroad: "The characters in Star Trek aren't an American set of characters. They are an Earth set of characters." Unfortunately I can't recognize anything of that internationality in his series. Lower Decks, much like Star Trek Enterprise, is about an American ship with an American crew (save for the aliens). Perhaps later episodes will add a bit more diversity, but my apprehension is that McMahan's words are mere lip service.

Lower Decks comes with a visually appealing animation style. I especially like the visualization of space scenes, which is in apt animated interpretation of how the studio miniatures looked in the good old live-action series. The level of detail is commendable, especially as typical props and graphics of the TNG era are concerned. Finally, I just love the color palette of the series, and the subtle effect of lighting on the otherwise comparably flat and cartoonish characters.

The title theme of Lower Decks is a nice blend of the TAS theme, the TNG theme and similar triumphant TV music of the 1980s and 90s, and as such a perfect choice.

I liked this first installment of Lower Decks. It is not entirely my kind of humor. But it is made with loving attention to what is important in Star Trek, both in terms of its look and its philosophy. Lower Decks may be sarcastic at times, it may show characters whose occasionally bizarre conduct we would condemn if it were a "serious" live action show. I'm willing to give Lower Decks more leeway, as long as it still relays core values of the franchise and doesn't resort to cynicism. And I think it so far fares a thousand times better in this regard than a certain recent live-action episode that maliciously turned Star Trek into a cynical farce.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

Envoys

Synopsis

"Envoys"

Ensign Boimler is assigned to ferry Klingon General K'orin to the Federation Embassy on Tulgana IV. Mariner unexpectedly joins the mission. She knows K'orin and greets him the Klingon way. The general demands to land in Little Qo'noS, the Klingon district of the planet, where he steals the shuttle. Without the possibility to beam up or contact the ship, because of an ion shield, Boimler and Mariner are left to their own among many aliens of different species. In the meantime on the USS Cerritos, Ensign Rutherford decides to switch departments. He likes his job in engineering and enjoys crawling through the Jefferies tubes all day, but he also wants to spend time with Tendi and watch a pulsar. So he undergoes a command and a medical training, both of which he screws up. Only when he has the chance to show his fighting skills to Shaxs, the security chief, he performs admirably against the simulated Borg, thanks to his cybernetic implants. But Rutherford turns down the offer to stay with security, and returns to engineering. On Tulgana IV, the two other junior officers follow the trail of K'orin, but Boimler's inexperience repeatedly gets him into danger. Fortunately Mariner saves him every time. Only when the two run into a Ferengi, whom Mariner mistakes for a Bolian, Boimler can prove that his knowledge about alien species is valuable. The two eventually find the shuttle and the drunk K'orin. They leave him at the entrance of the embassy and return to the ship. It turns out that the Ferengi was hired by Mariner only to give Boimler a good feeling.

Commentary

After "Second Contact", I was hopeful that Lower Decks could be an appropriate humorous approach to Star Trek, with jokes that more than just exploit clichés and with characters that are relatable and Trek-like. "Envoys", however, is an utter disappointment in these two regards. And this is mostly the fault of how Ensign Mariner is written, whose insufferable behavior drags down the whole story that otherwise is (or could be) a lot of fun.

The episode begins with an evil transdimensional energy lifeform entering the ship, like it repeatedly happened in the franchise since "Day of the Dove" (the effect being much the same as in TNG: "The Child"): "Behold and tremble... I will destroy you!" Well, most of the time they wouldn't say that so openly. Anyway, Mariner knows exactly what to do, valiantly grabs the entity and threatens to put it into a bottle. In order to escape this fate, the genie grants her the wish to transform air into "one of those fancy new tricorders with the purple stripe", upon which the entity loses energy, is unable to zap people any more and hence harmless. I find this opener amusing, although it is exactly the kind of parody I would expect to come from outside the franchise and not from Star Trek itself, and although Mariner is a total Mary Sue here (rather than the parody of one). This is still one of the better parts of the episode. Pertaining to Mariner's involvement, everything goes downhill steadily from here.

So Mariner interferes with Boimler's duties (as she apparently does all the time) and joins his mission. I thought the worst was over after her playing with the shuttle's blast shields like a five-year-old kid, as already seen in the series trailer. But I was mistaken. As we perhaps shouldn't have expected otherwise, Mariner knows Boimler's passenger, the Klingon general, and she also knows how to fight and to drink the Klingon way. Did I mention she is a total Mary Sue? This all isn't very funny, as it only reiterates the common clichés about the warrior species. We've seen it all many times before. The laudable aspect is that all Klingons in this episode are real Klingons as they should be, and not the grotesque reimagination from Discovery. Anyway, it is a smaller problem that the humor doesn't work. While Mariner's conduct on a Federation shuttle during an official mission is offensive per se, it is particularly damnable how she humbles her alleged friend Boimler and ruins his chance to prove himself. And although there are similarities to last week's story about the Galardonians, the giant spider and the slime, this time the two are never remotely even during the whole episode. They never complement each other the way Starfleet characters should do. They are anything but a team. Mariner is better at handling Klingons, at fighting, at drinking, at practical experience with exotic aliens, at absolutely everything. And she does not get tired to remind Boimler of that. Did I mention she is a total Mary Sue?

In a good and Trek-like story, Boimler's by-the-book knowledge would have saved them in the end, compensating for Mariner's recklessness. The fact that Mariner had to arrange for them to run into the Ferengi for Boimler to get something right after all is more than just the icing on the cake. So telling apart a Ferengi from a Bolian is a feat now, because of the big ears and "the greedy thing they do with their hands". Seriously?! No, it is just a cheap sham that serves as the ultimate assurance of how smart and resourceful she is and how incredibly superior to the naïve and credulous Boimler. And to expose Boimler's racism as it seems. Did I mention she is a total Mary Sue? I am surprised and shocked to read that some reviewers rate her lie to make Boimler feel better as an act of genuine kindness. I see it as a patronizing attitude of a smug character.

Readers of my reviews know that I embrace stories that break or play with gender clichés and with racial bias, as it has a long tradition since TOS. But this episode's blatant wokeness goes over the top. So it is funny if a black girl bullies a white guy all the time, whereas it would be utterly condemnable the other way round? As a white guy, I don't feel offended by Boimler being a jerk. It happens all the time on TV, and definitely not only in recent years. But I feel offended by people who tell me that, out of some real-world motivation and because of some agenda, the white guy is rightfullly shown as a jerk. We should remember that playing off one group against another has never been the Star Trek way until 2017. I refuse any attitude that categorizes the characters (and ultimately the fans, per the propagated principle of representation) as black or white, as women or men, as "marginalized" or "privileged". I'm not saying I want to keep politics out. But I want science fiction that is written for everyone to enjoy, and not primarily so certain activists can tick their boxes. I believe in a better future for all humanity, and not in any ideology that creates mutual distrust and only divides us. Sorry for this rant with Kant, I will keep it to the review of this episode, which in my view is the worst offender in the season.

On a completely unrelated note, I never understood why American "adult" comedies, as opposed to kids' shows where it would be inappropriate, include profanity - only to bleep it anyway. Bleeping may have been funny thirty years ago, when there were only the big TV networks and swearing had to be censored. In 2020, with fucks and shits being omnipresent in the media, it is just awkward. The producers should decide whether they want profanity in the series or not, and not hide behind such a lame comedic device. The same goes for censored nudity, as already seen in the series trailer.

Although watching a pulsar with Tendi is a weak motivation to get a new job, I like the part about Rutherford undergoing trainings in the various departments of the ship. I am sorry that it gets so little screen time. I don't think this fun story could have been promoted to an A-plot though. Overall, Lower Decks appears to be primarily about Mariner and Boimler, and I don't expect that to change very much. Yet, there is a chance that "Envoys" is just a one-time accident and that future episodes will show a more likable and cooperative Mariner again.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Temporal Edict

Synopsis

"Temporal Edict"

Stardate 57501.4: The USS Cerritos was en route to Cardassia Prime for peace negotiations, but is withdrawn from the mission because the conference has been moved to Vulcan. Captain Freeman is angry about the low reputation of her ship. When she learns from Boimler that the crew enjoys "buffer time" between their tasks, she orders a strict schedule for all work on the ship that causes everyone to become exhausted and inattentive - except for Boimler, who enjoys this situation. When an away team with Ransom and Mariner arrives on Gelrak V to deliver a crystal of peace, it turns out that this precious item was accidentally swapped for a piece of wood, a fertility totem meant for Mavok Prime. The insulted Gelrakians take the away team prisoners. They expect Ransom to choose one of his people to fight to the death against the apparently extremely strong Vindor. Ransom does not want to let Mariner fight, so he stabs her foot with a spear. Meanwhile in orbit, the Gelrakians have invaded the Cerritos, but they face no resistance as Freeman has ordered the crew to stay on schedule no matter what. Only Boimler recognizes the problem and convinces Freeman to loosen her grip. The crew successfully drive the invaders off the ship. On Gelrak, Ransom defeats his opponent while offering a diplomatic solution. Mariner says she wouldn't report the incident with the spear, which would mean a court martial for Ransom, upon which he throws her into the brig. Captain Freeman is so grateful for Boimler's advice that she officially names it the "Boimler Effect" - which makes Boimler unhappy because he doesn't want to be associated with the idea of not following the rules - an accomplishment that will still be remembered in the far future.

Commentary

This episode begins in much the same vein as last week's "Envoys". Girls are tough and boys are wussies. Okay, I get it by now. And particularly Boimler is everyone's punching ball. He's a mediocre musician (and no wants to hear him play the violin), he's a scapegoat (when he gets blamed for the extremely loud music that Mariner and Tendi are responsible for), he's a crash test dummy (in Mariner's test of the forcefield strength in the brig), he's a telltale (when he reveals to the captain that everyone on the ship enjoys "buffer time") and he's a bootlicker (because no one can have that much fun with an excessive workload). So "Temporal Edict" appears to be on much the same course as the first two episodes.

But then something decisive happens: Boimler is separated from his nemesis Mariner. Now there's no one around to hinder and demotivate him. And although it probably wasn't the intention to insinuate a causal connection, to me that looks like a reason why Boimler can show that he is a good officer after all - both in terms of his efficiency in his normal tasks, as well as in his ability to recognize what his duty is in an emergency.

On the planet, Mariner finds an equal opponent in Ransom. Just as much as Ransom pulls rank on her, she doesn't get tired to tell him how cool non-compliance is in her opinion. With rank playing an ever decreasing role and narcissistic as they both are, the two compete about who is more capable to handle the situation and ultimately even about who is more manly in a blatantly traditional sense. To that end, Mariner presents her scars as proof of how experienced in fighting and how dauntless she is. This, in her view, gives her the better qualification than Ransom. So this part of the story seems to be on the predetermined path. Would Ransom end up as a second Boimler? But then Ransom simply takes the spear and rams it into Mariner's foot, beating Mariner at her own game of being reckless. Although I abhor unnecessary violence, I think this twist comes just at the right time. Mariner has made her point. It would have been just too much for her to fight against Vindor, rather than Ransom, in yet another stunt to prove the superiority of women. The way she is disabled by Ransom she suffers only a small defeat and she can save face. The two are even in the end, quite unlike Mariner and Boimler were in last week's episode. Ransom fights and defeats the big Gelrakian in the same light-footed Kirk-like fashion that we already know and may have expected from Mariner in the same situation. And, in a way, they are a team because they support each other (well, and seem to have affection for each other too), although they wouldn't admit it openly. It is unfair that Mariner gets thrown in the brig after covering up the incident with the spear, but this is like a late punishment for how she screwed up in "Envoys".

Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) is the arguably most relatable character of this episode. We already know how peevish she is because she would have wanted herself, her ship and her crew (perhaps exactly in that order?) to achieve something greater. The case of crew members taking too much "buffer time" not only undermines her authority, in her mindset this apparent laziness is also the reason why they underperform. As stupid as it is to let the crew carry out routine tasks while the ship is being invaded by enemy forces, I think many of us have experienced somewhat similar situations at school, in the military or on the job. Our superiors sometimes take too long to recognize that we're working too much and/or for useless goals.

Yet, the way the Cerritos crew continues with their work after the ship has been boarded, the storyline about the trial by combat and the depiction of the dumb crystal worshippers in general, this all is very exaggerated. "Temporal Edict" has more of a parody to it than the two preceding episodes. Weird things have happened in live-action Trek too, but I don't think that we should honestly declare the events of this Lower Decks episode canon, even after the omission of some particularly silly aspects. That being said, I still think that Lower Decks honors what Star Trek is about. "Temporal Edict" demonstrates the limit pertaining to the realism of concepts and storylines, whereas "Envoys" clearly crossed the line as the characters were concerned.

One aspect that I dislike about all three episodes so far is the abundance of references to the Enterprise and to "famous" characters. There is gratuitous namedropping every couple of minutes. In "Temporal Edict", this culminates in Mariner asking whether she is Kirk and whether it's the 23rd century when she is surrounded by the Gelrakians with their spears. This breaks the fourth wall so awkwardly that it's cringeworthy and not funny at all. The same episode shows how it can be done a lot better by just referring to concepts, such as to Scotty routinely exaggerating repair time estimations, to appear as very efficient when it can be done faster (TNG: "Relics").

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Moist Vessel

Synopsis

"Moist Vessel"

Stardate 57538.9: The USS Cerritos joins the USS Merced on a mission to salvage an ancient generation ship. This ship's cargo includes a fluid that converts inorganic matter to life. During a meeting with the Merced's Captain Durango, a Tellarite, Mariner annoys everyone with her disinterest - and frequent yawning. Captain Freeman decides she has to get her to transfer off the ship and consults with Ransom to give her daughter the nastiest jobs on the ship. But Mariner manages to turn even those tasks into fun events. Freeman and Ransom have to change their strategy. They promote Mariner to lieutenant so she is part of the ship's senior staff and has all kinds of boring duties - which, much to their pleasure, exasperates Mariner. In engineering, Tendi tries to make up for the accidental destruction of a sand mandala that was supposed to help a crew member named O'Connor in his "ascension". But O'Connor was never seriously considering to reach a higher plane of existence; he just wanted to appear as more interesting. While the two Starfleet vessels are towing the generation ship, Durango changes position without previous consultation. This has the disastrous result that the Merced's tractor beam rips off a hull plate and sets the mysterious fluid free, which travels though the tractor beam and begins to terraform the ship. Soon the Cerritos is affected as well. Freeman and Mariner dig their way to a control console from where they successfully trigger the reversion of the ship's matter. The Merced can't be saved, and the crew is evacuated to the generation ship. In the meantime, after he has saved Tendi's life, O'Connor gets actually transformed into pure energy. Mariner works on her demotion, which she achieves very quickly when she mocks an admiral after just having received a medal. But she keeps the special senior officer access card to the replicator to Boimler's delight.

Commentary

Lower Decks takes a break from incessantly poking fun at Boimler. His involvement in this week's story is only marginal. Instead, Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman are in the focus, in their first direct confrontation since we learned that the two are daughter and mother in "Second Contact". The way Ensign Mariner's cleaning duties are contrasted with the boring routine of Lieutenant Mariner is priceless, the idea to promote her in the first place is brilliant. And although this all is not quite the way as it would realistically be on a live-action ship (which should clean itself anyway), it is well within the scope of a humorous take on established concepts. I enjoyed that part of the episode very much.

It is obvious how inappropriate Mariner's lack of respect is - respect that Freeman should receive both as her captain and as her mother. We may argue that this double role is a key part of the problem, rather than of the solution. But the course of the story makes it clear that the root cause dates back much further than to the point when Mariner came to the Cerritos or when she entered Starfleet in the first place. When the two are digging their way through the terraformed ship, Freeman begins to argue along the lines: "I think you should use a different piece of rock. I'm trying to keep you from making a mistake." And this continues through much of the rest of the episode. That is exactly what children don't want to hear from their parents, especially when they are already adults. Some parents tend to keep patronizing and second-guessing them all their lives, and in the (perhaps) worst combination their children keep being defiant - which leads to an estrangement. This realization doesn't really exonerate Mariner, but it explains quite a few things. And although this is about what I would have expected anyway, I am delighted how nicely the story works out the strained mother-daughter relationship - funny and yet with more than just a serious undertone.

The B-plot initially does a solid job at further exploring the character of Tendi. The Orion ensign always seeks harmony and thinks she can find it in the meditation session of O'Connor, a seemingly totally spiritual guy who strives to "ascend" (but actually only pretends to). Tendi is eager to be liked by everyone, and after destroying his sand painting she can't accept being perceived as negative or even as a "villain", as O'Connor puts it. This all is only mildly amusing, but it works for me, including her attempts to achieve even more harmony by combining rituals of different cultures.

But as soon as Tendi and O'Connor have both confessed their respective motivations, this plot thread suddenly stops being funny and becomes tiresome, which may also have to do with O'Connor being a boring character. It eventually crosses the line to plain absurdity when O'Connor really dematerializes. Sure, something like this happens all the time on Star Trek but it is very gratuitous here. I get the irony because the guy who never really believed in spirituality enters a higher plane of existence, rather than thousands of generations of shamans and monks who dedicated their whole lives to it. In the very story, on the other hand, it is a big WTF moment that makes no sense, has no further significance and no consequences. It is nothing more than an opportunity for some whimsical jokes about how it hurts to ascend and how "the universe rests on the back of a giant koala". This is totally not my kind of humor, totally not Star Trek and almost ruined the episode for me. Perhaps it may still get fixed in a sequel in which O'Connor returns (maybe with Q at his side?) and this gets explained in some fashion. But for that, the character just hasn't been introduced well enough.

In the tradition of Chekhov's gun, after seeing what happened to the tricorder when getting in contact with the fluid, it is very obvious what would happen with one or both Starfleet ships. The transformation of the Cerritos is much the same as that of the Enterprise-D in TNG: "Masks" - but fortunately solved with some technobabble, rather than with lots of mumbo-jumbo. If it were for the sci-fi theme, the generation ship could have provided so much more and so much better story opportunities than that. Although everything related to the alien ship is just a frame story for the actual A-plot about the Freeman/Mariner family affair anyway, it is a pity that it wasn't saved for a different episode.

Overall, "Moist Vessel" is the arguably most serious episode of Lower Decks so far, much like it were a traditional live-action episode. On the downside, it is uneven because the gratuitous deadly threat to the ship and the increasingly exasperating B-plot distract from the fun aspect of Mariner being a reluctant senior officer and from the conflict with her mother.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Cupid's Errant Arrow

Synopsis

"Cupid's Errant Arrow"

Stardate 57601.3: The Cerritos arrives at Mixtus III to assist the USS Vancouver, an illustrious ship, in the demolition of an unstable moon. Brad Boimler says he is going to meet his girlfriend, Barbara Brinson, on the Vancouver. Mariner does not believe him. But when it turns out true, she becomes obsessed with the idea that Barb has to be a hologram, an android, an alien spy in disguise or something else non-human and dangerous. Tendi and Rutherford too arrive on the Vancouver to support the engineering crew. Lieutenant Commander Ron Docent hands them T-88s, the coveted newest scanner model, and promises that whoever finishes work first may keep the device. After Captain Freeman has solved the diplomatic quibbles among the various factions on Mixtus III, everything is set to blow up the moon. Mariner repeatedly confronts Barb, trying to prove to Boimler that his girlfriend is harmful. After the two have set off for a platform in orbit of the moon, Mariner finds the empty husk of a neural parasite. As she is not authorized to use the transporter, she gets a spacesuit and jumps off the ship. On the platform, Boimler is ready to have sex with Barb. When Barb appears, she and Mariner assault each other, each claiming that the other one has to be a parasite. But then they realize that this just can't be true. After scanning the room with her tricorder, Mariner discovers that an actual parasite has attached itself to Boimler's brain. The species reproduces by making its host irresistible to possible mates, which likely was the reason Barb was interested in Boimler in the first place. She breaks up with him, and looks forward to further examining the species. In the meantime, Tendi and Rutherford have both earned a T-88, and are shocked to learn it would also mean to join the Vancouver. They run away with Docent's PADD with the transfer order. When he catches up with them again, he has to confess that he himself arranged for their transfer in exchange for his own departure to the Cerritos, as the workload on the Vancouver is too stressful for him. The two return to the Cerritos, but not without taking lots of T-88s with them.

Commentary

"Cupid's Errant Arrow" is the first Lower Decks episode without a teaser. I didn't really miss it but I was a bit surprised.

Other than the previous installments of the series, this episode jumps straight into the main plot, which may have also been the reason to omit the teaser. It takes just a few minutes, and we have a good idea what the story involving Boimler, Barb and Mariner is all about. It may sound anticlimactic, but the knowledge about what would happen and the various iterations of Mariner's paranoid allegations and actions are just the spice of the story. It is like a fun ride through 50 years of alien infiltration stories, starting with TOS: "The Man Trap". It is hilarious how Mariner continues to make a fool of herself, but not without illustrating in a not-so-funny flashback why she acts the way she does.

It may be objected that once again Boimler is being humiliated. We might say that he once again loses, and Mariner wins. Mariner alleges that Barb is not really interested in Boimler, and is proven right because it is just because of the pheromones of the parasite. Mariner is just as jealous as she is worried, and she gets what she may have been hoping for when the two break up in the end. The episode does not break with the established roles of the characters. But it adds a new facet to Mariner, who behaves very differently than she still did in "Envoys" and comes across as much more likable. Here, she genuinely cares for Brad Boimler instead of patronizing him. And she does not mind making a complete idiot of herself in her effort to avert harm from him (although she pretends she feels nothing when around Brad).

The focus of this episode is once again on Mariner and Boimler. But the B-plot about Tendi and Rutherford has almost as much weight and is just as interesting. Most notably, it lives up to and ironically comments on the very theme of the series - that the Cerritos is a second-rate ship and we would think that normally everyone loves to take the opportunity and leave it for an assignment on the more renowned Vancouver. Tendi and Rutherford act against that trend and decide to stay on the ship they love, and surprisingly at least one crew member of the Vancouver thinks just the same and would love to switch over to the Cerritos.

Finally, in what could be almost a classic TNG story, Captain Freeman is faced with the population of Mixtus III, who are divided about blowing up the moon for rather petty reasons that need to be dealt with diplomatically before they can be saved. The fact that the civilization that is threatened by pollution from the neighbor planet counts just two people is both an exaggeration of of the unnecessarily big deal that aliens (or human settlers) make about small things when it comes to nothing less than saving their lives, and a great innuendo to the general "lonely settlers" trope of Star Trek. Overall, "Cupid's Errant Arrow" is the so far best instance of the series as far as the goal of telling classic Trek stories with affectionate humor is concerned.

This wonderful story could have been even better without the countless references to characters of previous Trek, many of which are terribly contrived and totally unfunny. Showing Deep Space 9 in the flashback is still an apt homage. And how could I not love the cute Geordi bear! But the mention of "Captain Picard Day", of Boimler being like a "Kirk sundae with Trip Tucker sprinkles" or of a password that is "RIKER"? Come on!

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

Terminal Provocations

Synopsis

"Terminal Provocations"

Stardate 57663.9: The Cerritos has to deal with Drookmani scavengers, who want to take possession of 100-year-old Starfleet cargo. The Drookmani ship does not have weapons, but Captain Freeman is determined to resolve the situation peacefully, unlike tactical officer Shaxs. In the meantime on the lower decks, Tendi is afraid that she might be in for a spacewalk, an exam at the Academy that she skipped. Rutherford accompanies her to a training in his holodeck program that involves a holographic helper called Badgey. Ensign Fletcher offers Boimler and Mariner to take over their shifts of recalibrating the isolinear cores so they can go to the chu-chu dance. When the two return, Fletcher says that he has been attacked, and that an isolinear core of the shield system was stolen. Using their tractor beam, the Drookmani begin to bombard the Cerritos with debris. This normally wouldn't be a problem, but soon the shield generators deteriorate because of the missing computer core. When it turns out that neither the Delta Shift nor the Drookmani took the core, Fletcher confesses that he did it. He tried to hook himself up to it to improve his performance. And worse, the isolinear core has developed a conscience of its own, having inherited Fletcher's desire to become smarter. To that end, it begins to collect technology from all over the ship. Boimler and Mariner try to drag the rogue isolinear core to the transporter. As this turns out impossible because it is constantly growing in size, they lure the device to an airlock. The isolinear core drifts towards the Drookmani ship and disables it, thereby saving the Cerritos. On the holodeck, Badgey has a malfunction because of the attack and attempts to kill Rutherford and Tendi. The failure of the safety protocols, on the other hand, causes Badgey to be affected by the environmental conditions. Rutherford eventually manages to freeze Badgey when he switches to an arctic environment. When power is restored on the ship, Badgey seems to be back to normal again. In order to save face and to get rid of Fletcher, Mariner and Boimler come up with the story that Fletcher improvised a weapon to use against the Drookmani. He is promoted and transfers to the Titan, but loses his job just six days later.

Commentary

I am pleased that, in this episode, the sub-plot about Tendi and Rutherford is just as important as the one with Mariner and Boimler. This raises the question, however, why the series doesn't try to break up these two default pairings, at least temporarily. Well, I expect it to happen sooner or later because at some point the theme of Tendi and Rutherford geeking out together will be exhausted, just as the one of Mariner clashing with Boimler about questions of discipline. I wonder anyway why Tendi is working with Rutherford all the time. Shouldn't she normally be in sickbay?

Notwithstanding the somewhat formulaic nature of the stories built around Tendi and Rutherford, I like their adventure on the holodeck a lot. The holographic assistant is hilarious and spices up a story that would otherwise just have been about a holodeck malfunction. Badgey is essentially a 24th century version of the Microsoft Paperclip, and behaves in much the same way. It suddenly pops up and asks, "Looks like you want to recover lost cargo." just as the situation is getting romantic. It has a progress bar, and it sometimes freezes. I think the humor in Lower Decks works best when it is like this, and not purely self-referential within Star Trek. Harking back to previous Trek stories and characters is fine but it happens so frequently and so bluntly in Lower Decks that it is not very funny. The successful paperclip reference demonstrates that there could be more about the series and that it could comment on real-world issues in a humorous manner (much like Futurama, for instance).

It is quite satisfying that Brad Boimler is not a gawk this time and that he performs comparably well in "Terminal Provocations". Also, he and Mariner are more like a team here than in any previous installment of the series. We'll have to wait and see whether this development persists, or whether Boimler was only shown in a brighter light on this one occasion because the story needed Fletcher to be an even bigger jerk. Fletcher is an annoyingly jumpy character anyway. Well, it is the whole point of the episode that he turns out to be an asshole and that he shouldn't be in Starfleet (a storyline as it totally failed with Edward), but I think he should have been written differently to that end. The way Fletcher appears to me, he is essentially an overplayed Boimler, whose moods are always extreme, whether he is frolicsome, sycophantic, industrious, clumsy, frantic or fearful. As a guest character, his conduct should have been more consistent, for us to get a better idea what motivates him. The way it is shown, Fletcher hooks himself up to the computer for the hell of it. Don't ask, it's a jerk thing. And while I cherish that Mariner and Boimler finally team up as equals, it is ostentatious how they repeatedly reaffirm that they are Starfleet and that Fletcher sucks. Boimler's line "We have to reconsider the whole 'Lower Decks stand together' thing." may sound contemplative, but in its context it excludes just a particular mischief-maker.

While I still dislike bleeping out adult language because it's a bad stylistic device, I am grateful that Lower Decks spares us some of the most embarrassing things by simply not showing them. I doubt that the chu chu dance would be fun for anyone who has left behind kindergarten. And I don't really want to see either how Fletcher empties trash into the warp core of Riker's ship. So we can still decide whether we want to leave the total silliness to our imagination or whether we just keep believing that the whole truth is a tad more serious. Lower Decks walks a fine line in this regard, but is mostly successful so far.

Overall, this outing of the show is solid but not outstanding. It feels contrived at times and is let down a bit by the character of Fletcher to whom I can't relate (although that may not have been the intention anyway).

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

Much Ado About Boimler

Synopsis

"Much Ado About Boimler"

Stardate 57752.6: While Captain Freeman, First Officer Ransom and Security Chief Shaxs are on a secret agricultural mission in a Pisepian colony, a visiting captain takes over command of the Cerritos. This captain turns out to be Amina Ramsey, an old friend Mariner knows from the Academy. Ramsey temporarily makes Mariner her first officer, but due to Mariner's mistake a mission to repair a sewage plant on Khwopa almost goes awry. On the Cerritos, Boimler is off phase after a failed test run of Rutherford's improved transporter. Dr. T'Ana calls Division 14 to tend to his case and the one of a dog that Tendi created as a genetic experiment. T'Ana says they would be taken to a place called "The Farm". A vessel emerges from an anomaly, and a creepy medical specialist leads Boimler, Tendi and her dog to a room full of disfigured members of Starfleet. They plan a mutiny to escape from their prison, but Boimler blows the whistle. When he is alone with the "freaks" again, they put him into an airlock. Boimler's condition has reverted in the meantime, but they open the airlock. Boimler wakes up in a beautiful resort on a planet, "The Farm". He would like to stay longer, but has to leave when it is discovered that he is back to normal again. Tendi has to leave her dog behind, who says she likes the new environment. In the meantime, the Cerritos attempts in vain to contact the USS Rubidoux. The ship is found adrift and without energy, and the crew has locked up themselves in the shuttlebay. When the power is turned back on, it feeds an alien lifeform that begins to consume and thereby break up the ship. Only now that there is an emergency, Mariner performs well and saves the ship's captain. Thanks to Rutherford's transporter improvement, everyone can be beamed out in time, although they are off phase afterwards.

Commentary

All Lower Decks episodes so far relied on, and thereby parodied, longstanding Star Trek clichés. "Much Ado About Boimler" has the by far most references of this kind, perhaps even as many as all previous six episodes combined. We have got the secret ops mission that, for some reason that seems arbitrarily made up, requires three key people to be withdrawn from the ship, just as in TNG: "Chain of Command". Mariner even mentions Captain Jellico to that end. When the away team finds the Rubidoux without power, this is the abandoned sister ship motif as in countless Star Trek episodes. The space lifeform that destroys the Rubidoux but is rated as peaceful is a clear reference to TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint" and similar TNG episodes in which Starfleet had to withdraw because intelligent life had taken over a ship or an installation. There is a secret organization called Division 14 with black ships, which evokes Section 31 (and especially its Discovery-style reimagination). But most notably, Boimler becomes the victim of a transporter malfunction and is off phase (a bit like Geordi and Ro in TNG: "The Next Phase"). He is not alone with his accident, as evidenced by the "freaks", some of whom suffer from already known conditions. Freak accidents are apparently so common that they warrant the existence of a Starfleet division of its own.

In addition, we have got the common movie trope about a mysterious place with a mysterious name, here called "The Farm", where either people are secretly held prisoners, or which may not exist at all. And quite clearly, Rutherford's arrangement of the two transporters evokes the horror classic "The Fly".

Perhaps "Much Ado About Boimler" is overburdened with clichés and with corresponding plot threads. It all makes more sense in the end and gets resolved in a more agreeable fashion than I would have expected half-way through the episode. Yet, it feels less like a coherent story than the previous Lower Decks episodes and more like a sequence of jokes. Many of the jokes and references are awesome when viewed separately though.

The probably funniest piece of the whole episode is how, after his accident, Boimler initially makes a ringing noise just like the transporter. Then Rutherford comes and says he can do something, but all he does is stop the annoying noise. Tendi's dog, on the other hand, is not as amusing as she could have been. The creepiness is over the top - less would have been more! The Starfleet people who suffered accidents are hilarious, but the "freak show" theme is exhausted pretty soon, doesn't really contribute much to the story and is ethically questionable.

It is good to see Boimler team up with Tendi, just for a change. However, "Much Ado About Boimler" is a setback pertaining to the character stereotypes of the series. Mariner and Boimler both snap back to their usual patterns of behavior every time they could and perhaps should be different. This is exemplified in the teaser of the episode. After her long shift, Mariner is just as annoyed by Tendi's dog as are Rutherford and Boimler. But as soon as the dog turns into a creepy spider that understandably scares the hell out of the two guys, she turns away in disinterest, or rather in an ostentatiously cool move. Well, Mariner's overly cool (and often goofy) conduct turns out detrimental on her two away missions. But, as always, her mistakes are forgiven very quickly. She ultimately redeems herself by punching Captain Dayton because physical violence in Starfleet is a thing, personally for her and in the series in general. Boimler, on the other hand, remains customarily fearful for most of the rest of the episode after his transporter accident, although this may have been a chance to become accustomed to his condition, and ultimately put his "superpowers" to good use. Moreover, he becomes a squealer yet again when the patients on the Division 14 ship plot a mutiny, although there may have been different options.

Speaking of Starfleet officers getting into a fight, it also leaves a bitter taste that Ramsey punches Ransom and then remarks that it is an old habit of hers. I'm all for women who defend themselves against sexual harassment, if necessary with violence. But the way Ramsey acts and the way this is shown as acceptable is another instance of a woke double standard in the show. The other way round, it would be a case for a court martial, as even explicitly mentioned in "Temporal Edict".

I pointed out the absence of international diversity of human characters in Lower Decks as soon as in my review of the first episode. Nothing has changed about that until now. Moreover, half of the alien Starfleet officers too have names that point to British or Irish origin. I don't know what this fixation on a particular heritage is about and don't want to play the xenophobia card, but it is conspicuously systematic. In a time when Star Trek is repeatedly said to be about representation, I wonder what has happened to representation of non-Americans (or of people of non-British/non-Irish ancestry even within the US, in case foreigners just don't matter).

With the exception of "Envoys" that has a more coherent story but still more annoyances, "Much Ado About Boimler" is the weakest outing of Lower Decks so far. The episode is fun but tries to accomplish just too much, reaffirms character clichés and has a couple of ethical issues. At times, it feels a bit like a gag reel with Starfleet's greatest weirdos (and by weirdos I don't only mean the freaks on the Division 14 ship).

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

Veritas

Synopsis

"Veritas"

On K'Tuevon Prime, Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford and Tendi are locked up in an alien prison and soon find themselves on a trial. Clar, one of the natives of the planet, demands that the four speak the truth into the "Horn of Candor", while the senior officers are confined in a beam. Mariner reveals details of a confrontation with the Clicket vessel Tweerk that unexpectedly occurred after Captain Freeman had received a map of the Romulan Neutral Zone from that race on Stardate 57818.4. Mariner fails to tell what Clar wants to hear, and he threatens to throw her into a tank of eels. Rutherford testifies that Security Chief Shaxs and Chief Engineer Billups came to him on Stardate 57791.1 and ordered him to update his cybernetic enhancements with Romulan flight manuals and repair information. Rutherford soon found himself on a mission to steal an old Romulan Bird-of Prey from a museum. Tendi adds that she was about to clean the conference room on the Cerritos, but was then enlisted to a highly classified mission to Romulus, using the cloaked old ship. She and First Officer Ransom were part of a team that stole the "package", a mysterious container, on the Romulan homeworld. As it apparently still doesn't satisfy Clar's determination to find out the whole truth, he throws Mariner, Rutherford and Tendi into the eel tank. Boimler begs him to release the three. He explains that they are low-ranking officers, that they don't have the whole picture of what is going on and that sometimes the senior officers wouldn't know that either. Clar finally releases them. Mariner is upset. Then Clar explains that this never was a trial but the celebration of his liberation. It was him who was inside the "package", and he wanted to thank the crew of the Cerritos. Mariner is still miffed, and accuses him of scaring the hell out of them, whereupon Clar complains that she ruined his celebration, even more so as his time in the "event silo" is over. Freeman vows to make the Cerritos a ship of clarity, only to continue to hold back essential information. Q appears on the ship, but the four junior officers don't feel like playing his game...

Commentary

In my review of "Much Ado About Boimler", I complained about it coming across as a sequence of jokes, rather than as a coherent story. Unfortunately, "Veritas" fares still worse in this regard. After last week's revelation that Division 14 isn't going to lock up the "freaks" but actually takes them to a pleasant resort, the new episode uses a very similar red herring as a framing story, one that simply doesn't work. The rest of "Veritas" is comprised of various anecdotes, which may fit together to a bigger story, but only if we take them with a ton of salt. In the first six installments of Lower Decks, and to lesser extent still in "Much Ado About Boimler", much of what happened actually made sense. It felt like Star Trek with a humorous twist. This seriousness is absent from "Veritas", which is totally a parody of Star Trek, and in particular of the series premise that could be phrased as "Lower Decks have no idea what's going on".

The concept that an alien civilization would put their honored guests on a Klingon-style trial doesn't sit well with me. It neither makes sense in-universe, nor is it satisfying to watch the crew in danger for 30 minutes, only to be told in the end that everything was just for fun. Well, it has happened before, for instance in TOS: "Shore Leave". However, the TOS episode, as cheesy as it may appear today, was captivating because the Amusement Park Planet fulfilled the dreams of the crew. The trial in "Veritas", in contrast, is just as meaningless as the game in DS9: "Move Along Home". We never learn about Clar's motivation. Why would he take pleasure in confining his honored guests in a beam or in throwing them into an eel tank? Those guys on K'Tuevon Prime with their "event silos" must have a very strange kind of humor. But we are just not supposed to call the contrived resolution into question. I am aware of the American tradition (that started among comedians) of publicly "roasting" someone you like, a practice that was fairly unknown in Europe until a couple of years ago and that still alienates many people over here. But it definitely makes a difference whether you ironically poke fun at someone or whether you scare them almost to death.

The renarrations of Mariner, Rutherford, Tendi and Boimler are the redeeming virtue of the episode because they are fun - if we keep in mind not to ask too many questions. As already in "Much Ado About Boimler", the crew of the Cerritos goes on a secret mission. Well, at least this time we learn what the mission is about. But as even explicitly mentioned in "Veritas", it neither feels right to recruit ordinary officers of a support ship for such a highly specialized operation nor to heavily involve inexperienced junior officers. Much of what our four Lower Decks tell Clar may not have happened as depicted anyway, just like in Tendi's false testimony about her defeating the Romulans with martial arts. Still, I like the flashbacks. Especially Rutherford's excursion to the museum (of which I would have loved to see more) and Tendi's recruitment as the "cleaner" are hilarious.

In terms of excessively referencing Star Trek people and events, "Veritas" beats "Much Ado About Boimler", which I would have expected to hold the record for quite some time. One might think that the abundance of references would leave hardly anything for future seasons. However, it seems that the writers see no problem in repeatedly sneaking in Gorn, Khan, Vazquez Rocks or Salt Vampires any time they feel like that, in addition to mentioning Kirk, Picard or the Enterprise in every single episode, usually multiple times. Lower Decks has cited Star Trek ad nauseam by now.

On a positive note about references, I dig the idea of the ship museum, which is a great opportunity to show or mention familiar items, without making it feel in any way contrived. As I already wrote in my review of "Second Contact", it shows that the people working in Mike McMahan's team have done their homework and get their references right. They should use them where they are meaningful or otherwise fitting, and not as mere fillers between two better jokes.

Not everything is bad about the "trial" in "Veritas". I applaud how Boimler stands up for his crewmates. I also think that it is pleasant and very human that Mariner is the one who is very upset about Clar's scenario, although we might have expected her of all people to either smell a rat, or to stay cool in the face of the danger. Furthermore, Mariner representatively expresses my own disappointment with the outcome, speaking through the fourth wall.

On still another critical note, as soon as they first popped up in the series, I called out the bleeping and the censor bars as lame. "Veritas" takes the biscuit in this category as well. I understand that the people of the secret ops team are "censored" in the flashback to reflect Tendi's statement that she is not allowed to reveal every single detail of her classified mission. Yet, Lower Decks should stick to the standards of Star Trek in this regard, rather than to the ones of a comedy show. And after the bleeping orgy that is "Veritas", it is my firm opinion that this practice ought to be abandoned for good, and the swearing cut down to perhaps one "fuck" and one "shit" in every episode that must not be censored. Stop this hypocrisy!

"Veritas" is decent as a comedy because it is full of fun. But it is the first episode of Lower Decks that doesn't feel like Star Trek. It has much in common with Rick and Morty as the flow of the story, the conduct of the characters, the outcome and the stylistic devices are concerned. Perhaps, after starting with episodes that evoke the old Trek, both in tone and ethos, this was sort of an experiment that, in my view, went awry. At least, I hope it was an experiment, and not the beginning of a new trend.

Annotations

Rating: 2

 

Crisis Point

Synopsis

"Crisis Point"

After a breach of the Prime Directive on alien planet, Captain Freeman doesn't confine Becket Mariner to the brig as expected but orders a therapy with psychiatrist Dr. Miglemoo. Boimler is nervous because of an upcoming job interview with the captain. He sets up a training program in the holodeck, with authentic recreations of the Cerritos crew, in order to find out how he can ingratiate himself. Mariner hijacks the scenario and turns it into a movie called "Crisis Point: The Rise of Vindicta", in which she plays the titular villain. Vindicta's goal is to humble and destroy Captain Freeman, a goal which she pursues with unrelenting violence against the holographic crew of the Cerritos. After she has made the ship crash, only Vindicta and Freeman are still aboard. But then the holographic Mariner appears and saves her mother and courageously fights against the vengeful Vindicta. When the program ends with the destruction of the Cerritos, Mariner has learned a lesson about dealing with her anger. Boimler, on the other hand, runs the program a bit too long and learns from the holographic Freeman that Mariner is her daughter. This leaves him so confused that he screws up the interview with the real Freeman.

Commentary

All Lower Decks episodes so far spotlighted Mariner's problems with authority. In particular, "Moist Vessel" and "Much Ado About Boimler" delved deep into the issue. These two episodes showed how her past, and most notably the relationship with her mother, brought about Mariner's defiant attitude. "Crisis Point" adds another chapter, and is quite successful in this regard. We learn that Mariner's anger about her mother (and everything that she represents) is ultimately all about the discontentment with herself. This struggle with herself is very aptly symbolized by the fight of the real Mariner, in her role as the wrathful Vindicta, against the holographic version of herself. In an ironic twist, the hologram, who was programmed by Boimler to "respond exactly the way she would in real life", embodies Mariner better than the real person does in the guise of Vindicta. Mariner eventually learns a lesson about herself that lasts at least for the rest of the episode and that is illustrated by her joining Rutherford and Tendi to watch the warp core, something she previously thought of as lame.

As much as I cherish the cleverly written self-awareness trip, the main plot about Mariner as Vindicta also accounts for a lot of negativity in the form of violence. The story may have the double excuse of it being only a holodeck simulation, and in an animated comedy series no less. But if Lower Decks wants to remain on the grounds of Star Trek, I can't simply overlook how Mariner takes pleasure in killing her holographic crewmates, thereby breaking a taboo that exists in the franchise and in the real world for a very good reason. It is highly offensive, even if we add to the excuses that Mariner's bloodlust is some kind of therapy. In my firm opinion, this episode would have worked better with Mariner just being enraged, without living out her excessive revenge.

"Crisis Point" is totally Mariner's story. As we wouldn't have expected otherwise, Tendi is uncomfortable with the dystopian scenario that her crewmate has created, even more so as Mariner has imposed a racial cliché of an Orion pirate on her. Regarding Rutherford, it is very obvious that when he becomes aware that he can say anything to the holographic Chief Engineer Billups, he would say something very nice. Still, I like his little side plot. With everyone except for Mariner being slavishly in character, it was sort of clear as well that the role of the loser falls to Boimler once again. Moreover, poor Shempo, the character who represents him on Vindicta's ship, gets phasered by her, which symbolizes the low opinion she apparently has of Boimler.

Although the real Carol Freeman appears only briefly in the episode, it becomes obvious that she doesn't manage to control her anger either, when she kicks over the table with the bonsai tree that was already damaged by her daughter. And no, the fact that the propensity is inherited still doesn't excuse violence. Well, but I still sympathize with them because Dr. Miglemoo's frequent food references are prone to drive anyone crazy.

The story draws its best fun moments from the holographic scenario that looks and works just like a movie, and rather than one of the 20th/21st century than one of the 24th century. Mariner creates something like a hybrid of "The Wrath of Khan" and the Abramsverse films, complete with a "cinematic" frame ratio and lens flares, among several other movie clichés. I don't mind that this frequently breaks the fourth wall. On the contrary, while "Crisis Point" has almost as many references to Star Trek, they are not by far as blatant as in "Much Ado About Boimler" or "Veritas". Lower Decks should not be a competition of how often Kirk, Spock or the Enterprise can be mentioned in one episode. The only Enterprise joke in "Crisis Point" fits with the premise and does not feel as gratuitous as the countless previous ones in the series: "If this was actually happening, they'd send the Enterprise. But, you know. Artistic license."

All in all, despite the serious issue I have with the unwarranted violence, this is an enjoyable episode that further explores Mariner's character and that comes with an unusually profound humor.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

No Small Parts

Synopsis

"No Small Parts"

During an away mission on Beta III, Boimler accidentally reveals through an open comm link that Beckett Mariner is Captain Freeman's daughter, while the bridge crew is listening. In the following, various crew members try to ingratiate themselves with Mariner. As this gets exasperating, she decides to go for a promotion so she can leave the ship and start over again. Tendi tends to a new crew member, Ensign "Peanut Hamper", an exocomp, who proves its skills in sickbay. In the Kalla system, Captain Dayton, who formerly commanded the USS Rubidoux, is concerned about keeping her new ship, the USS Solvang, in perfect shape. Then an unknown huge vessel shows up and destroys the ship with all hands. The Cerritos still receives a distress call from the Solvang and arrives in a debris field. Soon the enemy ship begins to tear apart the Cerritos as well and rips off a nacelle. The enemies turn out to be the Pakled, who add any piece of technology they pillage to their ship. Captain Freeman runs out of options and orders her daughter to come up with a plan that breaks the rules. Mariner consults with Rutherford, who goes to the holodeck and asks "Badgey" to create a computer virus against the Pakled. Peanut Hamper is supposed to carry the virus over to the enemy ship but refuses to go on a suicide mission. Rutherford volunteers, and stores the virus in his implant. Shaxs grabs Rutherford, and they use a decommissioned shuttle to escape from the Cerritos and penetrate the hull of the Pakled ship. As Rutherford uploads the virus, the progress bar stops and the vengeful Badgey says the activation will only work with Rutherford still aboard. As the virus activates, it leads to the imminent destruction of the ship. Shaxs rips off the infected implant from Rutherford's head, puts him in the shuttle and stays behind as the Pakled ship explodes. As the Cerritos regains power, the ship gets surrounded by three more Pakled vessels. But then the USS Titan with Will Riker and Deanna Troi appears with blazing phasers and chases the attackers away. In sickbay, Rutherford doesn't remember Tendi any more. After the memorial service for Shaxs, Mariner and her mother pledge not to fight each other any longer. Boimler, on the other hand, is offered a promotion by Riker and a transfer to the Titan, which he accepts.

Commentary

It is obvious that the producers of Lower Decks wanted to come up with a very special story for the season finale. Perhaps most obviously, after ceaselessly mentioning famous Starfleet personnel and ships in the previous nine episodes, the finale was a perfect opportunity to finally show the Titan with Riker and Troi in person. Although this doesn't come unexpected, their appearance is more than cheap fan service. It is a lot of fun to see the ship in action for the first time and to see how Riker and Troi were adapted to the visual style and the general tone of the series. And I think it is important that, although their glorious Titan saves the Cerritos, these characters don't steal the show (the way they did in the extremely unpopular Enterprise series finale that is even referenced to that end).

But speaking of the tone of the series, it takes a sharp turn in "No Small Parts". This episode is a lot more emotional than usual, and even tragic when Shaxs sacrifices himself for Rutherford. While the basic comical level is still the same, the finale comes with far more seriousness than any of the previous episodes. When the Pakled ship rips apart the Solvang and later the Cerritos, killing people, there is nothing funny about it at all, unlike it was the case in "Moist Vessel", in a similar situation. Even the gruesome transformation of the crew to zombies in "Second Contact" retrospectively comes across as weird, rather than grave in comparison. "No Small Parts" is daring in this regard. But I currently don't know whether it befits the series. Especially the death of Captain Dayton has the semblance of a cynical note along the lines of "she sucked anyway", not unlike Edward's fate in the most despicable Trek episode ever made. Furthermore, in a few scenes the sad aspects get glossed over too bluntly, such as when Tendi exclaims in delight that she can become best friends with Rutherford all over again, after learning the depressing truth about his memory loss. This doesn't work so well, although I have to admit it is in character and was to be expected.

"No Small Parts" is a big story and an unusually meaningful one, as it critically comments on Starfleet's tendency to neglect the steps to follow after establishing a first contact, with both the people on Beta III and the Pakleds being examples of civilizations that would have needed guidance, or at least regular exchange. This realization harks back to Boimler's log entry about the importance of "second contact" from the pilot, and doesn't let it appear as a joke in retrospect.

Yet, it seems to me that the story is overburdened with themes and plot strands. Take the refusal of the exocomp to go on the suicide mission. This clearly refers to the self-preserving behavior these intelligent and possibly sentient devices showed in TNG: "The Quality of Life". But the whole issue gets a raw deal in "No Small Parts". There could have been more about it. Although this episode is overall quite serious, Lower Decks still only scratches the surface of what Star Trek means.

Well, I could go as far as saying that in Lower Decks so far many things don't change or evolve because jokes and other plot elements draw on this invariability. This was already a pattern in the previous episodes, with "No Small Parts" adding that the people of Beta III (a "legacy civilization") still or again worship Landru and confirming that California-class ships always get destroyed. On the other hand, the finale comes with quite a lot of character development: Mariner and her mum bury the hatchet, Rutherford has to start over again, Boimler leaves the ship, Shaxs is gone and will be missed. This, plus the surprise that the Pakled are a formidable enemy now, compensates for the general impression that everything follows the usual pattern.

I complained in a previous review that Lower Decks is too self-referential and that all humor (unless it is character-based) is about Star Trek clichés, rather than having real-world relevance. I think that "No Small Parts" takes a step in the right direction in this regard. The insistence of one crew member to take a selfie with the Captain's Daughter is a comment on a real-life issue, just as is the obsession of the science guy with conspiracy theories. I like that the series expands its previously self-imposed limits. But it also brings to mind that the characters on Lower Decks with all their flaws and self-serving desires have been like early 21st century people all along, rather than funnier variations of characters that appeared in the classic series until 2005. I have not reconsidered my opinion that Lower Decks is an apt comical approach to the classic Star Trek. But in retrospect I can understand the criticism about its different atmosphere better, of which the frequent profanity is just the tip of the iceberg.

Although "No Small Parts", like the three immediately preceding episodes, excessively references old Star Trek episodes and characters and although the episode frequently breaks the fourth wall, I think that (as already in "Crisis Point") we can accept it as a part of the story. Still, the visual cues such as the TAS-style depictions of Kirk and Spock and the Official Star Trek Helmet are ultimately much more fun than the spoken ones. There's definitely room for improvement in the second season. Make references more subtle and stop the mindless namedropping, please!

Another aspect that I would love to see in the second season is diversity. There are towns outside California to name ships for, and there are humans (not to mention aliens) whose origin is not British or Irish. To quote Mike McMahan once again: "The characters in Star Trek aren't an American set of characters. They are an Earth set of characters." The reality of the series is a far cry from this claim.

I could probably write a lot more about the episode after seeing it a few more times, and perhaps I still have to align myself with the tonal shift in the series that currently lets "No Small Parts" appear as an outlier - but not necessarily in a negative sense. Who knows, perhaps I would have liked the series better, had it been like the season finale from the start. Then again, I'm not yet sure if the underlying silliness, which is still present in "No Small Parts", mixes well with big emotions, or even tragedy. In any case, this season finale gets me very interested in seeing more of this overall successful endeavor to turn Star Trek into an animated comedy.

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Rating: 7

 


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