Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, Generations, The Next Generation, and Picard Season 1.
Lower Decks got off to a weaker start than I’d have liked in Season 3, with a couple of episodes that didn’t really manage to hit the high notes that the series has demonstrated that it’s capable of reaching. For me at least, Mining the Mind’s Mines was somewhat of a return to form; an episode that managed to be more enjoyable and much closer to some of the better offerings from Seasons 1 and 2. It wasn’t perfect, and I still find myself judging the Lower Decks by the standards of the absolutely phenomenal Season 2 finale. We aren’t quite there yet, but Mining the Mind’s Mines was definitely a big step in the right direction after an underwhelming start to the new season.
For the first time this season, all four of our main ensigns felt like they got a decent amount to do. Although Tendi was largely off to one side this week, her B-plot still felt well-developed and was given enough time to shine. Lower Decks doesn’t always have time to include everybody, but Mining the Mind’s Mines is a great example of how there’s room to give all of the main characters something to do – even if some stories are bigger than others!
There are two genuinely interesting concepts in Mining the Mind’s Mines, one of which Star Trek as a whole hasn’t dedicated much time to in the past. Firstly, we have the idea of Starfleet officers acquiring reputations or even celebrity status. This is something that Mining the Mind’s Mines looked at through the lens of the ensigns from the USS Carlsbad, and how they came to view the Cerritos as a kind of “Cali-class legend.”
We’ve seen in Generations how the Federation’s media crowded around the retired Captain Kirk, and in Season 1 of Picard how the retired Admiral was interviewed about his role in the Romulan rescue effort, and these scenes certainly hint at the fact that some Starfleet officers end up as household names or at least names that are known and respected within Starfleet.
Within Lower Decks itself, Boimler has often taken on the role of the over-zealous fan, showing how some Starfleet officers (and others) go on to become famous, at least within the ranks! Boimler’s fawning over characters like Will Riker and Tom Paris serves as both a gentle poking of fun at Trekkies and, from an in-universe perspective, as an example of the fame and reverence that some Starfleet officers garner as they go on adventure after adventure.
As someone who’s fascinated with the world-building side of Star Trek, things like this go a long way to making the Federation and the Star Trek galaxy feel real and lived-in. It makes sense that some of the monumental events that we’ve seen on screen would be massive news stories within the Federation, and the names of those involved would become well-known. As a real-world analogy, how many astronauts, explorers, or even soldiers and military officers could you name off the top of your head? Fame (and infamy) come to people in all walks of life, and given the incredible escapades we often see our favourite characters taking part in, it seems perfectly reasonable to think that at least some Starfleet officers would acquire reputations – as would certain vessels and postings!
The second point that I found interesting was the way that the episode examined the working relationship between Starfleet and the civilian scientists on Jengus IV. Set aside, for the moment, the conclusion to that particular storyline; I just find it really interesting how there can be a real disconnect between Starfleet and some of these groups of non-aligned scientists.
Again, this is something that makes the Federation feel real and alive in a way that many fictional worlds just don’t. Far from being a flat, one-dimensional plane in which everyone works to the same goals, here we have an example of how factions within the Federation find themselves at loggerheads, competing with one another. Starfleet, as the Federation’s exploration and military arm, gets resources and attention that some civilian groups clearly envy. Even within Star Trek’s optimistic, post-scarcity future, these kinds of disagreements are bound to exist!
In that sense, Mining the Mind’s Mines picked up a story thread from a long way back in Star Trek’s past. One of the most prominent examples of this “scientists versus Starfleet” divide came in The Wrath of Khan, with Dr Carol Marcus and Dr David Marcus and their research on Project Genesis drawing attention from Starfleet – and later, of course, from Khan!
Psychic mines were a very interesting inclusion in Mining the Mind’s Mines. The way they came across on screen was largely played for comedic effect, but at the same time they felt threatening and dangerous. I’d argue that psychic mines aren’t something you’d expect to find in any other sci-fi franchise; they have an “old school Star Trek” feel to them, as if they might’ve been conceived for one of Captain Kirk’s adventures in The Original Series! Bringing fears and phobias to life is a trope that has been explored in other stories, of course, but the way it was handled here put a uniquely “Star Trek” spin on it.
The psychic mines reminded me a little of the Deep Space Nine episode If Wishes Were Horses from Season 1, and also of Voyager’s second season episode The Thaw – so again, this is something that feels like pure Star Trek in both concept and execution. It led to some pretty funny moments in Mining the Mind’s Mines, too, with each of the ensigns given a chance to criticise the others’ fantasies and fears. It didn’t feel as if fun was being had exclusively at one character’s expense; there was no bullying or punching down, which was nice to see.
I don’t think we learned anything about the ensigns through the manifestation of their fantasies and fears, though, which could have been interesting to see. Boimler got a fairly typical “I love Starfleet and want to be a hero” outing that fits perfectly with his character (and could have been a fun way to include a cameo!), Mariner got to see a manifestation of Jennifer the Andorian, who we haven’t seen since Season 2, and Rutherford got to meet one of his heroes: Leah Brahms, who was a character we met in The Next Generation in a rather… complicated story involving Geordi La Forge.
All of these were fun, and it was great to welcome back Susan Gibney as Dr Brahms for a cameo appearance. Interestingly, Gibney was one of the contenders to play Captain Janeway back when Voyager was in pre-production; she was ultimately passed over as producers considered her “too young” to play the role. After a long absence from Star Trek, it was neat to see her make a return, albeit just as a small cameo on this occasion.
I’d like to see more from Mariner and Jennifer; I think there’s the potential for Jennifer to be a positive influence on Mariner, even if their relationship isn’t “exclusive” at first. Giving Mariner someone to talk to outside of the other three ensigns would be interesting, and Lower Decks embarking on its first fully-fledged romantic storyline could be a blast. I’d be interested to see how Jennifer might react to some of Mariner’s rule-breaking and wacky adventures… could she prove to be a calming influence just as much as a partner in crime?
Back aboard the ship, Tendi’s storyline was an interesting one. We’ve seen characters like Troi go through some form of command training before, so it wasn’t an entirely new concept to see this kind of senior officer training. But for someone like Tendi, who’s usually very mild-mannered and doesn’t like conflict or trouble, it was naturally going to pose a challenge. She struggled first of all to stand up to Dr Migleemoo, who clearly wasn’t a good fit in his new role as mentor, but she eventually found her confidence and was even able to save the day as the two divergent storylines came together. All in all, it was a good outing for her!
We’ve seen Tendi “snap” on a couple of previous occasions, so this outburst of assertiveness doesn’t come from nowhere. In Season 1’s Crisis Pointwe saw her stand up to Mariner, and again to Mariner in Season 2’s We’ll Always Have Tom Paris. Tendi clearly needs to work on her assertiveness if she’s to be an effective bridge officer, because getting her point across when others want to ignore her or talk over her is going to be important! It took Dr T’Ana to help her with that, and although the two only shared a brief scene this week, the relationship between them that has evolved over the past couple of seasons really is one of the best outside of the core friend group. Although Dr T’Ana can be abrasive, she has a soft spot for Tendi that’s really sweet to see.
Seeing scientists “go rogue” and work against Starfleet for their own ends was an interesting – and genuinely unexpected – twist. It took a fairly common Star Trek story trope – that of scientists in peril who need assistance – and flipped it on its head, and while that concept isn’t entirely unique, it was well-executed in Mining the Mind’s Mines.
This week’s episode was also a rare outing for Lieutenant Commander Stevens, one of the Cerritos’ senior officers who’s mainly seen in the background. One of the few things we know about Stevens is that he adores Commander Ransom, and that aspect was played up again here. I don’t think it hurts Lower Decks to have characters like Stevens; familiar faces who occasionally have larger roles to play are something past Star Trek shows have taken advantage of, too.
So that was Mining the Mind’s Mines. It was a fun episode with some great laugh-out-loud moments, and Lower Decks seems ready to put an underwhelming start to Season 3 behind it. The psychic mines were a neat concept and allowed for some fun and different imagery, it was great to welcome back Susan Gibney for a cameo as Dr Leah Brahms, and while the main story was engaging and interesting, Tendi’s B-plot felt fleshed out too. I found myself having a good time with Mining the Mind’s Mines and remained engaged throughout.
Beyond the story of the scientists and Scrubble on Jengus IV, though, there was a genuinely interesting take on the idea of Starfleet officers – and certain vessels – acquiring a degree of fame and notoriety within the ranks. The way the ensigns from the USS Carlsbad approached their counterparts from the Cerritos seemed to be setting up the story for conflict and rivalry, but in true Star Trek style they soon found a way to work together – and the Carlsbad ensigns got to meet some of their Cali-class heroes in the process!
Once again, I apologise for the delay in getting these reviews published. Although it may take longer than usual, I still plan to review each episode of Season 3 of Lower Decks, so I hope you’ll bear with me.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3.
After a somewhat disappointing season premiere last week, The Least Dangerous Game was an improvement – but it still wasn’t a particularly spectacular episode. Lower Decks’ third season hasn’t yet managed to hit the highs that we know the series can reach, and I think the best thing that I can say about this week’s offering is that it was mostly inoffensive. There were no glaring faults that dragged it down in the way that Grounded’s non sequitur ending did last time, but there was nothing that really elevated the story, either. Even an appearance by J.G. Hertzler as a simulated General Martok didn’t do much for what was a fairly bland and uninspired outing for the Lower Decks ensigns.
After the incredible Season 2 finale and last week’s premiere both followed a single story that brought all of the ensigns together, The Least Dangerous Game returned to the A, B, and C-plot structure that split up the main and secondary characters into groups. Pairing Mariner with Commander Ransom was something that Lower Decks hadn’t done to any great extent since Season 1’s Temporal Edict, and this time the addition of Ransom having final say over Mariner’s continued service in Starfleet added an extra dimension.
I’m glad that Lower Decks didn’t drop that angle after it was introduced in the somewhat rushed conclusion to last week’s outing. With Mariner’s parents being a captain and an admiral, there’s been a bit of a question-mark over how her misbehaviour and occasional insubordination gets excused, so assigning her to Ransom’s jurisdiction feels like a way to both circumvent that issue and also potentially shake up the way Mariner has to act, at least when on duty.
As an aside, I promised as far back as Season 1 in 2020 that I’d take a look at how Starfleet seems to fall victim to nepotism and favouritism on occasion, and Ensign Mariner is hardly the first example! We have characters like Wesley Crusher on the Enterprise-D and Nog (at least to an extent) on Deep Space Nine who made full use of their relationships with senior officers as examples of this phenomenon. This is absolutely ripe for a deeper dive (and I’ve had a piece in my writing pile tentatively titled Nepotism and favouritism within Starfleet for the better part of two years now) so we won’t get into too much of it here. But suffice to say that I like the idea that Captain Freeman and Admiral… Mariner(?) seem to recognise that they have a soft spot for their daughter and can’t remain objective. When we think about how some past Starfleet captains went out on a limb to back up their favourites (even when they were in the wrong), this is something new and different.
On the surface, Mariner and Ransom shouldn’t be at loggerheads. Both can be laid-back, and you’d think that Ransom’s less formal attitude would sit well with Mariner – and that he might be inclined to cut her some slack. But there’s a definite personality clash, and Tawny Newsome and Jerry O’Connell really sell it through their performances.
As is sometimes the case with Lower Decks, we have to try to set aside some of the nitpicking. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that an away team wouldn’t assign the engineering task – repairing the orbital lift – to its two engineers, nor that Ransom would be able to get away with essentially jeopardising a mission simply to push Mariner’s buttons. And jeopardise the mission he did – not only in terms of repairs to the elevator but also in terms of the Federation’s relationship with the planet of Dulaine. In this case, the normal structure of a mission like this took a back seat to story concerns, and in a less-serious series like Lower Decks I can forgive it. I would caveat that, though, by saying that the story for which the basic operating procedures of Starfleet were sacrificed was pretty mediocre.
After Lower Decks took Mariner on a two-season-long journey from being a bratty, angsty “teenager” through to being a more complex character with an evolving and improving relationship with both her mother and Starfleet, there was a bit of a question-mark over what would come next. For my money, I’d have liked to have seen a continuation of Mariner’s progress, coming to terms with her role in Starfleet and perhaps coming to realise that, if she wants to be able to make her own decisions without consulting others, she needs to climb the ranks. Last week’s episode trotted out a “trust the system” story, and that could play well. But this week, with Mariner getting frustrated with Ransom, I felt perhaps the first steps toward a regression that could undo some or all of her progress.
As the story concluded, Mariner worked hard to undo her act of rebellion or insubordination, seeming to realise that it would jeopardise her continued service in Starfleet as Ransom would surely have been given the excuse he needed to discipline her. But the fact that she ended up in that situation in the first place could be indicative of that kind of regression, and while there’s blame to go around – in the sense that it was Ransom who was manipulating the mission to be as annoying to Mariner as possible – that doesn’t excuse her reaction. I guess this cuts to a deeper issue with Mariner’s characterisation, and how the whole “loose cannon” character type doesn’t really fit within an organisation like Starfleet. Regardless, I hope the next episode can begin to put this aspect of Mariner to one side. Lower Decks isn’t at its best when putting Mariner into storylines like this one – and it’s something we’ve seen on multiple occasions already, so it isn’t even new or innovative at this point in the show’s run.
Boimler’s storyline this week was something and nothing. The design of K’ranch was interesting, perhaps one of the most visually distinctive aliens that Lower Decks has created so far, and I liked that. His passion for the hunt was also reminiscent of both Klingons and Voyager’s Hirogen, which was a neat inclusion. But I just never felt that there was any real sense of danger once the hunt had been agreed to and got underway; there just weren’t any stakes. Without feeling that Boimler was genuinely being hunted “to the death,” this whole chapter of the story just felt incredibly flat.
Taking a step back, I like the idea that Lower Decks may be trying to give some of its main characters something different this season. Mariner has to keep herself in check because of being watched over by Ransom (though she didn’t succeed this week), and now Boimler, at least in this episode, is trying to be bolder, more outgoing, and more adventurous. Spurred on by the news that Vendome (a character we met briefly in Season 1) had been promoted to captain, Boimler vowed to say “yes” to everything that came his way – something that I feel was lifted from the plot of some ’80s comedy film… but I can’t remember which one!
Because Lower Decks is so episodic, it isn’t clear if “bold Boimler” will stick around, but even if not it was at least an interesting concept to try out, and one that could return in later seasons if deemed a success. As I said, I didn’t feel that the hunt that Boimler got involved with was a particularly strong story in and of itself, but the concept underpinning it feels like it has potential. To see Boimler stepping out of his comfort zone and having new experiences is no bad thing for a series that’s racing towards its thirtieth episode.
Tendi and Rutherford drew short straws this week, and neither made a huge impact on the story. It was nice to see all four ensigns together playing their Klingon game – a game based on a real-world video board game from the 1990s – but after that, Tendi and Rutherford didn’t have very much to do. Not every episode can give equal screen time to every character, though, and I’m sure both of them will have turns in the spotlight before Season 3 is over.
One final point that made me a little uncomfortable was the presentation of Chief Engineer Billups. Season 2’s Where Pleasant Fountains Lie gave Billups a really interesting story – one that felt like a Star Trek analogy for asexuality. Billups was incredibly uncomfortable at the idea of sex and sexuality – perhaps being “sex-repulsed” – and this was a big part of his arc in that story. As I wrote afterwards, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie was one of the best and most understandable depictions of what it’s like to be asexual that I’ve ever seen on the small screen.
However, in The Least Dangerous Game we seemed to see Billups a lot more comfortable with scantily-clad aliens on a kind of “pleasure planet,” and while he ended up getting into difficulty as the mission went off the rails, I would have liked to have seen more from him about his lack of interest in sex and lack of sexual desire. He seemed, at one point, to be very happily enjoying what the planet had to offer, and I guess it just feels like a pretty big difference when compared to where he was in Season 2.
This matters to me because, as someone who is asexual, Billups’ story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie was actually a big deal. It was a first not only for Star Trek, but one of the very few stories in the world of entertainment at all that felt like a reference to asexuality. Trying to move Billups away from that presentation, especially for the sake of a minor role in an otherwise forgettable episode, is just a bit of a disappointment. While I don’t expect Lower Decks to make a big deal of Billups’ potential asexuality again, I definitely don’t want the series to start undermining that story – and it felt to me that it happened – albeit in a small way – this week.
All in all, I didn’t hate anything about The Least Dangerous Game. But neither of its main storylines were particularly strong, and where there should have been some sense of danger or some degree of high stakes for Boimler, the story setup didn’t really allow for that. It certainly isn’t Lower Decks’ worst-ever episode, but The Least Dangerous Game just feels bland and generic. Nothing consequential really happened, and where there could have been major disruptive events, at least for two of the ensigns, the end of the story seems to have basically reset everything back to normal. Mariner got away with abandoning her post, and Boimler easily survived his “hunt” with K’ranch.
And finally, the short sequences featuring Billups, as mentioned, made me a little uncomfortable when considering his Season 2 presentation and how powerfully that resonated with me. All of these things came together to make The Least Dangerous Game a bit of an underwhelming episode.
But I’m hopeful that Lower Decks will pick up as Season 3 gets going! There are still eight episodes left to shake things up, and I’m always going to go into every new Star Trek episode hoping to have a good time. Although I’ve found some criticisms of Lower Decks Season 3 so far, I genuinely enjoy the series and what it’s brought to the table. Some of the points of criticism have arisen in light of the successes of past episodes; I just don’t feel that Lower Decks has hit those same high notes yet this season.
My writing schedule is all over the place at the moment, so unlike in Seasons 1 and 2 I may not get these reviews out in a timely fashion. That can’t be helped, unfortunately, and I hope you’ll bear with me. I still intend to review each episode this season, but some of the reviews may be later than usual.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3.
Ah, it feels good to be doing this again! After a ten-month hiatus, Star Trek: Lower Decks is back on our screens with a ten-episode third season to take us all the way to Halloween! Although the season premiere didn’t quite hit the high notes that I was hoping for, it’s still great to welcome the series back. There’s been some big news about Lower Decks over the last couple of months – a crossover episode with Strange New Worlds is on the cards for next year, if you somehow missed that announcement.
After Season 2 ended on a cliffhanger with an incredibly powerful episode, I was hoping that this new season would bolt out of the gate and keep the quality high. Unfortunately, Lower Decks’ tendency to go for the non sequitur ending meant that the season premiere, while fun and entertaining at first, fell flat as it reached its conclusion. A well-established cliffhanger that ended Season 2 was wrapped up in an odd and ultimately unsatisfying way, with all of the significant events taking place off-screen. While we got a fun adventure with our favourite ensigns that took up the first four-fifths of the episode, the ending let it down massively.
Grounded was an episode that was full of little nods and references to past iterations of Star Trek, and I certainly appreciated that. It was fun to get a look at Bozeman, Montana as it appears in the 24th Century, for example – including the infamous statue of Zephram Cochrane that we first heard about in First Contact. The outfits worn by the main characters recalled past Star Trek stories, including Rutherford’s Jake Sisko-inspired jumper and Boimler’s vest, which was first seen adorning Wesley Crusher in The Next Generation.
There was some gentle poking fun at Disneyland and Disney World in the presentation of the Bozeman, Montana complex, and that was certainly cute. The Phoenix “ride” that the ensigns hijacked to take to the Cerritos reminded me of the ride Star Tours at Disney World, particularly in the queue area. And the churros that Rutherford and Tendi were seen snacking on are likewise a Disney Parks staple!
Back to Star Trek, we had callbacks to and parodies of the Picard family vineyard – which has most recently appeared, of course, in both seasons of Star Trek: Picard, though here it was seen closer to its appearances in Family and All Good Things. Sisko’s Creole Kitchen – the family restaurant operated by Benjamin Sisko’s father Joseph – was the setting for one scene, and we also got name-drops of Tuvok and Captain Bateson (the character played by Kelsey Grammer in The Next Generation Season 5 episode Cause and Effect) during Captain Freeman’s truncated explanation of her trial and the events leading up to it.
Finally, and this was a neat inclusion, James Cromwell reprised his role as Zephram Cochrane – albeit in holographic form. The musical sting from First Contact brought a tear to my eye, and the launch of the Phoenix was an incredibly neat sequence. The addition of a random theme park guest (and a cowardly one at that) kind of detracted from the moment a little, but that was a classic Lower Decks move in its own way and one I can’t really hold a grudge against.
Once we’ve finished wading through the nostalgia, though, I’m left feeling that Grounded was a little hollow; an episode of false starts and setups that led nowhere – or to a disconnected, unpredictable conclusion that may have been “trademark Lower Decks” in some respects, but where the execution of its final twist and closing moments left a bit of a sour taste.
At first, Ensign Mariner seemed to be on a quest driven by emotion. But that emotional setup didn’t go anywhere, and her relationship with her mother arguably ends the episode in a worse place than it had been at the start. There seemed to be a story about Starfleet’s trustworthiness that could’ve harkened back not only to stories like The Search for Spock but that also could have connected with themes in recent seasons of Discovery and Picard – but it also didn’t go anywhere. And there was the fear that Ensign Mariner had that Captain Freeman was being mistreated because of her “lowly” status as captain of a California-class ship. That concept also hit the wall.
Then there was a particularly harsh judge for Captain Freeman’s trial who was mentioned once, never seen on screen, and whose influence appears to have had no impact whatsoever on the story. Boimler’s logs turned out to be unusable because of their content. That joke wasn’t even especially funny – yet it was the punchline of a whole chapter of the story, one that ended up going nowhere as a result. These are just some of the false starts and red herrings that Grounded threw at us.
The problem with these ideas isn’t that any of them are bad – it’s that Grounded threw them all out and then paid off none of them in a significant way. The idea of Starfleet being biased, or of a “conservative court” picking on officers from lower positions are both really neat concepts that even a comedic series like Lower Decks could have explored… but it seems to have dropped them just as soon as it had picked them up.
The first three-quarters of the episode did a decent enough job at setting up Mariner’s grief and fear, but the culmination of this storyline was far too short and one sequence on the bridge of the Cerritos wasn’t enough of a pay-off. When the rest of the ideas introduced to us in the first part of the episode went nowhere, there was basically nothing left and no way to salvage the story. Grounded’s “big twist” was that Captain Freeman was acquitted at her trial with no input from Mariner or the other ensigns, but it was just… nothing. It wasn’t especially clever, it certainly wasn’t funny, and the fact that it was rushed through with a brief montage to explain what really happened just felt incredibly anticlimactic.
Worse, Grounded picks up an unfortunate trend from earlier in Lower Decks’ run. By encouraging us as the audience to get invested in the ensigns’ story and believe that they were on a Search for Spock-type last-ditch mission to save their captain, only to turn around and show us that she was never in any real danger and didn’t even need their help, the show and its creators almost feel like they’re laughing at us. As if the audience’s investment in the story they set up is part of the joke. I noted this with disappointment in Season 1’s Veritas, and it’s a shame to see this unfortunate trope reoccur now that Lower Decks is entering its third season. The show should aim to be better than this.
When Captain Freeman walked through the shuttlebay doors, flanked by her senior staff, I admit it was a surprise. But it didn’t feel real – I felt sure that she’d turn out to be a hologram, a changeling, a disguised Pakled… basically anything else other than the real, newly-freed captain. And the reason for that is simple: the story doesn’t flow. This conclusion is, as I said at the beginning, a non sequitur; it doesn’t follow on naturally from the story we’ve spent the rest of the episode following. And for some people, maybe this kind of twist works. For me, it didn’t. And when the entire episode is built around this one big, explosive moment, its failure condemns the entire episode.
Perhaps that last statement was a tad harsh. There are neat moments across the first portion of Grounded that really plucked the right nostalgic strings, and others that were amusing in one way or another. I liked, for example, the kindly old man who operated the transporter, and how none of the ensigns had the heart to stun him and tie him up. That was a fun way to throw in a twist to what felt like a predictable storyline.
However, all of those neat moments feel soured by the episode’s ending. Partly this is because going back and rewatching a story with a bad ending always feels like a tainted experience, but also it should be said that it feels like some of these moments were wasted time. Captain Freeman blitzed through a montage and explanation of the Pakleds’ scheme and her trial that lasted barely a minute, and perhaps a longer sequence – that could have included flashbacks to the trial itself and/or the events surrounding it – might’ve gone some way to making up for the rug-pull. I’m not sure that would’ve saved Grounded, but maybe the episode could have been transformed from a disappointment into something merely underwhelming.
Had the Captain Freeman reveal been made at the halfway point, instead of three minutes before the credits rolled, more time could’ve been dedicated to explaining her situation, she and Mariner could’ve enjoyed a longer conversation to process what happened, and some of the ultimately unnecessary fluff could’ve been cut from earlier in the story.
So I’m sorry to say that Lower Decks continues a trend of season premieres that don’t hit the high notes that we know the series can reach. Grounded was undermined by the decision to have the ensigns’ story not matter – and while, in some ways, that’s the point of Lower Decks as a whole, the way in which it was executed here is what let it down. I don’t mind following the ensigns as they follow orders, complete insignificant tasks, and the like… but setting up a story in which they seemed to be on a dangerous adventure only to yank it away at the last minute and show how pointless it all was, well that just doesn’t make for a fun, worthwhile, or entertaining ride. At least not for me.
Star Trek references dripped from every orifice in Grounded, but the inclusion of so many locations, characters, callbacks, and name-drops couldn’t save an episode that was, unfortunately, spoiled by a poor ending. After First First Contact had set up Season 3 for greatness, this first episode feels like a swing and a miss from Mike McMahan and the team.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
How on earth have ten weeks flown by? It seems like only yesterday that we were settling in for the premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and now we have to say goodbye to the series. On the plus side, that means it’s only a few days until Star Trek: Discovery returns with Season 3! After a somewhat stumbling start, Lower Decks improved massively to become a thoroughly enjoyable watch across its first season, and definitively proved that Star Trek can break new ground and do different things.
I was hoping for an exciting finale to end the season on a high, and in that regard No Small Parts delivered. It was almost certainly the funniest of the whole season too; the laugh-out-loud moments got going and hardly let up. There was also a genuinely heartbreaking moment, as security chief Shaxs lost his life.
The biggest disappointment with Lower Decks has been its lack of an international broadcast. The fact that the show has been segregated by geography has cut off not only Star Trek’s biggest fans in the rest of the world, but legions of potential new fans too. The entire point of a project like Lower Decks was to expand Star Trek beyond its typical sci-fi niche. Animated comedy shows are wildly popular all around the world, and this was the franchise’s biggest opportunity since at least the 2009 reboot to grow the fanbase and shore things up heading into the 2020s. ViacomCBS blew it. And there have been two big results: much of the hype for Lower Decks died before the first episode was even broadcast, as a huge potential audience came to realise it wasn’t going to be available to them. And the show became heavily-pirated, mostly by Trekkies who had no lawful way to access it. As I wrote when I looked at this issue in detail, ViacomCBS encouraged that. And it’s totally morally justifiable.
Of course, if you’ve been following my episode reviews you know I’d never partake in something like piracy. Heavens no. Instead I did the only sensible thing – I moved to the United States. I’ve had a wonderful time at my château here in the lovely state of Montana, but after ten weeks just outside the big city of Philadelphia I’m ready to head home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place, and there’s some wonderful waves to surf here on the Pacific coast, but I’m homesick. And if I have to eat another slice of this city’s signature dish (deep-pan pizza) I think I might burst.
So without further ado, let’s jump into No Small Parts. The teaser begins with a return to Beta III, the planet visited by Kirk and the USS Enterprise in The Original Series’ first season episode Return of the Archons. In that story, Kirk had to overcome Landru, a sophisticated AI that the Beta III natives worshipped and obeyed. In what was to become a theme for the episode, after that initial contact with Starfleet, the Beta III inhabitants slowly drifted back to following Landru, leaving Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom to once again tell them to snap out of it.
So the concept of Starfleet making first contact but not really following that up in a meaningful way would be a theme in No Small Parts. We’ll see that in a moment with the Pakleds, as well. This is something genuinely fascinating, as it shows us the “underbelly” of the Federation beyond the exciting missions of the Enterprise. This is what Lower Decks promised, and I’d argue that No Small Parts is perhaps the best example of this concept in the entire season.
There were several great references in the teaser. While Ransom is recording his log he looks at a picture of Kirk and Spock on a padd – the picture was the duo as they appeared in The Animated Series in 1973-74! That was great, and a fun little acknowledgement that both series are linked by animation. Ransom uses the term “TOS era” when referring to the time of Kirk and Spock – an obvious shoutout to what fans call it! There was also a hint at the changing nature of Star Trek’s storytelling, as Ransom comments that Kirk and his crew seemed to be “stumbling on crazy new aliens every week back then!”
As Captain Freeman gives the order to break orbit, an unnamed bridge officer tells her that there are still crew on Beta III – much to her annoyance! Of course, there was only one person who could have so brazenly disobeyed orders – Ensign Mariner. I started to worry that we were about to see a character regression, ignoring the major breakthrough in her relationship with Starfleet that we’d seen last week!
Speaking of last week, Boimler had learned of Mariner’s secret – that she’s the daughter of Captain Freeman. In a scene that once again showed Boimler being a very sore winner, which is not an endearing character trait, he tries to use it as leverage and rub her face in it, teasing her mercilessly and somewhat cruelly.
Unfortunately for Boimler – and everyone else involved – their conversation is broadcast to everyone on the bridge via an open com-link. Freeman and Mariner’s secret is busted wide open, and now the entire crew knows. Captain Freeman beams the two wayward ensigns directly to the bridge, but it was too late to stop knowledge of the secret getting out. Boimler has – unintentionally – ruined things for the pair of them.
The credits rolled, and this was the last time we’re going to hear the Lower Decks theme for a while! I know that I’ve commented on it a couple of times already this season, but it really is a lovely piece of music. As a Star Trek theme it’s adventurous and inspiring, and would be just as well-suited to The Next Generation as it is to Lower Decks. The themes for Picard and Discovery are, by comparison, very understated and slow. They fit their shows well, but I found them both to be far less memorable than the music used for Lower Decks. It’s not a stretch to say it’s the best post-1990s Star Trek theme, and I shall miss it!
After the titles we’re not immediately back on the Cerritos. Instead the action hops to another California-class ship, the USS Solvang. Like Cerritos (and other names used this season) Solvang is a city in California, between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. While visiting the Kalla system, which had been seen in The Next Generation, the Solvang is brutally attacked by a massive, imposing-looking starship. After the attack takes down their shields in a matter of seconds the captain gives the order to warp out of the system, but a grappling hook launched by the aggressive ship has clamped onto one of the Solvang’s nacelles. The resultant attempt to go to warp overloads the engines and destroys the ship.
One character who, despite having a handful of good moments across the season, has felt underdeveloped and rudderless on the whole is Ensign Tendi. Mariner, Boimler, and Rutherford each have a niche; a role within the context of the show that they fill. Tendi is still missing that as of the end of the first season, and the lack of any real character development – aside from one moment last week where she stood up for herself – made this next scene feel unearned. At the beginning of the season, Tendi was assigned Boimler as her orientation officer. And now, in the finale, she gets to be the orientation officer for a new recruit. If Tendi had seen any growth, character development, or indeed had any real impact on the show at all across the first season, there’s no question that this moment would have felt fantastic. As it is, though, Tendi still feels like a character the writers haven’t found a proper role for, and as a result this moment fell flat.
It was only for a moment, however, because the new officer Tendi is to mentor is an exocomp! The exocomps were introduced in Quality of Life from the sixth season of The Next Generation. The exocomps were originally conceived as tools, but grew to become sentient. Data in particular played a crucial role in defending them, and it’s great to see their evolution had continued such that one could join Starfleet by this time. It does raise a question, though. In Star Trek: Picard, synthetic life has been banned not just in the Federation, but across many other areas of the galaxy. What does that mean for the exocomps, I wonder?
There was also the beginning of a running gag here, as Rutherford messes with his cybernetic implant. Pressing a button cycles through a number of different personality quirks, and while some of them won a chuckle, the joke as a whole was overstretched. Despite not being especially funny on its own merits, however, this did serve to remind us as the audience of Rutherford’s cybernetics and his ability to manipulate them, setting up a moment later in the story and ensuring that a much more crucial scene doesn’t feel like a bolt from the blue.
In the captain’s ready-room, Mariner and Freeman are dealing with the fallout from the crew learning their secret. There was a reference to Wesley and Beverly Crusher, which was fun to see, and it seems as though both officers had something to gain by keeping the secret. Mariner didn’t want special treatment, nor to feel as though she was being given an easy ride. And because of Mariner’s poor record, it suited Captain Freeman that nobody knew her daughter was one of the worst officers in the fleet. Mariner’s fears seem to be confirmed when Commander Ransom arrives and treats her differently.
Tendi’s exocomp friend is named Peanut Hamper – a name she chose for herself, believing it to be the best available. Tendi, naturally, loves it, and begins giving Peanut Hamper the same tour of the ship that she received from Boimler and Mariner in the season premiere. Meanwhile, Mariner is having a hard time as the whole complement of the Cerritos is treating her differently. Everyone from senior officers like Dr T’Ana and chief engineer Billups, all the way down to her fellow ensigns and others on the lower decks are all behaving differently around her, and of course she blames Boimler for spilling the beans.
Even Boimler isn’t immune to trying to use his connection to Mariner, though, as he asks her to pass a letter of recommendation to the captain for him. Apparently there’s a promotion up for grabs, complete with reassignment, and Boimler wants it. Mariner decides that a role on a different ship where nobody knows her (and, presumably, where even if they did it wouldn’t do any good without Captain Freeman being present too) is just what she needs, and decides to play it straight for a while to win the promotion. She rolls down her sleeves, fixes her hair, and starts addressing Boimler as “sir.” In a funny moment at the end of the scene, Shaxs bursts in and, in his typical gruff style, tells Boimler that he wants to give Mariner a present, while carrying what looked like a wrapped-up Klingon batleth!
After a short scene where Mariner and Boimler both try to press Ransom for the promotion, we’re back with Tendi and Peanut Hamper. Rutherford is in one of the shuttlebays working on a shuttle, and Tendi is worried that Peanut Hamper may not be cut out for Starfleet – despite the fact that she must’ve graduated from the Academy. In sickbay, Dr T’Ana puts Peanut Hamper through her paces, and the little exocomp is more than capable thanks to her technology, despite Tendi’s fears.
Boimler and Mariner argue about the promotion while the ship arrives in the Kalla system (having previously answered the Solvang’s distress call). Any thoughts of the disagreement are immediately set aside as the ship finds the Solvang’s debris and jumps to red alert. On the bridge, the senior staff confirm that there are no life signs amongst the wreckage, and after the explosion we saw earlier I think that’s to be expected! It isn’t long before the aggressive ship rears its head again, this time targeting the Cerritos.
This giant, imposing vessel turns out to belong to a familiar Star Trek race. But it isn’t one we might’ve expected – it’s the Pakleds! The Pakleds were featured in Samaritan Snare during the second season of The Next Generation, and were depicted as slow and stupid. The concept behind them was “all the other aliens on Star Trek are really smart, what if some aren’t?” Which, if you think about concepts like interstellar travel, is a ridiculous idea, but regardless the Pakleds were created and became part of the Star Trek universe. After their debut in The Next Generation, they would occasionally serve as background characters in Deep Space Nine.
Of all the races that could outgun and outsmart the Cerritos, it’s funny that it’s the Pakleds – even though as a race I’ve felt since The Next Generation that they make absolutely no sense. Pakleds could indeed show a degree of cunning, and were known to be selfish and greedy. But the notion that this race could even operate a starship that they’d stolen – much less build one for themselves – is completely silly. Here they’re depicted as stealing starship parts to add to their already-monstrous ship, with their leader claiming he wants “all the ship pieces!”
The Cerritos tries to send a distress call, but the Pakleds jam their communications. Ransom orders the helm officer to take the ship to warp, but luckily Captain Freeman realises what happened to the Solvang and instead orders the engines shut down. The Pakleds also thought that they were attacking the Enterprise – presumably it’s the only Federation ship they’ve encountered. Regardless, Jakabog (the Pakled captain) is essentially a pirate, and after stripping the Cerritos of one of her nacelles, plans to board the ship to steal more ship pieces for his collection.
Boimler scans the Pakled ship and the crew realise that they’ve augmented their craft (which, in a nice touch, was the same design used in The Next Generation) with over thirty different parts from other races – including, as we saw, weapons. As the Cerritos is towed closer to the Pakleds’ hybrid vessel, phaser beams begin to cut into the hull. Ransom cries that they’re being carved up “like a First Contact Day salmon!” which was a pretty funny line.
With no other options, the captain turns to Mariner. She orders Mariner to think outside the box and come up with a way out, even if it breaks the rules. And here… I’m not 100% sold on this part of the story. Mariner’s rule-breaking has always had a distinct “teen angst” streak running through it. She’s childish, and while she does know her stuff – at least as much as Boimler – she’s never really demonstrated on screen that she’s the kind of person you’d want to turn to in a crisis for something like this. It didn’t entirely come from nowhere, as Captain Ramsey in Much Ado About Boimler told us this about her. But I’m a firm believer that stories should show, not tell, and while several characters across Season 1 have told us that Mariner could be this amazing officer if only she’d put in any effort, I think it’s arguably the case that we as the audience haven’t really seen it for ourselves.
Regardless of what I may think, however, Captain Freeman turns to her daughter for a solution, and Mariner provides. She asks Boimler about the Pakleds; they use a variety of different computer parts, which means they must need an operating system that can easily trust new pieces that are added in. Mariner then contacts Rutherford, who will provide a virus capable of disabling the Pakled ship. Without much time to come up with a computer virus, Rutherford turns to Badgey for help. Badgey had, of course, been the antagonist in Terminal Provocations.
Badgey gives a nonchalant answer when Rutherford asks if he’s going to try to kill him again, which seemed like a horribly bad omen! However, the Cerritos doesn’t have a lot of options at this point, and thus the crew go ahead with the plan. Badgey is unleashed as Rutherford disables the safety protocols on the holodeck, but the viruses he’s created will have to be manually uploaded; someone will have to physically sneak aboard the Pakled ship. I liked the return of Badgey. Given Lower Decks’ episodic nature this isn’t something I was expecting, but having been so well established in Terminal Provocations it would’ve been almost a shame not to bring him back!
The senior staff, led by Mariner and Boimler, evacuate the bridge as Pakleds transport aboard. En route to the armory they’re accosted by more intruders, and this was more in line with the way I expected Mariner to prove useful: she’d hidden contraband, including weapons, on the ship. She breaks out a bunch of them and the crew arm themselves. Mariner herself wields the Klingon batleth that she accidently hurt Boimler with in the opening sequence of the series, which was again a neat callback to events within Lower Decks.
During the fight, there was a touching moment between Mariner and Boimler, as he confesses that he considers her his best friend. Despite being kind of a jerk to him, especially in the first couple of episodes, Mariner has made good on her promise to mentor Boimler – at least to an extent. Their dynamic is still based on the likes of Rick & Morty, but most of the time the show has made it work. Boimler is armed with a fencing sword in this scene; a callback to Sulu in The Original Series Season 1 episode The Naked Time (and recently seen in the animated Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot).
The captain is wounded during the fight, and the gang race to sickbay. They get there in time, of course, and the captain will be okay. But she’s out of commission for much of the rest of the story. Rutherford has the viruses, but breaks the news that someone will have to go to the Pakled ship. With no transporters that will be difficult – but not for an exocomp! However, in what was perhaps the best subversion of the whole episode, Peanut Hamper refuses to go. She doesn’t want to put herself at risk, and she doesn’t really care about Starfleet after all! The way this played out was absolutely hilarious, and the voice acting to make the little exocomp sound so nonchalant despite the chaotic situation was just spot-on.
As Peanut Hamper makes her escape, Rutherford suggests himself as the next logical choice. His implant will allow him to take the viruses aboard the Pakled ship, and despite Tendi pleading with him, everyone agrees it’s their best chance for survival. Shaxs grabs Rutherford and the two race to the shuttlebay. Instead of taking the shuttlecraft Yosemite, with its blast shield, they take a run-down shuttle that we’d seen Rutherford working on earlier. Shaxs is having a whale of a time, and at one point exclaims that is is the “best day of [his] life!”
After phasering another hole in the hull, Shaxs and Rutherford blast their way out, then navigate through the Pakleds’ grapplers and weapons to make it to the enemy ship. Shaxs is clearly in his element here, and slams the shuttle into the Pakled ship’s hull, sending several soldiers flying. He and Rutherford then jump out and get to work on the Pakleds’ computers.
Rutherford is able to jack into the alien computer to upload Badgey and the viruses, but – as expected – Badgey still holds a grudge for what happened earlier in the season. While he will upload the virus to save the Cerritos, he’ll only do so after the Pakleds kill Shaxs and Rutherford. There’s no way to talk the homicidal little holo-assistant down, he’s determined to have his revenge!
Badgey then sets the Pakled ship to self-destruct – presumably that’s what one of the viruses was – and Rutherford doesn’t know what to do. In a moment of heroism, Shaxs steps in. He brutally rips out Rutherford’s cybernetic implant, trapping Badgey in the alien system. He then throws the unconscious Rutheford onto the shuttle mere seconds before the Pakled ship explodes. Poor Shaxs. This was a genuinely heartbreaking moment, especially when Shaxs called Rutherford “little bear,” a nickname he acquired in Envoys when he briefly joined the bears – Shaxs’ nickname for his security officers.
I wish we’d been able to spend more time with this gruff Bajoran. His death was heartbreaking, and although he didn’t have a lot of screen time, he’s been a constant presence in the series since the premiere. In some ways he could be seen as a stand-in for characters like Worf, but at the same time he was his own man. And as his final act of sacrifice proved, a Starfleet officer to the core. Lower Decks will have to find some way to fill his big shoes in Season 2. Alex Kurtzman (who is in charge of Star Trek as a whole) as well as Shaxs’ voice actor Fred Tatasciore have both confirmed that the plan is for Shaxs to remain dead; he isn’t coming back.
As the Pakled ship explodes, Ransom and the rest of the crew have managed to keep control of the Cerritos, neutralising the invaders. Mariner is in the captain’s chair on the bridge, with Boimler at the helm. From her bed in sickbay, Captain Freeman orders her to get the ship out of the Kalla system as quickly as possible.
Their escape won’t be so easy, it seems. No sooner has the Cerritos taken down one Pakled ship than they’re accosted by three more who come out of nowhere! This episode has been a wild ride for sure! In what was a callback to Star Trek: First Contact, Boimler detects another incoming ship: the USS Titan! Captain Riker – voiced, of course, by Jonathan Frakes and thankfully not spoiled ahead of time this time – is in command, and his superior vessel is no match for the Pakleds; the surviving ships beat a hasty retreat.
As the theme from The Next Generation plays, the Titan makes light work of the Pakleds. Just like in the sequence from First Contact it was paying homage to, this was another perfectly-executed moment. Riker’s last-second arrival saves the day, and was one of the highlights of the season. Naturally he knows Mariner, as everyone seems to! We also got Troi back, accompanying her husband on the bridge of the Titan. Talk about going out on a high! As a Trekkie this was perfect. In Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, I knew to expect the return of Riker and Troi. But here it was a complete surprise, and even though the Titan had been name-dropped earlier in the episode, that was one of countless Star Trek references. Forget just this one episode, the timely arrival of the USS Titan has to be one of the top moments across the whole season!
The USS Titan may sound familiar to you. It was mentioned in Star Trek: Nemesis, and indeed at the end of that film, Riker is promoted to captain and leaves the Enterprise to assume command of the Titan. A series of novels subsequently depicted Riker’s adventures aboard the Titan, but the ship wasn’t mentioned earlier in the year in Star Trek: Picard. In the finale, Riker was in command of the USS Zheng He (following his temporary return to duty). Fans had long wanted to see the Titan, though, and Lower Decks delivered!
This animated recreation of Troi and Riker came the same day that we heard that Kate Mulgrew will reprise her role as Captain Janeway in upcoming kid-friendly series Star Trek: Prodigy, and if anyone was sceptical about that concept on hearing the news, all they’d have to do is look to Lower Decks. Riker and Troi look great as animated characters – and this means that Jonathan Frakes has now acted in six Star Trek series: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Picard, and Lower Decks. That’s in addition to his four film appearances and directorial credits in all the aforementioned shows, two films, and Star Trek: Discovery! Michael Dorn may still have him beaten for total number of appearances, though!
It was another little callback to hear the Pakled commander shouting for his crew to “make us go!” as the Titan attacked. That line was spoken almost verbatim by the Pakleds in The Next Generation, and even though it’s something easy to miss, it was appreciated here.
With the Pakleds beaten, the action jumps ahead by an indeterminate amount of time. The Cerritos is undergoing repairs – though the captain insists it be left in its original design, and not upgraded. Rutherford is in a coma having lost his implant, and Tendi is staying by his bedside. Rutherford wakes up – but has lost his memory. He doesn’t know who Tendi is, nor remember anything that transpired this season. That could make him useful in Season 2, and could certainly be a point of humour… but it means the character we got to know is halfway gone, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Unlike Shaxs, Rutherford has been a major character. Here’s hoping that he recovers.
Shaxs is honoured in a Wrath of Khan-style funeral, which was a nice touch. I’m glad they didn’t just forget about him and rush to move on too quickly. The portrait of him at his funeral was funny – in true Shaxs style he looks pissed off! Captain Freeman says he’s with the Prophets – who are, of course, the Bajoran gods we saw on a number of occasions in Deep Space Nine.
Back aboard the repaired ship, Mariner and Freeman agree to put their differences aside and work together. The events of the episode, from the Beta III inhabitants going back to worshipping Landru and Starfleet failing to keep tabs on the Pakleds, have led the captain to come around to Mariner’s way of thinking – Starfleet is great at some things, but doesn’t do a good job of following through and maintaining contact with the races and cultures it meets. This led directly to the problems the Cerritos encountered, and to everyone’s surprise, the captain agrees with Mariner’s assessment.
To be fair, I don’t think we can say we know enough about Starfleet to say Mariner is correct – or that she’s incorrect either. We have seen Starfleet keep close tabs on races like the Dominion in the years preceding the Dominion War, but even in The Next Generation there were worlds like the Turkana IV colony that were warzones that the Federation left well alone and didn’t intervene in or try to help. So while the Federation, unlike in Picard, is clearly still a positive force in the galaxy, it isn’t perfect – and never has been. Perhaps Mariner is right; Starfleet is great at exploring (and warfare) but isn’t always great at following through.
And if that isn’t a bombshell to end the series on, I don’t know what is. You read that right… I actually agree with Ensign Mariner. Shocking stuff! But that wasn’t quite the end. In the Cerritos’ bar, Tendi, Rutherford, and Boimler are waiting for Mariner. Rutherford does remember her – so it’s only the events of the entire season he can’t remember, not his whole life! Riker is waiting too – for Captain Freeman! Apparently he knows her too; perhaps he knows everybody! Troi shoots down Commander Ransom in the most cold, Betazoid manner, which was hilarious.
Tendi and Boimler have been telling Rutherford about their exploits over the last few months, bringing him back up to speed. I wonder if he’s going to get his implant back next season. It was a great way to make use of it, and again something set up right at the beginning of the story that paid off in a big way at the very end. I love it when shows do that. Rutherford’s implant could just have been another piece of tech, occasionally technobabbled into usefulness but never really put through its paces. Instead, we can see clearly that the team behind the series set this up right from the get-go.
Lower Decks had one final twist to spring on us, though. Just as Boimler tells Mariner how happy he is to be with her on the Cerritos, Riker shows up and tosses him a padd. This was the promotion Boimler had been chasing all season long, and not only that, but a transfer to Riker’s command aboard the USS Titan. The episode, and the season, ends with Boimler having accepted the promotion (without telling Mariner, who’s constantly leaving messages for him) and ready to make his new life as a junior grade lieutenant aboard the Titan.
So that was No Small Parts. And that was Lower Decks Season 1. An episode clearly made for fans capped off a series that’s been made for fans, and I loved every second of it. The only concern I have was… did anyone else? No Small Parts, unlike some other stories in Lower Decks, was so full of callbacks and references that I wonder how a non-Trekkie would feel upon watching it. They wouldn’t get most of the references, and without them, many of the jokes would be less funny, or not funny at all. As a one-off episode that’s probably okay. At least, I hope it is.
CBS All Access is tight-lipped on viewership figures, and of course with no international broadcast we only have North America to go on. Unofficially, I’ve seen Lower Decks become one of the most-torrented series of recent weeks, and that doesn’t seem to have dropped off as the season went on. Perhaps that’s good news if it means CBS All Access managed to similarly retain its viewer base. However, without an international broadcast going forward, Lower Decks remains in danger. Unless that can be sorted out before Season 2, I doubt there will be a Season 3. And that’s a shame, because the series finally hit its stride.
The events of No Small Parts have clearly shaken things up. The loss of Shaxs will be noticeable, of course, but more significantly we have the change in Rutherford, whose lost memory and lack of implant will change his character, and also Boimler’s transfer. Alex Kurtzman and Mike McMahan have stated on the record that they won’t simply undo any of these things off-screen; Season 2 will begin with Boimler as a lieutenant aboard the Titan. How that circle will be squared is anyone’s guess! If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that somehow, Mariner will end up getting him demoted and reassigned. But that’s just a theory!
Lower Decks was a surprise addition to the television lineup this summer; its queue-jumping of Discovery clearly related to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a rocky start it’s been great fun to watch, and my initial worry that after fifty-four years, Star Trek would struggle in a wholly new genre proved unfounded. I’ve had great fun with the crew of the Cerritos, and despite the show’s premise, they managed to have some truly wacky adventures worthy of any other Star Trek production. I will miss my Thursday date with Lower Decks, and I’m already looking forward to its return – hopefully next year.
Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 3 kicks off on Thursday (Friday here in the UK). I hope you’ll join me then for reviews, theories, and more. If you missed any of my other reviews and articles about Lower Decks, you can find them on my Star Trek: Lower Decks page. Until next time!
All ten episodes of Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first nine episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There may be further spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I didn’t enjoy last week’s episode of Lower Decks on the whole. It tried to push the boat out and try some different things – which I admire – but that didn’t work for me. I’m pleased to say that this week’s episode. Crisis Point, was a return to form and an enjoyable story. Not only that, but Ensign Mariner, who had been a weak link in the series, especially in the first couple of episodes, appears to have made a breakthrough in her relationship with Starfleet. Lower Decks has been an episodic series so far, so whether that will stick around for the next episode and for Season 2 is unclear, but I really hope so!
There was a troubling point in Crisis Point which we’ll look at when we get to it, but overall I had a good time with a fun story that had several callbacks to the Star Trek film series. After a disappointment last week I was very pleased to see a return to form, especially now that there’s only one episode left in the season. Time really flies, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday we were talking about the premiere!
As I’ve done throughout Season 1, I’m going to continue to call attention to Lower Decks’ lack of an international broadcast. With the season ending in a matter of days, it’s such an immense disappointment to me that the show’s potential to bring in a whole new audience of prospective Trekkies has been wasted. All the hard work Mike McMahan and everyone behind the scenes put into the series has been squandered in an appalling business decision that hasn’t only stopped new fans discovering this amazing franchise, but has upset millions of Star Trek’s most loyal existing fans too. There were better options than denying Lower Decks to Star Trek’s international audience, and with the pandemic continuing to disrupt production as it drags on, holding the show back six months for an early 2021 release worldwide would have made a lot of sense. As things sit right now, we’ll have Discovery Season 3 in a couple of weeks, but potentially nothing after that for many months.
Of course, you guys know I’d never sink so low as to pirate Lower Decks – even though doing so is totally morally justifiable. Instead I’ve moved to my second home here in the good old U. S. of A. The wonderful city of San Francisco overlooks the Mississippi delta, and is famous for its clam chowder. Yummy stuff.
So let’s crack on with Crisis Point, shall we? The episode didn’t begin particularly strongly. We started at what appeared to be the end of a potentially-interesting mission for Mariner, in which she has interfered in a planet’s development by overthrowing a leader. Captain Freeman steps in to restore order, and while this was clearly set up to portray Mariner in a positive light – helping out aliens who were being oppressed and eaten – I couldn’t help but feel it was a character regression for her. Past episodes had seen Mariner come to work at least slightly better as a team player, and going off all on her own to do something she considered right, but without the approval or authorisation of her captain and without any support from her crewmates felt like a backward step.
Luckily this was just the teaser, and we got the first of many great jokes at the end as the captain finds that the entire situation can be easily resolved by simply offering the planet Federation replicators. Again, though, this just rubbed in that Mariner was acting out of line – had she followed the chain of command the same resolution could have been arrived at without her getting in trouble.
I’d like to take a moment to once again praise the title music Lower Decks uses, because it’s fantastic. It will be heard multiple times in the episode, including in an amazing and somewhat emotional sequence that we’ll come to in a moment. Lower Decks has one of my favourite Star Trek themes; certainly the best we’ve had since the 1990s.
After the opening titles we see Mariner in her mandatory therapy session. After misbehaving on the away mission, Mariner had been expected to be sent to the brig, but instead Captain Freeman insisted she attend therapy. It clearly isn’t her first time, as she’s familiar with the therapist. This is where the character regression that I was disappointed to see from the teaser appeared to continue. Like a petulant child, Mariner bangs her fist on a plant when she didn’t get her way.
On the holodeck – presumably after the therapy session has ended – Mariner is sulking while Rutherford and Tendi play through a holodeck programme. Leonardo da Vinci previously appeared (in hologram form) in Star Trek: Voyager, where he was played by John Rhys-Davies, better-known for his role as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings films. It was a nice little callback!
Boimler interrupts and asks if he can use the holodeck to prepare for an interview he has with the captain. Like Barclay in The Next Generation, Boilmler has created a holodeck programme that simulates the entire crew! In this case it’s less of a fantasy and purely practical, as he can practice what he wants to say and how to behave without doing something wrong in front of the real crew. Still pretty creepy, though, especially because he used the crew’s personal logs to simulate them.
Mariner takes over, and starts messing with the programme’s code in order to set up a fantasy of her own, and moments later the holodeck is transformed into a Lower Decks movie, complete with credits scrolling by. I loved every little touch here – the screen narrows from its usual 16:9 widescreen presentation into something more akin to a film, the credits (on the holodeck) use the Lower Decks/The Next Generation font (which Rutherford comments on in a cute scene) and the music was a riff on the Lower Decks theme that made it sound much closer to the score from The Original Series-era films.
We also got one of the most obscure Star Trek references in Lower Decks so far – Mariner tells Boimler he was “kind of a Xon.” Prior to The Motion Picture being, well, a motion picture, it was a television series called Star Trek: Phase II. Phase II would have brought back the original cast – but without Leonard Nimoy. A Vulcan character called Xon was to be his replacement, and had even been cast and screen-tested. When the pilot episode of Phase II was later expanded into a feature film, Xon was initially retained, but when Leonard Nimoy agreed to reprise his role, Xon was cut from the project. A couple of small remnants of the role remained in the film – not only in the role of deceased science officer Sonak, but also in the role of the Epsilon IX station commander, who was played by David Gautreaux, the actor originally cast as Xon. If you want to read up a little more on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I wrote a piece last December for its fortieth anniversary which you can find by clicking or tapping here.
So if you weren’t sure what that line was all about, now you know! Mariner tells the ensigns she’s written roles for each of them in her holodeck movie, and while Boimler insists his programme is a work tool and not something to have fun with, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford depart to get into costume.
The movie begins with Boimler interrupting the captain’s vacation, as she and the senior staff are using jet-skis. Boimler is still trying to use the programme to accomplish his original goal of learning how to act around the captain, which was kind of funny. He’s aware that what’s happening is just on the holodeck, so we see Boimler acting a little differently – and perhaps more assertively – that he usually does, especially when the captain is around. In that sense, perhaps we’re seeing that the holodeck can, in a weird way, be helpful for someone like Boimler. Despite the ethical concerns of simulating a person without their consent, for someone with anxiety issues I can see how it would be helpful to do so.
The next part has to be my favourite in the episode. I was genuinely getting emotional! After a meeting with an admiral aboard a Spacedock-type Starbase in which the Cerritos is given an assignment, we got a prolonged sequence of Boimler and the simulated senior staff transferring to the ship via shuttlecraft. The music in this sequence was perfect, another riff on the Lower Decks theme, but this time one that mimicked the sequence in The Motion Picture where Scotty and Kirk board the Enterprise. The shuttle made several passes by the Cerritos, and while I’ve always felt the design of the ship was fine, here Crisis Point slowed things down so we could really appreciate its design. It was a beautiful sequence that paid homage not only to The Motion Picture, but also to several other occasions in The Original Series-era films where the ship was the star of the show. I loved it.
After the Cerritos warps to its destination, Mariner appears aboard a cloaked Klingon ship. She’s cast herself as a villain called Vindicta, and she has Rutherford, Tendi, and a simulated Boimler has her “henchmen.” While she distracts the captain with a rambling speech, she and the others sneak aboard the Cerritos and begin to attack – and murder – the crew. I liked Mariner’s over-the-top acting performance in her role as Vindicta (credit to Tawny Newsome, who plays Mariner!) and I liked that she cast herself as the villain rather than the hero. I think Mariner’s therapist might have a thing or two to say about that!
Realising that Boimler has perfectly simulated the entire crew of the Cerritos, Rutherford rushes away to confront his commanding officer: chief engineer Billups. This is the second episode in a row to expand Billups’ role, and as the role of chief engineer has typically been important in past iterations of Star Trek, that was a touch I appreciated.
Tendi seems increasingly uncomfortable with the violence, but continues to play along with Mariner for a time. However, here’s where the episode’s only significant issue comes into play: Mariner displays racial prejudice towards Tendi. There’s a famous story that Gene Roddenberry hated Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when it was screened for him shortly before he passed away. In particular he detested anti-Klingon racism, particularly from Kirk but also from other Starfleet officers. Roddenberry believed such attitudes had no place in his vision of the 23rd Century. When I reviewed episode 3, Temporal Edict, I mentioned this as well. In that episode, Captain Freeman and an unnamed admiral display similar anti-Cardassian sentiments. This time, Mariner keeps bringing up the fact that Tendi is Orion, and that “Orions are pirates.” This is unquestionably racial stereotyping. Even though Orions are a fictional sci-fi species, I found this uncomfortable. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be from the audience if Tendi – or any other character – made similar remarks about Mariner’s African heritage. While I enjoyed the episode overall, and in the context of a story about Mariner going off the rails it makes a kind of sense, this is as close as Lower Decks has come to being completely the opposite of what Star Trek has always tried to be.
One positive to come out of this is that Tendi stands up for herself, telling Mariner to stop the stereotyping and race prejudice and storming off the holodeck in disgust. At times, Tendi has been a difficult character to follow. The writers of the series haven’t really found a niche for her, and for much of the season she’s just been floating in the background. Here, though, Tendi has a strong moment where she stands up for her heritage and her people, and shows that she won’t take Mariner’s nonsense. Good for her.
With Tendi gone, Mariner is all on her own. Rutherford has gone to the simulated main engineering to tell Billups what he really thinks of him… which, in true Rutherford style, is that he thinks he’s amazing. The things he wanted to say, far from being rude or anything of that nature, are kind-hearted compliments. As the simulated ship is under attack, Rutherford and the hologram of Billups work together, complimenting each other as they go.
After making her way to the bridge, Mariner confronts Captain Freeman. After another argument, she reveals she’s rigged her Klingon ship to self-destruct; the resultant explosion causes the Cerritos to lose orbit and plummet to the planet below. The crash sequence was very well done, as the ship loses a nacelle, then its lower hull, before the saucer comes to rest at a steep angle by a mountain or rock formation. We’ve seen ships crash-land in Star Trek before, but never quite so violently or catastrophically! Even the Enterprise-D’s saucer in Star Trek: Generations was in better shape!
A short scene with Rutherford and Billups reveals Rutherford saved the Cerritos’ crew by beaming them off the ship. In a funny line he says that “you can do all sorts of beaming stuff in a movie!” Her business with Captain Freeman unfinished, Mariner continues her attack after the crash. The captain orders her surviving crew to evacuate, and Mariner tells her to “drop the act” of being a captain who cares.
Their fight continues (in what was probably a slightly over-long sequence but I’ll forgive it!) and when Mariner seems to finally have the upper hand and is ready to kill the captain, she’s interrupted by the holo-version of herself! The obvious parallel in the ensuing Mariner-versus-Mariner fight is when Kirk fought a changeling with his appearance in The Undiscovered Country, but as this was the emotional climax of Mariner’s story, I didn’t really think about that on first viewing.
Mariner (the real Mariner, that is) is upset and annoyed at being unable to finish her movie the way she wanted, but as the fight progresses it’s clear that she comes to realise something about herself – she does care about Starfleet, and she does care about her mother. The ship, crew, and captain all matter to her more than she realised, and she comes to regret going to such a silly extreme. This is the emotional breakthrough Mariner has needed to have all season long, and I hope it signals a turnaround in her character that will become permanent.
There’s no question that Mariner can be a fun character. She can be sweet and funny and entertaining in equal measure, but where Lower Decks has stumbled more than once is where Mariner has been the antithesis of a Starfleet officer. A bad or lazy Starfleet officer can be funny. A laid-back Starfleet officer can be funny. But someone who behaves the way Mariner has numerous times across the season misses the point, and speaking for myself, I haven’t found that side of the show’s humour very effective.
The childishness and the teenage rebellion streak that run through Mariner needed to come to a head in some kind of scenario like the one depicted in Crisis Point so that they can be excised from her character permanently. We can still see Mariner the rebel, Mariner breaking rules, Mariner being laid-back, and so on. But the anti-authority, anti-parent nature of some of her rebelliousness hasn’t been enjoyable to watch – and I’d argue won’t be for anyone over the age of about 14.
Holo-Mariner and real Mariner are well-matched in their fight, and as it draws to a close, holo-Mariner plays a blinder: the fight has just been a distraction while she set the Cerritos to self-destruct. Obviously with the holodeck safety protocols on, real Mariner was unharmed! Though she didn’t get the outcome she wanted from the movie, she learned a valuable lesson and got the outcome she needed.
Boimler, who remained with the crew, is still on the holodeck, and listens to Captain Freeman eulogise Mariner – and finally learns the truth of their connection. I can think of many reasons why Starfleet officers may choose to conceal family ties; Tom Paris in Voyager made it clear that being the son of a high-ranking officer came with a lot of pressure. Some may argue that it would be difficult or impossible to cover up something like that, but I don’t see why that has to be the case. It fits fine with established canon, and there’s nothing wrong with the way it was handled here.
Stunned by the revelation, Boimler messes up his interview with the captain – the one that set the scene for the whole holodeck movie. Mariner, to her credit, apologises to Tendi for her anti-Orion comments, and Rutherford has the same appreciation for his commanding officer as before, but is satisfied he got the opportunity to express it.
So that was Crisis Point. After how I felt about Mariner, especially in the first couple of episodes of the season, seeing her come to realise that she does actually care about Starfleet and her mother was almost a cathartic experience. As the audience we’ve seen glimpses of this side of her, of the “heart of gold” beneath the laid-back, uncaring exterior. And those moments have been fantastic. But there’s also an anti-authority, teen angst, almost nastiness to her that can – at times – make for unpleasant viewing. It really feels as though Mariner learned a lesson and turned a corner this week, and I hope at least some of that sticks with her into the finale and Season 2.
Boimler, despite setting up the main storyline, was mostly absent this week. However, learning the truth about Freeman and Mariner’s family connection has surely set up a bigger plot for him next week. Tendi finally stood up for herself, which was great. She’s been a character who, because she lacks a well-developed personality of her own, can sometimes feel that she goes along with whatever anyone else is doing. It was nice to see her take a stand, especially against such stereotyping and prejudice. Rutherford is just adorable, and his story this week was too cute.
I had a wonderful time this week, despite Mariner going off the rails for practically the entire episode. There were some great callbacks to past Star Trek films, and I loved the sequence with Boimler and the senior staff taking a shuttle to the Cerritos. That was the high point of the episode for me. I’ve always loved that sequence in The Motion Picture, and seeing it paid homage to here was beautiful.
Only one episode left now! Where does the time go? Swing by next week for my review of the Season 1 finale, and perhaps at some point in the next few weeks I’ll do a recap/review of the season as a whole.
The first nine episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including 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.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first seven episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Lower Decks continues to be great fun as we get into the second half of Season 1. I wouldn’t say that this week’s episode, titled Much Ado About Boimler, was significantly better than the show’s offerings over the last four or five weeks, but it was solid and a great addition to the season. I wrote last time that Lower Decks has tended to reuse the same character pairings each week: Boimler with Mariner, Rutherford with Tendi. It was great to see a change to that, though it unfortunately came at the expense of Rutherford’s screen time.
Much Ado About Boimler would pair up Tendi and Boimler for one of its storylines, which was great. Anything that changes up the formula to avoid it feeling stale is a good thing, and when there are four main characters it makes sense to use those characters in different ways.
To my continued disappointment, Lower Decks remains unavailable outside of the United States and Canada. This idiotic business decision is surely the worst in Star Trek’s recent history, and has cleaved away a huge potential audience. Animated comedy shows are popular, and this kind of crossover should have allowed the Star Trek franchise to expand its reach beyond its typical niche – something that will have to happen to keep the franchise viable in the longer-term. Practically nobody outside North America cares about Lower Decks any more, which is terribly sad for the team behind the show who put in a lot of hard work. Those who do still care have mostly turned to piracy; the series is among the most heavily-pirated shows of recent weeks.
Of course you know me better than that. With Lower Decks only available in North America I packed a bag and moved there. My new home is in the great state of Texas – the Empire State. There’s such a rich history here, from the first Swedish colonists way back in the 1920s right the way through to more modern times, where Silicon Valley is home to some of the biggest wineries in the country. The Rocky Mountains that span the southern part of the state are breathtaking – but I could do without two feet of snow! I mean, it’s only September… save it for Christmas!
Much Ado About Boimler begins with a teaser, which once again set up one of the storylines of the episode. Last week’s teaser had been a standalone thing, and I think I prefer that style overall; it works better for a comedy series. Open with a funny joke, roll the titles, then jump into the main story. That format seems to work well, but this week’s style of using the teaser to set up the story worked okay too.
Tendi finally got some development and agency over the story this week. Her role aboard the ship hasn’t been all that clear; we knew since the premiere that she works in sickbay, but in what capacity was never really explained. In the teaser we see her scientific mind at work – she has spent a long time sequencing the DNA for a dog and seems to have created or replicated the entire animal from scratch!
Ethical concerns about such an activity aside, the dog is… not quite right. Though Tendi seems not to notice, the dog is able to do things that no dog – or any other lifeform – should be able to!
The monstrous dog – with glowing eyes – runs riot in the ensigns’ dormitory, and Mariner has a funny line in which she’s nonchalant about the unfolding, potentially disastrous situation. Moments like this take advantage of Mariner’s “I’m not bothered” attitude to great effect. After this short sequence, the opening titles roll, and then we’re into the next part of the episode’s setup. Captain Freeman, Ransom, and Shaxs have been given a special assignment – complete with the uniforms Picard, Worf, and Dr Crusher used in The Next Generation sixth season episode Chain of Command, which was a neat callback.
Unlike Picard’s dangerous mission in search of banned weapons, Freeman and co. are looking after some seeds – very much in line with the “unimportant” nature of the Cerritos’ mission. As a result of their absence, the Cerritos is going to receive a temporary captain.
We got a second callback to Chain of Command as Mariner mentions Captain Jellico by name. Jellico was the officer who took over for Picard in that episode, and was a character I had included in one of my Star Trek: Picard theories earlier in the year. That theory didn’t pan out, of course!
En route to greet the new captain, Boimler stops off to visit Rutherford who has been working on a new transporter enhancement. Rutherford has two transporter pads set up in the same room in a style that kind of reminded me of the film The Fly! We take transporting for granted in most Star Trek episodes – at least, until it goes wrong!
And of course that’s exactly what happens to the hapless Boimler, who has agreed to be a guinea pig for Rutherford’s new transporter. After completing the transport sequence, Boimler doesn’t rematerialise intact – instead he appears “phased”, glowing blue and with the familiar transporter noise ringing out!
Being “phased” was something that happened in The Next Generation too, to Ro Laren and Geordi La Forge in the episode The Next Phase. However, this seems to be a different phenomenon as Geordi and Ro were rendered invisible, whereas Boimler is merely glowing and transparent. I don’t think this is an inconsistency, merely a re-use of the term to describe a different – but somewhat related – event.
As the new command crew arrive, Mariner recognises the captain as an old friend of hers. Apparently they were students together at Starfleet Academy, and think very highly of one another. Mariner goes from despising the idea of a temporary captain to loving it. I think this does raise a question about Mariner’s age; we know from events a couple of weeks ago that she’s been in Starfleet for several years, but to have attended the Academy at the same time as someone who has subsequently risen through the ranks to become a captain may well make her significantly older than Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi. I don’t think this matters in a major way – though it does make Mariner’s “teen angst” attitude seem even more immature – but I thought it worth noting. It’s also worth pointing out that the way Starfleet Academy works, particularly in relation to officers who go on to become captains, isn’t clear. In the Kelvin timeline, Kirk appears to have graduated and immediately become a captain, for example, and even in the prime timeline Kirk was young – perhaps in his early 30s – when given command of the Enterprise.
Boimler – still suffering as a result of the transporter accident – arrives on the bridge, but is immediately ordered to sickbay by the new captain. As much as I like the idea of Boimler being so eager to impress that he’d go to the bridge in that state, from what we know of him and his anxieties, I think it makes more sense to think he’d have gone to sickbay or stayed with Rutherford to work on finding a solution. His arrival on the bridge wasn’t funny, and the short scene added nothing to the episode.
In sickbay, Rutherford is able to get Boimler to stop making the transporter noise, to the relief of Dr T’Ana, everyone else present – and me! That noise on loop was getting annoying! However, Rutherford can’t fix the problem, and Dr T’Ana doesn’t know what to do either. As a result, she informs Boimler that he’s to be transferred to a specialist facility for treatment, run by Division 14 – a branch of Starfleet Medical.
From an in-universe perspective, I love the idea that Starfleet has a special hospital for patients who’ve picked up bizarre and seemingly incurable ailments. Given what we see happen in Star Trek on a regular basis, it makes a lot of sense! Space is a dangerous place, and the idea that there are some conditions that Starfleet simply can’t figure out should be easily understood.
Tendi’s dog is also in trouble, with Dr T’Ana having discovered its unconventional nature! He’s to be transferred to the same facility as Boimler, setting up the first Boimler-Tendi story of the series, which is nice. As mentioned at the start, shaking up the character pairings is a good thing for a series like this to do sometimes.
Next we get a scene between Mariner and Captain Ramsey in which Mariner is appointed temporary first officer. Past Star Trek shows have occasionally seen junior officers seemingly bumped up the chain of command; The Best of Both Worlds saw Shelby appointed temporary first officer ahead of Data, and there was an episode (whose title escapes me) where Wesley Crusher was in charge of a mission. Still, it’s hard to see how this is anything other than favouritism and queue-jumping from Ramsey and Mariner, and this ties into a theme I touched on a couple of weeks ago about nepotism and elitism within Starfleet. Looking at that point in more detail is in the pipeline, so stay tuned!
Up next, Tendi and Boimler are transferred to a medical ship for transport to “The Farm” – the specialist hospital/medical facility mentioned earlier. The officer in charge of this ominous-looking vessel is an Edosian! This three-armed, three-legged species was seen in The Animated Series, but had never returned to the franchise since. It was great to see them back, even in this form as a semi-villain. I loved the over-the-top voice performance from Fred Tatasciore, who took on the role of the Edosian as well as his usual role as Shaxs.
While Tendi and Boimler are getting used to their new home on the Division 14 medical ship, Mariner and Captain Ramsey prepare to lead a mission to a bog planet. It’s at this point it started to become apparent that Ramsey has taken a different path since she was with Mariner at the Academy; while Mariner still jokes and messes about, Ramsey is trying to stay calm and cool in front of her senior officers.
A story Mariner tells about how she and Ramsey stole a professor’s car goes over particularly badly, and not wanting to be shown up any more in front of her staff, Ramsey changes topic and presses on with the mission. Mariner is left feeling dejected; her friend has moved on without her. This again ties into how I’d been feeling about Mariner, at least some of the time: she’s childish. And in this moment, if she doesn’t realise it about herself, she certainly realises that someone she had been friends with has matured and moved on without her. I think many of us know someone like Mariner – stuck in her school/college mindset. She strikes me, at least in this moment, as the kind of person you reunite with a decade or two after graduating and are surprised to find them still as silly and immature as when you last saw them. Though I have no doubt this wasn’t what Lower Decks was going for, in this moment I almost pity Mariner. Almost.
Mariner messes up on the mission to the bog planet, and it seemed as though her feelings about the situation with Ramsey was getting to her; we’re not used to seeing Mariner make mistakes. In a way, this storyline – that she was flustered and making mistakes – would have worked better than what we ultimately got! But let’s save that for when we come to that revelation in a moment.
During the away mission, Mariner “forgot” the team’s tricorders. When some water purifying equipment malfunctions the tricorders were needed, and the others scold her for her lack of care and attention. Luckily Captain Ramsey steps in to save the day and prevent a disaster. She’s able to salvage the mission – which seems to have been one designed to bring clean water to the denizens of the bog planet. I liked the design of these aliens; animation as a format allows much greater variety than live-action in some respects, and the only limits are really what the animators and designers can think of! In a live-action setting it is possible to get a wide variety of aliens, but there are additional limitations – either an alien has to be able to be played by a human actor, or the budget for creating prosthetics and/or digital effect needs to be high. Animation gets around those issues, and one consequence has been more “alien-looking” aliens in Lower Decks.
After the away mission, Captain Freeman checks in with Captain Ramsey aboard the Cerritos. Other than underlining the previous point about the relative unimportance of Freeman’s mission, this scene didn’t really add a lot. The next mission for the Cerritos is to rendezvous with the USS Rubidoux, but the Rubidoux is late. We get another “Mariner messes up” moment, as she seems incapable of working the first officer’s console. Again, this could have worked better than it ultimately did.
On the medical vessel, which is dimly lit and very ominous, Tendi and Boimler meet some of the other Starfleet officers who are being transported to the medical facility. They are all suffering strange and comical ailments – like something out of Theme Hospital! One point of note is that one of the officers was wearing the older style of uniforms seen in First Contact and later Deep Space Nine seasons. We saw Mariner in one of these uniforms in a flashback a couple of weeks ago. I had assumed these uniforms were entirely phased out perhaps years before Lower Decks is set, but based on what the Edosian officer would say at the end – that the medical transport had been on its mission for “months” – perhaps those uniforms were only decommissioned within the last few months. A minor point, perhaps, but as someone who likes the different uniform varieties I thought it was worth noting.
Something has felt off – deliberately so – about the ship and its Edosian commander since Tendi and Boimler arrived, and in this scene we find out why: one of the officers tells Boimler that the medical facility is a myth; the ship will be their permanent home, keeping them hidden away from the rest of Starfleet! This setup was interesting, and the episode was leaning heavily into the idea that this ship was some kind of trap. Division 14 sounds superficially similar to Section 31, and the idea that Starfleet might have some kind of off-the-books vessel for this purpose is not wholly far-fetched. I wondered how Tendi and Boimler would escape!
Meanwhile, the USS Rubidoux has been located, adrift in space. Captain Ramsey assumes the accident is self-inflicted, and that it will be easily-resolved. She beams over with Mariner and her senior officers, only to find the ship powered down and seemingly abandoned. Rubidoux, like Cerritos, is a town in California, and continues the trend of California-class vessels (like the Cerritos) being named after these locales.
The away team are assigned roles – Mariner and the captain are to locate the crew, while the others are to restore power. We get another “Mariner messes up” moment, as she struggles with her gravity boots.
On the medical ship, a group of patients led by a man who’s suffering a bizarre ageing condition plot a mutiny. Tendi is out of the room leaving only Boimler to be included in the scheme. Though he initially seems interested to join, he of course immediately rushes to the Edosian commander to tell him everything. The commander, rather than trying to find a peaceful solution, grabs a phaser rifle and plans to put the mutiny down before it can begin – after letting the mutineers know it was Boimler who told on them!
While scouring the Rubidoux in search of her crew, Captain Ramsey and Mariner finally begin to have their conversation – the one we all knew was coming. Ramsey says that she expected to be working with a “Starfleet badass”, and Mariner retorts she expected to be teamed up with her “fun friend.” Both characters are disappointed in each other, but before it can be fully explored they locate the crew, hiding in a cargo bay.
The Rubidoux’s captain warns them not to reactivate power; some kind of energy-eating lifeform is on board the ship. But it’s too late, and the crew rush to escape. En route back to the bridge we finally learn what’s been going on with Mariner – sensing that her friend will offer her a promotion and reassignment, she’s been messing up on purpose.
This was not a great story twist in my opinion. The idea that Mariner can be flawed, that she can make mistakes when she feels under pressure, or that she can be embarrassed by her obviously childish behaviour in front of someone who’s more successful than her humanises her – yet in an instant all of that was taken away. Mariner is still amazing, she hasn’t made a mistake, it was all intentional as part of her as-yet-unexplained desire to avoid promotion and responsibility. It’s in keeping with her character, sure, but not actually a very inspiring or even interesting storyline. We can add Mariner’s lack of consequences for deliberately making mistakes that could have endangered two away missions and her ship to the list of ways in which she receives special treatment because of her connections within Starfleet!
Meanwhile on the Division 14 ship, Boimler has been ratted out by the Edosian commander and left with the defeated mutineers – who of course immediately turn on him and try to run him off the ship! They chase him to an airlock, and just when it seems as though it’s the end of Boimler, the airlock opens to reveal “The Farm” – the medical facility they all thought was a myth. At the same moment, Boimler’s “phasing” wears off and he’s back to normal.
Tendi and her dog have an emotional farewell as Tendi realises that dogs aren’t supposed to be able to talk and fly and do all of the things that she programmed it to do. The Dog will live out its life on the Farm with other medical curiosities – though it doesn’t seem dangerous so perhaps, as it’s sentient, it will be given the opportunity to leave? Starfleet’s mission is to seek out new life… well, Tendi made new life, but Starfleet’s reaction seems to be to incarcerate it. Not sure how well that works!
This next part might just be my favourite in the episode. As the lifeform on the Rubidoux seems close to consuming the ship, Mariner instructs Rutherford to use his newly-modified transporter to get everyone to safety. She gives him the instruction “Boim us out of here!” which was a great line. As Rutherford raced to the transporter controls, I got the sense that the scene was paying homage to Chekov’s role in 2009’s Star Trek. He similarly rushed from his post to the transporter room in that film. I hope that was intentional, and a nice little nod to Chekov actor Anton Yelchin.
Despite the side-effects of the modified transporter, Rutherford is able to beam everyone to safety. And as we now know that the effect is temporary, no harm was done to anyone! The Rubidoux is consumed by the energy-creature, which transforms the remains of the ship and flies off into space in a scene reminiscent of the ending of Encounter at Farpoint.
Mariner makes her peace with Ramsey, happy to remain just an ensign despite her abilities. At the Farm, Boimler is expelled as he’s no longer sick, and is able to return to the Cerritos with Tendi – ready for next week’s adventure! As always, Lower Decks managed to wrap everything up nicely, and the return to episodic storytelling has been a wonderful touch.
So that was Much Ado About Boimler. When the ensigns learned that they’d be getting a “babysitter” captain, I wondered if we might be about to see a returning character, and in a way that could have worked well and been a good excuse for a cameo. However, the Mariner-Ramsey storyline was interesting and perhaps worked better for Ramsey being someone new.
Mariner has improved in leaps and bounds from her first couple of appearances, and I’m now in a position where I would like to know if there’s a reason underpinning her desire to remain an ensign. Her “I-don’t-care” teenage rebel attitude may simply be her personality – but then again, there could be something in her past which means she wants to avoid responsibility and remain on the lower decks.
There were so many references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek that I’m not even sure I spotted all of them. Lower Decks has been wonderful in that regard, and I think Much Ado About Boimler may have had the most references so far.
All in all, a solid episode. It was nice to see Boimler away from Mariner, and to see the typical Lower Decks groupings shaken up for once. The Division 14 story was an interesting one too, and I wonder if there will be other opportunities to learn about this secretive branch of Starfleet Medical.
I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, titled Veritas (the Latin word for “truth”). I’m sure it will be another fun outing. There are only three episodes left this season! Where does the time go, eh?
The first seven episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first six episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Sorry for being a little late with this week’s Lower Decks review. There was so much to talk about from the Discovery Season 3 trailer that this review slipped down the list a little. These episode reviews are probably the most time-consuming things to write out of everything I do here, so even a short delay in getting started can have ramifications!
For the lastthreeweeks at least, I’ve felt that the newest episode of Lower Decks was my favourite and the funniest yet, and this week is no exception. I think we’re at a point where I just have to say that the series as a whole is funny and enjoyable, so that I can try to avoid saying the same thing every time!
Although I should really know better by now, I still held out a vague hope that Lower Decks’ panel for Star Trek Day – which took place on the 8th of September – would have finally contained some information about an international broadcast. But alas, we once again got nothing, and the fact that ViacomCBS continues to ignore Star Trek’s overseas fanbase is really just shitty behaviour from them. As I wrote recently, Star Trek doesn’t belong to Americans. It’s an international brand, and it became an international brand specifically because ViacomCBS and other companies have pushed hard to take Star Trek to all corners of the world. These big corporations want the profits overseas fans bring – but are happy to dump us as soon as there’s the tiniest bump in the road. Running a franchise like Star Trek comes with a responsibility that extends beyond international borders, and part of that responsibility in the age of the internet and streaming platforms is to make sure that every Star Trek fan has a way to access every new series and film. ViacomCBS has utterly failed in that regard.
Of course as you know if you’re a regular reader, I had no choice but to move to the United States in order to be able to watch the series lawfully. I’m chillaxing at my bachelor pad in downtown Las Vegas as we speak. Despite what people say, it’s a beautiful city, home to the Empire State Building and Independence Hall, and a stone’s throw from the lovely Acadia National Park.
On to this week’s episode: Terminal Provocations. After last week’s episode dropped the opening teaser and jumped straight into the title sequence, I was pleased to see a return to the usual format. This week’s teaser introduces a new ensign and friend of Mariner and Boimler: Ensign Fletcher.
Fletcher will go on to have a role in the episode, as we’ll soon see, but for now this scene was mostly a one-joke affair. The ensigns – all four of them, plus Fletcher – begin humming “warp engine noises” of different ships, which Commander Ransom mistakes for something being horribly wrong. It was funny, and as with so many jokes, loses its humour when you try to explain it!
After the opening titles, we get the setup to the episode’s main story via a log recorded by security chief Shaxs. The Cerritos is in a standoff with Drookmani scavengers. A Federation starship’s wreckage is claimed by both sides, and of course Shaxs wants to fire!
This is a great moment to discuss the senior staff. Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom have both had a little time and attention in past episodes to expand as characters. They feel – at least a little – more than just one-dimensional caricatures for the ensigns to duel with. Shaxs, and sadly Dr T’Ana as well, haven’t had that yet, and as a result can still feel very flat. Shaxs is a gun-jumping aggressor on par with some earlier depictions of Worf, and the only thing we really know about T’Ana is that she’s grumpy!
As soon as the Drookmani captain spoke I recognised the voice: it was long-time Star Trek guest star J. G. Hertzler! Hertzler is best known for his recurring role as Klingon General Martok (and the changeling who impersonated him) on Deep Space Nine, but also played guest roles in Voyager and Enterprise. It was absolutely wonderful to welcome him back to the franchise, and his distinctive voice was perfect for the role of the Drookmani captain – while being a welcome surprise for longstanding fans.
The Drookmani believe they have the rights to the debris, claiming it has been abandoned for over a century and thus is fair game. Captain Freeman won’t surrender the wreckage, though she does offer the Drookmani a “finders’ fee.” Obviously this is not acceptable to the Drookmani, who attempt to use their tractor beam to claim the salvage anyway.
This leads to a tractor beam-standoff between the two vessels, who seem to have beams of roughly equal power. The piece of salvage is caught between the two, and doesn’t move in either direction. Captain Freeman declares the crew is “ready and focused!”
And then – of course – we get a funny cutaway to the ensigns not being ready or focused! Fletcher has his head in a replicator and is being encouraged to chug by the onlooking ensigns (and others). At first I thought the nondescript orange substance must be something alcoholic – which was a funny enough gag when considering what the captain had just said – but when Rutherford said that it was cantaloupe purée I honestly just lost it. It was just so random!
While cheering on Fletcher, Mariner jumps awkwardly and lands on Dr T’Ana, who goes face-first into her dinner: a plate of nachos. This was kind of a funny scene as the Caitian doctor exclaims how difficult it will be to get the cheese out of her fur! She gives Mariner a dressing-down, saying she’s “heard of” the ensign. I assume this means she knows about the Mariner-Freeman connection, or at least that’s my theory!
There was a funny gag about Starbase 80; Dr T’Ana says that if Mariner wants to screw around she can get reassigned there. I looked it up in case I was missing a reference, but as far as I can tell this is the base’s first mention in the franchise. The comedy came from the line and the reaction to it rather than being a callback to some other event in Star Trek Fletcher steps in to save the day, giving Dr T’Ana a new meal and a towel to clean up with. Fletcher, in these early scenes, comes across as competent, collected, and in control – a stark contrast to what will come later!
Up next we have the setup for the episode’s B-plot, and it’s another one focusing on Tendi and Rutherford. So far, Lower Decks has been content to stick with the same basic character pairings – Boimler goes with Mariner, Tendi with Rutherford. And these pairings do work, but at the same time some variety would be nice. Aside from their first meeting in the premiere, I don’t think Boimler and Tendi have said two words to each other. At times it can feel like the group of four ensigns aren’t really friends – because they don’t know each other – and are just together because the scripts say so.
Hopefully that’s something future episodes will address. But in Terminal Provocations, after Tendi tells Rutherford she never passed her zero-gravity class and is worried about being given an anti-gravity assignment to collect some of the debris, he offers her a holodeck training programme he’s been working on that can help. And of course, for anyone who’s seen Star Trek before, alarm bells start ringing about horrible malfunctions!
As this scene ended, Rutherford ran through a list of famous historical figures that have made appearances as holograms in past iterations of Star Trek, which was a nice touch for fans! Up next we finally got the chance to see the ensigns doing some boring shipboard work. Mariner, Boimler, and Fletcher are working on the isolinear cores – using the transparent coloured isolinear chips we saw in shows of The Next Generation’s era, which was another neat little throwback!
Here’s where Boimler and Mariner’s story really kicks off, as they leave Fletcher alone to finish the work so they can attend a “Chu Chu dance.” This party is something both Mariner and Boimler have been looking forward to, and in keeping with his earlier characterisation as someone reliable and friendly, Fletcher offers to pick up their work so they can attend.
Boimler says he’s made matching Chu Chu shirts for him and Mariner (which we’ll see later) in what was a cute moment. On the holodeck, Rutherford introduces Tendi to his programme, which features Badgey – an anthropomorphic Starfleet badge who is a clear homage to Clippy. Clippy, if you don’t remember, was the “assistant” who used to come bundled with Microsoft Office products in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This little virtual assistant was an early attempt at something like Siri, but limited in scope to a few office-related tasks. Clippy definitely entered popular culture, though, and has been the subject of many memes! I’m sure that most viewers, even those who never used Microsoft Office, would recognise something about Badgey!
Badgey is cute – in a slightly annoying way – and Tendi takes to him right away. Rutherford loads the spacewalk programme, but when Badgey suffers a glitch Rutherford gives him a kick to get him working again…
The show is definitely steering towards Rutherford and Tendi being an item, or at least it feels that way. At one point during the spacewalk they get their magnet boots (a callback to The Undiscovered Country and First Contact, among others) stuck together. I like their dynamic as friends, and I’d definitely like both pairings of characters to spend more time together either as one larger group or as different couples before pairing anyone off into relationships.
We didn’t get to see the Chu Chu dance, as the next scene shows Boimler and Mariner leaving the festivities. I guess the exact nature of the Chu Chu dance will have to remain a mystery, though we can tell they both enjoyed it! Fletcher, however, has been knocked out! And on top of that, one of the isolinear cores the trio were supposed to be working on has been stolen! Fletcher had seemed so above-board and wholesome earlier in the story, so while something definitely felt “off,” I wasn’t convinced Fletcher was to blame.
After a brief flashback in which Fletcher reveals he was attacked by an unknown assailant, the trio decide the culprit must be their nemesis: Delta shift! I liked the show playing up this intra-shift rivalry; anyone who’s worked in this kind of environment knows how they feel, I think.
Of course it wasn’t Delta shift’s fault, and after a scene in which a far-too-eager Fletcher has to be dragged back by Mariner and Boimler, I was convinced he wasn’t being honest with them. While Fletcher tries to explain he couldn’t see who it was because it was too dark, the Drookmani begin to use their tractor beam to launch pieces of the wreckage at the Cerritos.
On the bridge of the Cerritos, Shaxs recognises that the shields aren’t working as well as they should be; the missing isolinear core is responsible. This adds a renewed sense of urgency to finding the stolen component! Meanwhile, it also causes problems for Rutherford and Tendi, as in true Star Trek style, the attack causes a holodeck malfunction!
Badgey, the cute little helper, suddenly goes rogue! And of course the attack disabled two key holodeck features – the safety protocols and the ability to end the programme! Badgey, remembering Rutherford’s mistreatment, begins to attack him. Rutherford and Tendi have no option but to flee. I loved this little subversion; it not only plays on our very real fears of rogue artificial intelligence, while being a cute little Microsoft Office throwback, but also ties in neatly with the most recent seasons of Discovery and Picard, which likewise featured storylines that looked at out-of-control artificial life.
Unable to leave the holodeck, Rutherford decides to change the programme from outer space to something safer – a Bajoran marketplace. At least this one will have air to breathe! But Badgey is still present and violently “kills” several holograms while seeking Tendi and Rutherford; the chase is still on!
On the bridge, the Drookmani captain and Captain Freeman have another shouting match. I liked that, despite everything, Freeman was still intent on finding a peaceful solution. That definitely feels like the Starfleet way to handle things! I liked the Drookmani captain’s line that “avoiding damage is fighting!” That’s certainly one way to look at the confrontation!
Finally we get back to Mariner, Boimler, and Fletcher. Realising what’s happening, Boimler says that if the shields drop below 50% the bridge crew will realise an isolinear core is missing – something that could lead to Fletcher and/or all three of them being in big trouble! They want to stick together as “lower deckers” so they won’t leave Fletcher to hang alone.
Fletcher changes his attack story, saying it must be the Drookmani who attacked him because the assailant was an alien… despite saying moments earlier that he couldn’t see who attacked him. It was clear by this point that Fletcher’s story was not what it seemed, but Mariner and Boimler still trust him. The trio decide to scan the ship for proof of an intruder (despite there being ample time for an intruder to have escaped! Sorry, I know. Too nitpicky!) At their dormitory, however, the missing isolinear core is found… in Fletcher’s bunk!
His lie revealed, Fletcher initially tries to claim he was being framed before breaking down and admitting that he stole the core. He had attempted to hook up the core to his brain to make himself smarter. When his plan didn’t work he concocted the lie about being attacked to cover his tracks. Admitting it to his friends was obviously difficult, but I think we’ve all known a Fletcher at some point in our lives or careers: the kind of person who acts calm and cool on the surface but actually is a mess, and who will lie and cheat and steal to keep anyone finding out. He’s not a relatable character, but he’s a character most people will recognise!
Despite Fletcher’s lies, Boimler and Mariner initially seem to forgive him, even promising to format the core so no one will find out what he did. However, while Mariner is preparing to give a big speech about how Starfleet officers learn from their mistakes, the core jumps to life – Fletcher’s mind-hookup with it worked, just not in the way he intended!
The core now possesses some of Fletcher’s personality quirks – most notably his desire to get smarter. It begins “eating” anything it can get its cable-tentacles on in order to gain more knowledge. It grabs Mariner and Boimler, but Fletcher attacks it in an uncharacteristic moment of bravery, and it lets them go.
Fletcher then tells Mariner and Boimler that if they don’t help him cover up what he did he’ll rat them out, saying it was their fault for going to the Chu Chu dance and leaving him on his own. This adds to the sense I talked about earlier that we all know someone like Fletcher; he shows his true colours here.
Mariner steps in, telling Fletcher what he’s doing is “not Starfleet.” Fletcher retorts that Mariner is a rule-breaker too, and here in this exchange we get an interesting line that really goes a long way to explaining Mariner’s personality. She argues that she only breaks dumb rules, rules that get in the way of her being able to do a better job. She sees herself in this way, somewhat above the rules because the rules weren’t made to accommodate someone as brilliant as she is. Is this confidence or arrogance? On past form, we have points to argue in both directions!
Mariner continues that she’d never put anyone in danger, to which Boimler responds by clearing his throat! This was one of the standout jokes for me, as Mariner accepts that she does, on occasion, put Boilmer in danger! The isolinear core has found more things to grab, however, and now looms over the trio of ensigns.
Back on the holodeck, Rutherford and Tendi are continuing their escape from Badgey, running up a long flight of stairs presumably still in the Bajor programme. Rutherford admits that he felt Badgey wasn’t ready yet, but that he wanted to show off to Tendi. She’s very understanding, and the two continue their escape!
Rutherford realises that, seeing as Badgey is affected by the simulated environment, it might be possible to freeze him. He loads a new holodeck programme, this time in an icy mountainous environment. He and Tendi immediately start to shiver, but this could be the key to surviving the Badgey attack!
Mariner and Boimler are able to wrangle the semi-sentient core, but Fletcher insists on making up another lie: this time that a Q was responsible. The other two don’t buy it, however, and after tying up Fletcher they drag the core to the transporter room. On the way, it keeps grabbing everything it can, and Boimler is worried it will be too heavy to keep dragging.
They switch up their plan and decide to instead blow it out of a nearby airlock. Mariner is able to lure it inside by throwing a tricorder – the core wants to gain knowledge so this makes a lot of sense! All the while the core has been spouting some of Fletcher’s lines, including his remarks about aliens, which was pretty funny. Mariner and Boimler are successful, and the core is ejected into space… where it immediately attacks the Drookmani ship!
A short clip from this scene was featured in the trailer for the series back in July, as Mariner and Boimler exclaim that they’re going to be fired! We didn’t know then what made them think so, but know we do – it was the rogue isolinear core attacking the Drookmani ship.
On the bridge, Captain Freeman is finally out of options. After trying everything to achieve a peaceful, diplomatic solution, she allows Shaxs to fire on the ship. But it was too late – the Cerritos’ weapons systems are down! All seems lost to the bridge crew… until the isolinear core disables the Drookmani ship anyway!
The threat over, everyone can celebrate and relax. Dr T’Ana and Shaxs share a hilarious kiss as the bridge crew cheer. On the holodeck, Rutherford and Tendi are still trying to escape Badgey, though, as the end of the battle hasn’t saved them from the malfunctioning programme! Tired, cold, and unable to keep running, Rutherford attacks Badgey. After a fight, Badgey seems to have the upper hand, but the cold finally gets to him.
Rutherford is able to put him down, just as the holodeck is repaired! Badgey springs back to life, claiming not to remember anything that happened, and the two are able to exit the holodeck relatively unharmed. Whether Badgey will return as a villain remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet against it at this stage! We did get one more interesting line hinting at a Tendi-Rutherford relationship: he think that she’s “cute!”
For his heroic and innovative method of saving the Cerritos, Fletcher is promoted and reassigned! Mariner and Boimler are glad to be rid of him after what they saw, and in a funny moment later reject his appeal to be transferred back to the Cerritos after screwing up on his new assignment.
Boimler has a nice line right at the end of the episode: Mariner may be a rule-breaker, but “at your heart, you’re Starfleet.” This was a cute way to end the episode. Mariner and Boimler’s story this week has been one which – mostly successfully – attempted to justify Mariner’s rule-breaking. At the very least it managed to put the way she behaves in context: she may not always follow the rules, but when she does step out of line she usually has a reason, and the ability to back it up. I think it’s a good lesson – but one that might’ve been useful a little earlier in the season!
So that was Terminal Provocations. A solid, very funny episode with some relatable characters and plenty of humour. I think there were more f-words (and other instances of bad language) here than in any previous episode, and I wonder why that was. Perhaps it was just because of who wrote it. I tend to feel such language doesn’t always add much to a story – not just in Star Trek, but in many other shows and films. Sometimes it’s just there because the writers and producers can get away with it, and that thought occurred to me here.
Otherwise, it’s hard to find much to criticise. I loved hearing J. G. Hertzler’s voice once again, and if he could make more returns to Star Trek in future that would be amazing! We have been promised other cameos in future episodes, so I’ll be keeping my eye – or rather, my ear – out for those!
Badgey was perhaps my favourite element of the episode. In a way, the two pairs of characters were dealing with a similar problem – rogue technology. In Boimler and Mariner’s case, they had the isolinear core. Tendi and Rutherford had Badgey, and it’s interesting because this has been a theme we’ve seen used in Star Trek several times recently.
The promo for next week’s episode – which I won’t spoil, don’t worry – looks fantastic, and I can’t wait for Thursday! I hope you’ll come back then to see my next review. Once again, sorry for the delay this week. Hopefully next week we can get back on schedule.
The first six episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first five episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Despite an underwhelming start, Lower Decks has gone from strength to strength in the last few weeks, with each episode being progressively better than the last. In terms of laugh-out-loud moments of comedy, I think there were more in Cupid’s Errant Arrow than there had been last time, though some of the humour was not to my taste. But a sense of humour and jokes are always subjective things, and taken as a whole I greatly enjoyed what the episode had to offer.
The cringe comedy that I disliked wasn’t something I downright hated, it’s just something I’ve known for decades isn’t “my thing”. Shows like Friends relied on this style of comedy a lot, where jokes are built around embarrassing and cringeworthy situations, and it’s clearly something that a lot of people find amusing. I hope that at least some of those comedy fans have found their way to Lower Decks by now – if they have, I bet they’ll have enjoyed what Cupid’s Errant Arrow had to offer.
Of course, only American and Canadian fans would be able to get that enjoyment; Lower Decks remains unavailable anywhere else in the world. Even series creator Mike McMahan, who had rather clumsily talked about the situation a few weeks ago, has gone radio-silent. A search for “Star Trek: Lower Decks international” on Google now only yields results more than a month old; ViacomCBS has simply refused to even acknowledge the problem. This is despite the fact that the lack of an international broadcast has killed the hype and excitement that the show needed to build, and that the widespread piracy across the world continues to reduce the value of Lower Decks from a financial perspective. From the point of view of Netflix or Amazon, why should they pay a lot of money for a show with little international attention and whose hardcore fans have already seen it? The answer is they shouldn’t – and they won’t.
But of course I’d never indulge in such skulduggery as piracy. When ViacomCBS refused to broadcast the show internationally, I – a disabled man with hardly any money – had no choice but to move to America so I could watch it. I’m comfortably settled in my second home – a beautiful log cabin in the state of Alaska, a mere half hour’s drive from downtown New Orleans. I went into town just this morning to sample one of its signature dishes – the Philly cheesesteak. Delicious.
Cupid’s Errant Arrow is the first episode not to have a teaser before the opening titles, which is uncommon across any Star Trek series. I’m not really sure why that was the case – at first I wondered if the copy I was watching had a missing piece – because although after the titles we did jump right into the story there was still scope to move the titles to structure the episode more traditionally. This isn’t a complaint, though I do consider it worth noting.
The story begins with Ensign Boimler recording a log. The Cerritos has been tasked with supporting the USS Vancouver – a Parliament-class ship that seems to be superior to the Cerritos in almost every way. The design of the Vancouver was very clever; it managed to look bigger, tougher, and more “heroic” for want of a better word, emphasising its importance over the lowly Cerritos, but while retaining a similar enough aesthetic that it was clearly part of the same fleet.
Star Trek has often used logs to set up stories, and it worked well here. The Vancouver and Cerritos are tasked with saving the planet Mixtus III and its people from a moon that has become unstable. When I first saw this moon in one of the promo images or trailers released before the series I thought it might’ve been the Klingon moon Praxis, as seen in The Undiscovered Country. Though the damage to this moon is less extensive, it still felt like a little callback.
Though we don’t spend too much time with them this week, the bridge crew (or at least, the captain and first officer) have to first negotiate with the native aliens, as there seem to be competing factions who are all squabbling. Though Lower Decks was in production well before the current pandemic, this sequence – with the bickering factions unable to agree on anything in the face of a looming problem – feels rather timely!
The arguing delegates checked all of the boxes when comparing them to the problem-deniers of today: the conspiracy theorists, the ultra-religious, the not-in-my-backyard types. Though perhaps intended as an analogy for something like climate change, it works surprisingly well considering the response to the pandemic has faced hurdles from the same types of people!
Boimler concludes his log by saying that he’s very excited to get to work side-by-side with his girlfriend for the first time. They’ve been dating via subspace, as she serves on the Vancouver. Of course Mariner is sceptical, questioning the existence of Barbara, Boimler’s girlfriend. Apparently he’s been recording lots of personal logs about her too, which is kind of cute. This conversation dropped a couple of references: Q and Captain Picard Day, and the concept of holo-addiction, that we saw Barclay struggle with in The Next Generation. Mariner’s teasing of Boimler felt more good-natured than mean-spirited here, and it was a scene that furthered their friendship.
Up next were Tendi and Rutherford, paired up for the B-plot of Cupid’s Errant Arrow. Tendi has felt a little rudderless since the show began, and I don’t think has properly found her feet yet as a character. Last time she seemed to be mimicking Mariner at one point, and here, as she demonstrates excitement for the mundane aspects of the Cerritos and Vancouver, it feels like she’s a second copy of Rutherford. The new ensign wowed by everything has, perhaps, been a difficult character to write for.
Tendi and Rutherford visit the USS Vancouver with Mariner and Boimler, and rush off excitedly to see the ship. I think Tendi’s line about the Vancouver being the “best ship [she’s] ever seen” was word-for-word what she said about the Cerritos in the premiere; if not it was still similar enough to be funny. Boimler waits for Barbara while Mariner continues to say she doesn’t believe she’s real. There was a reference to the Phylosians – a race of sentient plants seen in The Animated Series, which was a neat callback. It was around this point that Mariner crossed over from gently teasing her friend to something more sinister as she continues to insist Barbara isn’t real or must have some nefarious reason for dating Boimler.
Because of how I’ve felt about Mariner in past episodes, I was at least slightly concerned that she’d turn out to be right and Barbara wouldn’t be real, or would immediately turn out to be some kind of fake or monster. That would have felt a little too obvious, and perhaps would have given Mariner another excuse to see herself as better and smarter than everyone around her. Luckily it didn’t pan out that way!
Barbara is, of course, real. And human (as far as we can tell). She and Boimler are perhaps a little over-the-top in their kissing and cuddling – but that’s all part of the humour. Mariner, after getting over her initial shock, continues to probe her about why she’d date Boimler, but the trio is interrupted by one of Barbara’s colleagues – they’ll be working together, to Boimler’s dismay.
One very minor point of criticism that I’d have about some of the shipboard scenes this week is that it wasn’t always obvious which of the two vessels the characters were on. The rooms and corridors aboard the Vancouver look very similar to those aboard the Cerritos – even the bridge design is identical – and I wasn’t always sure which ship scenes were set on. In past Star Trek shows, redressing sets or simply reusing sets has created this issue numerous times, but in animation it should be much easier to make some tweaks and changes to give each ship distinguishing features. Otherwise, there’s almost no reason to have two different classes of ship!
It was pretty obvious that the lieutenant Barbara met was, in fact, an ex. The way Boimler reacted, and the way the pair showed such familiarity, telegraphed that story point. This set up the next part of the story: while Mariner will be scrambling around trying to figure out what kind of nefarious imposter Barbara is, Boimler will be scrambling around trying to win her back from what he perceives to be the threat of her ex.
The latter of these stories – Boimler trying different tactics to win over Barbara – is where the cringe humour that I mentioned at the beginning really kicks in. It makes sense in a way; it’s a style often seen in romantic comedies, and Cupid’s Errant Arrow is perhaps as close as Star Trek has come to truly having a romantic comedy storyline… except for Picard and Lwaxana Troi in The Next Generation!
By this point, Cupid’s Errant Arrow had established its storylines. Unlike last week, where I felt Boimler’s C-plot went nowhere, there seemed to be enough time for all three stories to play out effectively. We have Captain Freeman’s struggle with the planet’s natives, Tendi and Rutherford aboard the Vancouver, and the Boimler-Mariner-Barbara-Barbara’s ex quadrangle. All three would play out with enough time dedicated to them to feel fully-rounded.
Lower Decks is always picking on Boimler – in a fun way, of course – and this time we learn his full first name: Bradward. This greatly amuses Mariner, and it is kind of a silly name. Sorry to all the Bradwards out there! I suppose we could say it’s surprising that Mariner seems to have known Boimler a while without learning his actual name, but firstly it’s a comedy show so not every point has to be 100% serious, and secondly… I’ve been there. There are people I worked with or knew for years whose names I never learned/remembered! So it’s not actually that unusual a situation.
Aboard the Vancouver, Tendi and Rutherford meet with a senior officer who has some kind of new scanner – the T88. Since the episode aired I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what this is a reference to! At first I thought it might’ve been something from Star Wars, then I wondered if it was a reference to The Terminator… in any case it was repeated so often in the episode that I assume it’s a reference to something, but as with Rutherford’s pudding joke last time I’m just not sure what!
Regardless, the pair are very excited about the scanners, and the senior officer promises whoever completes a scanning task first will get to keep a T88. As mentioned, I feel this works way better for Rutherford’s character than Tendi – who is still kind of an unknown quantity even several episodes in.
Back aboard the Cerritos, Boimler is trying to find ways to impress Barbara. At first he tries working out – doing push-ups. Mariner continues to espouse her theory that Barbara is some kind of intruder, alien, or spy and that Boimler is in danger. At first this seemed like “typical Mariner” – assuming she must be right because she knows best – but I was pleasantly surprised when the episode informed us why she’s so paranoid about the prospect of someone she cares about – and she does clearly care about Boimler – being the target of some kind of evil alien.
By the way: in the image above, which takes place in the ensigns’ dormitory, does that look like a forcefield behind Mariner? Or is it supposed to be a window? It seems odd to me that the Cerritos would be flying around with a giant hole in its crew quarters – a loss of power would blow them all out into space! But we’re off-topic.
In a flashback sequence we see Mariner a few years previously. Wearing the uniform design used in First Contact and the back half of Deep Space Nine, she and a friend are visiting Quark’s. Mariner appears to still be an ensign at this time, though whether that’s because she’s new to Starfleet or had been promoted and demoted wasn’t clear. Her friend has a new boyfriend, but he turns out to be an evil alien shapeshifter and eats her! So now we know her concern about Barbara doesn’t just come from nowhere for the sake of setting up a funny story – she’s motivated by past trauma. And while we can definitely say she needs to work through that trauma instead of taking it out on Boimler, this moment humanised her in a way few moments in Lower Decks have managed to so far.
It was nice to see Quark’s – albeit very briefly – as well as the uniforms of the Deep Space Nine era. We could do a whole series of articles on which uniforms are the “best”, and there will always be differing opinions on that, but I certainly like the grey-and-black variant seen here, and just like when they were included in Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, it was a nostalgic treat to see them back here too.
Mariner’s determination to help Boimler was sweet, if a little misguided, and the fact that it was basically derived from seeing him as someone unlikely to get a girlfriend was a very “Mariner” way of looking at the situation. In that sense it stayed true to her character, while allowing her to help out. The flashback provided her ample motivation, and this storyline worked well.
Up next we had another scene with the captain and the arguing natives. Despite limited screen time, I enjoyed this aspect of the story. The aliens (presumably Mixtusians?) follow on from several others we’ve seen in Lower Decks as being at least slightly more “alien” in appearance than some Star Trek races. Animation as a format allows for this much more easily than live-action, and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve seen Lower Decks take advantage of this as much as possible.
The captain manages to resolve most of their problems – moving homes, installing gravity generators, etc. – but one robed alien still is unsatisfied. He claims that imploding the moon will send debris to his people on Mixtus II, so it looks like there’s still a problem to be overcome after all!
In his first attempt to win over Barbara (despite the fact he doesn’t need to) Boimler interrupts a meeting she’s giving about the mission. This scene was by far the worst in terms of cringe humour, and while that really isn’t my thing for fans of that style of comedy I have no doubt it worked.
While Boimler interrupts to try to stake his claim to Barbara in front of her ex (and several of her colleagues) Mariner is trying to prove she’s an impostor. At first she believes Barbara to be an android, programming her tricorder to disable any androids present. The two are eventually forced to leave the meeting and this scene (thankfully) came to an end.
Tendi and Rutherford bicker over who has the best claim to the T88 scanner – there seems to be only one available and they both want to take it back to the Cerritos for their various departments. It was never really explained why the T88 is so good – or even really what it does – so I didn’t feel this storyline had particularly high stakes. For the most part it followed a fairly common trope: two friends end up competing against each other, only to realise that their friendship matters more than the prize on offer.
Mariner has a number of theories about Barbara, and these checked off a number of creatures and characters from past iterations of Star Trek. She mentioned the “salt vampire” from The Original Series Season 1 episode The Man Trap, a transporter duplicate from The Next Generation Season 6 episode Second Chances, the Suliban from Enterprise, and a “surgically-altered Cardassian spy”, which is of course a reference to Seska from Voyager. The pinboard she has with lots of pictures and string was funny, and I liked seeing her get deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole. I’m also pretty sure this marks the first reference to the Suliban outside of Enterprise.
Boimler has a funny line here; while criticising Mariner for not accepting Barbara, he plans to change everything about himself to trick her. The comedy built and built on this, as Boimler confidently asks the replicator for an outfit combining the coolest people in history – in “boys size small”.
The outfit was suitably ridiculous: unmatched boots, two halves of a jacket, an (American) football, and pink sunglasses. I’m sure each piece represents a classic film or television series; I struggled to name them all. But the overall look was so over-the-top and stupid that I had to pause the episode from laughing so hard. This entire sequence was great – but it built up to another cringe moment as Boimler interrupts Barbara in the mess hall.
After Boimler ruins things with Barbara (and spills beer on her) she storms off with her ex. Mariner is increasingly convinced she’s some kind of reptile in disguise, using Barbara calling Boimler “sexy” as evidence.
A misunderstanding in the shuttle bay eventually leads to Boimler and Barbara reconciling; there was never anything between her and her ex as of course we knew. Mariner hasn’t given up, though, and pulls Barbara’s pants down in an effort to expose her as an alien infiltrator. As I mentioned I’m glad Mariner was wrong on this point, as making her someone who’s always right about everything doesn’t tend to make for a fun and relatable character.
Just when it seemed sure that Barbara was human, she and Boimler leave to complete the next part of the mission. As they leave, Mariner finds something on the ground: a husk. After scanning it she’s sure that Barbara is a parasite (or is being controlled by one). She rushes off to tell Boimler.
Tendi and Rutherford complete their task together, but the officer on the Vancouver who gave them the assignment tells them they’re going to be transferred to his ship. Despite loving the Vancouver for its fancy systems and technology, both would prefer to stay on the Cerritos, and a slapstick chase ensues after they steal the officer’s padd – preventing him from submitting the transfer order. This scene was okay, and led to a funny payoff at the end that we’ll come to, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Slapstick comedy like this can be fine, but something about it didn’t feel right here.
Meanwhile, Mariner is racing to get to Boimler before the Barbara-parasite can harm him. She puts on a spacesuit and jumps out of the airlock, racing to an orbital platform near the moon. She comes aboard only to find Boimler naked and waiting for Barbara – in another incredibly cringeworthy moment of comedy!
Mariner remains convinced that Barbara is the parasite, but Boimler – clearly fed up with her antics – isn’t buying it. He tries to get Mariner to leave, but because of the delay in destroying the moon thanks to the intransigence of the Mixtus II alien, the platform shakes and Boimler is knocked out.
Commander Ransom alerts the captain to the problem on the bridge, while Barbara and Mariner fight over Boimler on the orbital platform. Apparently Barbara has been feeling the same way about Mariner, wondering if she’s an impostor and what her interest is in Boimler, which was kind of funny. This set the stage for the two to reconcile, realising that each other had Boimler’s best interests at heart.
With the moon about to cause devastation on Mixtus III, Captain Freeman feels she has no choice but to act. And in a very funny moment – that also served as a commentary on wealth inequality – the Mixtus II alien admits it’s just him and his wife on the planet; they’re very rich. The captain gives the order to implode the moon, saving Mixtus III from harm despite the rich alien protesting.
After ending their fight, Mariner and Barbara bond over stories about Boimler. Though these tales almost all put him in a negative light, it was a funny sequence that was perhaps even a little sweet. They both realised that neither was a threat, and that their fighting was borne from a misunderstanding. I liked this resolution to a story that could have made Barbara an alien menace; I think it worked far better.
While Boimler lay unconscious, the two gossiped about him and some of his silly moments – messing up, touching aliens in an inappropriate way, etc. Mariner had a cute line where she said that Boimler is a dork, but he’s her dork. After seeing her being unkind and even bullying him in earlier episodes, this moment (and others earlier on) really hit home the fact that they’re friends, and I liked that.
Meanwhile Tendi and Rutherford have managed to uncover the Vancouver officer’s horrible secret – while transferring them to his ship, he plans to transfer himself to the Cerritos! I loved this moment, as the officer pleads to return to a less exciting ship. He can’t handle the pressure of being on such a cool ship and wants a quieter life. We’ve never really seen that idea explored in Star Trek – that an officer might not want that kind of life. Though it was a brief moment in a secondary plot, acknowledging the idea that some in Starfleet may prefer life in the slow lane was nice, and I appreciated its inclusion.
On the orbital platform, Mariner and Barbara finally uncover the source of the husk Mariner found – Boimler is the one who’s picked up a parasite! The green louse-like creature had affixed itself to his head, but Barbara was able to remove it. It turns out this was the reason why she liked him – the parasite gave off pheromones that made him much more attractive! This was another twist, but a fun resolution to the plot. Mariner was half-right after all – there was a parasite involved. Just not in the way she expected. Though the timeframe of Lower Decks is not at all clear, Boimler was supposed to have picked up the parasite more than a month ago – does that mean he’s had it in every episode so far? Or is it something he picked up between last week’s episode and Cupid’s Errant Arrow? If it’s the former, perhaps we can expect to see some changes in him going forward now that it’s been removed.
In keeping with Lower Decks’ style of returning to episodic storytelling, all of the storylines are wrapped up by the end of the episode. Barbara breaks up with Boimler, removing her from the picture. Tendi and Rutherford return to the Cerritos – with armfuls of T88 scanners! And the ship and crew have completed their moon mission, ready for another adventure next time.
Cupid’s Errant Arrow was fun, and despite the cringe humour that it made use of at points, there were some laugh-out-loud moments. I had a lot of fun with the episode, and I’m enjoying spending time with the characters. Tendi still feels underdeveloped, as if the writers don’t really know what to make of her. But the other three are finding the niches. Mariner’s turn away from being self-centred has been to the series’ benefit in a huge way, and I’m having fun with her, laughing along at her shenanigans rather than rolling my eyes.
This was an episode which really took the action away from what would have been the “main” story in another Star Trek series – saving Mixtus III from the crashing moon. This was always what Lower Decks promised to do: focusing on the unimportant characters rather than the main bridge crew. Several previous episodes had the ensigns participate in the main story in more of a major way, but this time they really didn’t, and thus Cupid’s Errant Arrow is an episode to point to as one that encapsulates the Lower Decks concept.
The teaser for next week’s episode looks like a lot of fun – and while I won’t spoil anything, I’ll say that I’m definitely looking forward to the crew’s next adventure. I hope you’ll come back after you’ve seen it for another review!
The first five episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first four episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Last week’s episode, Temporal Edict, was fantastic. I had a great time with that story – as I’m sure you could tell from my review – and I especially enjoyed seeing Ensign Mariner step up and start being more of a protagonist I could get behind. I was optimistic and even excited for this week’s episode after what I saw last time, and although Moist Vessel started with a scene that got me worried Mariner would wholly regress back to being vain, selfish, and annoying, I was pleasantly surprised with another largely enjoyable episode.
Even now that we’re four weeks into Season 1, there’s still no news regarding an international broadcast. Practically nobody outside the United States and Canada is paying any attention to Lower Decks any more, and what was probably Star Trek’s best opportunity since the 2009 reboot to reach out to new would-be fans has been thoroughly wasted. It’s such a shame to see the hard work put in by Mike McMahan and the rest of the team behind the show being squandered by ViacomCBS in what has to be one of the worst business decisions in Star Trek’s recent history. As I predicted, Lower Decks is being heavily pirated practically all over the world, reducing its value in a packed market – assuming ViacomCBS still hopes to sell the international rights. With no one at the company even acknowledging Star Trek’s international fans, and with no information as to when or even if the show will get an international release, piracy is quite literally the only option for fans who don’t want to miss out.
But of course I’d never sink so low! As you know, when it became apparent that Lower Decks wasn’t going to be coming to the UK I had no choice but to up sticks and move to America. I’m relaxing in my home in northern California as we speak, looking out on the Blue Ridge Mountains in Yellowstone National Park. Tomorrow I’m going to take a short drive to Atlantic City to sample the famous New England cuisine. I can hardly wait!
As I indicated at the beginning, Moist Vessel begins with another scene in which the humour was supposed to come from Mariner’s selfish “I-don’t-care” attitude. And as I’ve covered several times already, those moments generally don’t work for me. I find that side of her character childish and rude, and the attempted humour derived from that isn’t my thing – at least not in a Star Trek setting.
A scene in the Cerritos’ briefing room introduced the first major Tellarite character to appear in Star Trek for a very long time – Captain Durango of the USS Merced. The Cerritos and Merced will be working together on a mission to tow a long-lost “generation ship” that contains a previously-unknown kind of terraforming fluid.
I liked this setup; it felt very “Star Trek”. Bringing in a second minor ship – the Merced appears to be a California-class like the Cerritos – was a nice touch too, and allowed the rest of the story to work better than if we’d just been following the Cerritos. Animation as a format allows for more variety and versatility than live-action in a lot of ways, and including a second ship is much less of an expense in an animated series than it would be in a live action show. In a way I’d have liked to see the Merced as a different starship class; as I noted in the finale of Star Trek: Picard, having lots of identical ships doesn’t look as good as having varied styles. But that’s just a minor point really.
The generation ship was massive, far larger than the Starfleet ships. And it wasn’t made obvious which species it belonged to – it’s possible the crew of the Cerritos didn’t know either. It’s clear that the generation ship had already been discovered and explored by a previous Federation crew; the Cerritos and Merced are just there to tow it back to Starfleet. This ties in with Lower Decks’ premise of following an unimportant ship, but was done in such a way as to still give the crew a genuine adventure.
After the title sequence, Mariner is getting another well-deserved dressing-down from Captain Freeman; her mother. When we learned at the end of the premiere that Freeman and Mariner were mother and daughter it was surely only a matter of time until that fact became relevant, and here we get to see the first real interaction between them. As happened in either the first or second episode, I was wholly on the side of the officer giving Mariner a stern telling-off, despite her being the show’s supposed protagonist.
Mariner’s anti-authority streak has a distinct feel of teenage rebellion, which is compounded in this scene by the fact that it’s her own mother that she’s in trouble with. Perhaps that kind of character appeals to, well, teenagers and children, but it’s a trait I find particularly annoying in Mariner. I was hoping after last week’s episode she may have turned a page, but this scene – complete with sarcasm, whining, and a Vulcan salute delivered in the way one might flip the middle finger – was Mariner right back where she’d been. I was disappointed by this, though she would regain some of her standing from last week via her actions later in the story.
Captain Freeman is upset, and along with Commander Ransom hatches a plan to force Mariner to request a transfer – giving her the worst jobs on the ship. Ransom allows his captain to take credit for what had been his idea – I got the impression that’s something he does a lot. He seems to know how to deal with Captain Freeman, and while he had seemed to take a shine to Mariner last week, it’s clear where his loyalties lie.
The second-in-command coming up with an idea that the captain pretends or thinks is their own is a pretty common trope, though, and while it was okay as a one-off joke, I’m not sure how well it works for Freeman’s character. We know her as a pretty strict captain with ambitions for her ship and crew, and to show her as vain or easily manipulated like this makes her far less relatable and likeable. Neither of which are good things.
The ensigns are given their assignments in the next scene. Boimler would be absent for much of the episode, but was present here briefly. As Ransom and Freeman had planned, Mariner is given the worst jobs, though Rutherford initially seems unhappy with his – he wanted a different kind of calibrating.
This sequence sets up the B-plot, which this time focuses on Tendi. She’s given the opportunity to witness an “ascension” – a seemingly human crew member is going to ascend to become a “being of pure energy”. Rutherford compares the process to becoming a Q or being the Traveller (from The Next Generation), and though Tendi dismisses those comparisons it seems like a fairly similar process.
Along with Boimler, we won’t see much of Rutherford until near the end of the episode; Moist Vessel follows Mariner and Tendi’s stories much more closely. And that’s okay, many Star Trek episodes focus on a particular character or group of characters, and we’ve spent time with Boimler and Rutherford before, and surely will again.
When trying to make a comedy series like Lower Decks, it must be hard to give each character a fully-rounded personality while still keeping open possibilities for jokes and humour. In the next scene, Tendi is at the ascension ceremony when she becomes distracted and ultimately disrupts the proceedings in what was an incredibly slapstick sequence. I don’t mind slapstick, visual comedy, but in a similar way to making Captain Freeman easily-manipulated, oblivious, or someone who takes credit for her officers’ ideas, turning Tendi into a bumbling idiot wouldn’t have been my choice.
Tendi doesn’t appear to have done any research or read her assignment brief, as she turns up late (the ceremony was already in progress) and doesn’t know what to do or even whether she’s supposed to observe or participate. But then, midway through, she becomes distracted and wanders off to look at an object in the room – this is what leads to the slapstick falling over and ruining the ceremony. I could excuse accidentally knocking something over, but the way she put herself and her own interest in the gong ahead of everything else that was happening was selfish and childish – something we might have expected from Mariner, but not Tendi.
Keeping each of the four ensigns’ characters and personalities distinct is a pretty basic expectation, and the fact that Lower Decks is an animated comedy series may lower the bar in some ways, but it doesn’t work as a catch-all excuse for everything. And in this scene, Tendi seemed to act way out of character; this would have been an acceptable (but still silly) storyline for Mariner. Boimler has been established as the “by the books” anxiety-riddled nerd. Rutherford is the workaholic who loves even the most tedious of tasks in engineering. Mariner doesn’t care about Starfleet. Tendi doesn’t really have a personality yet, and this was a good opportunity to show off what she could be. Instead we got her dumped into a sequence that didn’t seem to fit, and while she wasn’t exactly Mariner 2.0, she wasn’t her own character either.
The ceremony, and Tendi messing it up, was really just the setup for what would be the B-plot of the episode, though, and if I’m being charitable I guess I could say I can see why the audience might have found it funny on a visual level. I liked that Tendi tried to replicate more sand for the sand-design that she ruined; that was an amusing moment.
Boimler and Mariner are up next, and he’s teasing her about being assigned the worst jobs while he gets a (comparatively) better one. Boimler seems to have picked up some of Mariner’s traits as well, as he repeats the sarcastic Vulcan salute that she used earlier in the episode. Mariner telling him it doesn’t look cool when he does it, only to admit a moment later that it did was a pretty funny joke, and I certainly cracked a smile at this point. Mariner and Boimler can work well as a duo provided their bickering stays on the friendly side and doesn’t cross over into anything mean-spirited. In this instance I think they stayed on the right side of the line.
The next sequence showed Mariner undertaking the various dirty jobs on the ship, including cleaning out the holodeck filters (yuck), applying grease to a turbolift, and phasering carbon from a carbon filter. I’ll excuse the fact that these tasks could be performed by robots (even today, in some cases) because we were always going to get moments like this. It didn’t harm canon and it wasn’t immersion-breaking; in many ways, this is what Lower Decks promised to be about. We were going to see unimportant crewmen performing unimportant tasks on an unimportant ship. The sequence was great; it had some comical moments and I enjoyed it.
At the end, though, was a moment that didn’t work particularly well. As Mariner turns her final task – cleaning the carbon filter using a phaser – into a fun game and seems to be enjoying herself, Ransom spots her. He reports back to the captain that Mariner is “finding little ways to inject joy into otherwise horrible tasks”. It was incredibly on-the-nose for a character to say aloud; the audience saw Mariner doing that firsthand, so we didn’t need to have it explained in such an obvious way. It felt pretty patronising, as if the team behind the series didn’t trust the audience to understand what was going on.
Tendi is trying to make up for her earlier mistake, as she feels awful – so she’s definitely not Marinier after all! It was pretty funny that the lieutenant who was supposed to be so calm and zen that he was on the verge of ascending from this plane of existence became very grumpy and annoyed with Tendi, and this being played for laughs worked pretty well – at least the first time it was done.
The storyline between these two characters was kind of a cliché though. Someone trying to make up for a mistake while the person they wronged wants nothing to do with them has been done and overdone in countless comedies and dramas over the years, played both humorously and straight, and nothing about Lower Decks’ take was original or innovative. It was fine, and there were some funny moments, but it wasn’t spectacular.
Freeman and Ransom are still scheming about how to get Mariner to request a transfer off the ship. From Freeman’s conversation with Mariner’s dad in the premiere, it sounded like her parents had an understanding that one of them would keep an eye on her on her Starfleet postings – and I would suggest that perhaps the only reason she’s still employed as an ensign is because they’ve been intervening on her behalf. So it seems to run counter to that conversation that Freeman would now be plotting to get her removed from the ship.
Interestingly, my (totally legal) version of the episode had one word censored when talking about the holodeck filters. I assume this was done on CBS All Access, perhaps it was deemed too raunchy for TV? Regardless, Freeman hits on the perfect solution. She’s found the thing Mariner would hate even more than the dirty, disgusting jobs: being promoted.
This scene, in which Mariner is promoted to lieutenant, kicks off what I guess was supposed to be the C-plot of the episode. Boimler, who was cleaning the conference room while Mariner was receiving her unwarranted promotion, decides that he needs to be a rule-breaker like her in order to get ahead in his Starfleet career. But in what was a busy episode there wasn’t enough time for this to play out, and it’s pretty clear that trying to run three storylines each featuring a main character is too much to cram into an episode barely twenty minutes long. Boimler’s sub-plot added nothing, and was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it thing anyway, taking up practically no screen time.
Star Trek shows of the past have rarely tried to have three or more stories on the go at once, and they were all using far longer episodes. It was never going to work, and it’s a shame in a way because the idea of Boimler trying to put on a Mariner-esque persona could have been funny (so long as it was clear he wasn’t committed to being a selfish jerk). But it feels totally wasted here, and if this was the one attempt this season to try that concept, it’s a shame. Maybe it will be revisited in more detail in another episode, though.
Should we talk about nepotism in Starfleet? Because Moist Vessel seems to suggest that the practice is possible and relatively easy to get away with. We’ve seen situations before in which an arguably undeserving character is given a position aboard ship (I’m looking at you, Wesley Crusher) simply by having a good relationship with the captain, so it isn’t wholly without precedent. However, it raises some alarming questions about elitism within the organisation. Starfleet has usually been presented as meritocratic, but if Freeman can promote Mariner – her own daughter – when she’s clearly undeserving, presumably any captain or admiral can do the same to their relatives? It’s definitely worth considering the implications of this, I think.
I keep saying that we need to treat Lower Decks as an animated comedy first and a Star Trek show second. And it’s true, the show works way better when putting canon and the minutia of the franchise to one side. But moments like this raise questions, and because Lower Decks is officially part of canon and in the same timeline and universe as all the other series, sometimes it’s hard to avoid comparing the way Starfleet is presented here with how it’s been presented elsewhere. Perhaps the topic needs looking at in more detail; I’ll add it to my writing pile!
A montage goes on to show Mariner not enjoying her time as a lieutenant, and some of the activities we might’ve enjoyed seeing the senior officers engaged in in other Star Trek shows are clearly not to Mariner’s taste. Some of these – like the poker game – were little references to past iterations of Star Trek, which I appreciated.
Tendi is explaining to Rutherford how she’s trying to make up for her mistake, and while he’s sympathetic and clearly a good listener, he doesn’t put much stock in her plan. She seems to think she can get the lieutenant – named O’Connor – back on track with his ascension by studying spirituality, but Rutherford is a voice of reason telling her it doesn’t work like that. Tendi is not dissuaded, however, and rushes off with her collection of books. She leaves her unfinished lunch to Rutherford who seems excited that she left her pudding; I’m sure this was a reference to something – but I have no idea what!
Mariner has received new quarters to go along with her promotion, and Boimler visits her. This furthers the underdeveloped C-plot that we discussed earlier, and it really feels like a way to force Boimler into a story which offered no organic role for him.
In Engineering, Tendi is trying different spiritual techniques to help O’Connor ascend, and as I said this storyline started leaning heavily into the trope of one character trying to help and the other not wanting their help. It was fine, but not particularly funny or interesting from my point of view. O’Connor being so grumpy and annoyed when he’s supposed to be on the verge of ascending due to his calmness and composure was funny the first time, but that should’ve been a one-time-use joke, and building this whole story around it stretched it past breaking point.
When Mariner and Freeman had their next scene in what looked like a lounge or perhaps the captain’s ready room, Mariner was close to cracking. She clearly hates the role of a senior officer, along with all of the “boring” things they have to do – like attending a birthday party for Commander Ransom, who will apparently play the guitar. Despite that, she is unwilling to admit defeat and request a transfer. This scene had perhaps the funniest one-liner of the episode, too. When Freeman says she’s doing what she needs to do, and “it’s called being a captain”, Mariner hits back with “no, it’s called being a dick!” That definitely won a laugh from me.
In the next scene, there’s a contrivance to suit the plot. It’s not worth getting too worked up over – animated comedy first, Star Trek show second, remember? – but Captain Durango moves the Merced closer to the generation ship, believing he should be in that position as its “his” mission. Moving out of formation ruptures the generation ship’s hull, spewing out the terraforming liquid. Because the liquid transforms everything it touches, whole sections of the Merced are affected, disabling the ship in an instant.
The Cerritos is soon affected too, as the terraforming liquid is drawn to the ship along the tractor beam. On the bridge, Commander Ransom ordered an evasive action, but it was too late. Across the ship, various crystals and plants emerge, transformed from the ship’s own hull and material. I love the way the terraforming liquid works – it’s something we could have absolutely seen in past iterations of Star Trek. The idea of the ship itself being transformed harkens back to Masks, from the seventh season of The Next Generation, where something similar happened to the Enterprise-D.
From here, the story follows two pairs of characters – Freeman and Mariner, who had been together when the crisis occurred, as well as Tendi and O’Connor. Both pairings put together characters who had been antagonistic to each other earlier in the story, and this concept can work very well. We’ve seen Star Trek stories of the past do similar things; one example that comes to mind is the episode Disaster, from the fifth season of The Next Generation. Disaster made my list of ten great episodes from that show, as it’s one I really enjoy.
The terraforming liquid has also introduced large volumes of water to parts of the ship – including engineering, where Tendi and O’Connor are. Just as Freeman and Mariner will have to put aside their disagreements to work together, so too will Tendi and O’Connor. No one seems to know what to do amidst the chaos to save the ship, but Freeman and Mariner both come up with the same idea – and it turns out that Mariner had read the mission brief after all. Tying in with last week’s theme of Mariner stepping up when the ship and crew need her to, this worked so well.
When the episode began with Mariner having seemed to regress, I was concerned that Lower Decks was going to continue to use her selfishness as one of its key points of humour, and as I keep saying, “Ensign Rick Sanchez” just doesn’t work for me in this Star Trek setting. But I’m glad that she once again proved she isn’t just interested in herself, and that despite proclaiming boredom and lack of interest at the way Starfleet operates, she still does the work – including reading the brief.
Both pairs of characters overcome their differences thanks to the chaotic situation. Tendi realises that her desperation to help O’Connor is motivated by a desire to be liked by everyone on the ship, while Mariner’s dislike of her mother and authority seems to come from being treated like a child and smothered. In Mariner’s case, I have to say I’m still kind of on the captain’s side – Mariner does undeniably behave like a bratty teenager, and if I were responsible for someone who behaved that way, I’d certainly treat them accordingly.
However, this sequence was really interesting from a character point of view, and we got to see the mother-daughter relationship in detail. Freeman and Mariner are more alike – especially in terms of how stubborn they are – than either would be willing to acknowledge. Both are also – in their own ways – dedicated to their friends and crewmates, and while Mariner might sulk at the notion of spending an evening at Ransom’s birthday party while he plays the guitar, she wouldn’t let him down if he needed her help. This side to her character goes a long way to making up for her attitude, and after the last two episodes showed this, I have much more respect and admiration for Mariner and her abilities.
The dichotomy in Mariner has always been that she’s perfectly capable officer, but she has such a bad attitude and a selfish streak that she doesn’t make use of her talents. The past two episodes have put her in situations that required her to step up, and this has been great news for her character – it’s made her far more likeable and relatable, which are qualities a protagonist needs to have. I just hope these traits stick around for the rest of the season and aren’t lost as the show retains an episodic approach to storytelling.
Lower Decks’ episodic nature, though, has been in many ways a welcome reprieve. Television storytelling in recent years has become all about serialised stories, season-long arcs, and the like. Star Trek shows of the past – especially prior to the Dominion War arc in Deep Space Nine – took this much more episodic approach, and in that respect, Lower Decks feels like a return to that kind of Star Trek story. The downside, as I suggested, is that we can go from what feels like a genuine character arc to a regression in the next episode if that transformation doesn’t stick!
After their journey to the environmental control room, Freeman and Mariner are able to reverse the transformation – thanks to some very Star Trek-y technobabble! They even shared a hug as the terraforming was reversed, in what was a very sweet moment.
After Tendi managed to use an exploding pod to drain the water from engineering, saving her and O’Connor’s lives, he returned the favour by saving her life when a large crystal or rock fell from the ceiling. Doing so helped him find his centre and his composure, and he was finally able to ascend – though it looked very painful! This was another joke that dragged just a little too long, in my opinion, and the humour wore off by the time O’Connor was finally fully ascended. But that’s just personal taste, and for many animated comedy fans I think it would be right in line with what they like.
It wasn’t possible to use the same process to reverse the damage done to the USS Merced, which seems to have been more severely damaged. However, Mariner and Freeman were able to use the Cerritos’ transporters to beam the Merced’s crew to the generation ship where they’ll be safe – and I liked their shared joke about dumping the boring Captain Durango with the mummies and fossils!
Freeman gets a little over-excited, thinking that this concordance with Mariner may last. It won’t, of course, and the idea that the mother-daughter team will work this closely going forward was put to rest pretty quickly! Despite how well it worked here, Lower Decks’ fundamental premise means we won’t be seeing it happen any time soon.
With Tendi having made her peace with O’Connor and him having ascended, all that was left for the episode to do was reset Mariner’s status in time for the next story – and by insulting an admiral in front of the captain, she was demoted back to ensign and rejoins her crewmates in their shared living space.
Tendi isn’t quite as okay with not being liked as she thought, though; she presses Rutherford to tell her who else aboard the Cerritos doesn’t like her when he suggests there may be others besides O’Connor. Boimler is upset that Mariner got everything he wanted – i.e. the promotion – but rejected it. But Mariner is back where she she’s happiest, and I think we can agree that (if she belongs anywhere in Starfleet) she belongs there.
So that was Moist Vessel. Another slow start, perhaps, but another solid and enjoyable episode followed after the opening titles. It was nice to get to spend more time with Tendi, even though at the beginning of her story she felt a little out of place. She grew into it, though, and by the time the ship was in peril she had firmly established who she was and how she was going to react. In that sense, this episode laid the groundwork for establishing Tendi as more than someone who’s just wowed by everything in Starfleet because she’s new.
Mariner once again stepped up to be the officer we know she can be. I could certainly leave behind the attitude and the brattiness, but if she continues to demonstrate that she’s a decent person underneath it, I’ll put up with it. Boimler’s storyline was a waste in Moist Vessel, though, and added nothing whatsoever. I’d like to see this angle explored again – the idea of Boimler trying to be more like Mariner – because I think it has the potential to be both funny and interesting. Unfortunately in an episode barely twenty minutes long there just wasn’t enough time to dedicate to it; it really needs to be the focus of half an episode or more to work effectively.
At time of writing I don’t believe a title for episode 5 has been announced. Perhaps that’s to avoid spoilers, or perhaps it’s something that will be coming imminently. Either way, Lower Decks is off to a good start and I’m very much looking forward to next week’s offering. I hope you’ll check back afterwards for my review; I’ll be looking at every episode this season as they air.
If you missed my reviews for the first three episodes, you can find them on my dedicated Star Trek: Lower Decks page, along with other columns and articles that I’ve written about the show. Click or tap here to be taken there.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. No international broadcast has been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Speak to almost any Trekkie and they’ll tell you that Star Trek shows typically take at least a few episodes – if not a full season – to really hit their stride. With modern Star Trek’s shorter seasons, there’s arguably less time for the producers and writers to get it right. Lower Decks has had a decent start, if an unspectacular one, and aside from the lack of any news regarding an international broadcast, its biggest problem has been one of its main characters: Ensign Mariner.
Since I always comment on the international broadcast as I’m from the UK, I’ll forgive you if you skip over this paragraph. But I want to continue to make this point: the lack of any news regarding an international broadcast, and the fact that no one at ViacomCBS has even acknowledged the problem, is hurting Lower Decks immeasurably. The show needs all the help it can get to win over sceptical Trekkies and make a name for itself in an animated comedy market that isn’t exactly lacking in sci-fi themed shows. But by broadcasting the series only in North America, ViacomCBS has upset Star Trek’s biggest overseas fans, killed much of the hype for the series, reduced the value of the show from the point of view of broadcast agreements and licensing, and actively invited piracy.
Of course I’d never partake in such an under-the-table endeavour. As you know, the only way to watch Lower Decks is to be in North America, so I had no choice but to relocate to my second home. The icy, windswept tundra of the state of New Mexico may seem a rather chilly place to be, but in summer the sun never sets and it’s a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m a stone’s throw from the city of Boston – the Big Apple. It really is an amazing place to be.
Of the three episodes so far, Temporal Edict has to be my favourite. Far less of the humour was focused on Mariner being selfish and unpleasant, and as a result not only was the episode much more enjoyable, it was funnier too. In terms of laugh-out-loud moments, there were almost certainly more in Temporal Edict than there had been in the first two episodes put together. If I were speaking to someone who’d seen the first two episodes and decided it wasn’t their thing, I’d absolutely encourage them to at least give Lower Decks one more chance.
The episode began with Boimler giving a violin performance to an unimpressed crowd in the ship’s bar. The show is really ramping up Boimler as a “mummy’s boy”, as he dedicated both pieces of music to his mother. Mariner and Tendi interrupt and play a kind of instrumental punk rock piece, which is so loud that it disrupts a conversation Captain Freeman is having with a Klingon ship. After Mariner and Tendi finish their song, Boimler returns to the stage with his violin – and in the episode’s first good moment of humour, Lieutenant Shaxs arrives and stops the performance, mistakenly believing Boimler to be the source of the disruptive noise.
What do you think we can read into the Klingons seeming to be more aggressive here? The Klingon captain certainly wasn’t behaving like a firm friend and ally of the Federation! Of course this could simply be something that was played up for laughs, but it does make me wonder. The previous episode featured a Klingon ambassador, so diplomatic relations clearly still exist. I guess Lower Decks may be taking a looser approach to canon, which under the circumstances was to be expected. But it’s fun to speculate nevertheless.
The show is set in or around 2380, which places it only five years after the Dominion War. That’s certainly more than enough time for wartime allies to drift apart – as we know from our own history! Add into the mix that other iterations of Star Trek seem to have depicted future settings where the Klingon Empire and Federation were once again adversaries and nothing here seems to violate canon.
The title music continues to impress me. As I said last time, Lower Decks easily has the best theme of any post-1990s Star Trek series. It’s a piece of music I’d be happy to listen to time and again. After the title sequence, Commander Ransom – the ship’s first officer – is recording his log. The ship is en route to Cardassia Prime to broker a peace agreement between… unnamed factions, as Ransom was interrupted before he could finish. A change of plans sees the Cerritos downgraded from the peace ceremony to a much less important role – delivering diplomatic gifts.
As above with the Klingons, this is Star Trek so let’s speculate a little about what could’ve been happening on Cardassia Prime! The Dominion War ended in a peace agreement, and subsequent comments from Captain Freeman and a Starfleet admiral at least imply that neither of the two races is the Cardassians themselves, so let’s rule them out. Perhaps, given Bajor’s proximity, it could be them. Or it could be the Dominion, though they should have retreated behind the wormhole. It’s interesting that a Federation ship was going to take part in what seems to be a major peace initiative on Cardassia Prime. Perhaps we can infer that Federation-Cardassian relations are greatly improved post-Dominion War. Again, there are parallels in our own history to make such an outcome at least plausible.
One thing I was uncomfortable with in this scene is the anti-Cardassian sentiment expressed by both Captain Freeman and the unnamed Starfleet admiral. I’d even go so far as to call it racism. It reminded me of the often-repeated story that Gene Roddenberry hated The Undiscovered Country when it was screened for him, largely because he felt Kirk’s anti-Klingon attitude had no place in the 23rd Century as he imagined it. I wonder what he would have made of this scene.
The captain is obviously very put out by the decision to move the peace conference and cut her out of it. She takes it as a personal attack against the ship, and pledges to take action to prove their worth to Starfleet – after throwing her padd at the viewscreen! We hadn’t really seen the captain or first officer have much to do in the series so far; this was their first significant interaction on the bridge since the premiere. It was nice to see Ransom at least try to cheer up Freeman – he’s clearly much happier with his role on a less-important vessel than she is.
Meanwhile, the “slackers” – i.e. the main four ensigns – are working on a task in the brig. After completing their task they take a break and enjoy a drink – apparently they all overestimate the time to complete a task; it’s Starfleet tradition! If you remember Relics, from the sixth season of The Next Generation, Scotty told Geordi La Forge something very similar, and I greatly appreciate that reference. Now referred to as “buffer time”, all of the ensigns – and everyone else on the crew – build it into their schedules.
One of the jokes here – Mariner’s phaser not being set to stun – was included in the show’s trailer, and an image of the four drinking margaritas was similarly part of the pre-release marketing for the series. Tendi is the only ensign who seems to have any objection to buffer time, even Boimler is on board with it as it’s tradition. Tendi soon comes around to the idea too, and lies to Dr T’Ana about completing a task. I like Dr T’Ana, and she has a very funny moment that we’ll come to later in the episode. Perhaps it’s because I like cats – I have several of my own – but I’d been excited to see another Catian in Star Trek for ages!
Captain Freeman is in a mood, stalking the corridors of the ship growling at officers who seem to be slacking. She runs into Boimler in a turbolift as he’s humming The Next Generation’s theme – which was very cute – and he accidentally spills the beans about buffer time!
The result, of course, is that buffer time gets cancelled for everyone aboard the ship – though surprisingly, Boimler is never outed as the culprit for blabbing about it! The first couple of episodes of Lower Decks haven’t really had serious messages underneath the comedy, but Temporal Edict does. The story uses its science-fiction setting to look at the real-world issues of time management and overworking. Star Trek has often done this in the past, as I’ve talked about before, and it isn’t something I was really expecting from Lower Decks.
For a lot of people, time management can be a problem. The internet and always-connected devices like smartphones mean we’re always able to be contacted by work, even during what’s supposed to be time off. I can attest from personal experience how easy it is to get burnt out if you’re constantly replying to emails and basically working in your free time as well as when you’re at work. And of course, we can all remember a time when a manager or boss was constantly on our backs about every little thing – precisely how Captain Freeman begins to behave!
The captain institutes a shipwide policy of setting timers for every task, resulting in the crew losing their buffer time and becoming stressed and overworked. Another side effect is, of course, that many tasks aren’t completed or are completed very poorly in order to meet a deadline! The crew rush from task to task with no time in between; the captain has pushed them from one extreme to another.
Only one crew member seems unaffected – Boimler. He’s loving the new routine, and has somehow managed to complete all of his tasks on time. When a new one becomes available he claims it – not that anyone else would have wanted it, or been able to take it of course – and seems oblivious to the chaos the new rules have caused. Even Rutherford, who seemed so level-headed when working in engineering last week, is suffering.
Mariner has been selected for an away mission led by the first officer, and makes her way to the Cerritos’ shuttlebay. She’s not impressed with going on the mission – nor is Commander Ransom impressed at having to bring her. Although she’s wearing the red uniform of the command division, Ransom tells her she wouldn’t be accompanying him if she weren’t so good with a phaser – suggesting she’s there as security or backup rather than for any other reason.
The shuttlecraft Yosemite – which I think is the same one Mariner and Boimler almost lost last week – lands on the surface. The Gelrakians are a crystal-worshipping society, so Ransom and the crew bring along a special “honour crystal” as a symbol of peace. Ransom is a laid-back version of Riker or Kirk in many ways – incredibly confident in his abilities. I kept expecting that to backfire – for him to be all talk with no skills to back it up – but he was surprisingly competent!
The scene after landing has to be one of the funniest. Due to the demanding schedule the crew has been punished with, they accidentally brought a wooden totem instead of the honour crystal, upsetting the Gelrakians who attack them. There were several really funny moments here, but the standout one that had me laughing hard was when one of the Gelrakians shouted “he’s got wood!” Low-brow comedy, perhaps, but it was hilarious in the moment.
After a brief fight the away team was captured by the Gelrakians. I liked how Mariner seemed to genuinely step up and contribute to helping her team when they were in danger, including bandaging Ensign Vendome’s spear wound. As mentioned, Temporal Edict really brought out the best in her in a way that we hadn’t seen in the series so far.
Back aboard the Cerritos, the chaos of the new schedules is continuing. Everyone (except Boimler and the captain) is struggling to keep up, overworked and stressed. The Gelrakians have launched their crystal-ships, but the pandemonium aboard the Cerritos has crippled the ship – it has no shields! The Gelrakians are able to attack and even board the ship with ease.
The captain gives the order to repel the boarders – but at the same time commands the crew to continue their work and not use it as an excuse for slacking off. This is one of those moments where we have to step back and remember to treat Lower Decks as an animated comedy first, and a Star Trek show second! The captain should surely recognise that the decline in performance on the ship is the result of the strict time limits imposed on the crew, but for the sake of the story she doesn’t, and in any other Star Trek show I’d have to call that an unbelievable story beat. However, in Lower Decks it works, and as a story point in this kind of animated comedy show we can’t really take it too seriously.
Rutherford and Tendi are among the crewmen and officers caught up in the Gelrakian attack, and many of the Cerritos’ crew are too busy working to notice the boarding parties. The crew are leaderless and uncoordinated, and unable to repel the attack – which is silly because the Gelrakians are only armed with spears! Again, though, we have to remember to treat Lower Decks differently from other Star Trek shows. And it’s of course worth mentioning that it wouldn’t be the first time in Star Trek that we’ve had hand-to-hand combat or this kind of weaponry; both the Klingons and Jem’Hadar were known to use melee weapons in the 24th Century.
On the surface of the planet, Mariner and Ransom are sharing a prison cell. Mariner tries talking to the guard to no avail while Ransom works on a speech that he hopes will convince the Gelrakians to let them go. The two argue about what to do, and to be perfectly honest, hearing Ransom call out Mariner on her bad attitude and selfishness was pretty good. As you know I’d been thinking much the same way about her over the last couple of episodes – with the exception of a few moments – and Ransom pretty much nailed it as far as I was concerned in that moment. Perhaps the dressing-down got to her, because from this point on I really noted a change in Mariner.
Obviously Ransom’s speech doesn’t go anywhere, and the two then bicker over who gets to take on the Gelrakian’s challenge of a trial by combat against their biggest, strongest warrior. Defeat will mean the entire away team will be executed – by a giant crystal, of course. Ransom won’t allow Mariner to put herself in harm’s way, and deliberately wounds her in the foot so he can be the one to face down the warrior.
Aboard the Cerritos, Boimler is happily going about his duties, seemingly oblivious to all the chaos. He easily defeats three Gelrakians with his phaser, and wonders aloud why things are so out of control. Again, same caveat – it’s an animated comedy, and in that context Boimler’s obliviousness to the ship being under siege gets a pass.
On the bridge he talks to the captain. No one else is able to man their stations, so Captain Freeman is doing all the work. Boimler realises that the problem is the new scheduling – everyone on the bridge, including the captain, is working under strict time limits too. Before he can do anything the bridge is attacked by some Gelrakians.
The action cuts back to the planet’s surface, and Ransom takes on the Gelrakian warrior. I loved this scene, it was pretty funny. I was expecting Ransom’s over-the-top cockiness to get him hurt or killed, but he was incredibly strong and – in a twist to what I was expecting – emerged from the fight triumphant. Even Mariner was impressed – perhaps a little too impressed! I liked Mariner’s line about wanting to help “our team” – compared to what she said earlier it definitely feels as though she’s stepping up. She may be a slacker aboard the ship, but she won’t let her crewmates down when she thinks they need her.
The defeated champion’s line about pretending to be strong and dumb when he really loves to read was pretty funny too – something I think will resonate with a lot of people. Intelligence can feel undervalued sometimes, especially compared to strength or looks. Again, this was Lower Decks using its science fiction setting to make a point.
Boimler finally gets to make his case to the captain. The standout line was this: “not everyone is a Boimler.” He recognises that other members of the crew don’t share his love of rulebooks and tight schedules, and that the problems the ship is facing are caused by that. He talks sense into the captain, who relaxes the rules and unleashes the crew.
The temporal edict is withdrawn, and unburdened by the strict rules, the crew of the Cerritos is easily able to retake the ship and drive away the intruders. It took Boimler realising his mistake to help the captain realise hers, and it worked well as a conclusion to this side of the story. Rutherford and Tendi are among those seen fighting off the intruders, and Dr T’Ana gave a truly funny cat-like hiss as she also jumped into combat.
After winning the fight on the planet’s surface, Ransom has won the freedom of the away team. Mariner definitely has a newfound respect for him after seeing him defeat the Gelrakian warrior, and the away team makes it home in one piece. He even carries her back to the ship – her foot being wounded and all.
With the boarding party safe and the Gelrakians defeated, the two sides get a second chance as Ransom returns to the surface, this time with the honour crystal. War was averted, and peace breaks out between the two sides. In sickbay, Ransom prepares himself for a court-martial for stabbing Mariner, but she says she won’t report him for it. Just as it seems he’s developing a newfound respect for breaking the rules to go along with her newfound appreciation for them, he orders her reprimanded for wearing her uniform incorrectly! The story set up Ransom and Mariner as being attracted to one another, but I don’t expect this to be something that develops in any major way – at least not this season. It may be played on for laughs at points, as it was here, but I don’t think we’re going to see them in a relationship any time soon!
All that was left to do was fully repeal the scheduling and reinstate buffer time, which the captain did. The new rule was named in honour of Boimler, which was very funny. He doesn’t like it, of course, as he’s all about following the rules, but his friends reassure him that no one will remember his contribution to the Boimler Effect.
In a scene set in the far future, Boimler is hailed as “the laziest, most corner-cutting officer in Starfleet history!” That was a funny addendum to the episode, and the reference to Gene Roddenberry (the “Great Bird of the Galaxy”) did not go unrecognised. The episode ends with this far future schoolteacher continuing her lesson on great Starfleet officers by looking at Chief O’Brien!
So that was Temporal Edict. Not a story about time travel at all – as I had feared it might’ve been when I saw the word “temporal!” I’m not the biggest fan of time travel stories in Star Trek, but this was a complete twist on what I was expecting in so many ways.
Captain Freeman’s speech when she commanded the crew to retake the ship, and its accompanying music, was genuinely inspirational – the kind we could have heard from Captains Janeway, Picard, or Kirk in a past iteration of the franchise. It was pitch-perfect, despite the semi-ridiculous buildup.
As mentioned, Lower Decks works best when looking at it as an animated comedy first and a Star Trek show second. By doing so, some of the sillier aspects of its premise melt away, and what’s left behind is truly enjoyable entertainment. In this episode, Mariner snapped out of her selfishness and stepped up to the task when her crewmates were in danger, and I liked seeing that side to her. It’s something I hope we see a lot more of in future.
It was great to spend a little more time with Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom. Ransom’s story worked better than Freeman’s in my opinion – in the captain’s case, you really have to overlook or excuse her not realising the extent of the problems on the ship until way too late in order for the rest of the story to work. Ransom had been set up as someone who was all bark and no bite, but Temporal Edict turned that on its head by showing that he’s a truly capable first officer under the cocky facade.
I had a great time with Temporal Edict, which is easily my favourite of the three episodes we’ve had so far. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time with Mariner, Boimler, and the rest of the crew. Next week’s episode, Moist Vessel, will hopefully be just as good! I can hardly wait!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on CBS All Access if you’re fortunate enough to live in North America. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first two episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
If you stopped by last week, you might’ve felt that I was a little hard on Lower Decks’ premiere. I certainly thought so on re-reading what I wrote last time, so just for the sake of clarity, although not all of the jokes landed and despite my misgivings about Ensign Mariner, I did enjoy Second Contact. This new series is all at once very different from past iterations of Star Trek, yet also familiar. That familiarity comes from the show’s creators, writers, and producers being big Trekkies who put a lot of love into what they’ve made. Discovery could feel, on occasion, that it was made by a team of people who weren’t necessarily all that familiar with Star Trek, but there’s no way the same accusation could be made against Lower Decks.
If I had been in charge of making the series and broadcasting it, one change I’d have made would’ve been to put Envoys first. The opening scene from Second Contact definitely made a good introduction, so perhaps I’d have rejigged the first two episodes so that scene was still the first scene of the series, but the episode that followed had the plot of Envoys, which is a stronger story and one which gave all four main characters more to do.
I’m sure you’re getting tired of me saying this by now, but Lower Decks still has no international release planned. This continues to be a source of profound disappointment, and it’s something which will unfortunately harm the series going forward. While I think it’s fair to say that Lower Decks has hardly taken the world by storm, the moderate level of hype and buzz that it did manage to generate has been tarnished by the fact that a huge portion of its potential audience is missing out and unable to participate. Because Lower Decks is such a unique offering in the Star Trek lineup, and with the general popularity of animated comedy backing it up, it’s a show which should have the potential to bring in legions of new fans. The decision to broadcast it in North America only, with no plans for an international release, damages this. It means potential new fans miss out on the show when it’s new, killing a large portion of the hype, and it means that anyone who is very interested to watch will simply pirate the show, as doing so is incredibly easy.
Not me, though. Heavens no. As you’ll recall from last week, I’ve temporarily moved to my second home in the USA so I can watch the show. I really am enjoying my time in the beautiful state of Maine. The desert, the cacti, the dry heat… it’s perfect! And I’m only a half hour’s drive from the neighbouring state of Alabama, where I can sit on the beach and gaze out over the Pacific ocean. Bliss.
So let’s jump into Envoys, shall we? By the way: how do you pronounce it? Is it “ON-voys”? Or “EN-voys”? I’ve heard it said both ways, and I don’t think either is strictly right or wrong, it’s just a matter of dialect. But we’re off topic already. The opening scene before the title sequence was the weakest in Envoys, and reinforced everything I’d been thinking about Ensign Mariner from last time. In fact, this scene was her at her arrogant and most un-Starfleet worst as she tries to kidnap a sentient energy-lifeform and forces it to grant her a wish.
There’s so much wrong here that I felt like switching off the episode and saying, “well I guess Lower Decks just isn’t my thing.” But let’s break it down – Starfleet is all about seeking out new life, learning about them, and coexisting in a peaceful, friendly manner. Mariner kidnapped a sentient lifeform for… what? Because it would be funny? And she let it go only when it could provide her a minor material benefit at great cost to itself. As I said last week, it feels like Lower Decks wants to have its own Rick Sanchez (from Rick & Morty) – an “I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-anything-except-myself” mega-genius – but that kind of character doesn’t work in a Starfleet setting, and definitely not as an ensign.
After re-reading my criticisms from last time I wondered if I’d been unfair on Mariner, but this scene riled me up and convinced me that I hadn’t been. When I wrote earlier that if I’d been in charge I’d have reworked the first two episodes, I’d also have cut this scene entirely. For me, Mariner is not a good source of humour when she behaves selfishly and in an un-Starfleet manner. If the show was not set on a Federation starship, with Mariner taking on a Chris Rios-type role (the captain of La Sirena in Star Trek: Picard) maybe it would work better. While she did improve significantly as we got further into the story, she remains the show’s weak link for me, and this scene at the beginning of the story was Mariner at her absolute worst.
The title sequence was up next, and I’m really enjoying the music. Lower Decks’ theme is easily one of my favourite Star Trek themes now, and certainly the best one since the 1990s. I didn’t mention this last week, but at one point in the title sequence, the USS Ceritos stumbles on a battle between Romulan vessels and Borg cubes – given that we know the Romulans captured the Artifact (a derelict Borg cube) prior to the events of Star Trek: Picard, I wonder if this is meant to depict that event. Even if not, it was a cute little wink to fans of Picard simply by putting Borg and Romulans together.
After the titles, Boimler is boasting to Tendi and Mariner about his new assignment – he’s to pilot a shuttle and escort a high-ranking Klingon general to peace negotiations. This scene went a long way to making up for Mariner’s earlier conduct, as we see her more relaxed while presumably off-duty. She doesn’t really do anything too offensive here, which by her standards is a win. I liked Boimler practising his Klingon pronunciation; it was suitably silly and funny!
Ensign Rutherford – who we didn’t get to spend much time with last week – crawls out of a jeffries tube where he’s been working to realign the EPS conduits. He and Tendi share a cute moment as she asks him if they can get together to watch a pulsar. The show is clearly setting the two of them up as a pair alongside Boimler and Mariner, though whether they’ll ever end up as anything more than platonic is unclear. In order to get enough time off work to watch the pulsar with Tendi, Rutherford decides to transfer out of engineering, which is the second plot of the episode along with the shuttle mission.
Rutherford provides an even stronger contrast to Mariner than Boimler does. Where Boimler is neurotic, anxious, and horribly concerned with making a good impression, Rutherford just gets on with his job and seems to revel in the menial tasks he undertakes as an engineer. Boimler doesn’t seem to enjoy being a Starfleet officer, despite being well-read, but Rutherford has taken to his role naturally and with a positive attitude. Of the four main characters, only Rutherford truly feels like someone who could’ve been a Starfleet officer in a past Star Trek series.
In the shuttlebay, Boimler has arrived to get ready for his mission escorting the Klingon general. And wouldn’t you know it, Mariner has managed to “pull a few strings” and get herself assigned to the mission with him. At first it seemed as though she’d used her connection to the captain (if you missed it last time, Captain Freeman is her mother), but later it’s revealed that she knew the Klingon general, so that may have been how she was able to land the role.
In typical Mariner fashion, she’s messed up the shuttle. Boots on the control panel, she’s eating her lunch and has spilled it. Once again I’m getting a distinct Rick & Morty vibe – Mariner seems to treat the shuttle the way Rick Sanchez treats his flying car/spacecraft, and the comparable visuals of empty food containers and general mess wasn’t lost on me.
For once, though, we got to see a genuine moment of excitement from Mariner, who is fascinated by the shuttle’s blast shield. She even sang a little song (which was very catchy and got stuck in my head) about it, which was sweet. Perhaps there may be an appreciation for some of what Starfleet has to offer underneath the uncaring exterior after all? This moment had been briefly seen in the trailer, and I liked it there as well.
I didn’t really like that Mariner had managed to not only elbow her way onto Boimler’s mission, but that she’d been placed in charge with him relegated to the role of co-pilot. While Mariner herself may act in an un-Starfleet manner, the rest of the crew shouldn’t, and this change of role for Boimler – who didn’t even know until he reached the shuttle – seems very unprofessional.
I know that I need to try to distance myself from what I already know about Starfleet when watching Lower Decks and not take it so seriously. And I am making a genuine attempt to do so, but as I wrote last time, the franchise has fifty years of history and lore that has been built up, and speaking personally, I have over a quarter of a century as a Trekkie under my belt. Discarding parts of that is hard, and trying to see Lower Decks as an animated comedy first and a Star Trek project second isn’t always easy.
Up next, Rutherford is in main engineering and is working up the courage to follow through with what he promised Tendi and ask for reassignment. I liked this scene, as Rutherford clearly has the respect of the chief engineer and his crewmates. Though it seemed as if the chief engineer may have been angry, everyone was thrilled for Rutherford as he moved on.
It was great to see the Cerritos’ engineering deck in more detail too. The warp core strikes me as some combination of those seen in The Motion Picture, The Next Generation and Voyager, and the whole of main engineering has a distinct Star Trek aesthetic that couldn’t possibly be from any other franchise. I liked the Enterprise-D-style main engineering table; we’d often see Geordi La Forge, Data, and others standing there in The Next Generation. There’s no question that, when it comes to the design of the ship, Lower Decks is doing a great job of staying consistent with what’s come before.
Up next came the shuttle mission. Mariner is reunited with her Klingon friend, someone she met on a past assignment. Boimler confirms for the audience that he and Mariner are roughly the same age, something that I wasn’t sure of given her past history of promotions, demotions, and reassignments. While Boimler pilots the shuttle, Mariner and the Klingon get drunk on bloodwine.
Compared to the Klingons seen in Discovery, whose aesthetic had been very different to what we’d seen before, the Klingon general here was a return to form. Sporting an eyepatch similar to General Chang’s from The Undiscovered Country, he looked exactly like I’d have expected an animated Klingon from The Next Generation era to. The typical Klingon forehead, the long flowing hair, the beard with the distinctive moustache-gap, and of course the armour and batleth were all present, and I liked the way this character looked.
Despite being ordered to transport the general to a Federation outpost on what seems to be a non-aligned planet, the Klingon – backed up by a drunk Mariner – insists on being taken to a Klingon district so he can get gagh. Gagh is a Klingon food well-known to Trekkies, as it’s appeared numerous times in the Star Trek franchise. Unable to resist their demands, Boimler lands the shuttle in the Klingon district.
We’ve already spent too long focusing on Mariner and her un-Starfleet conduct, so I’ll skip over that to avoid this review being too repetitive. After landing the shuttle, Mariner and Boimler disembark, and it’s promptly commandeered by the drunk Klingon, who shakily flies it away, stranding Mariner and Boimler who now need to recover the shuttle and the wayward Klingon.
This sets up what would be the main focus of the episode’s story – Mariner and Boimler working together on the planet. While I like this story and I felt it finally gave Mariner a few brief moments of actually seeming like a nice character for a change, it was very similar to what we got last week. When I mentioned at the beginning that Envoys would have made a better premiere, this is what I mean. The whole concept of a by-the-book officer and a rebellious officer working together, using their differences to complete an assignment that’s gone wrong works remarkably well, and this could have been a great way to set up the series. Its thunder feels at least a little stolen by being very similar to the Mariner and Boimler story from last week, though.
The two can have a fun dynamic when they’re alone and when Mariner isn’t being too unkind. If we use our Rick & Morty comparison, Boimler is definitely the Morty to Mariner’s Rick, and the way she treats him will clearly be very funny to people who like that kind of humour. Those moments in Rick & Morty are seldom my favourite, though, and as mentioned I don’t think it translates well to Star Trek.
While they’re left to explore the settlement, which features a variety of Klingons and other aliens, back aboard the Cerritos Rutherford has transferred to the command division. He’s been taken under the wing of the ship’s first officer, Commander Ransom, and on the holodeck Rutherford is put through his paces. This sequence left me in stitches and was perhaps the best in the episode in terms of pure comedy, as poor Rutherford simply can’t get the hang of starship command!
In the first training simulation, Rutherford gets the ship destroyed. Ransom then gives him a simpler assignment – the ship is directly in the path of a small asteroid. This should be super easy to avoid, but Rutherford again messes up and gets the ship’s school and kindergarten destroyed. If you haven’t seen it you’ll just have to watch it, because the way the scene unfolds is absolutely hilarious, and everything from the way the holo-characters deliver their lines to Rutherford and Ransom’s reactions to his mistakes were just pitch-perfect.
On the planet’s surface, Mariner and Boimler are still on the tail of the Klingon general. While Mariner stops to go to the bathroom, Boimler gets hit on by an attractive woman. Of course it turns out to be a creepy alien who wanted to use Boimler to incubate her eggs, and Mariner is able to save the day. Were she not such an insufferable character by this point, I’d have been more impressed with her knowledge of different kinds of alien races and her “street smarts” – for want of a better term.
Rutherford’s next assignment is in sickbay, where he gets to work alongside Tendi for a brief moment. The ship’s Catian doctor, Dr T’Ana, is impressed with his anatomical work – he compares it to working on a starship. She then gives him a relatively simple task, to keep a wounded officer calm. But of course he manages to mess this up, causing the man to panic and make things worse! This was another very funny scene, and Rutherford has provided much of the episode’s comedy so far.
After being kicked out of sickbay by the grouchy Dr T’Ana, Rutherford tries his hand at security. He’s thrown into a simulated battle against a number of Borg drones, and is able to defeat them all thanks to his cybernetic implant. This greatly impresses the security chief, the Bajoran Lieutenant Shaxs. This scene wasn’t as funny as the others, but Rutherford’s genial nature contrasted with Shaxs’ description of him as a natural born killer did win a chuckle.
Boimler and Mariner have reached an Andorian settlement or district back on the planet’s surface, and are getting closer to locating the Klingon and shuttle. During their time here, we get to see a slightly different side to Mariner, which I think has started to show her in a better light. It’s not that she doesn’t care about anything, just that she’s very selfish, arrogant, and puts herself first. Which is an improvement. I guess.
Tendi is the character who got the short straw this week, I think. Rutherford got his very funny B-story about trying out the various departments, and Mariner and Boimler got their mission to the planet, but Tendi really hasn’t had much to do at all, besides being excited to see the pulsar. Though after she spent last week basically just saying “wow” to everything, even that was an improvement. However, I’d like to see her have a proper story of her own – and I’m sure she will in an upcoming episode.
In the Andorian settlement, Boimler starts a bar fight by being too quick to step in with his phaser when he sees a group of Andorians hassling someone. It turns out that they were trying to stop a changeling – presumably not a Founder, as other shapeshifters exist – and upsets them. Mariner steps in and saves the day, leaving Boimler dejected at how bad his mission is going.
This moment was perhaps the first time in the series that the “book smart vs. street smarts” dynamic between Boimler and Mariner genuinely seemed to work. Boilmer thought he was doing the right thing, upholding Starfleet values. But he learned a valuable lesson – that he can’t learn everything there is to know about being a good officer from textbooks. Mariner’s experience proved invaluable to completing this part of his assignment (even though her lack of care put him in the position to begin with).
We also get to see Mariner properly take on the role of mentor that she promised at the end of Second Contact, trying to provide some degree of comfort and reassurance to Boimler when he’s at his lowest ebb. And I liked that – I wish we’d seen this side of her character earlier, as she’s far nicer and more enjoyable to watch when she’s not being rude or unkind for the sake of it. Boilmer had thrown down his combadge in a threat to quit Starfleet, but Mariner definitely stepped up to help him here.
Lieutenant Shaxs was thrilled with Rutherford’s performance as a security trainee and inaugurates him into the “bears” – the nickname for the Cerritos’ security team. However, in a cute and funny moment, Rutherford sees his beloved jeffries tube and declines the offer. The security chief, who seemed like he would’ve been angry, instead compliments Rutherford on his decision to be true to himself, and Rutherford returns to engineering.
I enjoyed Rutherford’s story this time. He’s a fun character who loves his job, but was also willing to go above and beyond for his friend just so they could spend more time hanging out. Where Tendi seems to perhaps have some kind of feelings for him, I got the sense that Rutherford’s interest in her is – at least at this stage – platonic. But I could be wrong; the show could easily make them a couple at some stage.
Boimler and Mariner finally have a lead on the Klingon general and the missing shuttle, and are on their way. There should be just enough time to sort everything out before the Klingon is missed at his scheduled peace conference. They’re stopped by a Ferengi en route, and he seems to be trying to mug them.
In what was a clear setup, Mariner pretends to naïvely go along with his demands, allowing Boimler to step in and “save” her from the devious Ferengi. I think – and I could be wrong – that this is the first Ferengi we’ve seen in Star Trek since their sole appearance in Enterprise in the early 2000s. There was a Ferengi emblem glimpsed briefly in Star Trek: Picard, but I think this is the first Ferengi character to make a proper appearance since then. Given that we got to know a lot about them from their appearances in Deep Space Nine in particular, it was nice to see a Ferengi back.
After “escaping” from the Ferengi, Boimler and Mariner find the Klingon general passed out in the shuttle – which had accrued several parking tickets in what felt like an homage to The Simpsons episode where Homer’s car gets lots of tickets in New York! I liked that silly little visual gag; it was very funny even if it wasn’t a reference to The Simpsons.
Boimler got a much-needed win from their encounter with the Ferengi – though he’s a very sore winner, which is not an attractive character trait – and there was just enough time to deliver the general to his peace conference and get the shuttle back to the ship. Despite the mission going off the rails, the pair managed to salvage things right at the end!
Back aboard the Cerritos, Boimler brags about his “win” against the Ferengi at Mariner’s expense, which I didn’t really like. It was clear, of course, that she was just going along with it to boost his confidence; moments later, after leaving the bar, she speaks to the Ferengi confirming that the two of them are friends and the whole thing was a setup. What I liked about it was that it was a very “Mariner” way to help out. She stayed true to her character, but was able to use her skills to help Boimler for a change.
The episode ends with Tendi and Rutherford in the jeffries tube. Tendi got her wish of watching the pulsar with Rutherford – albeit on a padd screen – and Rutherford got his wish of being back in the engineering department, crawling through the tubes. All in all, a happy ending.
So that was Envoys. An episode which started very weakly ended up being better than last week’s offering. We got to see some heart underneath Mariner’s carefree exterior, which will be important if she’s to become a protagonist worth rooting for. I felt that her conduct in the opening scene was perhaps the low point out of her two appearances so far, but the way she helped out Boimler when they were together on the planet went a long way to making up for it.
The breakout star of Envoys for me, though, was Rutherford. He has such a positive attitude to his work and to his friends, and he just seems like an all-round nice guy. Not to mention that his story provided much of the humour in the episode – or at least, much of the humour that worked best for me. Lower Decks still has a very distinct style and sense of humour that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I’d encourage anyone disappointed or put off by last week’s offering to give it a second chance.
I don’t think there’s much more to say. Lower Decks remains a very interesting project in the Star Trek franchise, and I’m curious to see how well it’s performing with viewers. So far I haven’t heard anything about that. I always want Star Trek projects to be successful, and of all of the projects in recent years, Lower Decks has the most potential to bring in a new and different kind of fan. Hopefully that’s starting to happen, because the greater success the franchise enjoys, the more Star Trek we’ll get to see in future.
After feeling a little trepidation in the run-up to this week’s episode after having mixed feelings last time, I can now say with confidence that I’m genuinely looking forward to next week. Roll on episode 3: Temporal Edict!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on CBS All Access if you’re fortunate enough to live 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Second Contact, the first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Star Trek: Lower Decks was a surprise addition to this summer’s television lineup. Though it had been announced that the show was coming this year, it seemed logical to think that Discovery’s third season – now scheduled to premiere the week after the Season 1 finale of Lower Decks – would have come first. Partly the change is due to the ongoing pandemic, and with Lower Decks being ready first, it got to go first.
It isn’t the fault of creator Mike McMahan, nor of the cast and behind-the-scenes crew, but Lower Decks has not been made available internationally. I’ve discussed this on the site several times, and if you want to see what I had to say you can find the articles dealing with the subject on the Star Trek: Lower Decks page. I won’t go into detail on that issue here, but suffice to say it’s a moronic decision to broadcast the show in the United States and Canada without also making it available to fans elsewhere.
“But Dennis, aren’t you from the UK? How can you watch Lower Decks?” I’m glad you asked. In order to circumvent ViacomCBS’ selfish and stupid decision to only release one of their biggest shows in a limited market, I had no choice but to physically move to that market. My second home, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of North Dakota, overlooks the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This sleepy all-American town, an hour’s drive from the nearest big city (Honolulu, for those of you who don’t know your geography) and close to the snowy bayou of the neighbouring state of Kentucky, seems like the perfect place to chill and watch Lower Decks, don’t you think? I’d invite you all to come too, but I think that would be a violation of social distancing.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about Second Contact. The episode begins with a scene that was a big part of the show’s marketing, appearing in two of the pre-release trailers. This was the scene with Ensign Boimler recording his pretend “captain’s log” in a closet. While this wasn’t new for me and was less interesting as a result, it was a good way to set up the premise of the show for new viewers and for those who skipped the trailers, and the scene as a whole was funny – even though some of the impact of the humour was blunted by having already seen it a couple of times.
Ensign Mariner interrupts Boimler’s log, having got drunk on “Romulan whiskey”, which looks a lot like Romulan ale. She teases him for wasting time with a pretend log, and while showing him a Batleth that she found, accidently cuts his leg.
After this scene came the title sequence. I enjoyed the music; it’s much more up-tempo and adventurous than either the Discovery or Picard themes have been, which is nice. It’s a piece of music that could have been played over the opening titles for The Next Generation and would have fit right in. Interestingly – and I was not expecting this – the title sequence uses The Next Generation’s font for the names of characters and actors, and that was a fun little bit of nostalgia for returning fans.
Before we go any further with Second Contact, let’s talk about returning fans, Trekkies, and people like myself who are longstanding fans of the Star Trek franchise. In some ways, Lower Decks is trying to target that demographic. But there are certainly going to be Trekkies who are turned off by the style of humour. While I’d argue that there is a good degree of crossover between fans of Star Trek and fans of comedy series like Rick & Morty, the two groups aren’t one and the same and there will be fans who, having seen Second Contact, will decide that Lower Decks isn’t a show for them.
I’ve spoken before about divisions within the fanbase, but generally speaking, Star Trek projects until now have all been within the science fiction or action/sci-fi genres. Fans had preferences within that genre as to which show or film they preferred, but Star Trek was, by and large, a franchise firmly in that space. Lower Decks is something different – an overtly comedic series. Thus I think it’s quite likely that some fans, even those who’ve enjoyed Discovery, Picard, and the Kelvin-timeline films, may feel Lower Decks isn’t something they’re into and will choose to skip it. As long as they come back for Strange New Worlds, Discovery, Picard, and other live-action series, from ViacomCBS’ perspective that’s probably okay. But in that sense, at least among longstanding Star Trek fans, I expect there to be some degree of controversy.
There is a flip side, however. There are going to be fans of animated comedy series like Disenchantment, Solar Opposites, Rick & Morty, or even shows like Family Guy, for whom Lower Decks will be their first adventure in the Star Trek universe. It’s a show which I believe has the potential to reach out way beyond Star Trek’s usual viewer base and attract a whole new crowd of fans. Some of them may go on to become Trekkies, inspired by Lower Decks, though of course many won’t. Making a series like this will certainly expand the franchise into a new market – figuring out how best to capitalise on that and retain some of these new viewers will be a challenge, but Lower Decks could perhaps be the first of several comedy series produced under the Star Trek brand if ViacomCBS deems this experiment a success. Only time will tell – and unfortunately the lack of an international broadcast will hurt that in the short term.
Let’s get back to Second Contact, because the episode was generally quite fun. After the title sequence we’re introduced to Ensign Tendi as she arrives aboard the USS Cerritos for the first time. Ensign Boimler is assigned to be her orientation officer, and Ensign Mariner butts in, making fun of Boimler and taking Tendi on a tour of the ship where they also meet the other main character, Ensign Rutherford. I’d speculated, by the way, as to whether Rutherford was an ex-Borg or had been cybernetically augmented (like Lieutenant Detmer in Discovery) and it turns out to be the latter.
Boimler, Tendi, and Mariner visit the holodeck – which looks just like the one on the Enterprise-D – and each of them take turns choosing somewhere to visit. Boimler chose the warp core, before being summoned to the bridge.
The senior officers have just returned from a successful second contact mission with a race called the Galardonians – who I believe are new to Star Trek – and have returned to the ship. Captain Freeman speaks to Ensign Boimler in her ready room and gives him an assignment: keep an eye on Ensign Mariner and report any breaches of regulations. In principle I like this setup. Boimler is by-the-book, and giving him an assignment to keep tabs on Mariner gives him a reason to follow her and spend time with her, developing the relationship between the two. However, it seems from the previous scenes as though Boimler and Mariner were already friends, in which case Boimler may not be a good choice for this kind of assignment. Some of this connects to how I feel about Mariner as a character, but we’ll come to that later.
I also liked the Galardonians – animation as a format allows for more “alien-looking” aliens, and it was nice that they weren’t just another random group of humanoids with slightly different features.
The first officer of the Ceritos – Commander Ransom – was bitten by an insect on the planet’s surface and brought a pathogen or parasite back to the ship. While Rutherford is having a date in the ship’s bar, Ransom basically turns into a black bile-spewing zombie, and the infection rapidly spreads through the ship.
On the planet’s surface, Boimler follows Mariner to where she’s making a secret deal with some Galardonians. He accuses her of selling them weapons – but it turns out to just be farm equipment. They’re attacked by a giant spider-creature, and Mariner has the idea to make decoys using their uniforms. Boimler ends up getting chewed on by the creature, which the Galardonians keep as some kind of farm animal. The two return to the landing site with Boimler covered in slime. I will come to Mariner’s conduct and the way she comes across in a moment, but for now let’s wrap up the story.
Aboard the ship the zombie infection is out of control. Rutherford and his date escaped to one of the transporter rooms by going out an airlock – which was a pretty neat sequence. Mariner and Boimler beam up, and it turns out that the slime he’s covered in is the antidote to the zombie infection. The crew fight their way through to sickbay and synthesise a cure – this was one of the scenes that featured heavily in pre-release marketing.
With the infection over, Captain Freeman and the senior officers take credit for saving the day despite Mariner and Boimler’s help, and Boimler decides not to tell the captain what happened on the planet’s surface. It later turns out that Captain Freeman is Mariner’s mother. I’m sure this revelation will be important later in the season.
This setup, with Boimler tasked to spy on Mariner but choosing not to, feels like it didn’t work as well as it should. They were introduced as already being friendly, which undermined the whole setup, and the payoff at the end where she tells him she’ll mentor him felt unearned. It seemed like he would absolutely rat her out for not following orders – and I’m not really sure why he didn’t given that she got him chewed on by a giant spider.
So it’s time to talk about Mariner. She gets top billing for the series, was the most significant character in pre-release marketing, and takes the central role in the show as its star. But so far I don’t like her. She’s rude to Boimler, despite supposedly being his friend, and we’ll later learn that she’s been demoted and kicked off several past ships that she served on. In fact, it seems as though her family connections – her parents are the captain and an admiral – might be the only reason she’s able to stay in Starfleet.
Lower Decks, as a comedy series, was always going to have to find ways to make the typical goings-on in Star Trek funny, but I don’t necessarily feel that making a character who’s rude, insubordinate, and inherently un-Starfleet is the right way to generate that comedy and those funny moments. Mariner seems to be a rebel, someone who likes breaking the rules and who doesn’t have much respect for Starfleet, for her uniform, her ship, or her crewmates. Yet in any other Star Trek project, someone like that wouldn’t have even made it to the rank of Ensign.
And I know, this isn’t “any other” Star Trek project. But if we’re asked to take Ensign Mariner as our protagonist for this show, she needs to be less offensive and just nicer. I know we’re only one episode in, and a lot can change over the course of a season. I’m willing to give her a chance to grow on me. But Star Trek isn’t a franchise like Rick & Morty – a Rick-like character, which is what it feels like Mariner is meant to be, who doesn’t play by the rules and is unpleasant and selfish doesn’t feel like a good fit. Mariner put Boimler in danger, insisting she knows best despite only having a gut feeling, and has generally been unkind, rude, and insubordinate, not only to Boimler but to the rest of the crew as well.
Right now I’m having a hard time getting behind her as a fun protagonist, and that’s a problem because the other three characters aren’t exactly protagonist material either. Tendi and Rutherford feel underdeveloped; Tendi’s entire character consists of saying “wow” to everything because she’s new to Starfleet, and Rutherford has the cybernetic augmentation but we really didn’t learn anything else about him, making him feel like a secondary character in the premiere episode. And then we come to Boimler. A character perhaps inspired by The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, Boimler is neurotic and seems to suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. While I like the contrast between “by-the-book” Boimler and “rebel” Mariner, the contrast is perhaps a little too extreme for my taste, and scaling both of them back a few notches would make their dynamic – and the series – more interesting.
Comedy is subjective, and one person’s sense of humour isn’t the same as another’s. Lower Decks will definitely succeed in appealing to fans of the kind of shows I mentioned earlier – Rick & Morty and the like. And there is some degree of crossover with Star Trek and sci-fi for fans of animated comedy, meaning Lower Decks could be a springboard for some people to watch Star Trek for the first time. But for many existing Trekkies, the style of humour on display here will be a turn-off.
I don’t want to say that Second Contact was jarring, because that isn’t exactly true. But a couple of days earlier I re-watched Lower Decks, the episode from The Next Generation’s final season; suffice to say there is a major contrast between what this show is and what other Star Trek shows have been. Star Trek has always had a sense of humour – something I said countless times in defence of Lower Decks in the the run-up to the premiere. But the franchise’s past sense of humour is certainly different from what we saw in Second Contact, and when compared to an episode from a past iteration of Star Trek that played it straight, the difference is vast.
What’s so odd, I think, is that Star Trek usually requires its crew members to work together. Even in Discovery and Picard, which both featured single protagonists supported by secondary characters, there were many times where the crews would come together and work in common cause. Lower Decks has set up Ensign Mariner as its protagonist, and she isn’t someone who seems to work well with… anyone. At least not at this stage. Yes it’s early days, and she has the chance to improve and work better as a team player, but it feels like Lower Decks is setting her up to be Star Trek’s answer to Rick Sanchez, and as a Star Trek fan, I don’t think that kind of character works, at least not within the confines of Starfleet.
Comedy and animation require a different kind of suspension of disbelief than a live-action, non-comedy show. And Lower Decks is very much in that category, where it needs to be seen as an animated comedy first and a Star Trek project second. There is a lot to like, but I’m also thinking that perhaps its sense of humour isn’t always going to be “my thing”. Some of the jokes in Second Contact relied on Mariner being unkind to Boimler in particular, showing no care whatsoever for her friends or her crewmates. For me, most of that side of the show’s humour failed to land, and while for many fans of other animated comedy series it might, I’m having a hard time detaching Lower Decks from the rest of the Star Trek franchise to see it in that way.
Second Contact’s zombie story was okay. I liked that Rutherford, on his date, kept his cool and the fact that he and his date kept talking romantically while chaos erupted around them was funny. This story wasn’t the main focus of the episode, though, and took up comparatively little screen time.
I’d have liked to have spent more time with Ensign Rutherford, who really only got the date/zombie fight on screen. And perhaps, as mentioned, the setup for Boimler and Mariner’s friendship could have been better established prior to Boimler being tasked with spying on her. However, overall the episode was solid, and it seems that Lower Decks has started as it means to continue.
After more the fifty years, the question is whether Star Trek can successfully transition to a new genre. I enjoyed Second Contact, but on that – the biggest question the show faces – the jury is still out.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on CBS All Access for anyone lucky enough to be 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.