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 1-2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Discovery Season 2, and The Next Generation.
Where has the time gone?! It seems like just yesterday that we were settling in for the premiere episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, and now we’re already waving goodbye to the series as the season comes to an end. With a couple of weeks until Prodigy premieres – at least for folks lucky enough to have Paramount+ – and with Discovery Season 4 still a month away, there’s going to be a gaping hole in my entertainment schedule!
In the days ahead I’d like to take a look back at the season as a whole, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that here on the website. But for now we’ve got one final episode to get stuck into, so let’s talk about First First Contact!
The episode was surprisingly emotional, presenting the crew with a difficult scientific problem to solve and pushing them to work together, harder than ever before, to save both a stricken starship in jeopardy and an entire planet. It brought back a well-liked character from The Next Generation, gave all four ensigns moments of character development, and had a stunning climax that both mirrored the finale of Season 1 while showing how far the Cerritos and her crew have come. And then, to cap it all off, First First Contact ended on a truly shocking cliff-hanger – one we’ll have to wait until next summer to see resolved!
Sometimes Lower Decks has felt like it’s bitten off more than it could chew, with too many characters and story threads in play such that some or all weren’t all they could have been. But despite First First Contact giving each of its main characters a role to play, as well as bringing in guest stars and recurring characters, it primarily stuck to one main story throughout and thus allowed everyone to participate in that story in a way that felt natural. No character felt under-used, and the story was well-paced.
There were a handful of minor contrivances that we should acknowledge. In order to give all four ensigns a significant role in the story, particularly after three of the four were sidelined last week, the plot of First First Contact did include a little forced drama. There’s nothing wrong with that sometimes, and it isn’t a criticism! But things like Tendi being transferred and Rutherford’s sudden concern about saving backup memories did feel a little contrived. It was done to give everyone a role in the story as well as to give each of the four a strong emotional moment, so I think it’s excusable in that context.
Usually I’d pick on one storyline or sub-plot that I felt was the weakest, but honestly on this occasion every aspect of the episode feels as strong as every other. The drama began during the pre-titles sequence, when Ensign Mariner overheard that Captain Freeman will be offered a transfer to a bigger and better ship – and won’t be able to bring any of her crew or senior staff with her. From there the episode continually upped the stakes, resulting in a tense, exciting, and emotional episode. It was a wild ride from start to finish!
Since we mentioned Captain Freeman, let’s start there. It makes sense that, in light of her achievements particularly with the Pakled conflict but also in other areas, that she’d be a promotion target. She’s been a strong captain across the show’s first two seasons, and I’m sure that Starfleet is always on the lookout for officers like Captain Freeman. We’ve heard on a number of occasions that California-class ships are pretty low down in the Starfleet hierarchy, so transferring a senior officer from a “lowly” post to a more significant post is something I can absolutely imagine the organisation would do – it is, after all, a meritocracy.
What I didn’t like about this transfer storyline was the notion that Starfleet command appears to have essentially written off people like Billups, Shaxs, and especially Freeman’s first officer Commander Ransom. This is one of the aforementioned plot contrivances, as it was necessary for the senior staff to be upset with Captain Freeman to give this aspect of the story some more weight. But purely from an in-universe point of view, I didn’t really like that Starfleet was basically saying that the senior staff of the Cerritos are California-class quality and can never be anything more than that. It kind of undermines the meritocratic nature of the organisation that we were just celebrating!
It was interesting to see the senior staff and Captain Freeman at odds with one another, though. That’s something Lower Decks hasn’t really tried before, and it worked well. Both sides are right in their own ways – Captain Freeman wanted to wait for the right moment to discuss the subject, especially with an important mission at hand. But the rest of the senior staff had every right to be upset at being kept out of the loop.
Mariner was, of course, the instigator of this drama. But her arc across the episode didn’t undermine her character progression that we’ve come to see and love over the past two seasons. Her acting out on this occasion wasn’t caused by a desire to be a chaotic troublemaker, but actually came from a place of genuine love. She’s come to enjoy working with her mother, especially since the events of Season 1’s Crisis Point and the unveiling of their family connection in Season 1’s No Small Parts. The idea that she was going to lose her mother after having only recently begun to enjoy their new dynamic was something she found impossible to deal with at first, prompting her to tell the senior staff and cause what she knew would be a fight.
In some ways, the argument between Mariner and Freeman earlier in the episode – in which Mariner told the captain she’d never want to work with her ever again – did feel regressive. In the moment it seemed as though the progress Mariner had made in her relationship with her mother – which was also reflected in her attitude toward working in Starfleet – was slipping back to its early Season 1 state. But as the story moved along and we came to understand why Mariner was so upset it all made perfect sense and the pieces fell into place.
One of my favourite things about Lower Decks over its first two seasons as a whole has been the way Ensign Mariner’s characterisation has been handled, and First First Contact was the icing on the cake. We got to see firsthand just how much serving with her mother has come to mean to her, and how devastated she was at the thought of losing her. It wasn’t, as she claimed at first, because Captain Freeman would protect her from getting court-martialled! She genuinely came to care about their rebuilt relationship, and that changed her attitude toward at least some of the work she does as an ensign. It’s been a wonderful transformation to see play out, and it needed two full seasons with these moments scattered along the way to properly unfold.
We also got a moment between Tendi and Mariner that built on their solo adventure in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris earlier in the season. As Mariner was struggling, it was Tendi who snapped at her and finally got her to see sense. I loved her line about friendship, it really knitted together all of the loose ends of Mariner’s season-long character arc. We’ve learned how she’s been avoiding making friendships and pushing people away because she fears losing those friends when they inevitably move on, but as she found with Rutherford, Tendi, and Boimler she doesn’t have to be frightened of that. That conversation prompted her to rush to the bridge and have a heart-to-heart with the captain in what was perhaps the sweetest moment in the entire episode.
Jennifer the Andorian has been a background character this season, and if I were to nitpick Mariner’s storyline in First First Contact I’d say that the Jennifer rivalry wasn’t as well-developed as it could’ve been prior to its resolution at the end of the episode. We’d seen Mariner mention her a couple of times, particularly in the season premiere, Strange Energies. But Mariner’s big rivalry with a secondary character in Season 2 came with Jet in the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open. There was enough of a Mariner-Jennifer conflict to make the way they resolved things work – and I loved seeing Jennifer come to Mariner’s rescue – but it could have been developed further before they sat down together.
I wasn’t certain if Mariner’s line about “liking” Jennifer when they talked in the bar meant that she has a crush or some kind of romantic feelings toward her, though Jennifer’s reaction seemed to suggest that. Mariner has previously said that she’s dated males, females, and non-binary people, so I think we can infer that she’s pansexual and would thus not be averse to dating someone like Jennifer. Watch this space, because I think it could be interesting to give Mariner a romantic relationship in future.
Rutherford’s story was perhaps the shortest this week. He spent much of his time with Tendi, racing around the ship after she misunderstood Dr T’Ana and felt she was going to be transferred. The Tendi-Rutherford pairing has always worked well, and the pair revisited some of their earlier haunts, including the Jefferies tube where they spent time together in the episode Envoys back in Season 1.
His main concern this time came from his missing memories, and his desire to never again forget any part of his friendship with Tendi. It was very sweet that Rutherford would be so cautious about backing up his memories after losing them at the end of Season 1, but as with the only other real mention of this storyline this season, I feel like this story came a bit late in the day. Rutherford’s memory loss could have been more than Lower Decks ultimately made of it, and while this week it did lead to a couple of sweet moments both with Tendi and with Billups, I still feel it could’ve been handled better overall.
The visual gag of the pop-up was funny, though, and gave Rutherford a reason to let Tendi guide him – literally as well as figuratively. We know from episodes like Crisis Point that Rutherford has a great respect for Billups, so it made perfect sense for Billups to be the one he’d turn to for advice. He listened to Billups’ advice too, eventually deleting his backups to free up space in his implant.
Rutherford’s cyborg status had never been called into question. Everyone on the crew simply accepted him for who he was, and that appeared to be that! However, First First Contact has set up an interesting mystery in regards to Rutherford’s cybernetics: who were the mysterious figures seen augmenting him, and if he didn’t choose to be augmented voluntarily, why does he have his implant? I have no doubt this will be explored in Season 3, so watch this space!
Lower Decks has never been particularly bothered about borrowing themes and character types from Discovery, preferring instead to focus on The Next Generation era. But in Rutherford we have a character who has at least some similarities to Discovery’s Airiam – a character who really only came into her own shortly before her death in Season 2. Airiam was similarly a cybernetically-augmented human, though her cybernetics were a result of an accident she suffered. Rutherford’s suppressed memories could hint at a similar fate – perhaps he was injured while on some clandestine assignment for Starfleet. Maybe Section 31 are involved! In future I might write up some of my guesses about Rutherford’s pre-augmentation past, so be sure to stay tuned for that.
Though it went somewhat understated in the episode, Rutherford came up with the idea that ultimately saved the day – for the second season finale in a row! It was his plan to jettison the Cerritos’ outer hull that allowed them to make it through the asteroid field in time to save the USS Archimedes, and in an episode that wasn’t all about Rutherford it was nice that he got one of the most significant story moments. First First Contact had several key moments that mirrored the Season 1 finale, No Small Parts, and this was the first of them.
It never seemed plausible that Tendi was so bad at her job that she’d be kicked off the ship, and as mentioned this storyline did feel a little contrived. But it gave Tendi the opportunity to spend time with Rutherford and to give Mariner the talk that she needed to come to her senses and fix her relationship with Captain Freeman. I think it gets a pass in that regard!
“Overhearing something and misunderstanding it” is a bit of a sitcom cliché, but it was generally handled well in the episode, and the moments where Tendi felt like she had to run and hide from Dr T’Ana were kind of funny. It ultimately led to a cute resolution with the pair hugging it out – and Dr T’Ana purring! I’ve said on a number of occasions that I love how Lower Decks has played up the cat-like features of Dr T’Ana, and this was yet another example of that.
However, as a concept I’m not really sure I follow what this storyline wanted to say. Though medical and science are related departments they’re hardly the same thing, and transferring someone who wants to work in medical to a science position doesn’t necessarily feel like a promotion. To be fair, Tendi has never really settled into a specific role in a specific department on the ship – only Rutherford really feels settled as an engineer; the other three ensigns appear to get a variety of different roles depending on the needs of individual episodes. But having Tendi in sickbay has generally worked very well.
Tendi makes for a great medical officer, both from an in-universe and story point of view. We saw this firsthand this week when her quick thinking, ability to stay calm, and medical training helped her save Boimler’s life. Her kindness is a stark contrast to Dr T’Ana’s grumpy nature when dealing with patients, and she’s always seemed to know a lot about biology and medical science – even creating her own animal, The Dog, in the Season 1 episode Much Ado About Boimler. I just didn’t feel that Tendi was in any way trying to position herself for a transfer to a more scientific role, and as recently as I, Excretus a couple of weeks ago seemed thrilled at the idea of taking on the role of chief medical officer.
I wonder if this is just another contrivance for the sake of this episode, and whether we’ll actually see Tendi assigned to scientific bridge duties beginning in Season 3. It would be no bad thing to give her moments on the bridge, particularly if Mariner and/or Boimler are also present at the helm or navigation positions, so perhaps this should be seen more as an expansion of Tendi’s roles aboard the ship rather than a straight transfer. Hopefully shuffling her out of sickbay – if indeed it does happen – won’t mean we get to spend less time with Dr T’Ana; she’s one of my favourite characters!
Boimler got some sweet moments this week. Making a banner for Captain Freeman – based on the famous “Captain Picard Day” banner that recently reappeared in the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard – was incredibly cute, and I’m never not impressed with Boimler’s enthusiasm for his ship, his captain, and all things Starfleet.
He also got to save the day, diving down to release the final exterior hull panel while Mariner rushed to the bridge. Mariner, as mentioned, definitely needed this moment with Captain Freeman to resolve their conflict, but I liked that it gave Boimler the chance to play the hero for a change. We’ve seen Boimler step up while under pressure before, particularly in the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open earlier in the season. But on this occasion his actions saved two starships and a whole planet – so that’s pretty great going!
The change in Boimler’s characterisation across Lower Decks’ first couple of seasons has been more subtle when compared with what we’ve seen from Mariner, but when we see Boimler being prepared to take on a difficult task like this, it’s hard to see how the Boimler we met at the beginning of Season 1 would’ve had the confidence to do so. His friendships with Tendi, Rutherford, and especially Mariner – as well as his jaunt aboard the Titan – have seen him grow in confidence. He still has his anxieties and neuroses, but he’s become a more confident person since we met him. That arc has likewise been incredibly satisfying, and culminates in moments like this one.
Are the dolphins aboard the Cerritos Earth dolphins, do we think? It was certainly implied that they could be based on their familiar dolphin chittering! If so, it raises a very interesting question: is Earth now home to more than one sentient life-form? We’d seen with the Xindi that multiple sentient races can evolve on a single world, so it isn’t impossible! Dolphins are, from a real-world point of view, very intelligent. So are crows, so maybe Lower Decks could introduce us to a sentient crow one day! Crows have, after all, recently entered their very own stone age. That might sound bonkers, but it’s true.
It was very sweet that First First Contact brought back the character of Sonya Gomez. We first met her in Q Who, back in Season 2 of The Next Generation, and in the years since she’s clearly done very well for herself – rising all the way to the rank of captain. Lycia Naff, who played the character in The Next Generation, made a welcome return to Star Trek to reprise her role.
Captain Gomez got a very sweet, very poetic moment with an ensign on the bridge of the Archimedes that harkened back to her famous clumsy moment with Captain Picard in Q Who. For us as the audience – and perhaps for the actor too – that moment was a cute way to bring things full-circle, as well as showing off just how much Gomez has grown and changed over the course of her career. She’s in charge of an Excelsior-class ship – and the design of one of my favourite ships was beautifully incorporated into Lower Decks’ animated style.
Unlike a couple of other guest-stars across both seasons of Lower Decks, Captain Gomez’s role felt substantial. She and her ship weren’t on screen the entire time, but the role they played was significant, both as a driving force for the events of the episode but also in its own right as the reappearance of a significant and well-liked character. It was handled well and it was great to see Captain Gomez in action once more.
In a moment of symmetry with the Season 1 finale, this time the USS Cerritos got to be the ship that saved the day! In No Small Parts the Titan, under the command of Captain Riker, came racing to the aid of the Cerritos when the battle against the Pakleds seemed to be going badly. In First First Contact it was the Cerritos that swooped in to save the Archimedes – and a bridge officer aboard Captain Gomez’s ship even used the same line as Boimler in the Season 1 finale: “it’s the Cerritos!” That moment really got me; it was perfectly poetic, and a fantastic way for the story to end.
First First Contact presented the crews of the Cerritos and Archimedes with a scientific problem, not a military one. It’s easy to think that Star Trek is at its most exciting and action-packed when there are enemies to fight and battles to participate in, but for me the franchise has always been at its best when it’s looking at exploration and scientific puzzles. First First Contact absolutely epitomises the spirit of Star Trek as a show about science, exploration, and the wild, wonderful, and occasionally dangerous galaxy that awaits humanity beyond Earth.
By presenting the crew with a scientific puzzle, one that wasn’t easy to solve, First First Contact showed how amazing and exciting Star Trek can be when there are no Borg or Klingons or Pakleds bearing down on our heroes. The episode was so well-paced that we really got a sense of this race against time to get the ship ready to race through the asteroids and rescue not only the Archimedes but the planet it was threatening to crash into.
I was a little concerned, particularly as Commander Ransom did his best to navigate the asteroid field, that there’d be some kind of deus ex machina ending – the Archimedes would have saved itself or another ship (like the Titan) would have beaten the Cerritos to the punch, with the joke being that all of the crew’s hard work was for nothing. As a comedy series first and foremost, that kind of storyline is always a possibility. But having seen Captain Freeman and the whole crew go to so much effort such an ending would have really fallen flat, and I’m glad that, on this occasion at least, Lower Decks allowed the crew a huge win.
Rescuing the Archimedes was a very emotional moment in what was already an emotional story. The crew came together, despite their initial differences, and pulled off a one-of-a-kind rescue mission. We’ve never seen the likes of this in Star Trek before, yet the idea of stripping off a ship’s outer hull when not at warp feels like it fits perfectly with what we know of the way starships work. It was a fantastic story idea, and it came to fruition perfectly in the finished episode.
So we come to the final scenes! After expecting to be offered a promotion, Captain Freeman was arrested by Starfleet security, charged with bombing the Pakleds’ homeworld. This was a truly unexpected twist; it had seemed as though wej Duj last week wanted to draw a line under the Pakled conflict storyline. It was, somewhat unfortunately, the second “misunderstanding” scene after Tendi’s conversation with Dr T’Ana, but I guess that couldn’t be helped.
This epilogue was almost certainly added into the episode later, once the team knew that Season 3 was officially confirmed, as it didn’t flow at all from anything else in the story. It’s left Lower Decks on a cliff-hanger – one which we’ll have to wait a long time to see resolved! That’s not new for Star Trek, of course, as many seasons have done something similar in the past. It was definitely a shocking twist, and it was very well-executed. Even as Captain Freeman walked into the room I had no idea what was about to happen.
Obviously we know Captain Freeman is innocent – and surely she’ll be able to prove that. But we won’t get to see how that happens until Lower Decks returns next year (well, I hope it’ll be next year!) so I guess we’ll have to sit on our hands until then! Did the Pakleds accidentally blow up their own planet? Or did the rogue Klingon commander from wej Duj plant the bomb as a contingency plan to ensure war would break out? There are a few different possibilities – but if Season 2 has been any guide, Lower Decks won’t go down any path that we might expect!
So that was First First Contact – and that was Lower Decks Season 2! There were a couple of episodes that didn’t hit every high note that I’d have wanted, but overall the season as a whole was fantastic. We got some incredibly fun Star Trek hijinks with the crew of the Cerritos, plenty of unexpected twists and turns, the return of several classic characters, and some wonderful moments of characterisation and drama. It’s been an outstanding ten weeks – and I can hardly wait for Season 3.
Stay tuned here on the website, because sometime soon I’ll write up a retrospective look at Season 2. There are also a couple of theories relating to the Pakled bomb and to Rutherford’s background that might get the full write-up treatment in the run-up to Season 3. Although Season 3 is undoubtedly a long way off – ten months or more, at least – if and when we start to get information about the series, casting announcements, or a teaser trailer I’ll also be taking a look at those as well. It’s sad to bid farewell to Lower Decks – but it’s only a couple of weeks now until Prodigy arrives!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.
wej Duj – which is Klingon for “three ships” – was an exceptionally funny episode, and certainly one of the highlights of Season 2. What makes it stand out is that much of the humour came not from the main cast, nor even from secondary characters like the senior staff, but from guest-stars who gave us a glimpse at life on the lower decks of both Klingon and Vulcan ships.
Lower Decks promised us right from the beginning that we’d be looking at junior officers who get the worst assignments, so taking that concept and expanding it to show us the same kind of people on other vessels felt incredibly natural. It’s one of those ideas that just makes sense – and leaves you wondering why you didn’t think of it sooner!
The episode skipped the usual pre-titles sequence, so after the opening titles rolled we were straight into the action. The title of the episode was displayed in Klingon (or should that be Klingonese?), which was a very neat little touch. As an aside, wej Duj is the first Star Trek episode – out of more than eight hundred – to have a Klingon title!
The setup for the episode was interesting, and gave us a rare glimpse at a starship during a period of downtime. Most episodes naturally focus on adventures of one kind or another, yet when you think about it, at least some interstellar travel is going to be dull, waiting for the ship to arrive at its next destination. We’ve seen glimpses of that in episodes like Voyager’s Season 5 opener Night, but this was its first appearance in Lower Decks. As above, this concept feels like another natural fit for the series – showing us what some of the junior officers get up to while the ship is warping to its next destination.
wej Duj used that premise as an excuse to shuffle the ensigns off-stage, and the story progressed without much significant involvement from Mariner, Rutherford, or Tendi. Boimler got a B-plot of sorts as he tried to buddy up to Commander Ransom. This sub-plot relied on a lot of sitcom-style “cringe” humour as Boimler pretended to be from Hawai’i to ingratiate himself with Ransom and a couple of other officers.
This kind of humour, popularised by shows like Friends, isn’t always to my taste. While Boimler’s story definitely had some funny moments, its reliance on a sitcom cliché premise made it the lesser part of the episode – at least in my opinion. The way it ended was definitely amusing in its irony, though, as it turned out that neither Ransom nor any of the others were in fact from Hawai’i either – all having made up the same lie at different times.
The main thrust of the episode focused on two guest-stars: junior Klingon officer Ma’ah, played by Jon Curry, and Vulcan lower decker T’Lyn, played by Gabrielle Ruiz. Pinning the bulk of an episode on two brand-new characters was a risk, but it was one that paid off and worked exceptionally well.
Both characters – and their supporting cast of fellow lower deckers and the senior officers aboard their respective ships – were exceptionally funny in completely different ways. The juxtaposition of two of Star Trek’s best-known races was at the core of what made this comedy work; seeing the aggressive, barbaric Klingons drinking bloodwine and engaging in fights to the death then immediately hopping over to the stoic Vulcans who showed no emotion was key to making the episode as funny as it was.
wej Duj was also a very well-paced episode. In barely twenty minutes it had to bring together multiple story threads that began in very different ways and different places. It also had to balance three entirely disconnected segments and sets of characters, giving each enough screen time to allow for some development and for story beats to play out naturally. Not only did all of this work, with the pacing of each character’s story feeling just right, but wej Duj also connected the events every character experienced into the Pakled storyline that has been running since the end of Season 1!
I haven’t been afraid to criticise Lower Decks earlier in Season 2 when episodes felt overcrowded. Some potentially interesting storylines just didn’t get quite enough time to be fully-realised, and I stand by those criticisms. wej Duj was already an incredibly ambitious episode, considering everything it had to include, but seen in that light I think the fact that the writers, producers, and editors managed to pull it off is nothing short of remarkable.
It would’ve been easy to overlook one or more of the different stories considering the episode’s runtime and just how many characters and ships were in play. It really is a triumph of writing – and undoubtedly editing as well – that wej Duj worked as fantastically well as it did.
The Klingons were featured prominently in Star Trek Into Darkness as well as the first two seasons of Discovery, where some elements of their redesign proved to be controversial. Lower Decks returned the Klingons firmly to their familiar look – the one present from The Motion Picture right through to Enterprise. And as much as I enjoyed some of the Ancient Egyptian influence present in Discovery’s Klingon redesign, it felt absolutely wonderful to be back with the Klingons in their best-known aesthetic and to spend time aboard one of their ships again.
The aesthetic of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey on the inside was again very much in line with prior depictions. Everything from the lighting to the design used for Klingon computer monitors could’ve been lifted straight from Deep Space Nine or The Search for Spock – and I loved that the lower deckers were forced to sleep in hammocks that made the ensigns’ hallway look palatial in comparison!
The Vulcan ship was clearly based on the design of ships seen in Enterprise. Though Starfleet is the Federation’s main military and exploratory force, throughout Star Trek the Vulcans have been depicted as maintaining their own fleet of ships alongside Starfleet, so I don’t think it’s in any way a canon problem to have a Vulcan cruiser like this in Lower Decks. The relative power of the Vulcan cruiser compared to the USS Cerritos, which was on full display in the climactic battle, was very reminiscent of the way Vulcan ships would constantly outclass and outmatch the NX-01 in Enterprise – a neat little understated callback to Star Trek’s first prequel.
With the Klingon commander in league with the Pakleds, T’Lyn and Ma’ah – and later the USS Cerritos – were all drawn to the same place. The Pakleds had detonated a bomb given to them by the Klingon commander in the hope of destabilising peace in the Alpha Quadrant and sparking a war, and while Ma’ah challenged his commander, T’Lyn and the USS Cerritos both detected the residual after-effects of the Pakleds’ weapon detonation.
This moment set up the storylines coming together, and it was based once again on the Pakleds’ stupidity, which was pretty funny. The way Commander Togg reacted to the Pakleds’ detonating the bomb he’d provided was one of the funniest moments in the whole episode! Captain Riker had speculated that someone had been manipulating the Pakleds to become so aggressive, and wej Duj gave us the answer – a rogue Klingon commander.
As Discovery showed in its first couple of seasons, there’s plenty of life in the Klingons as villains. When stories get their warrior-barbarian culture right, the Klingons can feel very threatening indeed. I’d point to the Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Nor the Battle to the Strong as just one example of that. But having seen the Klingons as allies throughout Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War in particular, and having had sympathetic characters like Worf, B’Elanna Torres, and General Martok, making the Klingon Empire as a whole an enemy once again wouldn’t be my first choice in Star Trek any more.
wej Duj found a clever way around this by giving us a character somewhat inspired by The Undiscovered Country’s General Chang. By making it clear that Togg was acting on his own, without the backing of the Klingon High Council or Chancellor – which should be Martok at this point in time, surely! – the story managed to be interesting and entertaining, but without dragging the Federation and Klingons into open conflict with one another. I think many Trekkies like the Klingons far better when they’re allies, with their aggressive nature turned on mutual enemies, than when they come into direct conflict with Starfleet – and I’m generally in that place too. While the Klingons can and do make entertaining villains, I enjoyed the way they were portrayed in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and would be loathe to see them as enemies once again.
T’Lyn and her Vulcan colleagues also provided the episode with plenty of humour. The absolutely deadpan way that all of the Vulcans spoke to one another was hilarious, and the way they interpreted very politely-worded statements as emotional outbursts or insults was a very funny send-up of Vulcan culture from Lower Decks’ writers.
Though they featured prominently in the images shown off before the episode’s broadcast, wej Duj only contained brief scenes involving Tendi, Mariner, and Rutherford. I’d have liked to have seen a little more of the ensigns and their “bridge buddies” during their down time. Tendi’s rock-climbing outing with Dr T’Ana was a cute reference to The Final Frontier, which saw Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy enjoying shore leave at Yosemite national park. Rutherford’s pottery-making class with Shaxs actually contained a very sweet moment between the two, with Rutherford calling Shaxs “Papa Bear” when the latter became angry and upset by Boimler mentioning Bajor.
Mariner didn’t appear to be enjoying her time with Captain Freeman at first, as the pair engaged in some mother-daughter bonding time on the holodeck and later in the captain’s ready room. But as they parted ways, both admitted that they had a good time together – another very sweet moment, and further evidence of the change in Mariner’s character and attitude that we’ve been tracking since midway through Season 1.
As the crew of the Cerritos scrambled to their posts from their leisure activities, the ship was awash with out-of-uniform officers. It was a pretty funny mix of characters in different outfits, and the sight gag of characters in everything from ball gowns to winter coats worked very well. It also showed that the crew are capable, despite serving on a “lowly” ship. These are still professional Starfleet officers, after all!
Two questions remain now that wej Duj is over. Firstly: is the Pakled threat now over? Their reliance on Klingon weaponry has now been exposed, and with Commander Togg dead there isn’t anyone left to manipulate the Pakleds and push them closer to all-out war, so perhaps the threat is now largely at an end. I feel that the Pakleds have been very funny in Lower Decks as adversaries, but the way they’ve been presented has left them feeling like a one-trick – or one-joke – pony. Perhaps the “Pakleds are really dumb” joke has run its course, even though there was plenty of humour derived from that premise this week. Better to end it before it outstays its welcome, though!
Secondly, the end of the episode saw T’Lyn dismissed by her Vulcan commander and forcibly reassigned aboard a Starfleet vessel. Could she be making her way to the USS Cerritos, perhaps? T’Lyn provided ample humour in her own incredibly Vulcan way in wej Duj, and while there probably isn’t room for a fifth lower decker as a major character, bringing her in as a recurring character or in a different department could be an interesting way for the series to go as Season 3 beckons. It’s probably not going to happen… but you never know!
The worst thing about wej Duj is that now it’s over that means there’s only one episode left in Lower Decks Season 2! The ten-episode seasons that many modern television shows use are a double-edged sword in some ways. We get more shows, and the episodes that are made generally get a higher budget as a result. But it does mean that seasons seem to race by very quickly! I’m sure that Lower Decks has a suitably explosive finale planned for the end of the season, though.
wej Duj was a completely different kind of episode for Lower Decks. It saw guest-stars take centre-stage for the first time, and the episode was largely carried not by anyone aboard the USS Cerritos but by a pair of Klingons and some stoic, bickering Vulcans. Seeing the life of lower deckers on a couple of different ships was an absolutely outstanding premise, and wej Duj pulled it off with aplomb. The complicated story was expertly weaved together as it reached its climax, and appears to have exposed and perhaps resolved the lingering Pakled threat.
I had a lot of fun with wej Duj, and it will go down as one of the highlights of Season 2 without a doubt. It was funny almost from the first moment, with suitable moments of tension as the complex four-starship battle unfolded. It’s set a high bar for next week’s season finale!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
I, Excretus was an exceptionally funny episode. Where other episodes of Lower Decks this season have offered a mixture of comic moments and drama, this week the comedy started in the first moment of the story and didn’t let up until the very end. Though the crew were put in peril thanks to the actions of a rogue drill instructor, the entire story was light-hearted and funny, with the villainous Shari Yn Yem played in an incredibly over-the-top way.
The episode had a “Saturday morning cartoon” vibe, feeling like a story in the vein of classic cartoons such as Wacky Races or Scooby-Doo, Where Are You. For the first time this season, all four ensigns and all four main members of the senior staff participated in a single story. Each of the ensigns had their own moments in the spotlight, but every drill they participated in and every action they took all played into the same overarching plotline.
This makes a change from the way Lower Decks has often operated. There wasn’t a B-plot this time to balance things out, and though Boimler spent much of the episode focusing on his own drill this still connected to the rest of the story in a significant way. As a result of bringing its characters together, everyone felt like they had a significant role to play; no character felt extraneous or unnecessary. And because there was only one real story to focus on, with no need to bring in side-characters or send anyone on their own mission, the entire episode felt well-paced.
I’ve commented on a couple of Lower Decks episodes this season that didn’t manage to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters – usually as a result of trying to cram too many plotlines and characters into a single twenty-minute timeframe. But there’s no denying that I, Excretus doesn’t have that problem!
Lower Decks has been rather odd in the way it’s used some returning characters and actors from past iterations of Star Trek. John de Lancie as Q and Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris both felt under-used in the episodes they appeared in, and if I were to make one criticism of I, Excretus it would be that Alice Krige’s role as the (holographic) Borg Queen was incredibly minor. It’s another case where it was wonderful to welcome back an actor from Star Trek’s past, but I would’ve liked to have seen her given more than just a couple of lines.
Sticking with the Borg, although Boimler was only facing off against them in holographic form, it’s still the first time we’ve seen active Borg drones in modern Star Trek. Star Trek: Picard Season 1 featured scenes set on a derelict Borg cube, and of course brought back Hugh, Seven of Nine, and other ex-Borg. But there was never any danger posed by the Borg; no threat of assimilation, no legions of drones, etc. It was actually great fun to see a semi-Borg story for the first time in such a long time in Lower Decks – even if it was just a simulation!
The design of the Borg was particularly neat. The entire aesthetic, from the drones to their ship, was right in line with their earlier appearances in The Next Generation, complete with larger “helmets,” black undershirts, and so on. Though the design of the Borg hasn’t changed that much, by the time of First Contact and Voyager they’d taken on a more streamlined look. Lower Decks brought back what I guess we could call “original” Borg, and that made their inclusion in the story even more fun.
As a complete aside, how much fun would it be to give Lower Decks a proper Borg story sometime? An episode structured like I, Excretus would be perfect, too, with the ensigns and senior staff all having to work together to overcome their cybernetic enemies. Of course the USS Cerritos wouldn’t do well against a Borg cube… but perhaps they could have trouble tangling with a Borg scout ship or probe! For a moment as the episode drew to a close I actually wondered if Boimler’s “assimilation” would be something the series would return to next week, perhaps even ending on a cliffhanger. But I suspect the season will close out with the return of the Pakleds either this week or next. Still, I’m officially putting it out there: a Lower Decks Borg episode would be fantastic!
The drill format and the use of what looked like portable mini-holodecks allowed I, Excretus to be absolutely jam-packed with throwbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. The episode’s entire premise gave the writers an excuse to delve deeply into Star Trek’s past, picking out classic episodes and thrusting members of the Lower Decks crew into those scenarios. It worked exceptionally well, and there were overt references to The Original Series, films, and The Next Generation that all slotted seamlessly into the plot.
It was also a lot of fun to welcome back a Pandronian. These “colony creatures” were first encountered in The Animated Series, but for obvious reasons proved impractical to depict in any of the live-action shows. Lower Decks has had a number of references to The Animated Series, and this latest one was neat too. Apparently the Pandronians are now on friendlier terms with the Federation than they were in Captain Kirk’s day!
I, Excretus had a fun opening gag, but unfortunately it was one that had been spoiled by pre-release trailers. Though it was a lot of fun to see the ensigns accidentally abandoned by the Cerritos while on a spacewalk, knowing that it was coming kind of robbed the moment of much of its humour. As I said shortly before Lower Decks Season 2 premiered, the marketing team seemed to go overboard with throwing out trailers, clips, and mini-teasers in the run-up to the season premiere. I actually ended up switching off and not watching all of them specifically because I wanted to avoid this feeling.
This is something I call “the Simpsons Movie phenomenon” – named for the incredibly bad way that film was marketed. Long story short, by the time I sat down to watch The Simpsons Movie I’d literally already seen every single good joke, visual gag, and funny moment because they were all included in the trailers! Lower Decks isn’t that bad – at least not yet – but it’s definitely something the marketing team should keep in mind. There’s a line to walk between getting viewers interested in an upcoming production and revealing too much, and Lower Decks has definitely come close to skirting that line sometimes. The entire opening of the episode prior to the titles set up this one joke – the ship warping away and leaving the ensigns behind. But a lot of folks will have already seen that moment because it was included in full in the trailers, depriving it of much of its impact. Though the episode as a whole was fantastic, and that moment at the beginning is quite funny, it’s something that I feel the show’s marketing team need to be aware of.
The opening joke came back into play later in the episode, and this is something Lower Decks has excelled at, particularly during Season 2. What seem to be one-off gags or jokes disconnected from the rest of the story actually prove to be important later on – such as the anbo-jyutsu match in Mugato, Gumato. Though the show still makes abundant use of throwaway jokes and one-off scenes, the fact that some seemingly innocuous moments end up connecting to the plot in a big way is testament to the quality of the writing. As a viewer it keeps us on our toes – we can’t be sure what’s just a joke and what might be important to the plot!
A big part of I, Excretus was showing how both the ensigns and senior staff struggled when forced to switch roles. This kind of team-building exercise can be important to morale, and perhaps we’ll see a future episode or story make reference to the lessons that the characters learned this week. Tendi’s story in particular highlighted this aspect of the episode – being put into a situation drawn from The Next Generation Season 5 episode Ethics, she came away from the experience with a great deal of respect for the decisions Dr T’Ana has to make on a daily basis.
Mariner was the character we spent the most time with during this portion of the episode. She got three separate drills whereas the others only got one each. Her first drill harkened back to Mirror, Mirror from The Original Series, complete with classic Terran Empire uniforms. Though the Mirror Universe has never been a personal favourite of mine, I’d actually be interested to see Lower Decks’ take on the setting in future. The glimpse we got this time was tantalising, and just like the Prime Timeline’s Cadet Tilly was a captain in the Terran Empire, maybe the alternate universe could shake up the command structure of the Cerritos as well. Captain Mariner, perhaps?
Her second drill took her to The Original Series again, this time the third season episode Spectre of the Gun. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this Wild West-themed story, and though it didn’t take up a lot of time in the episode it was still neat to see. It also led to the revelation from Captain Freeman that Mariner took horse-riding lessons for two years, which was kind of cute.
Finally, Mariner got to experience polywater intoxication first-hand. And my goodness, if folks thought that Mugato, Gumato was “too adult” a couple of weeks ago, this sequence must’ve made their heads explode! As the holographic crew suffered from the strange affliction seen in The Original Series first season episode The Naked Time and The Next Generation first season episode The Naked Now, they engaged in all kinds of debauchery, much to Mariner’s shock and disgust.
There will be criticisms of that sequence, especially considering the weirdly squeamish, reactionary response to a five-second clip in Mugato, Gumato, and Lower Decks will have to face up to that. Some fans simply don’t like this style of humour. But as I said when I talked about this issue in more detail, as someone who is asexual I’m one of the people that you’d think would be offended or upset by these kinds of sexual jokes. But again, as with the moment in Mugato, Gumato, I just didn’t think it was a problem at all. In fact, some of the individual jokes during this sequence – such as Ransom getting a spanking and Mariner’s horrified reaction to it – actually made me chuckle.
Rutherford got a Wrath of Khan-inspired moment during his drill, but unlike Spock was unable to sacrifice himself to save the ship. It was actually really cool to see the “monster maroon” uniforms in animated form, as well as to catch a very brief glimpse of what I assume would be the USS Enterprise in its refit configuration. Rutherford didn’t get as much screen time during this part of the episode, but his scenes harkened back to one of the best Star Trek films.
At first the senior staff thought they’d got it made! But as their drill ramped up and they were left in a cargo bay to stack crates while all manner of excitement seemed to be happening outside, they quickly became frustrated. Lower Decks originally promised us a look at the mundane activities away from the bridge, and stacking crates in a cargo bay seems about as boring a task as there is in Starfleet! Thinking back to episodes of Voyager or The Next Generation, though… someone has to have stacked those crates in the cargo bays!
As a “fish out of water” story, this side of the episode was fun. Putting the entire crew through their paces, then having them team up and use what they’d learned to defeat the villain made for an exciting, well-connected episode. Episodes like I, Excretus were exactly what I had in mind when Lower Decks was first announced, and although the A-plot/B-plot structure the show favours can work very well, once in a while it’s nice to see most of the characters working together and involved in the same storyline.
I had a great time with I, Excretus. The story was packed to the brim with very obvious callbacks to Star Trek’s past; the Mirror Universe, The Animated Series, even The Search for Spock were all represented in an incredibly fun, light-hearted story. Bringing the show’s main characters together for an outing that harkened back to old-school cartoons was truly fantastic, and I, Excretus will surely go down as one of the highlights of Season 2. Speaking of which… there are only two episodes remaining now that we’re into October. Where does the time go, eh?
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Further spoilers are present for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series, The Next Generation Season 4, Discovery Season 1, and Picard Season 1.
Prior to the broadcast of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, there was arguably more hype than for any other Lower Decks episode so far this season. The return of actor Jeffrey Combs to the Star Trek franchise – he’d previously played Shran in Enterprise and Weyoun in Deep Space Nine, among other characters – was something that the marketing team were keen to show off on social media, and with this episode having been teased earlier in the season, as its broadcast approached there was certainly a degree of hype.
Considering how a couple of previous returning actors’ roles landed – John de Lancie in Season 1’s Veritas and Robert Duncan McNeill in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris just a few weeks ago – I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But I was pleased to see that Combs’ character of Agimus – an evil computer – was handled well and played a significant role in the story.
I didn’t know that the one thing Lower Decks had been missing was a spotlight episode for chief engineer Andy Billups, but you know what? It worked far better than I would’ve expected. The rest of the senior staff – Captain Freeman, Commander Ransom, Dr T’Ana, and Shaxs – have had aspects of their characterisations and backgrounds explored gradually, with little tidbits dropped in previous episodes. Billups didn’t have much of that; the closest he’d gotten to a spotlight moment until this week was in Season 1’s Crisis Point, where he was part of Rutherford’s story.
Billups was certainly the least well-known of the senior staff, despite being Rutherford’s boss. Lower Decks just hasn’t spent as much time in engineering as it has in other areas of the ship, so he’d been a background presence at best for much of the show’s run to date. This week’s episode felt like Lower Decks was almost trying to make up for lost time by dropping Billups into a major plotline that not only gave him a starring role but that also explained much of his background.
One thing that I liked about this storyline is that it was a riff on the old maxim “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Billups, in his earlier appearances, seemed to be a bland, uninteresting human, probably from North America. He was dedicated to his work in engineering, and though he was on friendly terms with others on the senior staff, we never really saw him as a party animal or even having a close friendship. He seemed to be a pretty plain, uninteresting character – and we would’ve expected his background to match that persona.
Billups’ people – the Hysperians – are very far removed from that expectation! There was something about the Hysperians that reminded me very much of peoples Captain Kirk encountered during both The Original Series and The Animated Series; a throwback to Star Trek’s earlier days, where planetary societies based around ancient Rome or 1920s Chicago were commonplace. These kinds of stories and civilisations had faded from Star Trek by the time of The Next Generation, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Lower Decks bringing them back.
The aesthetic used for the Hysperians and their vessel was unique, too. Inspired by a “renaissance fair” – as the episode noted – there was something fun and whimsical about their appearance. On the surface, factions like the Hysperians may seem “less realistic” than others in Star Trek, but I’d actually argue the opposite. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to think that future groups of humans might settle colonies and establish societies based around mutual likes – it’s basically an extension of online communities where people share what they have in common.
The design of the Hysperian cruiser was neat, and both inside and out it reflected their “renaissance fair” society. The hallways being lined with huge portraits reminded me of more than one stately home that my parents dragged me to visit as a child, and I liked that the Hysperians re-named their ship’s systems to match their culture.
Billups’ storyline raised a very interesting question. Apparently, in addition to (or as part of) their medieval-fantasy culture, the Hysperians have a strange attitude toward sex and sexuality. Losing one’s virginity seems to be a big deal in their society – at least among the aristocracy. (Are all Hysperians aristocrats? Or are there peasants to go along with the knights and castles? An interesting aside!) So Billups had been avoiding losing his virginity as doing so would mean he would have to become king.
Given that Billups was incredibly reluctant to have sex – to the point that he had to be tricked into it – and that he seemed uncomfortable both before being taken to his quarters and immediately prior to getting into bed, I wonder if Billups might be asexual? Certainly this is one of the most overt references that the Star Trek franchise has ever made to asexuality, and although parts of it were – somewhat disappointingly – played as a joke, as someone who is asexual myself I find the whole thing particularly interesting.
Many asexual people – myself included – have had sex. This can be for a variety of reasons: societal pressure, the lack of education or awareness of asexuality, and the desire to appear “normal,” among many others. Because Billups seemed so genuinely uncomfortable at what would’ve been his first time, and that he’d made it to adulthood without ever losing his virginity, I’m wondering if we could make that inference. Billups chose to prioritise his work and his love of Starfleet over having sex, at any rate, so sex is clearly not a high priority for him.
We need more positive portrayals of asexual people in all forms of media – as well as portrayals of LGBT+ people in general. Though there were some issues with the way Billups’ role in the story was handled when viewed through that lens, such as how his apparent impotence was being played as a joke, I want to give Lower Decks credit for tackling this kind of story. Some folks might choose to attack the show for going down an overtly sexual route for part of this week’s story – particularly in light of the “adult content” controversy that blew up in the aftermath of Mugato, Gumato recently – but I’m honestly just pleased to see anything tangentially related to asexuality appear!
There is also a second dimension to this, and it’s one Star Trek has tackled recently. By attempting to trick Billups into sex, the queen and the other Hysperians were essentially forcing him into a sexual act that he couldn’t consent to. Billups also made it clear on several occasions that he categorically did not want to have sex. There’s a word for forcing someone into sex or tricking them into it under false pretences: rape.
Ash Tyler’s portrayal in Star Trek: Discovery, particularly in the latter part of Season 1, was a very powerful analogy for male victims of rape and sexual assault. Though the way Billups’ sexual encounter was handled in Lower Decks was very different, the premise is comparable. Star Trek has never shied away from tackling these tough topics, but Lower Decks didn’t really provide much closure in that regard. Rutherford’s timely arrival prevented Billups from being tricked into having sex, but there were no consequences for his mother and the Hysperians who tricked him. The whole thing was played very light-heartedly, and when we compare this to the powerful Ash Tyler storyline in Discovery it feels as thought it comes up short.
There was a distinct and out-of-place light-heartedness to the way the Hysperians and their queen were portrayed, both before and after their most recent attempt to trick Billups into a sexual encounter that he absolutely did not want to have. Lower Decks played some of this for laughs, and while humour is definitely something subjective, the jokes obscured some pretty dark and serious subject matter. Society as a whole needs to do better with helping and believing victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault, and male victims can be particularly invisible. Some male victims of sexual crimes have even reported being mocked and laughed at by law enforcement when they attempted to report what happened and seek help. Portrayals like this one don’t help the mindset that “men can’t be victims.”
Shelving that side of the story for now, we come to Rutherford. He played a role on this side of the story, but parts of it felt a little out-of-character. Though his conversation with Tendi at the beginning of the episode, in which he shared his reluctance to take on the assignment and work on a different ship, set up her devastation later on when she felt she’d pushed him to take an assignment that led to his death, the idea that Rutherford of all people wouldn’t jump at the chance to work on a fancy new starship engine for a change just didn’t seem to fit.
Rutherford’s death always felt like a fake-out, even though the episode put us through several minutes of seeing other characters reacting to his supposed death. The way Dr T’Ana informed Tendi was sweet, and I wish we could’ve seen more of the usually-grumpy doctor showing a softer, more sympathetic side for a change. Tendi of course reacted very strongly and with emotion – and the performance by Noël Wells was fantastic at that moment.
In light of Rutherford’s memory loss at the end of last season not really manifesting in a major way this season, and particularly after Shaxs came back from the dead in unexplained fashion, Rutherford was clearly not in any danger. I don’t even think that Lower Decks wanted to convince us as the audience that he was really dead, even though the characters went along with it at first. It wasn’t exactly a waste, as it set up the conclusion to the story quite well, but I’m not really sure what to make of it.
Rutherford being “dead” obviously hit Tendi the hardest. And even after he was shown to be alright, she was still very clearly affected by the experience. We might yet see some consequence of this in a future story; Tendi seemed very nervous and might try to interfere in a future story if she thinks it’ll help save Rutherford’s life. But that’s just speculation – it’s just as likely this whole thing will be forgotten as Lower Decks moves on to new stories in future.
Tendi and Rutherford spoke about getting him out of his comfort zone at the beginning of the episode. Though I stand by what I said earlier about Rutherford’s reluctance to work on a new ship being out-of-character, as a concept I liked what Tendi had to say. It can be important for everyone to push themselves and try something new. It can be something work-related, learning a new skill, or even visiting a different place for the first time. Though this wasn’t exactly the core of the story – and Tendi expressed regret when she thought Rutherford had been killed – the message itself is worth paying attention to for anyone who feels like they’re settled and haven’t tried anything new or different for a while. It’s very unlikely to end as explosively as it almost did for Rutherford!
On the other side of this week’s story were Boimler and Mariner, paired up once again for a mission aboard a shuttlecraft. After Agimus had been taken into Federation custody at the beginning of the episode, the duo were assigned to transport it (him?) to the Daystrom Institute for safekeeping. I liked that the Daystrom Institute was name-dropped here, as it has recently appeared in Star Trek: Picard. Dr Jurati was a scientist who worked there at the beginning of Season 1. The Daystrom Institute has appeared in other iterations of Star Trek as well, and was named for Dr Richard Daystrom, a computer scientist who appeared in The Original Series.
Jeffrey Combs has always played devious, villainous characters exceptionally well in Star Trek, and Agimus was no exception. Combs’ distinctive voice gave the evil computer a genuinely menacing quality, as each syllable dripped with malice and their attempts at manipulating Boimler and Mariner were obvious.
Agimus picks up another trope from The Original Series – computer-dominated societies. Lower Decks already brought back Landru at the end of Season 1, but there are other examples of this, such as Vaal and the Controller of Sigma Draconis VI. Again, this was a welcome step back to what felt like a story that could’ve been part of the franchise’s early days. Agimus is very much in line with the way other evil computers had been depicted – but elevated by Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal.
Though this side of the story teed up some Mariner-versus-Boimler tension, I was glad that the way that particular storyline ended showed Boimler in a positive light. Boimler has grown a lot since we first encountered him at the beginning of Season 1, and particularly after the lessons he’s learned this season about maintaining his close friendship with Mariner, if he had succumbed so easily to Agimus’ manipulations it wouldn’t have felt right.
But Boimler certainly had Mariner and Agimus fooled! I like seeing a more confident Boimler following his jaunt aboard the USS Titan. There must’ve been a temptation to reset the character after he returned to the Cerritos, but realistically an experience like that would have changed him. We see this change manifest in Boimler becoming more confident in his own abilities and more secure in his knowledge – even to the point that he surpasses Mariner in this particular story, figuring out a solution before she could and seeming to go along with Agimus only to gain access to the malignant computer’s battery.
It was a well-executed story, and one which didn’t come at the expense of Mariner. Though she was understandably unaware of what Boimler was doing, she wasn’t portrayed as being naïve or stupid in order to give Boimler his surprise ending. She underestimated him – believing him not to be ready for a different away mission. But we could also interpret her meddling as a desire to keep Boimler on the lower decks with her. Having lost him once, she isn’t prepared to lose him again. Whether she’s aware of that as she’s going behind his back isn’t clear – and I suspect that this side of their relationship will have to be explored again at some point. But this time, in the context of this story, it worked well.
Their shuttle crashing on a desert planet reminded me of The Next Generation fourth season episode Final Mission. In that story, Wesley Crusher and Captain Picard would similarly find themselves crash-landing on a desert world, and having to survive with a somewhat hostile companion. That episode would also mark Wesley’s departure as a permanent cast member (though he did return to The Next Generation for a couple of other stories). Whether intentional or not, it was neat to feel that Lower Decks was channelling that episode at points.
Agimus made for a difficult adversary for Boimler and Mariner to overcome, especially considering the crash severely damaged their shuttle. The stakes were raised higher by the damaged replicator and the loss of their emergency rations to an alien monster. It seems to have been around this point that Boimler formulated his plan! The joke about the replicator only being able to serve up black liquorice was also funny – as was the plant that also tasted of liquorice. I guess it must be an acquired taste – though I’ve always liked liquorice personally.
Mariner and Boimler’s trek across an unforgiving landscape also presented a comparison to their first away mission together in the second episode of Season 1: Envoys. That story saw Boimler at his most anxious and out-of-place; the contrast with the confident way he executed his plan this time around could not be more stark. The fact that both episodes saw an away mission aboard a shuttle go awry is interesting – Lower Decks is almost being poetic!
After their rescue, Boimler and Mariner returned to the Cerritos aboard a shuttle crewed by officers in the black-and-grey uniform style that Boimler wore aboard the USS Titan. Presumably these officers were from another ship, but it was interesting that they weren’t just picked up by the crew of the Cerritos. It was funny to see Agimus in their “prison” – surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds, of near-identical evil computers. Apparently out-of-control AI is a huge problem for the Star Trek galaxy… no wonder the Romulans in Star Trek: Picard were so concerned!
This week’s episode had two stories that both felt well-paced. Neither story felt rushed, and the number of characters present felt about right. Though the two stories went in completely different directions – literally and metaphorically speaking – both harkened back to The Original Series in ways that were very clever. It’s been a while since Star Trek produced an episode that felt so connected to the planets, peoples, and storylines of its first iteration, so that was fantastic.
Though there were some issues with the way Billups’ story was handled, I maintain that he could be asexual. At the very least there was an interesting asexuality-adjacent storyline this week, and it’s the first time that I can recall that Star Trek has come so close to touching on this subject. It wasn’t perfect, for the reasons I laid out above, but it was something – and there’s power in almost any form of positive representation, even when things aren’t perfect. If you’re interested to read my story about coming to terms with being asexual, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
Mariner and Boimler had an exciting story too, and Jeffrey Combs put in a wonderful performance as the antagonistic Agimus. It was great to welcome him back to Star Trek – and to see solid evidence of Boimler’s growth as a character.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.
For the second week running, Lower Decks managed to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters. The Spy Humongous spent time with the bridge crew, gave Boimler his own story, and gave Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford something to do as well. Crucially, the episode managed to make each of these three components feel significant; none felt under-developed.
Most importantly, all three storylines were fun! The bridge crew split up for this episode, with Captain Freeman and Shaxs on an away mission to the Pakled homeworld on a peace initiative, while Ransom and Kayshon played host to a Pakled “guest” aboard the ship. These two halves comprised a single story, while Boimler separated from the other three ensigns for his own character journey.
Tendi, Mariner, and particularly Rutherford took smaller roles this time in a story which put Boimler at the centre, but their paths crossed in a significant way toward the end. I’ve spoken numerous times about how amazing Mariner’s character arc across both seasons has been, and how enjoyable it has been to watch her grow. The Spy Humongous gave us some comparable character development for Boimler, as he came to realise that chasing a promotion isn’t everything – and that imitating great captains of the past isn’t any use in a crisis.
Several Lower Decks stories have felt like they could’ve been set in a school had the characters been different. I’m thinking of Mariner making up rumours about herself in Mugato, Gumato, as well as the “love triangle” in Cupid’s Errant Arrow last season. This time, the story of Boimler ditching his friends after being poached by a group of “cooler kids” likewise felt like it could’ve been about schoolkids. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way, if anything it’s a commentary on how the series takes familiar situations and gives them its own Star Trek-themed twist.
Having only just settled his conflict with Mariner regarding his decision to prioritise promotion over their friendship in last week’s episode, as well as seemingly learning a lesson in the process, it was a little jarring for that moment to immediately be followed up by Boimler again ditching Mariner (and the others) in order to hang out with a new group who he feels – at least in the moment – are more likely to be useful to his ambition. This is a consequence of scheduling more than story; I said last week that both pairs of ensigns got stories that resolved lingering conflicts from Season 1, and that those stories might’ve been better-served by coming earlier in the season. Boimler’s plotline this time only reinforces that; at the very least this episode shouldn’t have immediately followed on from last week as it makes it seem that Boimler learned nothing – or very quickly forgot the important lesson he’d learned about friendship.
Scheduling aside, The Spy Humongous gave Boimler a satisfying arc. He began the episode enticed by the “cool kids” to ditch his friends and follow only his ambition, and for a time went along with their shenanigans. But when Tendi was in danger, Boimler knew what to do, and while the other wannabes tripped over one another to try to give “inspiring” speeches copied from past captains that they admired, Boimler recognised the problem and took the necessary steps to solve it. Even though doing so meant abandoning the new group of “cool kids” and by extension his aim of getting promoted again, Boimler prioritised problem-solving and friendship. His reward was a compliment from Commander Ransom, something which clearly meant a lot more to him than any “acting captain” role.
This was, unquestionably, a deeply satisfying character arc for Boimler to go through. Had it not come immediately following a similar moment last week it would’ve worked better, but that’s the scheduling issue again. The way that the episode tied this arc into the B-plot following Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi as they collected “anomalies” that the senior staff had been working on was neat as well.
Tendi actually got one of the more emotional moments this week. I think we’ve all had an experience, at some point in our lives, of either feeling genuine excitement for something or trying to show excitement for the benefit of others, only to have someone else shoot it down. That feeling of being crestfallen or deflated is exactly what Mariner and Rutherford inflicted on Tendi after shouting at her for being too enthusiastic and eager during one of their most-hated assignments aboard the ship.
This moment set up the remainder of Tendi’s story – as she was transformed into a scorpion-like monster by a strange artefact – as well as led to the crossover with Boimler. But as a purely emotional moment that I think a lot of us can relate to, it was one of the highlights of the episode for me.
I created this website in part to share my love of Star Trek with a wider audience. But I can remember many occasions where being a Trekkie or even simply mentioning Star Trek was enough to have someone react with derision or dismissiveness. Even within the Star Trek fan community and among friends, I can remember moments where expressing passion for the “wrong” part of the franchise became an issue. When talking to a Trekkie friend excitedly about 2009’s Star Trek shortly after the film premiered I was hit with that feeling when they reacted angrily having pledged to never watch the reboot. So in a very meta Star Trek way, I can relate to what Tendi must’ve been feeling! That sense of showing someone you care about something you’re excited for only to have that excitement ripped away is a very real feeling.
Mariner didn’t get very much to do this week. The episode put her through a montage of unpleasantries to emphasise how bad this particular assignment was and build up to her shouting at Tendi. Aside from that she was relegated to a background role alongside Rutherford, whose characteristic love for all things Starfleet apparently doesn’t extend to Anomaly Collection Day either!
On first viewing I felt that Tendi’s loud and rather rude laugh at Boimler’s mess hall mishap at the beginning of the episode was a little out-of-character, but on reflection I can see that this was an attempt to set up the conclusion to her and Boimler’s stories. It’s not the first time that we’ve had an out-of-place moment like this which has become important later; Lower Decks isn’t always subtle in that regard!
The mysterious artefact that transformed Tendi was just a macguffin at the end of the day, but it was one that didn’t feel out of place in Lower Decks. The first episode of the season set up how “strange energies” were something Starfleet regularly has to put up with, and across the season we’ve also seen Lieutenant Kayshon turned into a puppet and met a self-duplicating species, so it definitely doesn’t come from nowhere! Star Trek has, in the past, leaned into this kind of weirder, inexplicable macguffin for many different episodes across basically every series, so again it’s right in keeping with the way the franchise has always operated.
As mentioned, Boimler was the hero of the day. He figured out that the macguffin was feeding off or amplifying Tendi’s emotions (though exactly why she became a giant scorpion is still not crystal clear!) and that the best way to save her – and everyone else – was to make her laugh. Looping back to what made her laugh uncontrollably at the beginning of the episode, Boimler used the mess hall’s replicators to cover himself in food, much to Tendi’s amusement and the disgust of the “cool kids” he’d been hanging out with all day.
Though much of Boimler’s time with the other ensigns followed a familiar trope, one moment which stood out was his inspirational speech. This sequence was also incredibly well-animated, as the empty stage faded into a truly outstanding recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise-D. Boimler gave a great speech, one which could’ve been given by any of Star Trek’s past captains. Though he may suffer from anxiety and be more than a little neurotic, Boimler can make a difference when it counts. We saw that not only with the speech, of course, but also with the way he saved Tendi.
I was reminded of Boimler’s speech in the episode Veritas from last season. The joke in that episode (which I felt fell flat, sadly) was that he and his shipmates were never in danger, and on this occasion he similarly gives an inspiring speech when there are no real stakes. But his ability to speak well and to give that kind of rousing address is in keeping with where we saw him last season, and I felt it was worth making note of that.
I really thought that the Pakled spy was going to turn out to be something different, perhaps something that challenged the notion that the Pakleds were all as stupid as they appear to be. For the entire time the spy was on the ship, and especially when he snuck away, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for some kind of revelation. Was Shaxs – recently and inexplicably back from the dead – going to turn out to be the real spy? Was the spy actually better at his job than he let on? It was a hilarious double-bluff that, in reality, the Pakleds truly are as dumb as they seem to be.
There’s somewhat of an old-school cartoonish charm to the way Lower Decks presents the Pakleds. An alien race who all seem stupid in comparison to the rest of the galaxy could easily fall into the trap of stereotyping folks with learning difficulties, but because of the overly-exaggerated way the Pakleds’ stupidity is presented, it doesn’t come across as offensive. It manages to just be funny – and even though there’s surely more to come from this Pakled conflict before the season is over, I can’t predict where it’ll go or how it’ll end. There was a mention this week of a Pakled bomb being sent to Earth, but it seems as though Captain Freeman will be able to alert Starfleet in time to prevent anything bad from happening.
Lower Decks has usually been great when it comes to depicting different-looking, aesthetically interesting planets. Pakled Planet was a little disappointing in that regard, as it felt rather generic. The action that took place there was fun and exciting, of course, but the background could’ve used a little spicing-up in my opinion. It could still have been kept simple – in keeping with the show’s depiction of the Pakleds – but a different colour palette (Pakled Planet was very heavy on yellow and brown tones) or some item or landmark of visual interest would’ve improved these sequences.
It was funny to see the various Pakled “leaders.” A queen, a king, and an emperor all seem to be parts of an overall hierarchy, one determined solely by the size of their helmets. I can’t help but wonder what consequences – if any – there will be for the Pakled revolution and overthrow of the previous leadership. Perhaps that’s something routine on Pakled Planet that won’t make any difference – but if so, why show that on screen? I can’t help but feel it’s setting up something that may be of importance later!
It was particularly funny how the group of “cool kids” referring to themselves as “The Redshirts” – a Star Trek fandom expression dating back to the days of The Original Series. Redshirts were disposable minor characters who often ended up dead on away missions! Seeing the Pakled spy drifting through space after accidentally shooting himself out of an airlock was also a really funny moment.
So I think that’s about all I have to say this week. There was a great story for Boimler – albeit one that might’ve benefitted from taking place at a different point in the season – as well as some advancement of the Federation-Pakled conflict. There were some hilarious moments for all of the main characters, and particularly the Pakleds. Ensign Mariner took a backseat for the first time this season, but giving her an occasional break is no bad thing.
All in all, a great episode.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for Short Treks.
This week’s episode perhaps wasn’t the funniest of the season – though there were some good jokes and moments of humour – but you know what? It was by far the most character-driven and emotional episode we’ve seen probably since Season 1’s Crisis Point. The two main character pairings each got to talk out emotional issues that had been lingering since the end of Season 1, and perhaps my only criticism would be that this episode would’ve worked better slightly earlier in the season!
For the first time in at least a couple of weeks, I felt that Lower Decks wasn’t trying to cram too much into a single episode. There was time for Boimler and Mariner to have their story, Rutherford and Tendi to have theirs, and the bridge crew to also be involved in a way that ultimately connected to both other storylines and didn’t feel forced or rushed.
Having blitzed through the Rutherford memory loss story at the beginning of the season and effectively “reset” him to where he had been in Season 1, this week’s Rutherford and Tendi team-up – in which he comes to terms with his memory loss and realises he doesn’t need to compete against his former self – would have worked better had it come earlier in the season. There was still a considerable emotional payoff in what was, as mentioned, an episode brimming with emotion, but had we seen more of Rutherford struggling with his lost memories in any of the first four episodes, this week’s conclusion would’ve felt more natural and more earned.
Considering that An Embarrassment of Dooplers had to set up Rutherford’s struggles, elaborate on them, and reach a satisfying conclusion in what was a B-plot, I have to give the episode plenty of credit. Rutherford and Tendi’s story was compact, but it revolved around a single item – their starship model kit – and placing this simple macguffin in the story kept it laser-focused. Had the writers tried to bring in too many different ways that Rutherford’s memory loss was affecting him, the story could’ve become unwieldy and lost its emotional core. In this case less was more – and the episode delivered.
As someone who used to build scale models (yes, I was that weird nerdy kid you’d see in model shops and toyshops) I adore that the writers brought in this element to Rutherford and Tendi’s friendship. It seems like the perfect hobby for the pair of them, as they both adore the ship and seemingly everything else about serving in Starfleet. I can absolutely buy into the idea that they’d want to spend their downtime working on a starship model.
I also absolutely love Tendi’s explanation for why the model was unfinishable. The idea that they would use the model as an excuse to not hang out or to prevent people from bothering them while they shared their time off together is simultaneously something I can relate to (as someone who is neurodivergent and has a very low tolerance for interacting with people) and, in a narrative context, a very cute romantic gesture. For all of my talk last week about “shipping” Boimler and Rutherford – which I still think would be adorable, by the way – the idea that either Tendi or Rutherford came up with this way of keeping people away so that they could enjoy time together without any distractions is incredibly sweet. It’s a kind of nerdy sweet, which is even better!
Star Trek has always proudly shown off alien races that seem to be illogical or with traits that make very little sense. The Yridians always spring to mind during such conversations; would an entire race really be involved in information trading? How did they ever develop as a species if all of them are information dealers? The Bynars are another example: half-cyborgs who can only work in pairs. And don’t even get me started on the Q Continuum or Trelane (maybe Trelane is a Q?!), so when the Dooplers with their ability to self-duplicate were introduced in this episode, I barely batted an eyelid.
For some folks, though, I can predict that the Dooplers’ silliness might be a point of attack. There’s something kind of Rick and Morty-esque about this new race of aliens, and for some on the anti-Trek side of things perhaps they might latch onto that to criticise Lower Decks. But as I said above, there are myriad aliens and stories from past iterations of Star Trek that are equally silly or unbelievable – remember that episode of The Animated Series where the Enterprise ended up in a parallel universe where magic is real? Where do you think shows like Rick and Morty got their ideas from, anyway? Star Trek has always had aliens like the Dooplers – and if you want to get scientific about it, cell division (mitosis) is a thing, and a form of reproduction for many organisms. Perhaps the Dooplers simply reproduce in this asexual form – no, not that kind of asexual!
Captain Freeman had her hands full with the exponentially-reproducing Dooplers, though! I was reminded more than a little of the Short Treks episode The Trouble With Edward, in which tribbles quickly overrun the USS Cabot. That was a very funny episode – well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. I don’t think I really spoiled it too badly there, so definitely track down a copy!
There’s a fine line between a trope and a stereotype, though, and the exaggerated Jewish-American accent used for the Dooplers, combined with their social awkwardness and ease of embarrassment, felt like it strayed very close at times. It was a little uncomfortable for that reason, kind of like watching the depiction of recurring Family Guy character Mort Goldman (and other Jewish-American stereotypes that that series seems to love for some reason). Maybe you can accuse me of being overly-sensitive, saying it was just a joke, etc. But it wasn’t a comfortable portrayal for me, it was one which leaned into stereotyping in a way that Star Trek should really be above.
The Dooplers themselves were one-dimensional. There isn’t much more to say; complaints of falling into stereotyping aside, the Doopler ambassador was a character who basically had one trait: he was prone to embarrassment. That embarrassment was something Captain Freeman and her senior staff had been trying to avoid for the entire mission – until an ill-timed rant about how awkward the mission was led to the duplication process starting anyway. The whole “he was behind you and overheard you say things about him” trope was put to good use here!
Captain Freeman ultimately had the same motivation as Ensign Mariner in this episode, but mother and daughter approached their shared goal in fundamentally different ways. They also both experienced rejection, yet at the end found comfort in spending time together. Though the Mariner-Freeman family aspect wasn’t the main focus of the story, this smaller element didn’t pass by unnoticed. We got to see Mariner and Freeman wanting the same thing – to attend the fancy Starfleet party – and we got to see them go about it in very different ways, highlighting that they have both similarities as mother and daughter, but still some pretty significant differences.
The main thrust of the story focused on Mariner and Boimler, and this was their first major outing as a duo since the season began. Again, as with the Rutherford and Tendi story, I might’ve moved this episode to an earlier point in the season, as some of their emotional moments felt like they could’ve arisen upon Boimler’s return to the ship – not several weeks later. But despite that, we got a story that was both funny and emotional.
After arriving on the starbase, Mariner decides that they need to speak to a shady character to get information about the fancy Starfleet party – as its location was supposedly a secret. The payoff to this joke, of course, was that the party was being held in what seemed to be the main ballroom on the station, and all the running away from security was ultimately unnecessary! This aspect of the story was the comedic part, as Mariner and Boimler raced away in a dune buggy/kart to escape security.
The sequence that took Mariner and Boimler in their kart through a variety of different shops and locations on the station was pretty funny, and reminded me of something you might see in a romantic comedy film – and I mean that in a good way! The sense that they were on an out-of-control ride, complete with some pretty slapstick humour, was a much-needed lighthearted sequence in an episode that was quite heavy on emotion later on. The parade of different shops was also reminiscent of the promenade, which was a major location in Deep Space Nine.
After taking his promotion and transferring to the USS Titan in the Season 1 finale, one thing we saw was that Boimler was ignoring messages from Mariner. Though he almost certainly was doing so due to his anxiety (answering the phone can be very difficult for people with anxieties, especially if the expected conversation is something negative), she felt abandoned by him. Just last week we learned that Mariner has experienced this rejection and abandonment before – in that case, her defence mechanism became telling elaborate stories about herself and crafting rumours that would lead to a sense of dark mystery. She chooses to avoid many people because of her fear of being rejected as they move on and move up the career ladder. She’d considered Boimler to be different, so his “betrayal” hit her very hard.
Finally getting all of these emotions out and laying them on the table was cathartic. Not only that, but it continued Mariner’s wonderful character arc going back to Season 1, as her characterisation as someone who is lonely and struggles to maintain friendships despite her “cool” persona was again laid bare. The only part I found a tad unbelievable was Boimler’s response, telling Mariner that he “didn’t know [she] had emotions.” He’d been her friend long enough to know that she can be emotional, and just last week he saw firsthand how much his friendship meant to her when she was so dejected that he’d believe the silly rumour she started. But that aside, this moment was beautiful and well-executed.
Boimler choosing to ditch the fancy party packed with Admirals and Captains to be with her was a wrench for him and a sacrifice, but it was one that worked perfectly for the story. Just like Mariner has grown over the past dozen episodes, so too has Boimler. Friendship matters to him, and Mariner matters to him in this moment – more so than just some fancy party. He could’ve schmoozed with senior officers and perhaps tried to score another promotion, but it seems that he was willing to give up on that – at least for now – to be with her. It was an incredibly sweet moment.
So I think that’s about all I have to say this time. Both main character pairs got cathartic, emotional stories that reinforced their friendships, and we even got a moment between Mariner and the Captain to round things off. For the first time in three weeks, Lower Decks managed to get the balance right in terms of the number of characters and stories it tried to include. Every character felt necessary to the episode’s plotlines, no story felt rushed, and the slower pace of the closing moments worked exceptionally well. There was still time for humour and to make jokes, but the success of An Embarrassment of Dooplers was its emotional edge.
It was sweet to see Mariner and Boimler enjoying one another’s company as friends, and likewise with Tendi and Rutherford. Each pair dealt with issues left over from Season 1 in a way that worked, and though I would argue the episode could’ve been bumped up the schedule so it came earlier in the season, overall I had a fun time this week. There were some neat references to past iterations of Star Trek, too – obviously the Kirk and Spock callback in the bar was cute, as well as something that firmly established the extent of Boimler and Mariner’s relationship. By comparing them to Kirk and Spock I’d argue the episode went out of its way to stamp out any ideas of a romantic bond between them, despite the semi-romantic nature of its storyline. There was also a callback to Okona – a character from The Next Generation who appears to have started a new career as a DJ. We’d heard a while back that Okona actor Billy Campbell was making a return to Star Trek – supposedly in Prodigy – but his voice wasn’t heard in this episode despite Okona’s appearance.
Overall, a great episode that was thoroughly enjoyable. An Embarrassment of Dooplers slowed down just long enough to allow its four main characters to shine. Oh, and hearing Dr T’Ana swear four times in a single sentence will never not be funny!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for The Original Series and The Next Generation.
Mugato, Gumato was a fun episode with some good jokes and perhaps more meta-humour than any other episode so far this season. It consisted of a main A-story and two much smaller B-plots, which in turn focused on Tendi, Dr T’Ana, and Captain Freeman. This week, however, the stars were Boimler and Rutherford, with Mariner playing a significant but smaller role.
Though we’ve seen them interact on a number of occasions already, it was a pleasant surprise how well the central Rutherford-Boimler pairing worked. Season 2 of Lower Decks has shaken things up from the usual first-season story pairings of putting Boimler with Mariner and Tendi with Rutherford, and the result overall has been that the four ensigns feel more like a group of friends who all like one another and work well together than ever before. There was less of a commentary on Rutherford and Boimler’s friendship than there had been with Mariner and Tendi in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris last week, but the duo arguably had a stronger foundation to build on as they’d been seen working together on several prior occasions. There’s also far less of a personality clash than with Tendi and Mariner!
I’m not much of a “shipper,” but is it too late to start shipping Boimler and Rutherford as a couple? Some of their scenes together in Mugato, Gumato were just too cute, and though Rutherford and Tendi also make a great pair, I felt there was real chemistry between the two – and between actors Eugene Cordero and Jack Quaid. Maybe that’s one I’ll just have to settle for fantasising about… but if you ask me, it could work exceptionally well!
The episode’s opening scene didn’t feel great at first; I didn’t really like seeing the ensigns fighting one another to the point of drawing blood. There was a “girl power” vibe to it as Mariner was able to easily defeat Rutherford and Boimler – despite the fact that we’d seen that Rutherford has great martial skills in Season 1’s Envoys, but perhaps we can overlook that little inconsistency! As the title sequence kicked in I felt that the anbo-jyutsu match was going to be a let-down, but it actually set up the main thrust of the episode’s story well, and on reflection it was a solid way to open the story. It established that Rutherford and Boimler have been on the receiving end of Mariner’s fighting skills, so when they were confronted with the notion that she might be a super-spy it didn’t come from nowhere. While I didn’t like it in the moment – though seeing Shaxs calmly sit down and wait his turn was funny – overall I have to give it credit for setting up the plot quite well.
I believe that Mugato, Gumato marks the first time that we’ve seen Denobulans outside of Star Trek: Enterprise – where main character Dr Phlox belonged to that race. It’s interesting to note that they seem to be Federation allies – or perhaps even Federation members – as of the late 24th Century, and perhaps that’s an indication that we might see more Denobulans in future. One of the anachronisms created by Enterprise being a prequel was that some races – like the Denobulans, but also including the Suliban and the Xindi – appear to have been known to the Federation in the mid-22nd Century but made no appearances in the 23rd or 24th Centuries. The question of why that might be (from an in-universe point of view, of course) is potentially interesting, and I wonder if we’ll see more from the Denobulans or other Enterprise races and factions in future.
The Denobulan couple were only on screen for a few seconds, but set up the main story. They encountered a mugato – an ape-like creature originally seen in The Original Series second season episode A Private Little War – and because the mugato are not native to that world the USS Cerritos was called in to investigate. This setup was neat, and combined elements from different eras of Star Trek, which was great to see.
The name of the mugato – or “mugatu,” as Captain Kirk repeatedly called it – has long been confused, and this episode’s title made note of that. “Gumato” was the name of the animal in the script for A Private Little War, but this was changed during filming. Officially the animal is called the mugato, but as noted it has been pronounced several different ways on screen. Boimler voicing aloud that this is “inconsistent” was just one of several meta-jokes he made this time, including using the title of The Next Generation first season episode The Last Outpost to refer to the band of Ferengi that the away team encountered.
The use of the Ferengi as this week’s antagonists worked surprisingly well. The Ferengi were originally created for The Next Generation with a view to having them fill a role vacated by the newly-friendly Klingons as a recurring antagonist for Picard and the crew, but their appearance in The Last Outpost – in which future Quark actor Armin Shimerman played one of the Ferengi leaders – didn’t work as well as any of the writers and producers had hoped. The Ferengi would return in this capacity in episodes like The Battle, but the general feeling was that they didn’t work as well as intended in the antagonist role, and were subsequently shaken up to be more money-oriented, capitalistic, and arguably comedic by the time of Deep Space Nine. Lower Decks, however, very deliberately chose to play up the early depictions of the Ferengi on this occasion – and I have to say that I feel it worked exceptionally well.
The Ferengi’s lightning-whip weapons made a return for the first time since Season 1 of The Next Generation, and while the special effects of 1980s live-action struggled to have them work as intended, in animation they actually come across as genuinely threatening weapons. The Ferengi’s motivation, while arguably basic, was very much in line with all of their prior depictions: their desire to capture and slaughter the mugato (or should that be mugatoes?) was entirely driven by a lust for gold-pressed latinum. Even the likes of Quark wouldn’t be above a scheme like this – though if this were a Deep Space Nine episode we’d have seen the Ferengi take on a more bumbling, slapstick look rather than the over-the-top villains ultimately portrayed!
There was also an ecological message buried in this side of the story, as the Ferengi’s treatment of the mugato was very much comparable to modern-day poachers hunting for rhino horn in Africa. At one point the Ferengi leader even made reference to mugato horn potentially being an aphrodisiac, which is one of the key factors encouraging real-world poaching. This was perhaps more of a minor point than it could’ve been; background to establish a related plot rather than being the driving force. But it came back into play at the story’s resolution, which was nice.
Speaking of which, unfortunately I felt that the way in which Boimler and Rutherford were able to convince the Ferengi to shut down their poaching operation in favour of a mugato conservation area was rushed. This is a consequence of the episode trying to jam three stories into its short runtime, and the result was that the resolution to the main story came and went in what felt like the blink of an eye. Nothing was wrong with the concept itself, and I like the idea of this eco-friendly solution, as well as Boimler and Rutherford using their brains and their mathematical and diplomatic skills rather than trying to attack the Ferengi head-on or use brute force. But it would’ve benefitted greatly from just an extra couple of minutes to play out.
If I had to choose one of the B-plots to cut it would’ve been the one involving Captain Freeman. Not for the first time this season Lower Decks has wanted to spend time with the captain and the bridge crew, but has simply lacked the runtime to successfully include everything needed to make much of their stories. Captain Freeman being the victim of a scammer was kind of funny – it definitely had its moments – but overall it feels more like a sub-plot that took away from the others without really giving much back. In an episode that already had Tendi and Dr T’Ana, Shaxs leading an away team, the Mariner super-spy story, Boimler’s team-up with Rutherford, and the Ferengi poaching mugato (or mugatoes?) there just wasn’t time for this bit with the Captain. It didn’t accomplish much of anything, and as much as I enjoy Captain Freeman as a character – and the performance by Dawnn Lewis – not for the first time in Season 2 I’m left feeling that perhaps Lower Decks needs to be a little less ambitious when it comes to the number of stories and the number of characters it tries to cram into a twenty-minute episode.
Though Ensign Mariner took a back seat for much of the story, her wonderful character arc was furthered in a big way by a significant moment in Mugato, Gumato. The revelation that she started a rumour about herself basically because she’s lonely and isn’t used to having friends really tugged at the heartstrings. As someone who’s also experienced loneliness and has few friends, I can empathise with Mariner. Likewise, Boimler and Rutherford’s willingness to believe the rumour because they’re not used to having a cool friend like Mariner is something that’s also very relatable.
What we seem to have learned here is that Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi may be the first real friends that Mariner has made in a long time. In Season 1 we saw that she’s drifted far apart from some of her Starfleet Academy friends – like Captain Ramsey – and it seems as though Mariner’s desire to avoid certain types of people has caused her to feel quite isolated and lonely at times. She felt genuinely hurt at the notion that Boimler and Rutherford would believe the rumour she started – and I have to credit both the animators and a beautifully emotional voice performance by Tawny Newsome here for bringing that across in a pitch-perfect manner. As I’ve said before, Mariner’s character arc across Season 1 was wonderful to watch, and this moment follows on from her team-up with Tendi to continue that arc through Season 2 as well.
Mariner set up Boimler and Rutherford for their big moment, saving the day by convincing the Ferengi to give up poaching. Though I felt this moment was rushed, as mentioned, the fact that Rutherford and Boimler came up with a solution on their terms was great to see. After a story that had been partly about fighting and that started with an intro where the duo had tried to go toe-to-toe with Mariner in the anbo-jyutsu ring, the ultimate resolution was peaceful. This kind of story tells us that there are different ways to win – and not all of them have to involve violence. It’s okay not to be the strongest, because everyone has their own skills. I like that kind of message.
The mugato (or mugatoes) themselves were portrayed in basically the same way as they had been in The Original Series. Lower Decks kept the same design, and while it perhaps played up some of their more monkey- or ape-like qualities, for the most part I think what we got was a portrayal of the critters that was very much in line with their first appearance. They were present to serve as the background for a character-centric story rather than being the focal point, so that makes sense.
The only story left to talk about is the B-plot which featured Tendi and Dr T’Ana. After her big outing last week it was fair enough for Tendi to drop back this time, but despite having a smaller story it was great to see that her characterisation is becoming more settled. This time we saw her go from being timid to assertive, not only with her colleagues and patients but also with Dr T’Ana herself. Though I don’t necessarily think we’re going to see her become the dominant force in her friend group any time soon, the lesson she learned this week about asserting herself may yet come into play in a future story.
Was it silly for Dr T’Ana to be so reluctant to have a basic medical scan? Absolutely. Do I care? Absolutely not, because it set up a truly hilarious sequence in which Dr T’Ana – already one of my favourite characters on the show – got to show off her most cat-like tendencies, which is a joke I swear I will never get tired of! Seeing her meowing and hissing as she ran through the Jeffries tubes was so funny, and poor Ensign Tendi struggled to keep up. Tendi’s broken arm was perhaps as close as Lower Decks has come to out-and-out goriness this season, but it worked well and allowed her to complete her mission. Tendi is nothing if not dedicated!
Dr T’Ana also seems to be on the verge of renewing her relationship with Shaxs following his unexpected return, and their dynamic actually works really well. As the two gruff, short-tempered characters on the Cerritos, they work so well together. I hope a future episode can pair them up for more than just a few moments at a time – even if they don’t progress their relationship in a romantic way, I think they’d play off one another exceptionally well in any story.
There were plenty of fun moments in Mugato, Gumato, and two out of three stories worked really well. Other smaller things I liked seeing were the bartender with a strong New England accent – he seemed like a character right out of a Stephen King novel! The character of Patingi seemed like a less competent Steve Irwin, and that was fun too. Tendi’s montage of scanning different characters was clever, and saw her use a wide range of skills, including on the holodeck. But what I’ll remember the episode for most of all is how it progressed Ensign Mariner’s characterisation in such a relatable and downright emotional way. That, to me, is the real success of this week’s outing.
So I think that’s about all I have to say about Mugato, Gumato. As we approach the halfway point, Lower Decks’ second season has delivered plenty of entertainment and enjoyment. There’s a lot to love about the series, and I hope that Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike are finding their way to Lower Decks by now. I’m certainly encouraging everyone I know to give it a try!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1 & 2. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
With only one real caveat, I had a good time with We’ll Always Have Tom Paris this week. The episode’s title was a play on We’ll Always Have Paris – a first season episode of The Next Generation, itself a quotation from the film Casablanca. There were three storylines this week, all of which worked pretty well.
Having mentioned a caveat, let’s get that out of the way first. Tom Paris’ role was very minor; I think he only had four or five lines. As happened with Q last season, I just felt that more could’ve been made of the return of a major character from Star Trek’s past. As it is, there was nothing “Tom Paris” about this character’s appearance. The story wouldn’t have been changed in the slightest had the character been named Dennis or Engelbert Humperdinck, and that kind of very minor cameo, in which a character takes on a role totally disconnected from anything they’ve done in the past, can feel a bit wasteful. If we compare Paris’ appearance to Riker’s in the previous episode, for example, there’s a huge difference in terms of what the characters brought to the story and how well their appearances landed. In addition I’d add that the design of Tom Paris likewise felt very generic, and it was only because of the voice that he was even recognisable.
It feels as though Paris had been jammed into an unrelated script simply to give the episode a punny title, and I guess after his return was teased in the second trailer earlier in the year, I’d been hoping for something more. Small cameo appearances can work, and Lower Decks has succeeded in the past by giving folks from Star Trek’s past a mere line or two. But because Tom Paris didn’t seem to be doing anything we’d associate with his character (touring the bridge and being a motivating voice in Boimler’s imagination) it just felt a bit too bland. All in all, this cameo turned out to be a bit of a non-event.
The rest of the episode was pretty good, though, and the Tom Paris stuff did serve as the foundation for an interesting Boimler story, so it wasn’t a total misfire!
As the characters themselves noted in one particularly meta scene, we haven’t really had Mariner and Tendi teamed up for an adventure of their own before. They did have some time together in last season’s Crisis Point, but there was a lot going on in that particular episode so they weren’t really the focus. It was neat to see them paired up on this occasion, and it was particularly interesting to see them realise how little they really knew about one another despite having served together for a year.
This episode is perhaps my favourite Tendi story so far. As I’ve mentioned more than once, Tendi felt rudderless as a character across the first season, and unlike the other three main characters never really found a niche on the series. We’ll Always Have Tom Paris has done more to solidify her character than all of her other appearances to date, and we’ve come away from the episode knowing more about her as an individual. There were elements of her past portrayals: her desire to be liked – as she went along with Mariner’s “let’s go and have fun” agenda – that we’d seen in Moist Vessel, her difficult relationship with her Orion heritage that we’d seen in Crisis Point, and her role as an assistant in Sickbay that we’d seen best in Much Ado About Boimler. All of those elements have now come together to give us a solid idea of who Tendi is, and I think we’re now in a place where we can say that her character feels settled.
Lower Decks has previously paired up Boimler with Mariner and Rutherford with Tendi on several occasions, as well as putting Boimler with Tendi for one story and giving Mariner a handful of moments with Rutherford. It would be great to continue this theme of different character pairings, and now that we’ve had a “girls trip” perhaps the next thing to do is to put Boimler and Rutherford together!
We’ve all been in Tendi’s shoes at one point or another: having broken something and being desperate to fix it. The feeling of having messed something up, regret mixed with anxiety about what might happen, is something very relatable. As Tendi and Mariner broke Dr T’Ana’s family heirloom, I think it gave their storyline a youthful edge as well. Though it could equally be seen as a work-related screw-up, I think most of us can vividly remember being a child and breaking or damaging something and not wanting the grown-ups to find out!
That sense of desperately trying to fix something or cover it up escalated as Mariner and Tendi visited a few different locations during their “girls’ trip.” Qualor II had been mentioned in The Next Generation, but a closer look at its surface in this episode gave the world a distinct vibe of Freecloud – the planet Picard took his new crew to in search of Bruce Maddox in Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. Their next destination, Starbase Earhart, likewise had a Picard connection, as it was the site of his first assignment after graduating from Starfleet Academy. Finally, they visited an Orion pirate den that was reminiscent of an Orion-run scrapyard seen in Discovery Season 3 just last year.
Each of these locations was distinctive, and it’s great that animation allows us to see such a variety of different worlds and locales in the course of a single episode. This is one advantage that animation can have over live-action! Each location also served a purpose for the duo, as they got progressively more desperate to fix Dr T’Ana’s heirloom.
There was a danger that this storyline would’ve come across making Mariner out to be “the bad guy” again, since it was a direct result of her nosiness and pressuring Tendi to open the box that the heirloom got damaged in the first place. But I think the rest of the story, and Mariner’s willingness to help put things right, made up for that. I didn’t come away from the episode feeling that Mariner had been horrible to Tendi; curiosity is normal, after all.
The way the story was ultimately resolved was fun, too. Firstly, the shuttle bouncing off the Cerritos’ shields, and the damage report being “none” was one of the funniest moments in the season so far. Mariner’s line about how “there was a bee!” was also incredibly funny, as was Dr T’Ana tending to Tendi’s scraped knee. The whole sequence was hilarious. But beyond that, Dr T’Ana not caring at all about the heirloom and just wanting to play in the box was amazingly funny – as anyone who has a pet cat can attest!
Lower Decks has gone out of its way on several occasions to play up the cat-like tendencies of Dr T’Ana, and every time I find myself laughing out loud. As I’ve said before, Dr T’Ana is one of my favourite secondary characters on the show, and moments like this are exactly why. She’s proven to be an excellent comedic character.
Mariner and Tendi learned a lot about each other over the course of their adventure, including challenging some of their preconceptions about one another. Though I never got the sense that they weren’t on friendly terms, their relationship should be stronger than ever from this point onwards, and any future Mariner-Tendi story can use this episode as a foundation to build upon. All of that is positive for the series.
Now we come to the biggest surprise of the episode – and of the season so far – the return of Shaxs! The Bajoran security chief’s death was a poignant moment in the Season 1 finale, as he was killed in action saving Rutherford’s life. As a moment of pure shock value, seeing him back aboard the Cerritos was a complete success, and I wonder if we’ll get to learn more about his journey back from the grave. Whatever it was certainly seemed to have an effect on Rutherford!
We got to see Rutherford out of his comfort zone this week, and it was great to see him outside his usual role as he chased down Shaxs and tried to figure out what might’ve happened. As I said last time, Rutherford’s memory loss storyline that had been set up in the Season 1 finale ended up going nowhere – and this week he even said that he had some of his memories back (somehow) – so giving him a storyline involving the return of Shaxs set him up to do something a little different.
Though we didn’t spend a great deal of time with him last year, Shaxs was a fun character and I was sad when he lost his life. His return is certainly welcome, but I hope that Lower Decks plans to do more with the “back from the dead” storyline than just explaining something to Rutherford off screen. Mariner and others mentioned a number of ways Shaxs could have returned, and in Rutherford’s mind we saw a few more – all of which referenced events in past iterations of Star Trek. But as Trekkies, I think we have a natural curiosity about these things. All we really need is some kind of technobabble explanation and that would suffice – so I hope we get it before the season ends!
Shaxs’ relationship with Rutherford is sweet, and the almost fatherly way he talks to his “baby bear” is something that the show can absolutely do more with. We haven’t really seen Shaxs interact with the other three ensigns yet, but Rutherford spent a short amount of time on his security team early in Season 1, and ever since they’ve been on good terms. It would also be great to see more of the teased relationship between Shaxs and Dr T’Ana – maybe that’s something that’ll come in a future episode too!
At first I thought that Boimler’s storyline – in which the Cerritos’ computer, replicator, and doors didn’t recognise him – was going to connect in some way to last week’s “transporter clone” storyline. After all, it wasn’t 100% clear which was the original Boimler and which was the clone! That didn’t happen, and by the end of the episode he’d got his security clearance set up and was back to normal again.
Seeing him crawling through the Jeffries tubes was neat, but as mentioned the stuff with Tom Paris – which connected to Boimler’s story – felt like a bit of a dud. It was all in-character for Boimler, though, whose anxieties and neuroses have been well-established in previous episodes and stories.
After being unsure of Boimler’s ultimate fate following his promotion and transfer, it was nice to see him back aboard the Cerritos with his friends – even if he didn’t get much of an opportunity to interact with them this time. I’m sure we’ll get more of that in future, though.
So I think that’s about all I have to say on this occasion. This was the first truly outstanding Tendi episode; the first in which she was the real star. Mariner played a great supporting role, and we got to see their friendship really come to the fore. Tendi’s characterisation feels a lot more settled than it had in the past, which is great.
The return of Shaxs was unexpected, but it was accompanied by about a dozen callbacks to similar “back from the dead” storylines in past iterations of Star Trek, which was fun. I’m glad to have Shaxs back – and I wonder if his return is going to either have a lasting impact on Rutherford or perhaps become the subject of a new storyline later in the season. Maybe Shaxs being killed off every few episodes then returning without explanation will become a running joke!
In an episode with his name literally in the title, I felt that Tom Paris’ role wasn’t all it could’ve been. Further, the design of his animated character was incredibly bland; a rare miss in Lower Decks’ usually-good animated style. He did play a role in Boimler’s story, but as cameo appearances go his certainly wasn’t one of the best.
Despite that, I had fun this week. There were plenty of jokes and laugh-out-loud moments, and it was nice to see the four main characters reunited at last. In fact, this might’ve been the funniest episode of the season so far.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Kayshon, His Eyes Open was a great episode. It’s only the second episode of the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to look back in a few weeks and say it was the best – or one of the best – offerings in all of Season 2. Both of its storylines worked exceptionally well, even though they were wholly separate. There were plenty of jokes, humorous situations, and comic moments, there was great interplay between different characters, including some new characters we didn’t know, and the episode resolved the Boimler situation in a way that was completely unexpected.
The episode opened with a scene that was simultaneously funny and interesting – and which set up the character conflict between Mariner and Jet. Though the comic situation with Mariner and Jet turning up the sonic shower was funny, it was also interesting to see the inside of a sonic shower. This is a technology that has been mentioned on dozens of occasions in Star Trek – going all the way back as far as The Motion Picture – but this is perhaps our best look at a sonic shower so far. It was also our first look at communal sonic showers (at least as far as I can recall) and it was interesting to note that junior officers and “lower deckers” are expected to use these kinds of facilities. This communal shower is something we would almost certainly find aboard ships like the USS Defiant – though past iterations of the franchise seem to imply that ships like the Enterprise-D and USS Voyager have individual sonic showers in their crew quarters. I couldn’t tell if Mariner and Jet were turning up the heat or the frequency of the sonic waves, though!
I neglected to mention this last time, but there has been a significant change to the show’s title sequence. The battle that the USS Cerritos retreats from now features Klingon and Pakled ships alongside Borg and Romulans. It isn’t clear who’s fighting who – the Pakleds and the Romulans seem to be firing at each other, with the Borg firing at everyone! A very confused battle, that’s for sure. The Pakled ships use the same design as the craft the Cerritos and Titan battled in the Season 1 finale.
After the title sequence we jump into the main thrust of the plot featuring Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi. On this side of the story there was only one part that I felt was a bit of a flop: Captain Freeman’s command evaluation. It didn’t really do anything for her character, and seemed to be present as a minor storyline only to provide an excuse for Freeman not checking in with the away team. However, I feel that the episode could’ve proceeded just fine without this unnecessary explanation, and reallocating the minute or two this took up to either the Boimler or Mariner-led stories would’ve been fine too. It’s nice to spend time with the senior staff as well as the ensigns, but on this occasion it was such a minor point that it could’ve been skipped and the episode would’ve been no worse for it.
The Cerritos being assigned to catalogue a collection of artefacts was a fantastic way for the episode to drop in a huge number of references to past iterations of Star Trek. Most of these played no role whatsoever in the story, but it was so much fun to try to spot all of the things in this collection. There were some contemporary references too – a vehicle that resembled the Curiosity or Perseverance rovers currently on Mars, as well as what looked like a fidget spinner (remember those?)
The titular Kayshon is, as the trailers had already established, a Tamarian. First encountered in The Next Generation Season 5 episode Darmok, the Tamarians were a race that the Federation had previously found it difficult to communicate with due to their peculiar language. Tamarians spoke entirely through metaphors, and without crucial context it was impossible for the universal translator to communicate meaning – even though it could translate many words in a literal sense. However, it seems that by the early 2380s (when Lower Decks is set) that limitation has been largely overcome!
One great thing about Lower Decks is how the show looks at the aftermath of some past Star Trek stories. In Season 1 we had the return of Landru, as the crew of the Cerritos returned to Beta III decades after Captain Kirk’s mission there. In this case, we get a much more positive portrayal of Starfleet and their actions. In the aftermath of the events depicted in Darmok, the Federation and the Tamarians evidently found ways to work together to overcome the language barrier, allowing at least one Tamarian to serve in Starfleet.
Kayshon himself didn’t get a lot of screen time, as he was turned into a puppet by the collector’s automated defence system. This was pretty random, but it was necessary to keep him out of the way in order for the Mariner-versus-Jet storyline to play out. I’m not sure if Kayshon is set to be a recurring character or not, but if so it would be nice to learn more about the Tamarians.
I won’t go over every item I spotted in the collection, but there were definitely some fun ones. There were multiple references to The Next Generation in particular, with items from episodes like The Pegasus, The Battle, and The Royale. Khan’s amulet/pendant was also displayed prominently, as were crates of Château Picard wine – a reference to the Picard family vineyard most recently seen in Star Trek: Picard.
Kahless’ “fornication helmet” was one of the most random, funny items in the whole collection, and became a minor plot point later in the episode. Dissecting a joke ruins it, of course, but this one is multi-layered for Trekkies and it works so well. Past iterations of the franchise have established that Klingon “love-making” is particularly aggressive and physically taxing, so the idea that some ancient Klingons might’ve worn helmets doesn’t come from nowhere. Gosh this is awkward to write about – I’m asexual, so any discussion of such topics is difficult!
The main thrust of the plot on this side of the episode was Mariner and Jet’s inability to work together. Both wanted to take the lead and assume command after Kayshon became incapacitated, but they have opposite styles of leadership that simply do not gel. Both characters want to be assertive, yet both realise that in doing so – and in competing with one another – they made mistakes that led to the situation becoming worse.
Some of this was a little on-the-nose; we didn’t need to hear the two characters say everything out loud to understand what was going on. But in a twenty-minute animated episode that was pressed for time, perhaps such things are to be expected! Regardless, none of the exposition from Jet or Mariner as they called each other out, and came to realise their mistakes, detracted from the story. It was still a solid character piece for them both.
Mariner in particular is our protagonist and our heroine, so naturally we’re more invested in her than we are in Jet. Mariner’s lines at this point in the story, recognising her own mistakes and perhaps more importantly, recognising why she had made those mistakes, feels right in line with her growth across Season 1. I’ve said on more than one occasion that Mariner’s Season 1 character arc has been one of the best things about Lower Decks, and I stand by that. The way she was able to recognise her own error here, and then throw the decision-making to Rutherford and Tendi, was great to see. Mariner appears to have solidified the better parts of that character arc from last time, and any fears I might’ve had of a regression or resetting of her character have proven to be unfounded.
Tendi and Rutherford are able to put their heads together and figure out an escape plan that neither Mariner nor Jet were able to, and while the situation aboard the collector’s ship was left unresolved (they abandoned ship with the defence system still online) the character story between Jet and Mariner worked exceptionally well.
Before we get into Boimler’s story I want to just look briefly at Rutherford and Tendi. Last time, their B-plot was very rushed and unfortunately didn’t work all that well. This time they were secondary players in a Mariner-centric story, which is fine. But I stand by what I said recently – Rutherford’s implant/memory loss storyline has been a waste of a good concept.
For whatever reason, Lower Decks appears to have shelved Rutherford’s memory loss, which was one of the final reveals at the end of Season 1. By the end of the last episode he was basically back to normal, his friendships with Mariner and Tendi having been re-established off-screen. There was an opportunity to play the memory loss thing straight, or to take a comedic look at it. There was also an opportunity to change up Rutherford altogether, perhaps by giving him different cybernetic implants that could do different things – or at least look a little different. As it is, the memory loss story that was set up at the end of Season 1 just didn’t go anywhere. It may yet play a role in a future episode, but if so it will be limited in scope to a single story rather than being a part of Rutherford’s character across the season. I’m left wondering why Lower Decks bothered to tee up something and then not follow it through.
Aboard the USS Titan, Boimler is doing his best. We saw him seemingly struggling in the trailers for Season 2, as well as at the tail end of last episode, but despite the way it may have looked, he does seem to be settling in as well as someone with his anxieties and neuroses possibly could. There has always been a little of Reg Barclay in the way Boimler is portrayed, and we definitely saw elements of that with him on this occasion, particularly the oblivious way he wrote down everything Riker was saying in the conference room.
Speaking of Riker, it was great to welcome Jonathan Frakes back to the role once more. We’d known he was coming back, of course, but having an entire Titan-focused storyline was great. It was a bit of a shame not to have Troi alongside him, but perhaps there wouldn’t have been enough time to give both of them enough to do to make it worthwhile.
The three members of the Titan’s senior staff that Boimler teamed up with for the away mission felt pretty bland at first, but when they were cornered by the Pakleds in the mine they came into their own. Boimler stood up for himself, telling them that he didn’t join Starfleet to fight and get killed, and seeing him say that they each shared their own reasons for joining up as well. Though we’re unlikely to see any of these characters again, I liked that this moment gave each of them a bit more personality – as well as showing off Boimler’s love of Starfleet once again.
The episode didn’t entirely conclude the Pakled threat, though. I wonder if we’ll find out more about their mysterious benefactor, the one Riker believed is orchestrating their attacks on Federation targets. This could be something that runs in the background all season, or it could be explored in-depth in another episode. In a way I’d like to see the Pakled situation resolved, though in light of Boimler’s hilarious line at the end of the episode about “serialised” stories and characters – a reference to the way other modern Star Trek series tell their stories – perhaps it won’t happen!
The away mission to the mine was a fun jaunt, and I think we really got to see Boimler at his best. He can be timid and anxious much of the time, but when pushed into a corner Boimler is willing to stand up for himself and for Starfleet, and we saw him do so here. Not only that, but his in-depth knowledge of past Starfleet missions allowed him to step up and save the away team.
One of the most interesting things going into Season 2 was the question of Boimler’s status on the Titan. I had a few theories about how and why he might get bumped back to the Cerritos, but I couldn’t have possibly predicted the direction Lower Decks would go in this regard! The Next Generation Season 6 episode Second Chances introduced Thomas Riker – a transporter-created clone of William Riker. Thomas would later be captured by the Cardassians after defecting to the Maquis, and his fate after that is unknown. To recreate that storyline for Boimler was so unexpected, but it worked wonderfully.
We can certainly nitpick it and argue that demoting one of the Boimlers after he’d saved the lives of the away team is unfair, but this was Lower Decks pushing him back to the Cerritos to allow the rest of the season to pan out, so I think we can overlook that. The transporter duplicate situation was such a random occurrence, yet it was one which harkened back to Star Trek’s past – and I love it. It worked brilliantly, being utterly unpredictable and allowing Boimler to return to the Cerritos with his head held high. He didn’t fail, he wasn’t booted off the ship, and he didn’t need to ask for a demotion after feeling overwhelmed. Circumstances simply got in the way, and I think for Boimler as a character, and for his self-esteem in particular, those are good things.
The second Boimler, the one who remained aboard the Titan, gave me “evil twin” vibes. He certainly seems a lot more confident and outgoing than “our” Boimler, and I can’t help but wonder if Lower Decks is setting up a future villain. Will a future episode revolve around a Boimler-versus-Boimler battle? We’ll have to wait and see!
Speaking of creating villains, Jet seemed very angry at being spurned by Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford at the episode’s end. There was a moment where his face was in the centre of the frame as he walked away where I was thinking that we’d just witnessed the creation of another villain. I won’t be surprised to see him come back in a much more antagonistic role later in the season, so watch this space.
So that was Kayshon, His Eyes Open. Definitely the high point of the season so far, and one of the best episodes that the series has yet produced. There were a lot of references to Star Trek’s past, several of which played significant roles in the story. The two principle characters featured – Mariner and Boimler – stayed true to their growth and arcs from Season 1, making them both feel like fully-rounded protagonists.
The animation, as always, was fantastic. Lower Decks has a great visual style, and seeing the different colour palettes used for the Cerritos and Titan makes for a wonderful contrast between different 24th Century aesthetics. The Cerritos is very much in the style of the Enterprise-D, whereas the Titan has a distinctive Enterprise-E/Sovereign class feel throughout. The contrast works incredibly well, and having two stories set on the two different ships really played this up on this occasion.
Several of the secondary or guest characters worked really well this week too. Obviously Jet played off exceptionally against Mariner, but also we had Boimler’s away team colleagues who, despite seeming pretty one-dimensional at first, soon came into their own.
Overall, I had a great time with this week’s episode. It’s set a high bar for the rest of Season 2, and I hope that the series can continue to rise to the occasion!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2,
Here we go again! After more than seven months with no new Star Trek, Lower Decks has returned to brighten our days once more!
Despite problems caused by the lack of an international broadcast limiting fans’ access to the show, the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks was outstanding. The series broke new ground for the Star Trek franchise, being its first foray into the realm of animated comedy, yet at the same time felt familiar. Many of the jokes relied on references to past iterations of Star Trek, and as a whole Season 1 of Lower Decks felt like a love letter to the franchise and its fans.
Star Trek: Lower Decks has found an international home on Amazon Prime Video, and beginning with Season 2 fans all over the world are able to watch together, which is great news. I hadn’t realised until recently how much I’d missed my weekly appointment with Lower Decks, and it was wonderful to be able to step back into its fun take on Star Trek.
Having been excited to see trailers and teasers for the new season earlier in the year, as Strange Energies approached I felt that the marketing department at ViacomCBS went overboard with showing us clips from the episode. I wanted to avoid the dreaded “Simpsons Movie phenomenon” – where a production gives away all of its good jokes and clever moments in marketing material ahead of time – so in the final few days leading up to the episode’s arrival I actually tuned out of all of these clips. I wanted to go into Strange Energies in as unspoiled a manner as possible.
The episode was solid, but perhaps not the best Lower Decks has had to offer. There were some clever jokes, fun references, and an A- and B-plot just like most of Season 1. The A-plot looked at the relationship between Mariner and Captain Freeman as they dealt with the titular strange energies that effected Commander Ransom. The B-plot focused on Tendi and Rutherford’s relationship in the wake of his memory loss at the end of Season 1.
Both of these storylines had some great elements and some that weren’t so good. When it came to Tendi’s desire to keep Rutherford as her friend, the whole thing just felt rushed. Within seconds of the two characters appearing on screen, Tendi had jumped down the rabbit hole of obscure technobabble medical conditions, and their story then raced through several sequences before coming to an obvious conclusion. The only time either character had a second to breathe was in the episode’s final moments.
Tendi has been a character that I felt failed to really find a niche in Season 1, despite Lower Decks putting her in several different situations. The one constant in her characterisation had been her friendship with Rutherford, so this storyline did have a solid foundation to build on. Perhaps if more time had been dedicated to it it could’ve worked better; such is the peril of making an animated series with episodes that barely reach the twenty-minute mark.
As for Rutherford, though the memory loss was mentioned, it really served as little more than background for the unfolding story. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Rutherford coming to terms with his lost memories and re-forging the friendships he had in Season 1, not just with Tendi but also with Mariner, Boimler, and characters like Billups in Engineering. This story with Tendi worrying about the future of their friendship could still have worked in that context, but could’ve perhaps come in episode 2 or 3 of the season, after we’d seen a little more of Rutherford rebuilding after losing all of those memories. In that sense, one of the last big moments in the Season 1 finale felt like it was underused at the beginning of Season 2. There’s still scope for some Rutherford memory loss moments, I suppose, but they’ll come after this story has already effectively reset him to the way he was last year.
When the episode’s A-plot focused on the relationships between Mariner, Freeman, and Ransom I was concerned that we were going to see Mariner undo all of the growth and development that made her arc in Season 1 so powerful and interesting to watch. I was glad that it didn’t happen; the story built on that character arc and took the characters to different places without trying to undo what had come before.
It makes sense for characters as different as Freeman and Mariner to find it difficult to work together at times. And it makes sense for Ransom, as the ship’s first officer, to see Mariner’s newfound status and special treatment as an issue, so all of the building blocks that went into this side of the story worked as intended. Just as it took an extreme and unusual event in the Season 1 finale for Mariner and Freeman to overcome those differences and work together, it took another such event this time for them to realise that they didn’t enjoy their new dynamic as much as they pretended to. There’s almost a mirror feel to these characters’ stories in this episode and the Season 1 finale from that point of view; they form a duology.
Once a secret is revealed, though, there’s no way to cover it up again. And the show realised this; it isn’t possible to reset Mariner to the insubordinate angsty teenager that she was at the beginning of Season 1 because the nature of her relationship to Captain Freeman is now a known quantity, and we’ve already seen her growth in that regard. So Lower Decks charted a new path for Mariner, one which will hopefully allow her to do things on her own, keep some of her rebelliousness, but at the same time not completely regress or revert back to the way she was and undo that wonderful Season 1 character arc.
Mariner undergoing a character regression was one of my fears for Season 2, and I’m glad that – so far, at least – Lower Decks has managed to avoid that temptation. A show can still be episodic if it has character arcs and genuine character growth, and what I’m hoping Season 2 will deliver, at least in regards to Mariner, is the best of both worlds from that point of view.
It was an interesting choice to begin Season 2 with an episode that essentially sidelined Boimler. He got a few seconds of screen time right at the very end, but that was all. After all of the speculation about a possible demotion or a return to the Cerritos, for it not to have happened in the first episode was a bold decision – one which worked well.
Had Boimler been included in Strange Energies in any meaningful way (such as by returning to the Cerritos), realistically one of the other storylines would have had to be cut entirely in order to make his promotion-demotion story work. As it is there’s already a concern that undoing Boimler’s promotion so soon after granting it could be a problem, so keeping him out of the first episode and just teasing that things aren’t going well for him on the Titan was clever – it seems like it’s setting up a pathway for him to perhaps lose or voluntarily give up that role in a future episode.
Though I do have some theories that I posited before the season kicked off, I’m still not sure how Lower Decks will square that circle. Since we’ve been talking about Mariner and her Season 1 character arc, I want to repeat that I hope Mariner doesn’t intentionally sabotage Boimler’s new role and promotion. She seemed mad at him in the opening act of Strange Energies, but also said she couldn’t really blame him for leaving as the episode reached its conclusion. So there’s hope, from my perspective, that whatever reunites Boimler with the rest of the group won’t be all down to Mariner!
I’m curious to see if we’ll get a full Boimler episode next week – or at any point this season – showing him under Riker’s command aboard the Titan. If so, perhaps the conflict the Titan was engaged in with the Pakleds at the end of Strange Energies may have set that up. It was great to have Riker back, though, even just for a brief moment.
Ransom becoming a god-like entity was perhaps the weakest part of the episode, even though it served as the catalyst for a solid Mariner-Freeman storyline and managed to include some decent and clever jokes. Perhaps it felt too over-the-top, as if Lower Decks had turned the silliness up to 11 mere moments after the season debuted. Or perhaps there was just something about the way Ransom turned 180° from his usual laid-back self into a ship-eating monster that just felt forced or didn’t stick the landing.
Plus the whole “kicking him in the balls” ending was pretty silly and childish, even by Lower Decks’ standards. I usually enjoy even the lowest-brow humour that the show has to offer (the line “he’s got wood” was one of the funniest for me in all of Season 1, for example) but something about this being the ultimate resolution to Ransom’s newfound godhood just seemed… cheap? It was definitely exceptionally silly.
It was funny to see how casually Mariner, Dr T’Ana, and others treated what was happening to Ransom, as if these “strange energies” are something everyone in Starfleet has encountered or heard of at some point. And the callback to Where No Man Has Gone Before – Star Trek’s second pilot – was definitely appreciated, as was the way Dr T’Ana became convinced that squishing Ransom with a boulder was the only solution to the problem. Lower Decks has been packed full of these references and callbacks since it kicked off last year, and I was glad to see more of the same this time around.
The Cerritos is continuing its mission of second contact, and this week we met a new race – the Apergosians. Their design was okay, but nothing groundbreaking – though they really just served a role in the story instead of supposedly becoming a race we’re going to spend a lot of time with, so I guess that’s okay. Not every alien has to be unique and distinctive! Their leader, who was pretty much the only Apergosian to get a speaking role, was very picky and almost neurotic, and I wondered if Lower Decks was going to do some kind of story about autism or Asperger’s syndrome – perhaps the name of the alien race also contributed to that. As it happened the story went in another direction, which was probably for the best.
Dr T’Ana was great comic relief in Strange Energies, and she’s one of my favourite secondary characters on the show. The moment where Ransom used his new powers to turn her hypospray into an ice cream cone was already hilarious, but then the fact that she just shrugged and started eating it almost made me spit out my drink. I had to pause the episode and recover my composure! Her boulder obsession was also pretty funny; having become attached to the idea that this was the only way, she just went off in search of a boulder disregarding what Mariner and Freeman did. And seeing her driving a forklift was funny too.
So I think that’s about all I have to say about Strange Energies. It wasn’t the best Lower Decks has had to offer, dragged down a little by the Ransom storyline. Its B-plot also didn’t really accomplish very much and felt rushed. But there were some funny moments, good jokes, and satisfying interplay between two pairs of characters. The fact that Strange Energies has started to chart a path for Mariner that doesn’t revert her to her early Season 1 portrayal while still keeping her relationship with the captain and chain of command strained will hopefully lay the groundwork for more fun antics as the season rolls on.
A solid if unspectacular start to Season 2, then. All things considered I’m satisfied with that!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – 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 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