In what might be the most shocking development in its first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks has actually produced an episode that’s both mildly entertaining and feels appropriately at home in the long-running sci-fi franchise.
In the wake of the departure of Freeman, Ransom, and Shaxs due to their assignment on a highly-covert seed-protection mission, a substitute crew is brought on to the USS Cerritos to handle the ship’s duties in their absence.
In a surprise introduction, the substitute captain turns out to be none other than Amina Ramsey, Mariner’s best friend from her days at the Starfleet Academy. Due to their history, Ramsey quickly chooses Mariner to be her temporary First Officer, though conflict soon arises as Mariner intentionally performs her duties poorly in order to prevent Ramsey from offering her a promotion.
Elsewhere on the ship, after a failed test run of a teleporter unit repaired by Rutherford, Bomiler finds himself stuck in an a sort of in-between teleportation state which gives him a semi-transparent appearance and the annoying tendency to constantly produce a high-frequency static sound.
Boimler’s new state of being, along with an otherworldly ‘dog’ created by Tendi through DNA modification and aptly named ‘The Dog’, catches the attention of Ramsey and her crew, who turn them over to the care of Division 14, a division dedicated to the study of “unsolveable space illnesses and science mysteries.”
As they board a dreary and menacing ship headed for Division 14’s special ‘spa treatment’ planet, the two come face-to-face with a group of fellow affronts to science and learn that the spa planet may be nothing more than a ploy to trick and isolate Starfleet’s mistakes.
It may be genuinely hard to believe, but Much Ado About Boimler is not only the highlight of the season thus-far, but the first episode in the series that feels appropriately ‘Star Trek.’
Mariner and Ramsey’s story explores the intra-personal conflicts of two career Starfleet officers who have two very different philosophies towards their positions, but ultimately resolves in a way that validates both characters (though Mariner to a much lesser extent than Ramsey) and allows them to set aside their differences and fight for the common good.
Special mention should also be made of the alien entity that is discovered upon the USS Rubidoux, as its terror-inducing presence and inability to be identified by Starfleet reinforce the mysterious and awe-inspiring nature of genuine space exploration.
On a similar note, Boimler and Tendi’s story explores the ‘scientific’ side of Star Trek lore, specifically the potentials for various future-tech to misfire or go awry.
The collection of ‘freaks’ seen on the Division 14 ship is visually interesting not only for their Cronenberg-esque appearances, but also for the way their illnesses and mishaps are reasonably believable within the realm of Star Trek lore, such as two people conjoined through a teleporter mishap or a man whose body is split between youth and old age.
Rather than reaching to make the tired sort of “Star Trek but in real world” whacky situation, the episode keeps itself grounded in the world its based in, much to its benefit.
Though Lower Decks is a sitcom that features far more “misses” than “hits” when it comes to its humor, the concept of Tendi’s genetically modified dog presents some amusing scenes, particularly as a result of its tendency to shape-shift into bizarre forms.
These forms, such as a demonic creature ala John Carpenter’s The Thing or a solid-but-mobile metal cube, appear as background gags during moments when Boimler or Tendi are worried over their own situations and add a bit of levity that actually feels at home in Star Trek.
Unfortunately, most of the goodwill from this gag is thrown away at the end, when the dog reveals that it can both fly and speak human language in a scene that comes off more ‘lol so random’ than anything else.
While Much Ado About Boimler is far from enough to redeem the entire season, it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the thus-far-unbearable animated sitcom.
The episode’s heavy basis in actual Star Trek lore and its (mostly successful) avoidance of tired sitcom tropes are the keys to its success, as they surprisingly prevent the episode from feeling like yet another cheap Star Trek cash-in.
However, it’s far too early to declare that the series has made a permanent turn for the better, as whether the series can maintain or even surpass this bare-minimum level of respect for the franchise ultimately remains to be seen.
At the end of the day, it was nice just to see an episode that wasn’t excruciatingly divorced from the world it so desperately wants to play in.
- The nature of the ‘freaks’ aboard the Division 14 ship.
- The depictions of both Tendi’s dog and mysterious entity aboard the Rubidoux.
- The episode actually felt like Star Trek, even if just slightly.
- Unable to completely avoid lazy sitcom humor
- A tendency to take the wind out of interesting moments and concepts with uninspired jokes
- Mariner’s plot to intentionally ‘take a dive’ is uninspired and annoying