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Television

Star Trek: Lower Decks Digs into its Characters in Season Two, Ep. 4 and 5

We’re now five episodes into Season Two of Lower Decks and have already been on so many wild adventures with our crew members. The first three episodes of the season were full to the brim with overt references and homages to past-Trek, which has been a real treat. I personally really appreciate how this show handles these moments. Lower Decks knows it’s a Star Trek show taking place in the same era as the height of 90’s Star Trek, and while it has tethers linking it to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, it never relies entirely on nostalgia goggles to keep the audience interested. These references are mostly contextual for the time period the story takes place in, but have a very, “imagine being some random person living in New York when Loki attacked the Avengers” vibe to it. 

The charm of Lower Decks is they are truly just Nobodies in a world with huge, famous, legendary space explorers. While Boimler specifically has dreams of Starfleet grandeur, Tendi and Rutherford in particular seem to be content with their current assignment and find the Cerritos a perfectly fine ship to leave their mark on. On the other hand, Beckett Mariner’s past is only referenced in passing or vague one-off quips, she seems to have lived out many of the Starfleet dreams that occupy Boimler’s every waking thought. This is the start of the main thread running through both Episodes Four and Five; trust, confidence, and how it affects not only your relationship with yourself, but your relationships with others as well. 

The last three episodes in particular have been about character work, which I think was a very good decision for the writers to make this early in the season. They’re already established, we already love them, but we don’t actually know that much about them! Episode Three gave us a deep dive into ensign D’vana Tendi’s past and relationship to her Orion upbringing, while also giving us a quick peek into the ever-unfolding mystery that is Beckett Mariner. Episode Four was a boys episode that paired up Boimler and Rutherford and their intensely geeky bond over the seemingly tedious and mundane aspects of Starfleet life. Episode Five was both about Tendi and Rutherford’s friendship post-Rutherford’s reboot, and Boimler and Mariner’s friendship post-Boimler coming back to the Cerritos after leaving for Captain William Riker’s ship, the Titan at the end of Season One. Overall, I think it was actually a pretty good route to go, so as to not bloat the beginning of the new season with too many references and callbacks, and also slow down the pace a bit and really start letting the audiences know more about this ragtag group of Starfleet underdogs. 

SPOILERS FOR LOWER DECKS SEASON TWO EPISODES FOUR AND FIVE

The central story for Episode Four revolves around Boimler, Rutherford, and a rumor about Beckett Mariner being a Starfleet Black Ops agent. Mariner absolutely destroys Rutherford and Boimler in anbo-jyutsu and bruises not only their bodies, but their egos as well. The two men get caught up in a story from the mess hall bartender about Mariner being a Black Ops agent, and they immediately start anxiously overanalyzing everything they’ve ever seen or known about their friend. They spend time contemplating and arguing over whether or not Mariner could actually be this secret special agent, and even go so far as to look up her personal file in the ship’s database. 

Meanwhile, Tendi is tasked with a job from Dr. T’ana to ensure every crew member aboard the Cerritos that has been dodging their annual physicals is tracked down and had their check-up. This leaves Tendi feeling like maybe T’ana is starting to notice all of the hard work she’s been putting into her tasks in sickbay and a much-desired promotion could be in her future.

Rutherford and Boimler having A Real One trying to figure out if the rumor about Mariner is true leads them to become paranoid and genuinely afraid of the woman they once considered one of their closest friends. This, of course, leaves Mariner very confused because they of course do not at any point in time confront her directly or even imply they might know her big secret, for fear of falling victim to her potentially deadly alter-ego. The insecurities on both halves of the situation lead to a sense of distrust and anxiety, but is ultimately resolved with Mariner revealing that she is in fact the source of this rumor and they have nothing to worry about. 

Dr. T’ana and Tendi have a heart-to-heart about her needing to be more assertive, which then leads Tendi to all-but-bullying Dr. T’ana into getting her physical, which she has been regularly dodging out of a very illogical and misplaced fear. Every story conveyed in this episode is based on trust: trust in yourself and trust in your relationships. This ended up really nicely leading into Episode Five, where these themes are further explored with our lower decks crew.

Episode Five, when seen as a sort of continuation of episode four, ends up being quite touching. We are back to a familiar formula of Tendi and Rutherford being paired up and Mariner and Boimler being paired up. Tendi and Rutherford’s story revolves around something that was explored a bit in the first episode: their friendship and how it has changed since Rutherford essentially came back from the dead. 

Unsurprisingly, Tendi and Rutherford are Star Trek universe gunpla nerds: they are laser-focused on trying to complete a buildable scale model of the Cerritos. When Rutherford finds several incoherent notes left by himself from before, he gets immensely frustrated and spirals because he feels like he’s constantly in competition with himself. Tendi inevitably resolves the situation by helping Rutherford realize this, and that he isn’t fighting with his past self over trying to finish the model and losing, but in reality, they never finished it in the first place and used it entirely as an avoidance tactic so they could hang out uninterrupted. 

While Tendi and Rutherford are hashing out their issues and growth on the Cerritos, Mariner and Boimler are off-world to find a reportedly legendary Starfleet party that they were pointedly not invited to. After convincing Boimler to utilize the identity of his clone that is still aboard the Titan, Mariner jets them off to try and hunt down this elusive shindig in a very fun use of the Black Tie Infiltration trope

When Mariner’s usual chaos hijinks reveal that Boimler is not alone in how he feels like Mariner’s patsy, it culminates in them almost being arrested. This brings Boimler to a breaking point and we finally address the elephant in the room: Mariner feels like Boimler abandoned her when he transferred to the Titan. Mariner and Boimler tackle their insecurities within their friendship, their power dynamics, and the trust (and lack thereof) between the two of them. While they don’t quite attend the rager they were expecting, the pair find themselves at a local bar where they resolve their very deep trust issues with one another only to find out that the bar they’re in is a genuine piece of Starfleet history, much to Boimler’s delight. 

So far, Season Two has been really charming and I’m glad we’re finally getting some more background on each of the characters. This show has a lot of heart and it clearly loves its source material as much as any Trekkie possibly could. In writing this, I went to try and remember the name for anbo-jyustu only to realize that despite being a Star Trek lifer, for every reference and easter egg I notice, there are three or more I don’t! Lower Decks has been an unexpected delight and is potentially one of the all-time best Trek shows ever put to the screen. I have a lot of hope for this series and I genuinely look forward to a new episode every week. At the rate Season Two is going, we are sure to have a whole new rich lore to cut our teeth on for quite some time.

Footnote: shoutout to Lower Decks for utilizing the wonderful character actor Richard Kind in an absolutely perfect role for him. Recognized his voice immediately and could not have been more delighted at this reveal.

Categories
Television

Star Trek: Lower Decks Continues to Delight in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”

We’re only three episodes into the second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and it’s already aiming straight for my heart. Between Episode 2 being one long Darmok reference with a quick Kahless joke peppered in, and this episode being Voyager focused, Lower Decks truly knows how to harken back to the older star trek content just enough to ground the show and not too much that it’s an entirely referential show. So far, these first three episodes of Season 2 are some of the all time best Star Trek content. Yeah, that’s right, I SAID IT. this show is truly top tier Trek in every single way, and i absolutely adore it. Every week they seem to find a new way to, in business terms, “surprise and delight”. I’ve spent the last year or so telling each and every star trek friend i have to watch it. “I had reservations too,” I say, “but i promise it really is incredibly charming and sincere!” One day i will convince everyone. One. Day.

The A plot, B plot, and C plot in this episode are all stellar, and work together so well to give the audience great screen time for all four of our main lower decks crew members. I think the A plot really does a lot of incredible things that I was frankly a little bit worried about when I realized what was going on. Tendi and Mariner realize they have never had a mission that’s just the two of them and opt to have a “girl’s trip” of sorts running an errand for commander t’ana. Of course, what should be a simple fetch mission turns into wacky hijinks galore. Now it’s very obvious that this story happened because someone in the writer’s room was like “hey why haven’t mariner and tendi ever really had any significant character time together?”

Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris in the Paramount+ series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS; episode: “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” / Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

While it could have easily come off as very pandering and hamfisted, the progression of their mission together and thus their friendship, was very organic and charming. I personally related to it a lot, especially from my days working in the gaming industry. So many times i would be friendly with female coworkers only to one day realize that actually, i didn’t really know anything about them at all despite seeing them and talking with them at length every day for several years. I think going more into Tendi’s backstory and life in particular was a really great choice. She’s always trying to “prove” herself because being an orion comes with a lot of stigma, and this episode gives us much more context on where specifically she’s coming from with that attitude, aside from the obvious surface level explanation.

The thing that truly got me excited for this season though, occurs in the b plot: TOM PARIS COMES TO THE CERRITOS! Boimler’s first big day back on the cerritos and Tom Paris is coming to visit! Boimler, in true boimler fashion, is nerding out over this and hoping to get his Voyager crew commemorative plate signed. Everyone rightfully clowns him for this because like, it’s truly the goofiest but most on brand thing ever. The problem is, Boimler’s been written out of the Cerritos’ system, so he spends the entire episode fighting the computers just trying to get through various doors or eat lunch in ten forward. Poor dear sweet Brad Boimler just truly has the absolute worst day in this episode. Serves him right for abandoning his friends, I say!

Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler in the Paramount+ series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS; episode: “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”. / Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Lastly, the smallest and funniest subplots is what goes on with Rutherford while Boimler is having A Bad Day and Tendi and Mariner are on their “girl’s trip” away mission. Lieutenant Shax, who met his untimely demise at the end of season 1, is mysteriously back on the Cerritos. Given that Shax died saving rutherford, our beloved cyborg friend’s lack of knowledge around Shax’s sudden reappearance has him consumed with guilt and anxiety. The gag about “not ever questioning” how or why bridge crew ever comes back from the dead culminates in rutherford finally breaking down and asking Shax directly. The burly Bajoran takes a moment to warn Rutherford that having this knowledge will change him forever, and rutherford of course just wants answers. Pretty sure he won’t be questioning anything like that ever again. I’m fairly certain that guy just got like 3 new layers of trauma added from that interaction alone. 

Noel Wells as Ensign Tendi and Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner in the Paramount+ series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS; episode: “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” / Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Overall, Season 2 has really hit the ground running, and is consistently getting better with every episode. Season 1 took me a few episodes to really warm up to, but Season 2 really started things off with one hit after another. If Season 2 keeps its stride, it will surely take a spot amongst the coveted “best seasons of Star Trek” crowd. 

Categories
Television

Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season Two, Ep. 1 “Strange Energies” Review

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember. I spent most of my childhood watching reruns of The Next Generation as well as new episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager with my dad. Despite the fact my dad is the absolute least nerdy member of my immediate family, he is the big sci-fi buff and because of that my brother and I were satiated on a steady diet of all things Rodenberry, which in the 90s, was about as big as any sci-fi franchise could be. With that in mind, I was hesitant about Lower Decks. So much of it screamed red flags to me, and yet, here I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Season Two. How exactly did I get here?

Suffice it to say, I quite enjoyed the Season Two premiere. Season one ended with some very huge moments for our motley crew of lower decks ensigns and I appreciate that the premiere starts off pretty much right where we left. While I still don’t love this particular animation aesthetic, it’s grown on me and I find that it often works to reinforce the show’s sincerity in a lot of ways. Something about the lines and colors being very flat and simple works with the overall theme of our protagonists being the bottom of the food chain, oft forgotten crew members aboard the Federation starships whose bridge crews Trek fans have come to know and love since the shows’ inception. I think the best thing Lower Decks has going for it is a combination of its faithfulness to the universe (and time period) it’s in and ensuring that in not taking itself too seriously, it stays genuinely endearing and heartfelt. 

The following section of this review will contain spoilers for the Star Trek: Lower Decks Season Two premiere. Read at your own risk! 

While it felt odd not having any Boimler action until the very end of the episode, I thoroughly loved how laser-focused it was on Mariner, specifically with regard to her new relationship with her mother. We left Season One with everyone finding out Mariner’s mom was none other than the Cerritos’ own captain. I was very curious to see how this would play out beyond the immediate repercussions of it prompting Boimler’s departure to adventure with Riker aboard his ship, Titan. While the episode primarily deals with Mariner’s tenuous-but-faking-everything-is-fine newfound partnership with her mother, it also makes it very clear that Mariner is feeling a bit untethered without Boimler to be her straight man. 

I also thought the b-plot with Tendi and Rutherford was incredibly charming and I truly love how steadfast the writers seem to be with ensuring that their relationship is an incredibly intimate friendship and nothing romantic (although I’ll be eating my words if this happens in the future, I suppose). The juxtaposition of Tendi’s heartfelt pleas to Rutherford regarding her feeling like he could easily decide she is no longer his best friend as easily as he has decided to have a relationship with a fellow Trill crewmate he’s recently started seeing again (or liking pears) with the visual gags of Commander Ransom’s literal godlike transformation as his disembodied head lays siege to the Cerritos is the exact kind of humor this show employs so, so well. 

Ultimately, the jokes and both A and B plots in this episode really worked for me, and it made it feel like not much time has really passed since Season One ended. Every gag landed and got a hearty chuckle or full-on guffaw from me. I’m excited to see where this season goes and I hope that episode two gives us more insight into what appears to be Boimler’s living hell aboard the Titan with Riker and his crew. All in all, I am absolutely delighted to have this extremely fun addition to the Star Trek universe back to tell us more stories about the unsung heroes of the lower decks of a Federation starship.