Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, Generations, The Next Generation, and Picard Season 1.
Lower Decks got off to a weaker start than I’d have liked in Season 3, with a couple of episodes that didn’t really manage to hit the high notes that the series has demonstrated that it’s capable of reaching. For me at least, Mining the Mind’s Mines was somewhat of a return to form; an episode that managed to be more enjoyable and much closer to some of the better offerings from Seasons 1 and 2. It wasn’t perfect, and I still find myself judging the Lower Decks by the standards of the absolutely phenomenal Season 2 finale. We aren’t quite there yet, but Mining the Mind’s Mines was definitely a big step in the right direction after an underwhelming start to the new season.
For the first time this season, all four of our main ensigns felt like they got a decent amount to do. Although Tendi was largely off to one side this week, her B-plot still felt well-developed and was given enough time to shine. Lower Decks doesn’t always have time to include everybody, but Mining the Mind’s Mines is a great example of how there’s room to give all of the main characters something to do – even if some stories are bigger than others!
There are two genuinely interesting concepts in Mining the Mind’s Mines, one of which Star Trek as a whole hasn’t dedicated much time to in the past. Firstly, we have the idea of Starfleet officers acquiring reputations or even celebrity status. This is something that Mining the Mind’s Mines looked at through the lens of the ensigns from the USS Carlsbad, and how they came to view the Cerritos as a kind of “Cali-class legend.”
We’ve seen in Generations how the Federation’s media crowded around the retired Captain Kirk, and in Season 1 of Picard how the retired Admiral was interviewed about his role in the Romulan rescue effort, and these scenes certainly hint at the fact that some Starfleet officers end up as household names or at least names that are known and respected within Starfleet.
Within Lower Decks itself, Boimler has often taken on the role of the over-zealous fan, showing how some Starfleet officers (and others) go on to become famous, at least within the ranks! Boimler’s fawning over characters like Will Riker and Tom Paris serves as both a gentle poking of fun at Trekkies and, from an in-universe perspective, as an example of the fame and reverence that some Starfleet officers garner as they go on adventure after adventure.
As someone who’s fascinated with the world-building side of Star Trek, things like this go a long way to making the Federation and the Star Trek galaxy feel real and lived-in. It makes sense that some of the monumental events that we’ve seen on screen would be massive news stories within the Federation, and the names of those involved would become well-known. As a real-world analogy, how many astronauts, explorers, or even soldiers and military officers could you name off the top of your head? Fame (and infamy) come to people in all walks of life, and given the incredible escapades we often see our favourite characters taking part in, it seems perfectly reasonable to think that at least some Starfleet officers would acquire reputations – as would certain vessels and postings!
The second point that I found interesting was the way that the episode examined the working relationship between Starfleet and the civilian scientists on Jengus IV. Set aside, for the moment, the conclusion to that particular storyline; I just find it really interesting how there can be a real disconnect between Starfleet and some of these groups of non-aligned scientists.
Again, this is something that makes the Federation feel real and alive in a way that many fictional worlds just don’t. Far from being a flat, one-dimensional plane in which everyone works to the same goals, here we have an example of how factions within the Federation find themselves at loggerheads, competing with one another. Starfleet, as the Federation’s exploration and military arm, gets resources and attention that some civilian groups clearly envy. Even within Star Trek’s optimistic, post-scarcity future, these kinds of disagreements are bound to exist!
In that sense, Mining the Mind’s Mines picked up a story thread from a long way back in Star Trek’s past. One of the most prominent examples of this “scientists versus Starfleet” divide came in The Wrath of Khan, with Dr Carol Marcus and Dr David Marcus and their research on Project Genesis drawing attention from Starfleet – and later, of course, from Khan!
Psychic mines were a very interesting inclusion in Mining the Mind’s Mines. The way they came across on screen was largely played for comedic effect, but at the same time they felt threatening and dangerous. I’d argue that psychic mines aren’t something you’d expect to find in any other sci-fi franchise; they have an “old school Star Trek” feel to them, as if they might’ve been conceived for one of Captain Kirk’s adventures in The Original Series! Bringing fears and phobias to life is a trope that has been explored in other stories, of course, but the way it was handled here put a uniquely “Star Trek” spin on it.
The psychic mines reminded me a little of the Deep Space Nine episode If Wishes Were Horses from Season 1, and also of Voyager’s second season episode The Thaw – so again, this is something that feels like pure Star Trek in both concept and execution. It led to some pretty funny moments in Mining the Mind’s Mines, too, with each of the ensigns given a chance to criticise the others’ fantasies and fears. It didn’t feel as if fun was being had exclusively at one character’s expense; there was no bullying or punching down, which was nice to see.
I don’t think we learned anything about the ensigns through the manifestation of their fantasies and fears, though, which could have been interesting to see. Boimler got a fairly typical “I love Starfleet and want to be a hero” outing that fits perfectly with his character (and could have been a fun way to include a cameo!), Mariner got to see a manifestation of Jennifer the Andorian, who we haven’t seen since Season 2, and Rutherford got to meet one of his heroes: Leah Brahms, who was a character we met in The Next Generation in a rather… complicated story involving Geordi La Forge.
All of these were fun, and it was great to welcome back Susan Gibney as Dr Brahms for a cameo appearance. Interestingly, Gibney was one of the contenders to play Captain Janeway back when Voyager was in pre-production; she was ultimately passed over as producers considered her “too young” to play the role. After a long absence from Star Trek, it was neat to see her make a return, albeit just as a small cameo on this occasion.
I’d like to see more from Mariner and Jennifer; I think there’s the potential for Jennifer to be a positive influence on Mariner, even if their relationship isn’t “exclusive” at first. Giving Mariner someone to talk to outside of the other three ensigns would be interesting, and Lower Decks embarking on its first fully-fledged romantic storyline could be a blast. I’d be interested to see how Jennifer might react to some of Mariner’s rule-breaking and wacky adventures… could she prove to be a calming influence just as much as a partner in crime?
Back aboard the ship, Tendi’s storyline was an interesting one. We’ve seen characters like Troi go through some form of command training before, so it wasn’t an entirely new concept to see this kind of senior officer training. But for someone like Tendi, who’s usually very mild-mannered and doesn’t like conflict or trouble, it was naturally going to pose a challenge. She struggled first of all to stand up to Dr Migleemoo, who clearly wasn’t a good fit in his new role as mentor, but she eventually found her confidence and was even able to save the day as the two divergent storylines came together. All in all, it was a good outing for her!
We’ve seen Tendi “snap” on a couple of previous occasions, so this outburst of assertiveness doesn’t come from nowhere. In Season 1’s Crisis Pointwe saw her stand up to Mariner, and again to Mariner in Season 2’s We’ll Always Have Tom Paris. Tendi clearly needs to work on her assertiveness if she’s to be an effective bridge officer, because getting her point across when others want to ignore her or talk over her is going to be important! It took Dr T’Ana to help her with that, and although the two only shared a brief scene this week, the relationship between them that has evolved over the past couple of seasons really is one of the best outside of the core friend group. Although Dr T’Ana can be abrasive, she has a soft spot for Tendi that’s really sweet to see.
Seeing scientists “go rogue” and work against Starfleet for their own ends was an interesting – and genuinely unexpected – twist. It took a fairly common Star Trek story trope – that of scientists in peril who need assistance – and flipped it on its head, and while that concept isn’t entirely unique, it was well-executed in Mining the Mind’s Mines.
This week’s episode was also a rare outing for Lieutenant Commander Stevens, one of the Cerritos’ senior officers who’s mainly seen in the background. One of the few things we know about Stevens is that he adores Commander Ransom, and that aspect was played up again here. I don’t think it hurts Lower Decks to have characters like Stevens; familiar faces who occasionally have larger roles to play are something past Star Trek shows have taken advantage of, too.
So that was Mining the Mind’s Mines. It was a fun episode with some great laugh-out-loud moments, and Lower Decks seems ready to put an underwhelming start to Season 3 behind it. The psychic mines were a neat concept and allowed for some fun and different imagery, it was great to welcome back Susan Gibney for a cameo as Dr Leah Brahms, and while the main story was engaging and interesting, Tendi’s B-plot felt fleshed out too. I found myself having a good time with Mining the Mind’s Mines and remained engaged throughout.
Beyond the story of the scientists and Scrubble on Jengus IV, though, there was a genuinely interesting take on the idea of Starfleet officers – and certain vessels – acquiring a degree of fame and notoriety within the ranks. The way the ensigns from the USS Carlsbad approached their counterparts from the Cerritos seemed to be setting up the story for conflict and rivalry, but in true Star Trek style they soon found a way to work together – and the Carlsbad ensigns got to meet some of their Cali-class heroes in the process!
Once again, I apologise for the delay in getting these reviews published. Although it may take longer than usual, I still plan to review each episode of Season 3 of Lower Decks, so I hope you’ll bear with me.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3.
After a somewhat disappointing season premiere last week, The Least Dangerous Game was an improvement – but it still wasn’t a particularly spectacular episode. Lower Decks’ third season hasn’t yet managed to hit the highs that we know the series can reach, and I think the best thing that I can say about this week’s offering is that it was mostly inoffensive. There were no glaring faults that dragged it down in the way that Grounded’s non sequitur ending did last time, but there was nothing that really elevated the story, either. Even an appearance by J.G. Hertzler as a simulated General Martok didn’t do much for what was a fairly bland and uninspired outing for the Lower Decks ensigns.
After the incredible Season 2 finale and last week’s premiere both followed a single story that brought all of the ensigns together, The Least Dangerous Game returned to the A, B, and C-plot structure that split up the main and secondary characters into groups. Pairing Mariner with Commander Ransom was something that Lower Decks hadn’t done to any great extent since Season 1’s Temporal Edict, and this time the addition of Ransom having final say over Mariner’s continued service in Starfleet added an extra dimension.
I’m glad that Lower Decks didn’t drop that angle after it was introduced in the somewhat rushed conclusion to last week’s outing. With Mariner’s parents being a captain and an admiral, there’s been a bit of a question-mark over how her misbehaviour and occasional insubordination gets excused, so assigning her to Ransom’s jurisdiction feels like a way to both circumvent that issue and also potentially shake up the way Mariner has to act, at least when on duty.
As an aside, I promised as far back as Season 1 in 2020 that I’d take a look at how Starfleet seems to fall victim to nepotism and favouritism on occasion, and Ensign Mariner is hardly the first example! We have characters like Wesley Crusher on the Enterprise-D and Nog (at least to an extent) on Deep Space Nine who made full use of their relationships with senior officers as examples of this phenomenon. This is absolutely ripe for a deeper dive (and I’ve had a piece in my writing pile tentatively titled Nepotism and favouritism within Starfleet for the better part of two years now) so we won’t get into too much of it here. But suffice to say that I like the idea that Captain Freeman and Admiral… Mariner(?) seem to recognise that they have a soft spot for their daughter and can’t remain objective. When we think about how some past Starfleet captains went out on a limb to back up their favourites (even when they were in the wrong), this is something new and different.
On the surface, Mariner and Ransom shouldn’t be at loggerheads. Both can be laid-back, and you’d think that Ransom’s less formal attitude would sit well with Mariner – and that he might be inclined to cut her some slack. But there’s a definite personality clash, and Tawny Newsome and Jerry O’Connell really sell it through their performances.
As is sometimes the case with Lower Decks, we have to try to set aside some of the nitpicking. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that an away team wouldn’t assign the engineering task – repairing the orbital lift – to its two engineers, nor that Ransom would be able to get away with essentially jeopardising a mission simply to push Mariner’s buttons. And jeopardise the mission he did – not only in terms of repairs to the elevator but also in terms of the Federation’s relationship with the planet of Dulaine. In this case, the normal structure of a mission like this took a back seat to story concerns, and in a less-serious series like Lower Decks I can forgive it. I would caveat that, though, by saying that the story for which the basic operating procedures of Starfleet were sacrificed was pretty mediocre.
After Lower Decks took Mariner on a two-season-long journey from being a bratty, angsty “teenager” through to being a more complex character with an evolving and improving relationship with both her mother and Starfleet, there was a bit of a question-mark over what would come next. For my money, I’d have liked to have seen a continuation of Mariner’s progress, coming to terms with her role in Starfleet and perhaps coming to realise that, if she wants to be able to make her own decisions without consulting others, she needs to climb the ranks. Last week’s episode trotted out a “trust the system” story, and that could play well. But this week, with Mariner getting frustrated with Ransom, I felt perhaps the first steps toward a regression that could undo some or all of her progress.
As the story concluded, Mariner worked hard to undo her act of rebellion or insubordination, seeming to realise that it would jeopardise her continued service in Starfleet as Ransom would surely have been given the excuse he needed to discipline her. But the fact that she ended up in that situation in the first place could be indicative of that kind of regression, and while there’s blame to go around – in the sense that it was Ransom who was manipulating the mission to be as annoying to Mariner as possible – that doesn’t excuse her reaction. I guess this cuts to a deeper issue with Mariner’s characterisation, and how the whole “loose cannon” character type doesn’t really fit within an organisation like Starfleet. Regardless, I hope the next episode can begin to put this aspect of Mariner to one side. Lower Decks isn’t at its best when putting Mariner into storylines like this one – and it’s something we’ve seen on multiple occasions already, so it isn’t even new or innovative at this point in the show’s run.
Boimler’s storyline this week was something and nothing. The design of K’ranch was interesting, perhaps one of the most visually distinctive aliens that Lower Decks has created so far, and I liked that. His passion for the hunt was also reminiscent of both Klingons and Voyager’s Hirogen, which was a neat inclusion. But I just never felt that there was any real sense of danger once the hunt had been agreed to and got underway; there just weren’t any stakes. Without feeling that Boimler was genuinely being hunted “to the death,” this whole chapter of the story just felt incredibly flat.
Taking a step back, I like the idea that Lower Decks may be trying to give some of its main characters something different this season. Mariner has to keep herself in check because of being watched over by Ransom (though she didn’t succeed this week), and now Boimler, at least in this episode, is trying to be bolder, more outgoing, and more adventurous. Spurred on by the news that Vendome (a character we met briefly in Season 1) had been promoted to captain, Boimler vowed to say “yes” to everything that came his way – something that I feel was lifted from the plot of some ’80s comedy film… but I can’t remember which one!
Because Lower Decks is so episodic, it isn’t clear if “bold Boimler” will stick around, but even if not it was at least an interesting concept to try out, and one that could return in later seasons if deemed a success. As I said, I didn’t feel that the hunt that Boimler got involved with was a particularly strong story in and of itself, but the concept underpinning it feels like it has potential. To see Boimler stepping out of his comfort zone and having new experiences is no bad thing for a series that’s racing towards its thirtieth episode.
Tendi and Rutherford drew short straws this week, and neither made a huge impact on the story. It was nice to see all four ensigns together playing their Klingon game – a game based on a real-world video board game from the 1990s – but after that, Tendi and Rutherford didn’t have very much to do. Not every episode can give equal screen time to every character, though, and I’m sure both of them will have turns in the spotlight before Season 3 is over.
One final point that made me a little uncomfortable was the presentation of Chief Engineer Billups. Season 2’s Where Pleasant Fountains Lie gave Billups a really interesting story – one that felt like a Star Trek analogy for asexuality. Billups was incredibly uncomfortable at the idea of sex and sexuality – perhaps being “sex-repulsed” – and this was a big part of his arc in that story. As I wrote afterwards, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie was one of the best and most understandable depictions of what it’s like to be asexual that I’ve ever seen on the small screen.
However, in The Least Dangerous Game we seemed to see Billups a lot more comfortable with scantily-clad aliens on a kind of “pleasure planet,” and while he ended up getting into difficulty as the mission went off the rails, I would have liked to have seen more from him about his lack of interest in sex and lack of sexual desire. He seemed, at one point, to be very happily enjoying what the planet had to offer, and I guess it just feels like a pretty big difference when compared to where he was in Season 2.
This matters to me because, as someone who is asexual, Billups’ story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie was actually a big deal. It was a first not only for Star Trek, but one of the very few stories in the world of entertainment at all that felt like a reference to asexuality. Trying to move Billups away from that presentation, especially for the sake of a minor role in an otherwise forgettable episode, is just a bit of a disappointment. While I don’t expect Lower Decks to make a big deal of Billups’ potential asexuality again, I definitely don’t want the series to start undermining that story – and it felt to me that it happened – albeit in a small way – this week.
All in all, I didn’t hate anything about The Least Dangerous Game. But neither of its main storylines were particularly strong, and where there should have been some sense of danger or some degree of high stakes for Boimler, the story setup didn’t really allow for that. It certainly isn’t Lower Decks’ worst-ever episode, but The Least Dangerous Game just feels bland and generic. Nothing consequential really happened, and where there could have been major disruptive events, at least for two of the ensigns, the end of the story seems to have basically reset everything back to normal. Mariner got away with abandoning her post, and Boimler easily survived his “hunt” with K’ranch.
And finally, the short sequences featuring Billups, as mentioned, made me a little uncomfortable when considering his Season 2 presentation and how powerfully that resonated with me. All of these things came together to make The Least Dangerous Game a bit of an underwhelming episode.
But I’m hopeful that Lower Decks will pick up as Season 3 gets going! There are still eight episodes left to shake things up, and I’m always going to go into every new Star Trek episode hoping to have a good time. Although I’ve found some criticisms of Lower Decks Season 3 so far, I genuinely enjoy the series and what it’s brought to the table. Some of the points of criticism have arisen in light of the successes of past episodes; I just don’t feel that Lower Decks has hit those same high notes yet this season.
My writing schedule is all over the place at the moment, so unlike in Seasons 1 and 2 I may not get these reviews out in a timely fashion. That can’t be helped, unfortunately, and I hope you’ll bear with me. I still intend to review each episode this season, but some of the reviews may be later than usual.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine Season 3.
With Lower Decks’ third season fast approaching, I wanted to write up a theory that I’ve had kicking around since the second episode of Season 2. Lower Decks’ episodic nature hasn’t lent itself to a ton of theory-crafting so far – although I do have at least one more in the pipeline, so stay tuned for that! – but this one feels plausible; it’s the kind of narrative choice that I could see the show’s writers making.
First of all, let’s briefly recap what happened to Ensign Boimler from the end of Season 1 to the beginning of Season 2. After impressing Captain Riker, Boimler took a transfer to the USS Titan at the very end of Season 1, leaving Mariner and the Cerritos behind and being promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Boimler would serve under Captain Riker for a short while, and one of the Titan’s assignments at this time involved following up with the newly-aggressive Pakleds.
Lieutenant Boimler was assigned to an away mission to the planet Karzill IV as part of this assignment, and after getting caught in a firefight he was able to save the day and allow the rest of the team to make it back to the Titan. However, as this mission drew to a close a transporter accident created a duplicate – or clone – of Boimler, resulting in two identical Lieutenant Boimlers, indistinguishable from one another.
For seemingly arbitrary reasons, Starfleet decided that only one Boimler could remain aboard the Titan, and the other would have to take a demotion back to the rank of ensign and return to the Cerritos. After one Boimler returned to the Cerritos we’ve followed his actions, and the second Boimler hasn’t been mentioned since. But could that be about to change?
Although we were told that the two Boimlers were indistinguishable from one another – totally identical – the second Boimler, the one who remained aboard the Titan, seemed much more outgoing than the Boimler we’ve gotten to know. Not only that, but he seemed more than a little devious in tricking “our” Boimler to return to the Cerritos so that he could continue on the Titan and advance his career. Could we be looking at the beginnings of an “evil twin” (or “evil clone,” I guess) storyline?
It wouldn’t be the first time that such a story has appeared in Star Trek! Going all the way back to The Original Series we had stories like The Enemy Within that split Captain Kirk into two distinct personalities, one “good” and one “evil.” And of course there’s the classic Mirror, Mirror that showed our heroes’ evil alternate universe counterparts.
The Next Generation followed this up by creating Data’s own “evil twin” – Lore. Lore would tangle with the crew of the Enterprise-D on more than one occasion, doing things like allying with the Crystalline Entity and raising an army of abandoned ex-Borg, as well as trying to corrupt Data and sway him to his cause.
Most significantly we have Thomas Riker, the first transporter duplicate in Star Trek and whose character clearly inspired the Boimler storyline in Kayshon, His Eyes Open. Not only was Thomas difficult to work with for William Riker after being rediscovered, but he would go on to rebel against Starfleet, join the Maquis, and even steal the USS Defiant from Deep Space Nine.
Lower Decks has brought back a lot of Star Trek tropes and story beats, and many of them have been used for one-off gags or as cute callbacks to past events. It can be difficult to tell whether there’s some deeper meaning to the whole transporter duplicate story because of that. In the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open it worked well as a surprising twist, a way to kick Boimler back to the Cerritos, and as a cute wink to fans of The Next Generation, especially considering Riker himself was present. The storyline could end there with Boimler’s twin never being mentioned again.
But at the same time, Lower Decks has used some of these classic Star Trek moments and story beats to set up longer arcs, or returned to them later. There’s a symmetry to some of the show’s episodes and storylines, too. The way the Cerritos saved the USS Archimedes in the Season 2 finale after having to be saved in the Season 1 finale is one of the best examples of this – and we could also point to the Pakled storyline itself as an unfolding multi-episode arc.
I think we’ve laid out how it’s at least possible that there could be something more going on with the transporter clone and looked at previous examples of “evil twin” tropes in Star Trek. So that answers the question of “could it happen?” quite nicely – but that’s really just the beginning.
The matter at the heart of this theory is what direction such a story would take, how it could potentially impact (our) Boimler, and what it could do for the series as a whole.
If we look back to episodes like Datalore or Second Chances, I think it’s not unfair to say that those storylines didn’t go on to have a lasting effect. The creation of twins, clones, and duplicates hasn’t actually come to matter in a significant, ongoing way for any Star Trek character so far. Even when those twins made repeat appearances their stories tended to be confined to a single episode – or perhaps a two-parter.
It was never really explained in any detail what impact Thomas’ emergence had on William Riker after the events of Second Chances. Even when Thomas returned in Deep Space Nine’s third season episode Defiant, the story unfolded from his perspective without any input from his doppelgänger.
Data’s conflict with Lore is perhaps the biggest of these storylines, with Lore being mentioned a handful of times outside of his main appearances. But because of Data’s nature, he wasn’t as emotionally impacted by Lore’s behaviour as other characters in a similar situation might’ve been. Data even expressed confusion in Second Chances as to the nature of the dispute between Will and Thomas Riker!
Although Lower Decks has been largely episodic, we’ve still seen some impressive character work across its first two seasons. The way Ensign Mariner in particular has grown into her role and come to resolve some of her issues with her mother, her friendships, and her position in Starfleet has been wonderful to see – and it’s this more serialised approach to characterisation (a hallmark of modern television storytelling) that could make an “evil Boimler” storyline different to what we’ve seen before in Star Trek.
Boimler’s issues with his transporter duplicate could have an impact on him that extends beyond a single episode – and that could take his character on a journey. Beginning with the sense of betrayal he surely felt at the duplicate’s duplicity aboard the Titan, Boimler could begin to forgive him, only to discover he’s up to no good. He could find it difficult to convince his friends at first, before showing them irrefutable proof of the clone’s misdeeds. And the whole experience of having to face off against someone who literally knows him inside and out and has shared every experience he ever had could both challenge and change him.
We could see a more confident Boimler emerge from under such a storyline – but someone whose friendships have been pushed and stretched before eventually settling. Or we could see Boimler begin to second-guess himself; if the “evil” clone was Boimler himself, perhaps he’d wonder if being “evil” is part of his own nature, and that could cause him to freeze or find it hard to make decisions.
In short, there are a lot of ways that such a story could go – but almost all of them would be good for Boimler’s characterisation in the long run. We’d get a fun episode with the evil twin that could harken back to the likes of The Enemy Within, Mirror, Mirror, Datalore, and others – but the impact of that episode could reverberate across an entire season, giving Boimler a character arc that could be very satisfying to see unfold.
So that’s it for now! The theory is that Boimler’s transporter duplicate will – in classic Star Trek tradition – turn out to be evil!
For the reasons laid out above, I think such a story could be fun and interesting. Moreover, I like the idea of the fallout from Boimler’s conflict with his “evil twin” not being confined to a single episode and potentially setting him on a season-long arc as he processes what happened and what it means for himself and his friends. Going down that road could feel deeply cathartic – with Boimler filling in for other Star Trek characters in similar situations who never got the chance to deal with the longer-term implications of what they went through!
I hope this was a bit of fun. Please keep in mind that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that any of this will happen in Lower Decks either imminently or in Season 4. I just think it’s a fun concept, and while all the pieces seem to be in place for such a story, it could be that the transporter duplicate will (in the best tradition of Star Trek) never be mentioned again!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. Season 3 will premiere on the 25th/26th of August 2022. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned 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 may be minor spoilers for some of the entries on the list below.
The end of June marks the halfway point of the year, and I think that makes it a great time to take a step back. There are a lot of entertainment experiences that lie ahead over the next few months, and with the nights already starting to get longer it’ll be autumn and then Christmas before we know it! There’s a lot coming our way before we must bid farewell to 2022, though, so today we’re going to take a look at a few of the projects on my radar.
Since the vaccine rollout peaked last year we’ve seen an easing of pandemic restrictions, including in the entertainment industry. That bodes well for at least some of the projects that have been in development! While there are still regulations and guidelines being enforced on film and TV sets, it’s much easier for many productions to work than it has been for the past couple of years. There may be disruptions to come thanks to lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine, though… so watch this space!
I’ve broken down my choices into three categories – films, television shows, and video games – and I’ve picked six titles in each category that I’m hoping to pick up and enjoy before the sun sets on New Year’s Eve!
Film #1: Avatar: The Way of Water
I took a look at Avatar: The Way of Water when we got a brief teaser trailer earlier in the year, but suffice to say I’m curiously interested to see what writer-director James Cameron has to offer this time around. I never felt that the original Avatar was the genre-defining epic that its creators hoped it would be, and over the course of the past decade I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the world of Avatar has largely dropped out of the cultural conversation.
The Way of Water has a lot to do, then, to reintroduce viewers to a fictional universe that many haven’t revisited since 2009 or 2010. It also has the task of expanding the world of Avatar beyond the events of the first film, showing us more about the world of Pandora, the Na’vi, and this future version of Earth and humankind. There have been some clever technical feats that have gone into the production of this sequel – including gruelling underwater motion-capture shoots – so I’ll be interested to see if it all comes together when the film releases in December.
Film #2: Jurassic World: Dominion
Technically Jurassic World: Dominion has already been released – but as my health prevents me from doing things like taking trips to the cinema these days, I’m waiting for it to become available to stream! The teaser trailer for the film, which was released back in December, looked great, and the prospect of a reunion of the main cast members from the first film – Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Dr Ellie Sattler, and of course Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm – is a pretty significant draw.
There is always going to be the question of whether the premise of the original Jurassic Park – which was based on a novel by Michael Crichton – can really sustain a multi-film franchise. The first film was brilliant in both premise and execution, but was it a one-trick pony? I’m curious to see what director Colin Trevorrow can do to make dinosaurs both fun and intimidating once more! I’ve been trying to avoid reading reviews and spoilers for this one, and when it’s available to stream I hope to get a review written here on the website – so stay tuned for that!
Film #3: Minions: The Rise of Gru
Despicable Me was a fun film that managed to be surprisingly heartwarming, and the franchise it spawned has gone on to become one of the biggest animated properties of all-time. The last Minions film was released back in 2015, and this sequel will reintroduce Gru – the antihero/evil villain from Despicable Me – as he teams up with his Minions for the first time.
There’s potential for a lot of fun, kid-friendly hijinks in The Rise of Gru, and I’m genuinely looking forward to another outing with the Minions. Steve Carell has been on top form in previous entries in the franchise, and the film will also feature Star Trek: Discovery’s Michelle Yeoh as part of a star-studded cast.
Film #4: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
I had a good time with Rian Johnson’s “whodunnit” Knives Out a couple of years ago, so this follow-up definitely holds appeal. Without wanting to give away any spoilers for the first film, suffice to say that I’m excited for one character in particular to make a return!
From what I can gather, Glass Onion isn’t so much a direct sequel as it is a follow-up; a film set in the same world and that will bring back at least one familiar face, but that will also introduce an ensemble cast of new characters and perhaps a new setting as well. Hopefully what results will be just as fun and dramatic as the original!
Film #5: Hocus Pocus 2
I missed the original Hocus Pocus when it was released in 1993, and it wasn’t until years later that I finally sat down to watch it at the insistence of a friend. What I eventually found was a fun, even somewhat clever film; a light-hearted take on Halloween that’s just right for someone who isn’t a big fan of horror!
The sequel aims to bring back Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy as the three witches from the original for a new adventure that sounds like it will be a riff on the original concept. Keep an eye out for Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones, who will also be reprising his role from the original film. Hocus Pocus 2 might be just right for Halloween 2022!
Film #6: Beast
Could Beast be “Jaws but with a lion?” Because the marketing material released by the studio makes it sound like that! I quite like a good thriller or monster flick, so maybe Beast will be a bit of fun. I don’t have especially high expectations; it’s unlikely to be a cinematic masterpiece. But it might just be entertaining enough to waste a little time.
Idris Elba is always fun to watch regardless of what he’s doing – see last year’s The Suicide Squad as a case in point! So at least on that front there’s a solid star in the leading role, and the film’s South African setting appeals to me as I used to live there. I’m curiously interested to see what Beast will have to offer when it’s released in August.
Television Show #1: Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation
Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will be the third Lego Star Wars special released on Disney+, and the first two were fantastic! 2020’s Holiday Special was a barrel of laughs, and last year we enjoyed Terrifying Tales in October, a lightly spooky Halloween special featuring Poe Dameron. The trailer for Summer Vacation had me in stitches, so if the special itself lives up to its marketing then we’re in for a wonderful time!
Expect to see some cheeky marketing for Disney’s “Galactic Starcruiser” themed hotel (which hasn’t been doing particularly well) in a special that will star “Weird Al” Yankovic and will bring back Finn, Poe, Rey, Rose, and other Star Wars characters.
Television Show #2: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3
At time of writing we don’t have a confirmed premiere date for Season 3 of Lower Decks, but if it follows the same pattern as it did in 2020 and 2021 we might see it in late summer, perhaps mid-to-late August. Season 2 actually ended on a cliffhanger – which I won’t spoil – and I still have a few theories and ideas kicking around that I’ll try to get written up before the new season arrives!
Lower Decks took a couple of episodes to fully get going, but it’s been an absolute blast across its first couple of seasons. Consistently high quality has left the series with only a couple of boring or unenjoyable episodes, and there’s a surprising amount of emotion at the heart of the Lower Decks crew. It’s a Star Trek show through-and-through, and one I find myself getting surprisingly invested in. I’m hopeful for more of the same when Lower Decks returns.
Television Show #3: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Although The Rings of Power is already (and prematurely, in my view) proving to be controversial in some quarters, I have high hopes for what will be the most expensive television show ever produced! A return to Tolkien’s world is, of course, hugely enticing, but The Rings of Power is aiming to be a spiritual successor to Game of Thrones, telling a multi-season serialised story set in the realm of high fantasy. With a massive budget to back it up, I couldn’t be more excited about that concept!
However, with a high budget and high expectations come dangers. The Rings of Power has a long way to fall if it fails to live up to expectations, and no matter what the producers and creative team try to do, the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy will be the yardstick by which this new series is measured. I hope it can compare favourably!
Television Show #4: House of the Dragon
Take everything I said in the entry above, copy-and-paste it, and that’s how I feel about House of the Dragon as well! This Game of Thrones prequel is one of several projects currently in production, but as far as I can see the biggest hurdle it has to surmount is not its predecessor’s reputation as one of the best television shows of all time, but the deep disappointment practically all Game of Thrones fans felt at its finale.
Just convincing people to show up for House of the Dragon in light of Game of Thrones Season 8 feels like a big ask… but if the show learns from those mistakes and makes changes, we could be in for something genuinely exciting. The first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were some of the most tense, atmospheric, and exciting ever brought to the small screen, so a return to Westeros – and to the writings of George R R Martin – could be fantastic. Could be.
Television Show #5: Star Wars: Andor
A prequel to a prequel (or should that be a spin-off from a spin-off?), Andor will follow Rogue One’s Cassian Andor in the years before the events of the film. We might get to see more detail about the early days of the Rebel Alliance prior to the Battle of Scarif, which would be interesting in itself, but more than that I’m curious to see what Star Wars can do with a genuinely different premise. In this case, we’re talking about a spy thriller.
Is there room in the Star Wars galaxy for stories that aren’t just about Jedi Knights, the Force, and lightsaber duels? The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett could’ve begun to show us what the Star Wars galaxy looks like away from those familiar elements, but chose not to do so. So it falls to Andor to potentially become the first Star Wars series to really broaden the franchise’s horizons and show us what’s possible. Is that too much to hope for? Maybe… I guess we’ll have to see!
Television Show #6: Five Days At Memorial
When done well, a miniseries can be a great format for storytelling. Five Days At Memorial aims to adapt the true story of doctors and nurses working at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Based on a book from 2013, the miniseries will take a look at some of the events that transpired – including how patients were triaged when the hospital’s systems failed and supplies ran low.
Most controversially, some patients were euthanised by doctors at the hospital – leading to a legal case against them in the months and years afterwards. Hopefully the miniseries will be faithful in its adaptation and won’t try to over-sensationalise these difficult events. I’m really curious to see how it turns out.
Video Game #1: Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova
You wait years for a Star Trek video game and then two come along at once! This year should see the release of Star Trek: Resurgence – a narrative adventure game – as well as Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, a kid-friendly adventure title based on the new animated series. With new episodes of Prodigy’s first season set to air later this year, the time is right for a tie-in.
I was disappointed (and a little concerned) that Prodigy kicked off its first season with no toys or tie-in products, but that is slowly being addressed. Supernova looks a little last-gen in terms of its graphics, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t, but I’m still hopeful for a fun game that ties in with the show, and one that can appeal to the younger audience that the show has been targetting.
Video Game #2: Stray
Stray has been on my radar for a while, and it’s finally due for release in July! Getting to play as a cat is already a huge part of the appeal, but it sounds as if Stray will have a genuinely interesting mystery at its core: what happened to all of the humans in its world? Players will assume the role of a stray cat in a cyberpunk-inspired city, and solving that mystery will be top priority.
I’m really looking forward to what I hope will be a different experience with Stray. Many games do mystery, third-person exploration, and create atmospheric worlds, but Stray feels like it could offer something that I haven’t experienced before.
Video Game #3: Grounded
If a game has been in early access for more than two years, should its “release” even count on a list like this? Regardless, I haven’t played Grounded yet – because I largely avoid early access titles – so I’m looking forward to seeing what the full release will have to offer. I loved Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and even visited the attraction at Disney World… could Grounded let me live out a long-held childhood fantasy?
There are survival aspects to Grounded that could either work exceptionally well… or feel annoying, depending on how good the rest of the game is and how much fun I’m having! But I’ve heard good things from players who’ve enjoyed the early access version, so I’m going to give Grounded a shot when it officially releases in September.
Video Game #4: Return to Monkey Island
Despite loving the first three games in the series, I seem to have fallen behind on my Monkey Island adventures! The fourth and fifth games in the series ended up on my “pile” of unplayed games, and despite meaning to get around to them I still haven’t! Perhaps I should rectify that before Return to Monkey Island – the sixth game in the series – arrives.
Updated versions of the first three Monkey Island games proved that point-and-click adventure titles could still find an audience when they were released a few years ago, and there’s still an appetite for this kind of comedy-adventure. I’m hopeful that Return to Monkey Island will deliver more of the same humour and excitement as the series did in its early days.
Video Game #5: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum
After being on my radar for a while, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has finally set a release window. All being well we’ll see the weird-sounding game in September. I honestly don’t know what to expect from this one, as Gollum would never be the kind of character I’d have expected to build a game and a story around. However, there’s clearly more to his story than we saw in the films – or even the books – so this could be an interesting adventure!
With a renewed focus on the world of Tolkien and high fantasy thanks to the Amazon show and other fantasy films and TV shows, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum could be a surprise hit. I don’t want to go overboard with the hype, but I’m definitely interested to see what the developers have come up with.
Video Game #6: Saints Row
It does the Saints Row series a grave disservice to call it simply a “Grand Theft Auto clone,” even if that’s where it might’ve begun. This soft reboot of the series aims to take it back to its roots, setting aside at least some of the over-the-top hijinks of the third and fourth games in favour of a return to the gangland roots of the original Saints Row from 2006.
With no Grand Theft Auto VI on the horizon any time soon, Saints Row might just scratch that open-world crime itch for players who are getting tired of Grand Theft Auto V – but hopefully Saints Row can continue to carve its own niche and stand on its own two feet.
So that’s it!
Those are just some of the projects that we can look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. There are plenty more, of course, and I’m sure there’ll be some surprises along the way, too! Although 2022 has been much better than the past couple of years, there’s still the potential for disruption and delays, so keep in mind that any of the shows, films, and games listed above may not make their currently-scheduled launches. Such things happen, unfortuately!
I hope that this was a bit of fun and a glimpse at what lies ahead. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to research different upcoming projects to see what piques my curiosity, and as someone who takes an interest in the world of entertainment I’m always keeping my ear to the ground to see what might be coming up! I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website for reviews, impressions, and write-ups of at least some of the projects we’ve talked about today.
Until next time!
All films, television shows, and video games listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, distributor, broadcaster, publisher, etc. 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 following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Voyage Home, The Next Generation Season 6, Deep Space Nine Season 6, Voyager Season 4, Enterprise Season 2, Short Treks, Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, and Prodigy Season 1. Phew. That was a lot!
The world can be a crappy place, and not just because of wars and pandemics. Sometimes we all need to switch off from current events and seek out some escapism. For me, films and TV shows with very heavy themes, lots of violence, or dark narratives don’t always provide the best escape, and on days when my mental health suffers I find myself reaching for something lighter and comforting. On this occasion, I thought we could pick out a few Star Trek stories that I believe fit that description.
The Star Trek franchise has long been an escape from reality for me. In both its older and modern incarnations, I find that jumping head-first into a future that looks safer and better than anything we could imagine today feels pretty great! Star Trek has always had an underlying setting that feels optimistic and hopeful for a better tomorrow – and that’s something we all need to hear sometimes.
So with that in mind, let’s consider a few Star Trek stories that I believe make for lighter, comforting viewing. As always, this isn’t a ranked list; the episodes are listed below in the order they were first broadcast.
Number 1: A Piece of the Action The Original Series Season 2
The Original Series made very creative use of some of the limitations of its time! It wasn’t always possible to visit a brand-new planet every week that looked and felt very “alien,” so The Original Series used sets intended for other films and TV shows in different – and occasionally silly – ways. A Piece of the Action sees Captain Kirk and the crew encounter a planet whose entire population have based their society around the Chicago mob!
When A Piece of the Action was written, the 1920s were only forty years in the past – the equivalent today of the eighties! So perhaps to viewers at the time it was more relevant and less… camp. But I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a light, almost comedic flair simply because of its setting; the ’20s-inspired dialogue, the old fashioned suits, and the general tone of a “Golden Age of Hollywood” gangster flick all contribute to that.
The notion of going to a faraway planet in space and finding a society based on the Chicago mob is silly, but A Piece of the Action sells it in the best way it can, making the very odd juxtaposition of scenes aboard the Enterprise and scenes on Sigma Iotia II flow surprisingly well. But above all, it’s a fun story that imitates, in a very Star Trek way, classic mobster films from a generation earlier.
Apparently A Piece of the Action was going to be the basis for a Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film that ultimately didn’t enter production. It seems as though I’m in a minority, based on the reactions to this news from Trekkies I’ve spoken with, but I’d have been interested to see what a director as undeniably talented as Tarantino would’ve brought to Star Trek. A new film from such a big name would surely have been a box office draw, at the very least! But maybe that should be the topic of a longer article sometime.
Number 2: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Also known as “the one with the whales,” The Voyage Home is arguably the most lighthearted and fun of all the Star Trek films to date! After the very heavy stories of loss and death in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, the third and final act of this trilogy came along like a breath of fresh air. I feel that The Voyage Home is the most dated of the Star Trek films thanks to being set in what was, at the time, the modern day. But that doesn’t detract from it; the kitschy eighties flavour is all part of the appeal!
There are some fantastic moments of pure comedy in The Voyage Home. I won’t spoil them if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, but suffice to say that bringing a 23rd Century crew to the modern day and forcing them to interact with basic things like cash and computers led to some absolutely hilarious, iconic moments.
There’s an ecological message at the heart of The Voyage Home, and the threat posed by the alien “whale probe” is definitely serious. But that theme doesn’t present as excessively weighty, and by the time Kirk and the gang are running around San Fransisco in 1986, the focus is more on the fun side of that premise.
With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 fast approaching, it could be fun to go back to The Voyage Home to see the most recent use of the “slingshot method” of travelling through time – something that may be making a return to Star Trek very soon!
Number 3: Relics The Next Generation Season 6
I wanted to put at least one crossover episode on this list, and this time it’s Relics that makes the cut! Bringing Scotty into The Next Generation was a lot of fun, and having him overcome his “fish out of water” status to eventually work alongside Geordi La Forge was absolutely fantastic, and made for a wonderful, heartwarming story.
With no evil villain to defeat nor a war to fight, Relics posed a scientific puzzle for Star Trek’s first two engineers to overcome – and in the process they were able to save the Enterprise-D from being trapped inside of a Dyson Sphere! There’s definitely a message in Relics: that older people have a lot to contribute if younger people are willing to take the time to listen.
When I first saw Relics back in the ’90s, I wasn’t prepared for Scotty’s arrival. This was before the days of spoilers on social media, so I went into the episode completely unaware of what I was about to see. When Scotty materialised on the transporter pad for the first time I was absolutely blown away! The Next Generation had been my first port of call in the early ’90s, but by the time Relics came around I’d seen all of The Original Series films and quite a few episodes, so I was really excited when it turned out to be a crossover episode.
Relics is, in a lot of ways, a very fan-servicey episode. But it’s also a comforting one, and more than that it feels almost like a slice of pure Star Trek. There’s a scientific mystery that’s both interesting and exciting, there are some wonderful character moments between Scotty and Picard and Scotty and La Forge in particular, there’s more than a dash of humour, and there’s an underlying message that may just strike a chord with some folks in the real world. It’s an all-around Star Trek episode!
Number 4: The Magnificent Ferengi Deep Space Nine Season 6
The Magnificent Ferengi takes what should be a dark and upsetting premise but manages to put a lighthearted, comedic spin on it thanks to the inclusion of the titular Ferengi. After a less than spectacular introduction in the first season of The Next Generation, in which they were originally supposed to replace the newly-pacified Klingons and become a major antagonist, the Ferengi carved themselves a new niche in Deep Space Nine thanks in no small part to a wonderful performance by Armin Shimerman as Quark.
We came to see the Ferengi as comic relief on a number of occasions, as in The Magnificent Ferengi, but they were also a people with depth. Issues within Ferengi society surrounding the pursuit of wealth at all costs, the second-class status of women, and so on were topics that Deep Space Nine tackled, and the fact that the Ferengi can be funny didn’t detract from those attempts to use them to examine some more serious subjects. But that’s not why we’re here today!
At the height of the Dominion War, Quark and Rom’s mother is captured by the Dominion, and Quark leads an all-Ferengi rescue operation. With the exception of Grand Nagus Zek, this episode brings together practically every Deep Space Nine Ferengi character, and musician Iggy Pop has a guest-starring role.
The plot descends into a comedic farce – naturally, given Quark’s leadership – and if you’ve ever seen Weekend at Bernie’s… well, you know what to expect! The Magnificent Ferengi is a ton of fun, and a great episode for showcasing some of Deep Space Nine’s recurring characters.
Number 5: Message in a Bottle Voyager Season 4
Once again we have an episode with a potentially dark premise that goes in a very different and fun direction! The Doctor is the star here, as he’s sent to the Alpha Quadrant to attempt to make contact with Starfleet for the first time since Captain Janeway and the crew became stranded 75,000 light-years from home… but he finds himself aboard a ship that has been captured by the Romulans!
Comedian Andy Dick guest-stars as a newer version of the Emergency Medical Hologram, and forms an astonishingly funny pair with the Doctor, who was often used for moments of comic relief during Voyager’s run. Seeing the two holograms working together to outsmart the Romulans in a comic story that could verge into slapstick is absolutely hilarious, and there are some real laugh-out-loud moments.
I also find Message in a Bottle to be a very uplifting episode. It marks the halfway point of Voyager’s seven-season run, and the first moment that the crew are able to contact the Federation. After four years of being alone, the crew finally get to inform Starfleet that they’re okay and working their way home, and there’s something incredible about the episode’s closing moments as a result.
The Prometheus-class ship is a pretty cool inclusion, too – a brand-new class of ship which has features that even the USS Voyager or Enterprise-E couldn’t match. I always wanted to see more from this ship, but aside from a couple of background appearances, we haven’t yet!
Number 6: Carbon Creek Enterprise Season 2
Carbon Creek uses a frame narrative to tell the story of the first time Vulcans came to Earth… and it wasn’t in the mid-21st Century, as Captain Archer (and us as the audience) had been led to believe! Instead, T’Pol tells the tale of her great-grandmother, and how she and a small crew came to be stranded on Earth in the 1950s during a survey mission.
Carbon Creek is fun for its fifties atmosphere, and Enterprise really manages to nail that feel through some wonderful sets, costumes, and dialogue. It’s also an episode that shows off how Vulcans can be unintentionally funny in Star Trek, particularly when confronted with different or unusual situations. In this case, T’Mir and her crew have to blend in with a town of very emotional humans.
There are definitely some lighthearted moments scattered through the entire episode, and the frame of T’Pol recounting the story to a stunned Archer and Tucker adds to that as well. It’s also a great example of how a prequel story doesn’t have to tread on the toes of anything established previously; nothing in Carbon Creek fundamentally changes what we already know about first contact between humans and Vulcans. In many ways it expands it – knowing that Vulcan had humanity under observation decades ahead of official first contact gives them a reason to be surveying the area during the events of First Contact!
All in all, a fun episode that steps away from many of Star Trek’s familiar elements like starships to tell a story with some interesting characters in a fun setting.
Number 7: Ephraim and DOT Short Treks Season 2
It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more Short Treks lately; the most recent batch of episodes ended with Children of Mars shortly before Picard Season 1 kicked off in early 2020. The idea of telling one-shot short stories in the Star Trek galaxy may have been a fairly blunt and obvious way for CBS All Access (since rebranded as Paramount+) to convince Trekkies to remain subscribed in between seasons of the main Star Trek shows, but several episodes ended up being fantastic in their own right.
Ephraim and DOT was one of two animated Short Treks episodes that were broadcast in December 2019, and it’s something that we hadn’t really seen the Star Trek franchise do before. Thirty-five years after The Animated Series went off the air, this was Star Trek’s first return to animation, and where The Girl Who Made The Stars was more of a conventional story, Ephraim and DOT was framed very differently!
Telling the story of a tardigrade named Ephraim and a DOT-type robot aboard the USS Enterprise, this Disney-inspired tale sees the unlikely duo team up to save Ephraim’s eggs. With an enthusiastic narrator who sounds like they’ve come from a National Geographic documentary, the short story is a lot of fun – and packs a surprisingly emotional punch at its climax!
Ephraim and DOT also shows off a handful of fun clips from The Original Series that have been reimagined for animation, and this “greatest hits” montage was absolutely fantastic; a blast from the past that elevated the episode.
Number 8: Nepenthe Picard Season 1
If you don’t have the same connection to the characters from The Next Generation that I do, maybe Nepenthe won’t be one of your “comfort episodes.” But for me, seeing Picard reunited with Riker and Troi was one of the highlights of Picard Season 1 – and Nepenthe is one of the best Star Trek episodes that I’ve seen in a long time!
After several tense and dramatic episodes in which Picard and the crew of La Sirena had to unpick the mystery of Bruce Maddox, the synths, the Zhat Vash plot, and so on, Picard was able to rescue Soji and use a spatial trajector to escape to the planet of Nepenthe – home to Riker, Troi, and their daughter Kestra.
There are some very sweet moments between Soji and Kestra as they bond, and while the story has some very bittersweet moments as we learn that Riker and Troi’s elder child had passed away, there are some absolutely incredible and heartwarming character moments as well. After more than eighteen years away from the 24th Century, Nepenthe felt like the homecoming I had been waiting for.
Seeing Riker and Troi enjoying a peaceful life away from Starfleet was something that I needed to see, even if I didn’t realise it beforehand! Although there were issues with the Picard Season 1 finale that meant that, realistically, taking an entire episode away from the main plot to slow down and hang out with Picard, Riker, Troi, and Soji was arguably a mistake, I just can’t find it in my heart to fault Nepenthe for the way it comes across on screen. It’s a beautiful, emotional episode, and sitting down to eat pizza with the characters after everything they’ve been through just feels right.
Number 9: First First Contact Lower Decks Season 2
First First Contact might be my favourite episode of Lower Decks so far. It isn’t as hilarious as some of the show’s other offerings, but as an uplifting story with a real “Star Trek” feel, I don’t think it can be bettered! The episode sees the crew of the Cerritos teamed up with the fancier and more powerful USS Archimedes – under the command of one Captain Sonya Gomez, no less – to undertake their first ever mission of first contact!
But naturally, things don’t go to plan. The Cerritos is called into action to save the stricken Archimedes, and the entire crew pulls together to perform the very difficult and dangerous task of literally stripping off the ship’s outer hull! Lower Decks ditched its usual two (or three) storylines format here, and put all four ensigns and all of the ship’s senior staff in the same story – and the result was absolutely fantastic.
Lower Decks goes out of its way to recreate the look of The Next Generation era, and I’ve always appreciated that. But it doesn’t hesitate to bring new things to the table, and we get our first look at Cetacean Ops in this episode – an aquatic department that had been mentioned in background dialogue in The Next Generation but never seen on screen.
All four ensigns have roles to play in the story, and after the Cerritos had to be saved at the climax of the Season 1 finale, the poetic symmetry of being the one to save a disabled Starfleet ship was absolutely beautiful, and a great way to bring the show’s successful second season to a close.
Number 10: Kobayashi Prodigy Season 1
The Kobayashi Maru test seems like an odd choice for a “comfort” pick, doesn’t it? But the way Prodigy pulls it off feels like a love letter to Star Trek, bringing in classic characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine in holographic form.
There’s more going on in the episode than just the Kobayashi Maru test on the holodeck, and Prodigy’s ongoing story arcs come into play in a big way throughout. But for me, the moments on the holodeck with Dal and the holographic versions of some wonderful characters from Star Trek’s past are what elevates Kobayashi and what makes it so enjoyable.
It’s such a shame that Prodigy remains (officially) unavailable in most of the world, because it’s been one of the most surprisingly fun Star Trek projects, and despite its kid-friendly atmosphere and intended audience, there’s so much to love for Trekkies. I hope that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally will see Prodigy grow in popularity and bring in hordes of new fans – and with episodes as strong as Kobayashi to ease them into the world of Star Trek, there’s a good chance that’ll happen!
The character choices may seem like an odd mix at first – and seeing Odo on the bridge of a Galaxy-class ship definitely felt strange! But each of them is given a moment to showcase their strengths, and what they brought to Star Trek in their original appearances. It makes the entire holodeck sequence feel so very special – and with such an eclectic mix of characters, there really isn’t anything quite like it in Star Trek’s entire official canon!
So that’s it!
Those are my picks for ten “comfort episodes” – or rather, nine comfort episodes and a comfort film – from the Star Trek franchise. We don’t need to repeat why the world feels so messed up right now, because we can all see what’s going on. Certain news stories have become omnipresent, completely taking over social media and other apps. If you find yourself doomscrolling, take a break. Do anything other than wallow in the mess of the real world.
The Star Trek franchise has been my comfort place for decades, and I find myself drawn to it when the world feels too much or when my mental health suffers. A future where humanity has succeeded at conquering not only the problems of today but also many of the baser, more primitive aspects of our own nature holds an appeal that can be difficult to put into words, and I find that practically every Star Trek story – even those darker in tone – have a lot to offer.
So I hope this was a bit of fun and maybe gave you some viewing inspiration! I had a great time going back to these episodes to put this list together, and with everything going on in the world I thought it could be a good time to share something like this.
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films 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 may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.
Yesterday we got some fantastic news about the direction of the Star Trek franchise over the next couple of years. I’m sure you’re already aware of all of it, but just in case, here are the key announcements in brief:
Star Trek: Discovery has finally been renewed for a fifth season.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will premiere on the 3rd of March.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will premiere on the 5th of May.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has been officially renewed for Season 2.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 will premiere this summer.
Star Trek: Lower Decks has been renewed for Season 4.
Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 will take a break when Discovery returns, before broadcasting the second half of the season later in the year.
Star Trek: Prodigy has been officially renewed for Season 2.
All of these announcements take the Star Trek franchise well into 2023, and when you add into the mix the as-yet-untitled 2023 film as well, there’s a massive amount of content to come over the next couple of years. It seems as though scarcely a week will go by without at least one new Star Trek episode premiering throughout all of 2022!
This is all unequivocally good news. Star Trek has made an absolutely triumphant return to the small screen since Discovery premiered in 2017, and the franchise has grown beyond my wildest hopes and most optimistic expectations in a scant five years. I hope that this is just the first phase of a new Golden Age, with more Star Trek on our screens taking us to the franchise’s sixtieth anniversary in 2026 – and beyond.
But it hasn’t been a smooth ride for Trekkies in recent weeks, especially for those of us who live outside of the United States. Star Trek: Prodigy is well into its first season for American viewers, but the rest of the fanbase hasn’t been able to see so much as a single episode – at least not via “conventional” means. This is despite Prodigy being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon; the latter being a kids’ television channel that is available in more than 70 countries and territories around the world and is wholly owned by ViacomCBS. Surely a Prodigy international broadcast should have been possible – yet the corporation running Star Trek has consistently chosen to prioritise its American audience ahead of fans in the rest of the world, even when doing so makes no sense.
The same situation initially befell Discovery’s fourth season, when an insultingly-worded, awfully-timed announcement saw the series pulled from Netflix with 48 hours to spare. It was only thanks to the huge backlash that ViacomCBS received, leading to a significant fall in the corporation’s share price, that Discovery was shopped out to Pluto TV, Amazon, YouTube, and other platforms. Fans won in the end – but it was a battle that we should’ve never needed to fight.
At the time of the Discovery disaster, I wrote a piece here on the website in which I asked a difficult question: what might the situation and the precedent it had set mean for future Star Trek productions, including those shows that have just been renewed or had premiere dates announced? You can check out the full article by clicking or tapping here, but to briefly summarise: I am not optimistic that the painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ can be sped up, nor that shows like Strange New Worlds will be granted an international broadcast at all.
ViacomCBS is a poorly-managed corporation with leaders and executives who seem utterly incompetent – or who are dusty old relics, ill-suited to a 21st Century media landscape. The lack of care and preparation with which the Star Trek franchise is being handled is indicative of this, and the franchise lags far behind old rival Star Wars in many areas. Where are, for example, 4K HDR episodes? This is something Star Wars has been doing since 2019 with The Mandalorian, and many other television shows on Amazon, Netflix, and Disney+ are now streaming in 4K HDR. Where are the toys that should have been available in time for Prodigy’s debut? And, come to that, where’s the rest of the Star Trek merchandise for other shows?
These are just a couple of examples of how the Star Trek brand is being mismanaged by ViacomCBS, and unfortunately the breach of trust between the corporation and a sizeable chunk of its fanbase means that the plethora of announcements made yesterday are, at the very least, seen through a new lens. At worst they’re completely tainted, with excitement and hype replaced with either apathy or anxiety as fans ask whether we’ll be able to watch any of these new shows and new seasons – and if we can’t, why should we care?
Since I created this website in 2019, I’ve reviewed every Star Trek episode that has been broadcast – except for Prodigy. Why? Because ViacomCBS deliberately chose not to make Prodigy available here in the UK (by lawful means, at least) despite owning and operating the UK version of the Nickelodeon channel and thus having the ability to do so with ease. When a corporation behaves in such an insulting manner, I feel it’s difficult to support practically any announcement or project that they have going on.
It will take time – and most importantly, a significant amount of effort from ViacomCBS – to repair the breach of trust between the corporation and Trekkies. And while these announcements are exciting, I can’t bring myself to fully board the hype train, not until we have more information about how and when these shows are going to be made available.
Here are several key questions that ViacomCBS needs to address in pretty short order:
When will Paramount+ be available here in the UK?
Are there any plans to make Paramount+ available in Asia, Africa, and other regions?
If there are no plans to roll out Paramount+ in a particular country or territory, will these new Star Trek shows be available via some other broadcaster?
Will new episodes of Star Trek be available on Paramount+ outside of the United States, or will the international version of Paramount+ delay the broadcast of some or all of these episodes (as initially happened with Discovery Season 4 in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia)?
Can you offer fans a guarantee that Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 will be broadcast on Amazon Prime Video this year?
Will Paramount+ be available internationally in time for Strange New Worlds Season 1?
If not, will Strange New Worlds be available on another broadcaster or platform outside of the United States?
I love Star Trek. Heck, I run a Star Trek fan website – and in my small way I offer ViacomCBS free publicity and advertising by talking and writing about the franchise in my free time. But I can’t blindly support a corporation that has continually taken decisions that harm Star Trek’s international fans, and until ViacomCBS is willing to answer some of the questions fans are rightly asking about the availability of upcoming productions, it’s going to remain difficult for any of us to fully get on board and be as excited as we want to be.
ViacomCBS needs to get a grip and put real effort into accelerating the international rollout of Paramount+. If Paramount+ isn’t going to be available in time, then the corporation needs to make plans to ensure international Trekkies can watch the likes of Strange New Worlds at the same time as fans in the United States. Star Trek is not an American entity, solely the preserve of American fans. ViacomCBS and its predecessors encouraged the creation of a global fanbase because they saw profit overseas – but that fanbase has been bruised by a slew of poor corporate decisions that have damaged the reputation of Star Trek and Paramount+, and which have unfortunately seen shows like Lower Decks underperform.
As Star Trek gears up for an exciting couple of years, the team in charge has a lot of work to do to rebuild trust between ViacomCBS and Trekkies. Star Trek’s long-term success depends on fixing the problems of the past couple of years and getting things right going forward. I’m interested to see how ViacomCBS will respond – and willing and able to hold their feet to the fire if they continue to get it wrong.
The Star Trek franchise – including all 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: Minor spoilers may be present for some of the entries on this list.
It’s the end of 2021, so it’s time to look back on a few of the entertainment highs (and lows) of the year! Like I did last year, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite entertainment experiences from the worlds of cinema, gaming, and television, and I’ll be giving each a totally official Trekking with Dennis award!
Most categories have a winner and a runner-up; some just have one title and in those cases they’re the winners by default. I’ve put Star Trek episodes into their own category, otherwise I’d just be saying that every TV show that I liked this year was Star Trek!
Caveat time! Obviously I haven’t watched or played anywhere close to everything that was published or released this year! The exclusion from these awards of titles such as The Last Duel or For All Mankind doesn’t mean they aren’t good; I just have no experience with them so I can’t comment. It goes without saying that everything here is entirely subjective! This is just one person’s opinion – so feel free to disagree vehemently with some or all of my choices!
With that out of the way, let’s get started!
🏆 Winner 🏆 Half-Life Histories series; Kyle Hill
There have been some interesting documentaries this year, but I wanted to highlight a semi-professional series that has been quietly ticking up views on YouTube. Kyle Hill has crafted a series of absolutely fascinating documentaries about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear accidents – some of which were familiar to me, but several of which actually weren’t.
Nuclear weapons are an incredibly controversial topic, of course, but nuclear power is something I firmly believe that we as a species need to embrace. At least in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power offers a reliable way for humanity to meet our growing power needs while phasing out fossil fuels.
Kyle Hill’s documentaries show how early nuclear experiments could and did go wrong, but they aren’t alarmist. Hill has a gentle, almost understated style that tells these serious (and occasionally fatal) stories with due dignity and gravitas, but without sensationalising the events in question. For anyone interested in the likes of the Chernobyl disaster or the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the entire series is well worth a watch.
Best Web Series:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 The Jimquisition; Jim Sterling
I’d like to highlight a fellow non-binary creator here. Jim Sterling – also known as James Stephanie Sterling – is a video games critic on YouTube. Their main weekly series, The Jimquisition, often highlights bad practices in the games industry and draws attention to misbehaving corporations. The Jimquisition was one of the first shows to criticise the practice of lootboxes a few years ago, for example, and this year Sterling has worked relentlessly to call out the likes of Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard.
Too many publications – even blogs and social media channels – now work hand-in-glove with big corporations in the video games industry, leading many so-called independent publications to, at the very least, be cautious in what they say about both their corporate friends and the games they review so as to maintain their level of access. The Jimquisition has always been different because it’s self-funded, leaving Sterling free to criticise as they see fit.
On a personal note, seeing Jim Sterling come out as non-binary was one factor among many as I made my own decision earlier this year to discuss my gender identity in public for the first time, and I want to thank them for their brave decision.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Tasting History with Max Miller
There really isn’t anything quite like Tasting History. There are a plethora of cooking shows and channels online – many of which are fantastic! And there are some great history shows as well, everything from mini-documentaries to living history re-enactments. Tasting History blends these two things together, as host Max Miller cooks a variety of different historical dishes, and uses those as an entry point to talk about some of the historical events and personalities associated with the food.
I love history and I love cookery shows, so Tasting History is absolutely the kind of thing that was going to appeal to me! But a fun premise alone wouldn’t be enough, and Tasting History has a well-spoken host who makes both sides of the show entertaining as well as interesting. I’ve learned a lot about different dishes and historical cultures this year, things I never would have found out about if not for Tasting History.
Best TV Special:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales
After 2020’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special had been a ton of fun, I was pleasantly surprised to see Disney+ bringing back Lego Star Wars for another outing this year. Terrifying Tales was a fun Halloween special, one which drew on many classics of the thriller and horror genres for inspiration while maintaining a child-friendly atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so this lighter tone was just perfect for me!
Focusing on Poe Dameron, Terrifying Tales used a frame narrative to tell three different spooky stories set in all three of the Star Wars franchise’s main eras. The first short, which focused on Kylo Ren, contained more backstory for the character than the entire sequel trilogy – and I would argue that it was actually better than the minuscule character development that Kylo/Ben Solo got in the films!
Palpatine was hilarious in the vignette that featured him, and I adored the way that Terrifying Tales used the character. The third and final vignette was a parody of a Twilight Zone episode and featured Luke Skywalker, and that was pretty fun to see as well. Overall, Terrifying Tales was a cute, funny, and lightly spooky way to get ready for Halloween!
🏆 Winner 🏆 The Grand Tour: Lochdown
As we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, we need things like Lochdown to poke fun at what’s been going on in the world. In a unique way that only Hammond, Clarkson, and May can really pull off, The Grand Tour’s special episode made a trip to Scotland one of the funniest and most entertaining bits of television I enjoyed all year.
The trio have found great success at Amazon, and free from the constraints of the BBC (both financially and in terms of content), I’d argue that The Grand Tour is leaps and bounds ahead of Top Gear. As the show has switched its focus to these kinds of special episodes, there’s been a lot of fun to be had!
I’m not really a car person. Cars have always been a means to an end for me; a mode of transportation. But the enthusiasm of the three hosts for their vehicles is infectious, and the fun they have on their wacky adventures always manages to succeed at pulling me in and making me feel like I’m right there with them.
Worst TV Series:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Rick and Morty Season 5
After four pretty strong and funny seasons, Rick and Morty stumbled this year. It felt to me like the writers had become a little too aware of the show’s success and place in pop culture – and didn’t really know how to handle that. Season 5 was bland and forgettable, with several episodes that didn’t even win a smile, let alone a laugh.
Rick and Morty crossed over from being a fun series with a cult following and really hit the mainstream somewhere around its third season, and clearly that’s been a double-edged sword. Too many of the attempted jokes this year came across as either desperate or else simply as gross-outs or edginess for the sake of it.
Though the show had a few successful moments, such as the scenes between Rick and Birdperson toward the end of the season, Season 5 has to be considered a failure.
Best TV series:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Foundation
The first season of Foundation was imperfect but nevertheless good. The novels upon which Foundation is based are incredibly dense works that can, at points, feel more like philosophy than sci-fi, so bringing something like that to the small screen was no small challenge – but Apple TV+ stepped up.
Jared Harris put in a wonderful performance as Hari Seldon, and was joined by several actors with whom I was less familiar – but who all did an outstanding job. Foundation is also a visually beautiful series, one which makes great use of Apple’s high CGI budget. A second season has already been confirmed – so that’s something to look forward to in 2022!
🏆 Winner 🏆 The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time was the first of Amazon’s two big-budget fantasy shows to make it to screen. We’ll have to wait until next year for the corporation’s Lord of the Rings prequel/adaptation, but The Wheel of Time is definitely a show worth watching in its own right. It has struggled, at times, to break out from the shadows of both Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Tolkien adaptation, but I’m so glad that I gave it a chance to impress me on its own merits.
Outside of the Star Trek franchise, The Wheel of Time is unquestionably the best television show I’ve seen all year. Amazon managed to adapt the first part of a long and complex story in a way that was understandable and easy to follow, bringing a new high fantasy world to the screen for the first time. There are some fantastic performances from Rosamund Pike and Madeleine Madden in particular, making The Wheel of Time a series to get lost in.
The first season concluded recently, and a second is already on the way! I can hardly wait.
Worst Video Game:
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
This is a difficult one. There were plenty of bad games this year – games with horribly intrusive monetisation, overladen with bugs, or that just plain sucked. But for me, the year’s most egregious video game failure is a so-called “remaster” that was lazy, that didn’t feel like much of an upgrade, and that left me incredibly disappointed when I consider what might have been.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition contains a number of bugs that were present in the original versions of its three constituent games; bugs that BioWare failed to fix. Its visual upgrade, coming less than ten years after the third game in the series, was already going to be a hard sell, but there seem to be many textures that BioWare either didn’t touch at all or else did the absolute bare minimum to.
And that’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in a nutshell: it’s a “remaster” that tried to get away with doing the absolute bare minimum. The sad thing is that I adore the Mass Effect games – but this version was so much less than it should’ve been.
Best Video Game:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Road 96
Road 96 is quite unlike anything else I’ve played all year – and probably for quite a long time before that too! The game focuses on characters, introducing players to dozens of completely unique NPCs during a branching quest to escape a totalitarian state. It’s a road trip game… but that definition scarcely does it justice.
Road 96 has a beautiful art style, too, one that really brings to life its characters and American Southwest-inspired locales. There’s a wonderful soundtrack that accompanies the game, one with a definite ’80s inspiration – which I’m totally there for! It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling Road 96, and it’s an experience I really think you should try for yourself in as unspoiled a manner as possible.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Kena: Bridge of Spirits
When I was thinking about my pick for “game of the year,” there was never any doubt in my mind that Kena: Bridge of Spirits would take the trophy. It’s one of the most visually beautiful games that I’ve ever played, bringing an almost Disney-esque art style to life in the most fantastic way possible.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a modern-looking game with a distinctly old-school feel to it. The game combines elements of puzzle-solving and 3D platforming with some tight, focused combat, and the addition of the Rot – little critters that accompany Kena – is both adorable and incredibly useful. Collecting things in video games can feel like busywork, but because Kena’s power grows with every Rot she picks up, even this aspect of the game manages to feel worthwhile.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been one of my most-anticipated games of the year. It didn’t just meet my expectations – it surpassed them by a country mile.
🏆 “Winner” 🏆 Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried to be dark and edgy and in doing so ended up robbing its source material of any of the fun and entertainment value it could’ve had. DC Comics has struggled to compete with Marvel, failing to recognise that it’s Marvel’s blend of humour and action that makes those films so appealing to many viewers. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a case in point – and a great example, in my opinion, of a film that completely misses the mark.
Perhaps to distinguish it from the likes of The Avengers, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was packed with gimmicks, too. An incredibly dark and boring colour palette drowned the film in grey, black, and brown tones, and some scenes were so poorly-lit that following the action became difficult. It was also shot in a weird 4:3 aspect ratio – again, seemingly for the sake of a gimmick.
I’m genuinely happy for fans of DC who worked hard to secure the so-called “Snyder Cut” after a long campaign. But the end result was, for me, the worst film I’ve seen all year. And this was a year where I watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Raya and the Last Dragon
I paid a lot of money (by my standards, at least) to watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+! Maybe I should’ve waited the extra couple of months, but I was genuinely interested to see the latest big Disney animated picture. The one surprise was the lack of any musical numbers, but despite that I had a good time with Raya and the Last Dragon.
Kelly Marie Tran put in an outstanding performance as the titular Raya, a young woman on a quest to restore the life of a dragon and reunite a fractured land loosely based on Southeast Asia. The film was dramatic and exciting, with a fun cast of characters. It’s also noteworthy that all of the main characters – heroes and villains – were women.
Now that it’s on Disney+ (and out on DVD and Blu-Ray) it’s definitely worth a watch.
🏆 Winner 🏆 Dune
I was worried that Dune would once again prove to be too difficult to adapt, but I was thrilled to see that I was wrong! Dune is a sci-fi masterpiece, and if its second instalment comes anywhere close to living up to this first part, I think we’ll be talking about the duology alongside the likes of The Lord of the Rings in years to come as being an absolute classic.
Dune is a long and occasionally dense book, so condensing it down and keeping a cinematic adaptation with a large cast of characters easy to follow was no mean feat. Director Denis Villeneuve did an outstanding job, and every aspect of the film, from its dialogue to its visual effects, are pitch-perfect.
I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline for a while, so stay tuned in the new year – I might finally get around to finishing it!
Most Exciting Announcement:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 Wicked
I was very lucky to have seen Wicked on the stage in London early in its run, and the soundtrack has to be up there as one of the best modern musicals. The announcement of a film adaptation came as a truly welcome surprise this year, and I will follow its progress with anticipation!
A spin-off from The Wizard of Oz, Wicked purports to tell the story from “the other side” – i.e. the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Disney in particular has shown in recent years that this concept can work exceptionally well, and Wicked pulls it off. The musical and the book that inspired it are very different, but both are enjoyable in their own ways – and I hope the film will be as well!
🏆 Winner 🏆 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Remake
Early in 2021 there were rumours of a Knights of the Old Republic game being in development, but it wasn’t until September that its existence was finally confirmed. A full-scale remake of the first game in the series is being worked on, and the idea of being able to go back and replay one of my favourite Star Wars games of all time is a truly exciting one!
So far all we’ve seen has been a CGI teaser, so the game is probably a couple of years away. But it’s still good to have something like this to look forward to! After several years of very limited success under Electronic Arts, Star Wars games are now being tackled by more developers and publishers – meaning we should see more from the franchise in the years ahead. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a remake of Knights of the Old Republic II after this one!
Best Star Trek Episode:
🥈 Runner-Up 🥈 There Is A Tide… Discovery Season 3
There Is A Tide is basically “Star Trek does Die Hard!” If that sounds like fun to you, then we are definitely on the same page! Featuring a desperate plan to re-take the USS Discovery following its capture by a villainous faction, Michael Burnham, Tilly, and several members of the bridge crew all get their chances to be action heroes.
It isn’t an entirely self-contained episode, as it brings to a head Starfleet’s conflict with the aforementioned villainous faction that had been running for much of the season, as well as containing other ongoing story threads. But it works well as a single episode, too, with an explosive and action-packed story that feels like it was lifted right out of an action blockbuster!
There Is A Tide is a great episode for Michael Burnham, but it’s also good for Admiral Vance as well. He truly seems to embody the values that Starfleet and the Federation have always held, and anyone who feels that Discovery has placed less of an emphasis on that should pay attention to Vance’s scenes in particular.
🏆 Winner 🏆 First First Contact Lower Decks Season 2
First First Contact is an incredibly well-done episode of Lower Decks. The series’ trademark sense of humour is still present, but we see the entire crew of the USS Cerritos working hard to overcome an incredibly difficult challenge and save not only an ailing Starfleet ship but also an entire planet. The crew rise to the occasion as we always knew they could, and First First Contact hits all of the emotional highs you could ever want from an episode of Star Trek.
It’s also an episode that truly embraces the spirit of the franchise. The Cerritos’ crew aren’t faced with some horrible monster or alien to defeat, instead the puzzle that lies before them is scientific – and the solution to it has to be as well. All of the main and secondary characters get moments in the spotlight, and First First Contact even found time to further advance the relationship between Ensign Mariner and Captain Freeman.
Finally, there was an incredible moment of symmetry toward the end of the episode, as the Cerritos saved the day in a very similar fashion to how it had to be saved in the Season 1 finale. That moment was pitch-perfect – and I won’t lie… I teared up!
So that’s it!
We’ve dished out a handful of awards to some of the best – and worst – entertainment experiences of the year. 2021 is a difficult one to summarise. The ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic has been noticeable, with delays and even some cancellations getting in the way and spoiling the fun. But there were some fantastic projects across cinema, television, and video games too – including some brand-new titles that I feel have the potential to lead to ongoing franchises, or to be talked about a lot in future as classics of their various genres.
As 2022 approaches, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a lot more to come from Trekking with Dennis! In the days ahead I plan to look forward to some of the films, games, and television shows that we could enjoy throughout the coming year, so definitely stay tuned for that! And I have a number of reviews and other articles in the pipeline.
So the only thing left to do is to wish you a very Happy New Year! Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have an amazing time. See you next year!
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, studio, broadcaster, developer, distributor, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Check out reviews or articles featuring some of the films, games, and TV shows mentioned on this list by clicking or tapping the links below:
The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.
At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.
But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?
Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.
Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.
I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.
As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.
As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?
One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.
But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.
Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.
I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.
As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.
The Star Trek franchise 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 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, particularly the episode Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.
This article deals with the subjects of sex and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.
Growing up asexual is difficult. We live in a world that seems to revolve around sex and sexuality much of the time, with an awful lot of music, art, and entertainment dedicated to relationships and to sex. Graphic depictions of sex on screen may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but even in the 1980s and 1990s sex was a frequent subject on television, in cinema, in music, and in practically every other form of media.
Even the arrival on the scene of more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans characters in media didn’t bring all that much respite. Who people were having sex with changed, but the fact that they were having sex – and spent much of their time pursuing it in one form or another – had not. The growth in LGBT+ representation in media has been fantastic (though it is still far from perfect) but speaking for myself as an asexual person, it didn’t always succeed at resonating with me. I still felt alone, that my perspective wasn’t being represented.
In the couple of “sex education” lessons that I was given at school, there was no mention of the LGBT+ community, let alone asexuality. Sex was something that “everyone” had and wanted to have, and between the depictions and talk of sex in all forms of art and media through to peer pressure from my adolescent peer group, it was inescapable. The only people who might be celibate were monks, nuns, Catholic priests, and losers who couldn’t find a date. That was the way sex and sexuality appeared at the time I was discovering my own.
In the time and place where I was growing up, away from the more liberal and cosmopolitan cities, even being homosexual was considered something abhorrent, let alone being trans, non-binary, or asexual. People didn’t understand what any of those terms meant because they’d never been exposed to it, and even being suspected of being a “poof” or a “bum boy” was enough to send the bullies into a frenzy.
The process of “normalising” – and gosh do I hate that term – asexuality can only begin when asexuality is visible. There may be a handful of asexual activists both within and outside of the broader LGBT+ movement, but generally speaking the level of visibility remains low. Without that visibility, understanding and acceptance can’t follow. The same is true of any minority group – including transgender and non-binary.
It’s for this reason that I get so irritated when I hear people talking about “too many” gay characters on television, or how “in-your-face” LGBT+ representation feels. It’s like that specifically because these groups have been so underrepresented for such a long time, and by making LGBT+ depictions more overt and obvious, it raises awareness and draws attention to the LGBT+ movement and the quest for acceptance within society as a whole.
Since I went public with my asexuality, I’ve started displaying the asexual pride flag right here on the website. You can see it in the upper-right corner both on PC and mobile devices. I do that deliberately with the express intention of raising awareness and pointing out that asexual people exist in all areas of life. My chosen subjects here on the website are entertainment – Star Trek, video games, sci-fi and fantasy, among others. But there are asexual people in all walks of life and with as broad a range of interests as everyone else.
Being open about my asexuality was a choice that I made in part because of the lack of representation and lack of awareness many folks have of asexuals and asexuality. Even by offering my singular perspective on the subject in a small way in my little corner of the internet, I feel like I’m doing something to advocate for greater awareness and greater visibility, because without those things I fear that asexuality will never be understood. And without understanding it’s very hard to see a pathway to broader acceptance of asexuality in society.
If you’re interested to read a more detailed account of how I came to terms with my asexuality, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
So we turn to Star Trek. As an adolescent dealing with some of these issues surrounding my sexuality, the Star Trek franchise – and other sci-fi and fantasy worlds – could offer an escape. Science fiction and fantasy tend not to be as heavily reliant on themes of sex as, say, drama or even comedies can be, and I think that may have been a factor in my enjoyment of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its original run.
Despite that, the Star Trek franchise is hardly nonsexual. Characters like Captain Kirk and Commander Riker are well-known for their many relationships, and episodes like The Naked Time and Amok Time, while never showing as much overt sexuality as some more modern shows, do reference the subject. Even characters who have proven popular in the asexual community – like Spock and Data – had sexual relationships. While the Star Trek franchise has been at the forefront of many battles for representation – famously showing the first interracial kiss and with episodes like Rejoined promoting LGBT+ issues – asexuality itself had never been overtly referenced in Star Trek.
Though the depiction of Lower Decks’ chief engineer Andy Billups wasn’t explicitly about asexuality, his story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie presented the first significant analogy for asexuality in the Star Trek franchise – and one of the first ever on television, certainly the first that I’ve ever seen. In typical Star Trek fashion, the episode looked at the subject through a science fiction lens, with Billups’ unwillingness to have sex being tied to the medieval-spacefaring culture from which he came.
Star Trek has often done this. Rather than explicitly referencing a contemporary issue, writers will devise an in-universe comparison. The Doomsday Machine featured a planet-killing superweapon in an analogy about nuclear proliferation. In The Hands Of The Prophets told a story about Bajoran religion clashing with secular teaching in a story that was clearly about the creationism/evolution debate but that made no explicit references. Likewise we can say that Where Pleasant Fountains Lie is a story about asexuality – but one seen through a Star Trek filter.
As an asexual person watching the episode, I was floored. For the first time, a character in Star Trek shared my sexuality and feelings about sex. More than that, as the Hysperians’ plot to trick Andy Billups into having sex reached its endgame, the poor man looked so incredibly uncomfortable and ill at ease with what he was about to do. I’ve been there. I’ve been Andy Billups in that moment, and to see that portrayal was incredibly cathartic.
When I was fifteen I lost my virginity, succumbing to the pressure from my peer group and having talked myself into it. I thought that by doing so I could convince others – and myself – that I was “normal,” just like everyone else. Never having heard the term “asexual,” nor understanding that the way I felt about sex and genitalia was valid, I convinced myself that I must be the one who was wrong, that I was broken and that my sexuality simply did not exist as I now understand it. In that moment I felt a great deal of trepidation. This wasn’t simply the anxiety of one’s “first time,” but I was forcing myself to do something that I fundamentally did not want to do; something that disgusted and repulsed me.
If you’re heterosexual, I guess a reasonable comparison would be having sex with a same-sex partner. Even if you could talk yourself into it, it wouldn’t feel right. And vice versa if you’re homosexual; having sex with an opposite-sex partner would feel fundamentally wrong. That’s the expression that I saw stamped on Andy Billups’ face in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, and if I had looked in the mirror on that day in my mid-teens – or on any of the other occasions on which I talked myself into having sex with partners both male and female – I would have seen the exact same thing.
I believe that this is the power of representation. To truly see myself reflected in a fictional character has been an entirely new experience for me, and no doubt for other asexual folks as well. Lower Decks may be a comedy series, but this storyline has become one of the most powerful that I’ve seen in all of Star Trek. It was the first time I ever saw my sexuality represented on screen, and for as long as I live I will be able to go back to that moment and point it out to other people. There is finally an understandable, sympathetic metaphor for asexuality on screen.
As I stated in my review of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, the depiction of Billups wasn’t perfect. There was a jokiness and a light-heartedness to elements of the story that clashed with the heavier themes that were present. But in spite of that, Billups’ story resonated with me. It’s an incredibly powerful moment to see any kind of asexual representation, and although there were jokes at Billups’ expense in the episode, he came across incredibly sympathetically. He even had his entire team cheering for him and chanting his name at the end – celebrating how he remained true to himself and didn’t have sex.
No asexual person should ever feel that they’re obligated to have sex. Sex education classes need to include asexuality alongside the rest of the LGBT+ spectrum so that asexual kids and teenagers can understand that the way they are is normal and valid. But education is only one thing that needs to change. Representation in all forms of media is exceptionally important too, and even a single depiction of a secondary character in one episode is already the best and most powerful asexual story that there has been in a long time – possibly ever. As more people become aware of asexuality and understand its place alongside heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, and other sexual orientations, the stigma or prejudice against asexuals and asexuality that exists in society will – in time – decrease.
Whether intentional or not, Lower Decks has joined the conversation and brought asexuality to mainstream attention in a way that I’d never seen before. It’s now possible for me to point to Where Pleasant Fountains Lie to show anyone who’s interested to learn more about asexuality and to see it represented on screen. That opportunity didn’t exist before, and I’m incredibly grateful to Lower Decks for this episode, this character, and this powerful story.
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 and for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 2, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.
Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t lent itself to a lot of theorising thus far! The episodic nature of the show and humorous tone have seen a lot of one-and-done stories, as well as stories that draw on Star Trek’s existing lore and history rather than adding to our understanding of how life in the Star Trek galaxy works. And that’s fine – it’s a great show, one which generally succeeds at capturing the essence of Star Trek while showing a more amusing side to life in Starfleet.
Last week’s episode, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, has led me to craft a theory, though, and it’s one that connects to events right at the beginning of the Star Trek franchise, back in the days of The Original Series. In short: have you ever wondered why Captain Kirk and his crew seemed to encounter a lot of “aliens” who were indistinguishable from modern humans? It’s possible – at least according to this theory – that Lower Decks might have just provided us with a plausible in-universe explanation!
Before we look at either Lower Decks or The Original Series, we need to take a detour to Season 6 of The Next Generation. The episode The Chase attempted to provide an in-universe explanation for the apparent abundance of similar humanoid races in the Star Trek galaxy: the interference of an extinct race of ancient humanoids, who “seeded” worlds across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants with their genetic material, essentially acting as forerunners or ancestors to Cardassians, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, humans, and perhaps many other races.
Just like the Klingon augment virus in Enterprise, or the warp speed limit from Season 7 of The Next Generation, this seemingly huge revelation about the ancient history of the Star Trek galaxy has been entirely ignored since the episode in which it first appeared, not even getting so much as a mention in the hundreds of other stories that have been produced since. That isn’t to say this explanation is wrong or landed poorly in the fandom, but as often happens when an episodic series introduces a major story point, writers who came along later either didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to explore it further. Thus the ancient humanoid story is a self-contained one that doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on the wider Star Trek galaxy – though fans can, of course, choose to interpret the presence of humanoids through the lens of The Chase.
But The Chase only provided an explanation for the existence of humanoids – Klingons, Romulans, humans, etc. What it doesn’t really explain in any detail is the existence of species that are anatomically and visually indistinguishable from humans, and The Original Series featured plenty of those! For example, we have the people of the planet Gideon (from The Mark of Gideon), the Betans (from The Return of the Archons and later seen in Lower Decks Season 1), the Iotians (from A Piece of the Action), the people of the planet 892-IV (from Bread and Circuses), and the Earth Two natives (a.k.a. Miri’s species, from the episode Miri). All of these races – and many more – are completely identical to humans.
Most of the aforementioned peoples were treated in their original appearances as being non-humans, natives of whichever planet the Enterprise was visiting that week. But it certainly raises some questions, especially considering that other alien races could be at least superficially different: the Bajorans have distinctive noses, the Vulcans and Romulans have their ears, and so on. How or why did the inhabitants of these worlds come to be indistinguishable from humans – is life in the galaxy somehow predisposed to evolve into this precise form? The Chase offers half of an explanation, but even then it isn’t perfect. Enter last week’s episode of Lower Decks: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.
Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos, is human. But he isn’t a native of Earth, nor of any Federation member world – his people are the Hysperians, a group of humans from the planet Hysperia who had constructed a society modelled around a medieval-fantasy/renaissance fair lifestyle and aesthetic. The important thing to note is that the Hysperians appear to be independent of the Federation, with their own monarchy, laws, culture, and fleet of starships. Though on friendly terms with Starfleet, the Hysperians appear to exist independently of the Federation.
So Where Pleasant Fountains Lie has confirmed that human colonies existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Federation. We knew that already, having seen worlds like Turkana IV (homeworld of Tasha Yar) in The Next Generation, but Where Pleasant Fountains Lie expanded our understanding of non-Federation humans. It seems as though the Hysperians – or their ancestors, at least – shared a common love for fantasy, magic, and a medieval/renaissance fair lifestyle, and set out to establish their own colony on that basis.
Another episode from The Next Generation is important here: Season 2’s Up The Long Ladder. This episode introduced two colonies of humans – the Bringloidi and the Mariposans. The former were a group of luddites; Irish colonists who disliked the use of technology. The latter were a group of scientists, clones of the original colonists. The important thing to note for the purposes of this theory is that the Federation was unaware of the existence of either colony until the Enterprise-D made contact with them in the mid-24th Century. For more than two centuries, both colonies were completely unknown.
So now we come to the heart of the theory that was inspired by Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. Suppose a colony like Hysperia had been established centuries ago, but contact had been lost. If the Federation were to encounter the Hysperians for the first time, they would seem like an entirely different people at first, as they have their own distinctive culture, system of government, and starship designs. They don’t appear to be at all similar to modern Federation humans as of the late 24th Century, and it’s only because their colony’s origins are known to us as the audience and to Starfleet that we treat them as an offshoot of humanity and not as an entirely distinct people.
Here’s the theory, then, in its condensed form: the peoples Captain Kirk met during The Original Series that are identical to humans are, in fact, lost human colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and Mariposans, their records have been lost or their destinations not recorded, but at some point in the past they left Earth, established new homes for themselves, and developed their own cultures and ways of doing things.
Some of these peoples could even be the descendants of abductees, such as those encountered in the Voyager episode The 37’s or Enterprise’s North Star. The humans saved by the Red Angel and transported across the galaxy that Captain Pike and Michael Burnham encountered in the Discovery Season 2 episode New Eden were developing independently of the Federation in the mid-23rd Century, and Pike even instructed his crew that the Prime Directive applied when dealing with the inhabitants of Terralysium.
Just like the Hysperians chose to build their society around a fantasy/renaissance fair-inspired aesthetic and setting, maybe some of these lost colonies likewise had the intention of building a world based around shared likes and interests. Perhaps the original colonists of 892-IV were big fans of Ancient Rome and deliberately created a Roman-inspired society. Perhaps Miri’s ancestors terraformed their world to make it resemble Earth. Gideon may be an Earth colony that got out of control, similar to Turkana IV. Or, as we see in episodes like North Star and New Eden, perhaps peoples abducted at a point in the past tried to recreate the societies from which they came.
I’ve never been a big fan of the ancient humanoids from The Chase as an explanation for the prevalence of humanoids in the Star Trek galaxy. I don’t think the fact that Klingons, Cardassians, and humans are all two-legged, two-armed, air-breathing beings of similar heights and builds was something that needed this kind of in-universe explanation; it was enough to leave it unsaid that the galaxy is populated by humanoid aliens. Trying to provide an explanation actually led to over-explaining and drawing unnecessary attention to it.
But when it comes to aliens that are identical to humans, the explanation from The Chase only goes so far. If we try to argue that the abundance of human-looking aliens is caused by the meddling of ancient humanoids who also caused the evolution of the Klingons, Vulcans, Cardassians, etc. then the obvious question is why are there not dozens of Cardassian-looking aliens, or Klingon-oids?
Instead, what we could say is that these peoples are more likely to be lost Earth colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and the Mariposans, knowledge of their existence was lost in between their departures from Earth and their encounters with Captain Kirk. If we take The Original Series episode Space Seed at face value, humans had been able to launch large spacecraft since at least the late 20th Century, and with World War III taking place in the mid-21st Century, it’s possible that the records of thousands of space launches were lost. Just like Khan and his followers set out from Earth, perhaps the ancestors of some of these peoples did as well. Some may also be the descendants of humans abducted by aliens in the distant past, and this could explain how some humans have existed independently of Earth for centuries or millennia.
So that’s the extent of this theory, really! I think it provides an interesting alternative explanation as to why Captain Kirk encountered so many human-looking “aliens” during The Original Series. We could even potentially extend this theory to include races like the Betazoids.
Obviously the reason why so many aliens in Star Trek, particularly in the franchise’s early days, were identical to humans was because of limitations in budget and special effects. But that doesn’t have to be the end of it! We can craft intricate theories, partly based on things we’ve learned in other iterations of the franchise, to go back and explain these things. To me at least, the idea that races like the Iotians, Fabrini, and Betans are in fact lost offshoots of humanity makes more sense than the idea that they naturally evolved to be indistinguishable from humans.
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 the Star Trek franchise, including the following upcoming series: Strange New Worlds Season 1, Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and Prodigy Season 1.
Yesterday was Star Trek Day! And in case you missed it, ViacomCBS held a live event that was streamed online and via Paramount+ showcasing and celebrating all things Star Trek! We’ll break down the big news in a moment, but first I wanted to give you my thoughts on the event as a whole.
This was the first big in-person event that many of the folks involved had been able to attend since 2019, and there was talk of the pandemic and its enforced disruption on the various shows that have been in production over the last couple of years. There was also a lot of positivity from presenters and interviewees not only about Star Trek – which was to be expected, naturally – but also about being back together and simply being able to hold a major event of this nature. The positivity of hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton was infectious, and the event was much better for the role the duo played in hosting the panels and introducing guests.
That isn’t to say that Star Trek Day was entirely without problems, though. To be blunt, the event dragged on a bit too long (it ran to over three hours) and several of the panels and interviews were the worse for being conducted live instead of the pre-recorded, edited, and curated segments and panels we’ve had to get used to in the coronavirus era. Several of the guests seemed unprepared for what should’ve been obvious questions, and there were too many awkward silences and pauses while people gathered their thoughts and responded to the hosts. Such is the nature of live broadcasting – and it sounds rather misanthropic to criticise it!
During what I assume was an intermission on the main stage we were treated(!) to a separate pair of presenters on the red carpet reading out twitter messages and posts from the audience. This was perhaps the segment that dragged the most; one of the presenters even admitted to not being a regular Star Trek viewer (she hadn’t seen Discovery at all) so unfortunately this part of the show was less interesting as the pair were a little less knowledgeable about the franchise. If it had been made clear that this section of the broadcast was going to last as long as it did I might’ve taken a break as well!
Overall, though, despite running a bit too long and the ending feeling a little rushed (something we’ll talk about later), Star Trek Day was a success. It didn’t only look forward to upcoming projects like Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2, but it looked back at every past Star Trek series, inviting members of the casts of those shows to talk about what made them – and the franchise – so great.
As a true celebration of all things Star Trek, the broadcast has to be considered a success. And although a pre-recorded event could’ve been edited and streamlined to cut to the more interesting parts and to give interviewees a chance to gather their thoughts, it was nice to see many of the folks we know and love from Star Trek back together and able to spend time in person with one another. Hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton did a great job at making us as the audience feel included, as if we were there at Star Trek Day right along with them. For those few hours – even through awkward moments and segments that seemed to run a little too long – it felt like being a member of the Star Trek family. As someone with few friends, I appreciated that immensely. For those few hours last night – and yes, even though Star Trek Day didn’t start until 1:30am UK time I did stay up to watch it – I felt like I, too, was an honorary member of the Star Trek family, and that’s a feeling I would never have been able to get anywhere else.
Now then! Let’s talk about the various panels, trailers, and interviews. Over the coming days I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the announcements and trailers in more detail (as well as perhaps crafting a few of my patented and often-wrong theories), but for now I want to try to include an overview of everything that was included in Star Trek Day.
We’ll come to the biggest announcements and trailers at the end, but first I wanted to talk for a moment about the music. Star Trek Day had a live orchestra on its main stage, and we were treated to live renditions of Star Trek theme music past and present – as well as a medley that kicked off the event. I was listening to Star Trek Day on my headphones, and the music sounded beautiful. Composer Jeff Ruso (who composed the theme music to Discovery and Picard) picked up the conductor’s baton, and the medley he arranged was really an outstanding celebration of all things Star Trek.
Star Trek Day both began and ended with music, as Isa Briones (Star Trek: Picard’s Soji) sang her rendition of Irving Berlin’s 1926 song Blue Skies to close out the broadcast.
There were five “legacy moments” spread throughout Star Trek Day, and these celebrations of past Star Trek series were genuinely moving. Actors George Takei, LeVar Burton, Cirroc Lofton, Garrett Wang, and Anthony Montgomery spoke about their respective series with enthusiasm and emotion. Cirroc Lofton paid tribute to his on-screen dad Avery Brooks, talking about how Deep Space Nine showed a single dad balancing his work and family commitments. He also spoke about Deep Space Nine’s legacy as the first Star Trek show to step away from a starship and take a different look at the Star Trek galaxy.
The themes of diversity and inclusion were omnipresent in these legacy moments, and all five actors spoke about how Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry have promoted diversity since the very beginning. George Takei spoke about Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek, how sci-fi had previously been something often seen as just for kids, and how putting a very diverse cast of characters together was groundbreaking in the 1960s. It’s always amazing to hear George Takei speak, and even fifty-five years later he still has a grace and eloquence when speaking on these topics. As someone who has himself been at the forefront of campaigning for diversity and equality, he does so with a gravitas that few can match.
Garrett Wang spoke about how Voyager could be a “refuge” for fans; a place to go where everyone could feel included and like they were part of the family. The way the show combined two crews was, I would argue, one of its weaker elements, but Wang looked at it through a different lens, and I can see the point about how Voyager put those folks in a difficult situation and brought them together to work in common cause. He also spoke in very flattering terms about Captain Janeway and Kate Mulgrew – who is returning to Star Trek very soon.
Anthony Montgomery was incredibly positive about Enterprise, and how the series embodied the pioneering spirit of exploration. I loved his line about how Enterprise, although it was a prequel recorded later than many other shows, laid the groundwork and filled in much of Star Trek’s previously unvisited stories and unexplained lore. Above all, he said, Enterprise was a “fun” show – and it’s hard to disagree! The orchestra concluded this speech with Archer’s Theme – the music heard over the end credits for Enterprise – which is a beautiful piece of music. If I were to remaster Enterprise I’d drop Faith of the Heart (which is a nice enough song, don’t get me wrong) and replace it on the opening titles with Archer’s Theme. The orchestra played it perfectly.
LeVar Burton talked about The Next Generation, and how Star Trek was reinvigorated for a new era. The Next Generation was the first spin-off, and it came at a time when spin-offs didn’t really exist in the sci-fi or drama spaces, so it was an unknown and a risk. Burton also spoke about The Next Generation’s sense of family, and how Star Trek can be a unifying force in the world.
Far from being mere padding, the five legacy moments saw stars of Star Trek’s past pay tribute to the franchise and the shows they were part of. There were consistent themes running through all five speeches, particularly the theme of inclusion. Star Trek has always been a franchise that strives to include people who are “different” – people like myself. For many fans, that’s one of the things that makes Star Trek so great. To see some of the biggest stars acknowledge and celebrate that aspect of Star Trek was wonderful, emotional, and rather cathartic.
Each of the five actors spoke with love, positivity, and enthusiasm for the franchise that made them household names. Anthony Montgomery’s incredibly positive attitude in particular shone through – he was beaming the whole time and seemed genuinely thrilled to have been invited to speak and to celebrate Enterprise.
If Star Trek Day aimed to celebrate all things Star Trek, then the legacy moments went a long way to making that ambition a reality on the night. The speeches were pitch-perfect, as were the orchestral renditions of all five Star Trek themes, and I had an unexpectedly good time with these moments. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the programme listed on the website; I didn’t really have any expectations of what the legacy moments would include. They surprised me by being one of the most enjoyable, down-to-earth parts of a hugely entertaining evening.
Let’s talk about news and announcements. That’s what you’re here for, right?! That was certainly what I was most interested in and excited for when I sat down to watch the Star Trek Day broadcast – though, as mentioned, I was taken aback by some of the other elements present that I wouldn’t have expected!
First, a non-announcement! Wil Wheaton interviewed the head of production on Star Trek, Alex Kurtzman, early on in the evening. Kurtzman didn’t have anything to say about the Section 31 series, nor about the upcoming Star Trek film due for release in 2023. However, he mentioned something that I found really interesting: a Starfleet Academy series or project. This isn’t anything close to an official announcement, of course, and he and Wil Wheaton talked about it in abstract terms. But a Starfleet Academy series has been something Star Trek has considered in the past; Gene Roddenberry was quite keen on a Starfleet Academy spin-off prior to developing The Next Generation. Watch this space, because it’s at least possible that a project centred around Starfleet Academy will get off the ground under Kurtzman’s leadership.
There were no brand-new shows or films formally announced at Star Trek Day. While I wasn’t necessarily expecting such an announcement, and Kurtzman’s earlier statement that no new show will be worked on until the current crop have run their course would seem to exclude it, there are multiple pitches and projects that have been rumoured or talked about over the last few years. The Section 31 series was absent again, as mentioned, and that’s more bad news for a series that feels like it isn’t going to happen. There were also no mentions of the likes of Ceti Alpha V, Captain Proton, or Captain Worf – just some of the heavily-speculated or rumoured pitches believed to be floating around over at ViacomCBS.
We did get release dates or release windows for several upcoming seasons, though! After Lower Decks Season 2 draws to a close in mid-October there’ll be a couple of weeks with no Star Trek, but then Prodigy will be available (in the United States at least) from the 28th of October. Shortly thereafter, Discovery Season 4 will kick off – it will premiere on the 18th of November in the United States and on the 19th internationally. Finally, Picard Season 2 is scheduled to arrive on our screens in February next year – presumably shortly after the season finale of Discovery.
All of this is great news! There was no release date for Strange New Worlds, but I think we can assume it will follow within a few weeks at most of Picard Season 2, which would put it perhaps in May or June 2022 at the very latest. But there will be a whole lot of Star Trek on our screens this autumn and winter, well into the first half of next year. Wil Wheaton said it best: with so many new Star Trek projects in production, we’re living through a new golden age of Star Trek right now!
I was a little surprised when the Discovery panel ended without revealing a new trailer or teaser for Season 4. Michelle Paradise, Wilson Cruz, Blu del Barrio, and Ian Alexander talked about how the show is fostering a sense of family in the 32nd Century – and that we will see Gray get a “corporeal” body in Season 4 somehow, which is great! But I have to say I’d been expecting a new trailer; the show is only a couple of months away after all. Perhaps we’ll get that nearer to the time. There wasn’t any mention of Season 5 either, but it’s possible that announcement will come as the marketing campaign for Season 4 ramps up.
Wilson Cruz seems like such a positive person in every interview I’ve ever seen him participate in, and he brought a lot of positive energy to the stage in Star Trek Day as well. There was talk of the Stamets-Culber relationship being revisited in Season 4, which is great – Stamets and Culber really form the emotional core of the show. He also spoke about how Dr Culber is embracing new roles in Season 4 – the role of counsellor to others aboard the ship as well as a parental role for Adira and Gray.
Gray’s storyline has the potential to be one of the most powerful in Discovery as the show moves into its fourth season. Being trans or gender-nonconforming can make one feel invisible – something I can speak to myself – and this is literally shown on screen by Gray’s invisibility. The powerful story of discovering how to be seen, and to do so with the help, encouragement, and support of one’s closest friends and family has the potential to be an exceptionally powerful story, one which I can already feel resonating with me. Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander spoke very positively about their on- and off-screen relationships, and they seem like they work exceptionally well together as a duo. I can’t wait to see what Season 4 will bring for them both.
I’ve already got a Prodigy theory! The show’s co-creators talked about how Prodigy Season 1 begins with the kids on a never-before-seen planet described as being “far removed and mysterious.” It sounds like we aren’t seeing a planet that the USS Voyager visited in the Delta Quadrant – something backed up by scenes seemingly set on that world in the trailer – and the USS Protostar appears to have crashed “inside” the planet. Did it crash during the final leg of Voyager’s journey home through the Borg transwarp network? Or perhaps during one of Voyager’s other flights – the space catapult from The Voyager Conspiracy or Kes’ telepathic launch in The Gift, for example. More to come on this, so stay tuned!
So we got a release date for Prodigy in the United States, but as I’ve said on a couple of occasions now it seems as though Prodigy isn’t going to be broadcast anywhere that doesn’t already have Paramount+. Considering that the series is a collaborative project between Star Trek and Nickelodeon (itself a ViacomCBS subsidiary), it should surely have been possible to secure an international broadcast on the Nickelodeon channel – a satellite/cable channel here in the UK and in many other countries. It’s a disappointment that, once again, ViacomCBS does not care about its international fans. It’s not as egregious a failing as it was with Lower Decks, because as a kids’ show Prodigy’s primary audience won’t really notice the delay. But for Trekkies around the world, to see Prodigy teased then find out we have no way to watch it is disappointing, and there’s no way around that.
Despite that, the Prodigy panel was interesting. Dee Bradley Baker, who voices Murf – the cute blob-alien – seems like he’s a real Trekkie and spoke about the franchise with passion. It was so much fun to see him perform Murf’s voice live, as well! Brett Gray, who will take on the role of young leader Dal, seemed overjoyed to have joined a franchise – and a family – with such a legacy, and I liked the way he spoke about how the young crew of the USS Protostar will grow as the season progresses.
The show’s co-creators – brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman – spoke about how Prodigy won’t be a series that talks down to children, but rather aims to be a series with plenty to offer for adults as well. The best kids’ shows manage this – and the Hagemans have received critical acclaim and awards for their work on Trollhunters and Ninjago, so there’s a lot of room for optimism. They both seemed to have a good grasp of the legacy and role Star Trek plays and has played for young people, and I think the show is in safe hands.
The Prodigy trailer was action-packed and exciting! We got a glimpse of the villainous character played by John Noble – and heard his distinctive voice – as well as got a much closer look at the USS Protostar than we had before. Perhaps the most exciting moment, though, was seeing the Janeway hologram for the first time! Janeway’s role in the show seems like it will be that of a mentor; the kids will make their own calls and decisions, but Janeway will be on hand to offer advice – at least that’s my take at this stage.
There were some funny moments in the trailer, too, which will surely produce a lot of giggles from Prodigy’s young audience. “Just hit all the buttons” until the phasers fire was a great laugh line, and the ship losing artificial gravity was likewise hilarious. There was also a crash-landing that reminded me very much of a scene in the Voyager episode Timeless. I’m really looking forward to Prodigy and to spending time with the young crew of the USS Protostar.
The Lower Decks panel was perhaps the funniest of the night. It was also the one where the interviewees felt the most comfortable and did their best at participating and answering questions; there were none of the awkward silences or long pauses that made me cringe during other panels. Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, and creator Mike McMahan initially took to the stage before being joined in truly spectacular fashion by Ransom voice actor Jerry O’Connell. The cast members clearly get on very well together, and this came across as the four talked with host Mica Burton about the first four episodes of the season as well as what’s to come in the remaining six episodes.
Wells and Cordero talked about how they see their characters of Tendi and Rutherford becoming friends and bonding over “nerd” things – geeking out together over things like new tricorders, engineering, or how best to do their work was a hallmark for both in Season 1. I’m not so sure how I feel about Mike McMahan saying that the rest of the season plans to go “even bigger” with some of its stories. Lower Decks can be overly ambitious, at times, with the number of characters and story threads it tries to cram into a twenty- or twenty-five-minute episode, and this can be to the detriment of some or all of the stories it wants to tell.
However, McMahan spoke about the episode Crisis Point from Season 1 as a kind of baseline for how big and bold the show wants to go in the second half of Season 2. That episode was one of the best, not just for its wacky over-the-top action, but for its quieter character moments. If the rest of Season 2 keeps in mind the successful elements from episodes like Crisis Point, then I think we’re in for a good time!
The mid-season trailer was interesting! Here are just some of the things I spotted: the Pakleds are returning, Rutherford seems to get a “Wrath of Khan-inspired” moment in a radiation chamber, Tendi was transformed into a monster that seemed reminiscent of those in Genesis from Season 7 of The Next Generation, Boimler and Mariner are involved in a shuttle crash, Mariner rejoins Captain Freeman on the bridge, there was a scene in which Boimler easily defeated some Borg that I assume must be a dream or holodeck programme, a Crystalline Entity was seen, the creepy bartender with the New England accent was back, and Boimler and Mariner shared a joke about the utility of phaser rifles. I’m sure there was more – but those were the key things I spotted! The rest of Season 2 will hopefully continue to hit the highs of the past few weeks – and there’s another episode coming out very soon here in the UK that I can’t wait to watch!
It was very sweet for Star Trek Day to take time to discuss Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, coming in the centenary year of his birth. His son Rod, and former Star Trek stars LeVar Burton, George Takei, and Gates McFadden joined Wil Wheaton to talk about Gene Roddenberry, and this was one of the most touching moments in the entire event. There were some laughs as George Takei told us about his first meeting with Gene Roddenberry and how he came to land the role of Sulu – including how both he and Gene mispronounced each others’ names! Gates McFadden seemed to have been talked into joining the cast of The Next Generation by Roddenberry, having initially wanted to return to the stage and join a play. Rod Roddenberry’s reminiscence of the design process for the Enterprise-D was hilarious – apparently his mother thought the ship looked like “a pregnant duck!”
LeVar Burton, who had been a Star Trek fan prior to joining The Next Generation, spoke about how he was overwhelmed at first when meeting “the Great Bird of the Galaxy,” and how a small role on a made-for-television film introduced him to producer Bob Justman, who later arranged for him to meet with Gene Roddenberry during pre-production on The Next Generation. All of these anecdotes went a long way to humanising Gene Roddenberry the man – we can often get lost in the legacy and philosophy he left behind, and how Star Trek and the world he created has influenced and impacted us, but this was a rare opportunity to hear small, personal stories about the man himself. I greatly appreciated that.
George Takei got one of the biggest applause lines of the evening when he spoke about the importance of Star Trek’s fans, in particular Bjo Trimble, on popularising The Original Series and getting a nationwide fan community started. Decades before the internet came along to make fandoms and fan communities a part of many peoples’ lives, Star Trek was already developing its very own devoted fan community thanks to people like Bjo Trimble, and for George Takei to take time to acknowledge the role fans have played in Star Trek’s ongoing success was wonderful to hear.
As I’ve said before, The Motion Picture was the culmination of this fan-led journey for Star Trek, but the film also laid the groundwork for much of what we’d come to know as Star Trek in the eighties and nineties. Many sets and design elements were in continuous use in some form from The Motion Picture’s premiere in 1979 right the way through to the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, and much of the aesthetic and feel of Star Trek is owed to what The Motion Picture pioneered. George Takei acknowledged that, and that was a pretty cool moment. The Motion Picture is one of my favourite Star Trek films, and a 4K remaster was briefly shown off as well – the 4K blu-ray set of the first four Star Trek films is out now, so Star Trek Day took a moment to plug it!
The panel that seemed to get the most online attention was, I felt, one of the worst and most cringeworthy to watch! The Strange New Worlds panel was followed up by a pre-recorded video that introduced new members of its main cast, who joined Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn. Among the newly-revealed characters were an Aenar (an Andorian race introduced in Enterprise) a possible descendant or relation of iconic villain Khan, and three characters from The Original Series who are returning to Star Trek: Dr M’Benga, who appeared in a couple of episodes, Nurse Chapel, and the one who got the most attention: Cadet Nyota Uhura!
Uhura blew up online after the announcement, and it’s fair to say that I was not expecting this! There was scope, I felt, for Strange New Worlds to bring back classic characters, but the choices they made seem to be pitch-perfect. I’m especially excited to see more from Dr M’Benga – he was a minor character who feels ripe for a deeper look. The same could also be said of Captain Pike and Number One!
As I predicted a few months ago, the uniforms for Strange New Worlds have been slightly redesigned from their Discovery style. I was never wild about the asymmetrical collars; they worked okay on Discovery’s all-blue uniforms but looked perhaps a little clumsy on the recoloured uniforms worn by Pike and the Enterprise crew. So to see the teaser show off a redesigned style that keeps the bold primary colours but ditches the Discovery style was pretty great! As with any new uniform I think we need time to see them in action and get used to them, but there’s already a lot to like. In addition to the V-neck style worn by Pike and Spock, we saw a white medical variant worn by Nurse Chapel, another medical variant with a broad crew collar worn by Dr M’Benga, and a zipper style worn by Number One. Starfleet uniforms – like any aesthetic or design element – are of course subject to personal taste, but from what we’ve seen so far I like the Strange New Worlds uniforms.
The Strange New Worlds live panel was not the best, though. Anson Mount, who is usually so full of life and happy to talk about all things Trek, sat in silence for large parts of it, deferring to the rest of the panel to answer questions. He may have been trying to avoid jumping in too fast or dominating proceedings, but it led to several very awkward silences that weren’t fun to watch. I got the sense that perhaps he wasn’t feeling well.
The producers – Akiva Goldsman, who has previously worked on Picard, and Henry Alonso Myers – gave us a few tidbits of information about the series. I was very pleased to hear so much positive talk about returning Star Trek to a more episodic format. Goldsman, who had been instrumental in crafting Picard’s serialised story during Season 1, seems quite happy to return to episodic television. There are a lot of advantages in a show like Strange New Worlds – i.e. one about exploration – to using a more episodic format. Episodic television can still see wonderful character growth – I’d point to Ensign Mariner in Lower Decks as a recent Star Trek example – so it was great to see how positively the cast and crew talked about that aspect of Strange New Worlds.
The producers and cast seemed very keen to embrace the legacy of The Original Series in more ways than one. Without looking to overwrite anything, they want to bring their own take on classic characters, and I think that’s great. Spock benefitted greatly from the expanded look we got at him in Discovery’s second season, and there’s no reason to think characters like Nurse Chapel or Cadet Uhura won’t likewise get significant character development that plays into the characters we know and love from their roles in The Original Series.
In terms of aesthetic, Strange New Worlds is trying to walk a line between embracing the 1960s style of The Original Series and also updating the show to a more modern look. There was talk about the design of sets, in particular Captain Pike’s quarters, and how the designers had been keen to return to the 1960s for inspiration. Likewise hair and nail styles were mentioned by Rebecca Romijn for Number One – a ’60s-inspired, “retro” look seems to be on the cards for the character, but not to such an extent that it becomes distracting. Walking that line is a challenge – but one I’m glad to see the show tackling!
We didn’t get a full trailer for Strange New Worlds, and the character introductions were cut in such a way as to minimise what we could see of the USS Enterprise. However, we did get a decent look at the transporter room set, which looks really cool, and when we met Dr M’Benga we got a glimpse of what I assume to be sickbay – and it looks like the colour scheme from The Original Series is still present in some form. We also got to see the logo and typeface for Strange New Worlds.
So an underwhelming panel in some respects led to one of the biggest reveals of the night! Uhura, Chapel, and Dr M’Benga make welcome returns to Star Trek, that’s for sure. And there’s a particular genius to choosing these three characters in particular: they’re all ripe for more development and exploration. Uhura was a mainstay on The Original Series, but compared with the likes of Kirk and Spock there’s still plenty of room to explore her characterisation, background, and learn more about who she is in a way that will inform the original character and portrayal. Likewise for Nurse Chapel and Dr M’Benga – in many ways these two characters are near-blank slates for the new writers and producers to mould into their own creations.
I’m more excited today for Strange New Worlds than I was 24 hours ago, and that’s really saying something! I loved how Mount and the producers spoke about how his portrayal of Pike and Pike’s leadership style led them to redesign parts of his quarters so he could accommodate more of his crew around the table. Cooking was a big part of Captain Sisko’s character in Deep Space Nine, and I picked up at least a hint of that in some of the things said about Pike.
The panel also discussed how the USS Enterprise is a “star of the show” in many respects, and how episodic storytelling will allow the series to return to Star Trek’s roots in terms of producing entertaining stories with morals. As I’ve said before, Star Trek has always used its sci-fi lens to shine a light on real-world issues, and to learn that Strange New Worlds is embracing that is fantastic news.
Spock’s characterisation was mentioned by Ethan Peck and the producers, and there was talk of how we’d see different facets of his personality. The Cage was mentioned as showing us “smiley Spock,” and I liked how the producers have a keen knowledge of how Spock and other Vulcans perceive and experience emotions – Spock is an emotional person, even if he suppresses those emotions much of the time. An exploration of that aspect of his character – informed by his experiences in Discovery Season 2, perhaps – will be truly interesting to see play out.
Finally we come to Star Trek: Picard. This was the final event of the evening, and unfortunately the way it was teed up felt incredibly rushed. Jeri Ryan – who will reprise her role as Seven of Nine in Season 2 – raced onto the stage to introduce the new trailer, and it just seemed very obvious that the people running the event were acutely aware of time constraints and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. There was no Picard panel, no appearance from Sir Patrick Stewart (even by video-link or in a pre-recorded message), and though the trailer was very interesting the way Picard Season 2 was handled felt rushed right at the end of Star Trek Day – ironic, perhaps, considering the rushed way Season 1 also ended!
We’ll get to the trailer in a moment, but it was great to see that Picard Season 3 has been officially confirmed. We knew this was coming – Season 3 is already in production, and filming has already begun. But to get an official confirmation was good, and it drew a huge cheer from the audience. There’s clearly a big appetite for more Picard!
Onward, then, to the trailer. This is one that I’ll have to return to for a more detailed breakdown in the days ahead, but for now here are my summarised thoughts.
A return to the 21st Century is not what I would have chosen. Time travel isn’t my favourite Star Trek storyline, and in particular time travel stories which return to the modern day can feel awfully dated very quickly. Look, for example, at Voyager’s two-parter Future’s End, or Star Trek IV as examples of that. Star Trek feels like the future – one of the reasons I love it so much – and when it comes back to the modern day I think it risks losing something significant. It’s possible that only a small part of the story will be set in the modern day, but even so I wasn’t exactly wild about this story element, unfortunately.
We knew from the earlier trailer that there has been some kind of change or damage to the timeline. It now seems as though Q may be more directly involved, as Picard blamed him for breaking the timeline. Whatever the change was, it seems to be centred in our own 21st Century (though it could be anywhere from 2020-2040, I guess) and resulted not in the creation of the Federation but a “totalitarian state” by the 24th Century. I don’t believe that this is the Mirror Universe that we’re familiar with, but rather a change to the Prime Timeline itself – perhaps caused by Q, but earlier comments seemed to suggest that Q wasn’t to blame, so watch this space.
In voiceover we heard Laris questioning Picard’s motivation for wanting to join Starfleet or leave Earth, something we’d seen him talk about in episodes like Family and again in Generations. She seemed to question whether he’s “running” from something in his past – could it be some darker impulse or perhaps a family secret that’s connected in some way to the creation of the totalitarian state? Could it be, as I suggested recenly, tied into World War III?
One of the things I was most curious about was the role of the Borg Queen, whose return had been signalled a few days ago via a casting announcement. It seems as though Picard has access to the incarcerated remains of a Borg Queen – somehow – and that she may be vital to allowing the crew of La Sirena to travel through time. Rather than the Borg themselves playing a role in the story, then, this may be a battle involving Picard and Seven – victims of assimilation – and a captured, damaged Borg Queen.
There’s a lot more to break down from the Picard trailer, and in the days ahead I’ll put together my thoughts in more detail – as well as perhaps fleshing out a theory or two. For now, I think what I want to say is that I have mixed feelings. The big drawback I can see is the modern-day setting for part of the show. I hope I’m proven wrong, but to me Star Trek has never been at its best with these kinds of stories, and I’m concerned that it’ll stray from being a Star Trek show into something… else.
On the other hand, there are many positives. The return of Laris, who seems to have an expanded role compared to where she was in Season 1. Q’s mysterious time-bending role, too. Is he the villain of the piece, or is his latest “trial” something that he believes will help Picard and humanity? What role will he play – ally, adversary, or something in between? The “totalitarian state” definitely channelled some elements of the Mirror Universe, but also seems to have put its own spin on this concept, taking it to different thematic places. I’d be curious to see what role the Picard of this timeline has in the government of the totalitarian state.
So that’s all I have to say for now. In the days ahead I’ll take a closer look at the Picard trailer, as well as talk about other things we learned at Star Trek Day.
Although it was a late night and a long broadcast, I had a good time with Star Trek Day overall. There were some moments that didn’t work well, some unprepared interviewees and some segments that dragged on too long, but on the whole it was a fun and incredibly positive celebration of Star Trek. I came to the broadcast hoping to see more from upcoming shows, but I was blown away just as much by the celebration of Star Trek’s past as I was by the look ahead.
The hosts, presenters, and most of the speakers and guests showed off their passion and love for Star Trek in a very positive way. There was a lot of talk about returning the franchise to its roots, celebrating the legacy of Gene Roddenberry and his original vision for Star Trek and what made it so appealing to people of all ages across multiple generations. As we look ahead to Star Trek’s future in 2021, 2022, and beyond, taking these moments to look back at what got Star Trek to where it is today was fantastic, and well worth taking the time to see. Above all, Star Trek Day shone with passion and positivity, and that’s just what the franchise needed as it marked its fifty-fifth birthday. Here’s to the next fifty-five years of Star Trek!
Star Trek Day was broadcast online and on Paramount+ on the 8th of September 2021 (9th of September 2021 in the UK). At time of writing the event can be re-watched on the official Star Trek website; panels and trailers are supposed to be available via Star Trek and Paramount+ official YouTube channels. Clips may also be available via official social media pages and channels. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties and series 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 Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the trailers and teasers for Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 3, Picard Season 1, The Next Generation, and The Animated Series.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is now less than a week away, and as the buildup to its premiere continues I thought it could be fun to step back to last year’s episodes and pull out ten of my favourite moments – and other things!
There was a lot to enjoy in Season 1 last year. The show succeeded at taking the regular goings-on in Starfleet and making them funny, while at the same time it managed to avoid the pitfall of coming across as mean-spirited and laughing at Star Trek. A sense of humour is a very subjective thing, and it’s certainly true that Lower Decks’ comedic style won’t be to everyone’s taste. But for my money, by and large the jokes and humour worked – and underlying all of that was a truly solid and engaging Star Trek show.
When Lower Decks’ first season ended last October I wrote that I was going to miss my weekly viewing appointment, and though Discovery’s third season came along and offered up a different kind of fun, as we’ve got to see more teasers, trailers, and discussion about the upcoming season, I’ve come to realise again just how much I missed Lower Decks in the months it’s been off the air. Though the Star Trek franchise has always had a sense of humour – something I said many times in the run-up to Lower Decks’ first season in response to critics of the concept – this show was the first to put comedy front-and-centre. It also took us back to the 24th Century and The Next Generation era in a big way, which is something I adored.
The Next Generation had been my first contact with the Star Trek franchise in the early 1990s, and I have a fondness for the shows of that era as a result. Lower Decks leaned into that in a big way in its first season, and I hope to see more of the same when Season 2 arrives in just a few days’ time!
So let’s take a look at ten of my favourite things from Season 1. The list below is in no particular order.
Number 1: Ensign Mariner’s character arc.
In the first episode of Lower Decks, and again at the beginning of the second, I didn’t like the way Mariner was presented. Coming across as arrogant and selfish, I felt that the writers were trying to set her up as Star Trek’s answer to Rick and Morty’s Rick Sanchez. Such a character could work in the Star Trek galaxy, don’t get me wrong, but not as an ensign – and probably not even as a senior officer. Mariner’s “I don’t care about anything” attitude was epitomised in a scene at the beginning of the episode Envoys, where she kidnapped a sentient alien lifeform and forced it to grant her “wishes” – seemingly just for the hell of it. To me, that seemed about as un-Starfleet as it was possible to get.
Beginning in the second half of Envoys, though, we started to see a turnaround in Mariner. Perhaps her friendship with the hapless Boimler was part of it, but over the course of the season we began to see less of the “teen angst” side of Mariner’s rebelliousness. She still had a streak of rebellion in her character, but some of the edginess was blunted – something which was a colossal improvement.
In the episode Much Ado About Boimler, the USS Cerritos is visited by an Academy colleague of Mariner’s – who has already reached the rank of captain. Captain Ramsey’s intervention went a long way toward causing Mariner to have a re-think, as she saw how her friend had matured and moved on from their past childish behaviour.
The episode Crisis Point was where Mariner made her real breakthrough, though. After setting herself up as an extreme anti-Starfleet villain on the holodeck, Mariner saw her friends abandon her, and in a fight against a holographic version of herself, all of that teenage rebellion stuff came to a head. Mariner came to realise that she does care about Starfleet and her mother – Captain Freeman – even if she doesn’t always express that care in ways that line up with Starfleet regulations.
In a way, there are echoes of Michael Burnham (Discovery’s protagonist) in Mariner. Both characters started off with portrayals that I found to be negative and even difficult to watch, yet both characters have grown over the course of subsequent episodes. By the time we got to No Small Parts, the Season 1 finale, Mariner was able to take charge of a difficult situation, using her talents to help her friends and shipmates.
That season-long arc made Mariner’s actions in the finale feel genuine and earned, just like Michael Burnham’s recent promotion felt earned after all of her hard work. By the time we reached the point where the ship was in peril, turning to Mariner to play a big role in saving the day felt great. As a result, a character who I felt could’ve been one of the weaker elements of Lower Decks turned out to be one of its strongest. All I can say now is that I hope the version of Mariner we meet in Season 2 is closer to the one from Crisis Point and No Small Parts than Second Contact!
Number 2: The return to an episodic format.
Lower Decks was the first Star Trek show really since the first couple of seasons of Enterprise to use a wholly episodic format. Serialised storytelling has become the norm in television in recent years, thanks to shows like Lost, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, but the Star Trek franchise had primarily been episodic – at least prior to Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc.
This didn’t mean that the show reset itself after every episode, nor that past events were ignored. As mentioned above, Ensign Mariner had a satisfying season-long character arc that saw her grow, something which wouldn’t have been possible if the series kept rebooting after every outing. But Lower Decks saw the ensigns take on different challenges and stories each week, and while there were callbacks and references to things that happened in earlier episodes, the show revelled in its ability to do different things.