Star Trek Lower Decks (LOW) Season 2 Guest Reviews

Season 1Season 2

Strange EnergiesKayshon, His Eyes OpenWe'll Always Have Tom Paris

 

Strange Energies

Synopsis

Stardate not given: The USS Cerritos is orbiting the planet Apergos, completing the last details of "second contact mission" between the inhabitants and the Federation. Hoping to clean soot off several of the ancient buildings in the Apergosian capital, Ensign Mariner inadvertently activates an ancient artifact powered by "strange energy." When Commander Ransom is struck by a discharge of the strange energy, he begins to possess godlike powers, which threatens both the Apergosians and the Cerritos. Fortunately, Doctor T'Ana is able to stop Ransom using the same procedure employed by Captain Kirk when his helmsman Gary Mitchell was exposed to strange energy at the galactic barrier.

Commentary

Did Spock's resurrection in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" cheapen his sacrifice in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?" Although Spock was my favorite character in the original series and I wanted him back, I nevertheless think it did. At the end of Lower Decks' first season, I gave the finale a "10" for unexpectedly blowing up its own formula. Boimler was promoted and transferred off the ship to serve on Riker's USS Titan. Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford's season-long flirtation was upended when he lost his cybernetic implant and his memory of their relationship. And finally, the season-long feud between Ensign Mariner and her mother, Captain Freeman, ended with both resolved to act together as a mother-daughter team.

However, within the course of a single episode, Lower Decks fully resets Tendi, Rutherford, and Mariner back to their first season formulas, leaving only Boimler's advances intact. Apparently, the writers were not up to the challenge they set for themselves and decided to immediately flee back to safety. Lower Decks is a face-paced series, but the speed of the reset is jarring and abrupt.

Mariner and Captain Freeman explain that their mother-daughter team hasn't worked out through lengthy exposition. It's a bit amazing that this makes one of the most visually exciting sequences in all of Star Trek -- Mariner's escape from a (holographically generated) Cardassian prison asteroid -- rather duller than it should be. Likewise, Tendi's concern that she's losing Rutherford escalates far too rapidly from cute to preposterous madness. Both resets would have worked better, had the writers given the characters the chance to experience the dissonance of the altered relationships. Let Rutherford have a date and even a relationship that goes wrong before he returns to Tendi. Why not see how the mother-daughter team doesn't work at least once prior to tanking it in exposition?

The A-plot centers on Commander Ransom receiving god-like powers. Like Commander Riker when tempted by Q (TNG: "Hide and Q") or Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell when exposed to strange energy (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"), he is not up to the challenge. His inflated ego causes him to recreate the planet into a society of shallow worshipers while he attacks the Cerritos in a way reminiscent of Apollo (TOS: "Who Mourns for Adonais?"). Once again, the story seems too abrupt, but it's rather fun that the whole incident is par for the course for Doctor T'Ana, who treats Ransom's condition as if it were Starfleet routine.

All in all, "Strange Energies" was a bit of a mixed outing. Hopefully, having pushed through these resets, Lower Decks has now cleared the decks to recover its pacing for the second season.

Annotations

Rating: 6 (John Hamer)

 

Kayshon, His Eyes Open

Synopsis

Stardate 58001.2: The USS Cerritos is assigned to assist the Collector's Guild in disarming automated security systems protecting the collection of prominent guildmember Kerner Hauze, who is recently deceased. The ship's new security chief, Lt Kayshon, leads an away team to investigate the collection. When Collector's Guild Chairman Siggi accidentally activates the collection's security systems during an attempt to steal an artifact, the away team is forced to evade a series of lethal traps to escape to the safety of the Cerritos. No hands were lost, but Lt Kayshon was temporarily transformed into a hand puppet. Meanwhile, on the USS Titan, Lt Boimler is accidentally duplicated in a transporter accident while infiltrating a mining colony under attack by the Pakleds. One of the transporter duplicates takes a demotion to the rank of ensign and is transferred back to the Cerritos.

Commentary

Of the major upsets to Lower Deck's formula left hanging after the first season finale, the Mariner/Freeman and Rutherford/Tendi relationships were quickly (too quickly) reset in the second season's premier. That left two holes to explore: the one left in our Lower Decks beta shift crew from Boimler's transfer to the Titan, and the one left in security with the self-sacrificing death of Shaxs. Both of these are explored in "Kayshon, His Eyes Open."

To fill the hole left by Boimler, the attractive and confident Ensign Jet Manhaver is transferred to beta shift. Jet was already established in the first season as a crewman Mariner is at once attracted to and is potentially threatened by. "He's like the second coolest person on the Cerritos," she acknowledged in "Cupid's Errant Arrow." Now part of her crew, Mariner immediately sees Jet as a rival, and most of the episode is spent on her attempts to one-up him. This dynamic had some promise, and it was a relief that Mariner and Jet eventually both learned together that their shared tendency to lead with their own egos was the source of the problem.

Shaxs' replacement has even more promise. We learn that the episode's title character Kayshon is one of the first Tamarians in Starfleet. TNG "Darmok" is among my favorite episodes in all of Star Trek. Nevertheless, its premise --- that the Tamarian language consists entirely of references to their cultural mythology --- is a bit preposterous. As such, the Tamarian language is ripe for "Lower Decks" parody, and this episode handles it perfectly. The final scene when Kayshon hits on a lieutenant at the bar saying, "Are you tired? Because you've been Arnock at the race of Natara through my mind all night long..." only to elicit an eye-roll, caps things perfectly with the well-known Tamarian phrase for failure, "Shaka, when the walls fell."

The setting of the A-plot amid Kerner Hauze's collection is an excuse for an essentially limitless number of references to past episodes. The deceased collector has everything: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, a head-set from TNG: "The Game," the gift box from TNG: "Haven," a salt-vampire from TOS: "Man Trap," a Vulcan lirpa from TOS: "Amok Time," an SS Valiant type disaster recorder from TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before," a Kadis-kot board from VOY: "Infinite Regress," Masaka's mask from TNG: "Masks," Khan's Starfleet emblem necklace from ST2:TWOK, Excalbian remains from TOS: "The Savage Curtain," and the bones of the giant clone of Spock from Phylos from TAS: "The Infinite Vulcan."

The B-plot follows Boimler after his promotion to the USS Titan, where he is failing to fit in. Riker's ship is primarily engaged in fire-fights and action adventures and Boimler is far too anxious and worried to keep up. In one of Lower Decks strongest broadside attacks on the post-Kelvin Star Trek franchise, Boimler joins a Titan strike force of tough-talking Starfleet baddies who brag about their fighting cred while making fun of the crew of the TNG-era Enterprise-D for caring about science and for having fulfilling hobbies like putting on plays and concerts together. Boimler is able to cut through their "coolness," with an earnest admission of how much he loves all of that TNG stuff, only to have each baddie confess that they also love Starfleet for nerdy reasons and not for pointless action and adventure.

The episode concludes with Boimler's transporter duplication --- in a perfect replica of Riker's duplication in TNG: "Second Chances." When one of the Boimlers is sent back to the USS Cerritos, our series reset is almost complete. And inasmuch as Mariner and the gang seemed to have learned and grown from their experience of welcoming Jet into their crew, all that is immediately thrown out (along with Jet) with Boimler's return.

Annotations

Rating: 6 (John Hamer)

 

We'll Always Have Tom Paris

Synopsis

Stardate 58018.7: Tendi is given a secret mission by Dr. T'Ana. Desperate to please, she enlists Mariner's help. Meanwhile, the Cerritos is visited by Lt. Tom Paris, and Boimler attempts to get a commemorative plate signed. Rutherford is haunted by the mystery of how, exactly, a bridge officer has seemingly returned from the dead.

Commentary

By all inductions, a Starfleet vessel is an absolutely insane place to live and work, with the impossible and unknown confronted weekly with bold intent. For the denizens of the lower decks, they are walking into this surreal world with both eyes open, excited to do the work, and excited to be here. Bringing those two elements together lets LOW embrace the goofiness of the TNG and TOS era without having the cast be endlessly put-upon, and that motivation really elevates this whole thing beyond the baseline "space is wacky" comedic premise.

This makes the more reference-heavy outings a bit of a chore, as the show takes a big step away from this confident vision to remind us of a bunch of stuff other Trek shows did. "We'll Always Have Tom Paris" flips between both sides of the LOW coin, unfortunately, giving us three completely separate "A", "B", and "C" stories, two of which lean hard into reference humor abyss. This leaves just one story thread to shoulder the ep, and boy howdy, it really does fireman-carry this one to the finish line.

The A-story involves Tendi being entrusted with a secret mission by an increasingly feral Dr. T'Ana. Ever-desperate to please, she accepts help from Mariner in a pairup we haven't seen before. These two have not really ever talked to each other without one of the other characters being around, and the show has a lot of fun exploiting this for comedy. I'd say this bit of business is the highlight of the episode, as it let Mariner's flaws come to the surface and off-put the ever-bubbly Tendi, making her flaws bubble to the surface in turn, letting the two get real with each other. This leads them to a trip to an Orion Tortuga, where we get an extremely fun look at one the Trek's TOS-style "bad guy races", which LOW plays completely straight. Tendi is essentially mortified by her cartoonish crime family here, a group that reinforces every negative stereotype a Federation-type like Mariner has about Orions. She has to take on a dominant role of a matriarch-type to meet the expectations of her culture, and the absolute embarrassment she feels at putting on a display like this in front of her enlightened Federation friends is some real delightful comedy. Again, LOW is lovingly respecting the established lore to this mustache-twirling TOS-era villain race, and in so doing, embraces Trek, warts in all, mining that comedic Praxis till the whole thing explodes in their faces.

Back on the Cerritos, Boimler (heretofore "Boimz") gets a particularly grueling B-story where he wants to get his commemorative Tom Paris plate signed by the real deal, as Paris visits the ship. So this entire storyline is him bumbling around and almost dying a bunch of times. When he finally meets Tom Paris, he's mistaken for a Kazon and etc etc. This physical comedy stuff of Boimz just being generally screaming rarely lands, and makes you wish they used this B-story time for the other two plot threads.

Elsewhere, in the C-story, Rutherford is shocked to see Shaxs up and walking around, like he didn't die a few episodes back. This one gets a bit meta, playing with the serialized TV show universal constant that you cannot have a main character just die off. 9 times out of 10, they'll be brought back to life in by the end of the season, and that's exactly what's happened here with Shaxs. This becomes a reference spiral, with LOW just pointing at how it's a trope Trek, and having those references show up. I will say, this gives Rutherford some much-needed character building with Shax, which has been sorely needed this season (and the last). This unfortunately does mark the final point of walking back every shakeup to the status quo that occurred in the S1 finale, but, Shaxs is back, so, whatever.

By the end, the Orion A-story is strong, the Boimz B-story is a wash, and the Rutherford C-story has its moments. Pretty square 6 out of 10.

Annotations

Rating: 6 (Jason Duane)

 

We'll Always Have Tom Paris

Synopsis

Stardate 58018.7: Security Chief Shaxs returns to active duty having come back to life following his death in the Battle of the Kalla System, LOW "No Small Parts." Lt Tom Paris, one of the legendary survivors of the USS Voyager's sojourn in the Delta Quadrant, tours the USS Cerritos as a visiting celebrity. Mistaking Ensign Boimler for a Kazon assassin, Paris attacks the lower decks crewman before the misunderstanding can be cleared up. Meanwhile, Dr T'Ana sends Ensigns Tendi and Mariner to retrieve a Caitian family heirloom from a storage facility on Qualor II.

Commentary

The last of our first season finale formula up-enders is reset with the least effort possible. Shaxs sacrificed himself to save Rutherford and the ship in the battle with the Pakleds --- and we thought that "Lower Decks" had emerged as more than a parody that strings together easter eggs --- it was emerging as a stirring incarnation of Star Trek in its own right. But, ha-ha, the joke is on us! Silly audience, the writers are telling us that Lower Decks was never going to be something as good as that. They always planned to make it something less that that. Ha-ha. Is the joke on us? Shaxs returns from the dead with no explanation given and that is explicitly the point. Except that in my book, the point of parody is that it should at least be funny, and while I agree this development was a joke, it certainly wasn't funny.

The B-story involving Boimler's attempt to get Tom Paris to sign a commemorative VOY plate was even worse. What better way to degrade your series from being an actual installment of Star Trek into simple fan-fiction than make your lead character into a lame Star Trek fan? Boimler's escalating decisions to try to circumvent the computer instead of simply updating his security ID were repetitive and boring and the build-up leads to a wasted return of the Voyager character.

The A-story involves a rare Mariner / Tendi adventure. Since Mariner is usually paired either with Boimler or her mother and Tendi with Rutherford or Dr T'Ana, this is a rare match-up, as the two friends themselves realize. Their quest takes them to a number of seedy settings: Qualor II (TNG: "Unification"), Starbase Earhart (TNG: "Tapestry"), and an Orion pirate outpost. In the last of these, we finally get to see Tendi's complex relationship with Orion culture (and its various stereotypes). This is a generally fun romp, but it cannot make up for the rest of the episode (my least favorite of the series so far).

Annotations

Rating: 3 (John Hamer)

 


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