Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Speak to almost any Trekkie and they’ll tell you that Star Trek shows typically take at least a few episodes – if not a full season – to really hit their stride. With modern Star Trek’s shorter seasons, there’s arguably less time for the producers and writers to get it right. Lower Decks has had a decent start, if an unspectacular one, and aside from the lack of any news regarding an international broadcast, its biggest problem has been one of its main characters: Ensign Mariner.
Since I always comment on the international broadcast as I’m from the UK, I’ll forgive you if you skip over this paragraph. But I want to continue to make this point: the lack of any news regarding an international broadcast, and the fact that no one at ViacomCBS has even acknowledged the problem, is hurting Lower Decks immeasurably. The show needs all the help it can get to win over sceptical Trekkies and make a name for itself in an animated comedy market that isn’t exactly lacking in sci-fi themed shows. But by broadcasting the series only in North America, ViacomCBS has upset Star Trek’s biggest overseas fans, killed much of the hype for the series, reduced the value of the show from the point of view of broadcast agreements and licensing, and actively invited piracy.
Of course I’d never partake in such an under-the-table endeavour. As you know, the only way to watch Lower Decks is to be in North America, so I had no choice but to relocate to my second home. The icy, windswept tundra of the state of New Mexico may seem a rather chilly place to be, but in summer the sun never sets and it’s a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m a stone’s throw from the city of Boston – the Big Apple. It really is an amazing place to be.
Of the three episodes so far, Temporal Edict has to be my favourite. Far less of the humour was focused on Mariner being selfish and unpleasant, and as a result not only was the episode much more enjoyable, it was funnier too. In terms of laugh-out-loud moments, there were almost certainly more in Temporal Edict than there had been in the first two episodes put together. If I were speaking to someone who’d seen the first two episodes and decided it wasn’t their thing, I’d absolutely encourage them to at least give Lower Decks one more chance.
The episode began with Boimler giving a violin performance to an unimpressed crowd in the ship’s bar. The show is really ramping up Boimler as a “mummy’s boy”, as he dedicated both pieces of music to his mother. Mariner and Tendi interrupt and play a kind of instrumental punk rock piece, which is so loud that it disrupts a conversation Captain Freeman is having with a Klingon ship. After Mariner and Tendi finish their song, Boimler returns to the stage with his violin – and in the episode’s first good moment of humour, Lieutenant Shaxs arrives and stops the performance, mistakenly believing Boimler to be the source of the disruptive noise.
What do you think we can read into the Klingons seeming to be more aggressive here? The Klingon captain certainly wasn’t behaving like a firm friend and ally of the Federation! Of course this could simply be something that was played up for laughs, but it does make me wonder. The previous episode featured a Klingon ambassador, so diplomatic relations clearly still exist. I guess Lower Decks may be taking a looser approach to canon, which under the circumstances was to be expected. But it’s fun to speculate nevertheless.
The show is set in or around 2380, which places it only five years after the Dominion War. That’s certainly more than enough time for wartime allies to drift apart – as we know from our own history! Add into the mix that other iterations of Star Trek seem to have depicted future settings where the Klingon Empire and Federation were once again adversaries and nothing here seems to violate canon.
The title music continues to impress me. As I said last time, Lower Decks easily has the best theme of any post-1990s Star Trek series. It’s a piece of music I’d be happy to listen to time and again. After the title sequence, Commander Ransom – the ship’s first officer – is recording his log. The ship is en route to Cardassia Prime to broker a peace agreement between… unnamed factions, as Ransom was interrupted before he could finish. A change of plans sees the Cerritos downgraded from the peace ceremony to a much less important role – delivering diplomatic gifts.
As above with the Klingons, this is Star Trek so let’s speculate a little about what could’ve been happening on Cardassia Prime! The Dominion War ended in a peace agreement, and subsequent comments from Captain Freeman and a Starfleet admiral at least imply that neither of the two races is the Cardassians themselves, so let’s rule them out. Perhaps, given Bajor’s proximity, it could be them. Or it could be the Dominion, though they should have retreated behind the wormhole. It’s interesting that a Federation ship was going to take part in what seems to be a major peace initiative on Cardassia Prime. Perhaps we can infer that Federation-Cardassian relations are greatly improved post-Dominion War. Again, there are parallels in our own history to make such an outcome at least plausible.
One thing I was uncomfortable with in this scene is the anti-Cardassian sentiment expressed by both Captain Freeman and the unnamed Starfleet admiral. I’d even go so far as to call it racism. It reminded me of the often-repeated story that Gene Roddenberry hated The Undiscovered Country when it was screened for him, largely because he felt Kirk’s anti-Klingon attitude had no place in the 23rd Century as he imagined it. I wonder what he would have made of this scene.
The captain is obviously very put out by the decision to move the peace conference and cut her out of it. She takes it as a personal attack against the ship, and pledges to take action to prove their worth to Starfleet – after throwing her padd at the viewscreen! We hadn’t really seen the captain or first officer have much to do in the series so far; this was their first significant interaction on the bridge since the premiere. It was nice to see Ransom at least try to cheer up Freeman – he’s clearly much happier with his role on a less-important vessel than she is.
Meanwhile, the “slackers” – i.e. the main four ensigns – are working on a task in the brig. After completing their task they take a break and enjoy a drink – apparently they all overestimate the time to complete a task; it’s Starfleet tradition! If you remember Relics, from the sixth season of The Next Generation, Scotty told Geordi La Forge something very similar, and I greatly appreciate that reference. Now referred to as “buffer time”, all of the ensigns – and everyone else on the crew – build it into their schedules.
One of the jokes here – Mariner’s phaser not being set to stun – was included in the show’s trailer, and an image of the four drinking margaritas was similarly part of the pre-release marketing for the series. Tendi is the only ensign who seems to have any objection to buffer time, even Boimler is on board with it as it’s tradition. Tendi soon comes around to the idea too, and lies to Dr T’Ana about completing a task. I like Dr T’Ana, and she has a very funny moment that we’ll come to later in the episode. Perhaps it’s because I like cats – I have several of my own – but I’d been excited to see another Catian in Star Trek for ages!
Captain Freeman is in a mood, stalking the corridors of the ship growling at officers who seem to be slacking. She runs into Boimler in a turbolift as he’s humming The Next Generation’s theme – which was very cute – and he accidentally spills the beans about buffer time!
The result, of course, is that buffer time gets cancelled for everyone aboard the ship – though surprisingly, Boimler is never outed as the culprit for blabbing about it! The first couple of episodes of Lower Decks haven’t really had serious messages underneath the comedy, but Temporal Edict does. The story uses its science-fiction setting to look at the real-world issues of time management and overworking. Star Trek has often done this in the past, as I’ve talked about before, and it isn’t something I was really expecting from Lower Decks.
For a lot of people, time management can be a problem. The internet and always-connected devices like smartphones mean we’re always able to be contacted by work, even during what’s supposed to be time off. I can attest from personal experience how easy it is to get burnt out if you’re constantly replying to emails and basically working in your free time as well as when you’re at work. And of course, we can all remember a time when a manager or boss was constantly on our backs about every little thing – precisely how Captain Freeman begins to behave!
The captain institutes a shipwide policy of setting timers for every task, resulting in the crew losing their buffer time and becoming stressed and overworked. Another side effect is, of course, that many tasks aren’t completed or are completed very poorly in order to meet a deadline! The crew rush from task to task with no time in between; the captain has pushed them from one extreme to another.
Only one crew member seems unaffected – Boimler. He’s loving the new routine, and has somehow managed to complete all of his tasks on time. When a new one becomes available he claims it – not that anyone else would have wanted it, or been able to take it of course – and seems oblivious to the chaos the new rules have caused. Even Rutherford, who seemed so level-headed when working in engineering last week, is suffering.
Mariner has been selected for an away mission led by the first officer, and makes her way to the Cerritos’ shuttlebay. She’s not impressed with going on the mission – nor is Commander Ransom impressed at having to bring her. Although she’s wearing the red uniform of the command division, Ransom tells her she wouldn’t be accompanying him if she weren’t so good with a phaser – suggesting she’s there as security or backup rather than for any other reason.
The shuttlecraft Yosemite – which I think is the same one Mariner and Boimler almost lost last week – lands on the surface. The Gelrakians are a crystal-worshipping society, so Ransom and the crew bring along a special “honour crystal” as a symbol of peace. Ransom is a laid-back version of Riker or Kirk in many ways – incredibly confident in his abilities. I kept expecting that to backfire – for him to be all talk with no skills to back it up – but he was surprisingly competent!
The scene after landing has to be one of the funniest. Due to the demanding schedule the crew has been punished with, they accidentally brought a wooden totem instead of the honour crystal, upsetting the Gelrakians who attack them. There were several really funny moments here, but the standout one that had me laughing hard was when one of the Gelrakians shouted “he’s got wood!” Low-brow comedy, perhaps, but it was hilarious in the moment.
After a brief fight the away team was captured by the Gelrakians. I liked how Mariner seemed to genuinely step up and contribute to helping her team when they were in danger, including bandaging Ensign Vendome’s spear wound. As mentioned, Temporal Edict really brought out the best in her in a way that we hadn’t seen in the series so far.
Back aboard the Cerritos, the chaos of the new schedules is continuing. Everyone (except Boimler and the captain) is struggling to keep up, overworked and stressed. The Gelrakians have launched their crystal-ships, but the pandemonium aboard the Cerritos has crippled the ship – it has no shields! The Gelrakians are able to attack and even board the ship with ease.
The captain gives the order to repel the boarders – but at the same time commands the crew to continue their work and not use it as an excuse for slacking off. This is one of those moments where we have to step back and remember to treat Lower Decks as an animated comedy first, and a Star Trek show second! The captain should surely recognise that the decline in performance on the ship is the result of the strict time limits imposed on the crew, but for the sake of the story she doesn’t, and in any other Star Trek show I’d have to call that an unbelievable story beat. However, in Lower Decks it works, and as a story point in this kind of animated comedy show we can’t really take it too seriously.
Rutherford and Tendi are among the crewmen and officers caught up in the Gelrakian attack, and many of the Cerritos’ crew are too busy working to notice the boarding parties. The crew are leaderless and uncoordinated, and unable to repel the attack – which is silly because the Gelrakians are only armed with spears! Again, though, we have to remember to treat Lower Decks differently from other Star Trek shows. And it’s of course worth mentioning that it wouldn’t be the first time in Star Trek that we’ve had hand-to-hand combat or this kind of weaponry; both the Klingons and Jem’Hadar were known to use melee weapons in the 24th Century.
On the surface of the planet, Mariner and Ransom are sharing a prison cell. Mariner tries talking to the guard to no avail while Ransom works on a speech that he hopes will convince the Gelrakians to let them go. The two argue about what to do, and to be perfectly honest, hearing Ransom call out Mariner on her bad attitude and selfishness was pretty good. As you know I’d been thinking much the same way about her over the last couple of episodes – with the exception of a few moments – and Ransom pretty much nailed it as far as I was concerned in that moment. Perhaps the dressing-down got to her, because from this point on I really noted a change in Mariner.
Obviously Ransom’s speech doesn’t go anywhere, and the two then bicker over who gets to take on the Gelrakian’s challenge of a trial by combat against their biggest, strongest warrior. Defeat will mean the entire away team will be executed – by a giant crystal, of course. Ransom won’t allow Mariner to put herself in harm’s way, and deliberately wounds her in the foot so he can be the one to face down the warrior.
Aboard the Cerritos, Boimler is happily going about his duties, seemingly oblivious to all the chaos. He easily defeats three Gelrakians with his phaser, and wonders aloud why things are so out of control. Again, same caveat – it’s an animated comedy, and in that context Boimler’s obliviousness to the ship being under siege gets a pass.
On the bridge he talks to the captain. No one else is able to man their stations, so Captain Freeman is doing all the work. Boimler realises that the problem is the new scheduling – everyone on the bridge, including the captain, is working under strict time limits too. Before he can do anything the bridge is attacked by some Gelrakians.
The action cuts back to the planet’s surface, and Ransom takes on the Gelrakian warrior. I loved this scene, it was pretty funny. I was expecting Ransom’s over-the-top cockiness to get him hurt or killed, but he was incredibly strong and – in a twist to what I was expecting – emerged from the fight triumphant. Even Mariner was impressed – perhaps a little too impressed! I liked Mariner’s line about wanting to help “our team” – compared to what she said earlier it definitely feels as though she’s stepping up. She may be a slacker aboard the ship, but she won’t let her crewmates down when she thinks they need her.
The defeated champion’s line about pretending to be strong and dumb when he really loves to read was pretty funny too – something I think will resonate with a lot of people. Intelligence can feel undervalued sometimes, especially compared to strength or looks. Again, this was Lower Decks using its science fiction setting to make a point.
Boimler finally gets to make his case to the captain. The standout line was this: “not everyone is a Boimler.” He recognises that other members of the crew don’t share his love of rulebooks and tight schedules, and that the problems the ship is facing are caused by that. He talks sense into the captain, who relaxes the rules and unleashes the crew.
The temporal edict is withdrawn, and unburdened by the strict rules, the crew of the Cerritos is easily able to retake the ship and drive away the intruders. It took Boimler realising his mistake to help the captain realise hers, and it worked well as a conclusion to this side of the story. Rutherford and Tendi are among those seen fighting off the intruders, and Dr T’Ana gave a truly funny cat-like hiss as she also jumped into combat.
After winning the fight on the planet’s surface, Ransom has won the freedom of the away team. Mariner definitely has a newfound respect for him after seeing him defeat the Gelrakian warrior, and the away team makes it home in one piece. He even carries her back to the ship – her foot being wounded and all.
With the boarding party safe and the Gelrakians defeated, the two sides get a second chance as Ransom returns to the surface, this time with the honour crystal. War was averted, and peace breaks out between the two sides. In sickbay, Ransom prepares himself for a court-martial for stabbing Mariner, but she says she won’t report him for it. Just as it seems he’s developing a newfound respect for breaking the rules to go along with her newfound appreciation for them, he orders her reprimanded for wearing her uniform incorrectly! The story set up Ransom and Mariner as being attracted to one another, but I don’t expect this to be something that develops in any major way – at least not this season. It may be played on for laughs at points, as it was here, but I don’t think we’re going to see them in a relationship any time soon!
All that was left to do was fully repeal the scheduling and reinstate buffer time, which the captain did. The new rule was named in honour of Boimler, which was very funny. He doesn’t like it, of course, as he’s all about following the rules, but his friends reassure him that no one will remember his contribution to the Boimler Effect.
In a scene set in the far future, Boimler is hailed as “the laziest, most corner-cutting officer in Starfleet history!” That was a funny addendum to the episode, and the reference to Gene Roddenberry (the “Great Bird of the Galaxy”) did not go unrecognised. The episode ends with this far future schoolteacher continuing her lesson on great Starfleet officers by looking at Chief O’Brien!
So that was Temporal Edict. Not a story about time travel at all – as I had feared it might’ve been when I saw the word “temporal!” I’m not the biggest fan of time travel stories in Star Trek, but this was a complete twist on what I was expecting in so many ways.
Captain Freeman’s speech when she commanded the crew to retake the ship, and its accompanying music, was genuinely inspirational – the kind we could have heard from Captains Janeway, Picard, or Kirk in a past iteration of the franchise. It was pitch-perfect, despite the semi-ridiculous buildup.
As mentioned, Lower Decks works best when looking at it as an animated comedy first and a Star Trek show second. By doing so, some of the sillier aspects of its premise melt away, and what’s left behind is truly enjoyable entertainment. In this episode, Mariner snapped out of her selfishness and stepped up to the task when her crewmates were in danger, and I liked seeing that side to her. It’s something I hope we see a lot more of in future.
It was great to spend a little more time with Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom. Ransom’s story worked better than Freeman’s in my opinion – in the captain’s case, you really have to overlook or excuse her not realising the extent of the problems on the ship until way too late in order for the rest of the story to work. Ransom had been set up as someone who was all bark and no bite, but Temporal Edict turned that on its head by showing that he’s a truly capable first officer under the cocky facade.
I had a great time with Temporal Edict, which is easily my favourite of the three episodes we’ve had so far. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time with Mariner, Boimler, and the rest of the crew. Next week’s episode, Moist Vessel, will hopefully be just as good! I can hardly wait!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on CBS All Access if you’re fortunate enough to live in North America. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.