Star Trek Lower Decks (LOW) Season 3

Season 1Season 2Season 3

GroundedThe Least Dangerous GameMining the Mind's MinesRoom for GrowthReflections

 

Grounded

Synopsis

Stardate not given: Back in San Francisco, Mariner is infuriated about the news coverage of her mom's trial that shows footage of Captain Freeman planting a bomb on the Pakled Planet. Mariner firmly believes this evidence was forged. She seeks the help of Boimler, who is currently at his family's raisin farm. Boimler suggests to retrieve his detailed personal logs from the Cerritos that could exonerate the captain. The two meet up with Tendi and Rutherford in Sisko's Creole Kitchen to gain access to the Cerritos that is currently in drydock. They head for a transporter station, whose old operator, against their expectations, turns out to be very cooperative. But he tells the ensigns that beaming into orbit is currently not possible because Earth is engulfed in a verugament - a swarm of extremophile lifeforms. He beams them to Bozeman instead, where they plan to take the Phoenix replica ride. After disabling the auto-pilot, the four ensigns head for the Cerritos. Boimler's logs, however, turn out disappointing for Mariner as they only contain embarrassing trivia. She decides to act on her own and find the one who actually planted the bomb. After setting a shuttle with Boimler, Rutherford and Tendi to a course back to Earth, she hijacks the Cerritos. But Boimler manages to reprogram the shuttle to return to the Cerritos. After a crash landing in the shuttlebay, the three ensigns proceed to the bridge where a struggle for the control of the Cerritos ensues. As the four come to an agreement, they notice that the extremeophile creatures use the hull of the ship as a breeding ground. Also, a Starfleet patrol arrives, and the ensigns need a cover story for why the Cerritos is out of drydock. They pretend to study the lifeforms but the patrol also asks for the commanding officer who ordered this. Suddenly Captain Freeman appears. She has been released after a special operation uncovered the true circumstances of the bombing. The Pakled themselves destroyed their capital, and they had someone forge evidence incriminating Freeman in the hope the Federation would find a homeworld with more resources for them. Freeman, however, is not happy about how her daughter once again acted against her orders. She assigns Commander Ransom to watch over her and decide whether she can still remain in Starfleet.

Commentary

Lower Decks is back with a fun ride that features the Boimler vineyard, Sisko's Restaurant, the First Contact theme park, Cochrane's Phoenix and other sights on and around Earth. "Grounded" comes with comparably well-dosed humor and avoids gross jokes, except perhaps in Boimler's log. Although I don't like the idea that the historic site from "Star Trek: First Contact" was turned into a flashy theme park, I appreciate how the Lower Decks version of Bozeman comments on an unfortunate development in the real world. The ensigns' reluctance about if and how to disable the nice old transporter chief is both hilarious and heartwarming. The horny vineyard girls, on the other hand, don't work for me. I wonder how they could make it into an episode of modern Trek considering how obsolete the idea is.

At the beginning of season 2, the consequences of Shaxs's death and of Rutherford's memory loss were dealt with in a lackadaisical way that left me disappointed, even angry. My hope was that the season 3 premiere would not repeat this mistake. Well, "Grounded" does not play down or deny what happened in "First First Contact". To exonerate the captain is the driving force for Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford and Tendi. But the story loses sight of this goal when the four ensigns take a tour of the sights of Earth and of nearby space, only for their efforts to turn out pointless in the end. The resolution that Freeman was discharged anyway is anticlimactic. I understand that if this Lower Decks story has a deeper meaning, it is that, as an ensign, you sometimes just have to trust in the system, as Alonzo Freeman tells his daughter. But I really would have liked to see how the system works, instead of the whole investigation being wrapped up in a lame one-minute recount, which evokes the disconcerting resurrection of Shaxs in season 2. How cool would it have been to actually have Tuvok on the show, instead of him being another casual reference! Mariner could have continued her search for the origin of the bomb as she insinuated, while her mother was making her stand at the trial, against the tough Judge Mith bin Tong as teased earlier in the episode. Actually, the trial against Freeman and the struggle to find exonerating evidence would have been a perfect opportunity to bring a bit of serialization to the show. I wouldn't have minded the episode to end with "To be continued...".

As for Captain Freeman's decision to transfer the supervision of Mariner to Commander Ransom, this feels like a setback to season 1. If I recall correctly, we have been at this point before, as early as in "Moist Vessel". The writers really need to think of ways to further develop the mother-daughter relationship and Mariner's standing in Starfleet instead of always falling back to the same tropes. It also doesn't even make sense that Freeman would explicitly hand over the supervision of a junior officer to Ransom. If I'm not mistaken, this is in his range of responsibilities as an XO anyway. At least, it shouldn't be as big a deal as the story makes of it.

Summarizing, "Grounded" is a fun trip with many references to Trek lore the way it is customary in Lower Decks. It excels on the visual side and as a "First Contact" homage, whereas it is just an average episode as the story and the jokes are concerned. My pleasure is additionally impaired by the disappointment that the charges against Captain Freeman are resolved in such an effortless and anticlimactic fashion. This is the perhaps biggest missed opportunity of the show so far. On the other hand, the series can now carry on with a clean slate, with new story opportunities for the ship and crew. I think the writers still have surprises for us up their sleeves.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

The Least Dangerous Game

Synopsis

Stardate not given: Boimler, Mariner, Tendi and Rutherford are playing the game "Bat'leths & BiHnuchs" with the voice of Chancellor Martok, when Commander Ransom calls Mariner and Rutherford to a mission briefing. Mariner is tasked with the repair of an orbital lift on the Dulainian homeworld together with Ransom, while engineers Billups and Rutherford are sent down to the surface for diplomatic contact with the hedonistic society. In the meantime on the Cerritos, Boimler learns that fellow crew member Vendome has made it to captain. Tendi assumes this was possible because the Bolian always volunteered for missions. Boimler decides to say yes to any request from now on - including the alien hunter K'ranch, who wants him to be his prey. On the planet, Billups and Rutherford have run into big trouble because they unwittingly violated the customs of the Dulainians, while Ransom and Mariner are struggling with the repair of the lift. The commander seems to have no problem with that. Against her orders, Mariner takes a skydiving suit to help her fellow officers on the surface. While she is in mid-air, Ransom calls and announces that he has changed his mind and is going down to the planet. Mariner has no other choice but to climb up the orbital tether again to cover up her insubordination. Totally exhausted, she arrives at the meeting point with Ransom and learns that they are going to skydive down - again. On the planet, the commander manages to convince the Dulainian leaders not to sacrifice Rutherford and Billups to what appears to be a sentient volcano. Meanwhile on the Cerritos, Boimler regrets having agreed to serve as K'ranch's prey. He gets a moral boost from "Martok", who tells him to become the hunter instead. But then he is hit by a spear from K'ranch. The alien says it is not his intention to kill anyone, and congratulates Boimler for having been an excellent prey.

Commentary

When Commander Ransom was assigned to take care of Mariner at the end of "Grounded", it felt much like a throwback to season 1. But this doesn't turn out to the disadvantage of their story in "The Least Dangerous Game". Ransom already proved in "Temporal Edict" that he is capable of dealing with Mariner, even if this means that he has to beat her at her own game. This time, Ransom assigns crew members to tasks that they are not up to and almost conjures up a disaster. But it appears to have been his plan all along to test Mariner's ability to repress her rebellious instincts and trust in her superiors' decisions even if they seem to make no sense. In the end, Mariner lies about her compliance, but as a sort of punishment she has to go into great lengths to cover up her escapade (which for me is the best part of the whole episode). And Ransom appeases the aliens and thereby saves the day, much like already in "Temporal Edict". In a way, the two are even again at the end of "The Least Dangerous Game".

The plot thread about Boimler feels even more like a déjà vu because the way he subscribes to a simple recipe in order to attain a promotion is very reminiscent of what he did in "The Spy Humongous". In that episode, he tried to suck up to his superiors by joining the elitist and cool "Redshirts". Now he strives to accomplish the same by always agreeing to every request. His activities as a "wiry dude who's hard to hit" in a springball tournament, as a soprano in a Bajoran dirge choir and (only hinted at) as a skeletal model in a drawing class are funny. He starts calling himself "Bold Boimler", but wouldn't "yes-person" be a more accurate description of his new mindset? Eventually only a plot twist saves his life after he unwisely agreed to be an alien hunter's prey. But unlike Mariner, Boimler may not have learned anything in the end, and may not even know the difference between being compliant and being simply stupid. Overall, this plot thread leaves me less satisfied.

It is absurd that Freeman allows K'ranch to use possibly deadly weapons on the Cerritos in the first place. But it is no surprise that, in the end, he would turn out a more or less nice guy. Lower Decks frequently pulls the trick that a seemingly life-threatening situation isn't so terrible in reality (and only the Lower Deckers have no idea), but shouldn't do it quite so often because it has become very predictable by now.

The society of the Dulainians is very uninspiring. They are extremely hospitable until you break a taboo, among many other old clichés like the evil computer that rules their world. There could and should have been more about them, especially in light of the other similarities of the plot to "Temporal Edict".

Summarizing, "The Least Dangerous Game" is an episode devoid of new concepts and devoid of real surprises, but does comparably well within these confines. It is reminiscent of season 1 episodes and very notably of "Temporal Edict" in several regards. There seems to be no development at all after two years, although the humor works a little better because the characters are well introduced by now. I appreciate the absence of mindless namedropping, the appearance of Martok being the only exception, and a useful one at that.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Mining the Mind's Mines

Synopsis

Stardate 58256.2: The Cerritos arrives at Jengus IV to resolve a conflict between a civilian Federation research team and the indigenous rock creatures, the Scrubble. A team from the Cerritos, consisting of Boimler, Mariner and Rutherford, is to clear the planet of psychic mines that bring a person's dreams to life and that may turn that person into stone if not handled with care. Three ensigns from the sister ship Carlsbad are tasked with dismantling the Federation outpost that needs to be moved. They let the Cerritos ensigns know that their reputation proceeds them, upon which our trio speed up their work in order not to appear like losers. Lieutenant Commander Stevens notices how Mariner dunks the mines like basketballs. He tells her to be more careful, upon which she says she is just trying to beat the Carlsbad crew, thereby defending Commander Ransom's honor. Stevens's own efforts to help them leads to mines getting smashed, upon which they create nightmares and he himself gets petrified. Meanwhile on the Cerritos, Tendi begins her advanced science training. Her mentor turns out to be Dr. Migleemo, who tells her to join a meeting of Captain Freeman with the aliens and the scientists. But Tendi gets ignored. When the Scrubble presents a piece of rock as a gift to Freeman, the captain insists on passing it on to Captain Maier of the Carlsbad, who refuses. They keep arguing over the trinket to everyone else's chagrin. On the planet, the six ensigns find shelter in a cave. It turns out that the crew of the Carlsbad actually admire the Cerritos ensigns because of their cool adventures. Soon they notice inconsistencies in the creations of the mines that are neither dreams nor nightmares but must be based on other data. They trace a huge data stream to a chamber full of Federation technology. On the ship, Tendi seeks T'Ana's advice, who tells her that she should not be afraid of screwing up if she wants to achieve her goals. Back in the meeting, Freeman and Maier are still arguing. Tendi takes the rock and smashes it, revealing a listening device inside. The scientists and the Scrubble were actually working together, with the goal to collect sensitive data on Starfleet and sell it on the black market.

Commentary

Unlike last week's adventure, "Mining the Mind's Mines" acknowledges the development of the show since season 1: The Cerritos crew has gained a reputation that proceeds them, Tendi begins her advanced science training as announced in "First First Contact", and we get some insight into Mariner's mind that includes fantasies of the Andorian Jennifer. It is pleasant to see this kind of progress on Lower Decks, although in an animated comedy it would have been tempting for the writers to stick with invariant characters and settings. It is charming how the crew members from the two ships wrap up their common experience in the end, with the Carlsbad ensigns describing Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford and Tendi more or less accurately and a bit through the fourth wall.

I like the idea of the psychic mines that produce dream images of the characters' minds for everyone to see and accordingly embarrassing - particularly for Mariner in this case. Rutherford's dream of Leah Brahms is yet another one of those countless gratuitous references but a funny one, especially since the fantasy created by the mind mines behaves a bit like Geordi envisioned her in TNG: "Booby Trap". And the nightmares, consisting of Kukulkan, a giant evil raisin, Klingon horror clowns, a Borg snake and Jennifer as a werewolf are quite entertaining too.

The story unfortunately has several issues. Aside from the usual nitpicking, some plot points are less meaningful, less coherent and also less funny than they could have been:

I can accept that petrified people are revived off-screen somehow. But it is gross how Stevens breaks apart. As if this were not enough as amputation jokes are concerned, T'Ana uses a chainsaw to cut off the foot of a poor crew member. Sorry, that's not my kind of humor at all. At least not in a series with "Star Trek" in the title.

"Mining the Mind's Mines" is the weakest outing of season 3 so far. Although I like the character development and the camaraderie, the story feels incoherent and some of the humor does not work for me.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

Room for Growth

Synopsis

Stardate not given: Captain Freeman gets possessed by the ancient D'Arsay character Minooki, and part of the Cerritos is transformed into a temple. The engineering staff keeps working day and night to repair the damage. Freeman notices how stressed out Billups, Rutherford and the others are and sends them to the spa ship Dove for a vacation. On the Cerritos, Tendi overhears a conspiracy of ensigns of the delta shift to manipulate the room lottery, whose winners are said to get four rooms on deck 1 as their new quarters. Boimler, Mariner and Tendi decide to beat them at their own game. In an attempt to get to an access terminal they want to manipulate without anyone noticing, they make their way all through usually uninhabitable parts of the ship. As they are stuck in a room whose door opens only for ten seconds every hour, the members of the delta shift appear, who have the same goal. Tendi, Mariner and Boimler agree with them to join forces, only to be left behind when the door eventually opens. Boimler, however, discovers a second exit, and our three ensigns arrive at the access terminal, ready to turn the odds in their favor. But they notice the actual prize is one room on deck 4. They realize they wouldn't want to split up and decide to let the delta shift win. On the Dove, the engineers tend to engineering projects all the time and don't seem to relax at all. Captain Freeman gets mad at them manipulating the stress meters on their arms with a cucumber slice to show a lower level, so much that her own armband turns yellow, then red and finally black. The staff on the Dove are clueless about how they could help her. But the engineers come up with a machine that relieves her stress almost in an instant. When Rutherford returns to the Cerritos, the members of the delta shift are celebrating their new room, which they share from now on, an option that Boimler, Mariner and Tendi didn't think of.

Commentary

"Room for Growth" consists of two plot threads, the one about Mariner, Tendi and Boimler making their way through the ship in order to cheat the lottery, and the one about the Cerritos engineers who keep working on projects even during their mandatory anti-stress therapy. Both threads are straightforward and lighthearted, there is neither a big threat nor a major conflict nor a mystery that has to be solved. It makes the story quite efficient and allows to sneak in many character-based jokes and many anecdotes that would have been out of place in a frenzied episode such as last week's "Mining the Mind's Mines".

The trip of the three ensigns through various usually uninhabitable or inaccessible spaces of the ship, including Jefferies tubes, the holodeck with T'Ana and Shaxs's bank robbery program (with frozen bullets as the program is halted), the hallucinatory "swamp" (too much LDS, eh?) underneath the garden and the deflector dish (a first time in Star Trek), is pure fun. And it works better for me than Boimler's similar odyssey in "We'll Always Have Tom Paris", which got exasperating after a while.

It is hilarious how the engineers keep working during their mandatory relaxation therapy. They fix a door that was not operating correctly. They draw schematic diagrams in the sand garden. (I saw that coming. I would have been happy to join them!) They tend to projects while lying on the massage table. And they manipulate the stress meters to appear more relaxed. In the end, yet another engineering project even helps them to calm down to green stress level. I don't know whether this is just a perpetuated cliché ever since Scotty said he would read technical journals in his spare time or whether someone actually talked to engineers and got the idea. But I think there is some truth about it. Also, after it was hinted at in several previous Lower Decks episodes how the life of an engineer revolves around their job, it is satisfying how this becomes a central topic of an episode.

"Room for Growth" is rather simple compared to most other Lower Decks episodes but not less enjoyable. On the contrary, the humor works a lot better for me than in "Mining the Mind's Mines", for instance. The episode relies on established themes of the show, but unlike "The Least Dangerous Game" does not make such a big deal of the characters' actions and decisions (although "Bold Boimler" is referred to at some point), also because the stakes are much lower this time. Our heroes quite literally have the chance to rise to the upper decks. It seems like a setback when they forgo the chance to win the room lottery against their rivals of the delta shift. In the long run, however, I am sure they will be happy if they stick together, if they don't cheat their way up and if they take the episode title figuratively, rather than literally.

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

Reflections

Synopsis

Stardate 58354.2: The Cerritos returns to the multicultural planet Tulgana IV, where Boimler and Mariner have the thankless job to promote Starfleet in the recruitment booth. On the ship, Rutherford is plagued by nightmares. He wakes up and is a different person, angry and insensitive, while his real personality is locked out. Tendi notices that something is wrong with her friend and alerts Shaxs, who stops him when he tries to leave the ship. In sickbay, T'Ana does not find any traces of an anaphasic lifeform inhabiting Rutherford. Instead, it turns out that old memories have taken control of the ensign. As he is unconscious, the current version of Rutherford is struggling in his mind with the "cool" and selfish one from several years ago, who took part in illegal shuttle races. The brain can only handle one consciousness. The two agree that a race should decide which version is going to persist and which one will be erased. The former Rutherford builds an overpowered racer, whereas the current one decides to replicate the Delta Flyer. As they are on the racing ground in the Neutral Zone, they get chased by a Romulan Warbird. But only present Rutherford can escape because he also created his friends to help him. He still tries to save young Rutherford, whose consciousness is beginning to fade away, but not before revealing disturbing bits about how he got the implant. While working on a racer, the young cadet was severely injured in the explosion of the engine (which is also what the nightmare was about). Some of his superiors arranged for him to be saved with the implant, but they also erased his memory because they needed to cover up something. When Rutherford wakes up, he is himself again, much to Tendi's joy. On Tulgana IV, the mission to win recruits for Starfleet is unsuccessful as expected. Other booth owners such as the conspiracy theorists, the Independent Archaeologists' Guild and the Collectors' Guild keep slamming Starfleet and dissuading passers-by. Mariner, who is on probation, keeps her nerve. Eventually, it is Boimler who gets mad and knocks down the other booths, which sort of impresses the bystanders. Ransom puts Boimler in the brig for acting against his orders but lets him know that he approves of him running down the critics of Starfleet.

Commentary

I was extremely disappointed when Rutherford's memory loss was handwaved at the beginning of season 2, although it definitely should have had consequences. What's more, it would have been the perfect opportunity to explain how the ensign got his brain implant in the first place. "Reflections" makes up for this major omission. Now that we know a bit about Rutherford's back story, it also makes more sense that he isn't bothered a lot by what happened to him because he simply doesn't remember. Furthermore, malfunctions of the implant may be explained as the other Rutherford's attempts to break out. It was more or less foreseeable that he never wanted to get that implant in the first place and that it was required because of an accident, but the twist that some superiors decided to erase his memory keeps up the mystery about the young ensign. I'm looking forward to further revelations. My impression is that it is a storyline that will only be resolved on long term. Lower Decks really needs a bit of serialization, and it is finally here!

Unlike the secret operations he was involved in, Rutherford's former personality is no mystery any longer now. Young Rutherford was self-centered and would probably have made other friends than Tendi, Mariner and Boimler, or perhaps no real friends at all. Brain damage can be nasty and can drastically alter someone's personality for the worse or the better. It seems realistic that Rutherford could have changed the way it is shown in "Reflections". And regarding the unrealistic depiction of two consciousnesses in one mind, this has a long tradition in Star Trek. All in all, the part about the struggle in Rutherford's brain is a classic story that is unusually serious for Lower Decks and that strikes a chord with me. And its gets quite exciting when the two board their racing shuttles.

The B-plot was clearly designed on purpose to be much less complex and much more lighthearted. I like the idea of returning to Tulgana IV, a place where all the species of the galaxy seem to meet. It is a persistent nuisance that Lower Decks verbally or visually references legacy characters, races, places and ships every few seconds. The B-Plot of "Reflections" is one of the stories where this is acceptable because of the setting. All kinds of aliens from TNG and DS9? No Problem. A cutout board that lets you pose as Kirk and Spock? Very funny actually! Booths of the Collectors Guild and the "Independent Archaeologists"? Why not. Still, I don't think it is a good idea that the same names, make-ups, props or costumes appear time and again. Case in point: the Collectors. They are the exact same two races with the exact same clothes as in TNG: "The Most Toys". And if I'm not mistaken, all of their items appeared in previous Lower Decks episodes. More than already "Kayshon, His Eyes Open", the scenery lacks originality and solely draws on references to LOW itself and to past Trek shows. And whereas the first appearance of the Spock helmet in "No Small Parts" was hilarious and a reason to pause, rewind, point and laugh, this time it is simply lame, just as all other collector's items that we know too well.

Still, I like how the B-plot addresses various truths and prejudices about Starfleet, and how the organization apparently struggles with its image. It is also very funny how Boimler frequently has to keep back Mariner and how he eventually succumbs to the humiliating situation himself. The two effectively switch roles, with Boimler ending up in the brig this time and being happy nonetheless. It only doesn't really make sense how an ensign that gets mad could inspire the people on Tulgana IV. In any case, Starfleet needs to find different ways for recruiting. I personally wouldn't go to such a boring booth either, even if there is a model of the Stargazer.

"Reflections" comes with an almost perfect A-plot about Rutherford struggling with his past and a solid B-plot about Mariner and Boimler struggling with the standing of Starfleet. It is definitely among the best Lower Decks episodes. Season 3, like the two seasons before, had a slow start with rather insignificant stories. But once again, the excitement is back.

Annotations

Rating: 8

 


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