Star Trek Lower Decks (LOW) Season 3

Season 1Season 2Season 3

GroundedThe Least Dangerous GameMining the Mind's MinesRoom for GrowthReflectionsHear All, Trust NothingA Mathematically Perfect RedemptionCrisis Point 2: ParadoxusTrusted SourcesThe Stars at Night

 

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: 4

 

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 Klowns, 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 identical 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

 

Hear All, Trust Nothing

Synopsis

Stardate 58456.2: Starfleet sends Captain Freeman to Deep Space 9 for trade negotiations with the Karemma. While Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford are excited to explore the station, they encourage Mariner to spend time on the Cerritos with Jennifer and her friends, one of whom is hosting a salon. On the station, Tendi gets acquainted with Mesk, one of the few other Orions in Starfleet. Much to Tendi's chagrin, Mesk is into pirate stories. He also carries a tool that Tendi knows from Orion pirates. As the Karemma arrive, Colonel Kira and Captain Freeman quickly notice that they are not really interested in trade. When the delegation visits Quark's bar, Freeman attempts to get the bar owner interested in talking business with the Karemma, but her refuses. One of the Karemma angrily pushes over the enormously successful Quark 2000 replicator, which breaks apart and reveals its secret components. The Karemma use a device to shut down power on the whole station, which affects the Cerritos as well. Tendi, Rutherford and Mesk, who are just moving a shipment of Romulan ale into the Karemma ship, witness how the visitors abduct Quark. They are trapped in the cargo bay when the ship undocks and heads for the wormhole. Tendi asks Mesk to use his pirate skills to escape, but he confesses that he was adopted by humans and only knows Orions from holonovels. Tendi then grabs his tool, uses it to break through doors and disable the Karemma. Eventually she manages to block the engines, just as the vessel is about to enter the wormhole. A tractor beam from the station holds the ship in place. On the Cerritos, Mariner is bored at the awkward girls' party. When the power failure strikes and the candles quickly eat up the oxygen, Jennifer encourages her to finally act the way she would like to. Mariner stuns all the girls with a phaser so they would consume less air. With the Karemma and Quark back at the station, it turns out that they actually wanted to arrest him for stealing their technology that he used to build the Quark 2000. In order for everyone to profit from the situation, Freeman arranges a deal in which the Karemma drop the charges against Quark, in exchange for 76% of his profits. Boimler has earned many bars of latinum at the dabo table but agrees to receive just a gift certificate, as he couldn't use the money in Starfleet anyway.

Commentary

So this is the much anticipated Lower Decks episode set on Deep Space 9 that already caught everyone's attention in the season 3 trailer. I must say that I am overwhelmed with joy because not only the station itself appears but also Nana Visitor and Armin Shimerman in their famous roles, as well as the Karemma, one of the most notable species that we know from DS9. I am happy with the storyline about Quark's business with the Karemma, which is very much in line with his misadventures in the live-action series. As could be expected, Quark's character fits well into the overall comedic setting, without requiring much exaggeration. Colonel Kira was aptly integrated just as well. Yet, I think she may have deserved some stronger involvement in the story, aside from her friendly argument with Shaxs on who was saved by whom more often during the Cardassian occupation.

With Boimler and Rutherford taking a backseat this week, all the action falls to Tendi and, to somewhat lesser extent, to Mariner in the B-plot. Tendi already expressed her discomfort with being identified as a pirate when Mariner assigned her this role in "Crisis Point". Also, in "We'll Always Have Tom Paris", we learned that she does have Orion Syndicate connections, although she is not proud of it. It absolutely makes sense that a guy like Mesk, who cherishes the part of Orion history that she does not want to be reminded of, would annoy Tendi.

In terms of the development of Tendi's character it is a great idea that it eventually falls to her to prove her pirate skills and take control of the Karemma ship, even though it is a bit predictable. Actually, I would have enjoyed it more if not Mariner experienced pretty much the same in the B-plot. Both are in a situation that is awkward for them. Both restrain themselves, to comply with rules or with someone else's expectations. Both reach a point where they need to act and someone encourages them to be themselves. Both then pursue their goals with (mild) violence. This is very formulaic and just too much empowerment for a single episode.

I stumbled across a statement by Tawny Newsome that she, as a huge fan, was disappointed that Mariner was not going to Deep Space 9, and that Mike McMahan agreed to rewrite at least the ending after her complaint. I can add that the flashback of her being on the station in "Cupid's Errant Arrow" is another reason why Mariner should have been in the A-plot.

Overall, everything pertaining to the DS9 revival is just as entertaining as I expected. The visuals of the station on the inside and outside are outstanding. The references to the past glory of the series are successful and not too numerous. Lower Decks can afford such fan service once in a while, which is a further reason not to overload "normal" episodes with references. I don't care very much for Mariner at the boring girls' party, which would have been a decent B-plot in any other episode but comes across as a bit misplaced here.

Annotations

Rating: 7

 

A Mathematically Perfect Redemption

Synopsis

Stardate not given: After leaving the ship during the Pakled attack, Peanut Hamper is adrift in space. She could contact Starfleet but does not want to be put on trial for insubordination. She attempts to build a warp ship out of the debris. When Drookmani scavengers appear in the debris field, she eventually activates the engine, but the ship breaks apart and strands the Exocomp on the planet Areolus. Many of the primitive bird-like inhabitants, the Areore, are afraid of the "Spacebox". The young Rawda, who is to take care of her at the behest of his father Kaltorus, the village leader, is skeptical of Peanut Hamper's advanced technology and does not trust her. But Peanut Hamper uses her capabilities to improve the lives of the Areore. Rawda falls in love with her and lets her in on the big secret of his civilization. They once had starships, which are mothballed in a cave. Some time later, the Drookmani appear on Areolus and begin to salvage the ancient vessels, thereby destroying the village. Peanut Hamper contacts the Cerritos and also sets out to disable the Drookmani ship. When Captain Freeman, Tendi and Mariner beam down to the surface, they are impressed how selflessly the Exocomp fought for the Areore. Freeman agrees to Peanut Hamper's return to the ship. But the crisis is not yet over. The Drookmani have taken control of one of the ancient Areore ships and attack the Cerritos with weapons that are capable of breaking through the shields. They replay a message that reveals that Peanut Hamper called them to the planet in the first place, apparently in an attempt to get away from the primitive world but with the hidden agenda to become a hero and redeem herself in the eyes of Starfleet. Eventually it is Rawda who saves the day when he lifts off with an even bigger one of the old ships and disables the Drookmani. Peanut Hamper, on the other hand, gets locked up in the "Self-aware megalomaniacal computer storage".

Commentary

The episode title readily gave away that this week's adventure would be about the Exocomp with the "mathematically perfect name", who refused to go on a suicide mission and left the Cerritos for good in the season 1 finale "No Small Parts". I was looking forward very much to it, also because I feel Lower Decks could need some more serialization.

The way that "A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" catches up with Peanut Hamper is nothing short of remarkable. First of all, the "Previously on Star Trek: Lower Decks" compilation is not a simple recap but retells the events from "No Small Parts" from the Exocomp's perspective. Secondly, the usual opening credits are replaced by a sequence of Peanut Hamper afloat in the debris field, with a melancholic version of the Lower Decks theme playing. Finally, the story keeps following Peanut Hamper's adventures. The Cerritos doesn't appear until 17 minutes into the episode. The regular characters are sidelined for the most part, and Rutherford doesn't have a single line.

As the narrative style is concerned, "A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" is the most unusual and perhaps the most daring Lower Decks episode so far, still ahead of "wej Duj". It focuses on Peanut Hamper, a character that regular viewers are familiar with but that isn't exactly an appealing figure that fans would like to identify with. Well, the story systematically creates sympathy with Peanut Hamper, by showing her floating in the debris field as already mentioned, by giving her "Sophia" as a companion similar to Wilson in "Castaway", by putting her in a somewhat similar situation on a pre-warp planet as Data in "Thine Own Self" and finally by her seemingly falling in love. I admit that this charm offensive (or red herring) was successful with me. Although I suspected that Peanut Hamper was responsible for the Drookmani showing up on Areolus, I was hoping for the ending to be conciliatory. However, the redemption promised in the episode title does not take place. The Exocomp turns out to be selfish and manipulative, not to mention heartless. She only deepens the rift that has formed between her and Starfleet and/or organic lifeforms. Still, I don't think she belongs into the "megalomaniacal computer" category.

Everything about the avian Areore is funny but also silly. It almost seems like a few bigger absurdities such as flying pigs are meant to distract from the many smaller ones. This is unfortunate, considering that nothing less than their way of life is destroyed in the episode. Rawda mentioned the "endless wars with alien species" as the reason for his people to give up space travel. It seems likely that these wars will return. The dramatic change is glossed over in a similar way as in the various TOS episodes ("The Apple" being a prime example) where the Enterprise crew ruined a paradise for the sake of progress. With Lower Decks being rooted in TNG-era Trek, this aspect should have been handled more carefully. We may argue that the Areore, just like the Ba'ku from "Insurrection", made a conscious decision not to use their technology. Then again, the avians were shown as being too ignorant for that, more like the people in the already mentioned TOS: "The Apple" or TNG: "Homeward".

Overall, this Lower Decks episode is a bit cynical because there is no redeeming quality about Peanut Hamper after all and because a paradise gets destroyed inappropriately casually. But I can understand why the series takes this direction. "A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" may not be a second "wej Duj", an episode that everybody loves, but I applaud the bold departure from the beaten path.

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Rating: 5

 

Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus

Synopsis

Stardate not given: Boimler, Mariner, Tendi and Rutherford play a holoprogram that Boimler wrote as a sequel to Mariner's "Crisis Point". They portray the crew of the USS Wayfarer that comes to the help of the Cerritos when the Romulan Melponar Triplets attack the ship. The Wayfarer chases the attackers away, but these have gotten hold of the Chronogami, a device that would allow them to change history at any point in time. Boimler leaves the holodeck to answer a call from Commander Ransom. When he returns, he doesn't join the designated fun part of the program, which would be chasing the Romulans with hoverbikes. Instead, he begins to talk to totally insignificant extras, trying to find the meaning of life, to the chagrin of Mariner, who is still with him. She leaves the holodeck, saying that Boimer ruined her franchise. Ransom, however, tells her that he informed Boimler of the death of his transporter twin William in a freak accident. Mariner enters the holodeck again and tries to comfort her friend, who is locked up in the brig of a freighter. She encourages him to carry on. When Boimler defeats the old man who kidnapped him, he discovers a map to "Ki-ty-ha" tattooed on his back. Meanwhile, Tendi, Rutherford and the holographic Cerritos crew have caught up with the Melponar Triplets, but not before the villains can activate the Chronogami. The Starfleet crew follows them. After their previous attempts to destroy the Federation in the past have failed, the Romulans rig a bomb to blow up the foundation ceremony in 2161. Rutherford manages to defuse the bomb. As they travel back to where they started from, the Melponar Triplets steal the Chronogami again - or so they think. Tendi has actually swapped out the device for the bomb, which destroys the Romulan ship. Boimler's encounter with the rock creature that is supposed to reveal the purposes of life to him turns out a disappointment because it only answers with inspirational quotes. He seeks his answer by digging his way into the rocks, only to find that "Ki-ty-ha" actually means "Kitty Hawk", which makes no sense. Boimler passes out, and in his dream gets advice from Captain Sulu, who has taken over Kirk's ranch after his disappearance. He finally wakes up in sickbay. Rutherford, Tendi and Mariner say that they enjoyed his program. Meanwhile on a Defiant-class ship, William Boimler wakes up. His "death" was arranged by Section 31...

Commentary

"Crisis Point" is commonly considered the most successful episode of season 1 besides "No Small Parts". I too enjoyed Mariner's holodeck adventure with its numerous tongue-in-cheek references to Star Trek movies. But although Mariner had the two excuses of it being only holographic and of it being some kind of therapy, the unwarranted violence she exerted against her crew mates put me off, so I don't rank the episode among the very best. It is like my concerns are addressed through the fourth wall in "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" when Boimler calls out Mariner's first part as "a sad little tantrum so you could murder the crew". I am glad that the sequel takes a different direction and also has Tendi mourn the death of the holographic T'Ana, among other aspects that are handled more appropriately.

"Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" is as much a self-discovery trip for Boimler as "Crisis Point" was one for Mariner. Yet, the circumstances and the ways the two cope with them couldn't be more different. It looks like Boimler initially wanted his simulation to outperform Mariner's in terms of suspense, action and the self-aggrandizing attitude. But he takes a hard turn after learning of the death of his transporter twin. We can't really tell why "Purplehead" would assign significance to random weirdos in his programs that were never meant to have a real personality. But since he knows which way the main plot is going because he programmed it, he may hope to find new answers in the parts he has not defined and that the AI of the holodeck has to make up. It was to be expected that the result would be underwhelming for him. The rock creature that is modeled after "God" in "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" and also has traits of Deep Thought from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy only knows phrases as possible answers to the question about the meaning of life. Even worse for Boimler, the secret about "Ki-ty-ha" actually meaning Kitty Hawk is a meaningless play on words directly ripped from the revelation of "V'Ger" being Voyager in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". It is funny how little creative the holographic scenario is, and how little helpful in satisfying Boimler's curiosity. In contrast, when he passes out and speaks to Sulu in his dream, he finally finds the motivation he was looking for, although Sulu arguably doesn't provide a real answer either. A bit like Mariner too, Boimler eventually discovers a new meaning in himself.

Not only Boimler and Mariner, but also Rutherford and Tendi clash over the importance of the holographic movie, only to agree with one another in the end. For Tendi, the scenario is a test of her leadership skills, after usually just following her friends whenever they were together. For Rutherford, it is much like a game and the goal is to have fun above all. Only when she is sad after the death of the holographic T'Ana, he finally recognizes that Tendi takes this game seriously. Well, the timing of the episode could have been better in this regard, considering that only three weeks ago, Rutherford himself underwent a character test when he was confronted with his former self. In this light, he should not have taken it quite as lightly as here.

Just as already "Crisis Point", the sequel draws on the rich legacy of Star Trek movies and frequently breaks the fourth wall without coming across as contrived, thanks to the holographic nature of the adventure. "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" repeatedly references franchise and fandom controversies that exist in Star Trek, especially on reboots and other paradigm shifts. It notably addresses the existence of the Abrams movie universe but not very favorably, as Mariner and Tendi think the idea is silly.

Two things that don't work for me happen towards the end of the episode. The first is, as already in "Mining the Mind's Mines", the "Stevens is severely injured" joke ("Oh, not twice in one day!"), which is the kind of humor I don't want to see in Star Trek. The second is the revelation of William Boimler's recruitment by Section 31. Sure, this cliffhanger is exactly what Mariner and Boimler just complained about, which is sort of funny. But it also more or less defies the meaning of the episode and is an undesirable twist anyway, even more so as this version of Section 31 may be modeled on the absurd variation seen on Discovery. I enjoy how William comments on the problem of the black badge giving away his new role, but overall this crossover doesn't bode well.

"Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" is a fun journey, not only through the movies but also through the fandom, on an even more meta level than "Crisis Point". Its humor works just as well and it is not marred by violence - well, except for the Stevens joke. The story also includes a great deal of character development. And although he appears only in a dream sequence, who wouldn't enjoy an episode with Trek legend George Takei!

Annotations

Rating: 8

 

Trusted Sources

Synopsis

Stardate 58496.1: Captain Freeman is proud that her "Project Swing-by" to revisit planets after first contact has been approved of by Admiral Buenamigo. Since Victoria Nuzé, a journalist from FNN, is to accompany the first such mission of the Cerritos to Ornara, Freeman is anxious to leave a good impression, which in her view would be jeopardized by Beckett Mariner. She bans all kinds of fun activities such as the pie eating contest. On Ornara, the population has finally recovered from the drug addiction after a transition phase and doesn't require further assistance. So Freeman decides to head for the nearby planet Brekka to see how the former drug dealers are doing. Victoria keeps interviewing selected members of the crew. But then she is approached by Mariner, which Ransom witnesses, and conducts an interview with her as well. After finishing the recordings, the journalist asks to talk to Freeman and frankly tells her that in her impression the ship and crew are chaotic and irresponsible. Freeman calls Mariner to the ready room and accuses her of ruining the ship's reputation. She transfers her off the Cerritos to the dreaded Starbase 80 immediately. After Mariner has left, the mission continues on Brekka where no one is in the streets. But then the away team is ambushed by the Breen, who have invaded the planet. The Cerritos is attacked by a number of Breen ships that use an energy damping weapon to take down the shields. Just as the enemy prepares to board the defenseless Cerritos, a Starfleet ship appears, destroys some of the attackers and chases the rest of them away. But there is no one aboard. Admiral Buenamigo explains that a prototype of the unmanned Texas class saved the day. When the report by FNN airs, Freeman is taken aback that Mariner actually defended her, whereas the chaotic impression was created in the interviews with other crew members. She attempts to contact her daughter on Starbase 80. But Mariner has resigned and roams the galaxy together with treasure hunter Petra Aberdeen.

Commentary

Unlike it was with the three preceding episodes, the teaser images and the title didn't give away what "Trusted Sources" would be about. Nevertheless, the topic of the episode turns out anything but a surprise. Right at the beginning, we learn that Captain Freeman's proposal to follow up on first contacts with alien worlds has been approved of by Starfleet. But there is no real difference between her "Project Swing-by" and the second-contact missions that the Cerritos has been involved in all along, so the fuss she makes about it is quickly exposed as being out of proportion. The discrepancy between reality on one hand, and her own perception of the ship, the crew, the mission and her role on the other hand, sets the tone for the rest of the episode and eventually also explains why things will go awry for her as a mother.

Nothing noteworthy happens in the first half of the episode. Freeman goes where Picard has been before, only to notice that Starfleet's support is not needed on Ornara. The FNN lady interviews members of the crew and learns about things we already know. And Mariner is bored as everything exciting is off-limits for her because her mother is eager to leave a good impression on FNN. It all sounds like business as usual on the Cerritos, which usually means a lot of fun. Yet, the first 12 minutes of "Trusted Sources" are rather bland. Most of the jokes are not based on how characters react to situations (that are not interesting anyway) but they exploit clichés: Mariner behaves like a child, Freeman is constantly anxious to come across as favorable, Ransom delivers pick-up lines. I don't think I laughed about any of that.

The worst flaw in my view is that the story doesn't rely on the established character dynamics at all. Rutherford, Tendi and Boimler appear just a few times, and only to briefly react to Mariner, without having real parts themselves. The episode gains some momentum at long last when Carol sends her daughter off the ship and everyone is pissed at Mariner for ruining the reputation of the Cerritos. Even now her friends are nothing more than bystanders. There could have been so much more about it, but this all feels like a setback to early in season 1.

In the end, it all boils down to a simple misunderstanding, and a usually very avoidable one. As I already mentioned, Carol Freeman has a skewed perception of many things. She doesn't give her daughter the benefit of the doubt. And Ransom doesn't support her in any way either. Mariner, on the other hand, doesn't bother to try to defend herself, which I think is understandable in her situation. But one thought crosses my mind after watching. Freeman thinks that Mariner set her up and that everyone else must have been full of praise for her in the interviews. Victoria from FNN, in contrast, makes it look like Mariner was very kind to her mother, whereas the other interviewees were mocking the captain and their crewmates. I don't think the latter part is necessarily true. It may be just a "truth" that the journalist composed from random negative statements, to support a narrative she wants to get across. In my view, the story is just as much about criticism of the media as about the unfortunate mother-daughter conflict. I wish this aspect had been more than just clandestine.

The Breen attack and the appearance of the cavalry in the form of the automated Texas-class ship are two very gratuitous twists in this story, even if both are already planned to play more significant roles in a future episode.

All in all, "Trusted Sources" is neither as funny nor as meaningful as other recent episodes. It merely does its job to set up the season finale, with Mariner as an "archeologist" at Petra Aberdeen's side as foreshadowed in "Reflections". It does so at the cost of ignoring or reverting character developments. I hope the finale will be the end that justifies the means.

Annotations

Rating: 3

 

The Stars at Night

Synopsis

Stardate 58499.2: The Cerritos has returned to Douglas Station for repairs after the Breen attack. Captain Freeman has been summoned to Starfleet Command, only to learn that after the reportedly bad performance of her ship the California class will be retired and replaced by the new automated Texas class, Admiral Buenamigo's pet project. But she is not willing to accept that and challenges Buenamigo to a "second contact race" of her ship against the Texas-class USS Aledo. The first stop is Galardon, where the Cerritos crew needs some time to install a new power plant, whereas the Aledo just beams down a complete prefabricated module. On LT-358, the away team stops the construction of an outpost when Tendi discovers microbes that could be sentient, whereas the Aledo does not bother, beams down the outpost and gains an edge. When the Cerritos arrives at Ockmenic 9, a Brigadoon-type planet that only phases into our dimension a couple of hours per year, it is too late and the planet has just vanished. Buenamigo rules that the Aledo wins the competition, although Freeman complains that his ship cheated by not investigating the microbes. Rutherford, however, has discovered what has been bothering him about the program of the Aledo all along: It is a code he himself came up with! After Rutherford's accident, Buenamigo stole it and erased his memory. The code is flawed, and it already caused a disaster when Rutherford created Badgey from it. Rutherford confronts the admiral, who reacts by setting the Aledo to full autonomy. But instead of destroying the Cerritos as ordered, the ship kills its creator. The Aledo then activates its two sister ships, which begin to attack the starbase. The Cerritos is no match for these vessels, but Captain Freeman lures them away by claiming that Rutherford knows the code and could disable the ships and then orders to go to warp. The three automated ships catch up with the Cerritos, and ultimately only Shaxs's usual suggestion to eject the warp core proves useful. The detonation destroys two of the three ships, but the Aledo keeps attacking the now defenseless Cerritos. Mariner, however, has called all other California-class ships for help. In a combined effort, the ships destroy the Aledo. Back on the Cerritos, her friends apologize for not trying harder to defend Mariner when she was accused of damaging the ship's reputation. Her mother offers her to resume her position, which Mariner gladly accepts. Rutherford decides to keep his implant in spite of everything. Meanwhile in the Kalla system, his old implant with Badgey's evil program still in it has been salvaged...

Commentary

Last week's episode "Trusted Sources" left me overall disappointed. But it was easy to recognize that it primarily served to set up the season finale. I was looking forward very much to seeing if and how this would pay off in "The Stars at Night". One thing I am happy about is that the Texas class turns out to be much more than a ship of the week and that it was no stupid coincidence for the Cerritos to arrive at Brekka just as the Breen were on the planet. It was all a trap set up by Badmiral Buenamigo so his new ship could save the day. This clearly earns "The Stars at Night" the point that I deducted from "Trusted Sources" because the scenario was so contrived.

I am also content with how the series finale follows up on Carol Freeman's alleged poor performance in the crisis, the media coverage about which too was orchestrated by Buenamigo. On the other hand, the consequences that Starfleet draws from the near disaster are not plausible. If the captain and crew of one particular starship are to blame for a failure, why should Starfleet want to retire the whole ship class? And why would they want to replace ships full of possible problem solvers with automated vessels that are made for combat (and that can assemble prefabricated modules, as we will learn a bit later)? Even though it is a comedy show and even though it is shown as the agenda of a stereotypically bad admiral, I would have expected this aspect to make a bit more sense.

Well, I have to concede that the planned replacement of manned starships with drones is in line with several previous stories. Ever since the androids of TOS and since M-5 in "The Ultimate Computer", Star Trek's idea of automation frequently and unnecessarily goes into the extreme direction of completely replacing sentient beings by AIs, which is an undesirable concept by all means but which was accepted by the decision makers. Furthermore, these AIs routinely turn out to be flawed and run out of control. In this regard, "The Stars at Night" is no more absurd than some live-action episodes.

I like how "The Stars at Night" solves the mystery about who is responsible for erasing Rutherford's memory and why. I only would have wished for him to have a chance to talk out things with the admiral. I can understand why the writers decided that, rather than being willing to apologize, Buenamigo turns all badmiral and is then killed by its creation as a punishment. Still, I think that Rutherford would deserve a chance to really make peace with his past, a problem that is glossed over in the end when he is just happy to discover new functions of his implant.

This episode is a celebration of intraseries continuity. I am very happy that T'Lyn from "wej Duj" joins the crew and becomes Tendi's "study buddy", which I think will be a lot of fun next season. We see many ships and crews that we encountered before, even including the weird permutations of the Cerritos crew on the Alhambra from "Veritas". I can accept that the appearance of all California-class vessels, and only California-class vessels, at Mariner's request to save the Cerritos has a symbolic meaning, rather than making sense in the story.

The one part that disappoints me is Mariner's stint as a treasure hunter and her interaction with Petra. It was foreseeable that she would have fun yet miss her friends in Starfleet. It seems the writers desperately tried to make this all more interesting and give it more of a meaning. But when Mariner breaks into Petra's files, only to find out that her benefactor is "Jean-Luc", this is an underwhelming revelation. And as already mentioned, Mariner's role in the rescue of the Cerritos is contrived.

Overall, "The Stars at Night" is an exciting season finale, but it is not among the very best episodes of Lower Decks in my view. I am quite content how it ties together the loose threads from "Trusted Sources". The action sequences are great. But as already in the preceding episode, I think the character dynamics of our Lower Deckers should have been stronger.

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Rating: 6

 


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