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 on an episode of my podcast, 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, Gumatowas “too adult” a couple of weeks ago, this sequence must’ve made their heads explode! As the holographic crew suffered from the strange affliction seen in The Original Series first season episode The Naked Time and The Next Generation first season episode The Naked Now, they engaged in all kinds of debauchery, much to Mariner’s shock and disgust.
There will be criticisms of that sequence, especially considering the weirdly squeamish, reactionary response to a five-second clip in Mugato, Gumato, and Lower Decks will have to face up to that. Some fans simply don’t like this style of humour. But as I said when I talked about this issue in more detail, as someone who is asexual I’m one of the people that you’d think would be offended or upset by these kinds of sexual jokes. But again, as with the moment in Mugato, Gumato, I just didn’t think it was a problem at all. In fact, some of the individual jokes during this sequence – such as Ransom getting a spanking and Mariner’s horrified reaction to it – actually made me chuckle.
Rutherford got a Wrath of Khan-inspired moment during his drill, but unlike Spock was unable to sacrifice himself to save the ship. It was actually really cool to see the “monster maroon” uniforms in animated form, as well as to catch a very brief glimpse of what I assume would be the USS Enterprise in its refit configuration. Rutherford didn’t get as much screen time during this part of the episode, but his scenes harkened back to one of the best Star Trek films.
At first the senior staff thought they’d got it made! But as their drill ramped up and they were left in a cargo bay to stack crates while all manner of excitement seemed to be happening outside, they quickly became frustrated. Lower Decks originally promised us a look at the mundane activities away from the bridge, and stacking crates in a cargo bay seems about as boring a task as there is in Starfleet! Thinking back to episodes of Voyager or The Next Generation, though… someone has to have stacked those crates in the cargo bays!
As a “fish out of water” story, this side of the episode was fun. Putting the entire crew through their paces, then having them team up and use what they’d learned to defeat the villain made for an exciting, well-connected episode. Episodes like I, Excretus were exactly what I had in mind when Lower Decks was first announced, and although the A-plot/B-plot structure the show favours can work very well, once in a while it’s nice to see most of the characters working together and involved in the same storyline.
I had a great time with I, Excretus. The story was packed to the brim with very obvious callbacks to Star Trek’s past; the Mirror Universe, The Animated Series, even The Search for Spock were all represented in an incredibly fun, light-hearted story. Bringing the show’s main characters together for an outing that harkened back to old-school cartoons was truly fantastic, and I, Excretus will surely go down as one of the highlights of Season 2. Speaking of which… there are only two episodes remaining now that we’re into October. Where does the time go, eh?
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Further spoilers are present for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series, The Next Generation Season 4, Discovery Season 1, and Picard Season 1.
Prior to the broadcast of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, there was arguably more hype than for any other Lower Decks episode so far this season. The return of actor Jeffrey Combs to the Star Trek franchise – he’d previously played Shran in Enterprise and Weyoun in Deep Space Nine, among other characters – was something that the marketing team were keen to show off on social media, and with this episode having been teased earlier in the season, as its broadcast approached there was certainly a degree of hype.
Considering how a couple of previous returning actors’ roles landed – John de Lancie in Season 1’s Veritas and Robert Duncan McNeill in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris just a few weeks ago – I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But I was pleased to see that Combs’ character of Agimus – an evil computer – was handled well and played a significant role in the story.
I didn’t know that the one thing Lower Decks had been missing was a spotlight episode for chief engineer Andy Billups, but you know what? It worked far better than I would’ve expected. The rest of the senior staff – Captain Freeman, Commander Ransom, Dr T’Ana, and Shaxs – have had aspects of their characterisations and backgrounds explored gradually, with little tidbits dropped in previous episodes. Billups didn’t have much of that; the closest he’d gotten to a spotlight moment until this week was in Season 1’s Crisis Point, where he was part of Rutherford’s story.
Billups was certainly the least well-known of the senior staff, despite being Rutherford’s boss. Lower Decks just hasn’t spent as much time in engineering as it has in other areas of the ship, so he’d been a background presence at best for much of the show’s run to date. This week’s episode felt like Lower Decks was almost trying to make up for lost time by dropping Billups into a major plotline that not only gave him a starring role but that also explained much of his background.
One thing that I liked about this storyline is that it was a riff on the old maxim “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Billups, in his earlier appearances, seemed to be a bland, uninteresting human, probably from North America. He was dedicated to his work in engineering, and though he was on friendly terms with others on the senior staff, we never really saw him as a party animal or even having a close friendship. He seemed to be a pretty plain, uninteresting character – and we would’ve expected his background to match that persona.
Billups’ people – the Hysperians – are very far removed from that expectation! There was something about the Hysperians that reminded me very much of peoples Captain Kirk encountered during both The Original Series and The Animated Series; a throwback to Star Trek’s earlier days, where planetary societies based around ancient Rome or 1920s Chicago were commonplace. These kinds of stories and civilisations had faded from Star Trek by the time of The Next Generation, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Lower Decks bringing them back.
The aesthetic used for the Hysperians and their vessel was unique, too. Inspired by a “renaissance fair” – as the episode noted – there was something fun and whimsical about their appearance. On the surface, factions like the Hysperians may seem “less realistic” than others in Star Trek, but I’d actually argue the opposite. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to think that future groups of humans might settle colonies and establish societies based around mutual likes – it’s basically an extension of online communities where people share what they have in common.
The design of the Hysperian cruiser was neat, and both inside and out it reflected their “renaissance fair” society. The hallways being lined with huge portraits reminded me of more than one stately home that my parents dragged me to visit as a child, and I liked that the Hysperians re-named their ship’s systems to match their culture.
Billups’ storyline raised a very interesting question. Apparently, in addition to (or as part of) their medieval-fantasy culture, the Hysperians have a strange attitude toward sex and sexuality. Losing one’s virginity seems to be a big deal in their society – at least among the aristocracy. (Are all Hysperians aristocrats? Or are there peasants to go along with the knights and castles? An interesting aside!) So Billups had been avoiding losing his virginity as doing so would mean he would have to become king.
Given that Billups was incredibly reluctant to have sex – to the point that he had to be tricked into it – and that he seemed uncomfortable both before being taken to his quarters and immediately prior to getting into bed, I wonder if Billups might be asexual? Certainly this is one of the most overt references that the Star Trek franchise has ever made to asexuality, and although parts of it were – somewhat disappointingly – played as a joke, as someone who is asexual myself I find the whole thing particularly interesting.
Many asexual people – myself included – have had sex. This can be for a variety of reasons: societal pressure, the lack of education or awareness of asexuality, and the desire to appear “normal,” among many others. Because Billups seemed so genuinely uncomfortable at what would’ve been his first time, and that he’d made it to adulthood without ever losing his virginity, I’m wondering if we could make that inference. Billups chose to prioritise his work and his love of Starfleet over having sex, at any rate, so sex is clearly not a high priority for him.
We need more positive portrayals of asexual people in all forms of media – as well as portrayals of LGBT+ people in general. Though there were some issues with the way Billups’ role in the story was handled when viewed through that lens, such as how his apparent impotence was being played as a joke, I want to give Lower Decks credit for tackling this kind of story. Some folks might choose to attack the show for going down an overtly sexual route for part of this week’s story – particularly in light of the “adult content” controversy that blew up in the aftermath of Mugato, Gumato recently – but I’m honestly just pleased to see anything tangentially related to asexuality appear!
There is also a second dimension to this, and it’s one Star Trek has tackled recently. By attempting to trick Billups into sex, the queen and the other Hysperians were essentially forcing him into a sexual act that he couldn’t consent to. Billups also made it clear on several occasions that he categorically did not want to have sex. There’s a word for forcing someone into sex or tricking them into it under false pretences: rape.
Ash Tyler’s portrayal in Star Trek: Discovery, particularly in the latter part of Season 1, was a very powerful analogy for male victims of rape and sexual assault. Though the way Billups’ sexual encounter was handled in Lower Decks was very different, the premise is comparable. Star Trek has never shied away from tackling these tough topics, but Lower Decks didn’t really provide much closure in that regard. Rutherford’s timely arrival prevented Billups from being tricked into having sex, but there were no consequences for his mother and the Hysperians who tricked him. The whole thing was played very light-heartedly, and when we compare this to the powerful Ash Tyler storyline in Discovery it feels as thought it comes up short.
There was a distinct and out-of-place light-heartedness to the way the Hysperians and their queen were portrayed, both before and after their most recent attempt to trick Billups into a sexual encounter that he absolutely did not want to have. Lower Decks played some of this for laughs, and while humour is definitely something subjective, the jokes obscured some pretty dark and serious subject matter. Society as a whole needs to do better with helping and believing victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault, and male victims can be particularly invisible. Some male victims of sexual crimes have even reported being mocked and laughed at by law enforcement when they attempted to report what happened and seek help. Portrayals like this one don’t help the mindset that “men can’t be victims.”
Shelving that side of the story for now, we come to Rutherford. He played a role on this side of the story, but parts of it felt a little out-of-character. Though his conversation with Tendi at the beginning of the episode, in which he shared his reluctance to take on the assignment and work on a different ship, set up her devastation later on when she felt she’d pushed him to take an assignment that led to his death, the idea that Rutherford of all people wouldn’t jump at the chance to work on a fancy new starship engine for a change just didn’t seem to fit.
Rutherford’s death always felt like a fake-out, even though the episode put us through several minutes of seeing other characters reacting to his supposed death. The way Dr T’Ana informed Tendi was sweet, and I wish we could’ve seen more of the usually-grumpy doctor showing a softer, more sympathetic side for a change. Tendi of course reacted very strongly and with emotion – and the performance by Noël Wells was fantastic at that moment.
In light of Rutherford’s memory loss at the end of last season not really manifesting in a major way this season, and particularly after Shaxs came back from the dead in unexplained fashion, Rutherford was clearly not in any danger. I don’t even think that Lower Decks wanted to convince us as the audience that he was really dead, even though the characters went along with it at first. It wasn’t exactly a waste, as it set up the conclusion to the story quite well, but I’m not really sure what to make of it.
Rutherford being “dead” obviously hit Tendi the hardest. And even after he was shown to be alright, she was still very clearly affected by the experience. We might yet see some consequence of this in a future story; Tendi seemed very nervous and might try to interfere in a future story if she thinks it’ll help save Rutherford’s life. But that’s just speculation – it’s just as likely this whole thing will be forgotten as Lower Decks moves on to new stories in future.
Tendi and Rutherford spoke about getting him out of his comfort zone at the beginning of the episode. Though I stand by what I said earlier about Rutherford’s reluctance to work on a new ship being out-of-character, as a concept I liked what Tendi had to say. It can be important for everyone to push themselves and try something new. It can be something work-related, learning a new skill, or even visiting a different place for the first time. Though this wasn’t exactly the core of the story – and Tendi expressed regret when she thought Rutherford had been killed – the message itself is worth paying attention to for anyone who feels like they’re settled and haven’t tried anything new or different for a while. It’s very unlikely to end as explosively as it almost did for Rutherford!
On the other side of this week’s story were Boimler and Mariner, paired up once again for a mission aboard a shuttlecraft. After Agimus had been taken into Federation custody at the beginning of the episode, the duo were assigned to transport it (him?) to the Daystrom Institute for safekeeping. I liked that the Daystrom Institute was name-dropped here, as it has recently appeared in Star Trek: Picard. Dr Jurati was a scientist who worked there at the beginning of Season 1. The Daystrom Institute has appeared in other iterations of Star Trek as well, and was named for Dr Richard Daystrom, a computer scientist who appeared in The Original Series.
Jeffrey Combs has always played devious, villainous characters exceptionally well in Star Trek, and Agimus was no exception. Combs’ distinctive voice gave the evil computer a genuinely menacing quality, as each syllable dripped with malice and their attempts at manipulating Boimler and Mariner were obvious.
Agimus picks up another trope from The Original Series – computer-dominated societies. Lower Decks already brought back Landru at the end of Season 1, but there are other examples of this, such as Vaal and the Controller of Sigma Draconis VI. Again, this was a welcome step back to what felt like a story that could’ve been part of the franchise’s early days. Agimus is very much in line with the way other evil computers had been depicted – but elevated by Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal.
Though this side of the story teed up some Mariner-versus-Boimler tension, I was glad that the way that particular storyline ended showed Boimler in a positive light. Boimler has grown a lot since we first encountered him at the beginning of Season 1, and particularly after the lessons he’s learned this season about maintaining his close friendship with Mariner, if he had succumbed so easily to Agimus’ manipulations it wouldn’t have felt right.
But Boimler certainly had Mariner and Agimus fooled! I like seeing a more confident Boimler following his jaunt aboard the USS Titan. There must’ve been a temptation to reset the character after he returned to the Cerritos, but realistically an experience like that would have changed him. We see this change manifest in Boimler becoming more confident in his own abilities and more secure in his knowledge – even to the point that he surpasses Mariner in this particular story, figuring out a solution before she could and seeming to go along with Agimus only to gain access to the malignant computer’s battery.
It was a well-executed story, and one which didn’t come at the expense of Mariner. Though she was understandably unaware of what Boimler was doing, she wasn’t portrayed as being naïve or stupid in order to give Boimler his surprise ending. She underestimated him – believing him not to be ready for a different away mission. But we could also interpret her meddling as a desire to keep Boimler on the lower decks with her. Having lost him once, she isn’t prepared to lose him again. Whether she’s aware of that as she’s going behind his back isn’t clear – and I suspect that this side of their relationship will have to be explored again at some point. But this time, in the context of this story, it worked well.
Their shuttle crashing on a desert planet reminded me of The Next Generation fourth season episode Final Mission. In that story, Wesley Crusher and Captain Picard would similarly find themselves crash-landing on a desert world, and having to survive with a somewhat hostile companion. That episode would also mark Wesley’s departure as a permanent cast member (though he did return to The Next Generation for a couple of other stories). Whether intentional or not, it was neat to feel that Lower Decks was channelling that episode at points.
Agimus made for a difficult adversary for Boimler and Mariner to overcome, especially considering the crash severely damaged their shuttle. The stakes were raised higher by the damaged replicator and the loss of their emergency rations to an alien monster. It seems to have been around this point that Boimler formulated his plan! The joke about the replicator only being able to serve up black liquorice was also funny – as was the plant that also tasted of liquorice. I guess it must be an acquired taste – though I’ve always liked liquorice personally.
Mariner and Boimler’s trek across an unforgiving landscape also presented a comparison to their first away mission together in the second episode of Season 1: Envoys. That story saw Boimler at his most anxious and out-of-place; the contrast with the confident way he executed his plan this time around could not be more stark. The fact that both episodes saw an away mission aboard a shuttle go awry is interesting – Lower Decks is almost being poetic!
After their rescue, Boimler and Mariner returned to the Cerritos aboard a shuttle crewed by officers in the black-and-grey uniform style that Boimler wore aboard the USS Titan. Presumably these officers were from another ship, but it was interesting that they weren’t just picked up by the crew of the Cerritos. It was funny to see Agimus in their “prison” – surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds, of near-identical evil computers. Apparently out-of-control AI is a huge problem for the Star Trek galaxy… no wonder the Romulans in Star Trek: Picard were so concerned!
This week’s episode had two stories that both felt well-paced. Neither story felt rushed, and the number of characters present felt about right. Though the two stories went in completely different directions – literally and metaphorically speaking – both harkened back to The Original Series in ways that were very clever. It’s been a while since Star Trek produced an episode that felt so connected to the planets, peoples, and storylines of its first iteration, so that was fantastic.
Though there were some issues with the way Billups’ story was handled, I maintain that he could be asexual. At the very least there was an interesting asexuality-adjacent storyline this week, and it’s the first time that I can recall that Star Trek has come so close to touching on this subject. It wasn’t perfect, for the reasons I laid out above, but it was something – and there’s power in almost any form of positive representation, even when things aren’t perfect. If you’re interested to read my story about coming to terms with being asexual, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
Mariner and Boimler had an exciting story too, and Jeffrey Combs put in a wonderful performance as the antagonistic Agimus. It was great to welcome him back to Star Trek – and to see solid evidence of Boimler’s growth as a character.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for Short Treks.
This week’s episode perhaps wasn’t the funniest of the season – though there were some good jokes and moments of humour – but you know what? It was by far the most character-driven and emotional episode we’ve seen probably since Season 1’s Crisis Point. The two main character pairings each got to talk out emotional issues that had been lingering since the end of Season 1, and perhaps my only criticism would be that this episode would’ve worked better slightly earlier in the season!
For the first time in at least a couple of weeks, I felt that Lower Decks wasn’t trying to cram too much into a single episode. There was time for Boimler and Mariner to have their story, Rutherford and Tendi to have theirs, and the bridge crew to also be involved in a way that ultimately connected to both other storylines and didn’t feel forced or rushed.
Having blitzed through the Rutherford memory loss story at the beginning of the season and effectively “reset” him to where he had been in Season 1, this week’s Rutherford and Tendi team-up – in which he comes to terms with his memory loss and realises he doesn’t need to compete against his former self – would have worked better had it come earlier in the season. There was still a considerable emotional payoff in what was, as mentioned, an episode brimming with emotion, but had we seen more of Rutherford struggling with his lost memories in any of the first four episodes, this week’s conclusion would’ve felt more natural and more earned.
Considering that An Embarrassment of Dooplers had to set up Rutherford’s struggles, elaborate on them, and reach a satisfying conclusion in what was a B-plot, I have to give the episode plenty of credit. Rutherford and Tendi’s story was compact, but it revolved around a single item – their starship model kit – and placing this simple macguffin in the story kept it laser-focused. Had the writers tried to bring in too many different ways that Rutherford’s memory loss was affecting him, the story could’ve become unwieldy and lost its emotional core. In this case less was more – and the episode delivered.
As someone who used to build scale models (yes, I was that weird nerdy kid you’d see in model shops and toyshops) I adore that the writers brought in this element to Rutherford and Tendi’s friendship. It seems like the perfect hobby for the pair of them, as they both adore the ship and seemingly everything else about serving in Starfleet. I can absolutely buy into the idea that they’d want to spend their downtime working on a starship model.
I also absolutely love Tendi’s explanation for why the model was unfinishable. The idea that they would use the model as an excuse to not hang out or to prevent people from bothering them while they shared their time off together is simultaneously something I can relate to (as someone who is neurodivergent and has a very low tolerance for interacting with people) and, in a narrative context, a very cute romantic gesture. For all of my talk last week about “shipping” Boimler and Rutherford – which I still think would be adorable, by the way – the idea that either Tendi or Rutherford came up with this way of keeping people away so that they could enjoy time together without any distractions is incredibly sweet. It’s a kind of nerdy sweet, which is even better!
Star Trek has always proudly shown off alien races that seem to be illogical or with traits that make very little sense. The Yridians always spring to mind during such conversations; would an entire race really be involved in information trading? How did they ever develop as a species if all of them are information dealers? The Bynars are another example: half-cyborgs who can only work in pairs. And don’t even get me started on the Q Continuum or Trelane (maybe Trelane is a Q?!), so when the Dooplers with their ability to self-duplicate were introduced in this episode, I barely batted an eyelid.
For some folks, though, I can predict that the Dooplers’ silliness might be a point of attack. There’s something kind of Rick and Morty-esque about this new race of aliens, and for some on the anti-Trek side of things perhaps they might latch onto that to criticise Lower Decks. But as I said above, there are myriad aliens and stories from past iterations of Star Trek that are equally silly or unbelievable – remember that episode of The Animated Series where the Enterprise ended up in a parallel universe where magic is real? Where do you think shows like Rick and Morty got their ideas from, anyway? Star Trek has always had aliens like the Dooplers – and if you want to get scientific about it, cell division (mitosis) is a thing, and a form of reproduction for many organisms. Perhaps the Dooplers simply reproduce in this asexual form – no, not that kind of asexual!
Captain Freeman had her hands full with the exponentially-reproducing Dooplers, though! I was reminded more than a little of the Short Treks episode The Trouble With Edward, in which tribbles quickly overrun the USS Cabot. That was a very funny episode – well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. I don’t think I really spoiled it too badly there, so definitely track down a copy!
There’s a fine line between a trope and a stereotype, though, and the exaggerated Jewish-American accent used for the Dooplers, combined with their social awkwardness and ease of embarrassment, felt like it strayed very close at times. It was a little uncomfortable for that reason, kind of like watching the depiction of recurring Family Guy character Mort Goldman (and other Jewish-American stereotypes that that series seems to love for some reason). Maybe you can accuse me of being overly-sensitive, saying it was just a joke, etc. But it wasn’t a comfortable portrayal for me, it was one which leaned into stereotyping in a way that Star Trek should really be above.
The Dooplers themselves were one-dimensional. There isn’t much more to say; complaints of falling into stereotyping aside, the Doopler ambassador was a character who basically had one trait: he was prone to embarrassment. That embarrassment was something Captain Freeman and her senior staff had been trying to avoid for the entire mission – until an ill-timed rant about how awkward the mission was led to the duplication process starting anyway. The whole “he was behind you and overheard you say things about him” trope was put to good use here!
Captain Freeman ultimately had the same motivation as Ensign Mariner in this episode, but mother and daughter approached their shared goal in fundamentally different ways. They also both experienced rejection, yet at the end found comfort in spending time together. Though the Mariner-Freeman family aspect wasn’t the main focus of the story, this smaller element didn’t pass by unnoticed. We got to see Mariner and Freeman wanting the same thing – to attend the fancy Starfleet party – and we got to see them go about it in very different ways, highlighting that they have both similarities as mother and daughter, but still some pretty significant differences.
The main thrust of the story focused on Mariner and Boimler, and this was their first major outing as a duo since the season began. Again, as with the Rutherford and Tendi story, I might’ve moved this episode to an earlier point in the season, as some of their emotional moments felt like they could’ve arisen upon Boimler’s return to the ship – not several weeks later. But despite that, we got a story that was both funny and emotional.
After arriving on the starbase, Mariner decides that they need to speak to a shady character to get information about the fancy Starfleet party – as its location was supposedly a secret. The payoff to this joke, of course, was that the party was being held in what seemed to be the main ballroom on the station, and all the running away from security was ultimately unnecessary! This aspect of the story was the comedic part, as Mariner and Boimler raced away in a dune buggy/kart to escape security.
The sequence that took Mariner and Boimler in their kart through a variety of different shops and locations on the station was pretty funny, and reminded me of something you might see in a romantic comedy film – and I mean that in a good way! The sense that they were on an out-of-control ride, complete with some pretty slapstick humour, was a much-needed lighthearted sequence in an episode that was quite heavy on emotion later on. The parade of different shops was also reminiscent of the promenade, which was a major location in Deep Space Nine.
After taking his promotion and transferring to the USS Titan in the Season 1 finale, one thing we saw was that Boimler was ignoring messages from Mariner. Though he almost certainly was doing so due to his anxiety (answering the phone can be very difficult for people with anxieties, especially if the expected conversation is something negative), she felt abandoned by him. Just last week we learned that Mariner has experienced this rejection and abandonment before – in that case, her defence mechanism became telling elaborate stories about herself and crafting rumours that would lead to a sense of dark mystery. She chooses to avoid many people because of her fear of being rejected as they move on and move up the career ladder. She’d considered Boimler to be different, so his “betrayal” hit her very hard.
Finally getting all of these emotions out and laying them on the table was cathartic. Not only that, but it continued Mariner’s wonderful character arc going back to Season 1, as her characterisation as someone who is lonely and struggles to maintain friendships despite her “cool” persona was again laid bare. The only part I found a tad unbelievable was Boimler’s response, telling Mariner that he “didn’t know [she] had emotions.” He’d been her friend long enough to know that she can be emotional, and just last week he saw firsthand how much his friendship meant to her when she was so dejected that he’d believe the silly rumour she started. But that aside, this moment was beautiful and well-executed.
Boimler choosing to ditch the fancy party packed with Admirals and Captains to be with her was a wrench for him and a sacrifice, but it was one that worked perfectly for the story. Just like Mariner has grown over the past dozen episodes, so too has Boimler. Friendship matters to him, and Mariner matters to him in this moment – more so than just some fancy party. He could’ve schmoozed with senior officers and perhaps tried to score another promotion, but it seems that he was willing to give up on that – at least for now – to be with her. It was an incredibly sweet moment.
So I think that’s about all I have to say this time. Both main character pairs got cathartic, emotional stories that reinforced their friendships, and we even got a moment between Mariner and the Captain to round things off. For the first time in three weeks, Lower Decks managed to get the balance right in terms of the number of characters and stories it tried to include. Every character felt necessary to the episode’s plotlines, no story felt rushed, and the slower pace of the closing moments worked exceptionally well. There was still time for humour and to make jokes, but the success of An Embarrassment of Dooplers was its emotional edge.
It was sweet to see Mariner and Boimler enjoying one another’s company as friends, and likewise with Tendi and Rutherford. Each pair dealt with issues left over from Season 1 in a way that worked, and though I would argue the episode could’ve been bumped up the schedule so it came earlier in the season, overall I had a fun time this week. There were some neat references to past iterations of Star Trek, too – obviously the Kirk and Spock callback in the bar was cute, as well as something that firmly established the extent of Boimler and Mariner’s relationship. By comparing them to Kirk and Spock I’d argue the episode went out of its way to stamp out any ideas of a romantic bond between them, despite the semi-romantic nature of its storyline. There was also a callback to Okona – a character from The Next Generation who appears to have started a new career as a DJ. We’d heard a while back that Okona actor Billy Campbell was making a return to Star Trek – supposedly in Prodigy – but his voice wasn’t heard in this episode despite Okona’s appearance.
Overall, a great episode that was thoroughly enjoyable. An Embarrassment of Dooplers slowed down just long enough to allow its four main characters to shine. Oh, and hearing Dr T’Ana swear four times in a single sentence will never not be funny!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks 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.
I like episodic television. In a show like Lower Decks it makes a lot of sense to go down this route, as it allowed for many different scenarios and settings – and maximum fun! That isn’t to say serialised storytelling is bad, and I like the way Picard Season 1 and Discovery handled their season-long stories. But after seeing so many different serialised shows over the last few years – both within the Star Trek franchise and outside of it – it was a nice change of pace!
Season 2 will almost certainly retain this style of storytelling. There’s nothing to be gained by giving Lower Decks a season-long story of the kind seen in Discovery and Picard, and doing so would be an unnecessary constraint.
Number 3: The theme music.
Both Discovery and Picard have softer, slower theme music. I like both, and the understated musical pieces are a huge improvement over Enterprise’s early-2000s pop song! But Lower Decks’ theme is in a whole different league!
I wrote in one of my reviews last year that the Lower Decks theme could have been The Next Generation’s theme. The up-tempo, adventurous piece of music would have fit right in with that show and its theme of exploration, and I just adore it. The opening title sequence is also neat, showing the Cerritos getting into all sorts of trouble, and really went a long way to setting the stage for the show itself.
Number 4: “He’s got wood!”
This line was one of the funniest of the whole season. Low-brow comedy for sure, but the execution of this moment in Temporal Edict was absolutely perfect. There were some great jokes, puns, and one-liners across the season, and I’m not saying this one was somehow the best, but the scene on the Galrakian home planet was built up wonderfully.
As Mariner, Ransom, and the rest of the away team leave behind the chaotic ship, there was a sense that the new time management rules that Captain Freeman was trying to implement were not going to plan. The Galrakians (a new alien race) were a crystal-obsessed people, and as part of the Cerritos’ mission of second contact, the away team had to present an honour crystal to the Galrakian delegation. But because of the problems on the ship, the away team accidentally brought a wooden totem instead of the crystal, leading one of the Galrakians to exclaim “he’s got wood!” I had to pause the episode because I was laughing so much.
Number 5: The return of the Edosians.
Lower Decks represented the best opportunity so far to bring back elements from The Animated Series, not only because of its animation style but because its wackier sense of humour would be a good fit for some of the weirder elements from Star Trek’s first cartoon show. In the episode Much Ado About Boimler we got the return of the Edosians – the three-legged, three-armed aliens first encountered in The Animated Series.
Lieutenant Arex (voiced by Scotty actor James Doohan) had been a mainstay on the bridge of the Enterprise in The Animated Series, but Star Trek’s return to live-action in 1979 meant that the character was dropped. Bringing to life a very different-looking alien was just prohibitively expensive at the time, and I don’t know if Gene Roddenberry and the others even considered including Arex in Phase II or The Motion Picture.
Picard Season 1 had referenced the Kzinti, another alien race only ever seen in The Animated Series, and following some debate in the 1990s about whether the show should be considered part of Star Trek’s “official” canon or not, it was great to see the creators of Lower Decks and modern Star Trek embrace this more obscure part of the franchise.
The Edosian character we met was fun, too. Division 14 was presented as a mysterious off-the-books type of operation, and the episode – which saw the first team-up between Boimler and Tendi as well – leaned into a darker, almost horror vibe at points. It was great to welcome back the Edosians to Star Trek after such a long absence.
Number 6: Basically everything about Dr T’Ana!
Dr T’Ana has a terrible bedside manner. She’s gruff and sarcastic, but she’s incredibly funny and a great character! Practically every moment she was on screen in Season 1 was fun, and she elevated what would otherwise have been less-interesting moments many times. Speaking as we were of returning races, Dr T’Ana is a Caitian, an alien race only seen a few times in The Animated Series and some of The Original Series films.
Dr T’Ana reminds me of both Dr McCoy and Dr Pulaski. The latter is a character who I feel went under-appreciated in The Next Generation’s second season, and although Dr T’Ana turns up to eleven some of the rudeness present in both her and Dr McCoy, something about the way she came across on screen felt familiar – and I appreciated that.
The ship’s doctor has been part of Star Trek since the beginning, but is a role that can be fairly static in sickbay. Dr T’Ana managed to find different things to do at points across the season, and appeared to be on the verge of developing a relationship with Shaxs – before his untimely demise.
I’m looking forward to seeing more from the Cerritos’ doctor in Season 2. I wonder what she’ll get up to as the ship continues its adventures?
Number 7: The cinematic shots of the USS Cerritos in Crisis Point.
This sequence channelled one of my favourite moments in all of Star Trek – the reveal of the refitted Enterprise in drydock in The Motion Picture. That sequence still brings a tear to my eye even though I’ve seen it countless times, and this moment in Crisis Point was a wonderful homage to it.
Accompanied by a stirring musical number that was a mix of the Lower Decks theme with music from The Wrath of Khan and other films, the whole sequence was absolutely pitch-perfect, and without a doubt one of the highlights of the episode and the whole season.
Sometimes we can overlook the starships that our heroes serve aboard, but as has been pointed out on many occasions, the ship itself can be almost an extra character on the show. Moments like this go a long way to highlighting just how beautiful some Star Trek vessels can be. Is the Cerritos the best-looking ship in the fleet? Maybe not, but for a couple of minutes during this sequence you might just think she is!
Seeing the reactions of Boimler and the holographic bridge crew also added to the moment. These are people who really love their ship – and who can blame them?
Number 8: Badgey
Badgey would go on to be a villain not once but twice, and is a classic example of Starfleet’s own technology going wrong on the holodeck! Inspired by Clippy, the Microsoft Office “assistant” from the early 2000s, there’s something distinctly creepy about Badgey. The way he seems to be peppy and enthusiastic hides a murderous rage, and the concept of our own machines betraying us is a trope as old as science-fiction.
Originally created by Ensign Rutherford, like several of his inventions Badgey quickly went awry! Rutherford is a fun character on the show, but his love of tinkering and inventing caused trouble for the ensigns on more than one occasion!
Badgey returned in the season finale and again tried to kill Rutherford. Shaxs’ intervention saved his life, but at the cost of his memories – and Shaxs himself. We’re yet to see how Rutherford will react to his lost memories in Season 2, but we already know, thanks to the teasers, than his implant is back.
Everything about Badgey from concept to execution worked perfectly, and he was one of the most interesting adversaries the crew had to face in Season 1. Have we truly seen the last of him, though? The return of the Pakleds (as glimpsed in one of the trailers) may suggest otherwise!
Number 9: A return to the aesthetic of The Next Generation era.
I don’t dislike the way modern Star Trek looks. The Kelvin films used a lot of glossy white plastic and glass, and Discovery has somewhat of an industrial look to some areas of the ship, but on the whole recent productions have looked great. But for the first time since Voyager went off the air and Nemesis was in cinemas, Lower Decks brought back the aesthetic of ’80s and ’90s Star Trek in a big way.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this was “my” era of Star Trek; the point at which I became a fan. Just as I’m attached to The Next Generation in terms of its characters and stories, I adore the way the show looks, and how that look continued into Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the films of that era. Lower Decks unapologetically brought that look back – and I love it.
At the same time, Lower Decks has adapted this look to fit the kinds of stories it wants to tell. The USS Cerritos has visual elements inspired by The Next Generation, but the ship also manages to look smaller and less significant, especially when set alongside other Starfleet vessels. The uniforms are likewise a riff on The Next Generation and other uniforms of past Star Trek shows, with a jacket seemingly inspired by the “monster maroon” uniforms that debuted in The Wrath of Khan.
Everything about the way Lower Decks looks just oozes “Star Trek,” and for fans like myself who adore those shows, that can only be a positive thing.
Number 10: The arrival of the USS Titan in No Small Parts.
Toward the end of the season finale, it seemed as though the Pakleds had the Cerritos on the ropes. The last-minute arrival of the USS Titan was absolutely pitch-perfect, and drew inspiration from the likes of the Enterprise-E’s arrival at the Battle of Sector 001 in First Contact, with the theme music from The Next Generation accompanying it.
This is one of my favourite moments not just in Lower Decks but in all of Star Trek. The arrival of Riker and Troi aboard a ship we’d heard of but never seen was absolutely amazing, and the fact that they swooped in to save the day was heroic and exciting. The whole sequence is surprisingly emotional – at least it was for me!
We’d seen Riker and Troi return in Picard Season 1 earlier in the year, but seeing them in their prime aboard their own ship was a moment that I didn’t expect from Lower Decks. It was something I didn’t know I wanted to see, but having seen it I can’t imagine the episode – or the first season – being the same without this wonderful inclusion.
After the Titan saved the day we got a sequence with Riker and Troi hanging out with the Cerritos’ crew. Boimler then received his promotion and transferred to the ship to serve under Riker’s command – and that’s where we left him when the season ended. Riker and the Titan will be back in Season 2, and I’m curious to see how the show will fit them in for a second time. Not to mention how the Boimler situation will be resolved!
So that’s it. Ten of my favourite things from Season 1 of Lower Decks.
Season 2 is almost upon us, and I honestly can’t wait! I had such a great time with the show last year, and despite the fact that the clusterfuck surrounding its lack of an international broadcast definitely did some damage, it’s my hope that Star Trek fans the world over will be able to enjoy Season 2 this time around. Hopefully Lower Decks will also succeed at bringing in many new fans to the Star Trek franchise as well.
Stay tuned because I plan to write reviews of every episode of Lower Decks this season, hopefully within a day or so of their broadcast. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say! I hope this list has been a bit of fun, and that you’re as hyped up and excited for the return of Lower Decks as I am.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally beginning on the 12th of August. Season 1 is available to stream now. 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 teaser for Season 2. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Nemesis, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Star Trek’s First Contact Day event took place earlier this week, and in addition to some fun panels with members of the cast and behind-the-scenes teams we got three teaser trailers for upcoming Star Trek shows. I’ve already taken a look at elements from the Discovery Season 4 teaser and the Picard Season 2 teaser, so this time it’s Lower Decks’ turn to go under the microscope! And a microscope seems appropriate considering series creator Mike McMahan called this teaser a “microscopic look” at the upcoming season!
Lower Decks is not really a show that lends itself to a great deal of theory-crafting. Its episodic format and somewhat random nature mean speculating about specific storylines feels futile! Despite that, however, there are a couple of big questions raised by the teaser, and I’ll do my best to look at them in turn.
First up, the bridge crew. Aside from Commander Ransom (who appeared to be possessed!) the rest of the bridge crew were absent from the teaser. What could that indicate? After Shaxs was killed off at the end of Season 1, it feels as though the main characters are not as “safe” as we might expect, so perhaps another member of the senior staff won’t survive the season? That could be one explanation! Alternatively, the bridge crew could’ve been kept under wraps to avoid spoiling Shaxs’ replacement, particularly if there’s a new character who’s either visually distinctive or perhaps a returning character from a past iteration of the franchise.
We’ve seen a number of guest-stars across Season 1 who had been involved in Star Trek in the past – such as John de Lancie and JG Hertzler – but it would be potentially really interesting if someone we knew well from a past iteration of the franchise were to have a recurring role. Tuvok could replace Shaxs as head of security, for example, or time-travel shenanigans could see the return of someone like Travis Mayweather from Enterprise. That could be a great twist, and bringing back a character who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in the franchise right now seems like a lot of fun!
We’ve seen Prodigy go down a similar road with the return of a holographic Captain Janeway, and that series has a lot of potential. Maybe it would risk feeling repetitive coming so soon after Prodigy’s announcement of Janeway’s return, but even so I think it could be fantastic if done well. There must be plenty of ex-Star Trek stars who’d love the chance to come back even in voiceover form!
Next let’s look at Ensign Rutherford. At the end of Season 1, Rutherford’s trademark cybernetic implant was ripped out. This put him in a coma, and when he awoke he was missing all of his memories from Season 1, including meeting Tendi. In the teaser, though, his implant was back (and looking exactly the same as it did last season) and he seemed to be friends with Tendi and Mariner again – so what happened?
We’ve been promised that Season 2 won’t simply “reset” Lower Decks and ignore the events of the Season 1 finale, so somehow Rutherford has gotten a new implant and rebuilt his relationships with Mariner and Tendi. I hope we get to see at least some of that, because there’s potential in a “we used to be friends but you can’t remember” storyline, both from a dramatic and comedic perspective.
The implant was okay, and certainly gives Rutherford a distinctive design. Having had it removed in Season 1, though, there was potential to redesign it or do something different with Rutherford, and changing things up for him could open up new storytelling possibilities for the character. We’ll have to see what – if anything – the show does with all of that.
That brings us to Boimler! At the end of Season 1, Boimler was promoted and transferred to the USS Titan under Riker’s command. Mike McMahan had already said that Season 2 would begin with him serving there; as mentioned there would be no “reset” to keep him on the Cerritos. And we saw in the teaser the first signs that his posting was not going well!
After cutting to Boimler, the first thing we see is him screaming loudly, panicking and unable to cope with whatever bizarre situation the Titan has got itself into. Up next, with the ship seemingly on course for a nebula, ion storm, or other spatial anomaly, Boimler doesn’t understand one of Riker’s turns of phrase, loudly exclaiming “what does that even mean?!”
It seems safe to assume that, somehow, Boimler will find himself back aboard the Cerritos. But how? In one of the teaser’s other scenes, we seemed to see Boimler taking part in some kind of away mission, working on a computer while three other figures – clearly not the three other ensigns – defended him from being attacked. Did this mission happen during his time on the Titan? The absence of the other ensigns hints at that, and not seeing the three of them together at all in the teaser suggests that Boimler could remain aboard the Titan for more than just a few minutes during episode 1!
For a show that bills Mariner as its main character, we didn’t see as much of her in the teaser as I might’ve expected. She was briefly seen wearing anbo-jyutsu armour (first seen in The Next Generation Season 2 episode The Icarus Factor) and again fighting off a group of Cardassians. Neither of those short sequences told us much from a story point of view – except that, at some point in the season, she presumably takes part in an anbo-jyutsu match and battles some Cardassians!
The Cardassian fight looked like it could potentially be a flashback; on rewatching it I’m not entirely sure why I think that, but it was my initial reaction so I’m sticking with it! We saw a flashback of Mariner in Season 1 when she visited Deep Space Nine, so perhaps this will be something similar. And it’s worth noting that the only anbo-jyutsu match we’ve ever seen in Star Trek featured Riker – who will be making an appearance in the season. Could Mariner face off against Riker? And if so, could the “prize” be getting Boimler back?
Other things I spotted in the teaser were: a Miranda-class ship coming under attack, a mugato (the white ape-like creature with a horn) from The Original Series Season 2 episode A Private Little War, Ransom’s “possession” possibly taking place on either the Klingon or Cardassian homeworld (a guess based on the architecture in the background), Mariner’s Cardassian fight taking place in front of four lights (perhaps an homage to The Next Generation Season 6 episode Chain of Command), and the Titan seemingly coming under attack while on course for the anomaly.
The only character who didn’t have much to do in the teaser was Ensign Tendi. She had one moment with what looked like a snake-alien (or perhaps just a bunch of snakes) and she had the trailer’s only real line, wondering about how Boimler is getting on. In Season 1 Tendi never really found the right fit, with different stories trying out different personalities for her. She spent most of the season in “new and eager” mode, overawed by every small detail she encountered. Attempts to move her away from that had her turning clumsy, like Boimler, or into a super-genius like Rutherford, and I never really felt that Tendi was a settled character. Perhaps her lack of role in the teaser is indicative of that trend continuing – but I hope not. It would be great for her to find a niche and settle in.
For a teaser that barely clocked in at thirty seconds, the Lower Decks team crammed a heck of a lot in! I’m sure I missed things even having rewatched it a dozen times, so be sure to take a look for yourself to see what you can spot!
The first season of Lower Decks was fantastic, but sadly marred by a stupid decision on the business end from ViacomCBS to split up the show’s broadcast by geography. The resultant damage to Lower Decks from lost hype and interest was a problem during Season 1, and there’s no getting away from that. However, now that an international agreement has been struck to give Lower Decks a home on Amazon Prime Video, its future feels a little more settled.
Speaking of the show’s future, a third season has now been confirmed. With all of the other exciting things going on from First Contact Day I didn’t spot that announcement at first, but it’s now official! Obviously ViacomCBS was pleased with the reaction to the show both in the USA and around the world when it finally made its international debut, and that’s great news. If the creative team can keep up the quality, it would be great to see it run for four seasons, five, or potentially even more.
Lower Decks is the only upcoming Star Trek project to have an official broadcast date: Season 2 will premiere on the 12th of August. Presumably that means the 13th of August for the rest of us! Oh well, that’s only four months away! We can start to get excited already!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available. The series is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. 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.
Don’t worry, there won’t be any major spoilers here if you haven’t seen Lower Decks. If you’re a Trekkie and you managed to resist the temptation to watch Lower Decks by “unconventional means” then I commend you. After five long months, Lower Decks is finally available to an international audience via Amazon Prime Video – sharing the platform with Star Trek: Picard.
If you haven’t yet seen Star Trek’s second animated series, I really think you’re in for a treat! It’s funny and clever, and while there were some teething problems, especially in the first couple of episodes, I had a great time with the show overall. As an out-and-out comedy it’s certainly different from Star Trek’s past offerings, but if you believe that the franchise has never had a sense of humour then I think you’ve missed something significant!
The Original Series derived a lot of humour from the interactions between Dr McCoy and Spock in particular, and the franchise’s sci-fi setting has led to some weird and very funny moments. I think I’ve laughed out loud watching every Star Trek series to date. Lower Decks turns that up to eleven, and that may not be to everyone’s taste. If you don’t like animated comedy shows like Rick and Morty then perhaps the style of humour will be less enjoyable.
But even if you aren’t laughing out loud at every wacky situation that the ensigns find themselves subjected to, underneath the comedy is still a Star Trek show, and one that has heart. I would encourage fans who didn’t like Discovery or Picard to give Lower Decks a shot, because in many ways its closer to 1990s Star Trek than either of its two live-action cousins.
Lower Decks is largely episodic, it brings back the classic design of Star Trek ships from that era as well as bringing back classic designs of aliens like the Klingons – the Klingon redesign was a point of contention when Discovery premiered. So from the point of view of someone who loved Star Trek in the 1990s, Lower Decks goes out of its way to use that aesthetic and style.
Despite the focus on the four ensigns, the bridge crew and senior staff of the USS Cerritos get screen time and development as well, and while not every episode will feel like classic Star Trek, some genuinely do.
When I watched the first season, I said several times that it’s important to have the right expectation when sitting down to Lower Decks. It’s an animated comedy first, and a Star Trek show second. If you go into it expecting The Next Generation with a few extra jokes you will be disappointed; Lower Decks puts its humour front-and-centre.
A sense of humour is a very personal thing, and jokes are subject to individual taste. If the likes of Rick and Morty, Disenchanted, and even Family Guy are shows you like, I daresay the style of comedy in Lower Decks will be perfect for you. If you find those shows insufferable, however, it may be a more difficult watch – at least at some points.
Though not every joke landed, and some were actually dire, in my opinion the humour was more hit than miss, and there were some truly hilarious moments where I had to rewind the episode because I was laughing so hard. The humour generally doesn’t feel random; Lower Decks draws on the history, legacy, and mythos of Star Trek for many of its gags, which was wonderful.
Discovery was often criticised early in its run for feeling as though it was made by people who were not Trekkies. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, and I think it stems from the fact that the producers and writers were taking the franchise to new places. But regardless, that accusation simply cannot be levelled at Lower Decks. Almost every second of the season oozes Star Trek, and the characters, settings, storylines, and comedy are all drawn directly from the Star Trek shows of the 1990s.
There are also some genuinely inspiring and emotional moments in Lower Decks, with great scenes and characters inspired by past iterations of the franchise. In some ways, Lower Decks satirises or parodies Star Trek, but it always does so in a loving way. None of the jokes in Lower Decks felt like they were laughing at Star Trek – they were using the franchise as inspiration and making the goings-on in Starfleet fun, but never attacking the franchise nor being mean-spirited about it.
One thing I’m still hopeful for with Lower Decks is the expansion of the fanbase. An animated comedy in the vein of Rick and Morty has the potential to appeal to viewers who would not ordinarily seek out Star Trek, and while the splitting up of the broadcast did kill a significant amount of hype for the series, there is still the possibility to bring in new fans. Some of those people who are about to sit down to their first ever Star Trek show will go on to watch Discovery and Picard, as well as The Next Generation and The Original Series, and will become Trekkies. Lower Decks will, for some folks, be their first contact with the franchise, and I think that’s wonderful.
It took Rick and Morty three seasons to really go mainstream, so even though Lower Decks didn’t exactly catch fire during Season 1, with a second season already in production, and now having found an international home, I believe the show is in a good place, well-suited to expand beyond Star Trek’s typical sci-fi niche and bring in new fans.
Season 1 was a fun ride, and I’m already eagerly awaiting Season 2. I will certainly give it a re-watch on Amazon Prime Video now that it’s available – and I daresay I’ll have a great time all over again!
On my dedicated Star Trek: Lower Decks page you can find individual episode reviews for all ten of Season 1’s episodes. All ten episodes are available now on Amazon Prime Video, having followed Netflix’s lead and dumped them all at once! So if you haven’t seen Lower Decks yet, give it a shot. Maybe it won’t be your cup of tea – but maybe it will.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available now on Amazon Prime Video around the world, and on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
How on earth have ten weeks flown by? It seems like only yesterday that we were settling in for the premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and now we have to say goodbye to the series. On the plus side, that means it’s only a few days until Star Trek: Discovery returns with Season 3! After a somewhat stumbling start, Lower Decks improved massively to become a thoroughly enjoyable watch across its first season, and definitively proved that Star Trek can break new ground and do different things.
I was hoping for an exciting finale to end the season on a high, and in that regard No Small Parts delivered. It was almost certainly the funniest of the whole season too; the laugh-out-loud moments got going and hardly let up. There was also a genuinely heartbreaking moment, as security chief Shaxs lost his life.
The biggest disappointment with Lower Decks has been its lack of an international broadcast. The fact that the show has been segregated by geography has cut off not only Star Trek’s biggest fans in the rest of the world, but legions of potential new fans too. The entire point of a project like Lower Decks was to expand Star Trek beyond its typical sci-fi niche. Animated comedy shows are wildly popular all around the world, and this was the franchise’s biggest opportunity since at least the 2009 reboot to grow the fanbase and shore things up heading into the 2020s. ViacomCBS blew it. And there have been two big results: much of the hype for Lower Decks died before the first episode was even broadcast, as a huge potential audience came to realise it wasn’t going to be available to them. And the show became heavily-pirated, mostly by Trekkies who had no lawful way to access it. As I wrote when I looked at this issue in detail, ViacomCBS encouraged that. And it’s totally morally justifiable.
Of course, if you’ve been following my episode reviews you know I’d never partake in something like piracy. Heavens no. Instead I did the only sensible thing – I moved to the United States. I’ve had a wonderful time at my château here in the lovely state of Montana, but after ten weeks just outside the big city of Philadelphia I’m ready to head home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place, and there’s some wonderful waves to surf here on the Pacific coast, but I’m homesick. And if I have to eat another slice of this city’s signature dish (deep-pan pizza) I think I might burst.
So without further ado, let’s jump into No Small Parts. The teaser begins with a return to Beta III, the planet visited by Kirk and the USS Enterprise in The Original Series’ first season episode Return of the Archons. In that story, Kirk had to overcome Landru, a sophisticated AI that the Beta III natives worshipped and obeyed. In what was to become a theme for the episode, after that initial contact with Starfleet, the Beta III inhabitants slowly drifted back to following Landru, leaving Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom to once again tell them to snap out of it.
So the concept of Starfleet making first contact but not really following that up in a meaningful way would be a theme in No Small Parts. We’ll see that in a moment with the Pakleds, as well. This is something genuinely fascinating, as it shows us the “underbelly” of the Federation beyond the exciting missions of the Enterprise. This is what Lower Decks promised, and I’d argue that No Small Parts is perhaps the best example of this concept in the entire season.
There were several great references in the teaser. While Ransom is recording his log he looks at a picture of Kirk and Spock on a padd – the picture was the duo as they appeared in The Animated Series in 1973-74! That was great, and a fun little acknowledgement that both series are linked by animation. Ransom uses the term “TOS era” when referring to the time of Kirk and Spock – an obvious shoutout to what fans call it! There was also a hint at the changing nature of Star Trek’s storytelling, as Ransom comments that Kirk and his crew seemed to be “stumbling on crazy new aliens every week back then!”
As Captain Freeman gives the order to break orbit, an unnamed bridge officer tells her that there are still crew on Beta III – much to her annoyance! Of course, there was only one person who could have so brazenly disobeyed orders – Ensign Mariner. I started to worry that we were about to see a character regression, ignoring the major breakthrough in her relationship with Starfleet that we’d seen last week!
Speaking of last week, Boimler had learned of Mariner’s secret – that she’s the daughter of Captain Freeman. In a scene that once again showed Boimler being a very sore winner, which is not an endearing character trait, he tries to use it as leverage and rub her face in it, teasing her mercilessly and somewhat cruelly.
Unfortunately for Boimler – and everyone else involved – their conversation is broadcast to everyone on the bridge via an open com-link. Freeman and Mariner’s secret is busted wide open, and now the entire crew knows. Captain Freeman beams the two wayward ensigns directly to the bridge, but it was too late to stop knowledge of the secret getting out. Boimler has – unintentionally – ruined things for the pair of them.
The credits rolled, and this was the last time we’re going to hear the Lower Decks theme for a while! I know that I’ve commented on it a couple of times already this season, but it really is a lovely piece of music. As a Star Trek theme it’s adventurous and inspiring, and would be just as well-suited to The Next Generation as it is to Lower Decks. The themes for Picard and Discovery are, by comparison, very understated and slow. They fit their shows well, but I found them both to be far less memorable than the music used for Lower Decks. It’s not a stretch to say it’s the best post-1990s Star Trek theme, and I shall miss it!
After the titles we’re not immediately back on the Cerritos. Instead the action hops to another California-class ship, the USS Solvang. Like Cerritos (and other names used this season) Solvang is a city in California, between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. While visiting the Kalla system, which had been seen in The Next Generation, the Solvang is brutally attacked by a massive, imposing-looking starship. After the attack takes down their shields in a matter of seconds the captain gives the order to warp out of the system, but a grappling hook launched by the aggressive ship has clamped onto one of the Solvang’s nacelles. The resultant attempt to go to warp overloads the engines and destroys the ship.
One character who, despite having a handful of good moments across the season, has felt underdeveloped and rudderless on the whole is Ensign Tendi. Mariner, Boimler, and Rutherford each have a niche; a role within the context of the show that they fill. Tendi is still missing that as of the end of the first season, and the lack of any real character development – aside from one moment last week where she stood up for herself – made this next scene feel unearned. At the beginning of the season, Tendi was assigned Boimler as her orientation officer. And now, in the finale, she gets to be the orientation officer for a new recruit. If Tendi had seen any growth, character development, or indeed had any real impact on the show at all across the first season, there’s no question that this moment would have felt fantastic. As it is, though, Tendi still feels like a character the writers haven’t found a proper role for, and as a result this moment fell flat.
It was only for a moment, however, because the new officer Tendi is to mentor is an exocomp! The exocomps were introduced in Quality of Life from the sixth season of The Next Generation. The exocomps were originally conceived as tools, but grew to become sentient. Data in particular played a crucial role in defending them, and it’s great to see their evolution had continued such that one could join Starfleet by this time. It does raise a question, though. In Star Trek: Picard, synthetic life has been banned not just in the Federation, but across many other areas of the galaxy. What does that mean for the exocomps, I wonder?
There was also the beginning of a running gag here, as Rutherford messes with his cybernetic implant. Pressing a button cycles through a number of different personality quirks, and while some of them won a chuckle, the joke as a whole was overstretched. Despite not being especially funny on its own merits, however, this did serve to remind us as the audience of Rutherford’s cybernetics and his ability to manipulate them, setting up a moment later in the story and ensuring that a much more crucial scene doesn’t feel like a bolt from the blue.
In the captain’s ready-room, Mariner and Freeman are dealing with the fallout from the crew learning their secret. There was a reference to Wesley and Beverly Crusher, which was fun to see, and it seems as though both officers had something to gain by keeping the secret. Mariner didn’t want special treatment, nor to feel as though she was being given an easy ride. And because of Mariner’s poor record, it suited Captain Freeman that nobody knew her daughter was one of the worst officers in the fleet. Mariner’s fears seem to be confirmed when Commander Ransom arrives and treats her differently.
Tendi’s exocomp friend is named Peanut Hamper – a name she chose for herself, believing it to be the best available. Tendi, naturally, loves it, and begins giving Peanut Hamper the same tour of the ship that she received from Boimler and Mariner in the season premiere. Meanwhile, Mariner is having a hard time as the whole complement of the Cerritos is treating her differently. Everyone from senior officers like Dr T’Ana and chief engineer Billups, all the way down to her fellow ensigns and others on the lower decks are all behaving differently around her, and of course she blames Boimler for spilling the beans.
Even Boimler isn’t immune to trying to use his connection to Mariner, though, as he asks her to pass a letter of recommendation to the captain for him. Apparently there’s a promotion up for grabs, complete with reassignment, and Boimler wants it. Mariner decides that a role on a different ship where nobody knows her (and, presumably, where even if they did it wouldn’t do any good without Captain Freeman being present too) is just what she needs, and decides to play it straight for a while to win the promotion. She rolls down her sleeves, fixes her hair, and starts addressing Boimler as “sir.” In a funny moment at the end of the scene, Shaxs bursts in and, in his typical gruff style, tells Boimler that he wants to give Mariner a present, while carrying what looked like a wrapped-up Klingon batleth!
After a short scene where Mariner and Boimler both try to press Ransom for the promotion, we’re back with Tendi and Peanut Hamper. Rutherford is in one of the shuttlebays working on a shuttle, and Tendi is worried that Peanut Hamper may not be cut out for Starfleet – despite the fact that she must’ve graduated from the Academy. In sickbay, Dr T’Ana puts Peanut Hamper through her paces, and the little exocomp is more than capable thanks to her technology, despite Tendi’s fears.
Boimler and Mariner argue about the promotion while the ship arrives in the Kalla system (having previously answered the Solvang’s distress call). Any thoughts of the disagreement are immediately set aside as the ship finds the Solvang’s debris and jumps to red alert. On the bridge, the senior staff confirm that there are no life signs amongst the wreckage, and after the explosion we saw earlier I think that’s to be expected! It isn’t long before the aggressive ship rears its head again, this time targeting the Cerritos.
This giant, imposing vessel turns out to belong to a familiar Star Trek race. But it isn’t one we might’ve expected – it’s the Pakleds! The Pakleds were featured in Samaritan Snare during the second season of The Next Generation, and were depicted as slow and stupid. The concept behind them was “all the other aliens on Star Trek are really smart, what if some aren’t?” Which, if you think about concepts like interstellar travel, is a ridiculous idea, but regardless the Pakleds were created and became part of the Star Trek universe. After their debut in The Next Generation, they would occasionally serve as background characters in Deep Space Nine.
Of all the races that could outgun and outsmart the Cerritos, it’s funny that it’s the Pakleds – even though as a race I’ve felt since The Next Generation that they make absolutely no sense. Pakleds could indeed show a degree of cunning, and were known to be selfish and greedy. But the notion that this race could even operate a starship that they’d stolen – much less build one for themselves – is completely silly. Here they’re depicted as stealing starship parts to add to their already-monstrous ship, with their leader claiming he wants “all the ship pieces!”
The Cerritos tries to send a distress call, but the Pakleds jam their communications. Ransom orders the helm officer to take the ship to warp, but luckily Captain Freeman realises what happened to the Solvang and instead orders the engines shut down. The Pakleds also thought that they were attacking the Enterprise – presumably it’s the only Federation ship they’ve encountered. Regardless, Jakabog (the Pakled captain) is essentially a pirate, and after stripping the Cerritos of one of her nacelles, plans to board the ship to steal more ship pieces for his collection.
Boimler scans the Pakled ship and the crew realise that they’ve augmented their craft (which, in a nice touch, was the same design used in The Next Generation) with over thirty different parts from other races – including, as we saw, weapons. As the Cerritos is towed closer to the Pakleds’ hybrid vessel, phaser beams begin to cut into the hull. Ransom cries that they’re being carved up “like a First Contact Day salmon!” which was a pretty funny line.
With no other options, the captain turns to Mariner. She orders Mariner to think outside the box and come up with a way out, even if it breaks the rules. And here… I’m not 100% sold on this part of the story. Mariner’s rule-breaking has always had a distinct “teen angst” streak running through it. She’s childish, and while she does know her stuff – at least as much as Boimler – she’s never really demonstrated on screen that she’s the kind of person you’d want to turn to in a crisis for something like this. It didn’t entirely come from nowhere, as Captain Ramsey in Much Ado About Boimler told us this about her. But I’m a firm believer that stories should show, not tell, and while several characters across Season 1 have told us that Mariner could be this amazing officer if only she’d put in any effort, I think it’s arguably the case that we as the audience haven’t really seen it for ourselves.
Regardless of what I may think, however, Captain Freeman turns to her daughter for a solution, and Mariner provides. She asks Boimler about the Pakleds; they use a variety of different computer parts, which means they must need an operating system that can easily trust new pieces that are added in. Mariner then contacts Rutherford, who will provide a virus capable of disabling the Pakled ship. Without much time to come up with a computer virus, Rutherford turns to Badgey for help. Badgey had, of course, been the antagonist in Terminal Provocations.
Badgey gives a nonchalant answer when Rutherford asks if he’s going to try to kill him again, which seemed like a horribly bad omen! However, the Cerritos doesn’t have a lot of options at this point, and thus the crew go ahead with the plan. Badgey is unleashed as Rutherford disables the safety protocols on the holodeck, but the viruses he’s created will have to be manually uploaded; someone will have to physically sneak aboard the Pakled ship. I liked the return of Badgey. Given Lower Decks’ episodic nature this isn’t something I was expecting, but having been so well established in Terminal Provocations it would’ve been almost a shame not to bring him back!
The senior staff, led by Mariner and Boimler, evacuate the bridge as Pakleds transport aboard. En route to the armory they’re accosted by more intruders, and this was more in line with the way I expected Mariner to prove useful: she’d hidden contraband, including weapons, on the ship. She breaks out a bunch of them and the crew arm themselves. Mariner herself wields the Klingon batleth that she accidently hurt Boimler with in the opening sequence of the series, which was again a neat callback to events within Lower Decks.
During the fight, there was a touching moment between Mariner and Boimler, as he confesses that he considers her his best friend. Despite being kind of a jerk to him, especially in the first couple of episodes, Mariner has made good on her promise to mentor Boimler – at least to an extent. Their dynamic is still based on the likes of Rick & Morty, but most of the time the show has made it work. Boimler is armed with a fencing sword in this scene; a callback to Sulu in The Original Series Season 1 episode The Naked Time (and recently seen in the animated Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot).
The captain is wounded during the fight, and the gang race to sickbay. They get there in time, of course, and the captain will be okay. But she’s out of commission for much of the rest of the story. Rutherford has the viruses, but breaks the news that someone will have to go to the Pakled ship. With no transporters that will be difficult – but not for an exocomp! However, in what was perhaps the best subversion of the whole episode, Peanut Hamper refuses to go. She doesn’t want to put herself at risk, and she doesn’t really care about Starfleet after all! The way this played out was absolutely hilarious, and the voice acting to make the little exocomp sound so nonchalant despite the chaotic situation was just spot-on.
As Peanut Hamper makes her escape, Rutherford suggests himself as the next logical choice. His implant will allow him to take the viruses aboard the Pakled ship, and despite Tendi pleading with him, everyone agrees it’s their best chance for survival. Shaxs grabs Rutherford and the two race to the shuttlebay. Instead of taking the shuttlecraft Yosemite, with its blast shield, they take a run-down shuttle that we’d seen Rutherford working on earlier. Shaxs is having a whale of a time, and at one point exclaims that is is the “best day of [his] life!”
After phasering another hole in the hull, Shaxs and Rutherford blast their way out, then navigate through the Pakleds’ grapplers and weapons to make it to the enemy ship. Shaxs is clearly in his element here, and slams the shuttle into the Pakled ship’s hull, sending several soldiers flying. He and Rutherford then jump out and get to work on the Pakleds’ computers.
Rutherford is able to jack into the alien computer to upload Badgey and the viruses, but – as expected – Badgey still holds a grudge for what happened earlier in the season. While he will upload the virus to save the Cerritos, he’ll only do so after the Pakleds kill Shaxs and Rutherford. There’s no way to talk the homicidal little holo-assistant down, he’s determined to have his revenge!
Badgey then sets the Pakled ship to self-destruct – presumably that’s what one of the viruses was – and Rutherford doesn’t know what to do. In a moment of heroism, Shaxs steps in. He brutally rips out Rutherford’s cybernetic implant, trapping Badgey in the alien system. He then throws the unconscious Rutheford onto the shuttle mere seconds before the Pakled ship explodes. Poor Shaxs. This was a genuinely heartbreaking moment, especially when Shaxs called Rutherford “little bear,” a nickname he acquired in Envoys when he briefly joined the bears – Shaxs’ nickname for his security officers.
I wish we’d been able to spend more time with this gruff Bajoran. His death was heartbreaking, and although he didn’t have a lot of screen time, he’s been a constant presence in the series since the premiere. In some ways he could be seen as a stand-in for characters like Worf, but at the same time he was his own man. And as his final act of sacrifice proved, a Starfleet officer to the core. Lower Decks will have to find some way to fill his big shoes in Season 2. Alex Kurtzman (who is in charge of Star Trek as a whole) as well as Shaxs’ voice actor Fred Tatasciore have both confirmed that the plan is for Shaxs to remain dead; he isn’t coming back.
As the Pakled ship explodes, Ransom and the rest of the crew have managed to keep control of the Cerritos, neutralising the invaders. Mariner is in the captain’s chair on the bridge, with Boimler at the helm. From her bed in sickbay, Captain Freeman orders her to get the ship out of the Kalla system as quickly as possible.
Their escape won’t be so easy, it seems. No sooner has the Cerritos taken down one Pakled ship than they’re accosted by three more who come out of nowhere! This episode has been a wild ride for sure! In what was a callback to Star Trek: First Contact, Boimler detects another incoming ship: the USS Titan! Captain Riker – voiced, of course, by Jonathan Frakes and thankfully not spoiled ahead of time this time – is in command, and his superior vessel is no match for the Pakleds; the surviving ships beat a hasty retreat.
As the theme from The Next Generation plays, the Titan makes light work of the Pakleds. Just like in the sequence from First Contact it was paying homage to, this was another perfectly-executed moment. Riker’s last-second arrival saves the day, and was one of the highlights of the season. Naturally he knows Mariner, as everyone seems to! We also got Troi back, accompanying her husband on the bridge of the Titan. Talk about going out on a high! As a Trekkie this was perfect. In Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, I knew to expect the return of Riker and Troi. But here it was a complete surprise, and even though the Titan had been name-dropped earlier in the episode, that was one of countless Star Trek references. Forget just this one episode, the timely arrival of the USS Titan has to be one of the top moments across the whole season!
The USS Titan may sound familiar to you. It was mentioned in Star Trek: Nemesis, and indeed at the end of that film, Riker is promoted to captain and leaves the Enterprise to assume command of the Titan. A series of novels subsequently depicted Riker’s adventures aboard the Titan, but the ship wasn’t mentioned earlier in the year in Star Trek: Picard. In the finale, Riker was in command of the USS Zheng He (following his temporary return to duty). Fans had long wanted to see the Titan, though, and Lower Decks delivered!
This animated recreation of Troi and Riker came the same day that we heard that Kate Mulgrew will reprise her role as Captain Janeway in upcoming kid-friendly series Star Trek: Prodigy, and if anyone was sceptical about that concept on hearing the news, all they’d have to do is look to Lower Decks. Riker and Troi look great as animated characters – and this means that Jonathan Frakes has now acted in six Star Trek series: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Picard, and Lower Decks. That’s in addition to his four film appearances and directorial credits in all the aforementioned shows, two films, and Star Trek: Discovery! Michael Dorn may still have him beaten for total number of appearances, though!
It was another little callback to hear the Pakled commander shouting for his crew to “make us go!” as the Titan attacked. That line was spoken almost verbatim by the Pakleds in The Next Generation, and even though it’s something easy to miss, it was appreciated here.
With the Pakleds beaten, the action jumps ahead by an indeterminate amount of time. The Cerritos is undergoing repairs – though the captain insists it be left in its original design, and not upgraded. Rutherford is in a coma having lost his implant, and Tendi is staying by his bedside. Rutherford wakes up – but has lost his memory. He doesn’t know who Tendi is, nor remember anything that transpired this season. That could make him useful in Season 2, and could certainly be a point of humour… but it means the character we got to know is halfway gone, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Unlike Shaxs, Rutherford has been a major character. Here’s hoping that he recovers.
Shaxs is honoured in a Wrath of Khan-style funeral, which was a nice touch. I’m glad they didn’t just forget about him and rush to move on too quickly. The portrait of him at his funeral was funny – in true Shaxs style he looks pissed off! Captain Freeman says he’s with the Prophets – who are, of course, the Bajoran gods we saw on a number of occasions in Deep Space Nine.
Back aboard the repaired ship, Mariner and Freeman agree to put their differences aside and work together. The events of the episode, from the Beta III inhabitants going back to worshipping Landru and Starfleet failing to keep tabs on the Pakleds, have led the captain to come around to Mariner’s way of thinking – Starfleet is great at some things, but doesn’t do a good job of following through and maintaining contact with the races and cultures it meets. This led directly to the problems the Cerritos encountered, and to everyone’s surprise, the captain agrees with Mariner’s assessment.
To be fair, I don’t think we can say we know enough about Starfleet to say Mariner is correct – or that she’s incorrect either. We have seen Starfleet keep close tabs on races like the Dominion in the years preceding the Dominion War, but even in The Next Generation there were worlds like the Turkana IV colony that were warzones that the Federation left well alone and didn’t intervene in or try to help. So while the Federation, unlike in Picard, is clearly still a positive force in the galaxy, it isn’t perfect – and never has been. Perhaps Mariner is right; Starfleet is great at exploring (and warfare) but isn’t always great at following through.
And if that isn’t a bombshell to end the series on, I don’t know what is. You read that right… I actually agree with Ensign Mariner. Shocking stuff! But that wasn’t quite the end. In the Cerritos’ bar, Tendi, Rutherford, and Boimler are waiting for Mariner. Rutherford does remember her – so it’s only the events of the entire season he can’t remember, not his whole life! Riker is waiting too – for Captain Freeman! Apparently he knows her too; perhaps he knows everybody! Troi shoots down Commander Ransom in the most cold, Betazoid manner, which was hilarious.
Tendi and Boimler have been telling Rutherford about their exploits over the last few months, bringing him back up to speed. I wonder if he’s going to get his implant back next season. It was a great way to make use of it, and again something set up right at the beginning of the story that paid off in a big way at the very end. I love it when shows do that. Rutherford’s implant could just have been another piece of tech, occasionally technobabbled into usefulness but never really put through its paces. Instead, we can see clearly that the team behind the series set this up right from the get-go.
Lower Decks had one final twist to spring on us, though. Just as Boimler tells Mariner how happy he is to be with her on the Cerritos, Riker shows up and tosses him a padd. This was the promotion Boimler had been chasing all season long, and not only that, but a transfer to Riker’s command aboard the USS Titan. The episode, and the season, ends with Boimler having accepted the promotion (without telling Mariner, who’s constantly leaving messages for him) and ready to make his new life as a junior grade lieutenant aboard the Titan.
So that was No Small Parts. And that was Lower Decks Season 1. An episode clearly made for fans capped off a series that’s been made for fans, and I loved every second of it. The only concern I have was… did anyone else? No Small Parts, unlike some other stories in Lower Decks, was so full of callbacks and references that I wonder how a non-Trekkie would feel upon watching it. They wouldn’t get most of the references, and without them, many of the jokes would be less funny, or not funny at all. As a one-off episode that’s probably okay. At least, I hope it is.
CBS All Access is tight-lipped on viewership figures, and of course with no international broadcast we only have North America to go on. Unofficially, I’ve seen Lower Decks become one of the most-torrented series of recent weeks, and that doesn’t seem to have dropped off as the season went on. Perhaps that’s good news if it means CBS All Access managed to similarly retain its viewer base. However, without an international broadcast going forward, Lower Decks remains in danger. Unless that can be sorted out before Season 2, I doubt there will be a Season 3. And that’s a shame, because the series finally hit its stride.
The events of No Small Parts have clearly shaken things up. The loss of Shaxs will be noticeable, of course, but more significantly we have the change in Rutherford, whose lost memory and lack of implant will change his character, and also Boimler’s transfer. Alex Kurtzman and Mike McMahan have stated on the record that they won’t simply undo any of these things off-screen; Season 2 will begin with Boimler as a lieutenant aboard the Titan. How that circle will be squared is anyone’s guess! If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that somehow, Mariner will end up getting him demoted and reassigned. But that’s just a theory!
Lower Decks was a surprise addition to the television lineup this summer; its queue-jumping of Discovery clearly related to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a rocky start it’s been great fun to watch, and my initial worry that after fifty-four years, Star Trek would struggle in a wholly new genre proved unfounded. I’ve had great fun with the crew of the Cerritos, and despite the show’s premise, they managed to have some truly wacky adventures worthy of any other Star Trek production. I will miss my Thursday date with Lower Decks, and I’m already looking forward to its return – hopefully next year.
Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 3 kicks off on Thursday (Friday here in the UK). I hope you’ll join me then for reviews, theories, and more. If you missed any of my other reviews and articles about Lower Decks, you can find them on my Star Trek: Lower Decks page. Until next time!
All ten episodes of Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.