Tuesday 21 September 2021

TREK REVIEW: Lower Decks 2-1 - 2-3


2-1) Strange Energies

A very silly start to the second season, although not necessarily the funniest episode the show has given us. It's weird that Trek has never gone back to explore the phenomenon seen in the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” that gave Gary Mitchell his superhuman powers. TOS went back to the galactic barrier twice, but neither time did anyone get zapped with superpowers. (According to rumour the film that became Star Trek Into Darkness was going to feature him as the villain at one point, and the fan series Star Trek Continues ended with a two-part story revisiting the idea, but nothing official outside the books.)

Here, it's not the galactic barrier that gives Ransom his powers, but an alien monolith on the planet Apergos, which the Cerritos is visiting on a mission of second contact. Given how much happened in the finale of season one, not everything could be followed up in one short episode, but it's still a bit odd that the writers decided to give focus to Ransom, who's never really been a focal character. Still, it follows up on the new, improved relationship between Mariner and Captain Freeman, seeing their new found friendship straining and Ransom becoming jealous of the Captain's favouritism of her daughter. Having Ransom's godlike rampage tie into his jealousy and inferiority complex is a nice touch, and although he's not quite in his right mind, you have to say he gets off pretty lightly. Certainly better than Mitchell did.

Silly though it is, the super-Ransom storyline is pretty funny and far better than the B-plot, which sees Tendi act completely out of character. I'm glad they followed up Rutherford's memory damage straight away, but while Tendi has shown slightly obsessive and tone deaf behaviour before, her actions here are ridiculous and dangerous and just go a bit too far for a main protagonist to get away with, even in a comedy. Ransom has a reason for becoming a threat and acting out of character, but Tendi's behaviour is inexplicable.

I love the opening and closing scenes, with Mariner fighting Cardassians on the holodeck (I've missed those grey-skinned guys) and Boimler having a terrible time on the Titan. The bits in between aren't so great, but it's still a pretty fun episode.

Best references this episode: on the holodeck we see a bunch of recognisable ships, including the Miranda-class USS MacDuff, a Jem'Hadar fighter, Romulan Birds-of-Prey, several Bajoran ships, two Galor-class Cardassian ships, some Delta Flyer-styled shuttles and a TOS-style Klingon D-5 battlecruiser.

Best line: “You've got to get me out of here – they kept showing me lights!” (The Cardassian holo-programme references the classics.)

2-2) Kayshon, His Eyes Open

It's kind of weird the Lower Deckers have to shower together in the nip, isn't it? Pretty sure they could fit some doors and screens in their, even on a lesser ship like the Cerritos. They probably just do it to humiliate the ensigns and make sure they know their place.

Anyway, the apparent hook of this episode is that we have a Tamarian onboard, the new security officer Kayshon. As much as I like the idea of the character, learning how to fit in and speak intelligibly to the rest of the crew, there's actually very little done with the idea of a Tamarian in Starfleet. The episode is more focused on the hi-jinks in the Collector's Guild, where dozens of deadly references are stored to both threaten and amuse. For all the recognisable artefacts in the Guild, the funniest is the most original one, Kahless' fornication helmet. Still, setting much of the action in what's essentially a museum for Trek lore is a fun way of piling in those references, which are a big part of the appeal of the series for fans.

The B-plot of Boimler's struggle to get along in the more dangerous world of the USS Titan is a strong storyline, with poor Bradward totally unsuitable for this kind of mission (at least, so far). On the Cerritos, Jet Manhaver, who we met in “Cupid's Errant Arrow” in season one, looks set to be his replacement in the core group, but we know this isn't going to last. Following the Pakleds and the threat they pose is important, and I'm glad they're not treating the plotline as a one-off joke, but I'm also glad they're keeping most of that on the Titan, since the Pakleds would become boring quickly if they were the main focus of the series. It's fun to have some time with Riker, with Jonathan Frakes sending up his own performance in TNG, and ending the episode with Boiler getting duplicated just like Riker did back then is both one of the funniest references the series has given us, and a canny way to have their cake and eat it by having a Boimler adapt to life on the Titan and have him back in the main team on the Cerritos. Pretty solid episode all told, and it's good to have the gang back together.

Best references this episode: The Collector's Guild is absolutely packed with them, but the Excalbian bones being a way to melt your way out of trouble, the beacon from the SS Valiant, the flag of the Terran Empire and Odo's bucket are personal favourites. Just how did they get ahold of these things? The Collector's Guild is surely linked to Kivas Fajo from TNG: “The Most Toys,” but could also be a reference to Marvel's Collector. And did that giant skeleton belong to Spock's mega-clone from the TAS episode “The Infinite Vulcan?”

Best line: “I'm the transporter clone? Boo.”

Quibble: Boimler talks about “the D”: “They went to different dimensions, they fought the Borg – they insurrected!” But it wasn't the Enterprise-D that featured in Star Trek: Insurrection, it was the Enterprise-E.

2-3) We'll Always Have Tom Paris

I can only assume that Robert Duncan McNeill was nearby directing an episode of live action Trek or something similar, so was on hand to record his handful of words for this episode. For all the fanfare around having Tom Paris guesting on Lower Decks, they don't do very much with him.

Still, this episode is a lot of fun, making the most of Boimler's absence and return by having the ship's computer refuse to recognise him. This is the sort of aggravating system problem we've all experienced when we've joined a new company or been reassigned somewhere, but the script takes it to its absurd furthest conclusion, with Boimler desperately trying to make his way through a ship that doesn't acknowledge him so he can see his hero. Meanwhile, Mariner and Tendi get to spend some time together, getting to know ne anotehr properly at last on an adventure across the quadrant. It's about time they mixed up the usual pairings of the main characters, and the two women work brilliantly together. The mission to find Dr. T'ana's sex toy heirloom is one of the most enjoyable plotlines the series has run so far (turns out that Caitians have as much of a problem controlling their periodical urges as Vulcans).

Mariner always presents herself as an experienced but jaded space traveller who's on top of every problem she faces, but underneath she's a lot more vulnerable. Tendi, as we've glimpsed last season, is the opposite: endlessly enthusiastic, seemingly sweet and harmless, but absolutely relentless and tough as nails when she needs to be. Her scenes with her cousin, bullying him as the Mistress of the Winter Constellations, are fantastic. Tendi is, when written properly, probably my favourite character in the series. I like that she specifies that not all female Orions project mind-controlling pheromones – that clears up a lot of confusion – but she still has the males of her race wrapped around her little finger.

Shaxs's storyline is the oddest one, but perhaps the cleverest. Just pulling a mysterious resurrection for Shaxs might reduce the impact of his sacrifice last season, but it sends up that strangest of Trek clichés (indeed, sci-fi clichés) so well. Off the top of my head, I can count seven main Trek characters who've returned from actual or apparent death, and I'm probably missing some. That the Lower Deckers wouldn't be privy to the hows and whys makes perfect sense, and so does the idea that Shaxs wouldn't want to talk about it. Very silly and very funny, and however it happened, it's good to have Shaxs back.

Best references this episode: Mariner and Tendi's mission takes them to a bunch of familiar places, including Qualor II from TNG: “Unification,” Starbase Earhart and the Bonestell facility from TNG: “Tapestry” and one new location, an Orion pirate base. There's a branch of Quark's on Qualor; we saw one on Freecloud in “Stardust City Rag” on Star Trek: Picard, but that was set eighteen years after this. Evidently Quark sets up his franchise fairly soon after the end of DS9.

Shaxs's resurrection montage suggests everything from the Nexus to the Mirror Universe – even suggesting he's a holographic Shaxs who likes to dress like Moriarty.

Best line: “Oh, I'm always dating bad boys... bad girls, bad gender-nonbinary babes, ruthless alien masterminds, bad Bynars...”

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