Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first eight episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
In the mid-2000s, a former television presenter named Robert Kilroy-Silk founded a right-wing, anti-European Union political party in the UK. The party’s name? Veritas. After achieving little success in the UK’s European Parliament elections in the late 2000s, the party was dissolved a few years later. There. That’s a thing you know now.
“Veritas” is also the Latin word for “truth,” and happens to be the title of this week’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There absolutely were some laugh-out-loud moments this week, but they came in a confused story that jumped wildly from place to place and ended with a twist that – sorry to say – felt rather cheap.
Ever the optimist(!) I’d been hoping – despite evidence to the contrary – that Lower Decks might somehow manage to secure an international broadcast before the first season wraps up in North America. As we’ve now passed the eighth episode, only two weeks remain in Season 1 and it seems all but certain that won’t be the case. With the recent announcement of Paramount+ – a reworked CBS All Access with additional content from Paramount, Nickelodeon, and others – becoming Star Trek’s new streaming platform not just in the United States but also internationally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the series won’t get an international broadcast until Paramount+ rolls out. Whether that will be good enough to pick up a significant international audience is anyone’s guess – the ill will generated by this stupid decision will take time to abate.
Of course, as Lower Decks remains unavailable in my native Britain, I had no choice but to up sticks and move to the United States in order to watch it lawfully. I’m kicking back in my second home as we speak. I never thought I’d enjoy the Deep South, but I have to admit that it’s grown on me in my time here in the state of Idaho. The Mississippi river runs east to west through the state on its way to Hudson Bay, and I’m having a great time exploring the Everglades National Park.
Veritas attempts to use a frame narrative to tell different, semi-connected stories of a mission the Cerritos undertook that led to what appears to be a trial on an alien world in which the four ensigns are participants. Three of the four – Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi – would take turns telling their parts, which were communicated to us as the audience via flashbacks.
This style of storytelling has worked before in Star Trek. The Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Trials and Tribble-ations uses a frame narrative and flashbacks very well, but in that case the flashbacks formed a single story, not three-and-a-bit separate, almost unrelated parts. Lower Decks has enthusiastically tried different things across its first season, and that’s to be commended. But here it didn’t work. Perhaps in a longer episode, where more time could have been dedicated to both the frame and the individual flashbacks, we might’ve got something better, but even so the nature of the vaguely-connected stories would still have led to the story being muddled. Despite some enjoyable moments and some great jokes, this week’s outing was a disappointing watch overall.
The teaser jumps right into the main story, as we see the ensigns thrown into an alien prison cell. None of them seem to know where they are or why they’re there, and the only other information to gleam is that perhaps the senior staff have been similarly imprisoned. This setup was fine, and suitably mysterious.
After the opening titles, the ensigns’ prison cell ascends into a darkened room. The senior officers are suspended in a beam of light, and while a sinister alien peers down from up high, another steps forward to interrogate them. The design of these aliens was okay, but compared to some other new aliens introduced in Lower Decks came off feeling rather generic.
The ensigns are called on to bear witness to unspecified events leading to the trial, and Mariner is up first. We thus enter the first of the vaguely-connected flashbacks. Rutherford “improved” the Red Alert klaxon in the ensigns’ workspace, but of course his improvements inadvertently caused the alarm not to sound. When the ship goes to Red Alert, Mariner and Boimler are late for bridge duty and rush to get there in time. This was perhaps the first overplayed, overstretched joke in the episode, as Boimler struggles and squirms trying to talk his way out of not knowing what’s going on for slightly too long.
The captain has had a meeting with an alien – possibly of the same race as the ones putting them on trial, they looked so generic it was hard to be sure – and has acquired a map that very clearly states “neutral zone.” Why the Federation need to contact an alien to get a map of their own border is unknown. But in the process of getting/purchasing the map she’s upset the alien captain, and when she orders Mariner to “send them a message,” Mariner opens fire. That wasn’t what the captain meant, of course, and this was a pretty funny gag.
The alien is dissatisfied with Mariner’s story, so calls on Rutherford. Rutherford’s implants grant him essentially perfect memory, but when the alien mentions the specific stardate Rutherford becomes very uncomfortable. The flashback begins with Shaxs and the moustachioed bridge officer (whose name I forgot but is apparently Billups) insisting Rutherford join them on a mission. However, he needs to reset his implant, and doing so puts him to sleep.
This “falling asleep” gag was massively overstretched; it wanted to make a point about updates and patches – something that is definitely relevant in 2020 given the tech we use and the frequency of updates! But it just went on too long, and while it was funny to see Rutherford awakening in progressively weirder and more difficult situations, as a whole the gag was overdone. I did like the Gorn wedding though, that was pretty funny. And the design of the Gorn was a nice blend of the original rubber suits with the Enterprise CGI model. Ultimately, Rutherford’s story explained that he and Shaxs stole a Romulan Bird-of-Prey from a Federation museum. In addition to the Bird-of-Prey itself, there was a nice little callback to the security uniforms used in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, complete with helmets. There was also a callback to Uhura’s dance from The Final Frontier. Rutherford’s full first name was turned into a gag. If it weren’t for the fact that this was a complete reuse of the joke surrounding Boimler’s first name a couple of episodes ago it might’ve been funnier, but it did win a chuckle nevertheless.
The alien interrogator is still upset with the story so far and calls on Tendi. She’s unwilling to comply at first, leading to Mariner and Rutherford being threatened with a menacing-looking tank filled with eels. The eel tank was kind of funny, especially the way Mariner reacted to it. Tendi does eventually give in and tell her story, which begins with her cleaning the conference room. Apparently this is considered a pretty big deal among the ensigns, and I liked seeing Mariner upset that she was never given that particular assignment. While Tendi is cleaning Catian fur off the chairs, Ransom and several “censored” officers enter the room. They mistake Tendi, who is cleaning, for a member of their team nicknamed “the cleaner,” and she ends up on an away mission aboard the stolen Romulan Bird-of-Prey.
Two jokes in Tendi’s story were overdone – the “censoring” of the crewmen and certain words, which was funny for a while but wore off, and the fact that she can’t find the right time to tell them she’s not supposed to be there. The away mission takes the stolen ship and its occupants through the Neutral Zone to a Romulan base where they extract a large box – ultimately revealed to contain a prisoner in stasis. When Tendi is called on to help the team, she does so by fighting a bunch of Romulan guards hand-to-hand, which was a pretty cool sequence.
Finally the alien interrogator turns to Boimler, and thankfully we’re spared a fourth set of flashbacks. When the lives of his three friends – and the senior staff – are threatened, Boimler steps up and launches into a speech about how the whole trial is unfair. The senior staff, he explains, don’t always have time to keep everyone informed of what’s going on, and thus he can’t answer the alien’s questions because he doesn’t know what happened on the stardate in question.
I liked Boimler’s speech in defence of his colleagues, and were it not for what happened immediately after I’d probably say it was one of the high points not just of this episode but of the whole season. He was passionate, brave, and spoke clearly and confidently despite his previously-shown anxieties and the difficult situation he was in. There could have been a powerful message here about overcoming anxiety, but instead the whole speech was rendered essentially meaningless by the revelation that they aren’t on trial and that no one is really in danger; this is supposed to be a celebration that the alien is throwing to commemorate his rescue by the crew of the Cerritos – he was the one rescued from Romulan custody, and unbeknownst to them, the four ensigns all played a role.
This was the twist that felt so cheap. In a show like Lower Decks, randomness is to be expected. And we have to keep in mind that the adventures of the Cerritos and its crew are “unimportant.” But even so, up to this point Veritas had been trying hard to tell a story – a disjointed, difficult-to-follow story – one that ended up with the crew in a perilous situation. To rip that away in an instant was clearly intended to be another funny joke – and as Lower Decks is a comedy series, not only is that fair enough but it should’ve been expected. But I wasn’t expecting it (for some reason) and as a result the joke didn’t land and the “twist” ending just felt cheap and hollow.
The alien is left disappointed by his homecoming party not going to plan, and back aboard the Cerritos the four ensigns are debriefed by a disappointed senior staff. Captain Freeman does say she’s pleased that they acted bravely when they thought they were in danger, but since nobody ever was in any danger this was again rendered pretty meaningless. This was supposed to be the biggest joke of the episode; the punchline on which the entire rest of the story could hang. But coming on the back of an underexplained, jumpy mess of flashbacks, and following on from several other jokes that went on too long and lost their humour, I didn’t really find it particularly funny.
The other disappointment in Veritas was Q’s appearance. I like John de Lancie, and he performs the role of Q just as well in voiceover as he does in live-action – helped, no doubt, by his role as Discord in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Unfortunately for such an important character to Trekkies, Q felt wasted here. He appeared very briefly in a flashback, where he apparently forced the senior officers to play a game, and again at the end of the episode where he was seen chasing the ensigns just before the credits rolled.
There are so many ways an animated comedy series could use Q and his limitless abilities. A whole Q episode could have been made, and with animation being able to do things that would be impossible or prohibitively expensive in live-action, the possibilities for the mischief he could get up to would be almost unlimited. Instead we got a cameo, and in principle I don’t object to that. Cameos can be great fun. It just felt that, in what was already a somewhat disappointing episode, Q’s appearance was so much less than it could have been.
So that was Veritas. After several strong episodes in recent weeks, it was surely only a matter of time before we got one that was a bit of a dud! Veritas wasn’t the worst Star Trek story, not by a long way, and there were some great jokes, funny moments, and other enjoyable things to take away from it. I liked, for example, the gag about Dr T’Ana boarding the wrong ship, the randomness of punishment by eel, and the callbacks to The Original Series films in Rutherford’s flashback story. Unfortunately, several factors came together to make Veritas less fun than other stories in the first season. I don’t want to call it “the worst” episode of Lower Decks, because the first couple of episodes where Mariner was particularly toxic and offensive probably were less enjoyable. But it’s definitely not one of Season 1’s better offerings.
Next week’s story, titled Crisis Point, looks like a lot of fun. If you haven’t seen the promo I won’t spoil anything, but suffice to say I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a return to form!
The first eight episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.