Star Trek Lower Decks (LOW) Season 1 Guest Reviews
Stardate 57436.2: The USS Cerritos is sent on a "second contact" mission to Galador. While setting up a subspace transmitter for the native inhabitants, first officer Jack Ransom contracts an alien virus. The disease quickly spreads, causing much of the crew to become zombie-like creatures. On the surface, Ensigns Brad Boimler and Beckett Mariner encounter a giant spider creature that covers Boimler in a slime that proves to be a counter-agent to the virus. Dr. T'Ana is able to use the slime to synthesize a cure which is deployed through the ship's environmental systems, saving the crew.
"Second Contact" is arguably the most effective pilot in the history of the franchise. This is not a particularly high bar, as pilots are tough: you need to establish the new ship or setting along with an ensemble cast and their motivations. I love "Star Trek: The Next Generation," but "Encounter at Farpoint" can be so painful as cast members step into the spotlight and introduce themselves and their wooden backstories. Example: Riker to Dr. Crusher and Wesley, "You know the captain?" Wesley, "When I was little, he brought my father's body back to us." Dr. Crusher, "Yes, Wes. Long, long ago." (Ack! It's all like that!)
From the outset with Ensign Boimler's fake/aspirational "captain's log," we get the premise. The USS Cerritos isn't an elite ship like the Enterprise or Voyager. Instead, its much more like the Tsiolkovsky (TNG: "The Naked Now") or the Brattain (TNG: "Night Terrors") - the kind of ship that gets into trouble and has to be rescued by the Enterprise. Specifically, we're told that this isn't the type of ship Starfleet sends to make first contact with new life and new civilizations. This is the type of ship that makes "second contact," which Ensign Boimler asserts is "still pretty important: you get all the paperwork signed; make sure we're spelling the name of the planet right; get to know all the good places to eat..."
Moreover, the lead cast of this series is not the bridge crew of this second-tier starship. Instead, these will be the adventures of the ensigns who inhabit the ship's "lower decks." This concept has a lot of potential for parody and for interesting development. There were over 1,000 people on the Enterprise-D, but throughout most of seven seasons, only a handful ever did anything. What were the rest doing? We get a glimpse in the excellent TNG episode "Lower Decks," which served as a source of inspiration for ST:LD. All in all, the premise is ripe for parody as we see in this initial outing. As the bridge crew are dealing with an alien virus that turns everyone into zombies, two of the lower decks ensigns are on a first date, hardly noticing the backdrop.
The pilot also successfully sets up our lower decks ensigns. We're introduced first to Brad Boimler, an insecure white human male from California in the command division who dreams of becoming a captain but is unsure of himself. Next we have D'Vana Tendi, a female Orion woman in the sciences division who is experiencing a sense of wonder at being given her first assignment on a starship. (I'm very pleased that Lower Decks is following in the Star Trek tradition of having past enemies becoming part of Starfleet, cf. Worf and Nog.) Sam Rutherford is an engineering geek who has recently become a cyborg and is still getting used to the situation. And finally we have Beckett Mariner.
In contrast to her starry-eyed fellow ensigns, Beckett is a cynic who previously served as on a first-tier ship before being demoted. She knows and quotes Starfleet regulations, but she continuously undercuts and flouts them. In the course of the episode, we learn that Beckett is actually that daughter of Carol Freeman, the captain of the Cerritos and a Starfleet admiral. Captain Freeman comes off as officious and remote, decisive but inflexible. Beckett's rebellion is clearly rooted in having been raised a "Starfleet brat" and in her relationship with her mother, the captain. This is a setup worthy of exploration.
There was a lot of talk a couple years ago about whether The Orville had eclipsed Discovery as the real new Star Trek series. There's no doubt that The Orville was a direct rip-off of ST:TNG. I was happy to have new episodes and I really wanted to love the series. But the jokes were so lame. And the pacing was so terrible. I'm sorry if you love the series, but it just wasn't funny.
That's not true of "Star Trek: Lower Decks." The pacing of this pilot was fantastic. The formula worked. The jokes were funny. The characters are great and have potential. Best of all: this really is Star Trek from the era of the next generation. Visually the series is amazing for its continuity. It thoroughly captures the TNG era, updated to make use of the interim uniforms we saw in Star Trek: Picard. Everything has been replicated from the cylinder suitcases (TNG: "Family"), to the bartender uniforms (TNG: "Lower Decks"). They even have a dune buggy (ST:Nemesis)!
Finally, the show does not simply rip into the franchise cynically. If anything, it's a love letter to "The Next Generation." The wonder with which D'Vana views the lower decks aft viewport of the ship at warp speaks to the show's underlying heart. The same feeling is evident when Boimler steps onto the bridge - it's a place of wonder which he'd love to inhabit, but isn't sure he'll qualify for.
With the first episodes of Discovery and Picard, I was cautiously optimistic. Although I found Picard to be altogether more satisfying after the first season than Discovery after its second season, both have been rather mixed outings. I finished the pilot of Lower Decks flying high and wanting more. Let's hope they can build on this strong initial foundation.
- Remarkable alien continuity: In just the first episode, we've been introduced to Starfleet's most diverse alien crew ever: a Caitian (TAS: "The Survivor"), a Bajoran, a Trill, an Orion, an Andorian, a Benzite (TNG: "A Matter of Honor"), a Bolian, a Vulcan. Given that there's a "Cetacean Ops" section of the ship, we can assume there are dolphins on the crew.
- Remarkable human diversity: The Cerritos is the first series to have a black woman serve as captain. We see a Sikh wearing a turban and uniform in the shuttlebay (although we've seen a Sikh before in the person of Khan Noonian Singh in TOS: "Space Seed," this is the first Sikh in Starfleet). We also see a human with a visor like Geordi LaForge's.
- Remarkable intro credits: I laughed throughout the intro. TNG, DS9, and VOY established the long, slow series of ship and station fly-bys of astronomical phenomena set to orchestral music. Even though I love all three themes, those intros ultimately were boring. "Lower Decks" goes back to that well and introduces satire. We begin with the Cerritos navigating a gas stream similar to the one observed by the Enterprise in the Kavis Alpha sector (TNG: "Evolution"). Unexpectedly asteroids begin to hit the ship, causing it to fall back into the stream, narrowly avoiding destruction in the neutron star. In the second scene one of the Cerritos' nacelles scrapes against a protrusion of an ice planetoid, causing the ship to lose power. We see the ship encounter a major battle between the Romulans and the Borg. Rather than become involved, they prudently turn tail. Finally we see the Cerritos warping along as a giant space-faring alien attempts to consume it. It's a fitting parody of 1980s and 1990s Star Trek series intros.
- Remarkable station: It was established in TNG: "11001001" when the Enterprise-D docks at Starbase 74 that the Federation has built multiple space stations modelled on the original Earth Spacedock (ST3:TSFS). It makes sense that such a massive station should be defending the Federation's capital, but it's preposterous to imagine this is a standard design that is reused elsewhere. I've been offended by this re-use of footage since 1988, but it's perfectly in keeping with established canon that the Cerritos should be docked at another one, named "Douglass Station." (I hated the scaled up re-uses of station Regula One much more.)
Rating: 8 (John Hamer)
Stardate 57436.2: USS Cerritos is making second contact with Galardonians. The first officer of the ship infected an alien virus on the planet's surface. Most of the crew became zombies. At last, slime on Ensign Boimler's body saved everyone.
This is a wonderful pilot episode. It is definitely better than PIC's or DIS's pilot episodes. It has old tradition Star Trek style, the story made me feel that I was watching an old Star Trek episode. It is very interesting, at the same time it is very exciting. I'm glad to see that Starfleet's mission is exploring instead of fighting now.
The opening credits of this episode reminds me the opening credits of TNG. They are very similar. The only difference is that in the opening credits every time when Cerritos approaches the danger, it runs away.
Good job! I'll give it an 8.
- Remarkable log: "Captain's log, Stardate 57436.2. The Cerritos is docked at Douglas Station for routine maintenance and resupply. We will soon set course for the capital planet of the Galar system, where we're scheduled to make second contact with the Galardonian High Council. First contact is a delicate, high-stakes operation of diplomacy. One must be ready for anything when Humanity is interacting with alien race for the first time. But we don't do that. Our specialty is second contact. Still pretty important. We get all the paperwork signed, make sure we're spelling the name of the planet right, get to know all the good places to eat." (Ensign Boimler's "Captain's log")
- Remarkable dialogue: "We need to get this man to sickbay immediately! He is very important!" - "What makes him so special?" - "Nothing. He's worthless. It's the slime, Captain. He's covered in slime that could save us all!" - "Everyone, protect this slime!" (T'Ana and Freeman)
- Remarkable scene: Cerritos inside Earth Spacedock
- Remarkable ship: USS Cerritos
Rating: 8 (Zhanghaoran Tu)
Stardate 57436.2: Synopsis in main LOW listing
The general tone and content of this episode is a bit predictable (as per the trailer) but not necessarily boring, it amused me just fine even though it does not evoke the best memories of Trek (yet) or display extremely skillful storytelling.
I have been looking forward to Lower Decks for quite some time. The trailer that surprise-landed last month made me overjoyed. It truly looked a bit like Rick and Morty, that I must admit, whereas it wasn't nearly as nihilistic, overstuffed or gory as the latter. There also has been some concern that the humor of this series might be too silly, but after watching this ep I deemed it just fine.
Before I move on to the actual story, I feel obliged to touch on the subject of the new opening credits. I was extremely pleasant to see how faithfully they recreated the motifs of TNG and VOY, even the fonts! Now here's a real touch of nostalgia, backed up by modern graphics--but with a certain sense of subversion. The behaviour of the Cerritos in face of numerous space hazards is hilarious, and is a perfect showcase of what this whole series is about. The jokes are more tailored to Star Trek, solely for the point that they're pertinent to the sci-fi setting, unlike Orville which often throws in childish vulgar jokes just to be funny.
This episode excels at displaying the lead characters, who, by the end of this episode, are quite readily defined. None of them are typically Starfleet-heroic, but their personalities are more than believeable, completely imaginable and accessible in a Star Trek context. How they react to bizzare situation is also a fresh breathe to the franchise, which recently has been tainted by the monotonous ever-noble-bold-selfless attitude of Discovery and Burnham.
The story is a bit lacklustre by itself, presenting two traditional storylines that intertwine at the end. The revelation of the Boimler goo to be the cure seems to be rather too convenient. Actually, you should have no problem in morphing the plot into a TNG ep in your head, where the same things are done with less comedic relief, less satire, more deliberation and more technobabble. But then, it would only make an average episode. This plot is merely an instrument to end, a prism by which to display a common Star Trek happenstance vis-a-vis the Lower Decks men. How do they react? And how do the higher-ups react? This and this only is the focal point of this series.
I assume many people might be displeased about the uncaring nature of the higher-ups in this ep, but I must say it should not deserve criticism. In a massive body as the 24th-century Federation, there might be one million plus officers holding the rank of commander and above. How can they all be selfless saints? They are good people, but it doesn't exempt them from having human flaws. These flaws are bound to exist in the Trek-universe, so why can't us show them? Like only praising the senior officers while everyone was at stake and fighting--No, how can a heroic captain be so bad?--but wait, it has happened all the time, with Picard, Sisko and Janeway. Examining these human attitudes might enable us to a better outlook in life.
A previous guest review put it best: This episode is "effective", to its apparent purpose. "Second Contact" is a strong episode that successfully deconstructs the usual Heroic Ship metanarrative of Star Trek without being pessimistic or edgy. I humbly ask all of you to notice the fact that in this episode, Federation is no more the reclusive and dishonest organization that relies heavily on battle and secret ops as in DIS or PIC. Moreover, the episode has shown considerable respect to established canon, recreating anything from TNG to detail. Hell, how good would it be if we could ever see a Enterprise-D with modern graphics! I (quite unfortunately) feel that Mike McMahan, despite being a previous Rick & Morty writer, has much more love to Star Trek than the Kurtzman team. I like Discovery too, but this one looks feels so much more faithful. I have one more request to the creative team that they lower the ratio of human crewmen even further. Showing fewer aliens in TV trek was because of expensive prosthetics, but in a cartoon series shouldn't showing a human and an alien cost the same? The overabundance of humans in Federation ships so far (from TOS to DIS) has bothered me.
I am generally satisfied by this episode despite its unoriginal story. However, I have observed a tendency in Kurtzman-era trek for a season to underperform after delivering a stellar premiere. So, just to be prudent, I'll give it a 5.
By now on IMDb, the average review score of Lower Decks is only 5.4. This result abhors me. Even if LOW isn't a masterpiece, did it deserve such a low score? In comparison, Picard started at 8.3 then went down. From whence is that distinction? The namesake of Patrick Stewart? Looks like so many people are just too eager to cast their verdict on the new series without really giving it a chance. We should still be wary of the prevalence of toxicity in the Star Trek fandom.
From China, where I'm from, Rick & Morty has become quite famous. The TOS Reboot movies are also immensely popular. Sadly, few people really cared about the larger part of the Star Trek franchise, it has very limited appeal and audience. I'm hoping the presence of an accessible cartoon, coupled with the official importation of Discovery and TOS-TNG movies(Since 2019) can become an entry point for the franchise to enter this massive market.
- Remarkable continuity: In the new episode trailer, a fully TNG-era Klingon was shown.
- Remarkable dialogue: By the end of the episode Mariner gives Boimler a lengthy introduction of TOS-TNG characters, including Kirk, Spock and Troi.
Rating: 5 (Mousun-Sino)
Stardate 57436.2: Ensign D'Vana Tendi boards the USS Cerritos for her first assignment, and joins fellow ensigns Sam Rutherford (a recently-minted cyborg), Beckett Mariner (an ensign of questionable morals), and Brad Boimler (a go-getter with his sights set on his own command one day) as they travel to the Galar system for second contact with the Galardonians...but not everything goes according to plan.
Right off the bat, I'll assuage any fears and state that, yes, they did play up the comedy for the trailers. It's heart and soul is pure Star Trek, but with some comedy added in.
The opening is wide-eyed and aspirational second-year ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) recording a "captain's log" who is disrupted in his hidey-hole supply closet by a highly-intoxicated Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), who is hauling a large trunk of weapons, including a bat'leth that she accidentally slices into Boimler's leg with.
This opening scene was released in the immediate run-up to the premiere.
While it, right off the bat, starts with "wacky Star Trek-themed comedy", it very quickly begins developing the characters, and, by the end of the episode, we have a preliminary grasp of who the "Core Four" are, as well as hints as to the personalities of the senior staff of the Cerritos.
Boimler is, as noted, your aspirational ensign who dreams of commanding his own ship one day.
D'Vana Tendi (Noel Wells), an Orion, comes aboard the Cerritos as her first posting, as part of the medical department.
Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) is a recently-enhanced cyborg and part of the engineering department, and much more concerned with why doors didn't work in an emergency than his budding romance.
Beckett Mariner, despite her "wacky comedy" introduction, comes across as more of a troubled character as the episode goes on. After Tendi comes aboard, bright-eyed Boimler shows her around the ship using an MSD readout and explains what rooms actually are, whereas Mariner states that the only good part of the ship above the lower decks is the Cerritos' bar and is dismissive about the contents of the rooms they pass. During a crisis with Boimler on the Galardonian capital, she reveals that the Cerritos is actually her fifth ship and was on the Quito when it had made first contact the year prior prior to her demotion to ensign. At the end of the episode, it is revealed she is the daughter of the Cerritos' captain and an admiral, the former of whom notes she spent a lot of time in the Quito's brig and the latter of whom noted that she actually enjoyed being in the brig.
Tendi and Rutherford are given basic introductions, but a more thorough introduction is likely to come in future episodes, as the A-plot was mostly focused on Mariner and Boimler, with Rutherford and Tendi as part of the B- and C-plots, respectively, and you can only cover so much ground in a half-hour timeslot.
In short, I very thoroughly enjoyed the episode and cannot wait for the next nine weeks!
- Remarkable dialogue: Ransom: "What happened? Where am I? And...did I eat flesh?" - Tendi: "Uh, hardly any." - Ransom: "How much did I eat?!"
- Remarkable ship: The Cerritos' shuttles are all named for US national parks - Death Valley, Joshua Tree, etc.
Rating: 10 (Ryan Dietz)
Stardate 57463.2 Almost a year after Nemesis, mid 2380. Medical Ensign Tendi joins the Starfleet back up ship USS Cerritos. Command division Ensigns Mariner and Boimler welcome her to the ship, we get to know all of them as well as Engineering Ensign Rutherford, a recent Cyborg convert. Certiros is assigned to conduct Second Contact with the Galardonians. A nice people, no hidden agenda... but Exec Off Commander Jack Rutherford brings something unpleasant back the ship, and it's not just his aftershave....
Pilot episodes area bumpy awkward affair.
They have the donkey work of having introduce the set up. They have to introduce and establish the characters and they have to hit the ground running. That is a big ask for 24 minutes of animation. The only previous instance of Trek doing this really well of the bat was Voyager with "Caretaker." Lower Decks feels VERY concentrated because of its limited timeframe, and unlike TAS is not a follow on from an existing series. Especially as an animated "adult" comedy, can it compare with live action Trek?
Lower Decks does work. But it has something directly in common with ENT. You have to switch off your brain to everything you have known about Star Trek, except the aesthetic designs of the TNG Era. - Assuming you already do know them. The episode is top heavy with visual and a slightly less verbal references to the other shows and films - except at the end where the verbal ones go into overload. Which leads me to the characters. One of those things that is annoying to us who know TOS - ENT, and a lot of 'what what WHAT?' To newcomers.
Mariner is the scrappy over hyper rule breaker. She knows them understands them to a solid degree, but feels they are mostly bureaucratic constipation to actually getting things done. - A demo of this 'hurry up and get there' attitude happens in the episode, and she actually makes a decent point, raising the old "whither Prime Directive?" argument. But, she is over energetic, never stops talking / lecturing about fun and puts down Boimler without thinking twice. They REALLY need to dial down this character, or focus her hyper rebellion into focused reasoning a lot more. Then and only then she will be genuinely funny. It just need a bit of careful but focused tweaking with a shovel.
Boimler is the Cheese to Mariner's Chalk. He is all procedure, rules and etiquette. Kind of Sheldon Cooper from BBT meets a likeable Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf, with some of Rodney McKay's arrogance from Stargate Atlantis. He's the typical uptight know it all who actually knows nothing and although he has most of the rules and regs in his head, desperately lacks experience and broadcasts his naivety. He also has dreams of getting the four pips, something that seems impossible considering his slightly unhinged behaviour, and blinkered, cautious approach to life.
Some will no doubt mistakenly compare him to Reg Barclay, but Barclay is a nice guy with genuine anxiety and stress issues. Boimler is stressed and worked up because he is chasing his own tail with his overdriven ambitions. It makes him easy to walk over too, and not just by Mariner..... The character has promise, but also needs development work.
Ensign Rutherford is the most recognizable type. An Engineering Ensign he has been fitted with a cranial cyborg device which at first glance makes him look like a TNG Borg. However he is outgoing, friendly helpful and genuinely nice. The comedy stab here is his cybernetics are of Vulcan design, which makes a mess of his feelings and emoting. Its unclear if that is a pilot joke or a running gag at this stage. - He is very handy in a crisis, but suffers the geek cliché of dismissing romance at the wrong moment. - This guy is the one main character who could end up on the EE, Voyager or DS9 & the Defiant very easily. It's nice to see.
Finally the needed newcomer on the ship, Medical Ensign Tendi. Starry eyed and fully of DSC's Ensign Tilly style enthusiasm, she reminds me of Lycia Naff's Ensign Sonia Gomez in TNG's "Q Who" and "Samaritan Snare." Enthusiastic, energetic unfailing kind and helpful in all situations, she is the glass half full type who is clearly on Rutherford's wavelength to a tee. A character that makes you smile the moment you meet her, she also makes a refreshing contrast to the ships sourpuss (literally) CMO, but more on that in a bit. Tendi is the helping hand to Trek newbies, and her eagerness and ease at making friends makes her a warm and likeable funny character. This one they have got right from the start.
We are briefly introduced to the senior staff though some aspects are blink and you will miss it. Captain Freeman is a no nonsense commander, but she seems to be somewhat isolated from the crew - esp the junior staff. At first she seems to fits the Sisko / Janeway mould, but there is a reason she is on this ship, not something more specialised or important. That becomes clear.
Commander Ransom is a Riker wannabe, but he is not as clued up or efficient. The "trouble" in this first episode could have been avoided, had he been paying attention....
Dr T'Ana is the Caitain CMO. A brilliant doctor, but a Sourpuss of her species. Her medical approach is Dr Pulaski on a very bad day - which could inspire laughs at the right pace. This is the character who is gold dust to say the outrageous inappropriate things when she feels like it. We will see.... Interestingly, she seems to spend more time on the Bridge than McCoy, Crusher and Bashir put together!
Lt Shaxs is the Bajoran tactical officer with serious anger and love of destruction issues. He has potential, but only in the 'Always angry, ready to loose his S**T' kind of way. A Male Ro, but with Worf's blood lust to blow things up and kill people. He could go either way...
I would comment on the Chief Engineer but he is barely glimpsed! We are told he is useless with women. @@
I am not going to spoil the story, but I will say the pace of the first episode is the key thing wrong with it. Everything is a little too fast and frantic, though the animation style does remind me a little of TAS, and other work by Filmation. 45 mins would have been better to pace things more evenly.
The Ceritos itself is an odd design to say the least - it looks like a casserole dish on a cooling stand, but I found both Defiant and Voyager a bit odd at first too, and I have loved those ships for decades now. Everything appears to be present and correct functionally speaking, transporter room, shuttle bay, engineering, sickbay, and the bridge is a nice blend of TNG aesthetics with a smidge of Orville layout of all things! (Look for Shaxs's tactical station.) It IS an odd addition to Starfleet, but we will get used to it.
Lower Decks does have excellent potential. The first episode needs to be rewatched a few times for things visual and plot to sink in, because the pace is too damned fast. But once you get used to that, you start to see the jokes. Its also important to realise that the characters fit the ENT / TOS mentality, poss VGR to a lesser degree, but not that of TNG / DS9. Which makes sense - they are not on the EE where standards are higher. Under performing or rebellious characters was a tepid idea on VGR at best.
Anyone hoping this will seamlessly add to TNG canon will be disappointed. No matter how well it is written, and how good the aesthetic design and sounds are, this is a bolt on series. Something looking back to mine comedy from the post TNG era, and if the writers get the balance right it could work very well. The music throughout is Excellent.
But if anything has proved that we miss old school Star Trek, it is The Orville. Because The Orville IS Old School Star Trek, and it does it brilliantly. Nothing the Kurtzman era has produced has measured up to it. Lower Decks is their last chance to make something genuinely entertaining, even if it has slapstick and toilet jokes. As the writers are a bit different, there is some hope it might work... We will see.
- Remarkable titles: If you know TNG and VGR's titles backwards watch closely. Cerritos is clearly NOT the Ent D or Voyager! ;0)
- Remarkable (inaprops) dialogue:
- "You! Green Girl!... ... hold this, don't pass out! ...NO-One is authorised to pass out!" -Dr T'Ana's bedside manner. Sheesh!
- "Please don't phaser her, it spoils the milk!" -Um, see for yourself....
- "Shaxs, what are my options?" - "I recommend we detonate the entire warp core Captain!" - "No!!" -Capt Freeman and Lt Shaxs discuss damage control.
- "Aaaaargh! Did I eat Flesh?!!" - "Hardly Any..." - "How much did I eat? How Much?!" -Ransom sadly back to normal, and Tendi trying to help....
- "Still happy to be here?" - "Are you KIDDING? I got to HOLD a heart!!" -Mariner checking Tendi's enthusiasm. Full speed ahead it seems.
- Remarkable ship : The USE Casserole, 'scuse me, USS Cerritos. California class apparently. The ship is designed to be very Ops heavy according to Boimer, he thinks the Warp Core, Torpedo Bay and Bridge are all cool. Mariner thinks nothing is worthwhile above the lower decks except the bar. - Boimer is right about the bridge. The ship feels a bit pre TNG, despite its post Voyager, pre Titan NCC reg no. Poss a new build of an older design? That would fit with the onboard tech being mid TNG - PADDs, tricorders, LCARS panels etc. The hand phasers are the FC / DS9 / VGR era ones (thankfully).
- Remarkable theme music : The Lower Decks theme music is similar in style (though NOT the same) as the unused theme created for ST TNG. A copy of the disused composition is on TrekCore's TNG section.
Rating: 7 (Andy Kinnear)
Stardate 57436.2: Synopsis in main LOW listing
This is my first guest review on this site, but before I get into my review of "Second Contact", I wish to talk about my experience so far with "Kurtzman Trek". I followed the development of Discovery closely up to its premiere. I was willing to give it a chance despite my misgivings regarding the redesign of the Klingons, among other things. On September 24, 2017, I sat down to watch "The Vulcan Hello" on my local CBS channel, as they were airing it on television. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, and if I wanted to see the other half, I had to subscribe to CBS All Access (I live in the United States).
I was infuriated. Not only did the titular starship not show up, but I had to *pay* to watch the other half! I took Jason Isaacs's "dare" and decided not to watch any more. Besides, I didn't buy that it took place a decade before TOS. The technology was way too advanced, and I refused to believe that Spock had an adopted human sister (I still do). The only other episode I have watched is "Brother", but that was only because CBS uploaded it to YouTube, and I was morbidly curious. I watched it with my mother, and the only thing that she could remember about it was that Burnham got something embedded in her leg, whereas the only thing I could remember was Pike and his "red thing". I will, however, admit that I liked Anson Mount as Pike.
On January 23, 2020, my mother and I watched "Remembrance", the premiere episode of Picard. I actually saw it twice, as I later watched it with my father as well. I was hopeful for Picard because they were *finally going into the future*. However, things started going downhill with the second episode, what with the holographic "Discoprise" and "Admiral Bitch-face" with her "sheer fucking hubris".
While I actually enjoyed "Absolute Candor", maybe because of the antique Romulan Bird-of-Prey, I stopped watching after "Stardust City Rag". What they did to Icheb and to Seven of Nine's character did not sit well with me. The only characters that I can say that I liked were Laris and Zhaban, Picard's Romulan friends.
Fast-forward to August 6, 2020 and "Second Contact", the premiere episode of the first animated Star Trek series since the "The Counter-Clock Incident", the finale of TAS (the entirety of which I have on DVD). The latter aired on October 12, 1974, over 15 years before I was born in 1990, and exactly 45 years, 9 months, and 25 days before "Second Contact".
So, what did I think? Well, I have watched the episode *four times*, so there must be something about it I liked. I admit that I am not that big into the animation style. Some of the humor is juvenile, and I think Ensign Beckett Mariner (voiced by Tawny Newsome) needs to take a "chill pill". I can't help but wonder if the woman is on some sort of illicit substance. She seems to be on a perpetual "sugar rush" or something. I also kind of like Dr. T'Ana (voiced by Gillian Vigman), the Caitian chief medical officer of the U.S.S. Cerritos. That said, I appreciate the return to the TNG aesthetic, and I like the uniforms. Although, I find it odd that officers in the sciences wear white boots. I am uncertain of what else to add, so I'll just say that while the episode is imperfect, the people behind it are clearly *trying*, so I think they should be given some leniency. Only time will tell if it gets better or worse.
- Chronology: "Second Contact" takes place after Star Trek Nemesis in the year 2380. This is before the attack on Mars as depicted in Picard (2385), the destruction of Romulus and Remus as depicted in the 2009 Star Trek movie (2387), and Picard itself (2399).
- Remarkable starship: The U.S.S. Cerritos NCC-75567 of the California class, commanded by Captain Carol Freeman (voiced by Dawnn Lewis). This ship seems to suffer from "Oberth syndrome", considering the secondary hull is not directly accessible from the primary hull or saucer. The MSD insinuates that there is a diagonal(!) turboshaft running through the nacelle pylons and through the nacelle. It begs the question of whether the shaft in that area has special radiation shielding, and what happens when the ship goes to warp and people are traveling through the turbolift?
Rating: 5 (James Holliday)
Stardate 57436.2: Synopsis in main LOW listing
When most people think of a Trek cartoon, they'll think of the 1970s Star Trek: The Animated Series. This is definitely worth a look if you're a Trek fan, but it conjured up images of cheap, jerky animation and simplistic morals for kids.
Lower Decks is something else entirely. While there's also an animated adventure series in the works (the recently named Star Trek: Prodigy), Lower Decks is an adult comedy series. That's not to say it's entirely unsuitable for a family audience, at least based on the first episode, but it's clearly aimed at older teens to adults, and specifically at established Trek fans.
Created and run by Mike McMahan, who also wrote the excellent Short Trek "The Escape Artist," but is best known for working on Rick and Morty (plus earlier on South Park and other animated comedies). Based on early descriptions and the series trailer, I expected Lower Decks to be a lot more Rick and Morty-esque than it's turned out to be. Admittedly, there's a lot of episodes to come yet and we might get an episode based on horny dragons or a breast-enlargement ray, but I think it's unlikely. The first episode of Lower Decks is, if not a laugh-a-minute, a pretty solid barrage of gags, but it's pretty much on the right side of the grown-up/puerile divide. The smuttiest joke is the All-Nude Olympic Training holodeck program, and that's pretty mild.
First and foremost, though, this is a Star Trek series, and McMahan is clearly a huge Trek fan. Everything in the episode screams "Star Trek!" from the design of the USS Cerritos to the obscure-as-hell references to Klingon culture. There are recognisable alien races throughout and there are references to a ton of classic Trek stories - in fact, Ensign Mariner dumps a ton of them at the end of the episode, just to make sure we know this is made by bona fide Trekkies.
The concept of the series is brilliant. The USS Cerritos - a new kind of starship, the California-class which looks like a TNG-era kitbash - specialises in "Second Contact," the slightly less important follow-up mission after first contact. Which, when you think about it, is actually very important. It's joked away as getting the spelling of the alien planets right, but doing the serious diplomatic and logistic stuff is pretty essential. Still, it's not as glamorous as missions of discovery on the USS Enterprise.
The main characters aren't the bridge crew, the characters we'd normally follow, but the derisively-termed "lower decks," the bottom-rank newbies and jobbing maintenance people. And while you might sneer at them, if they're not working, your replicator doesn't get fixed and is stuck on the "Hot Banana" setting forever. Following the lower-ranked characters who just want to do their jobs with the minimum hassle is such a different spin on a Trek series that it makes it seem fresh, even though this isn't far off the 800th episode in the franchise.
The main characters are all likeable. Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) is pretty much the hero of the episode, a busted-down officer who resents the higher ranks and mostly wants to enjoy her shore leave. She's insanely overexcitable and would quickly become unbearable in real life but she's magnetic for a half hour episode, and she's secretly a moral and inventive officer with an exhaustive knowledge and experience. She just doesn't like having to justify herself to anyone.
Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) is the jobsworth, career-minded one, serious about doing things by the book and advancing up the ranks, but he's there for Mariner even when he should be reporting her for breaching regulations (usually for all the right reasons). He develops a fair bit even in this episode, so I suspect we'll see a lot more progression for his character (I bet he gets a promotion to lieutenant by the end of the season, which will change the dynamic totally).
Ensign D'Vana Tendi (Noel Wells) is the fresh-faced, bright-eyed new recruit on her first assignment. We don't get to see so much of her in this episode, but her enthusiasm for her posting as a medical officer is infectious, even as she's fighting off goop-spewing zombies. Ensign Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) rounds off the main four. He's an engineer and a cyborg, which makes for an interesting sort of addition to the series, and he's struggling with his new Vulcan-implant which keeps trying to suppress his emotions. He's romantic but way to into his work for his own good.
That's not to say we don't see much of the bridge crew, just that they're not the focus and they're generally seen through the eyes of the ensigns. Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) is a by-the-book sort who seems to have a vendetta against Mariner, and well, I won't spoil it but you'll guess why easily enough. Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O'Connell) is the first officer and as arrogant as someone with the name Jack Ransom has to be, while Lt. Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) is the trigger-happy tactical officer. Dr. T'Ana (Gillian Rigsom) is basically a fuzzy Bones.
There's a lot going on in this episode, almost too much, and it belts from introducing the characters to events on the planet Galar to a zombie plague caused by an insect bite raging through the ship, with the subplots for Rutherford's date and Tendi's first day in sickbay getting sidetracked by the zombies. There's a fair bit of gross-out humour - the most Rick and Morty-like part of it - with a weirdly long scene involving Boimler being "suckled" by a giant spider-cow. Most of the comedy, though, comes from the character interactions and their clashing personalities, and a gentle poking fun at Star Trek's tropes. It never comes across as mocking Trek, though; it's all well-observed humour of the sort that fans have been making for years. It's really refreshing to see it on the screen (outside of Futurama).
Whether someone new to Trek would enjoy it is another question. A lot of the in-jokes will be lost on them, of course, but the basics of the episode are pretty straightforward and I think anyone with at least a passing experience of sci-fi adventures would get it. There are bound to be die-hard Trekkies who hate it simply for being a comedy, and plenty more who just don't enjoy the style of humour it has to offer. Personally, I loved it, and I can only see it getting funnier as we get to know the characters more. And the Monkees joke was perfect.
- Remarkable worlds: We only visit one planet in the episode, Galar, but we also see a recreation of Orion on the holodeck - the first time we've ever seen the Orion homeword onscreen (the planet recreated in "The Cage" was described as an Orion colony).
- Remarkable races: While we've seen several Orions in Starfleet in the Kelvin Timeline, Tendi is the first we've seen in the Prime Timeline, and makes for a rare appearance by an Orion in the TNG-era. Lt. Shaxs is a big, burly Bajoran, Dr. T'Ana is a Caitian, and there are Trill, Benzites and more on the ship
- Remarkable visuals: Lower Decks is set in 2380, a year after "Star Trek Nemesis", although the design looks a lot more like TNG-era proper. I've stopped trying to make sense of the uniforms in Trek, and the Cerritos crew wear a different uniform to either the late 2370s version seen from First Contact to Nemesis and in late DS9, and the early 2380s one seen in flashback scenes in Picard. We have seen different ships using different uniform variants concurrently in Trek a few times though.
- Remarkable cast: The voice cast has some solid genre experience: Tawny Newsome is Captain Ali in Space Force. Jack Quaid is Hughie in The Boys and Marvel in The Hunger Games. Fred Tatasciore has done a ton of genre voice work, too numerous to list. Jerry O'Connell is immediately recognisable to 90s sf fans; he was Quinn Mallory on Sliders, and he happens to be married to Rebecca Romijn, who plays the new Number One in Discovery and Strange New Worlds, which I think is the first time two first officers from Trek have been married in real life. Phil Lamarr, who voices the Admiral, was Hermes Conrad on Futurama, Rag Doll on The Flash and Malefic J'onzz on Supergirl, plus has plenty of voice credits including Rick and Morty.
Rating: 7 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57436.5: Ensigns Tendi, Boimler, Mariner and Rutherford of the USS Cerritos get to know each other and share their first "Starfleet-Adventure--!!!" together... ...one which involves Zombies, alien customs and vastly different expectations of what a date is.
Let's start by talking about other recent Star Trek shows *BRIEFLY*, to provide some context: I was strongly disappointed by both Discovery and Picard and was further disappointed by the shenanigans in the fanbase afterwards. At time of writing, the Star Trek fandom is fractured as it never was before and is tearing itself apart. Heated "exchanges" about political world views, "evil" plans to rewrite canon and individual agendas dominate such debates, if we can call them that.
Along comes Lower Decks, a show that is basically a cartoon take on TNG (no matter the official timeline). Which, in my book, was a recipe for just one more disaster. Image my surprise when finding out that this is thus far the best product of new era Trek for reasons what will become clear further --wait for it-- down below.
Discussing the craft of making such a show first, let us just get that topic out of the way: Technically speaking, the show looks splendid, mixing traditional with computer-based animation flawlessly and presenting us with a clearly readable image while never looking cheap. Thanks to the TNG-style inspirations, we get nicely colored uniforms again and clear black outlines around our cartoon characters produce nice contrasts. Sound-wise, there is nothing to complain about either, all actors do a good job and bring great performances to their parts and owning the material they are given.
Which brings us to the actual content and that, above all else, is a discussion about the style of this show. Pre-release, it already had people up in arms or dismissing it outright. The later group including myself.
Now, in regards to content, what actually occurs in this first episode is way less relevant to how LOW presents itself when it comes to reviewing it. To its credit, it immediately signals you what you are in for with its very first scene, which is the only thing one really needs to discuss for this review. The intro sequence that transitions from a traditional Character's Log to an nontraditional one that escalates into sheer chaos within a minute is certainly a remarkable one. I get the feeling that if you hate everything that this scene represents, you can safely drop out and never watch LOW again.
First, we get introduced to the protagonist vessel, the USS Cerritos, and today's mission by Ensign Boimler, who is then interrupted by a drunken Ensign Mariner while recording what she thinks is a pretentious log. Boimler is drunk on Romulan Whiskey, about which she remarks "that you think it would be green but it is actually blue". Afterwards, she proceeds to imitate a Klingon Warrior ("with an eye patch!") using the words "I love HO-NOR, I demand HO-NOR!".
At this point, you either check out because someone is making fun about something you really adore or you enjoy that someone makes a nicely presented cartoon joke about something you really adore. And that brings is to what LOW is, it is basically Futurama in a Star Trek-edition on warp factor 9. That means, aside from being super-hectic and in your face, it is comedy and not satire. It revels in TNG instead of mocking TNG, it is a respectful love letter which is supposed to make you laugh instead of diminishing its inspiration. In short, LOW treats the StarTrek of old, which I love, as something to be adored for what it is and what it represents. It tries to be fun within this storytelling framework and not at the expense of it. And as such, this is a show that can be 100% ignored if it does not click for you. Any discussion about how canon it is, how ridiculous it is or if this or that makes sense is simply, as the Borg would say, irrelevant. Considering how much the question if something is "real" or "worthy" Trek comes up these days, LOW gives its definitive answer right away: Who cares, at least in this case?
The rest of the episode quickly settles into a lightning pace, giving us a tour of the ship, introducing our characters and then creating two ridiculous crisis plotlines: Zombies and hunting an alien Spider for food. Both are basically over-the-top spins on existing tales within the TNG framework and that is probably the only misstep of this first episode. Since everything is so fast and hectic, I feel an even more "standard" plot could have eased the viewer into this style of storytelling (and joking) better. Both plotlines are quickly resolved and have no lasting consequences. This follows the classical approach of old TV shows that "at the end of the episode, everything is always right back to normal", as Futurama's Fry once stated. For our characters at least, this will likely change eventually if the series continues, as it did for TNG.
Speaking for characters, over the course of the stories, we are also presented with all the supporting characters, which in a wonderful twist, consist mostly of the regular bridge crew, aka the typical hero characters. Overall, every character in this pilot episode is a cliché and, at least in my opinion, rightly so since this is a 24 minute episode. Judging this show with typical Trekkie eyes not only misses the point but would also be unfair. As such, there is not much to discuss about just yet, be it a supporting or main character. The episode clearly introduces various hooks for all the characters, which can then be further explored in future episodes, such as the family ties of one particular crew member.
Why is all of this remarkable? Because LOW is an unapologetic love letter and comedy show, nothing more and nothing less. With this, your stance on newer Trek does not matter, neither on the quality of its writing nor on what new Trek represents or not. Whatever your personal stance on Discovery & Co may be, we have to face the fact that these shows are the serious trek that is produced nowadays. Maybe this means "Star Trek is dead" to you, maybe you love it, maybe something in between.
But LOW on the other hand simply wants to be fun. It is neither an olive branch nor an offense. Instead of going where no one has gone before, it just wants to go somewhere happy and nice. You can ignore it if you want and it is fine with that.
I urge everyone to try it.
- Remarkable quote: She had zero interest in figuring out why a red alert overwrite maintenance hatch 70's access protocols, it's like... can you even imagine?
- Remarkable dialogue: Boimler shouting "Worf! Worf! Worf!" as a reference to "safe words" used in various sexual practices
- Remarkable scene: That first scene, "I love HO-NOR, I demand HO-NOR!", followed by the coward-ship-intro sequence.
- Remarkable ship: The USS Cerritos obviously, a semi-believable TNG-era design that looks purposely flimsy. Having the clearest distinction ever between its saucer and the rest of the ship, its design basically reinforces the lower and upper deck metaphor visually. Does it make sense? How cares, see review!
- Remarkable fact: The intro sequence shows a fleet of Romulan Warbirds fighting the Borg. Which could totally have happened at some point during TNG. Since the Romulans are still there, their fleets apparently stopped multiple cubes while Starfleet almost failed at stopping one. On the other hand, recall the review. None of this matters.
Rating: 8 (Elias the Trekkie)
Stardate not given: After a high-profile mission goes awry, Boimler is further plagued with self-doubt when Mariner proves herself to be a more naturally talented sci-fi badass than he. Rutherford quits his job in engineering and explores other departments on the USS Cerritos.
It is certainly a very interesting episode, but not so exciting. But that isn't important. I enjoyed this episode. It proved that LOW is certainly like other classic Star Trek series.
The mission with the Klingon General K'orin is one part of this episode, it proved to us that Ensign Mariner, although she is less serious than Boimler, she is very experienced. And she knows how to comfort Boimler.
The other part of this episode is Rutherford's explore of other departments on Cerritos. It's interesting.
Keith R.A. DeCandido commented: "I got to the end of ["Envoys"] feeling pleased and happy, which I'm pretty sure is what the script was going for. It reminded me favorably of the DS9 episode 'In the Cards' in which Jake and Nog do a series of cascading favors for various crew members in order to obtain a Willie Mays baseball card that Jake wants to give to his father. The end result was that everyone on the station was happier than they were when the episode started. Now, 'Envoys' isn't anywhere near that, well, high-stakes. 'In the Cards,' after all, was the final episode before the Dominion War kicked in, but it worked as a palate-cleanser prior to that, and also a reminder that the future of Star Trek is, at its heart, a place where things are better than they are now".
I quite agree with that, I think nowadays Star Trek has lost humorous and optimism, but LOW found them back.
So,I'll give this good episode a 6.
- Continuity: We can see an actual TNG Klingon in this episode.
- Remarkable dialogue: "Ok, that was a rough start. FYI, in situations like that try employing the "Janeway" protocol." - "Got it. And what's that?" - "Good one." (Jack Ransom and Sam Rutherford)
- Remarkable fact: Janeway protocol means to inject all the children on board out into space.(?)
Rating: 6 (Zhanghaoran Tu)
Stardate not given: While ferrying Klingon General K'orin to the Federation Embassy on Tulgana IV, Ensigns Mariner and Boimler are stranded in the planet's Klingon district ("Little Qo'noS") when K'orin unexpectedly takes off with their shuttlecraft. After traversing the planet's Risan and Andorian districts, Mariner and Boimler catch up to K'orin, hand him over to the Embassy, and recover their shuttle. Meanwhile, Ensign Rutherford explores postings in the command, medical, and security divisions before returning to his original job in engineering.
Is the second episode of a series too early to have established a formula? "Envoys" feels amazingly formulaic for the second installment of "Lower Decks." We have a teaser that is totally unrelated to the main episode (à la "The Simpsons"), and then after the credits we follow our ensigns through their daily, inglorious routines, separated into and "A" plot, with scenes interspliced with a "B" plot. Despite the abbreviated 30 minute format, this episodic A/B formula is very much in keeping with Star Trek from the TNG/DS9/VOY era.
Once again, "Lower Decks" establishes its "Star Trek" bonfides in spades. No series has ever come close to this kind of continuity before. In the Teaser, Ensigns Mariner and Tendi encounter a typical Roddenberrian energy being. The visuals perfectly match the being that impregnated Counselor Troi in TNG: "The Child," but it's essentially the same trope as the energy beings from TOS: "Day of the Dove," TNG: "Lonely Among Us," TNG: "Power Play," DS9: "The Assignment," and countless other episodes. Ensign Mariner immediately sees the energy being for what it is, captures it and threatens to confine it. In response, it promises to grant her wishes (despite the resulting energy loss) and ends up giving her the 24th century equivalent of the newest iPhone.
The A-plot is more Star Trek still. Have you been upset by the retconned Klingons in Discovery? Well, you're in luck: the Klingons you remember from TNG and DS9 are back. K'orin does everything from fight for fun, get drunk on blood wine, and sing Klingon opera. Little Qo'noS (the Klingon district on Tulgana IV) has a Gagh stand (cf TNG: "A Matter of Honor") staffed by an aggressive Klingon woman reminiscent of Gi'ral (TNG: "Birthright").
After the planet's Klingon district, Boimler and Mariner enter the Risan district. As established in multiple episodes, beginning with TNG: "Captain's Holiday," the Risans are devoted to pleasure and lounging about in skimpy swimwear (including a same-sex couple). In this district, Boimler is nearly assaulted by an Anavaj --- a telepathic creature who apparently hopes to lay eggs inside of him akin to the Alien in "Alien."
Boimler and Mariner next explore the Andorian district where they precipitate a bar-room brawl. Among the aliens involved is a Lurian --- the first we've every seen beyond Quark's most loyal customer, Morn. Boimler causes the fight by stunning an Andorian who appears to be abusing an elder, only to learn that the elder was a shape-shifter, who assumes the form of a mischievous child and escapes. Mariner stops the brawl by buying 5 rounds of drinks for the house using a wallet she'd previously pick-pocketed.
His poor showing in contrast to Mariner is enough to break Boimler's confidence in his book-learning. However, we should remember that this is only the 6th planet he's ever been to (4th if you don't count Earth and Vulcan). To build him back up, Mariner conspires with a Ferengi friend to play act a scene where Boimler can be the hero: a victory he's happy to recount on the ship.
The B-plot is a survey of most of the work environments available to a "lower decks" ensign: engineering, command, medical, and security. We also get to see how the senior officers lead their divisions on the USS Cerritos. Although each seem distant and frightening from the perspective of a junior officer, we quickly see that Starfleet is an incredibly supportive work environment.
In the command section, First Officer Jack Ransom puts Ensign Rutherford through training simulations on the Holodeck, reminiscent of Deanna Troi's Bridge Officer's Test (TNG: "Thine Own Self") and the legendary Kobayashi Maru Test (ST2:TWOK) which was conducted in earlier simulator rooms. They begin with an advanced test (Command Trainer #43): within seconds the ship is being drawn into a temporal rift, has lost 90% of its shields, and a hull-breach is imminent. Rutherford's only orders are "uhh...maintain course," which results in the ship's destruction with a casualty rate of 105%(!).
At the end of the first test, Ransom advises Rutherford that in these situations, a good bet is to use something called "the Janeway protocol" before booting a test for beginners (Command Trainer #4). In this much more basic simulation, the ship is slowly headed for a collision with a small asteroid, and the helmsman even helpfully asks "shall we move to avoid?" However, armed with Commander Ransom's tip, Rutherford orders "the Janeway protocol." In the resulting collision, the Cerritos loses "the Kindergarten on Deck 8," followed by the "Pre-K." Looking at a horrifying/hilarious read-out, the Ops officer concludes "all of the ship's children have been ejected into space!"
Rutherford's time in medical breaks down as he lacks the bedside manner needed to keep patients' spirits up. To his surprise, he's much more suited to work in security. In a holodeck combat simulation entitled "Smorgas-Borg," Rutherford is confronted by twelve Borg drones. Although he has no combat experience, he learns that his cybernetic implant includes a combat program. He handily defeats all twelve drones to the amazement of Security Chief Shaxs: "In the names of the prophets! I put people into that simulation so that they can learn how to deal with defeat..."
All in all, there's nothing wrong with "Envoys." We're once again introduced to our four lead ensigns as they appeared in the pilot. The love letter to Star Trek: The Next Generation continues. The show's satire doesn't make fun of Star Trek or imply that the Federation is anything other than a utopia --- it's just having fun within that utopia. My only complaint is that everything was entirely too formulaic and predictable to offer any real surprises: even the reveal at the end that Ensign Mariner is so cool that she set up her own humiliation just to re-build Boimler's confidence felt expected. Nevertheless, the show is just getting started and its initial outings have been very promising.
- Remarkable uniform: To ferry his Klingon dignitary, Boimler dons the sort of dress uniform from the TNG-era that actually looked a bit like a dress.
- Remarkable planet: Tulgana IV is apparently a completely neutral world operating under the "Tulgana Neutrality Pact." The planet includes large colonies of Klingons, Risans, and Andorians (presumably among many others), and we see a large diversity of alien species both known and unknown from within and beyond the Federation.
- Remarkable catch-phrase: In a throw-away line in the teaser, Captain Freeman is working on what cool thing she should say when ordering the ship to warp. Examples include Kirk's "Let's see what she's got!" (ST4:TVH) and Picard's signature, "Engage." Captain Freeman tests out, "It's warp time!" and asks, "what do you think of that?"
- Remarkable alien: In the Andorian district, we are briefly introduced to a Vendorian shapeshifter: a race only previously seen in TAS: "The Survivor." This is one more example that the exclusion of Star Trek: The Animated Series from canon has essentially ended.
Rating: 6 (John Hamer)
Stardate not given: Synopsis in main LOW listing
After a strong introductory episode, Lower Decks settles down to an episode that probably gives more of a flavour of what the series will be like week after week. Things aren't quite as madcap this time round, with a more coherent storyline and more time for the main characters to develop. The episode has a clear "be true to yourself message" that's supported by the two story threads and sundry duplicitous aliens. It's still hugely funny and chock full of Trekkie Easter eggs that are great fun to spot.
The episode starts with a fun mini-story which sees a glowing energy alien menace Mariner and Tendi in a corridor. In a regular episode of Trek this would be the set-up for the entire story, but here the ludicrousness of a glowy ball threatening the ship is played up and Mariner even manages to rugby tackle it and stuff it in a tube, which makes about as much sense as anything to do with these incorporeal entities ever does.
The main part of the episode sees Mariner and Boimler on a mission to the planet Tulgana IV (I initially thought they said Turkana IV which would be much worse) involving escorting a Klingon delegate call K'Orin, who's old time besties with Mariner, to the Federation embassy. The clash of personalities between Boimler and Mariner is in force, with Mariner getting drunk with her Klingon buddy and Boimler putting on his dress uniform for a much more formal meeting. Once on the planet they go through one chaotic situation to the next trying to track down the drunken Klingon after he pinches their shuttlecraft, with Boimler's book smarts clearly not as useful on alien planets as Mariner's wits and experience. It also seems clear that Boimler thinks of Mariner as just as new to Starfleet as him, and doesn't realise how much more experience she's had before getting demoted. This plot goes on to a sweet but obvious resolution, with Mariner setting up an opportunity for Boimler to succeed, even if the more confident Boimler at the end is a bit of a dick.
The other thread sees Tendi and Rutherford make plans that clash with the cyborg's engineering duties, to which he makes the sudden, rather extreme commitment to quit engineering so his shifts change. As well as enjoying time in a Jeffries tube way to much, Rutherford seems extremely black-and-white in his thinking. It leads to a fun series of scenes though, with Rutherford trying on the different uniform colours for turns in command, medical and security. He's hopeless at the first two - his utter fouling of the command simulation is the funniest bit of the episode, particularly how he somehow managed to get a casualty rate of 105% - but he's a whizz in security thanks to his implant having an ass-kicking setting. The Borg battle is very cool, although you've got to wonder why more crewmen don't get an ass-kick protocol implanted.
One thing I really like is that the senior crew we see seem a lot nicer than the rather dickish people we met in the first episode. Ransom and Shaxs are really decent and encouraging to Rutherford when he joins their teams and when he decides they're not for him, and that's a much more Starfleet kind of attitude. It's only Tendi who wants for attention in this episode, but she does get some good moments.
The design of this series is one of its best elements. Not only does it look gorgeous but the animated format allows the artists to chuck in as many cheeky references as they can, and there's plenty in the script to begin with. Tulgana 4's big settlement is split into four zones - Little Qo'noS, the Andorian district, the Risian district and the Federation embassy - with a Farpoint Station styled spire in the middle. As they move throuhg the zones, Mariner and Boimler meet all kinds of aliens, old and new. The bulky, blue Taxor is a nice additon, as is the nightmarish Anabaj, but the most exciting alien was the shapeshifting Vendorian. That's not only one of the best aliens created for the animated Star Trek, it's never been seen since.
A more casual fan or someone new to the series would just see all of these things as cool aliens, and make no distinction between an attack by a brand new creation like the Anabaj and a return appearance by an old enemy like the Vendorian. What we have here is some fun space adventure that takes place in a colourful universe and is downright hilarious.
The best joke was probably the one about Section 31 and the power walk, though.
- Remarkable races: On Tulgana there are brief glimpses of Arcturians from The Motion Picture, Kaelons from TNG: "Half a Life," an Aurelian or Skorr (if there is, indeed, any difference) from TAS, Lurians (Morn's lot from DS9,) an Arkonian from Enterprise, some Evora from Insurrection and some centaur-like Ariolo from the Star Trek IV. On the sip we see a Napean (from TNG: "Eye of the Beholder,") and what might be a Xahean (from Discovery and Picard).
- Remarkable uniforms: The uniforms on the Cerritos have Starfleet deltas on the sole of their boots!
Rating: 7 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57501.4: A new work protocol eliminating "buffer time" has the Cerritos crew running ragged as they try to keep up with their tightened schedules. Ensign Mariner and Commander Ransom's mutual lack of respect comes to a head during an away mission.
This episode is the third episode of LOW, and it is also a good one.
It satirized the truth that we sometimes blindly obey the rules but forget other things around us and sometimes have to ignore the true danger. This episode used two separated but also related stories to show us we should not blindly obey the rules.
The first story happened on Gelrak V. We can see the blindly obeying of rules caused Vendome's mistake of crystals. And after that Ransom tried to obey the rules and held a peace speech, it was useless. In the end, Ransom did not obey the rules and fought with Vindor, then they were all released.
The second story happened on Cerritos. Everybody on board were blindly obeying the rules and busy finishing their tasks and they even forgot and ignored the intruders. In the end, Boimler solved the problem. And Captain Freeman named a rule after him called "Boimler Effect" about not to blindly obey the rules.
This is another good episode of Lower Decks. It has a good story and wonderful continuity, such as the concept of "buffer time", as explained in this episode, is similar to Montgomery Scott's admission that he would often pad his estimates of how much time was needed for repairs "by a factor of four" in order to maintain his reputation as a "miracle worker". If LOW continues the good quality,it will be one great Star Trek series.
So,I'll give this episode a 7.
- Remarkable logs:
- "First officer's log, stardate 57501.4. The Cerritos is en route to Cardassia Prime for the most amazing reason. Captain Freeman is going to be instrumental in brokering peace between the... uh, wait. Just... reading a little message here. Yada yada yada... oh. Oh no. The captain is not going to be happy about this." (Ransom's log)
- "Personal log: I've completed all of today's assignments ahead of schedule, and have requested more. Space: The funniest frontier?"(Boimler's log)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Look at us! Lower decks, breaching protocol together. Friendship!" (Beckett Mariner)
- "Space, the funniest frontier." (Brad Boimler)
- Remarkable dialogue: "This ship is a joke!" - "Well, then we're the funniest joke in all of Starfleet." (Carol Freeman and Jack Ransom)
- Remarkable scene: Chief O'Brien's holographic statue
- Remarkble ship: Gelrakian starships
- Remarkable fact: In the far future, Chief Miles O'Brien is the most important Starfleet officer in the history and Ensign Boimler is the laziest. There is a Borg student.(!)
Rating: 7 (Zhanghaoran Tu)
Stardate not given: When the USS Cerritos' mission to a peace conference on Cardassia Prime is downgraded to a delivery of "diplomatic trinkets" to Galrak V, Captain Freeman believes that the crew need to do something to earn the respect of Starfleet. In an attempt to maximize crew efficiency, she institutes an app-driven scheduling process that times each task. On completion, the app counts down the minutes to completion of the next task without any downtime. Commander Ransom leads the away mission to Galrak V, but accidently insults the Galrakians by delivering the wrong diplomatic trinket. The away team are imprisoned and Ransom must win their freedom in a gladiator-style trial-by-combat. Meanwhile, the Galrakians attack the Cerritos with boarding parties. But the overstressed crew are only able to repel the hapless, primitive boarders when Captain Freeman relents and cancels the scheduling app. As a result of this success, she institutes a new, more flexible policy that allows the crew to disregard rules at their discretion, which she names "The Boimler Effect" in honor of Ensign Boimler.
"Temporal Edict" surveys some of Star Trek's most common clichés and then mines them for humor. The number of times enemies board and temporarily seize control of the ship (cf: TOS: "Space Seed," "Wink of an Eye," "The Way to Eden," TNG: "11001001," "Rascals," VOY: "Basics," "The Killing Game," etc.) is only surpassed by the number of times away teams get captured and imprisoned by a planet's natives (cf: TOS: "The Cage," "Friday's Child," "Bread and Circuses," "A Private Little War," TNG: "Who Watches the Watchers," and many more). Furthermore, on the planet, the theme of aliens conducting trials by combat (cf. "TOS: "Arena," "The Omega Glory," "The Gamesters of Triskelion," "The Savage Curtain," TNG: "Code of Honor," DS9: "By Inferno's Light," VOY: "Tsunkatse," etc.) - including the tendency of Captain Kirk and others to lose their shirts - is hilariously lampooned by Commander Ransom's duel with the Galrakian's giant champion, Vindor.
In addition, "Temporal Edict" positions itself squarely within Star Trek's long tradition of serious social commentary by attacking the worst excesses of labor within the current gig economy. Timed, app-driven scheduling by today's technology giants - most notoriously Amazon's warehouses - leave workers overstressed, overworked, underpaid and contribute to unsafe workplaces as employees are denied downtime and must rush to complete their next task. The immediate and laughable results on the Cerritos highlight actual failings of similar policies today.
The formula for "Lower Decks" continues to be strong. Once again we have a standalone teaser in which Boimler, Mariner, and Tendi are in the ship's bar, performing a concert for their crewmates. This is the meaning of life in the 24th century: "the challenge... is to improve yourself, to enrich yourself" as Captain Picard explained to Ralph Offenhouse, TNG: "The Neutral Zone." We have previously seen crewmembers performing concerts in TNG: "The Ensigns of Command," "Sarek," "Lessons," "Inheritance," among others. Up on the bridge, Captain Freeman is facing off against a Klingon Bird-of-Prey in a classic shot made famous in ST3:TSFS; the Klingons are angered that they are being dishonored by Mariner's "excessive bass."
In the A and B plots, the time spent on the planet is funnier than the time spent on the Cerritos. In both cases, we get more of a sense of the upper decks officers. Commander Jack Ransom is a vainglorious prig, susceptible to flattery, but he proves he's a badass in a fight, which Mariner finds disconcertingly attractive. Moreover, Ransom's certainty that the entire problem can be solved if he delivers a really good speech satirizes a trope at Star Trek's heart. We also get to spend a bit more time on the bridge. While Captain Freeman is steely-hearted and determined, she's ultimately prepared to change course when her policy has been proved a failure. She also indicates that she recognizes and appreciates Ensign Boimler's commitment to obeying her no matter what and is thoughtful enough to reward him by naming her new policy in his honor (even though it indicates that her perception of his actual character is superficial).
The end shot where students of the future are studying Starfleet history is hilarious. It's good to know that Chief O'Brien will finally get the credit he deserves.
- Remarkable quote: Ensign Rutherford: "You never admit the actual amount of time it takes to finish a job. If you did, your days would be packed... It's creative estimating. When you get an assignment, you exaggerate how long its gonna take, then you're a hero when it's done early." This mirrors Mr. Scott's philosophy expressed in ST3:TSFS and TNG: "Relics."
- Remarkable Federation member: Although Commander Ransom indicates concerning the Galrakians, "we just signed them into the Federation," they clearly don't seem ready for membership. There is some precedent for signing up unready members ("Star Trek: Insurrection").
Rating: 7 (John Hamer)
Stardate 57501.4: Synopsis in main LOW listing
"Temporal Edict" was a very good episode of Futurama. Not such a great episode of Star Trek, though. It's very funny, can't fault it there, and I enjoyed it plenty, but it's far more like a parody of Trek than the first two episodes, which worked as Trek episodes in their own right. As funny as it to see a starship go to pot due to her captain working the crew into the dirt, it's hard to believe it's something someone in Starfleet would actually do.
It's good to spend a bit more time with the captain and first officer. The episode focuses heavily on Boimler and Mariner, pairing them up with Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom respectively, while Tendi and Rutherford don't feature much, but there's no way a half-hour episode can give everyone a big slice of the pie, and switching it around like this works well. The episode is split into two storylines, which are designed clearly to show how different Boimler and Mariner are. Mariner introduces the idea of "buffer time," the built-in downtime that Starfleet crewmen factor in to their duty estimates. It's basically the Scotty school of engineering statements: multiply each estimate by four so you look amazing when you do it in quarter-time. When Boimler lets this slip to Freeman, it leads to the uptight captain to create an impossible-to-meet work rota with zero slacking built in.
We follow Boimler through the consequent chaos on the ship, as the crew are driven to exhaustion and mental collapse by their punishing duty regime. Boimler loves it, of course, because he's a workaholic; it even prompts him to say, "Space, the funnest frontier?" in his log (he's presumably the only one ahead of schedule enough to record a log). He intersects with Freeman, who's increasingly desperate attempts to keep the bridge running while the rest of the crew collapses from exhaustion makes for some good comedy moments. Still, it's hard to see how someone with this poor an understanding of human capacity can ever have got command of a starship, even one on an undesirable mission.
Meanwhile, Ransom leads a team including Mariner on a mission to Gelrak Five, home to a race of primitive humanoids who've just been indicted into the Federation. I mean, they can't be that primitive if they let them in, they must have warp drive as a basic qualifier, but they use spears and worship crystals and seem pretty backward. They certainly don't look like prime Federation material, but only five years earlier (in-universe time) on Insurrection we learned the UFP was letting in newly warp-capable civilisations at the drop of a hat just to keep their allies numerous following the Dominion War.
Mariner clearly has the smarts for these missions but she's so disrespectful and aggressive here that it's amazing she was just demoted before. I'm getting the feeling the only reason she's still in Starfleet at all is because her parents are a captain and an admiral. While Boimler's the Starfleet poster boy, Mariner's the fan stand-in, making jibes about the 2260s and squeeing at the old-school Trek stuff on the planet's surface. She and Ransom have an interesting relationship, with a mutual lack of respect moving to grudging respect as a result of this mission, helped out by some serious attraction on both sides.
The trial by combat is, of course, classic Trek material, and it even sounds like the original series during the fight (although Futurama would have used the actual TOS fight music, which was sorely missing here in favour of something with a similar feel). I liked the big, beefy champion actually being the smartest, most sensitive of the Galrakians, and Ransom's prodigious use of Kirk Fu. The "geode of judgment" or whatever it's called, however, is lifted directly from an episode of Futurama (4.6, "Where the Buggalo Roam"). A Futurama feel is fine, but that series should be lifting from Trek, not the other way round.
The plotlines meet when the Galrakians invade the ship and the crew are so exhausted and behind schedule that they can't even fight back, leading to Boimler convincing Freeman that she has to cut the crew some slack. ("The crew are only human... and Vulcan, Orion and Bolian... and there's that Benzite...") The episode has a decent punchline, with the new edict for the crew to slack off and take it easy being named the Boimler Effect, with Boimler unable to comprehend that he has a rule named after him that's about breaking the rules.
It's a pretty good episode, but it hasn't the punch of the first two, and it just feels like a comedy in space with Trek references rather than an actual comedy episode of Trek. Still, it's all worth it for that fantastic coda, where in the far future we see a Federation teacher tell her class about how the Boimler Effect changed Starfleet forever, before revealing the most important figure in Federation history. I won't spoil it here because it prompted the biggest, barking laugh of the series so far, but rest assured he never quadrupled his engineering estimates.
- Remarkable missed opportunity: The Cerritos was supposed to be heading to a conference on Cardassia Prime, but apparently no one wants to go there. Except me. I'm dying to see post-war Cardassia.
- Remarkable races:
- The Galrakians are pale green humanoids with slit-like nostrils instead of noses, worship rock formations and hate the wood-worshipping people of Mavok Prime.
- The Federation classroom in the distant future has students who look human, but also Ferengi, an Andorian and, astonishingly, a Borg.
- Remarkable references: Life forms encountered by Commander Ransom include horned gorillas, sentient tar and "spores that make you hook up with your best friend's sister," so he's either been rifling through the Trek back catalogue or he's actually visited Neural, Vagra II and Omicron Ceti III.
Rating: 6 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57538.9: USS Cerritos and USS Merced were towing an alien generation ship. But a mistake made by Merced heavily damaged USS Merced and USS Cerritos. Cerritos was covered by all sorts of things made by terraforming liquid. In the end, Captain Freeman and Lieutenant Mariner saved the ship and transported all the crews on Merced to the generation ship.
This is the fourth episode of Lower Decks. It was a really exciting and interesting episode. I like this episode.
This episode started with Captain Freeman's log, just like most classic Star Trek episodes. Then with the company of the sound of the Captain's log, we saw the alien generation ship and USS Merced. We can see Captain Durango of Merced was an original Tellarite without DIS and PIC changes! And then came the mission briefing and Mariner kept yawning.
After the opening credits, Captain Freeman came out a "good" idea about how to make Mariner resigned from her ship. She gave Mariner all sorts of bad jobs to do. But Mariner also found a way to enjoy herself. So Captain Freeman promoted her to Lieutenant in order to bored her and we can see the plan perfectly worked.
Then Captain Durango and his Tellarite ambition made a mistake which heavily damaged Cerritos and Merced. But Captain Freeman and Lieutenant Mariner worked together and saved the Cerritos, and then they beamed the crews of Merced into the generation ship.
The B-plot of this episode is a little boring, and in the end the giant koala made me confused.
The structure of this episode is very similar to classic Star Trek episodes. And this episode proved once again that Lower Decks is a good series continued classic Star Trek style.
So,I'll give this episode a 7.
- Continuity: We can see an original Tellarite without DIS and PIC changes.
- Remarkable log: "Stardate 57538.9. The Cerritos is working alongside the USS Merced in the relocation of an ancient generation ship, which due to some unknown calamity never reached its destination. Her crew adrift for centuries, mummified in disabled cryo units. Their most precious cargo, mysterious containers of molecular fluid which generates life from inorganic material. We suspect they planned to use it on a dead planet to create a habitable environment they could call home. The Merced is here to ensure the generation ship is preserved during transportation, and I want everyone to give them full support. Captain Durango and I both served on the Illinois many years ago, and it is a true delight to be able to work with him again." (Captain Freeman's log)
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "If you ever disrespect me like that again, I'll skip the court martial and blow you out the airlock!" - "Cool. Well, live long and prosper." - "Don't you give me that sarcastic Vulcan salute! BECKETT!" (Captain Freeman and Ensign Mariner)
- "Hmmmm..." - "SHE FOLDS! You all fold! Every time, you all fold! You fold!" - "Don't tell me what to do! ... I'm gonna fold." (T'Ana and Mariner)
- "Computer, hit it." - "Hitting it." (Freeman and the computer)
- Remarkable scene: Both Cerritos and Merced being damaged by the terraforming liquid
- Remarkable ships: USS Merced and alien generation ship
- Crewman losses: 1 (O'Connor)
Rating: 7 (Zhanghaoran Tu)
Stardate 57538.9: Synopsis in main LOW listing
This week's installment is a strong Trek adventure with an interesting central sci-fi concept, around which there's some promising character work for some of the regulars. For a change, Ensign Boimler takes something of a back seat for the episode, with Ensigns Mariner and Tendi being the main focus of the story.
For a series apparently about life on the Lower Decks, the low-ranking main characters spend a lot of time on the bridge and in the ready room. Right at the beginning, Mariner is present for Captain Freeman's briefing of the senior staff for this week's mission, interrupting the rather dull discourse with guest Captain Durango with an unstifled yawn. It's played up for laughs but it's a relatable moment; we've all been in a meeting or lecture where we can't help but yawn due to the lack of mental stimulation (in fact, I've gotten to the nodding-off stage in meetings more than once). It sets up the main thread of the episode, with the captain at loggerheads with her daughter for her unprofessionalism and disrespect.
Freeman can't just have Mariner transferred, because that would show her up in front of her ex-husband (the admiral who transferred their daughter there in the first place, naturally). Commander Ransom suggests just victimising her with the worst assignments imaginable until she asks for a transfer herself. Cue a montage of revolting and tedious jobs, including emptying the waste tanks on the holodeck, which are full of stuff so disgusting it has to be bleeped out of the dialogue. Fans have been joking about the obvious use of the holodeck and wondering about the poor sap who has to mop up afterwards, but previous versions of the franchise would barely even hint at it (except maybe some of Quark's dodgier holosuite programs and the Doctor's pon farr treatment). Lower Decks has licence to say the thing we've been thinking all these years, and is all the funnier and more believable for it.
However, Mariner finds ways to make the menial jobs competitive and fun, so Freeman tries a different tactic: promoting her to Lieutenant and making her part of the senior officer team. It's very funny watching Mariner losing her mind due to the boredom of the day-to-day work and play of the command team, in a sequence that poke fun at the endless meetings of The Next Generation and Voyager and particularly the off-hours activities of the TNG crew. They were amazing characters, but the TNG officers often came off as sticks-in-the-mud when it came to leisure time. It seemed like in the 24th century the only music allowed was jazz and opera, and that playing poker was the favourite game in a society apparently without money. The Cerritos officers are the same but worse, with Mariner having less fun playing cards with them than she had scraping carbon deposits off the ship.
Meanwhile, Tendi finds herself drawn to/rivals with Lt O'Connor, who has been preparing himself (allegedly) to ascend to a higher plane of existence. This is the sort of thing only the most remarkable characters ever manage on Trek (although there are plenty of villainous incorporealised beings out there to plague Starfleet as well). Tendi's enthusiastic interruption seemingly screws up the intended metamorphosis, leading to her trying to force O'Connor onto the next plance of existence by using every spiritual technique at once. It's good to see Tendi get some more characterisation, revealing that her main motivation is her need for everyone to like her, and also showing that her intense enthusiasm can be just as damaging as Mariner's disinterest.
The threat of the week comes from an ancient alien generational ship that's loaded up with a valuable substance that can instantly transform environments - a sort of Genesis device in liquid form. Quite why the aliens would need a generational ship if they can terraform planets so quickly and easily is a mystery, and they're all long dead so no one can ask them. When Durango tries to look better than Freeman and gets too close to the ship, the fluid is released, travelling up the tractor beams (hmmm, really?) into both ships. Cue a race against time in which mother and daughter find some common ground working together, and Tendi and O'Connor realise their similarities too.
The resolution of the plot is pretty perfunctory, and very like that of the first episode, but it's not really the point of the story. It's the relationships between the characters that's the focus. As Mariner points out, she clearly gets her immaturity from her mother, who has spent a lot of resources on trying to force her daughter out and even childishly claimed Ransom's idea as her own. It's not long before their understanding crashes down and Mariner expertly gets herself demoted (much to Boimler's relief). Elsewhere on the ship, O'Connor suddenly and unexpectedly achieves enlightenment, ascending after all - a process that turns out to be far more painful than he expected. This is probably the funniest sequence of the episode, drawn out just long enough to make it absolutely ridiculous, and sees the show at its most Rick and Morty-like so far.
"Moist Vessel" is a pretty decent episode that, unlike "Temporal Edict," works as a Star Trek adventure as well as a comedy. The laughs come from the extremes of the situation and more natural character conflict, and from laughing at the foibles of Trek and its tropes rather than simply referencing them constantly. While there are plenty of nods and winks for fans, the episode would work perfectly well without them.
- Remarkable vessel: The generational ship is a gigantic vessel that dwarfs the California-class starships. The crew are dead due to a malfunction in their stasis chamber... although a stasis chamber would suggest it wasn't a generational ship at all.
- Remarkable captain: Captain Durango commands the USS Merced, another California-class ship. He's a Tellarite, and served with Freeman on the Illinois.
- Remarkable revelations: The universe apparently exists on the back of a gigantic koala.
Rating: 6 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57538.9: The USS Cerritos, in conjunction with its sister ship, the USS Merced, is attempting to salvage a giant generation ship built centuries ago by unknown aliens. Although the crew of the generation ship have long since died and become mummified, a vast cargo of mysterious molecular fluid remains intact. The fluid demonstrates the property of generating life from inorganic material, which potentially would have been used in terraforming. As the two starships tow the ancient hulk back Douglas Station, a containment breach releases tons of molecular fluid into the area of the tractor beams. The beams draw the substance to the starships whose inorganic hulls begin to be transformed with life-generating results. Fast action by Captain Freeman and Lt Mariner allowed the process to be reversed on the Cerritos, saving the ship. But the transformation was too far along to salvage the Merced, which has to be evacuated and abandoned.
Following up on three great initial outings, Lower Decks rolls out a perfect episode with "Moist Vessel." I laughed out loud through the entire fast-paced, tight-knit romp.
The A-plot focuses for the first time on the relationship between Ensign Beckett Mariner and her mother, Captain Carol Freeman, previously only teased at the end of the pilot ("Second Contact"). Captain Freeman is obsessed with her self-image, which is completely disproportionate to reality. When the mission is initially going well, she muses aloud: "Starfleet Command ought to just start engraving my name on a plaque right now," despite the fact that she's essentially playing the role of tug-boat captain.
It's no wonder nothing galls her more than her daughter showing disrespect in front of the crew, and worst yet, in front of her frenemy, Captain Durango of the USS Merced. During the teaser, which sets up the A-plot, Freeman gives a captain's log and senior officers' briefing that would have been completely at home in an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." But Mariner continually yawns throughout, complaining: "it is just so much information!" This satirizes the franchise's tendency to include lengthy exposition including "Treknobabble" --- almost (but not quite) to the point of breaking the fourth wall, which has already become the delightful dance of "Lower Decks."
Since Captain Freeman can't transfer her daughter off the ship (as we learned in "Second Contact"), she plots with Commander Ransom to create circumstances that encourage Mariner to be one who requests a transfer. Initially they try to make Mariner's life miserable by giving her all the worst assignments on the ship --- work details that even Ensign Boimler identifies as "Klingon prison stuff." Mariner is undeterred, however, and finds ways to make even the worst jobs fun. (This should come as no shock: we've already been told in two previous episodes how much Mariner loves the brig.)
Captain Freeman's escalation of her plot is much more devious. If Mariner is determined to love serving as an ensign on the ship's lower decks, that's what she'll take away --- by promoting her to become one of the senior officers! Mariner, now a lieutenant, is quickly hollowed out and is nearly defeated as she is made to "suffer" through all of the activities we've previously seen the senior officers share on the USS Enterprise. There's filling out reports ("auditing the audits"), the late-night poker game, listening to stage performances that include the captain skatting vocal jazz, Lt Winger Bingston Jr's one-man show "The United Federation of Characters," and Commander Ransom singing songs while playing acoustic guitar. Perhaps worst of all are the interminable conference room meetings, covering topics that could have been inspired by the Ex-Astris-Scientia website: what kind of new chairs should the Cerritos have in the conference room?
The mother-daughter battle is titanic but remains at a stalemate when the enveloping plot breaks through. Captain Durango shares Freeman's sense of petty rivalry and decides to reposition the USS Merced so as to claim the preeminent role in the salvage-mission. Durango himself had noted in the mission briefing "even the slightest flux in tractor beam stabilization could damage..." the containers storing the molecular terraforming emulsion. (We've also already seen Ensign Rutherford has been enjoying monitoring tractor beam amplitude fluctuations in Engineering.) The predictable result is that the containers explode and the emulsion is drawn to the two starships via their own tractor beams. (The fact that Commander Ransom orders "evasive maneuver alpha" instead of "disengage tractor beam" illustrates why he's serving on a second-tier ship.)
The speed at which the emulsion begins to transform the Cerritos' hull into plants, rocks, crystals, and water brings the crisis to the immediate forefront, causing Freeman and Mariner to shelve their fight and work together to save the ship. Hilariously, even now Mariner can't lay off criticizing what she sees as her mother's BS and Freeman can't help second-guessing her daughter's every move. We're treated to a well-crafted sampling of the domineering mother / rebellious daughter relationship at the heart of these two characters and the show. Having teamed up to save the Cerritos while simultaneously rescuing (and humiliating) the crew of the Merced, Freeman begins to fantasize that they've turned a page: "Maybe you are fit to be one of my senior officers, your chair right next to mine, spending all our time together, an unstoppable mommy-daughter team!" Mariner reacts to this possibility with horror and takes her only path out, foreshadowed in the teaser: disrespecting her mother in front of Admiral Vassery.
The B-plot satirizes one of Star Trek's most repeated and, perhaps, silliest tropes: the "ascension" of material beings into beings composed of pure energy. The most explicit examples are John Doe's ascension to an energy being (TNG: "Transfigurations") and Kes' ascension to a place where the distinction between matter, energy, and thought no longer exist (VOY: "The Gift"). However, it's happened frequently enough that Ensign Rutherford is able to cite the additional examples of Q (TNG: "True Q") and the Traveller (TNG: "Journey's End") only to have Ensign Tendi dismiss the comparison.
Tendi accidentally disrupts Lt O'Connor's pretentious ascension ceremony by destroying a sand mandala he'd been creating for two years. (O'Connor tellingly fails to grasp that the whole reason mandalas are made of sand is to show that nothing is permanent and to accept the fact that they inevitably get destroyed.) Desperate to be liked by everyone, Tendi spends the episode trying to make up for it by exposing O'Connor to a potpourri of spiritual practices from across the galaxy. Releasing a swarm of insects on him, she exclaims: "These florkas are a vital part of the ascension process for the Tamarians!" (a fun reference to the "Children of Tama" from TNG: "Darmok").
It's only when their lives are in danger during the crisis that O'Connor admits he was faking ascending as a way to try to stand out among fellow Starfleet officers. He and Tendi bond through harrowing adventures as the ship's environment is transformed by terraforming emulsion. (The transformation of the ship is reminiscent of what was happening to the Enterprise in TNG: "Masks," but taken to a degree only possible in animation.) In the end, O'Connor sacrifices himself to save Tendi's life. Ironically, this selfless act triggers his actual ascension (a process that is unexpectedly frightening and painful). He briefly appears at the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" and has a vision of a cosmic Koala before becoming pure energy and achieving oneness with the universe. Hilarious!
The show's brief format means that not all of our ensigns can be in the limelight every outing. But Ensign Rutherford shows his ongoing love for everything that happens on a starship and his commitment to being supportive of Tendi, no matter how inscrutable her emotions may be to him. Meanwhile, it's hilarious how Mariner achieving everything Boimler ever dreamed of causes him to crack just as completely as her. His revenge, "accidently" spilling coffee on Commander Ransom happens at the height of the crisis, causing Ransom to scream, "Are you out of your mind?!"
I think this episode was essentially perfect. If just 50% of the thought or talent that went into writing this episode had been expended on Star Trek: Discovery's first season arc, that show would have been amazing. If just the same amount of Star Trek continuity referenced in this episode had been spread out across the entire first season of "Star Trek: Picard," that series would have markedly improved. I'm tempted to give "Moist Vessel" a "10" and the only reason I'm giving it a "9" is that I'm hopeful the show may have even better outings left in store.
- Remarkable officer: Durango is the franchise's first portrayal of a Tellarite serving as a Starfleet captain. He previously served together with Carol Freeman aboard the USS Illinois and the two continue to be rivals.
- Remarkable admission: One of the worst jobs on the ship is "Holodeck Waste Removal." When the captain wants to give Mariner even worse jobs, Commander Ransom insists, "I've got her emptying BLEEP out of the Holodeck's BLEEP-filter!" Captain Freeman asks, "Uck, people really use it for that?" To which Ransom confirms, "Yeah, it's mostly that."
- Remarkable uniform detail: The soles of the uniform boots have Starfleet insignia on them, as we see clearly when Mariner lies down exhausted in her senior officer's quarters. Later, when Lt O'Connor ascends, his boots are all that remain and Tendi saves them as a relic.
- Excruciating self-expression: For Commander Ransom's birthday party (mandatory attendance for senior officers) he plans to sing and play acoustic guitar for hours. As Captain Freeman tells it, "the songs? Well, he wrote them himself! They're all about month he lived in Barcelona!" Pronouncing the "c" in Barcelona pretentiously with a "th" sound which gives us a rich implication of the quality of the songs. Later on the bridge, Ransom is chatting up the tactical officer, and farcically says: "You know there's no peninsula more sensual than the Iberian..."
- Remarkable captain-management: Ransom suggests Captain Freeman could solve her problem by giving Mariner all the worst assignments on the ship: "that way transferring would be her idea, not yours." The captain immediately sits back in her chair and muses, "Hmmm... well, we could reassign to all the nastiest jobs on the ship, that way transferring would be her idea, not mine!" Without skipping a beat, Ransom is happy to let the captain take credit for the idea, "Brilliant plan," he says, "that's why you're the captain." I've had this precise experience in my corporate career and have found it's much easier to let executives take credit for ideas that weren't theirs, so that they will have buy-in to your plan.
- Remarkable argument: Freeman: "You know what, maybe I should just lead..." - Mariner: "Omigod, will you just stop?! I am good at this. Trust me." - Freeman: "I'm just looking out for you." - Mariner: "That's the whole problem, mom, you treat me like a child!" - Freeman: "Well, if you would stop acting like a child and more like a mature crew member, I would treat you accordingly." - Mariner: "Oh, you think I'm immature. You're the one trying to trick me into quitting, how is that mature?" This leaves Captain Freeman speechless, so Mariner concludes, "Yeah, that's what I thought, Carol." - Freeman: "You did not just call me 'Carol'!" - Mariner: "Whatever... Carol!"
Rating: 9 (John Hamer)
Stardate 57601.3: Mariner is suspicious of Boimler's new girlfriend. Tendi and Rutherford grow jealous of a bigger starship's gear.
This is the first episode of this series to not include a teaser before the opening titles. Frankly,I was a little surprised that I didn't see a teaser before the opening credits, but it doesn't matter. This is still a good episode and I enjoyed it. It continued the good series LOW. And it definitely did a good job. Once again, LOW proved that even though it is a little silly for some fans, it is still a remarkable series inherited classic Star Trek style.
At the beginning, we can see USS Cerritos alongside USS Vancouver, and the Vancouver is obviously bigger and more important than the Cerritos. Then it briefly introduced us information about the mission. After that, we can see Ensign Boimler and his girlfriend Lieutenant Barbara Brinson, and Ensign Mariner suspects that Barb is an evil alien.
Then Mariner told Boimler that she had a friend on Quito and she was eaten by an evil alien who pretended to love her. In the flashback, we can see Deep Space 9!!! And USS Quito (Olympic-class!!!).
In the end, we knew that there were indeed parasites, and the parasite indeed made they fall in love.
The B-plot of this episode was also amusing. It showed us that even on important ship like Vancouver, there are still some people think it is too stressful.
So,this was really a good episode and I'm gonna give it a 7.
- Remarkable logs:
- "Ensign Boimler, personal log, stardate 57601.3. The Cerritos is in orbit around Mixtus III to assist in a controlled demolition of an unstable moon. We're providing support to the Vancouver, a Parliament-class ship which focuses on complex large-scale engineering projects." (Boimler's log)
- "... So the moon's decaying orbit could cause catastrophic blah blah blah blah blah- okay, okay, the real news is I get to have lunch with the coolest, smartest officer in Starfleet, Barbara Brinson, who also happens to be muh girlfriend! That's right! We met a month ago, and it's just been magical!" (Boimler's log)
- We can see DS9! This episode mentioned Q, Changeling, Cardassian spy, Suliban, events of TNG: "Descent".
- This is the first episode of the series to depict a Starfleet uniform from a previous live-action series. Specifically, it depicts the uniform style first adopted by Starfleet in the film Star Trek: First Contact, which subsequently appeared elsewhere by mid-DS9 Season 5 and VOY Season 6.
- This is the first episode to feature an Olympic-class starship since "All Good Things...", the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was shown here docked at Deep Space 9. The station itself makes its first appearance on-screen since the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine finale "What You Leave Behind"; and was otherwise last referenced in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Pathfinder".
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "You know, I'm sorry, but I'm starting to think that Barb might not actually exist." - "Oh, she's real. She's as real as a hopped-up Q on Captain Picard Day." (Mariner and Boimler)
- "Brad, when a Starfleet relationship seems too good to be true, then- red alert, man! It probably is." - "You think she's cheating on me?!" - "No! I think she's a secret alien who's gonna eat you, or a Romulan spy, or a salt succubus, or an android, or a changeling, or one of those sexy people in rompers that murders you just for going on the grass!" (Mariner and Boimler)
- Remarkable scene: USS Quito docked on DS9(!)
- Remarkable ships: USS Vancouver and USS Quito
- Remarkable facts: USS Vancouver is a Parliament-class starship and USS Quito is an Olympic-class starship.
Rating: 7 (Zhanghaoran Tu)
Stardate 57601.3: Synopsis in main LOW listing
The fifth episode of the series is, for me, the strongest so far, balancing three distinct story threads during its short runtime and getting away with it. This is a very funny episode, that balances the Trek-references, slapstick, character humour and story drama very well.
Everything revolves around the Cerritos' rendezvous with the USS Vancouver, a clearly more advanced and up-to-date starship. (Mariner can't see the difference, but it looks like the next step up from the Cerritos on the design chain, rather like the Excelsior-class compared to the Constitution.)
The A-plot deals with Boimler's new girlfriend Lt. Barbara Brinson, science officer on the Vancouver. She's fallen inexplicably in love with the young ensign, who will not shut up about her and how they're a thing. Mariner can't accept how Boimler is batting so far out of his league, and comes to the conclusion that Brinson's some nightmarish threat in disguise with horrifying plans for Brad. This is a deeply paranoid side to Mariner we haven't seen before, but it stems from a terrible incident in her past when she was stationed on the USS Quito we get a fun flashback where her friend's boyfriend turns into a shapeshifting monster and eats her, so it's understandable she's got some hang-ups.
For his part, Boimler realises he's punching above his weight, and is sent into jealousy-mode when Brinson is hanging out with Jet, the "second-coolest guy" on the Cerritos, who is, of course, tall, buff and handsome. Boimler tries to impress his coolness on Brinson in increasingly desperate ways, while Mariner tries to gain evidence for whatever kind of monster she is, leading to a series of farcical scenes throughout the episode.
Meanwhile, Tendi and Rutherford are lusting after the superior technology on the Vancouver. There's a fun scene where they geek out over a new kind of tricorder-like instrument, the T-88. They get the opportunity to engage in a little healthy competition to see who will win one of the devices - in reality, by gaining a transfer to the Vancouver. In a nice touch, they draw, earning them both a transfer, but they're not sure they're ready to move away from the Cerritos, especially when it turns out that the transferring officer is desperate to get off the more advanced ship because of the endless high concept missions. It's a fair point; life on a ship like the Enterprise or Vancouver, with its weekly life-threatening scenarios, would be unbearably stressful for most people.
Meanwhile again, Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom must work with the natives of the Mixtus system to try to solve the problem of an errant moon, which is due to collapse and rain down fiery death onto Mixtus Three. The simple solution is to implode the moon, except that the various Mixtan factions all have reasons to stand against this, be they economic, religious, or sheer paranoia (the whole things a hoax to control our minds! Sound familiar?) This requires some serious diplomacy from Freeman, who is well up to the task, but she is then stymied when it turns out that saving Mixtus Three will doom Mixtus Two. It's great to see the captain really showing us what she's capable of, after previous episodes have made her look pretty incompetent. She's great here, never backing down from her impossible problem, and though the final solution is a jokey one, the storyline itself shows us her worth as a commander.
Everything comes to a head as each storyline is resolved at the episode's close. I can't help but feel sorry for Boimler, who loses his girl after all. It'd have been nice for the geeky guy to get the girl for real - after all, there's more than a few of us geeky guys watching. As fun as the main thread is, I wonder if there was a better way to approach it. Brinson turns out to be completely human, but it could have been wonderful if she wasn't, but Brad just didn't care. Mariner could have done her investigating behind her back, and dramatically revealed to him proof that Brinson was a shapeshifting alien, just for Boimler to go, "Yeah, I know. So what?" Still, the storyline shows the deep friendship Mariner has for Boimler, and there's just a chance it'll develop into something more as time goes on.
A very good episode with a great guest spot by Community's Gillian Jacobs as Barb Brinson.
- Remarkable continuity questions: There's a bit of confusion about the Mariner's background as seen in the flashback. She and her shipmates talk about the events of TNG: "Descent" like it was recent, which would place the flashback in 2370. This would mean Mariner has been in Starfleet for at least ten years, which isn't impossible, given her ability to get herself promoted and demoted frequently. However, she and her shipmates are wearing the grey-shouldered uniforms that first appeared in Star Trek: First Contact, meaning the scene can take place no earlier than 2373. On the other hand, Mariner probably isn't the most reliable of narrators when it comes to details.
- Remarkable references:
- Things Mariner accuses Brinson of being: a salt succubus, a Suliban, a rogue hologram, a shapeshifter, a reptoid, a surgically altered Cardassian or Romulan spy, a transporter clone and a parasite.
- As well as the Suliban, Trip Tucker gets a name check. I always like it when Enterprise gets a reference. This is the second post-Enterprise character reference, after Captain Archer was briefly mentioned in Star Trek: Discovery.
- Remarkable quote: "It's so stressful. It's so epic. It's all, 'Tow this space station and calibrate the Dyson sphere. Go back in time and kill the guy that was worse than Hitler!"
- Remarkable starships: The USS Vancouver is a Parliament-class starship. Mariner's old posting, the USS Quito, is an Olympic-class ship, like the USS Pasteur seen in TNG: "All Good Things." We see it docked with Deep Space Nine, the first appearance of the station since DS9: "What You Leave Behind."
- Remarkable aliens: There's a Phylosian (from TAS: "The Infinite Vulcan") serving on the Cerritos.
Rating: 8 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57601.3: The USS Cerritos is called in to assist the USS Vancouver with the controlled demolition of an unstable moon of Mixtus III. Using creative diplomacy, Captain Freeman is able to resolve all of the relevant objections of the natives of the various planets and moons in the Mixtus system, allowing the demolition to go forward successfully.
Holy continuity, Batman! Is it possible that "Lower Decks" can stuff too many references and call-backs from the rest of the Star Trek franchise into a single episode? "Cupid's Errant Arrow" clearly attempts to test (and then break) those limits.
The A-plot revolves around Ensign Mariner's suspicion that Ensign Boimler's new girlfriend is literally too good to be true. Lt Barb Brinson is a senior officer on the USS Vancouver and is clearly way out of his league. As Mariner explains: "Brad, when a Starfleet relationship is too good to be true, then, Red Alert: it probably is! ... she's a secret alien who's going to eat you, or a Romulan spy, or a salt-succubus, or an android, or a changeling, or one of those sexy people in rompers who murders you for going on the grass..." All of these have happened. Soji's boyfriend was a Romulan spy (PIC: "Absolute Candor"), Dr McCoy's old girlfriend was a salt-succubus (TOS: "The Man Trap"), Kirk falls in love with a woman who turns out to be an android (TOS: "Requiem for Methuselah"), one of Wesley's girlfriends was a changeling (TNG: "The Dauphin") and another girl he was hanging out with was an Edo (i.e., "one of those sexy people in rompers," TNG: "Justice").
This is just the beginning of the references. Back in the workshop, Mariner has developed a "string theory" wall that includes pictures of a salt-succubus, a Romulan spy, Wesley's changeling, and Data's android daughter Lal (TNG: "The Offspring"). Also included are pictures of Barb Brinson as a transporter duplicate (TOS: "The Enemy Within," TNG: "Second Chances"), Major Kira surgically altered to appear Cardassian (DS9: "Second Skin"), the Klingon sisters Lursa and B'Etor (TNG: "Redemption"), two Bynars (TNG: "1100101"), a humpback whale ("Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"), and a Suliban (ENT: "Broken Bow"), along with the traditional picture of bigfoot.
We learn the reason Mariner is so confident in an amazing flashback sequence filled with angsty hilarity. Back when Mariner was serving on the USS Quito, her friend Angie is dating a fellow officer who turns out to be a Harvongian shapeshifter. When his secret was discovered, he changed form and ate Angie before being phasered to death. Although this memory fuels her frenzy through most of the episode, Mariner's determination to unmask Barb comes off as increasingly unhinged. This completely changes when she finds potential evidence in the form of a discarded exoskeleton which seems to confirm that Barb has been taken over by a parasite like the ones who took control of Starfleet Command in TNG: "Conspiracy."
When Mariner confronts Barb, we learn that Mariner's own odd behavior has triggered similar suspicions. Barb theorized that Mariner was actually a rogue holodeck character or a Breen infiltrator, before coming to the conclusion that she was infected by a parasite. The episode kept me wondering and interested how this would be resolved. The eventual reveal that is was actually Boimler who was infected by the parasite was unexpected and satisfying.
The B-plot revolving around Tendi and Rutherford competing to win one of the latest-tech diagnostic gizmos (unavailable on lower-tier starships like the Cerritos) was relatively dull. However, the upper decks mission (C-plot?) was hilarious. Although the USS Vancouver is a top-tier Parliament class starship, its expertise focuses on "complex, large-scale engineering projects." The Cerritos is brought in to help out with diplomacy when negotiations with the natives of the Mixtus system go south.
For the first time, Captain Freeman is allowed to shine. One of the moons of Mixtus III is unstable and threatens to collide with the planet, killing everyone. The Vancouver has been assigned to carry out a "controlled demolition" of the moon, but the various natives don't agree: "Of all the moons we pray to, that's one of the most important;" "It controls the tides for our summer crops;" "My family has lived on that moon for generations;" and "Moons can't plummet; that's something the government made up to control us!"
To answer each of these objections, Captain Freeman agrees: "We will relocate three tons of moon dust for people to worship;" "the farmers will have gravity systems installed for the tides;" "and you three, your ancestral homes will be relocated to the 6th moon, which will now technically be the fifth anyway." This works for everyone except the representative of Mixtus II. Although Freeman works heroically to save the concerns of the holdouts as time runs out, she orders the implosion when she realizes that only two people actually live on Mixtus II. The fact that Mixtus II has a population of two highlights a frequent shortcoming in Star Trek. Often problems are presented as a "planetary" emergency (e.g., "Star Trek: Insurrection"). But if all the people on the planet can fit on single starship (or worse a single shuttlecraft), then it's not really a planet-sized problem, in my view.
In the end, this was yet another solid outing for Lower Decks, which is rapidly earning its place as Star Trek's new flagship.
- Remarkable crew diversity: Already boasting the most diverse alien crew in the franchise's history, we learn that the Cerritos has a Phylosian in tactical. As Mariner says, "she seems like a nice plant person." Apparently since the time of TAS: "The Infinite Vulcan" the Phylosians have joined the Federation.
- Remarkable officer: One of the Cerritos' engineers, Lieutenant Jet, an African American, is characterized by Mariner as "like the... second coolest person on the Cerritos." Meanwhile Boimler thinks of Jet as "a Kirk sundae with Trip Tucker sprinkles" and later calls him, a "big hunk hottie."
- Remarkable starships: The USS Vancouver is a Parliament class starship assigned to large-scale engineering projects. The USS Quito is revealed to be an Olympic class starship like the USS Pasteur (TNG: "All Good Things"). It was wonderful to see Deep Space Nine again.
Rating: 7 (John Hamer)
Stardate 57663.9: The lovable but awkward Ensign Fletcher makes work difficult for Mariner and Boimler. Rutherford introduces Tendi to a holodeck training program he created.
Holodeck malfunction!!! Even though I didn't like holodeck-centered episodes, and holodeck malfunction is one of the greatest Star Trek clichés, I still like this episode.
The teaser was interesting, ensigns were imitating warp engine sound of Enterprise-D, Voyager and Cerritos. In fact, they did a pretty good job.
After the opening credits, we heard Shaxs' log, this is the first episode of the series to feature a log entry without any interruptions. Then we saw a lot of junk, including an Antares-class ship registered as NCC-502. It's the first time we see an Antares-class vessel since TAS.
Then we can see Rutherford's holographic training program and Badgey. Badgey is really cute, by the way.
Some fans think that Lower Decks is a stupid show, and some think that LOW shows us some irresponsible, not united, stupid Starfleet officers. But I think it makes Starfleet officers more human, after the Dominion war and Borg attacks, Starfleet officers must feel upset, they can't be so united and selfless, they are just humans (or Vulcans,Bolians,Andorians...), they are not superheroes.
All in all, this is a good episode, and I'll give it a 7.
- Continuity: Although most of the holodeck characters that Ensign Rutherford mentions appeared in previous holodeck stories, he also mentions a couple of characters that were not depicted on the holodeck, such as Cyrano de Bergerac and Robin Hood. These are most likely references to Reginald Barclay performing the role of Cyrano onstage in TNG: "The Nth Degree", and Captain Jean-Luc Picard's transformation into Robin Hood by Q in TNG: "Qpid".
- Remarkable log: "Security log, stardate 57663.9. Our standoff with Drookmani scavengers continues. Their claim of salvage on Starfleet cargo is ludicrous. Thus far, my recommendation of full assault has been ignored in favor of a more... diplomatic approach." (Shaxs' log)
- Remarkable quote: "Hi! Can I teach you a lesson?" (Badgey)
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Listen, I've been working on this new holodeck training program. I think it can help you. You want to try it out?" - "Oh my gosh, yes! Thank you, thank you so much, Rutherford! The holodeck, gah! Why didn't I think of that sooner?" - "Yeah, you know it's not just for hanging with Sherlock Holmes, and Robin Hood, and Sigmund Freud, and Cyrano de Bergerac, and Einstein, and da Vinci, and Stephen Hawking, and Socrates..." (Tendi and Rutherford)
- "Phasers locked onto their warp core, captain. Please, please let me shoot their warp core! I have been very good this month!" - "Evasive pattern Sulu-Alpha." - "OH, COME ON!" (Shaxs and Freeman)
- "Hope you're ready to die! ... Just as soon as I... get up there... gonna kill you!" - "Aw, poor little guy's really having trouble with those stairs. You got this, Badgey! Wait, what am I doing?" (Badgey and Tendi)
- Remarkable ship: Drookmani salvage ship.
Rating: 7 (Zhanghaoran Tu)
Stardate 57663.9: The USS Cerritos asserts ownership of a Starfleet cargo convoy, derelict for over a century and discovered by a Drookmani scavenger ship. When the Drookmani attempt to seize the cargo, Captain Freeman moves to block them without resorting to weapons fire. The Drookmani escalate the crisis by reversing their tractor beams and battering the Cerritos' shields with space junk. At great risk to the ship, Captain Freeman holds out for a diplomatic solution to the last moment. With the Cerritos' shields and weapons offline, Ensign Fletcher improvises a defense by weaponizing an isolinear core, which he uses to successfully neutralize the Drookmani vessel.
What is Starfleet all about? That's the in-universe question to our question outside the fourth wall: What is Star Trek all about? This is a question Star Trek fans have been grappling with since the launch of J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" reboot film series. The dialogue has only intensified with the return of Star Trek to the small screen with Discovery, Picard, and the various, potential new series that have been teased. Although Lower Decks a cartoon and a parody, the show clearly comes to the conversation with its own ideas about Star Trek's role.
As the Drookmani use their tractor beam to hurl debris at the Cerritos, Captain Freeman explains, "They're trying to bait us into a fight. We have to find a way to end this peacefully. We're Starfleet, dammit!" After Ensign Fletcher admits to screwing up, insisting that he at least learned a lesson, Ensign Mariner asserts, "We're Starfleet, and when we make mistakes, we learn" from them. Finally, during a ceremony where Fletcher is promoted as a reward for saving the ship, Commander Ransom states that Starfleet is all about "selfless heroism." In the previous episode, LOW: "Cupid's Errant Arrow," Captain Freeman had said that "solving impossible problems is what Starfleet's all about."
Solving impossible problems, selfless heroism, learning from mistakes, and resolving conflict peacefully: although the show offers a wide variety of answers to the question, these ideas aren't contradictory or mutually exclusive. My personal view is that Star Trek presents an optimistic view of the future where people value diversity and have learned that working, sharing, and learning together for the common good is to everyone's mutual advantage. The franchise offers a setting for thought experiments and commentary about our current society's flaws and different potential future paths. I think "Lower Decks" shares this view of Star Trek's optimism, perhaps more profoundly than other expressions of the franchise post-2009.
"Terminal Provocations" continues the remarkable string of solid episodes in Lower Decks' first season, which is now 6 for 6. The A and B plots again parody two of Star Trek's most egregious clichés: holodeck malfunction and accidentally creating artificial life that is ultimately hostile to humanity. The only piece of Federation technology more deadly than the holodeck is the shuttlecraft. Shuttlecraft have been having accidents since the episode they were introduced (TOS: "The Galileo Seven") and the failure of the holodeck's "safety protocols" dates back to "The Big Goodbye" in the Next Generation's first season.
In the A-plot, Rutherford has created a holodeck tutorial character called "Badgey" --- a perfect satire of Microsoft's "Mr Clippy," which debuted in 1997 and was discontinued after 2007. Like Mr Clippy, Badgey puts an insipid face on dry tutorial topics, is plagued by buffering delays, and is ultimately far less helpful than a searchable FAQ list. Rutherford and Tendi have a number harrowing adventures through the holo environments of deep space, a marketplace on Bajor, and a blizzard. Rutherford's final fight where he survives Badgey's patricidal onslaught and reluctantly has to break his creation's neck hits on all the right notes.
Ensign Fletcher's accidental creation of an artificial lifeform in the B-plot follows a similar, overlapping cliché. Self-aware programs have been created on the holodeck (TNG: "Elementary, Dear Data") and newly self-aware computers have manifested themselves on the holodeck (TNG: "Emergence"). As a result, I initially wondered if Badgey's malfunction and the emerging intelligence created by Fletcher using the isolinear core weren't connected. The fact that the two plots were an unconnected coincidence just furthers the episode's critique of the cliché's ubiquity in Star Trek.
The rivalry between our primary lower decks cast who work on Beta shift and the nocturnal equivalents on Delta shift receives further development and we actually get to meet some of the Delta shifters. "Who's shady as hell and knows this system as well as we do?" Mariner asks. When its revealed that Fletcher is to blame and has been lying to save himself, Mariner charges, "Dude, what you're doing is so not Starfleet." Fletcher counters, "You break rules all the time!" Mariner's weak defense that she only breaks "dumb rules," smartly calls her own philosophy into question. As Boimler concludes, "We've gotta rethink this whole 'Lower Decks stands together' thing."
Finally, the upper decks plot nicely develops the increasing frustration that Security Chief Shaxs has with Captain Freeman's commitment to solve problems diplomatically instead of militarily. As the Drookmani test everyone's limits, the captain yells, "These guys are lucky I'm so ethical and considerate!" When Freeman finally lets Shaxs off the leash, he's once again disappointed, "Nooo! We waited too long, weapons systems are down!" It's no wonder he's so ready to believe Mariner's account and reward Fletcher for (accidentally) taking out the Drookmani. The fact that Fletcher's new assignment aboard Captain Riker's ship, the USS Titan, is described as Boimler's "dream job" and the fact that Fletcher doesn't even last one week on a first-tier starship ties everything up with a bow in the end.
- Remarkable starship: The Starfleet derelicts are Antares type cargo ships, which first appeared in TAS: "More Tribbles, More Troubles," and were later included in TOS-R: "Charlie X," "Court Martial," and "The Ultimate Computer." The derelicts in this episode go unnamed, but at least one has the call sign NCC-502.
- Remarkable setting: On the holodeck, Rutherford and Tendi flee from Badgey through the setting of the "Bajoran marketplace" program. The background faithfully animates two matte paintings of Bajor's surface seen throughout Deep Space Nine.
- Remarkable guest star: J.G. Hertzler is among a handful of actors who has played seven or more characters across the Star Trek franchise. Most famous for his role as Klingon General Martok in Deep Space Nine, he returns as the Drookmani captain who shares a number of characteristics with Martok, including his one-eye and general disposition. Hertzler seems to really enjoy himself in the role.
- Remarkable North American snacks: While Dr T'Ana is enjoying nachos carnitas in the officer's mess, Ensign Rutherford is eating a hamburger, Ensign Tendi has a taco salad, and Lt Jet has a whole tray of poutine.
- Remarkable "slips" of the tongue: Half the characters refer to the "Drookmani" as the "Dravani" --- a subtle critique of how unimportant aliens-of-the-week tend to be, with interchangeable names: Tamarian, Takarian, Tarkanian, Talarian, Tellarite, Tarellian, Terkellian, etc.
Rating: 8 (John Hamer)
Stardate 57663.9: Synopsis in main LOW listing
Some of Lower Decks' best moments are when it pokes fun at Star Trek's cliches, and it really goes for it here. Again we have three story threads, and it's impressive just how busy these short episodes can get. Firstly, Boimler and Mariner find themselves stuck helping Tim Robinson's guest character Fletcher, a passable send-up of the sort of story when a new character turned up for one episode to either cause trouble or be amazing for a week before disappearing. In a second thread, Rutherford and Tendi find themselves in trouble on the holodeck when the safety protocols fail, sending up seemingly dozens of episodes of TNG, DS9 and VOY, to the point where Rutherford gives a rundown of pretty much every holodeck character who's ever caused trouble in the franchise (and then some). Finally, the bridge crew find themselves in a face-off with some aliens over the fate of some Starfleet wreckage, bringing to mind any number of alien-of-the-week antagonists who turned up to cause a little trouble and then vanished off back into the galaxy.
Of the three storylines, which interplay rather nicely, the strongest is the holodeck sequence. It's joyfully silly - and surprisingly violent - revolving around Badgey, a computer icon designed by Rutherford to help with simulations. He's basically Microsoft's Clippy reimagined as a Starfleet Delta. The ease with which Rutherford accidentally creates a sentient programme (or something close), the fact that the safety protocols fail as soon as there's even a slight drop in available power, and the speed at which things turn violent are all ridiculous, but that serves merely to poke fun at how often these things happen on 24th century Trek. Honestly, you can't help but wonder how holodecks are even legal.
In Boim-Boim and Mariner's story, the by-now inseparable pair find themselves having to bail out their fellow Lower Decker when they leave him on shift alone to go to a dance, resulting in utter chaos when he fouls up the computer core. Fletcher is the sort of guy you might enjoy hanging out with for a while but you wouldn't want to work with him. He gets irritating quickly, but that's the idea, and it's clear he's being dishonest when he claims he was attacked and the core sabotaged. The truth - that he tried to tie his own brain into the core - is suitably outlandish. Both these storylines show a very human concern - trying to impress ones workmates and friends - can lead to serious errors in judgment. In turn, in the Trek galaxy, these errors can lead to deadly sci-fi absurdities. Both the violence and the science-gone-wrong nature of Badgey and the Fletcherised computer core bring to mind Rick and Morty, making this episode the most like the series on which the showrunner worked. This episode is more like how I expected the whole series to turn out.
The bridge crew's story is the least interesting, but it holds the episode together. Fletcher's messing with the core causes problems with the shields, suddenly making the rather primitive aliens the Drookmani a threat. In turn, their attack leads to the holodeck going awry. Everything ties up rather nicely at the end, too. The Drookmani are a very standard threat - a bunch of aggressive aliens who want to get their hands on some Starfleet tech - but that's rather the point. This is week-in, week-out Starfleet work. The use of Antares-class ships in the wreckage - first named in TOS, seen in TAS and then later in TOS-Remastered - is a nice touch. I like the idea that Starfleet kicks off about aliens salvaging their tech even when it's a century out-of-date; I can't help but feel the Drookmani have a point.
The episode pushes the relationships of the four central characters forward. They're very much two pairs now. Rutherford and Tendi make a great team, and now Rutherford finally starts to admit his feelings for Tendi, so maybe we'll get some romance in the future. There's hints of that with Mariner and Boimler, but I think they probably work better as best buds. We shall see.
- Remarkable guest role: Yes, that's Martok actor J. G. Hertzler as the Drookmani captain. That makes seven species he's played now, after Vulcan, Klingon, Changeling, Prophet, Hirogen and human (eight if you count holograms).
- Remarkable posting: The starship to which Fletcher is promoted, the USS Titan, is the ship Riker took command of at the end of "Star Trek Nemesis". It's amusing to think of Riker having to deal with that liability of a crewman. Apparently the Titan is Boimler's dream assignment. Are we building up to a cameo by Jonathan Frakes?
- Best line: "Do you know how hard it is to get cheese out of fur in a sonic shower?"
Rating: 7 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57752.6: Captain Freeman, Cmdr Ransom, and Security Chief Shax are sent on a covert mission to help germinate rulot seeds on the Pisepian agricultural colony. Captain Amina Ramsey assumes temporary command of the USS Cerritos, which engages in the repair of a water filtration system on planet Khwopa. When the USS Rubidoux fails to arrive at a prearranged rendezvous, the Cerritos sets out in search of the missing ship. Discovered adrift, an away team from the Cerritos finds the Rubidoux's crew barricaded in the shuttlebay, having shut down main power to arrest the development of a lifeform infesting the ship that feeds on energy. When the Cerritos' away team unwittingly restores power, the lifeform grows to fill the Rubidoux. The away team and the crew of the Rubidoux are transported to safety immediately prior to the ship's destruction.
The two-part episode "Chain of Command" includes some of the most powerful scenes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," as Captain Picard is tortured by Gul Madred in a Cardassian prison. Meanwhile, having replaced Picard as captain of the Enterprise, Edward Jellico gives a rare, detailed portrait of an alternative style of Starfleet captain. However strong the episode ends up being, its premise was ridiculous. Picard, Worf, and Dr Crusher(!) are reassigned as a "Mission Impossible" style espionage/strike force! The idea that the Federation doesn't have any covert-ops specialists but occasionally reassigns starship senior officers when the need crops up is ludicrous. The fact that they were immediately caught and that the entire crisis was just a Cardassian ruse to capture Picard almost rises to self-parody.
"Lower Decks" normally mines broad Star Trek clichés, but the A-plot of "Much Ado About Boimler" is direct parody of "Chain of Command." Just as Picard, Worf, and Crusher were said to be indispensable for the mission because of the supposed familiarity with metagenic weapons, Freeman, Ransom, and Shax are assigned to their covert-ops escapade due to their "expertise in the germination of rulot seeds." The three are shown hiding in a cave wearing black bodystockings identical to those worn by Picard, Crusher, and Worf in their covert-ops mission.
Once again, this silliness sets up the more interesting dynamic of having a substitute captain. The sub, in this case, is Mariner's old Academy friend, Amina Ramsey. Despite the fact that they both engaged in Academy mischief, both were also top cadets with seemingly bright Starfleet careers ahead of them. Having already made captain, Ramsey represents a life path not traveled for Mariner. It seems that Ramsey took the assignment to see if she could help Mariner turn her career back around by offering her a job on Ramsey's own ship. However, anticipating this motive, Mariner consistently presents herself as a screw-up to avoid being offered the job. In the end, when faced with an actual life or death emergency, Mariner drops the façade and lets her competence and leadership skills take over, saving the day.
The B-plot draws upon a much broader array of Star Trek cliché ingredients, combined and baked together with hilarious results. Boimler is put "out of phase" due to Rutherford's transporter experiment. Beginning with Kirk in TOS: "The Tholian Web," this kind of thing has happened rather frequently (e.g., TNG: "The Next Phase," TNG: "Realm of Fear") and it's great that Dr T'Ana treats Boimler's condition as a relatively routine nuisance. In designing a new life-form (named "the dog") from inert carbon by custom coding its DNA sequences, Tendi has introduced a second unsolvable scientific problem.
Together, these are enough to call in Starfleet's "Division 14." Like the Temporal Investigations Division which specializes in time travel paradoxes (DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations") and the off-books "Section 31" (DS9: "Inquisition") whose self-appointed task is to defend the Federation by breaking its principles, Division 14 is introduced here as specializing in "unsolvable space illnesses and science mysteries." Given the number of accidents, illnesses, and mysteries that have been experienced by Starfleet officers throughout the franchise, it only makes sense that there are specialists dedicated to solving problems that apparently cannot simply be fixed by using a person's pattern stored in the transporter's buffer. (Of course, it also makes sense that Starfleet would have a specialized covert-ops division instead of occasionally recruiting amateur strike teams --- which the episode poses here as a subtle, but deliberate irony.)
Like Section 31 which operates its own type of darker starship (DIS: "Saints of Imperfection"), an administrator of Division 14 arrives on the USS Osler (NX-75300) --- a sleek, dark starship that lacks a disk-shaped primary hull common to most Federation starships. Among the in-mates in medical quarantine, Boimler and Tendi meet a woman exposed to delta radiation and left in a travel chair identical to that use by Captain Pike (TOS: "The Menagerie"), a man and a women fused together in a transporter accident (albeit not as completely as Tuvok and Neelix in VOY: "Tuvix"), and Anthony --- a hyper-evolved slug identical to Janeway and Paris in VOY: "Threshold."
The episode continuously plays on the idea that when parents tell their children that the family dog has gone away to live at the farm, this is actually a euphemism for having a veterinarian euthanize the dog. Although the Division 14 transport and its Edosian commander appear sinister throughout the episode, the truth is that "the farm" (as it's colloquially known) to which he's sending Tendi's creation ("the dog"), Boimler, and the other patients actually is a medical spa on the paradise planet of Endocrominas V. When they finally arrive, the spa is so wonderful that Boimler is upset that he's spontaneously been cured and therefore is not allowed to stay. Even the woman in the Captain Pike style travel chair is hilariously united with two additional Delta radiation victims in travel chairs --- all three of whom have tropical cocktails and beachwear.
Once again, the message of Lower Decks is that even if Starfleet occasionally appears dark and sinister, it actually isn't. This is a welcome rejoinder in the post-2009 era of "Star Trek."
- Remarkable starship: The USS Osler is a dark, sleek Federation starship with the callsign NX-75300. It reminded me of the smuggler ship that raided the Qualor II depot in TNG: "Unification I." The ship is presumably named for Sir William Osler, a famous Canadian physician who wrote Principles and Practice of Medicine in 1892. Osler wrote: "To study medicine without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study medicine only from books is not to go to sea at all." This quotation would be fitting for the USS Osler's dedication plaque.
- Remarkable Federation member: The three-armed, three-legged Edosians (also called "Edoans") were introduced in Star Trek: The Animated Series. It was great to see a followup to Lt Arex (TAS: "Beyond the Farthest Star"). Ever since I was a child, I've always wondered if Edosians have trilateral symmetry, why they wouldn't also have three eyes instead of two?
- Remarkable injuries: Captain Pike's travel chair was equal parts horrific and preposterous (TOS: "The Menagerie"). It's hilarious that Starfleet is using the same "therapy" for victims of Delta radiation in the 24th century. Meanwhile, Janeway and Paris' "hyper-evolved" form (VOY: "Threshold") was simply preposterous, making the inclusion of Anthony here a perfect jab.
- Remarkable sister ships: The USS Rubidoux (NCC-12109), like the USS Cerritos (NCC-75567) and the USS Merced (NCC-87075), is a California-class starship. One of the clichés of ST:TOS was that almost every sister ship that the Enterprise encountered ended up getting destroyed (including the Constellation, the Defiant, the Intrepid, and the Excalibur). Having destroyed the Merced and the Rubidoux, "Lower Decks" may be on a similar roll.
- Remarkably diverse crew: Captain Ramsey is reassigned with her own team of senior officers, consisting of a Vulcan, a Trill, and a Rigellian (ENT: "Demons").
- Remarkable space-faring lifeform: The alien entity that emerges from the wreckage of the USS Rubidoux is presumably of the same species as the so-called "space vessel lifeforms" encountered by the Enterprise at Deneb IV (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint").
Rating: 8 (John Hamer)
Stardate 57752.6: Synopsis in main LOW listing
A very strong episode that balances silliness and character work, "Much Ado About Boimler" tells us more about Mariner than the eponymous ensign. We know what makes Boimler tick: he's all ambition and loyalty to Starfleet's rulebook. Mariner's more complicated, and we keep seeing there's a lot more to her than the disruptive rulebreaker she appears to be. When her best friend from the Academy shows up, it throws her into sharp relief and tells us a lot about her character.
Captain Amina Ramsey (a classy performance by Toks Olagundoye) has climbed the ranks and assembled an elite bridge crew, bringing them with her when she takes temporary command of the Cerritos. (Captain Freeman and the regular bridge crew are on a special mission to plant some seeds on a politically sensitive frontier planet.) Ramsey's success shows just how much Mariner's been treading water since she joined Starfleet. Ramsey appoints her first officer for the duration of her time on the Cerritos, but Mariner's behaviour rapidly tries the captain's patience. Although Mariner's a goof, she's generally a competent officer, just one who doesn't always do things the way Starfleet would like. It becomes clear what she's doing quite quickly: she's frightened that her friend is going to promote her out of her comfort zone. A lot of Mariner's questionable behaviour over the series makes sense when you know how hard she's trying to stay at ensign level. Maybe there's some fear of change there, but on the other hand, why shouldn't Mariner carry on being a really great ensign? Not everyone wants to move up the ranks.
Once everyone comes clean, Mariner and Ramsey work brilliantly together, and you can see how they were so alike back in the Academy days. It's good to see the Cerritos back on its primary mission - a follow-up second contact with the boggy planet Khwopa, where they'll help fix their water filtration system. The follow-up mission, to rendezvous with the USS Rubidoux, is where we see Mariner and Ramsey kick ass, as they save the crew (but not the ship) from a maturing spaceborne organism, which looks like it might be the larval stage of the Farpoint alien.
The title thread of the episode is a lot of fun, with Boimler pushed out-of-phase by Rutherford's experimental transporter upgrade. Alongside this, Tendi has genetically engineered a dog - called The Dog - who is clearly genetically unstable and capable of all manner of strange things. The Dog starts off as a clear reference to the classic sci-fi horror The Thing, mutating into terrifying shapes, but also brings to mind the polymorph from Red Dwarf (and maybe the shapeshifting alien from TNG: "Aquiel" was an influence). Tendi and Boimler are picked up Division 14, a branch of Starfleet that deals with unsolvable medical problems. The Division sends its own starship, the Osler, commanded by an Edosian, who's introduced in a very sinister moment and has a very unsettling laugh for any medical practitioner. It's amazing to see an Edosian again, the first (indeed only) we've seen since Arex on TAS. I'm loving these shout-outs to Lower Decks' forebear, but I'd also love to see an Edosian in live action Trek. Voyager pulled off Species 8472 in the nineties, they can definitely whip up an Edosian for Discovery or Picard.
The journey to "the Farm," Starfleet's experimental treatment facility, is harrowing, with the ship full of so-called freaks. It's gruesome but hilarious, leading to a mutiny as the freaks have come to realise that there is no Farm, and they've been abandoned by Starfleet. I'm glad this turned out to be nothing but paranoia, and that Division 14 just send unnecessarily sinister ships and doctors.
While the Boimler-Tendi-Dog storyline is the funniest part of the episode, it's Mariner's story that gives it the heart. A very successful episode.
- Much Ado About In-Jokes: Boimler's beaming accident is similar to the accident that put Geordi and Ro out of phase in TNG: "The Next Phase," although they were left both invisible and intangible. Among the "freaks" on their way to the farm, one is in an all-encompassing wheelchair-life-support-unit like Pike was in TOS: "The Menagerie." Another has turned into a giant newt-like creature, which suggests he's been playing with transwarp, since this is what happened to Paris and Janeway in the classic Voyager episode "Threshold." The ringleader though has a body ageing at different rates, which is what happened to both Chakotay in VOY: "Shattered" and Daniels in ENT: "Storm Front." He also describes himself as "half a rascal," a reference to the TNG episode "Rascals" which saw Picard, Ro, Guinan and Keiko reverted to childhood.
- Much Ado About Aliens: Ramsey's colleague Drew Prachett, in spite of the human name, looks like he's an Enterprise-era Rigellian. He's voiced by veteran voice artist Maurice LaMarche.
- Much Ado About Starships: Division 14 is reminiscent of Section 31, of course, but they turn out to be much nicer. The Osler is a unique starship design, which does look particularly menacing. Its registration is NX-75300, which might indicate that it's experimental. It's presumably named for the legendary Canadian physician, Sir William Osler (1849-1919).
Rating: 8 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57791.1: Synopsis in main LOW listing
This is a series that relies a lot on in-jokes, but for the most part, they've been balanced out by character moments and adventure. The last couple of episodes have been almost too full of plot, and now we have an episode that has multiple embedded plots, and yet still seems like an excuse for packing in as many references to old Trek as possible. The result is certainly pretty funny - I honestly laughed aloud at some of the sillier references - but it's ultimately a bit unsatisfying.
The entire episode is built around a pseudo-Klingon court scene, heavily riffing off Kirk and McCoy's trial in Star Trek VI, but with extra unpleasant punishments in store, mainly involving eels. An alien named Clar (a fine performance by veteran actor Kurtwood Smith) has the Lower Deckers in the dock, demanding they give accounts of a series of seemingly unrelated events, while their superiors are held in stasis.
The result is each of the core characters giving us a brief flashback to a silly mini-adventure. They all revolve around the Romulan Neutral Zone in some fashion, and any one of them could have probably been expanded to a full episode's plot. The best are easily Rutherford and Tendi's stories, which see the two characters each take on a death-defying mission with huge swathes of material missing. In Rutherford's case, this is because he was unwisely ordered to install a software update, causing him to reboot periodically in the midst of the action, each time coming to in a different, ever more outlandish scenario. Tendi is mistaken for "the Cleaner" in a top secret mission with Ransom, but any potential embarrassment is avoided when she gets to seriously kick ass.
Mariner's story isn't as exciting, but they're still pretty diverting and hint at bigger stories to tell. In her telling, Boimler manages to be completely out-of-his-depth in a bridge assignment when the ship faces some alien insectoids, called the Clickets. That said, neither Mariner nor Captain Freeman come out too well in that scenario either. Boimler rounds off the testimonies by pointing out that just because they seem incompetent and have no idea what's going on, that doesn't mean they're not Starfleet material. He then gives a rundown of various times the bridge crew were completely lost, including the much-anticipated appearance of Q on the Cerritos, with John de Lancie himself making a special guest appearance as the superbeing. It's a joy to hear his voice, but it's a cameo with little point. The little asides of Ransom accidentally dating a salt vampire, or Dr. T'ana thinking she's stepped into a parallel universe when she boarded the wrong ship are a lot funnier.
In the end, it turns out it's not a trial after all, and the punchline is... really not very satisfying. Clar's real story ties all the little plots together, but the jokes it's too arbitrary a reveal to work dramatically and too lame a joke to be funny. So the episode boils down to a lot of references and side gags for fans hung on a flimsy story, while the interesting stuff all happened just before they got there.
- Remarkable worlds: The "trial" takes place on K'Tuevon Prime, where the inhabitants refer to themselves as Primes.
- Remarkable classic aliens: Lots of TOS monster fun this week, as we not only see a salt vampire (not extinct, it turns out, whatever "The Man Trap" might have us believe) but a whole wedding party of Gorn.
- Remarkable literary aliens: Possibly a reference, maybe just a coincidence, but the Clickets, huge arthropods who get very angry when people are politely grateful, reminded me a lot of the Pa'uyk, belligerent arachnids from W. R. Thompson's 1996 TNG novel Infiltrator.
- Remarkable guest cast: As well as John de Lancie returning as Q, we have two other Trek alumni returning. Kurtwood Smith previously played Annorax in VOY: "Year of Hell," Thrax in DS9: "Things Past," and the Federation President in Star Trek VI. Kenneth Mitchell plays several roles here, including the Clicket captain, but was previously Kol, Kol-Sha and Tenavik in Star Trek: Discovery.
- Remarkable starships: Rutherford's covert mission includes a huge bunch of classic ships, starting on a Vulcan shuttle, entering a ship museum displaying a Ferengi shuttle, a Jem'Hadar fighter, a Klingon Battlecruiser, the T'Plana-Hath from First Contact and a Tholian webspinner, and the classic 23rd century Romulan Bird-of-Prey that they then steal. There's some very nice footage of Romulan Warbirds to follow, as well.
- Remarkable references: The line about there being nothing to do on Earth "except drink wine and hang out at vintners and soul food restaurants" is a very funny pop at what our favourite bald captains do on their down time. Q seems equally fed up at Picard only wanting to make wine these days... except that this is 2380, so Jean-Luc's still captaining the Enterprise-E. Maybe this version of Q has nipped back in time from the era of Star Trek: Picard?
Rating: 5 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate 57791.1: The crew of the USS Cerritos engage in a covert-ops mission to retrieve K'Teuvon Imperial Magistrate Clar from Romulan custody. Lt Cmdr Billups, Lt Shaxs, and Ensign Rutherford break into a spacecraft museum on Vulcan to hijack a 23rd century Romulan Bird-of-Prey. Using the cloaked Bird-of-Prey and a map of the Romulan Neutral Zone obtained by Captain Freeman from the Clickets, Commander Ransom leads a strike force into Romulan space. Avoiding detection from four Romulan warbirds, they make their way to Romulus where they collect a cryo-chamber containing Clar. Having returned the Imperial Magistrate to K'Tuevon Prime, the crew are honored with a ceremonial reception that includes etching their deeds on a monumental "history stone."
Going all the way back to "Court Martial" in the first season of the original series, courtroom trials are an extremely common formula in Star Trek. Unlike actual trials which take place after the conclusion of thorough investigations by law enforcement, most Star Trek trials are hastily convened and investigations occur simultaneously to courtroom proceedings. As a result, in the show's standard formula, the true criminal is ultimately exposed to the audience, prosecutors, and defenders simultaneously, generally resulting in the acquittal of whomever was wrongly accused. This is true for Kirk (TOS: "Court Martial"), Scotty (TOS: "Wolf in the Fold"), and Riker (TNG: "A Matter of Perspective"), among others.
Turning expectations on their heads has become the standard trope of "Star Trek: Lower Decks," and "Veritas" is no exception. The foreshadowing of the twist was fairly heavy handed in the teaser. Mariner: "Calm down, we don't know what this is..." Boimler, "Are you kidding me? Creepy stone walls, jagged metal bars, this has alien prison written all over it!" Rutherford: "A prison? No way, man, this is a dungeon." Boimler: "That's even worse! Hello, can some one give us some context in here please?"
Ultimately, the idea is that the lower decks crew aren't sufficiently briefed about the "context" of their missions to make informed choices. Thus the "trial," although precisely mimicking the visuals of Kirk and McCoy's trial in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," is predictably not what it seems. When Clar explains that seeming trial is, in fact, a party, that "reveal" doesn't satisfy the expectations that the episode has built up. The writers even anticipate that the audience will feel cheated and put objections into our lower decks ensigns' mouths. Mariner: "No, this is a trial, you said we were witnesses and that we had to testify... You had our bosses suspended in a scary-ass beam..." Rutherford: "All of that chanting, the metal gavel, this is like alien trial 101... You raised us up onto a platform into a creepy courtroom..." Mariner: "Who's this judge?... What about the eels? You held us in contempt of eels!" A meta-critique of the fact that the episode's own reveal was lame is too clever by half, leaving the framing story of "Veritas" a rare dud among Lower Deck's otherwise strong first season.
The bulk of the episode consists of flashbacks narrated by the testimony of each of our four lead ensigns. Mariner's recollection is of herself and Boimler at the ops and helm stations of the bridge as the Cerritos squares off against a much larger Clicket vessel. Arriving late, they have no idea what's going on and are at a loss when Captain Freeman asks them to present options. Tendi's testimony is about accidentally making her way onto a black ops team led by Commander Ransom that includes three other members (including a buff Andorian) all of whose names are redacted. As they sneak across the Neutral Zone in a cloaked Bird-of-Prey, they are nearly spotted by Warbirds that humorously show up in successive numbers.
Ensign Rutherford's testimony is, by far, the funniest part of the episode. He only remembers a fraction of what happened as his cybernetic implant took over for most of the action, allowing us to cut from one hilarious scene to the next. Rutherford first wakes up inside a Vulcan shuttle (previously seen in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture") prior to doing a halo drop to a starship museum on Vulcan. He next wakes up inside the museum, whose holdings include the T'Plana-Hath (the historic Vulcan ship from "Star Trek: First Contact"), a Klingon K't'inga-class battle cruiser, a Jem'Hadar fighter, a Tholian web-tender, a Ferengi shuttle, a Federation work-bee, various Federation shuttles, and a 23rd century Romulan Bird-of-Prey (TOS: "The Balance of Terror").
As Shaxs steals the Bird-of-Prey, the plan is for Rutherford to distract the guards with a fan-dance (a hilarious take-down of fan-dance from "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier"). When he next wakes, Rutherford is in a spacesuit apparently alone in space... except he's clearly standing on something, which turns out to be the cloaked Bird-of-Prey. The next two times he wakes up, Rutherford is literally crashing a Gorn wedding --- his Vulcan shuttle having crashlanded on a Gorn world. It's a preposterous setting and ties Rutherford's testimony up with a delightful bow.
By the time the Imperial Magistrate gets to Boimler, Clar has given up trying to get testimony about what happened. Boimler therefore uses his time to assert that Starfleet officers often do not understand the context of the situation they're in. He gives three examples. In the first, Q shows up and transports Captain Freeman, Commander Ranson, Dr. T'Ana, and Lt Shaxs to a life-size chessboard with American football goals. The are set against animated playing cards in a game that involves a soccer ball with arms and legs (a nod to Q's second appearance in the terrible TNG episode: "Hide and Q"). In the second, Commander Ransom is accidentally hitting on a salt vampire, which he assumed were extinct (per statements in TOS: "The Man Trap"). In the final example, Dr T'Ana believes everyone on the Cerritos is being replaced (similar to Dr Crusher's experience of everyone on the Enterprise disappearing in TNG: "Remember Me") only to realize that she's on the wrong California-class starship, the USS Alhambra.
The episode is at its best when it's making visual in-universe references like these. However, the name checks that continually occur in the dialogue become gratuitous. In his final speech, Boimler asks: "Did Picard know about the Borg? (TNG: "Q Who?") "Did Kirk know about that giant Spock on Phylos?" (TAS: "The Infinite Vulcan") "Did Dr. Crusher know about that ghost in the lamp thing from the Scottish planet that she hooked up with that one time? That whole thing?" (TNG: "Sub Rosa") ...?" For an episode that began with Mariner and Boimler having an argument "who's the all-time biggest badass" in Star Trek: Roga Danar (TNG: "The Hunted") or Khan (TOS: "Space Seed"), I felt like the in-dialogue referencing crossed way past the neutral zone of the 4th wall into fully gratuitous space.
- Reprised secret plot: The episode's central plotline of smuggling Imperial Magistrate Clar across the neutral zone in a cryo-box is a reprise of the way Romulan Vice-Proconsul M'ret was smuggled to Federation space in TNG: "Face of the Enemy."
- Remarkable guest return: John de Lancie returns as Q for two throw-away scenes. While I understand that the joke is that he's here for throw-away scenes (and the Cerritos crew can't be bothered to play his Q games), it seems a shame to essentially throw away the potential of having John de Lancie on the show.
- Nitpicking: This is the second classic Bird-of-Prey we've scene this year in the 24th century, following up on Kar Kantar's ship in PIC: "Absolute Candor." While I love seeing these, it's absurd to think the cloak would be effective. As predicted in TOS: "The Enterprise Incident" and confirmed in VOY: "Prophecy," detection technology and cloaking technology are continually improving. Warbirds with 24th century scanners would have no trouble detecting a Bird-of-Prey with a 23rd century cloaking device. Also, why did they choose to include TNG-era Romulan interiors instead of the original bridge set from TOS: "The Balance of Terror"?
- Remarkable non-continuity: For a show that prides itself on making call-backs and references, why introduce the "Clickets"? They could have just as easily been the Jarada (TNG: "The Big Goodbye") without changing either their on-screen appearance or ship design (neither of which have been previously established). Like the Clickets, the Jarada are insectoids known for being quick to take offense at minor breeches of protocol. In the same way, it would have been just as easy to have Clar be a Talarian (TNG: "Suddenly Human"), a Nausicaan (TNG: "Tapestry") or even an Acamarian (TNG: "The Vengeance Factor"), rather than creating yet another Klingon-like species. Speaking of Roga Danar (TNG: "The Hunted"), Clar and his people could have been the "Tarsians" --- the unseen species that Roga and his fellow soldiers had been developed by the Angosians to fight. That would have been a clever Easter egg justifying Boimler and Mariner's gratuitous argument over who is the franchise's most badass antagonist.
- Hilarious dialogue: "You know who I hate? Remans." - "Oh, they're the worst!" -two Romulan guards engaging in what has to be the most stereotypical Romulan conversation ever.
- Remarkable historic counterargument: Although this episode argues that Starfleet officers make important decisions all the time without sufficient context, this very question was thoroughly explored in excellent TNG episode "Conundrum." Ultimately, Picard refused to follow through with his apparent orders because he lacked the context to make the decision ethically.
Rating: 5 (John Hamer)
Stardate not given: Synopsis in main LOW listing
"Screw the Prime Directive!" I've waited a long time to hear a Trek character say those words. The penultimate episode of Lower Decks' debut season hits the ground running, with Mariner busted by Captain Freeman for overthrowing a twisted society where a race of rat people rules over and eats a race of lizard people. Freeman's angry at her daughter for violating the Prime Directive, while Mariner isn't going to let something like that stop her from saving people from being eaten. It's a pretty vicious swipe at Discovery's Kaminar storyline, where Starfleet was reluctant to get involved in the Ba'ul eating the Kelpiens for generations.
Naturally, this leads to a fight between the mother-daughter team, so Freeman books Mariner in for therapy. "It's the eighties, dude, we don't have psychological problems!" It looks like this episode is going to town on TNG. It weirdly hadn't occurred to me that setting this series in the 2380s might be a nod to TNG's beginnings. The 1980s were the only decade when a series would put a therapist on the bridge of a starship. It's particularly odd considering Roddenberry's view that humans in the 24th century would be paragons of self-awareness and would have no interpersonal conflicts. Frankly, the Great Bird would be horrified by this episode and that's no bad thing. Even a comedy series gets that interpersonal conflict is essential to drama.
But that's just the opening teaser. The main episode is a scathing but ultimately affectionate parody of the Trek movies. Boimler, you see, has developed a holodeck simulation of the ship and its crew (the ethics of this, particularly his breaking into private logs, is briefly touched upon), in order to prepare for a job interview with the captain. Mariner commandeers it and creates her own Lower Decks movie. Right from the get-go, it's an affectionate pastiche of the Trek movies from The Motion Picture to Beyond, pushing at the fourth wall the whole time. Boimler wants to get on with his interview prep, but Mariner, Tendi and Rutherford all have roles as badass space pirates who attack the Cerritos.
It's an episode that anyone who's enjoyed a Trek film can get something from, but if you're a dyed-in-the-wool fan it really sings. The music that opens the film is an appropriately cinematic upgrade to the usual theme, leading into a long bit of starship porn that references Kirk and Scott's even longer Enterprise flyby from TMP. From there it's all out, poking fun at the lensflare obsession on the Abrams movies to the tendency of the Enterprise to crash land or be otherwise gutted in the films. It even ends with a very silly use of the characters' signatures that homages the cast's autographs at the end of Star Trek VI. But the line that really got me was Mariner calling Boimler "kind of a Xon," which is a deep cut reference if ever there was one. I roared with laughter, but no one else got it.
Mariner gets violent with the crew very quickly, and my, she's got issues, but it's not until she faces down her own holographic alter ego that she gets to work some of these issues out. I really think this is a great therapy idea - I feel that a good punch-up with myself would let me work out all sorts of stuff. Mariner actually ends the episode a more in control, better developed person than she started. I really enjoyed both Rutherford and Tendi's stories too. Rutherford, an altogether more positive character than Mariner, uses the simulation to figure out his issues too - but his big deal is his burning admiration for Lt. Cmdr Billups. It's a beautiful bromance - can't Sam just switch to "emotional honesty" mode and be truthful to his boss?
I loved Tendi's turn as an Orion pirate (and there'll be a fair bit of fan art about that outfit before long, I'd wager), but I really love that she also found it really problematic. We've had Orion characters in Starfleet in the Abrams movies, but Lower Decks is the first prime timeline production to do that. Other than Tendi, the only positive Orion character on TV must be Devna from TAS. The dialogue makes light of it, but it's a genuine problem for Tendi that everyone thinks of Orions as pirates and slavers. We might actually see the Orions get some of the rehabilitation the Ferengi received on DS9 should this series continue down this route.
The episode ends with Boimler finding out the big secret about Freeman and Mariner from the holographic captain, leading in to the series finale. It's quite right that this smaller scale series focuses on a personal crisis rather than a galactic one as its endgame. A cracking episode that's hopefully leading to a successful finale.
- Remarkable lines:
- "It's a movie! You can do all sorts of beaming stuff in a movie!"
- "When you get to Hell, tell the Pah-wraiths that Shaxs sent ya - special delivery straight from Bajor."
- "This isn't my first overpowered space lord, and it won't be my last."
- Remarkable title: Mariner's holomovie is called "Crisis Point: The Rise of Vindicta"
- Remarkable aliens: The Cerritos counsellor is a green chicken-like being named Dr. Migleemo, who is obsessed with food metaphors.
- Remarkable holograms: The Lower Deckers enjoy downtime with Leonardo da Vinci (sadly not voiced by John Rhys Davies).
Rating: 9 (Daniel Tessier)
Stardate not given: The USS Cerritos is surveying a planet that is home to a pre-warp civilization with two sentient species, one rodentoid (the "rat people"), the other reptiloid (the "lizard people"). Ensign Mariner attempts to violate the Prime Directive by fomenting a rebellion among the lizard people, who have been enslaved and are routinely eaten as food by the rat people. Captain Freeman squelches the intervention and orders Mariner to report for therapy with Counselor Migleemo. Frustrated by the counselor's idiosyncrasies, Mariner decides to engage in her own brand of unorthodox therapy with her friends on the holodeck.
Despite decades of trying, Paramount has never been able to figure out how to distill a formula for making worthwhile Star Trek feature films. Lacking that vision, the studio's most common strategy is to zero-in on the franchise's most beloved film (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) to mine and re-hash it by continually setting up show-downs for the captain's next arch-nemesis. The deplorable "Star Trek Nemesis" where Picard squares off against his clone, and the excruciating "Star Trek Into Darkness", a sad re-make of the Kirk/Khan match-up itself, are only the worst two examples. Given their relatively dismal record, Star Trek feature films are a target ripe for parody, and "Lower Decks" does not disappoint.
The holodeck is a frequent setting for plays within the play in Star Trek, whether the play is actually Shakespeare (TNG: "The Defector"), a detective novel (TNG: "The Big Goodbye," "Elementary Dear Data"), an old sci-fi serial picture (VOY: "Bride of Chaotica!"), or a James Bond-style feature film (DS9: "Our Man Bashir"). In this case, Ensign Boimler's simulation of the Cerritos and its crew provides Mariner with the opportunity to set the ship in its own Star Trek movie. Mariner hastily hacks out the script in seconds (if the writers of "Star Trek Into Darkness" spent any more time than this writing out their screenplay, it didn't show). From the instant the movie credits begin to appear (complete with warp effects), the episode successfully establishes the feeling that we're now going to be in a Star Trek movie --- the screen resolution even switches to "letter box" format. The movie, which Mariner has named "Crisis Point: The Rise of Vindicta," proceeds to mercilessly lampoon the Star Trek movie tropes.
The setting begins with Captain Freeman celebrating her birthday with the ship's senior officers on hydroscooters (similar to the crew's shore leave at Yosemite at the beginning of "Star Trek V" or hanging around on the holodeck at the beginning of "Star Trek: Generations"). Just as in the movies, an emergency call comes in from Starfleet and Admiral Vassery assigns the Cerritos to investigate. Boimler points out "if this was actually happening, they'd send the Enterprise, but, you know, artistic license..." The senior staff approach the Cerritos in shuttlecraft, parodying the six minute scene when the refit Enterprise is revealed in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." As the shuttle flies around the Cerritos, J.J. Abrams-style lens flares are everywhere and Lt Cmdr Billups can't help but tear up. On board, Captain Freeman takes the ship to warp with a pithy, movie-style one-liner: "Time to take this puppy off its leash! Warp me!"
True to the central trope of a standard Star Trek movie, Mariner sets herself up to play Captain Freeman's nemesis "Vindicta," who aptly describes herself as "vengeance personified." Mariner also creates roles for our other lead ensigns as her henchmen. While Rutherford quickly gets into his role as a cyborg marauder named "Bionic 5," Tendi is clearly uncomfortable with the fact that Mariner has cast her to play a "savage warrior queen... from a long-line of thieving Orion pirates." Boimler was supposed to play the role of the hapless crony "Shempo," but instead plays himself on the Cerritos. Vindicta quickly vaporizes the holographic Shempo to the horror of the holographic Cerritos crew, "that poor Shempo!" cries Captain Freeman, "you didn't have to do that, are you out of your mind?!"
In further tropes, Vindicta's monologuing includes quoting Shakespeare's "The Tempest," ripping on Klingon General Chang's unending, gratuitous quotation of the poet in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country." The plot is all-action as Vindicta and her minions board the Cerritos and begin killing the crew indiscriminately. Lt Shaxs fights back with a ridiculously oversized gun (reminiscent of Picard in "Star Trek: First Contact") and gets off a one-liner "When you get to hell, tell the pah-wraiths that Shaxs sent you, special delivery straight from Bajor!" before getting himself exploded into bloody bits.
Throughout the "movie," our four ensigns continually break the internal fourth wall of the story within the story. When Rutherford realizes he can say anything he wants to his boss, Lt Cmdr Billups, he races to engineering and tells him that he thinks that Billups is the best engineer in Starfleet. Tendi, meanwhile, is upset at the stereotyping of her people as slavers and pirates, "for your information," she corrects Mariner, "many Orions haven't been pirates for over five years!" Boimler spends the entire simulation following his own agenda of trying to get information to better brown-nose the real captain during an upcoming interview. Even Mariner can't stop giving into her own personal frustrations with the holodeck simulation of her mother, leading the holodeck Captain Freeman to complain, "This Vindicta is all over the place!" (A similar complaint could be made of Shinzon, Picard's nemesis in "Nemesis," whose motives and plots were likewise all over the place.)
Mariner, as Vindicta, imagines that her climactic show-down with be with her mother, Captain Freeman, but in a twist that illustrates why "Lower Decks" is superior to the many bad movies it lampoons, she discovers that her actual nemesis is the holographic version of herself. In the end, holo-Mariner sacrifices herself to destroy Vindicta. In the process, real Mariner learns some real lessons about herself and comes to the realization: "therapy works!" Returning to the holo-program to prepare for his interview with the real captain, Ensign Boimler witnesses holographic Freeman giving a touching eulogy for holographic Mariner --- thereby accidentally learning the secret that Mariner is Freeman's daughter, which nicely sets up tension for the upcoming finale episode of the show's first season.
Once again, Lower Decks delivers an amazing outing with just the right mix of broad satire and insider referencing, set inside a perfectly paced, cleverly plotted, all-around well written, hilarious episode.
- Remarkable starship destruction scene: Like the Enterprise-D in "Star Trek: Generations" the primary hull of the Cerritos crash-lands on a planet and rolls along the ground in an equally impressive destruction scene. The ship later self-destructs like the original Enterprise in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock." Meanwhile all of the crew have been simultaneously beamed to safety by Rutherford who notes, "it's a movie, you can do whatever you... you can do all sorts of beaming stuff in a movie."
- Remarkable music: The holodeck movie's theme is a take-off on fantastic score by the late James Horner, used in Star Trek II and III. The shuttlecraft approach to the Cerritos is a take-off of the music Horner wrote for the approach to the Enterprise in "Star Trek II," whose exterior visuals were a re-use of footage from the original scene in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."
- Remarkable ship: Vindicta's cloaked vessel is new kind of TNG-era Klingon attack cruiser. Given the limited time Mariner put into her program, this is presumably a current Klingon design pulled from the holodeck's database.
- Ongoing crew diversity: Migleemo, who serves as ship's counselor on the Cerritos, is from an unnamed avian species.
- Remarkable cameo: Holographic Leonardo da Vinci (VOY: "Concerning Flight") returns for two cameos (albeit not voiced by John Rhys-Davies). Initially, he's anachronistically skeet shooting with Tendi and Rutherford. Finally, at the end of the holomovie, he's on the surface of the planet where Vindicta's escape pod has soft-landed (per Spock's torpedo in "Star Trek III"). He uses his skeet shotgun to finish off Vindicta with a pithy action-movie one-liner: "Notta today, not on da Vinci's watch!"
Rating: 9 (John Hamer)
Stardate not given: During a second contact mission on planet Beta III, Captain Freeman learns that the inhabitants have reverted to worshipping their world-dominating computer, Landru. The USS Cerritos next responds to a distress call from her newly commissioned sister-ship, the USS Solvang, but arrives in the Kalla system too late. The Solvang has been destroyed with all hands lost by a giant Pakled scavenger/warship, which immediately attacks and cripples the Cerritos. Lt Shaxs sacrifices himself to deploy a computer virus designed by Ensign Rutherford, which successfully destroys the Pakled ship. Although three additional Pakled vessels arrive to finish the job, they are successfully fought off by the USS Titan, which warps into the system in time to save the Cerritos.
"Star Trek: Lower Decks" caps off a nearly perfect inaugural season with a finale that is similarly perfect. In my review of "Envoys," I complained that Lower Decks had developed a solid formula so rapidly that the second episode already felt too formulaic. And in my review of "Veritas," I observed that the show's penchant for upending audience expectations had almost become a schtick. Now in "No Small Parts," Lower Decks thoroughly upends audience expectations by blowing up its own solid formula.
The first part of the formula to explode (literally) is Captain Freeman's friend Captain Dayton, the crew of the former USS Rubidoux, and their brand-new ship, the USS Solvang. After the destruction of the Merced (LOW: "Moist Vessel") and the Rubidoux (LOW: "Much Ado About Boimler") it's already expected that California-class vessels encountered by the Cerritos will be lost, but in each previous case their crews have been saved. This is even true with the simulated destruction of the Cerritos (LOW: "Crisis Point") on the holodeck: the entire holographic crew was beamed to safety. Not so the Solvang, which is destroyed with all hands lost in a pulse-quickening sequence that was visually reminiscent of the destruction of the USS Kelvin by the massive Narada in "Star Trek" (2009). Because we've already come to know Captain Dayton and her crew, the stakes are thus set very high at the episode's outset.
In the course of the episode, the rest of Lower Deck's formula is similarly upended. One of the senior officers is killed. Rutherford's cybernetic implant (the source of much of his character's humor all-season) is ripped from his skull along with the memory of his continually budding relationship with Tendi. Mariner decides to stop being "criminally insubordinate" (Boimler's words) and Captain Freeman terminates the feud with her daughter, proposing an alliance instead. And finally, Boimler is actually transferred off the ship, accepting promotion as a Lieutenant (junior grade) on the USS Titan. The biggest upending of all: in "No Small Parts," Lower Decks ceases to be a simple parody and is transformed into full-fledged dramatic series in its own right. As Captain Freeman observes concerning the Pakleds "looks like they're not a joke anymore." They're certainly not. In fact, the episode is a tour-de-force, and it's made all the more remarkable because it was so unexpected, even with the audience on guard to expect the unexpected from this series.
The teaser sets up the episode's central complaint. In focusing on long-range exploration and first contact missions, Starfleet is failing to follow-up on previous discoveries. This is a valid complaint for anyone who has watched the franchise closely. Sigma Iotia II was first contacted by the USS Horizon in the 22nd century, but it took a full century for the Federation to follow up with a second contact mission and to fully realize the extent of the cultural contamination (TOS: "A Piece of the Action"). Captain Kirk and the Enterprise settled Khan Singh and his people on Ceti Alpha V in 2267 (TOS: "Space Seed"). But as Khan correctly complained some eighteen years later, Starfleet "never bothered to check on their progress" (ST2:TWOK). Although the Enterprise-D learned that the Crystalline Entity was responsible for the destruction of the colony on Omicron Theta (TNG: "Datalore"), no serious attempt was made to pursue the creature until years later when it had destroyed several more Federation colonies (TNG: "Silicon Avatar"). The list could go on and on.
While this failing of Starfleet is harmless enough in regards to the inhabitants of Beta III and their worship of Landru (which are both beautifully recreated from the TOS originals), the lackadaisical decision to let the Pakleds go on their merry way fifteen years ago (TNG: "Samaritan Snare") is now being paid for in starships and lives. The inclusion of the Pakleds as the antagonists here is brilliant. Even the detail that the attacks take place in the Kalla System, known from a throw-away line in TNG: "Firstborn" to be in Pakled space, is genius. Their composite warship is based on an original Mondor-type Pakled ship with parts added from thirty different species, including the Romulans, Klingons, Ferengi, Bajorans, and Arkonians (ENT: "Dawn"). The fact that despite their newfound firepower, the Pakleds are just as stupid as when we last saw them is priceless.
The one part of Lower Decks' formula that remains fully intact is the new Exocomp ensign who has named herself "Peanut Hamper." A hilarious followup to Starfleet's determination that the Exocomps are sentient (TNG: "The Quality of Life") everything seems to be moving into place that the coincidence of having an Exocomp on board provides the solution to destroying the Pakleds. This being "Lower Decks," the expected fails to happen as Peanut Hamper proves herself to be a self-interested coward and opts to save herself instead of volunteering for a suicide mission (as the Exocomps did in the original episode). This allows the honor to pass to Rutherford, who is assisted and nearly killed by his patricidal holodeck creation Badgey (making a timely return from LOW: "Terminal Provocations"). In the end, Badgey self-immolates, Rutherford is saved by Shaxs' self-sacrifice, and Peanut Hamper reaps the reward she sewed.
In my review of the Lower Decks pilot, I observed that the USS Cerritos is the type of ship that routinely has to be rescued by ships like the USS Enterprise. However, it's only in the finale that this actually happens for the first time, with the amazing reveal of the USS Titan. Captain Riker, Commander Troi, and their crew warp in at the last minute to save the day, with Jerry Goldsmith's theme for Star Trek blaring. For die-hard fans, this has got to rank as one of the most awesome moments in the franchise's history. The space battles throughout this episode are amazing, and the conclusion here is spectacular and moving.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, during the first run of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," I have to admit that William Riker and Deanna Troi were among my least favorite characters. I rooted for Riker to accept promotion already and get off the ship (TNG: "The Icarus Factor," "Best of Both Worlds,") and I sided with Captain Jellico who relieved Riker and installed Data as first officer of the Enterprise (TNG: "Chain of Command"). Likewise Troi's constant refrain of "what do you think?" during therapy sessions seemed to make her the least useful member of the crew. I actually came to appreciate Troi more with her three appearances alongside Reginald Barclay in "Star Trek: Voyager," and I believe the character make her strongest appearance ever in PIC: "Nepenthe." I've also become endeared to Riker, primarily because it's impossible not to love the good-natured, unassuming Jonathan Frakes, and his total commitment to the franchise.
Having Riker and Troi and the USS Titan appear here with the crew of the Cerritos, chumming around with "Carol" Freeman and Mariner, giving Ransom sassy take-downs... it's like a delightful family reunion. It certainly makes me much more eager for Lower Deck's second season next year than I am for Star Trek: Discovery's third season next week. The resurgence of the Star Trek franchise post-2009 has been a bit of a rough ride. But Lower Decks should give every true-blue fan real hope for the future.
- Remarkable crewman: In a hilarious, deep gag, we can now surmise that the ensign who looks like Mariner is named "Jenn." At the beginning of the episode, this ensign is seen on the bridge while Mariner and Boimler are on Beta III. Later, when Lt Cmdr Billups tries to brown-nose Mariner, she complains "yesterday he literally didn't know my name, he called me Jenn! Who here is named Jenn?!" We next see the doppelganger together with Mariner when the former snaps a selfie of them both. Finally, at the end of the episode when Mariner is sending yet another nasty communique to Boimler (threatening to feed him "to an Armus" à la TNG: "Skin of Evil"), one of the ensigns tells her to keep it down, to which Mariner replies "oh, shut up, Jenn!"
- Remarkable reused set: TOS: "Return of the Archons" (along with several other original episodes) was filmed on the famous RKO "Forty Acres" backlot in Culver City, California. "No Small Parts" faithfully animates the set and also perfectly replicates the 1960s-style computer Landru.
- Remarkable contraband: As previously established in LOW: "Second Contact," Mariner collects contraband, which she hides all over the ship. (She apparently shares this passion with Riker, to Troi's chagrin.) We now see that this includes illegal drugs, weapons, and even a Tribble, although she claims "it's only for personal use." Among the weapons is a Ligonian gauntlet (TNG: "Code of Honor"), a bloody Klingon bat'leth, a Klingon mace, two mek'leth-like weapons, a sword, a wooden club, and a fencing sabre (presumably one of Picard's). Her booze stash includes Klingon bloodwine, Saurian brandy (TOS: "The Enemy Within"), and Romulan ale. Finally and preposterously, she has a Remco Star Trek helmet, making its first canonical appearance.
- Remarkable ship: The USS Titan (NCC-80102) also makes its canonical debut. Although larger and more heavily armed than the Cerritos, the Titan appears significantly smaller than a Galaxy class starship. Like the Enterprise-D, the bridge has wooden accents, including in the tactical station roll-bar. The ship's first officer is a Saurian (DIS: "Brother"), but the rest of the crew (other than Troi who is half-Betazoid) that we see appear human, now including Lt. Boimler.
- Remarkable continuity: At the end of the episode, Riker indicates that he's been watching recordings of Jonathan Archer's NX-01 Enterprise on the holodeck, something that he and Troi have done previously (ENT: "These Are the Voyages"). The two characters have now appeared in TNG, in TNG feature films, in VOY, ENT, PIC, and LOW. In addition, Riker's transporter clone appeared in DS9: "Second Chances."
- Remarkable promotion: Although I like Boimler a lot, I honestly hope he retains his promotion and stays on the USS Titan. Ultimately the fact that the TOS crew stayed together for decades was preposterous. In real life, Riker would have accepted promotion long before he did. By the end of the TNG movies, nobody even bothered to explain why Worf or Wesley were back. Of course, this happens because Star Trek is a show with actors and fans, not real life. Lower Decks stabs the heart of this in-universe problem when Boimler says that he wouldn't want Mariner to accept promotion to the USS Sacremento because she's his best friend and he wouldn't want to be separated from her. The fact that he immediately accepts promotion to the Titan and that she's totally pissed is perfection itself. I'd hate to see them walk that whole thing back à la the way Spock's meaningful death in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" was cheapened by his resurrection in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock."
Rating: 10 (John Hamer)
Stardate not given: Synopsis in main LOW listing
Well, I called it. SPOILERS from here on out, so...
But yes, I totally called it. With all the namedropping of the USS Titan earlier in the season, I just knew that Riker and his shiny new ship would show up, especially given Jonathan Frakes's longrunning association with the franchise in its various forms. I was not disappointed, with the Titan storming to the rescue of the Cerritos to the stirring tones of the TNG theme tune, along with Marina Sirtis as Mrs Deanna Troi-Riker. It's the least surprising but most satisfying way to end the season.
Before all that, though, Lower Decks gives us an incredibly strong season finale. While I was pleased before that the writers were going with a personal crisis to end the run - Boimler finding out Mariner is the captain's daughter - this is balanced out by both an action-packed catastrophic attack and a philosophical debate on the nature of Starfleet's interaction with other cultures. Again, while occasionally this series can get a little too busy, it's really impressive just how much the showrunners can cover in a half-hour episode.
The episode uses its cold open very effectively, pitching the Cerritos to the planet Beta III, a callback all the way to 1967's TOS episode "Return of the Archons." It turns out that the inhabitants of Beta III have reverted to worshipping their god-computer Landru, although they've at least not gone back to their Purge-like Red Hour. This cleverly sets up a running thread of how Starfleet, in spite of their non-interference directive, actually does interfere, but just enough to solve the problem today. What happens once they've gone on their way, to the planets and cultures they left behind?
At the same time, Mariner and Boimler are breaching protocol by beaming down to Beta III without permission, leading to a hilarious moment when Boimler accidentally broadcasts their conversation to the entire ship. I've often wondered how the communicators know who's supposed to receive the transmissions, other than dramatic necessity, and it's surprising this hasn't happened before. (Come on, if Reg Barclay hasn't done that at least once, I'll eat my Remco Spock Helmet.) Now the entire crew knows Mariner is Captain Freeman's daughter, leading to a complete change in attitude towards her.
The resulting storyline ties in both Boimler and Mariner's attitudes to advancement, deals with the mother-daughter team making peace with their two very different approaches, and takes Starfleet to task for not following up on its first contacts. The big joke of the series - that the Cerritos only goes on follow-up missions - is shown to be the essential message. Starfleet has a responsibility to follow-up its interventions in the greater galaxy.
The story addresses two one-off TNG species, to see how things can turn out differently. Tendi's storyline focuses on her welcoming new crewmember Peanut Hamper aboard. She's an exocomp, the robot race who achieved sentience in TNG: "Quality of Life." Starfleet has taken its responsibilities seriously with the exocomps (who were admittedly created by a Federation scientist), and now they are free to live as please and join Starfleet. Peanut Hamper turns out to be a bit of an ass, but there we go, at least she has the freedom to be an ass, and let's be fair, if she was a model officer they wouldn't have sent her to the Cerritos.
On the other hand, the Cerritos is drawn into a trap by none other than the Pakleds, the notoriously rubbish tricksters from TNG: "Samaritan Snare," who have spent the intervening decade-and-a-half perfecting their technique of capturing and cannibalising other races' ships. The characters themselves admit that they consider the Pakleds a bit of a joke, and this refusal to take them seriously has meant they've been happily preying on space traffic and have now amassed a deadly fleet of cobbled-together starships. It's totally fitting that Lower Decks ends its first season with such a laughable villain as big bad, but makes them into a genuinely deadly threat. In the frenetic climax to the series, the Cerritos crew are forced to fight to the death, with both Rutherford and Shaxs showing what they're made of. Both of them suffer heartbreaking fates, but at least there's some hope for Rutherford. Bringing Badgey back is a nice touch, part of how the season has tied together, although I do hope we've seen the last of him now - joke characters become less funny each time you seen them.
As a finale, "No Small Parts" absolutely nails it, combining action, pathos, character development, big laughs, deep cut references and a scathing critique of the parent shows. Ending with Captain Freeman and Mariner mending their relationship and beginning their own, personal mission, season one has been a great success as a show for Trek diehards, although it's probably pretty impenetrable for more casual fans or newcomers. As a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie, though, I can't wait for season two.
- Remarkable vessel: The USS Titan NCC-80102 makes its canon debut, with the fan design that has graced the covers of the Star Trek: Titan novel series making it onto screen at last. In universe, the Rikers have been married and commanding the Titan for only a year, but we've been waiting to see the Titan onscreen since 2002.
- Remarkable uniforms: The Titan crew are still wearing the grey uniforms introduced in First Contact, so perhaps the more colourful ones from this series are unique to California-class vessels? Of course, the real reason is that having everyone in grey wouldn't be very visually striking on a cartoon.
- Remarkable references: Commander Ransom refers to the 2260s as the "TOS era" - TOS standing for "Those Old Scientists." He has a PADD which shows an image of Kirk and Spock, taken from the 1970s Animated Series.
- Remarkable idiot: Lt. Levy on the Cerritos is a conspiracy theorist nutjob, who thinks the Battle of Wolf 359 was an inside-job and that "Changelings aren't real and the Dominion War didn't happen." I'm sure he'd refuse to wear a mask during a plague as well.
Rating: 9 (Daniel Tessier)