Lower Decks continues to be a masterclass at delivering efficient character developments, story, and laughs all under 25 minutes. Honestly, it’s really quite a feat given so many hour-long shows struggle to find that balance, but Lower Decks just does it so effortlessly!
Once again, the show brilliantly keeps character momentum. It’s never just static and unchanging. Despite the show’s episodic nature of once and done stories, it’s also very serialized in how the characters grow. Mariner, Captain Freeman, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford all have stories that are continually explored and not simply forgotten. One might think that a trip to catalogue some treasures and an undercover operation against Pakleds may be simple, but both journeys lead to very enlightening and important moments for all the characters involved.
Last week we saw a tiny glimpse of Mariner’s anger over Boimler leaving her to go on the Titan, and this week we see Mariner having to deal with this issue very explicitly with the arrival of Jet who’s been assigned to her Beta shift group. Mariner has been so used to Boimler and their way of doing things that Jet’s arrival upsets the group dynamics in a way that forces Mariner to have to admit her need for control and the fact that she really misses Boimler as much as she’s angry. But it’s also not just Mariner who realizes that she must learn to let go of control, even a guest character like Jet grows throughout the episode as he learns that this fight for control with Mariner is doing more harm than good. When both Mariner and Jet cede command to Tendi and Rutherford, they actually find a much easier and safer way to escape the trouble they all have found themselves in after automated defenses on the collector’s ship started to attack them. A good reminder that sometimes we don’t always need to be the one in control, that it’s okay to listen to others and not always have the right answers.
Tendi and Rutherford were a bit in the background this week, but never mistake them for being meek or without any competency as they were the ones who ended up saving the day. Tendi’s enthusiasm for everything continues to shine brightly, even when she’s scolding people, she’s still never going to judge them for wanting a sex helmet. But it was also important that when the Collector’s Guild Chairman accused her of stealing because she’s an Orion, she was more than ready to stand up for herself. I always applaud Lower Decks for these little inclusions to remind us that even this supposed utopian future is not without its own issues that need to be fixed. Rutherford almost had the collectors collecting him and nearly died trying to escape, but much like Tendi, his boundless optimism keeps him going even when things are tough. He and Tendi often feel like the younger pair of the four central characters but there is also something beautiful seeing him and Tendi come into their own confidence in speaking up. When you’re surrounded by dominant and big personalities, it is hard to shine in their shadow, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have something important to contribute. Rutherford and Tendi both figured out the ways to escape without putting their lives in danger and I hope that this means in the future, they learn to lead more and follow less.
There is one other character though that must be mentioned in escape-the-treasure-room team, and that’s the Cerritos’ new Security Chief Lieutenant Kayshon, the first Tamarian in Starfleet. His Federation standard may be shaky and sometimes out comes the metaphors, and he might have spent most of this episode as a cute little puppet, but he’s given us quite the introduction and I am totally thrilled to see where his journey will go. Maybe there will be more turning-into-puppet moments that await him? Whatever happens next though, I really hope CBS gets on the merchandising for a Kayshon Puppet because I would buy hundreds of it!
On the Cerritos though, Captain Freeman is dealing with receiving her command evaluation after last week being told by her husband that she might get promoted to head up a capital ship. But Command says that she micromanages too much when it comes to her crew. So, to prove Command wrong, she doesn’t end up doing multiple check ins with the away team escaping the treasure room of death. It’s so interesting to watch her trying to change and be someone that’s not her. In so many ways, you can see where Mariner gets some of her traits from. When she finally gets alerted to escape pods, her exasperation of how she’s never going to not micromanage made me chuckle, because it’s just such a mom thing to say.
Speaking of parents, everyone’s favorite space dad Captain Riker and his Titan space kids are still chasing after the Pakleds. Boimler is still screaming, still trying to keep up, and clearly not having the best time of his life as he thought. But instead of a story where Boimler doesn’t belong and fails at his job as a way to send him back to the Cerritos, the writers of Lower Decks uses a classic Trek trope to subvert our expectations. Boimler is shown to be competent on the mission and it’s just a transporter clone incident that meant one of the two Boimlers ended up having to go back to the Cerritos. It’s actually a great relief because after seeing Boimler being different from his crewmates and not exactly enjoying the action packed ready to phaser fight adventures, I had feared that Boimler would be told that he doesn’t belong. But he does belong, and he even gets his crewmates to remember that action and dying for the greater good is not everything and that they all joined Starfleet for their own unique reasons of exploration and boldly going, even if it’s to study moss or play in string quartets.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped certain folks from using Boimler’s words as indictment against what they view as new Star Trek stories being “not real Star Trek” because Boimler is defending TNG type stories as what Trek is about and not just action sequences or shootouts, forgetting that TOS was often about the Enterprise crew getting into fist fights and phaser shootouts, that some of the best Star Trek movies like Wrath of Khan and First Contact are the action packed ones, and that some of the best shows like DS9 was serialized and complex and saving the galaxy, and all of that was long before new shows like Discovery and Picard came onto the scene. Even Lower Decks for all its similarities with episodic old Trek shows utilizes serialized storytelling and complex character developments while characters get into plenty of action from week to week. Boimler’s words aren’t thinly veiled criticisms directed at the new era of “action” Star Trek, if anything, it is a reminder of Star Trek stories always must have a balance of that exploration and fun action. Neither is boring nor bland nor wrong.
And with Boimler back on the Cerritos while his clone stays on the Titan, our crew of central four characters seem to be back to normal, with some “punishment” directed at Boimler for leaving of course. But knowing the cleverness of Lower Decks, I wouldn’t think normalcy will stay for long between Jet’s rather upset face as he leaves the others and clone Boimler’s duplicity of real Boimler and seemingly sneaky ambition as he smooches up to Captain Riker. I hazard that we aren’t done with neither of these characters just yet, and I’m excited to see what will come next.
Other standout moments of this episode: Jet confirming to us that any wrong pips we see in any Trek episode is just corn stuck on the uniforms is absolutely genius; Tendi and Rutherford seemingly having a bet over what will happen to Boimler on the Titan and Rutherford being correct about transporter clone; and Dr. Migleemo wanting to use puppet Kayshon for puppet therapy; and the greatest and saddest easter egg, the skeleton of Giant Spock from The Animated Series, hanging in the collector’s ship.
RIP Giant Spock, we barely knew you, but we love you.
Better than ever! I’m sure by the end of the season, I’ll just sound like a broken record but what else can I say other than this show is brilliant, clever, subversive in all the right ways, and funny as hell!
You can reach Captain Pike-A-Chu on twitter @CaptainPikeachu