Star Trek Lower Decks (LOW) Season 2

Season 1Season 2

Strange EnergiesKayshon, His Eyes OpenWe'll Always Have Tom ParisMugato, GumatoAn Embarrassment of DooplersThe Spy HumongousWhere Pleasant Fountains LieI, Excretuswej DujFirst First Contact

 

Strange Energies

Synopsis

Stardate not given: The Cerritos has almost completed a second-contact mission to Apergos. Mariner requests permission to clean up the polluted buildings in the planet's capital city, which Captain Freeman grants under the terms of their mother-daughter deal. Ensign Rutherford's personal likes and dislikes have changed a bit since the reset of his implant. Tendi claims that he suffers from synthetic memory degradation (SMD) and tries various methods to cure his condition. In the end, she confesses to Rutherford that he has no SMD and that she was just afraid he wouldn't like her any more. As Mariner removes the dirt of centuries from a monument on Apergos, an ancient mechanism is activated and emits "strange energy" that hits Commander Ransom. Much like Gary Mitchell, Ransom develops god-like powers. His head rises into orbit and threatens to destroy the Cerritos. While Mariner and Doctor T'Ana are still attempting to harm Ransom's remaining body, Freeman discovers that flattery diminishes his powers. But it is not until Mariner kicks into Ransom's crotch that he can be defeated. Meanwhile on the Titan, Boimler is horrified as the ship fights the Pakleds and has to escape through an anomaly.

Commentary

Lower Decks is the arguably most popular Star Trek series among the so far three new entries to the franchise since 2017, although or just because it is only animated and not supposed to be taken too seriously. Friends of classic Trek can relate to this show because it peruses the legacy instead of redefining it, and because it has a positive vibe in spite of all the weirdness. After nine lighthearted and more or less hilarious episodes, the season 1 finale "No Small Parts" came out as more grave, with the total loss of the USS Solvang, the death of Shaxs, Rutherford's memory reset and Boimler's departure to the Titan that saddens his friends on the Cerritos.

It was clear that season 2 would have to wrap up quite a few issues, and perhaps in a more serious fashion than we are used to from Lower Decks. Maybe it would have been the right time for a calm character-based episode along the lines of TNG: "Family", but I can understand that the producers wanted to open the new season with something action-loaded that keeps up the excitement. "Strange Energies" is reminiscent of the fast-paced series premiere "Second Contact" in many regards, as the theme of the second contact, Mariner's side mission on the planet, Ransom's running amok and Rutherford's date with Ensign Barnes are concerned. The story is quite obviously supposed to demonstrate that as much as things have changed, as much they stay the same.

Yet, I would have wished for some things to be different than they used to be. Once again, everything in the story revolves around the mother-daughter relationship of Freeman and Mariner. This aspect bored me because we've heard all their arguments before in the first season where they were both funnier and more profound. Although the two have a "live and let live" deal by now, it is essentially the same conflict all over again as in several previous episodes. I also don't understand why Mariner is thrown into the brig this time, other than because it is a tradition.

Even Commander Ransom's mutation to an evil god ties directly into to the relationship of Freeman and Mariner. It turns out that Ransom's male ego can't cope with Mariner's special status on the ship, and with her frequently belittling him. Oh my. Men are such pussies! - But wait. Isn't there a chain of command on a Starfleet ship? Isn't there a code of conduct? Wouldn't Ransom's complaint of his authority being undermined be absolutely justified if it were not for the manufactured circumstance that it comes from a monstrous head floating in space? Also, in a little thought experiment we might imagine that a white male captain gave privileges to his son, superseding the black female first officer. The course of the story would (have to) be entirely different... Anyway, my criticism is not about identity politics. I have an issue with how Ransom's character is treated, which hits rock bottom when Mariner kicks his private parts - repeatedly (before T'Ana finally drops a rock on him). Is this what he deserves? Is it empowering? Is it funny? Am I the only one who has a problem with it?

We never learn who built the artifact on Apergos and for what purpose, and there is no rationale why and how exposure to its radiation would turn Ransom into a god. It's simply called "strange energy", and is said to be the same that already happened to Gary Mitchell. That's it. I know many fans appreciate the absence of technobabble and some love if everything that happens is related to everything else. But I want Star Trek to move on, to explore something new and to try to understand it, even in an animated comedy. Ransom's transformation, in contrast, is pulled out of thin air, with the justification that it happened before, gets totally overplayed to emphasize that he is a dick and is then reverted just as easily. Also, no one still cares about how it could come about. Although similar things have happened before, that doesn't pass as a parody of Star Trek any longer, but has to be labeled bad Star Trek.

Regarding Rutherford's memory loss in "No Small Parts", I vividly remember how Tendi reacted, saying that they could become friends all over again. Well, for all it seems they are friends again by the time of "Strange Energies". I would have liked to see more of his recovery. It would have been a fun idea to show how Tendi recreates situations from the first season for her friend. But that opportunity was wasted. Instead, we get to see a frantic Tendi, who tries all kinds of invasive and painful treatments to cure a disease that Rutherford doesn't have. Just like Mariner kicking Ransom's balls, this is not humorous but gross. Tendi is in character again in the end and she is someone I can easily forgive, still her conduct for most of the episode leaves a bad taste.

The moral issues aside, what happens in "Strange Energies" is not very funny anyway. Whereas many, if not all, episodes of the first season had jokes or comical situations in rapid succession, only few things made me laugh this time. And even though I rewatched the episode and searched for gems that others may have noticed, I couldn't really find anything to add to the "memorable quotes" category. Visually it is one of the best episodes of the series, including many Easter eggs, on the verbal side it is clearly the weakest.

The teaser with Mariner escaping from the Cardassian prison is the only really interesting and comical part. In a twist of irony, whether intentional or not, this holographic scenario is also more realistic than what happens in the real world in this episode.

I think "Strange Energies" is a failure. I may eventually put up with the bad treatment of Ransom and of Tendi. Yet, for me the episode will remain boring and unfunny for the most part. I rated "Veritas" with only two points, and "Strange Energies" is still worse in my view. Maybe I will have to shift some ratings, because despite my many points of criticism it still doesn't feel like it belongs to Star Trek's very worst, but for that I need some more input. In any case, I hope that Lower Decks will be up to its standard again for the rest of this season.

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Rating: 1

 

Kayshon, His Eyes Open

Synopsis

Stardate 58001.2: After the death of Kerner Hauze, a prominent member of the Collector's Guild, the Cerritos is tasked with identifying and sorting out dangerous items in his inheritance. An away team consisting of the new Tamarian security officer Kayshon and Ensigns Mariner, Tendi, Rutherford and Manhaver begins to investigate the collection, together with Chairman Siggi of the Collector's Guild. Suddenly, a holographic message from Kerner Hauze appears, accusing the away team of stealing from him and announcing that they themselves will become part of the collection. Kayshon catches a beam meant for Tendi, and is turned into a puppet. Mariner and Manhaver clash over the right course of action, as she proposes to proceed to the engine room and disable the ship's automated weapons, whereas the latter wants everyone to get to the escape pods. In a room full of fossils, Siggi drops Kahless's fornication helmet that he was hiding under his clothes and that was apparently the reason why the away team was targeted in the first place. He is killed when a giant skeleton falls from the ceiling and buries him. When they are attacked by hovering vacuums, Mariner and Manhaver are clueless, but Tendi comes up with the idea to use acidic Excalbian bones to cut through the wall and get to the escape pods. Meanwhile on the Titan, Boimler joins an away team to infiltrate a mining colony on Karzil IV that is being taken over by the Pakleds. When the Pakleds notice their presence, the officers escape to the underground where they lock themselves up. As an ion cloud blocks the transporter beam from the Titan, Boimler compensates for the effect by modifying the mining drill. His three crewmates are beamed up, but after his console has been hit, Boimler himself can only be transported using a second confinement beam. This creates a transporter twin of him, just like Thomas Riker. One of the two Boimlers, apparently a more timid version, decides to return to the Cerritos. In the meantime, Kayshon has been restored and is back on duty.

Commentary

This episode is better than last week's season premiere on almost all accounts. Firstly, the story gives the weary mother-daughter conflict a much required break. Also, this week's action plot is not a thinly veiled clumsy attack on alleged male vanity. But perhaps most importantly, everyone remains in character this time. It too has a rather thin plot, but the fun of "Kayshon, His Eyes Open" lies in diversified character interaction, quite unlike the dumb "hit him with a rock" humor of "Strange Energies". Although after the latter episode quite a few things would have to be wrapped up between Freeman and Ransom and between Tendi and Rutherford, I don't mind that a reset button was pushed regarding those events.

It almost looks like Jet Manhaver, a guy who previously appeared in "Cupid's Errant Arrow", is not only going to replace Boimler on his shift, but also as a character. He is a textbook guy and he sucks up to Lieutenant Kayshon much like Boimler would have done. Yet, Manhaver does not cry in terror in the presence of danger, and his authority to follow the rules is on par in the story with Mariner's renegade attitude. He is just like Boimler could have been, had he been written more favorably. Speaking of their equal status, I like the scene when Manhaver and Mariner both run out of options, and it takes Tendi's and Rutherford's ingenuity to get them out of danger.

But even Boimler overcomes his fear when he recognizes how the away team can be beamed out, just because he has acquired seemingly useless knowledge about the subject, maybe in order to suck up to Captain Riker. He also successfully reminds his crewmates of why they joined Starfleet and that it was not to fight their way out with violence. Although Manhaver could well have taken Boimler's place as the course of the story is concerned, it is revealing how delighted Mariner is about Boimler's return, only to become conspicuously angry with him a few moments later. Yeah, she wouldn't admit how much she really likes the purple-haired guy.

Each of the last four episodes of the first season set a new record for the most visual or verbal references in a single episode. "Kayshon, His Eyes Open" easily beats the record yet again. It is a lot of fun to spot familiar items from Star Trek's history, and it is still plausible if they appear in large numbers on the ship of a collector. Overall, however, I would want to cut down the number of references in the series, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it becomes distracting if trivial details keep grabbing our attention, and if we are frequently compelled to freeze-frame to verify Easter eggs. Well, in the age of streaming we can always view the whole thing for a second time for that purpose, but I know how fans usually watch Trek. Secondly, Easter eggs (or anything else on the meta level) should not supersede the story, neither in the episode itself as it unfolds, nor in the following reviews and discussions. I don't mean to say that "It was fun because of the many Trek references" isn't a valid appraisal of Lower Decks and that spotting "deep cuts" can't be a nice competition. But many review sites and many fans on Twitter have become so infatuated with those references that they more or less ignore what else has just happened on screen. In my firm opinion, a bad story (like last week's) can't be saved by it being full of in-jokes or by it being an in-joke itself. While the show has traits of a Trek parody, my expectation is that it remains meaningful at its core (like this week). Thirdly, I want Star Trek to grow and to boldly go where no one has gone before. This is hampered if the same Starfleet celebrities and ships are referenced ad nauseam, and if alien props look familiar even if they ought to be something new.

As already mentioned, while they are justified in this episode, Lower Decks could be overall better with fewer references. The collector item that I personally think is the most amusing and the weirdest is the only original one: Kahless's sex helmet.

Speaking of Easter eggs, while I would never have included him in the first place, I am at least glad that the giant Spock skeleton was not explicitly referenced as the one from TAS: "The Infinite Vulcan". Some things better remain a mystery, and some mistakes or silliness of past episodes shouldn't be reinforced. Also, it would be very impious if this really were Spock!

Overall, "Kayshon, His Eyes Open" is not among the greatest episodes, but it returns to the kind of humor that I have come to appreciate in the first season. The show also sort of returns to the setting of that season, considering that Boimler comes back, while one version of him keeps the promotion and stays on the Titan in an ingenious twist that does not damage the character.

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Rating: 5

 

We'll Always Have Tom Paris

Synopsis

Stardate not given: Ensign Rutherford is shocked to see that Lieutenant Shaxs is alive, yet no one seems to ask any questions. Boimler is looking forward to a visit of the famed Tom Paris to the Cerritos, but his voice command is not accepted anywhere on the ship, and not even the doors open for him after the security protocols have been tightened. The ensign decides to make his way through the ship using Jefferies tubes and other crawlways. He almost gets burnt alive in a static diffuser tube when Tom Paris has the honor to activate the ship's engines. Dr. T'Ana sends Tendi on a mission to get an old family heirloom that is stored on Qualor II. Mariner joins her on the shuttle. On Qualor II, they receive a wooden box and, curious as they are, they have a peek inside. Tendi recognizes the heirloom as a Caitian libido post. The two are so amused that they inadvertently break off the head of the artifact. They travel to Starbase Earhart to have it fixed, but get into trouble with Nausicaans at a dom-jot table. Tendi suggests to fly to an Orion outpost where her cousin could repair the post, for which Mariner has to pose as an Orion. But when her fake green skin color fades, the two are chased by an angry mob and what's left of the post gets smashed. Tendi is ready to tell T'Ana the truth about the accident. Mariner, however, sets a collision course for the Cerritos. The shuttle gets damaged when it hits the shields, providing a cover-up story for why the libido post is broken. T'Ana, however, is not mad abut it at all because all she wanted was the box. In the meantime, Boimler has made it to the bridge, but Paris mistakes the messy ensign for a Kazon and beats him up. Rutherford finally has the courage to ask the resurrected Shaxs what has happened. The answer leaves him frightened.

Commentary

There is definitely much more of a story in "We'll Always Have Tom Paris" than in the two first entries of this season. The episode comes with three separate plot threads on our four main characters.

The most notable thread is about Tendi and Mariner's task to transport Dr T'Ana's family heirloom. It is noteworthy that, as Tendi even explicitly mentions herself, this is their first common mission in the series. I was a bit afraid that it could end up in a similar "Mariner is so superior" story as the last time she joined one of her friends on a shuttle ride, in "Envoys". But although it is Mariner in the first place who gets them into trouble when she wants to open the box, Tendi contributes her fair share to both the problem and the solution. And I can understand their weird fascination with a sex toy that has been used by generations! It is pleasant to see that these two characters, as different as they are, turn out to be even in the end. Yet, I would have preferred a different resolution than Mariner taking the blame and getting thrown into the brig, just because it is a tradition and because she is more willing than anyone else to make a sacrifice. Anyway, the plot thread about these two is mostly fun, also because it turns out they know rather little about each other. I also like the visualization of the various planets that they (re)visit.

The Boimler plot doesn't work so well. It is initially funny how the notoriously unlucky junior officer gets ignored by the replicator and even by the ship's automatic doors. In real life or in a live-action series, the poor ensign would call for a security guy to reactivate his authorization. It is acceptable that, in an animated comedy, the understandably angry and defiant Boimler makes his stand against the stubborn ship. But this is drawn out too long and has lost its appeal when, after a number of cuts to Rutherford and to Tendi and Mariner, Boimler is still stuck in some Jefferies tube. The sad climax of his odyssey is when he drops from the bridge ceiling and gets beaten up by Tom Paris, in one of the unfunniest scenes of the whole series. "A Kazon"! So this was the reason to get Robert Duncan McNeill on the show? Seriously?

I didn't want to turn this review into a rant, so I saved the one really irksome sub-plot for last. Yes, I acknowledge the motto of the series that crew members on the lower decks, just as in the TNG episode of the same name, are not let in on everything that is going on up on the bridge. Yes, I am very well aware of the many possibilities in Star Trek for someone to return from the dead, and I could add a few more methods to the ones in Rutherford's nightmare. Each of the two tropes should be allowed to be turned into a parody. No objections so far.

Yet, I hate how Lower Decks stops being consequential and uses the cheapest possible reset button. Kenny is dead, but here he is again! It also diminishes Shaxs's sacrifice in "No Small Parts" if it is no problem to bring privileged bridge officers, unlike the lower ranks, back to life. Well, Tasha, Jadzia and Data were not that lucky. And it is awkward, rather than funny, how asking about Shaxs's resurrection is a taboo on the ship. I'm no fan of the "let's just not talk about it" trick to gloss over continuity errors anyway, but no matter whether it's a drama or a comedy, pulling it in such an existential matter is just indecent. This is all so wrong on so many levels! It also doesn't exactly help as a justification that a certain recent live-action Trek series repeatedly revives dead characters and repeatedly sweeps its own inconsistencies under the rug. I would have expected better from Lower Decks!

"We'll Always Have Tom Paris" has its moments, as the characterizations, the visuals and the fun with strange sex toys and strange civilizations are concerned. But with a good plot about Tendi and Mariner on a cool girls' trip, a mediocre one that humbles Boimler while wasting Paris and a downright annoying one with Rutherford and the uncalled-for secrecy about the uncalled-for resurrection of Shaxs, this episode is overall below average.

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Rating: 3

 

Mugato, Gumato

Synopsis

Stardate 58036.4: After losing an anbo-jyutsu match to her, Boimler and Rutherford learn from Honus, the bartender on the Cerritos, that the seemingly invincible Mariner is actually a black ops officer. The three ensigns are assigned to an away team, whose mission is to investigate the appearance of a Mugato on Frylon IV, a planet to which this species is not indigenous. They run into a group of Ferengi, who kill Mugatos and sell their horns. When Kynk, the leader of the Ferengi, attempts to defend himself with an energy whip, he accidentally disables the locks of the Mugato cages and sets the creatures free. In the ensuing chaos, Rutherford and Boimler witness in horror how Mariner stabs and sucks the blood off Lieutenant Shaxs. They run away and meet a biologist, who says he studied Mugatos, but only in books, and who gets eaten alive. Meanwhile on the Cerritos, Dr. T'Ana tasks Tendi with scanning the crew members who have not taken their annual physical examination yet. After working off the names on the list, it turns out that the only person missing is T'Ana herself. Tendi, who learns that she was chosen because T'Ana expected her to give up, is eager to fulfill the task but breaks her arm while pursuing T'Ana. On Frylon IV, Boimler and Rutherford run into Mariner. She gets caught in a Mugato trap and is captured by the Ferengi, but not before revealing that she only sucked the Mugato venom from Shaxs's wound and that she herself spread the rumors about her being a spy. Boimler and Rutherford, who are into the game "Diplomath", convince the Ferengi that it would be more profitable to set up a reservation for the Mugatos than to kill them, and they get them to release the prisoners. A customer of the Ferengi, whose ship was destroyed when the tractor beam of the Cerritos locked onto it, demands to be compensated for his loss, with a shuttle and with Captain Freeman's memorabilia. When her husband notifies her of an ongoing scam involving ships that break apart on purpose, Freeman apprehends the scammer, who was just about to depart, and condemns him to clean up the Mugato dung on the planet.

Commentary

The first three episodes of season 2 continued with much the same humor recipe that had worked mostly well in season 1. But I think they came out as little creative and overall only mildly funny. There was not the slightest will to change anything; story and character developments were halted or even reverted to that end. The stories were thin, with too much mocking of the characters, rather than fun with the characters. And there were just too many Trek references, which may have been meant (and were apparently accepted by many fans) as a surrogate for genuine jokes.

"Mugato, Gumato" could have been a game changer. The episode comes with a solid and meaningful main plot about the away team, the Mugatos and the Ferengi. Everything is a bit reminiscent of the successful series premiere "Second Contact", as the Mariner-Boimler relationship and their encounter with a dangerous monster are concerned. But this is already the first problem of the story. The roles of the young ensigns are set in stone. We learn nothing new about them (well, except that Mariner isn't a secret operative but just a normal Mary Sue). It is the arguably most predictable joke in the whole series that after Boimler confidently tells Rutherford that he practiced anbo-jyutsu for weeks, the two would be beaten up by Mariner - because she invariably has to be better at everything. And although it was meant to be amusing that they suffer considerable injuries and that Boimler has to puke, I find no fun in it at all. Unfortunately, this is not the last instance of rude humor in the episode.

Much in the same vein as Boimler is beaten up after stating that he expects to win this time, the bones of Steve Stevens crack just after Tendi reminds him that he should drink more milk. Moreover, the poor Tellarite hobby biologist is lacerated and devoured by a Mugato, with zero relevance for the story. I don't think that such a level of violence and such gross jokes about it belong to Star Trek. I also don't think this is "adult" but rather an adolescent idea of what being adult should feel like. Likewise, Mariner attacking Shaxs as if she were rabid is horrible, although this at least serves a purpose in the story. Furthermore, although I admit I found it amusing, the two Mugatos mating with a third one watching and stroking his horn doesn't feel quite right in a Trek show, especially since it could be insinuated that Boimler knows from his own experience what the third Mugato is doing. Almost every episode comes with at least one sex joke, but the series should leave the details to our imagination. On the slightly more acceptable side, Shaxs seems to enjoy the scent and taste of Mugato dung, but the repeated poop jokes are too much in an episode that is full of low-brow humor anyway.

Although it is not gross, there is one more really unsucessful joke: In an attempt to beat the Ferengi, Boimler and Rutherford are seen tinkering, and they then show up with a wooden tube immediately recognizable as the Gorn cannon from TOS: "Arena". But it turns out to be a holoprojector for their business proposal. This red herring makes no sense at all because they would neither build a high-tech device that looks like a crude weapon, nor would they need a projector at all. It is only a lame excuse to sneak in yet another Trek reference.

A plot thread that works comparably well is the one about Tendi and her task to scan everyone on the ship, who so far missed their physical examination - but only if we forget about her out-of-character conduct in "Strange Energies". The very reason why T'Ana selects Tendi for the task is that she thinks the ensign would not be determined enough to complete it, quite unlike when Tendi pursued Rutherford and subjected him to various painful procedures. Anyway, this sub-plot is fun (especially for cat owners, I think) and proves that Star Trek works better without disgusting humor. I don't mind that it is the second episode in a row in which T'Ana is selfish, has a very low opinion of Tendi and behaves more like a cat than like a chief medical officer. These themes shouldn't be overplayed or repeated ad nauseam, though. I expect future episodes to show T'Ana as more than the crazy cat in sickbay.

I also like how Carol Freeman gets scammed by the guy who makes his ship break apart on purpose, because he can expect a generous compensation from the Federation. It is a successful commentary on how accommodating but also gullible the Federation is, as well as on present-day insurance fraud and internet scams. My impression is that this could even have been promoted to an A-plot. This episode, like already last week's "We'll Always Have Tom Paris", squeezes three sub-plots into half the length of a regular Star Trek episode, much like the writers were afraid to run out of jokes if they had to stay on a topic for more than some eight minutes.

Lower Decks could be better with more consequential character development and with fewer of the mindless references. "Mugato, Gumato" has the additional problem of gross jokes that are unbecoming of Star Trek, at least in this accumulation. It is not the weakest entry of the series, but constitutes an outlier as the general tone of Lower Decks is concerned.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

An Embarrassment of Dooplers

Synopsis

Stardate 58053.9: The Cerritos is escorting a Doopler delegate to a trade conference on Starbase 25. Dooplers tend to duplicate when they feel embarrassed, but so far the crew could prevent this from happening, by being exceedingly courteous. Unfortunately, when the delegate overhears Captain Freeman talking about him, he duplicates after all and sets a process in motion, which exponentially produces new embarrassed Dooplers. While stacking cargo boxes, Mariner and Boimler muse about how cool it would be to go to the legendary after-party of the Command Conference on Starbase 25, but there is no chance for the crew of a California-class ship. On the other hand, Boimler could pose as his transporter twin William from the Titan. So the two take advantage of the chaos on the Cerritos and beam over to the station. On Starbase 25, however, Mariner has some unfinished business with a Mizarian named Malvus. Malvus agrees to reveal the location of the party, in exchange for Mariner and Boimler transporting some merchandise - Lt. Cmdr. Data bubble bath bottles. However, Malvus hides Klingon disruptors underneath the bubble bath bottles. When their vehicle is stopped by station security, Mariner speeds up, and a chase through the whole station ensues. After the two have finally arrived at the party, the bouncer only admits "William" Boimler. The ensign is bored without his friend, leaves the party and joins Mariner in an old bar. The bartender cheers the two up, mentioning that no one else but Kirk and Spock once visited the bar and carved their names into the counter. On the Cerritos, Tendi and Rutherford barely escape the duplicating Dooplers through an escape hatch, although this means sacrificing their scale model of the Cerritos. Captain Freeman finally finds out that angered Dooplers would recombine. She orders the crew to insult the guests and thereby saves the ship. On Starbase 25, she and her senior officers are not allowed to join the party either, and so they end up in the bar with Boimler and Mariner. But Freeman beams the Doopler delegate to the snobbish party where the inevitable happens all over again...

Commentary

"An Embarrassment of Dooplers" doesn't have a great start because the idea that Dooplers would double and flood the ship reminded me very much of the awful "The Trouble with Edward". And it was just too obvious that it would have to happen after being hinted at. However, the story about the Dooplers does not turn out that bad, especially since the problem is ultimately solved with a hilarious twist, by crew members who suddenly begin to insult instead of soothing the multiplying guests. Ever since Scotty reversed the polarity for the first time, doing the opposite of what is commonly expected is a recurring trope in Star Trek, and as silly as the premise is in the first place, as satisfying is the outcome. Finally, the idea to send the Doopler to the party, to which Freeman was not admitted, may not be a nice thing to do, but is an awesome allusion to Scotty beaming the Tribbles over to the Klingon ship in TOS: "The Trouble with Tribbles".

The plot thread about the eponymous Dooplers is not even the most important one in the episode. The focus is on Mariner and Boimler and their adventures on Starbase 25, with the probably best shopping mall chase since "Blues Brothers". Boimler even calls out the shops they destroy, much like in the classic movie. It is not only about action but skillfully leads over to their mutual reproaches. Mariner complains about Boimler leaving for the Titan without talking to her, upon which Boimler apologizes and says he didn't even know it would hurt her. This is not only the kind of wrap-up I was hoping for all along since the beginning of season 2, it also adds to their characters without further fostering the idea that Boimler is a jerk. Well, regarding Mariner all the usual clichés are present again: She knows everyone out in space, it is her who causes the trouble in the first place and who takes action and thereby terrifies Boimler. But this time Mariner recognizes her limits, and realizes that friendship is more important than her escapades.

I am similarly positive about the interaction of Tendi and Rutherford. The two work on a miniature, which is a model of the Cerritos also in a figurative sense (not only because of the tiny Mariner figure bossing around Boimler in the bar). Rutherford doesn't remember his previous model building attemps, just as he isn't aware of engineering modifications on the big Cerritos, which gives him, as an engineer, a feeling of uncertainty. And he is quite bitter about it, more than we may have expected from an otherwise always optimistic person like him. This is actually the first time in the second season that his memory loss is addressed (I just refuse to take into account "Strange Energies"), and as such another long-awaited wrap-up. Lower Decks has rarely been so mature, and definitely not yet in the second season. Even though Tendi's remark that building a model ship is like a "social deflector dish" only corroborates stereotypes about nerdy pastimes, this plot thread works extremely well.

On the topic of the distracting overdose of verbal and visual Trek references that I criticized in the preceding season 2 episodes, "An Embarrassment of Dooplers" again has plenty of them. Some are justified because a space station is a place where we may expect to see the Federation's history and diversity. But I would definitely have omitted the "stranded on Ceti Alpha IV" reference and the guy in the conspicuous wheelchair because Khan and Pike jokes have become lame after frequent repetitions (although it was hinted at that the guy in the wheelchair looks like Alex Kurtzman). Likewise, we already know that the Quark franchise has subsidiaries just everywhere, so verbally hinting at it is rather pointless. This episode's reference to Kirk and Spock, on the other hand, is a lot more efficient than most of the numerous previous ones in the show, which were just mindless namedropping. I also like the Data bubble bath because I understand that Malvus's merchandise had to be something really silly, whereas the appearance of Okona as the DJ just for the one-liner "That's outrageous!" is underwhelming.

Lower Decks is back on track in "An Embarrassment of Dooplers", with a story that is hilarious but also meaningful. This episode makes up for several previous errors in season 2. And I will buy the Data bubble bath if it becomes available!

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

The Spy Humongous

Synopsis

Stardate 58105.1: Captain Freeman and Shaxs beam down to the Pakled planet for cease fire negotiations. However, there is no friendly welcome for them because a Pakled called Rumdar has requested asylum on the Cerritos. On the ship, Ransom and Kayshon tend to their guest and soon become aware that Rumdar is actually a spy. They show him around on the Cerritos without revealing anything of importance, hoping that the intellectually challenged man reveals Pakled secrets. Then Rumdar disappears all of sudden and can't be located anywhere on the ship. Tendi, Rutherford and Mariner have been assigned to "anomaly consolidation duty", which actually means to collect dangerous trash. While Tendi is excited, this doesn't please Mariner at all. But Tendi's mood shifts when she too experiences the side effects of dealing with anomalous items. Boimler, on the other hand, has joined a group of "Redshirts", who offer him command coaching in exchange for information about Captain Riker. When Tendi, under the influence of an Ataxian mood shifter, mutates to a scorpion, only Boimler knows the right course of action. He makes a fool of himself to get Tendi to laugh until she finally returns to her normal shape. Ransom and Kayshon muse that they may have underestimated Rumdar, but the spy is floating in space after mistaking an airlock for a restroom. He can be revived and beams down to report to the Pakled leader that his mission was successful. Captain Ransom tricks Rumdar into revealing his secret, that he planted a Varuvian bomb with Earth as its destination. On the Cerritos, the four ensigns are relieved to have mastered the challenge, and they use a submanifold casting stone that Mariner kept during the cleaning duty to prank call Armus on Vagra II.

Commentary

"The Spy Humongous" is an episode about a Pakled spy aboard the Cerritos, but just as well about the adventures of our four ensigns, two plots which are almost totally separate from each other. More precisely, there are even no less than four separate threads: Freeman and Shaxs on the Pakled planet, Ransom and Kayshon searching for the Pakled spy, Boimler and his "Redshirt" friends, the three other ensigns on cleaning duty. Still, it all fits together to one well-rounded episode, unlike on several previous occasions in the series.

The Pakleds are just hilariously stupid. My gut feeling after "No Small Parts" was that it may not have been a good decision on long term to turn the Pakleds into formidable (and recurring) enemies. But "The Spy Humongous" proves that there is still potential in the idea. Everything about the spy aboard the Cerritos is cleverly written and draws its humor from the characters, even though it is discriminatory that the Pakleds are always shown as idiots. But that is just the advantage of a comedy show in a science fiction universe, you can make fun of a whole people without actually offending anyone in the real world.

There is quite some character development regarding Tendi. We already know that Tendi is enthusiastic about just everything, and she initially enjoys the "anomaly consolidation duty", even as Rutherford gets dramatically enlarged after contact with a substance "from a planet with weird evolution". Mariner experiences the effects of anomalous items no less than four times, when she gets stung by spores, zapped by some device, encased in goo and covered in nanobots. She is accordingly pissed, both about her duty and about Tendi who still seems to enjoy it and shows a lack of compassion. Tendi learns a lesson when she herself gets swallowed by a slug and finally mutates to a giant scorpion. This all is unrealistic and sometimes gross even by Lower Decks standards, but unlike in "Mugato, Gumato" everything unsavory serves to get across the story.

Speaking of character development, this is clearly Boimler's episode. It all begins with a big temptation. Boimler could avert "anomaly consolidation duty", he could get closer to the goal of a promotion, and he could make cooler friends - although he has a visibly bad conscience about the latter. The "Redshirts" led by Ensign Casey, vice versa, hope to profit from Boimler's experiences with Captain Riker. It soon becomes clear that the Redshirts' way to success is rather about outer appearance than about spirit, and more about saying the right thing than about doing the right thing. We know this is not Boimler's world, although the "improved Boimler" fares comparably well with his shoulder pads and his Riker-style speech. It is ironic but absolutely fitting in the context of the series and of his character that Boimler would save Tendi and everyone else not with a speech and not with brute force either but by making a fool of himself. Using absurd replicator recipes, he gets messy on purpose and does exactly what so far happened to him to his chagrin and to everyone else's delight. To him, the Cerritos really is a "friend-ship", and not the "star-ship" that Casey envisions it as. In a great twist, the over-ambitious Casey gets to sit in the captain's chair for a just a few seconds, and is the one who has to clean up the airlock that the Pakled used as a toilet, in the probably best poop joke of the series.

I repeatedly complained about the overkill of Trek Easter eggs in the second season. "The Spy Humongous" gives us a much required break in this regard. There are rather few references, and most of them are a part of the story, such as everything related to Riker. While it may not have been the most appropriate idea to make fun of the creature that killed Tasha in TNG: "Skin of Evil", I admit that I laughed when Mariner pranked Armus, so this proves to be another successful joke. It is hilarious that the Pakled consistently mistake Captain Freeman for Captain Janeway, just like every starship is an "Enterprise" to them. Only Shaxs's remark that they might give Freeman "an Enterprise" because of her achievements just doesn't work.

All in all, "The Spy Humongous" avoids the mistakes of the preceding season 2 episodes, to an even greater extent than last week's "An Embarrassment of Dooplers". It tells a meaningful story, it builds upon the established continuity of the series, it works with the characters and it doesn't get drowned in Easter eggs. It may not have quite as many jokes as several earlier Lower Decks episodes, but puts quality above quantity. Everything related to "anomaly consolidation duty" is a bit gross but works for me in the context of the story. I admit I don't know exactly what a perfect Lower Decks story would have to be like, but "The Spy Humongous" seems to be a big step in the right direction.

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

Where Pleasant Fountains Lie

Synopsis

No stardate given: The Cerritos crew takes AGIMUS into custody, an "evil computer" that caused a war of a hundred years by manipulating the society on an alien planet. Mariner's task is to transfer this computer to the Daystrom Institute. Boimler is assigned to join her much to his chagrin, as he was preparing for a mission to wrangle giant centipedes on Dansk. In the meantime, the Cerritos has been contacted by Queen Paolana of the Hysperians, whose royal flagship Monaveen needs the engineering expertise of her son, Chief Engineer Andarithio Billups. In order to join Starfleet, Billups abdicated the Hysperian throne, but he would automatically become king once he lost his virginity. This is why Paolana has repeatedly tried to trick him into having sex in the past. On the way to the Daystrom Institute, the shuttle gets into a gravimetric shear and crashes on a planet. AGIMUS repeatedly offers his service to replicate food and to send a distress call, but Mariner and Boimler resist the temptation to hand any control to the manipulative computer. However, as AGIMUS replays a scene in which Mariner asks Ransom to reassign Boimler, the angry ensign agrees to collaborate with the computer. Boimler plugs the computer's battery into a crashed alien ship. On the Monaveen, Billups and Rutherford find the problem with the ship's engine. It is a faulty resonator, which puzzles Billups because the first scan should already have revealed it. Suddenly, an explosion rocks the royal ship. The Queen and Rutherford are reported dead. Now Billups is ready to perform the "Royal Copulation". Tendi is devastated, but when she manages to locate Rutherford's implant on the Monaveen, she finds him at a feast. Queen Paolana faked her death to get her son on the throne. But Rutherford averts the pending intercourse and hence ensures that Billups can stay on the Cerritos. As AGIMUS prepares to take over the crashed ship and other evil plans, it turns out that Boimler didn't plug him into any vital systems. But the ensign used his battery to power the emergency transmitter and call for help. AGIMUS ends up in a storage at the Daystrom Institute, with many other computers of his kind.

Commentary

I think that science fiction and fantasy usually don't mix very well. And so I was a bit sceptical about a civilization that dwells on historicism and that attributes mystical powers to pieces of technology. But exactly this becomes one of the funniest aspects of "Where Pleasant Fountains Lie". The Hysperians definitely know that their ship isn't powered by dragon blood. But they are so immersed in their culture that they prefer to keep up the illusion. They are fond of having dragons, bards and dancing maidens on their flamboyant ship, whose technology they rename to sound like magic. This never gets boring. And although the accumulation of fantasy-related jokes would have been too much for a live-action episode, I don't think that it's far off. Star Trek has had its share of people with weird costumes or weird customs that were close to being mere caricatures, an idea that is perfect for Lower Decks. Last week, the series showed the dumb Pakleds in another iteration, and the fantasy-obsessed Hysperians fit in just as well - no matter whether they are aliens, or rather humans who embrace ancient or fictional ideals.

The idea that Chief Engineer Andy Billups, who is totally into science and reason, descends from such a civilization is hilarious. As someone who knows his stuff, nothing may be more frustrating to him than dealing with people who he knows are willfully ignorant. That may have made a decent story even without "Andy" being the crown prince Andarithio. The fact that Queen Paolana is his mother initially comes across as gratuitous, but it soon becomes obvious that the "Royal Copulation" is more than only a running gag and is the point of the whole storyline. It reminds me a bit of Lwaxana Troi's efforts to get Deanna married in TNG: "Haven".

Yet, as much as I enjoyed the plot on Billups, it could have been still more about the characters and perhaps less about fantasy and sex. It felt a bit too much like a sequence of jokes, as much as I liked almost every one of them. Lower Decks simply doesn't take enough time to tell stories but aims for quantity instead of quality in this regard. In a similar vein, it takes just a few minutes until Tendi discovers that Rutherford is not actually dead, wasting the chance to show any repercussions.

Lower Decks is an adult comedy. After just passing jokes about sex in the previous sixteen episodes, "Where Pleasant Fountains Lie" is more daring in this regard. It is the probably first Lower Decks episode I wouldn't show to younger children. Sexual intercourse is not just referred to on many occasions but is a firm part of the story. It is all about Andy Billups going to have sex on his mother's behest - up to the foreplay that the royal guards have learned to skip but that Billups obviously would have needed. The story-based sexual humor works better here than the adolescent masturbation joke in "Mugato, Gumato". But I also think that a line becomes clear that should not be crossed. Lower Decks should not explicitly show sex.

Just like cleaning the ship from anomalous items as in "The Spy Humongous", transporting an evil computer is considered a routine task for the crew of the Cerritos. And this is why Boimler is frustrated that he has to accompany Mariner, rather than dealing with centipedes on an adventurous Titan-style mission. It is initially a bit disappointing in this plot thread that there is no progress pertaining to Mariner and Boimler, in spite of what has happened in the past couple of episodes. Mariner still resents Boimler for leaving for the Titan, and Boimler still thinks that Mariner sabotages his career. It almost looks like the story could take the beaten path and that Mariner would eventually save the day on her own, through superior skills and knowledge, and through reckless actions. However, in a surprising twist it is Boimler who scams AGIMUS, by tricking the evil computer into thinking that Boimler acts against Mariner. I appreciate how the character clichés are first reinforced, only to be broken up in the outcome.

The evil computer, voiced by the great Jeffrey Combs with his enormous experience of playing antagonists in Star Trek, is hilarious anyway. It is one of the concepts that is deeply rooted in Trek lore but that could never be shown as humorous in a live action episode. In fact, this is exactly the kind of stories that I watch Lower Decks for. The same applies to the idea of the shuttle crash, which had become overused as a means to separate two characters from the rest on Star Trek Voyager, but which is just the right kind of cliché to poke fun at on Lower Decks.

Lower Decks excels every time the story draws on characters and concepts, and not on isolated jokes. In this regard, "Where Pleasant Fountains Lie" is mostly successful - also because, just as last week's "The Spy Humongous", it largely avoids gratuitous Trek references.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

I, Excretus

Synopsis

No stardate given: As the Cerritos responds to a distress call, Captain Freeman abandons Rutherford, Tendi, Mariner and Boimler on a relay station. They are rescued after six hour. Some time later, Pandronian drill instructor named Shari yn Yem comes aboard to evaluate the crew. The ranks are going to switch roles in holographic scenarios, with the lower deckers taking over bridge crew tasks, and vice versa. Mariner, Tendi and Rutherford, however, fail the test. The rest of the crew, including the senior officers, don't perform well either. Even the common exercise of bridge crew and lower decks to get the Cerritos out of Spacedock utterly fails. Only Boimler passes his test, a Borg scenario. But he starts over again and again to achieve a higher score. Despite or just because of their failure, Freeman and Mariner think that the drill was meant as a teambuilding event. But Shari yn Yem reveals that she picked the Cerritos with her underperforming crew on purpose to fail the test, to justify her own job. To ensure this result, she manipulated many of the scenarios to be unsolvable. Once the whole program has completed, Yem will transfer the result to Starfleet and recommend to reassign the whole crew. But Boimler's drill is still running. Although he is just about to achieve a score of 100%, he continues the fight against the Borg, in order to buy the Cerritos crew time. Freeman then orders the ship to approach a crystalline entity and later a black hole, to scare Yem and make her revise her evaluation. The instructor eventually gives in. As Boimler returns from his simulation, he is under the impression that he has actually been assimilated to "Excretus of Borg" but is expected to make a full recovery.

Commentary

I complained about one or two Lower Decks episodes such as notably "Much Ado About Boimler" that they should have focused on telling the story, rather than on getting across the jokes. Well, much of "I, Excretus" is essentially a sequence of jokes just as well. Yet, unlike the countless offhand references in most other episodes, the various quirky holographic scenarios based on experiences of Starfleet crews (and hence on previous Trek shows) are a key part of the story here, much like already in "Crisis Point". I think few other Lower Decks adventures made me laugh so often and so hard, so the idea of drawing most of its humor from "Starfleet's Greatest Hits" definitely worked, even though it was an unusually high dose, one that maybe shouldn't be administered too often.

Aside from being extremely funny, the story shows another variation of the "senior staff vs. lower decks" theme that pervades the series, one in which the two factions have to switch sides. Mariner already got a taste of being a higher-ranking officer in "Moist Vessel". Vice versa, the senior staff doesn't really seem to have an idea of how it is to live and work on the lower decks. In order to emphasize this ignorance, Shaxs is initially looking forward to the experience, until Ransom reminds him of the bunk beds in the corridor. Although we should realistically expect them to know better (after all, they used to be ensigns themselves), it works for me that they simply don't care what it is like for the crew to serve on their ship. Maybe it could have been shown a tad more extensively, but the brief impression of them being assigned to stack cargo crates while the Klingons or Q are aboard is telling - even though the whole program was manipulated by Shari yn Yem and likely differs from a real Starfleet training in more than the difficulty level.

The fact that the Pandronian drill instructor tampered with the program may also explain why the Mirror Universe created for Mariner is overly playful and why the Borg Queen in Boimler's test has assimilated a sense of humor. Likewise, it may excuse that Mariner's "The Naked Time" scenario is to be taken literally. On the "real" Cerritos or in a "real" test created by Starfleet the orgy would be totally unacceptable, and I wouldn't think of it as funny at all. Lower Decks crosses a line regarding the depiction of sexuality, but comes with the satisfactory justification that it never actually happens.

I don't like the resolution that the Pandronian drill instructor would revise her rating only after having been exposed to dangerous anomalies. I think that scaring her like this is only one step away from putting a phaser to her head. After the revelation that the test is still running because Boimler has not yet finished, I would have hoped for something more intelligent to happen. The crew should have beaten Shari yn Yem at her own game, perhaps inside the simulation, rather than actively seeking actual danger, something that they normally wouldn't do and which is a bit out of character.

On the other hand, just as on previous occasions where a guest turned out unpleasant and thereby reminded the crew to stick together such as in "An Embarrassment of Dooplers", I don't really mind that Yem comes across as unfavorable and has to suffer a little bit for that matter. Additionally, the concept to hire an external consultant to assess something they have no idea of, including the consultant's attempt to justify their work, reminds me of practices in real-life companies, so I'm all with the crew in this regard.

While Mariner recognizes the limits of her being defiant a bit like in "An Embarrassment of Dooplers", it is Boimler who saves the day with his determination, but ultimately by making a fool of himself much like in "The Spy Humongous". Rutherford and Tendi just alternate between enthusiastic and disappointed, as in so many previous episodes. Comparably little happens in terms of character development, but with the already mentioned exception of the crew seeking danger, everyone's role in the story is at least consistent with what has been established before.

"I, Excretus" is a memorable episode because of its jokes in rapid succession, which more than makes up for the weaknesses in the story. However, the humor dose is so high that it is expectable and even desirable for the series to reduce it again, also in order not to overstress the reliance on Star Trek's history and clichés. Other than that, the episode further explores the principal theme of the whole series, that there is a rift between the bridge and the lower decks, but ultimately unites the crew in their common efforts to pass the test and to eliminate its negative result.

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

wej Duj

Synopsis

No stardate given: The crew of the Cerritos use a 12-hour warp journey for recreational activities, and some of the lower deckers socialize with higher-ranking officers. Boimler too wants to grasp the opportunity, but his endeavors to befriend Kayshon, T'Ana, Shaxs and Freeman are fruitless. He eventually ends up with a group of Hawaiian officers around Commander Ransom and pretends that he comes from Hawaii as well, in order to be able to hang out with them. Meanwhile on the lower decks of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey Che'ta', a young officer named Ma'ah dreams of a promotion. When Captain Dorg kills his first officer Togg in a fight, Ma'ah does everything to impress the captain and take over Togg's position, although he is physically comparably weak and uncertain whether he is fit for the position. On the lower decks of the Vulcan ship Sh'vhal, a young crew member named T'Lyn has extended the sensor range, although it was not her task. She detects an anomaly that the captain decides to investigate. Yet, he also reprimands T'Lyn for her impulsivity. In the meantime, Ma'ah becomes the new first officer of the Che'ta' because he tells Dorg what the captain expects to hear from him. The ship arrives at a rendezvous point with the Pakled Clumpship Pakled. Captain Dorg has been supplying the Pakleds with weapons in the past, in the hope to destabilize the Federation and to incite a war. The Pakleds have just tested a Varuvian bomb they received from Dorg, which set metreon particles free and led to the anomalous readings on the Vulcan ship. The Cerritos also picks up the particles and arrives at the meeting point to investigate their origin. To Freeman's surprise, both the Pakled ship and the Klingon ship begin to fire on the Cerritos. On the Che'ta', however, Ma'ah is opposed to Dorg's honorless approach to let others fight for the Klingons. He challenges his captain to a duel and eventually kills him. The Sh'vhal arrives as well. Thanks to T'Lyn's modifications to the shields, the ship withstands the attack. While the Che'ta', now under Ma'ah's command, retreats, the Sh'vhal and the Cerritos manage to defeat the Pakleds. On the Sh'vhal, the captain relieves T'Lyn of duty, because of her inability to control her emotions, and transfers her to a Starfleet ship. On the Cerritos, it turns out that none of the "Hawaiian" officers, including Ransom himself, is actually from the islands but only made that up in order to suck up to their respective superiors. But they discover to their delight that they all have in common that they were born on a moon - except for Boimler. The ensign is frustrated, but then a cadet appears and seeks his advice, saying that Ransom recommended Boimler as the best-organized officer on the ship.

Commentary

"wej Duj" is a novel approach in the series because the story isn't exclusively about the adventures of the Cerritos crew but gives the events on the Klingon and on the Vulcan ship almost the same weight. The part of the plot set on the Cerritos focuses on Boimler but involves Rutherford, Tendi, Mariner and the rest of the crew skillfully, and without a feeling that the various holographic and real-life attempts to socialize are contrived. And although the episode is packed with many characters in three places, it still leaves some time for some mother-daughter activities of Freeman and Mariner. The settings on the Klingon and on the Vulcan ship are immediately familiar and plausible because these races are well established in the canon, including conflict potential in their hierarchies. T'Lyn and Ma'ah, with their small flaws and their difficulties to fit in a society that gives them little leeway, are very likable characters just as our four ensigns on the Cerritos, and I would be surprised if we didn't see them again.

I think it wouldn't have been necessary to display on screen that we switch to the "Lower Decks" of the Che'ta' and later of the Sh'vhal. The common theme of ambitious low-ranking crew members dealing with their superiors on the Federation, on the Klingon and on the Vulcan ship becomes clear very soon, and ties together the plot threads even while they are still completely separate. The only thing I missed was a hint that, even on a Vulcan ship, low-ranking crew members would have cleaning tasks. Anyway, I would have been content with "wej Duj" just showing the lower decks from three different perspectives, but the fact that everything comes together in the end is what makes this episode truly great.

As the story keeps switching from one ship to another, it repeatedly happens by picking up a cue. Boimler muses about the lower decks of a Klingon ship, and we switch to the Che'ta'. The Klingons joke about the Vulcans, and we find ourselves on the Sh'vhal. Rutherford mentions a puppy to Shaxs, followed by a cut to a targ on the Klingon ship. T'Lyn is told that she behaves like a child, upon which we see Boimler flying around with his "Go climb a rock" shirt. Boimler speaks of a vineyard, followed by a bloodwine binge on the Che'ta', and so on. This way, "wej Duj" incorporates funny moments without appearing as contrived, and ties together the single settings, in addition to the common theme and the evolving common story.

"wej Duj" is a remarkable Lower Decks episode that accomplishes a lot in only 25 minutes. It extends the main theme of the series to show the lower decks on a Klingon and on a Vulcan vessel. It thereby demonstrates that as different as the civilizations are, as much is the issue of lower ranks longing for acceptance the same. It comprises three separate plot threads that eventually converge to one. It builds upon the continuity of the series, and provides an explanation of why the Pakleds have become so powerful. And although the four main characters, perhaps with the exception of Boimler, have overall less screen time than in most other Lower Decks adventures, I don't have the impression that the four ensigns and their interactions with the rest of the crew are neglected. Finally, the episode proves that the series does not need gratuitous jokes pulled from Star Trek's history but is successful with humor based on characters and situations.

"wej Duj" may not be quite as hilarious as "I, Excretus" for that matter, but it excels in terms of storytelling beyond the mere delivery of gags. Overall, in my view it is the best Lower Decks episode so far - and the clearest signal that the spirit of classic Star Trek is still alive after Enterprise came to an end in 2005.

I was a bit alarmed when the story switched to the "Lower Decks" of the Borg Cube 90182 at the very end. But the creators of the series definitely understand Star Trek and don't show anything like ambitious drones that suck up to the Queen. In the final scene, nothing of note happens on the Borg cube, which continues all through the end credits. Brilliant!

Annotations

Rating: 9

 

First First Contact

Synopsis

Stardate 58130.6: The Cerritos is tasked to assist the USS Archimedes under the command of Captain Sonya Gomez in establishing first contact with the Laaperians. Mariner inadvertently overhears a conversation, in which her mother says she has accepted a promotion and will leave the ship. Frustrated as she is, Mariner lets the senior staff in on the secret. Tendi witnesses how T'Ana deletes her personnel file. As she thinks she will be transferred off the ship, she goes on a goodbye tour with Rutherford. While the Cerritos is waiting outside the system, the Archimedes approaches the Laaperian homeworld and is suddenly hit by a solar flare, which also destroys an unstable planetoid. With main and auxiliary power down, the ship is going to impact on the planet in 20 hours. There is no way for the Cerritos to pass through the debris field of the planetoid located between the two ships because any interaction with the shields or the magnetized hull would disable the Cerritos. Freeman heads to the captain's yacht in a desperate effort to reach the Archimedes, but Mariner follows her, saying it would be useless. Rutherford, who was just on the yacht with Tendi, appears and suggests that in order to prevent the hull from interacting with the debris, the hull should be removed. As Rutherford deletes extra copies of his memory files that he created in order not to forget Tendi again, unsettling memories resurface of how his implant was installed. The crew starts to release hull plates all over the ship to make the Cerritos fit to navigate through the debris. One big hull plate is left, however. It can only still be accessed from a corridor flooded with water connected to the cetacean ops. Mariner volunteers, but Boimler tells her she should better go to the bridge and support her mother. Boimler releases the hull plate in time but rips open his diving suit. Kimolu and Matt, the two beluga whales, take him back to the surface where Tendi revives him. On the bridge, everyone is in spacesuits because the main viewscreen module has been removed. When the ship hits an asteroid, Mariner is hurled outside but Jennifer Sh'reyan saves her. The Cerritos locks the tractor beam on the Archimedes, just as the ship is beginning to break apart in the atmosphere. All crew members are saved. The honor of making her first first contact with the Laaperians falls to Captain Freeman. Tendi learns that T'Ana indeed initiated her transfer but recommended the ensign for senior officer science training. As the crew is celebrating Captain Freeman Day, Freeman herself welcomes a team from Starfleet Command aboard the ship and tells them she wants to turn down the promotion. But the actual reason for them to see the captain is to arrest her - for planting a bomb in the Pakled capital.

Commentary

Season 2 of Lower Decks had a very disappointing start. Not only the forgettable "Strange Energies", but all of the first four episodes massively relied on Trek references, rather than drawing on the characters, and they avoided or even reverted any form of development. I still feel duped by Shaxs's effortless resurrection. It makes me angry because it retroactively devalues not only his own sacrifice but other character deaths as well. Anyway, many things have changed for the better since "An Embarrassment of Dooplers". This and the following episodes worked on character relationships and tied the Cerritos crew together as a whole. Also, they were not drowned in Kirk, Picard and Enterprise references any longer. Overall, I would go as far as saying that the second half of Lower Decks season 2 gave us the best Star Trek in over 15 years.

The season finale continues this positive trend. While not among the funniest episodes, "First First Contact" maintains and strengthens the family feel of the series. Many side plots are packed into the episode to this end, such as Tendi's transfer off sickbay, which she uses to reinvigorate her friendship with Rutherford, or Mariner's realization that she actually likes the Andorian Jennifer. Mariner's conflict with her mother is newly fueled, and quite credibly this time, as the captain's promotion takes the ensign by surprise. Curiously, it is Boimler of all major characters who has no extraordinary emotional experience, although he once again shows courage and saves the ship, like a couple of times lately, and puts effort in, and emphasis on, his contribution for Captain Freeman Day. But Boimler just remains Boimler this time, meaning the new and more confident one. I'm fine with that, considering that he has been the focus of the series as of late, rather than Mariner.

Just as the hilarious holographic trip in "I, Excretus" felt like this season's version of "Crisis Point", the tonal shift in "First First Contact" reminds me of the one in "No Small Parts". Among the many character stories, the ones about the arrest of Captain Freeman and about the troubling memories of Rutherford are unusually serious. The first caught me by surprise, as I would have expected the episode to end on a happy note and Captain Freeman Day seemed like the perfect occasion. The cliffhanger will be picked up in the season 3 premiere, as indicated by the "To be continued..." title card. The latter hopefully won't be neglected or even forgotten. In other words, I think the season finale works very well as a first part, but only if the second part won't make the same mistakes and won't hit the reset button as it happened at the beginning of season 2. Lower Decks can clearly afford to be somewhat more dramatic without losing comical potential, but if this happens in just one episode and has no further consequences, I would prefer Lower Decks not to try to be serious.

I enjoyed the return of Sonya Gomez (voiced by Lycia Naff) of "Q Who" fame. It was very obvious that the episode would include some reference to her spilling hot chocolate on Picard's uniform shirt for that matter, and I am glad that it was included in a decent fashion. Actually, I am a bit disappointed that we didn't see more of her in the episode. At least, there were quite a couple of beauty shots of her ship.

The idea that the Cerritos would have to be stripped of its hull plates in order to pass the debris field is clever. It has never been done before, and enables impressive visuals of the naked ship. The animation in this episode, especially of the two hero ships, is outstanding!

On another note about the Cerritos, we know by now it is a very big ship (560m long) by pre-reboot Trek standards. And while the ship's weaponry isn't as powerful as the one of the Luna class, it comes with all kinds of goodies. This includes a cetacean ops and a captain's yacht, as we see in this episode. In my view, this defies the premise of the show that the California class is considered a workhorse, and even a low-grade ship.

Lower Decks concludes its second season with an exciting and meaningful story that was noticeably not meant to be funny above all. I think it ties with "No Small Parts" in this category of episodes. "First First Contact" is a bit busy and overambitious as character stories are concerned. And as already mentioned, I hope the season 3 opener will live up to the expectations that are raised here.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 


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