Title: Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 1 – ‘Second Contact’ Review
Release Date: August 6, 2020
Network: CBS All Access
Genre: Science Fiction
So that concern I had for Lower Decks leaning into its Rick and Morty roots and reference-baiting? Well, those concerns have grown. In true beloved mixed bag Star Trek fashion, though, there’s still a lot of good to counteract it. But was it enough to make Lower Deck’s second episode good?
Lower Decks Episode 2: “Envoy” Summary
In “Envoy”, Ensign Boimler gets the ever so exciting job of escorting a Klingon ambassador, K’Orin, down to a nearby planet for a summit. While he’s psyched for this very important mission, Mariner bursts that bubble when he finds out that she’s coming, too. As expected, the mission gets out of control quick when the drunk ambassador takes a joyride on the transport ship and Mariner and Boimler have to chase him down on foot. Mariner is cool under pressure, but Boimler only causes trouble everywhere they go. It practically crushes his gung-ho Starfleet spirit. In the end, Mariner calls on an old friend and sacrifices her ego to try to save his career.
Meanwhile, Rutherford is struggling between friendship and work. This leads him to trying out all the different divisions on the ship, with varying, hilarious results. In the end, he’s reassured that the Jefferies Tube life is the only one for him.
Let’s start with what’s great about the episode. Everything that happens with Rutherford’s B-plot is gold. It makes a hilarious joke out of how aggressively positive and supportive Starfleet officers are trained to be. That’s something that past Trek writers canonically struggled with, because interpersonal conflict between officers was rare. But also there are some fantastic scenes that flesh out each of the characters more. For example, his training with Ransom is some peak dark humor, showing that the guy sees dangerous, deadly situations as a fantastic adrenaline rushes and enjoys “theoretically” blowing up the ship in new ways. The same thing happens with Dr. T’Ana’s grumpy emotional support cat vibes and the intense, were-Teddy Bear Lieutenant Shaxs.
Lower Decks has also proved itself to be great with single scenes that manage to poke the perfect amount of fun at the absurdity of Star Trek. It also helps that they make the characters so charming. Highlights include:
- The glowy orb intro skit
- Every new job scene
- The Andorian bar fight
- Rutherford’s longing stare at the Jeffries Tubes
- The Ferengi twist (thank god there was a twist, for all our favorite Ferengi’s sake)
The key to these awesome scenes is that they use typical Star Trek situations to turn a scenario on its head. Writers either show how desensitized Starfleet officers are or share a classic Starfleet hero moment and having Star Trek’s own plot-twist tropes ruin it (looking at you, shapeshifter).
There are so many moments that just feel so good, as a Trekkie and as a comedy lover.
But not all of it is perfect.
Okay, this episode feels that Rick and Morty influence a bit harder than the last one. It leans on “aggressive drunk” as a way to move along plot and characterize characters a little too much. Now, that’s not to mean I’m saying no character ever is allowed to be drunk or like alcohol. But Mariner has been a stumbling drunk at least once in both episodes and the Klingon ambassador is constantly wasted (something I have problems with for other, honor-based Klingon characterization reasons).
But I’ll let it go today. We’ll just put a pin in weird characterization if it keeps happening.
Anyway, back to the review.
For Rick and Morty, the drunkenness works because it’s part of Rick’s very flawed character. It shows just how much he’s given up on the universe and this is how he copes. In Lower Decks, the drinking does seem to be Mariner’s way of acting out, but at the same time is distracting and overdone. More time could be put towards helping fans understand her and why she would ever mentor someone like Boimler.
I just want Lower Decks to move away from leaning on those old R & M comfort styles. Seeing the promo for next week, filled with Trek battles, Commander ego, and more, maybe we’re about to get it. (And maybe next week Lower Decks could finally get on showing that gender/sexual diversity it’s series are always good at, eh?)
I will say, though, my biggest gripe with Lower Decks comes from one of its core main characters: Boimler.
The Problem with Lower Decks‘ Boimler
While Lower Decks is based on a four-person crew of ensigns, so far the series has definitely placed Boimler in a “main character” kind of role, using him as our lens into the story and also focusing a lot on his emotional state. He is probably the character who will grow the most the fastest, with his emotional honesty and openness, but arguably he is the weakest and least pleasant character to choose. Perhaps it’s giving him too much credit, but it’s almost like he’s too hypocritical and complex to be a lens. He’s harder to understand and root for when he’s half “insecure officer who needs to learn his worth” and the other half “self-centered young man who overestimates his worth”.
And maybe it’d be easier if they didn’t have such a better option right there by his side.
I’d say that Mariner, by far, would be a much better “lens” for fans to look through.She has young Riker/Kirk vibes that fans are comfortable with. Her life is what theirs could have been like if Starfleet rejected their antics instead of celebrating them. She’s complex, but in a very common way for science fiction comedies. Y’know, daddy/mommy issues with a side of trauma fuels the best of our favorites (Archer, Bob Belcher, etc.)
Also, seeing through her eyes would definitely help Boimler be so much less annoying. Fans could see whatever she sees in him, and understand why she wants to help him so much. Right now, unfortunately, her choice just seems sort of random. We could all hypothesize back-story reasons, but at the end of the day, we don’t definitively know.
What we do know, though, is that Boimler is a sore winner and loser of a know-it-all.
In conclusion, I still think Lower Decks has some fantastic potential. In some ways, it’s living up to it with clever, great jokes about life on a starship. However, its main plots can be lackluster because they closely follow a whiny main character that can be hard to root for. Especially when it feels kinda nice to see his idealism and know-it-all attitude knocked down a peg.
Not to the point of wanting to quit Starfleet, but the guy needs a grip.
Gist is: More fantastic Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford. Maybe a little less whiny Boimler. The show delivers a bunch of laughs, but it still has to move away from its Rick and Morty inspiration as well as leaning on a whiny white boy. The world it’s set up and the other characters it has are so much cooler than that.
Verdict: Star Trek: Lower Decks is good at hitting a rare nerdy funny bone, but it also is good at missing completely. So sure, the parts that I was worried about (Rick and Morty’s influence and Boimler’s whiny white boy factor) are still problems. However, at the same time, my favorite parts of episode one were even stronger here and still make it an enjoyable watch. So, despite my mixed feelings of fun and frustration, I’d still recommend this show to all animated comedy fans (and especially Trekkies).