Star Trek’s Lower Decks -Review of the first episode
Red Alert! Spoilers ahead!
Lower Decks follows the lives and adventures of several members of Starfleet aboard the California-class USS Cerritos. Unlike all the other Star Trek shows, the main characters are not Captains and other high-ranking staff but the folks who are left with the dirty work of running a star ship. They aren’t the utopian and clean-cut career officers or the rogues being redeemed, but comedically flawed individuals.
Which sets Lower Decks apart from all other Star Treks, is that this is a true comedy series. I would say it most reminds me of Brooklyn 99 meets Family Guy... Willing to go boldly where Star Trek has not gone before to get that laugh and land it no matter what. I laughed outloud several times as it pokes fun at all the seriousness that Star Trek has embodied previously. It is a breath of fresh air that joins the amazing work of Discovery and Picard. No one knew that Star Trek needed a comedy series (well maybe Q did) until now.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the show, the ship is absolute incompetence; it cannot even navigate space properly, getting caught in a gravity well that is pulling in debris and then somehow being able to escape it. It then hits some ice on what could be a comet or a small asteroid. What amuses me the most out of this opening sequence is how the ship nopes out of a confrontation with the Borg, a completely uncharacteristic Starfleet move, setting the tone for the whole show.
As the episode opens, viewers are introduced to the character Ensign Brad Boimler, who is socially awkward to the point of disfunction, but still desiring to move upward to attain the rank of a top-level command officer.
He is caught in a closet recording a fake Captain’s log by the explosively drunk Ensign Beckett Mariner who has several contraband items on her, as well as a crate full of contraband that we see later. She has already drunk most of a bottle of Romulan Ale, and has a Klingon bat'leth which she wields wildly till she accidentally strikes Boimler in the upper leg with it.
Mariner is an absolute treat, exploding on to the screen with ferocity unseen before in Star Trek. If she sees a rule or a regulation she hasn’t broken yet, she will laugh at it as she walks on by.
The show goes on to introduce the other two core characters, first showing the Orion science officer D'Vana Tendi as she arrives aboard. She is so extremely excited to be on board, that she speaks quickly and animatedly to a completely apathetic and bored crew member handing out assignments. He quickly dismisses her, a perfect opposite to the perky science officer. Tendi is an Orion female, and unlike other portrayals of Orion women, she is a huge science nerd. She reports to Boimler, who is her orientation liaison. Mariner suggests a tour, which Boimler quickly concedes to after protesting, her main objective is to get the rest of her contraband to her quarters. On the tour we meet the final regular member of the “Lower Decks” main characters, Engineer Sam Rutherford. Sam is the kind of nerd that lives up the nerdy engineer stereotype. He is excited about all things tech and has tunnel vision because of it. This is ironic because he is also adapting to his new cybernetic enhancement via a Vulcan implant. Its glitchy, causing his emotions to be suppressed like Vulcans do. Mariner makes an adjustment to the implant which she says will fix the emotion suppression. This leads to a well-placed pay off during his later date with Ensign Barnes.
No introduction to a comedy Star Trek show should be complete without a holodeck joke. Mariner takes Tendi, and Boimler (objecting strongly) there and introduces Tendi to a sandy beach. Tendi shows them Orion. Boimler, prompted to show the place he loves most, has the holodeck show the warp core. Finally, after Boimler leaves, Mariner pulls up her Olympic nude gym program. Tendi’s reaction is “Wow this is a very detailed program”.
With the characters set up strongly, the episode goes a long the line of many Star Trek stories, an alien virus causes trouble that nearly overwhelms the ship. The day is saved thanks to the actions of the Captain and her command team.
During the episode the episode,the foursome is split up with Boimler and Mariner on the surface, and Tendi and Rutherford doing battle with the virus on the ship. Boimler is also tasked with watching and reporting on Mariner to Captain Freeman. This builds up to a joke about Mariner breaking regs by selling some Federation technology which turns out to be farming equipment. Their fight unleashes a spider like alien that has spider goo that turns out, of course, to be the cure for the virus now raging on the Cerritos, literally with crew doing their best “28 Days Later” act, on the ship. They escape the creature finally and return to the ship with Boimler covered in spider alien goo. Doctor T’Ana, a Catian, realizes he may have the cure goo’d all over him. She is right and a cure is dispersed.
With the day saved the four sit down against a wall, getting no credit for their efforts to save the ship. Mariner asks Tendi dryly if she’s still excited to be here. She shouts, “I got to hold a heart!” Which was not the expected response Mariner thought was coming.
Boimler is left to report to Captain Freeman. He refuses to expose any of Mariner’s rule breaking, adding a dig to the fact that they got no credit for their efforts. After he leaves, Freeman activates her screen. On it is an Admiral who had been holding. The conversation is clearly about Mariner, her insubordination, and making the Captain look bad. Freeman says she is throwing her into the brig. The Admiral retorts that she loves the brig. The conversation quickly establishes the episode’s twist, that they are the parents of Mariner. Apparently at some point after Mariner’s demotion and transfer, an agreement that if she didn’t fit in, she would be taken off the ship. The Admiral does not want that, and he quickly ends the call with the Captain still trying to argue her point.
The episode ends with Mariner sitting in the mess hall, expecting to have her hijinks exposed by Boimler, and grumpy in her assumption, pleasantly surprised that the rule loving ensign has not done so. She quickly becomes animated, assumes the position of mentor and becomes very loud in her approval of Boimler. Much to the disdain of her Mother, who is looking on.
I had extremely low expectations for this show due to some of the response I had seen by other fans, but I was hopeful they were wrong. I am not one of the fans that has a lot of rigidity in what to expect from Star Trek. I wanted to laugh with the series. I was delighted by the absolute needed poking at the tropes of the show. Mariner breaks all the rules and Boimler is the straight man to her escapades, and it makes these jokes land well, inciting some big laughs. Tendi and Rutherford represent the nerdiness of the fans that crowd convention halls and online who are fountains of information on all things technobabble. The scene where Rutherford would rather investigate why a door refused to open and recognize Barnes and his combadges instead of kissing her, was guffaw inducing.
A lot of pilot episodes struggle in defining their characters while carrying out an engaging plot. This was not the case with “Lower Decks”. The show does a fantastic job interweaving an engaging plot line that does homage to Star Trek’s monster of the week trope while fleshing out great and engaging characters and their origins. That there would even be a plot twist about Mariner’s parents wasn’t foreshadowed explicitly, as I think any Captain would be upset about the insubordination, attitude, and disregard for rules, is what made the episode for me with the holodeck scene, and the spider alien suckling of Boimler the highlights.
I really hope more of the hard core Trek fans will give “Lower Decks” a chance. In times like these, we need to laugh and of course, watch Star Trek.
“Envoys” is all about Mariner and Boimler dealing with a drunk Klingon, who leaves them to go drink across a planet before a peace conference. It establishes that Mariner is a force to be reckoned with, and her knowledge of planets and species is extensive. Boimler’s belief in himself is shaken but Mariner, while getting the Klingon where he needs to be, helps him regain his confidence with a hilarious Ferengi joke.
“Temporal Effect” plays on the disfunction and laziness of the crew and what happens if that changes to the other extreme. It also features a new dynamic between Mariner and the macho Commander Ransom. There are shirt ripping Hulk jokes, and scar talk.
“Moist Vessel” dives into the relationship of Mariner and her Captain, who is also her Mother. Fed up with the disrespect, Freeman tests Mariner in several different positions with the goal of getting her to resign. Mariner rises to the challenges, helps save the ship and her Mother is proud of her… which lasts 30 seconds before they revert to the relationship status of antagonizing each other. It also explores more of Boimler’s jealousy as Mariner moves up to command staff, and resolves when she is again demoted.
“Cupid's Errant Arrow” is all about Starfleet internet girl friends who turn out to be real, parasites, and Tendi and Rutherford fighting to get bring home a new tool while they work aboard the much newer USS Vancouver.