Friday, June 1, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Lower Decks

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Lower Decks"
Airdate: February 7, 1994
166 of 176 produced
166 of 176 aired


Introduction

Four junior officers await the results of their performance evaluations and possible promotions. Seen through their eyes, life on the Enterprise is a little different that what we're used to. As junior officers, they can only guess at what is going on during a crisis. Among the group of friends is Sito Jaxa, one of Wesley Crusher's co-pilots in their shuttle accident at the Academy. She is up for promotion as well, but her past may derail her career before it begins.
Riker shows Lavelle how he built up his Command Gut.





Writing


Kevin: This is great idea and its almost flawlessly executed. First, we get a novel view of life aboard the Enterprise. It serves to make the ship a more real place, and adds detail to the Star Trek universe. It lends credence to the accomplishments of the main crew, understanding that they had to pass this point in their careers as well. Making one of the group Nurse Ogawa was a great idea. They tossed around Barclay, but he was too well known as a character. I obviously know less about Ogawa, but know her enough to care about her and by extension, the people she knows. For a show that focused on one secondary character, one character with essentially three lines of dialogue from First Duty, and two wholly new ones, I really got a sense of who they were, and I cared about the episode despite the reduced screen time of the main actors. Though for what we had with the main cast, it was all gold. The scenes of seeing them interact with the younger officers or talk about their own careers was really nice.

Matthew: Yeah, it's a mark of the good writing here that we care about these characters. Other guest actors in Starfleet roles have been a bit one-note, but these characters really have dimension. It's the naturalistic dialogue that really accomplishes this. In the first conversation in Ten Forward, we get a very clear idea of Taurik's droll Vulcan confidence, Lavelle's ambition, Sito's desire to fit in, and Ogawa's experience and wisdom. Although the Lavelle character might be seen as too "on the nose" as a Riker retread, the way the episode plays out doesn't make too much of this. It makes a certain amount of sense, after all, that you might have many young men out of the Academy with similar visions of James T. Kirk dancing in their heads. The parallel poker games were a pretty elegant way of displaying character traits and advancing the plot just a bit. I do think the Ben character represented a bit of a missed opportunity to delve into civilian life int he Federation, but I understand that there are only 44 minutes to work with. C'est La Vie.

Kevin: The Cardassian plot was really well developed. We got snippets of it at just the right moments to keep us interested without giving it away too soon. I shared the junior officers' curiosity and stress over the course of events. A feather in the cap of the writers is that in context, both the junior and senior officers talked about the matter in a really organic way. There was no unecessary flagging of the matter as confidential and no one made a point of not including the junior officers. It was all very natural, and as a result more interesting. The same goes for the treatment of Sito's character. Until the first ready room scene, I had not realized she was in First Duty, which made the realization all the more interesting. No one clunkily reminded us of what happened until the script naturally called for it.

Matthew: I thought the Cardassian plot was woefully underdeveloped - but this was a part of the episode's unique structure, keeping information from the junior crew and thus the audience. I thought it was really clever how the camera cut away from the Cardassian as he was beaming aboard. I guess that's what you're saying, Kevin. Overall, what we learned of the plot was interesting. I maybe have a wee bit of trouble believing that a cadet fresh out of the Academy would be chosen for such a mission, as opposed to a more seasoned commando or intelligence officer.

Kevin: There was talk initially of leaving Sito's death more ambiguous, and Piller objected saying it robbed the episode of its emphasis. I agree. Picard's eulogy at the end is touching, and the final scene with the now three officers start to bridge the gap from the energetic graduates they were at the start of the episode and the seasonsed officers we watch each week. These are moments that will shape the rest of their lives, and leaving a back door for a happy ending would have lessened the moment for me.

Matthew: I am in agreement on everything you say above, but I have strong reservations about the way Picard dealt with Sito. It seems quite a bit like he manipulates her into accepting the dangerous mission, mission, by first indicating his lack of trust in her, then rebuilding that trust with a revelation, then springing the mission on her. I know you consider this Picard testing her, Kevin, but to me it read as domineering and ruthless, and showing a lack of respect for Sito's intrinsic dignity and autonomy. Either way, both interpretations are reasonable, so I'm not going to penalize the episode too much for it. I just would have done it differently.

Kevin: Aside from testing, I could see it as a necessarily brutal pep talk. He could have just ordered her to go and she would have gone. Part of why I don't quite fully subscribe to the manipulation theory is that she didn't read to me as needing to be manipulated to go on the mission. I think she would have gone. But she needed to know that she was capable of it. I think it had a bit of a backfire potential which is troubling, and maybe had the episode explored more the difficult and sometimes callous things commanders have to do their subordinates to get the job done, it could have solved this problem. In the end though, I agree both that the thread is not perfect but that it doesn't derail my enjoyment of the episode.

Acting


Kevin: All four young officers did a fantastic job. Shannon Fill was amazing as Sito and really gave the character life and energy. It's easy to see why Piller, after lobbying so hard to make sure she was actually dead, after watching the finished episode told Jeri Taylor they need to bring her back. Her scenes with Worf, Picard, and Joret Dal were all great. The writing may have made the Lavelle/Riker parallels a little too much, but the acting was spot on. Charisma and enthusiam that register as approachability in the more mature Riker, seem more brash and overpowering in the younger Lavelle, and it did remind me of season one Riker just enough.

Matthew: Fill went from being a nobody on "The First Duty" to displaying some real star power here. We'll just have to chalk this up as another in the litany of foolishly squandered potential recurring characters on TNG. Dan Gauthier was also good as Lavelle.

Kevin: As always, Patti Yasutake did a fantastic job. I love all her scenes with Crusher where they seem like true friends. Alex Enberg as Taurik also really nailed "Vulcan-ness." It had notes of early Spock for me, or even early Data, where they don't quite understand why people aren't just impressed with their mad skills.

Matthew: Michael Dorn had probably the juiciest role on the main cast, as a mentor for Ensign Sito. His mok'bara scene was great, as was the final memorial in Ten Forward. Patrick Stewart did a fine job of coming off like a jerk. He did what the script called for, you can't begrudge him that. Gates McFadden was also good as the warm and caring CO for Nurse Ogawa.

Production Values


Kevin: The use of the two-tiered shuttle bay was awesome, as was the shuttle itself, with the hull damage. This was a bottle episode, but never really felt like one. I liked the costuming this time around as well. The maroon accents on Worf mok'bara outfit were nice, and the granola knit pieces of Bajoran-wear looked good too. The bruising was also upsettingly well done.

Matthew: Director Gabrielle Beaumont is behind a lot of really interesting episodes of Trek, visually speaking, including my single favorite Voyager episode, "Blink of an Eye." She does it again here, with lots of interesting camera angles. The stunt work in the mok'bara scene was really good, and the actress matching was pretty decent. Ben's costumes were ridiculously embarrassing, in that TNG Season One sort of way.

Conclusion


Kevin: Matt and I disagree over what Picard was really doing by chastising Sito over the Academy accident,  and while I agree, it doesn't quite work perfectly regardless of what he was going for, I don't think it pulls this episode down from a 5. The story is always compelling on rewatch, and it provides an excellent character driven drama, as well as tantalizing glimpses into day-to-day Starfleet life. Ultimately, it has the quality that separates so many excellent episodes: I wish the episode were longer.

Matthew: I agree with the 5 on the basis of re-watchability. Like many of the TNG greats, this one gets more and more interesting upon repeat viewings. I really hadn't thought of my "big objection" until recently, which goes to show how many layers are at work here. It's just a super-entertaining show all around, and I can't see failry giving it a 4, when this truly seems to be in the top ten percent of episodes. So that brings our total to a 10. It will be interesting to see where this rates on the overall Top TNG list.


Podcast






3 comments:

  1. I love the episode plus it has one of the great two-shot hotties of trek in Ensign Sito. I was so bummed when she died.

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  2. This is one of my absolute favorites. This is not a surprise. The scene with Sito in the shuttle with Joret Dal got damaged on my VHS from too much rewinding. I have confused far too many people by wishing aloud to be a spider under the table.

    The character interactions are amongst (if not the absolute) best in the series.

    I have always wondered, however, if all the random ensigns that died to prove that the situation is serious got ship-wide eulogies. "Ensign Redshirt has been lost in the line of duty. He was an exemplary officer, but got in the way of the rocks that we store in the bulkheads and/or the fireworks that we keep in the consoles. He will be missed." That sort of thing would go out at least once a week. Was Sito in some way special enough to warrant a eulogy when the others don't get one, or does everyone get one?

    As to what we did in the dark, dark days before Memory Alpha was to reference the Star Trek Encyclopedia that the Okudas so kindly kept updating with new editions. I tried pretty hard to keep mine in good condition, but even a hardback spine can only take so much use.

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  3. I love this episode. It is definitely one of my favorites in the entire franchise. I love that it breaks from the routine and tells the story from the point of view of these four young officers who are trying to make it in this organization called Starfleet and how life looks like for those not always on the bridge privy to the details of each mission - something we viewers take for granted.

    It was like Star Trek was breaking from its Shakespearean way of dialogue and interaction and introduced some "normal" people in there; people with hopes, concerns, ambitions holding conversations and sentiments we as viewers can identify with.

    I especially loved the conversation between Troi and Riker and their whining about having to do crew evaluations and the kids at the next table kidding around, worrying about their promotions and career advancements and what the adults in the room think of them. As you said, it added another layer, a certain depth, to the Trek universe; one where people have jobs they work and careers they care about and promotions they work hard to earn as opposed to just being these figure-heads in uniforms wandering the corridors and halls of the ship (which is why the bullshit Abrams pulled by putting Kirk, a cheating, expelled cadet, in charge of the Enterprise over everyone else on the ship, really pissed me off).

    That said, I thought Picard acted like a real dick and quite atypical. See, he doesnt strike me as the kind of captain and leader who employs hard-nosed assholishness to teach a lesson. He wasnt even that abrasive and terrible to Wesley as he is to Sito. And i cant imagine why he would be. Picard is all about procedure and protocol and Sito paid her dues, she did repeat a year, she did all that needed to be done as ordered, so why keep abusing her? That doesnt sound like something Picard would do.

    In fact, all of Picard's behavior is the most puzzling to me. Not only is he a dick to Sito, but afterwards, when she is believed to be dead because her pod has disappeared off sensor, I found it odd that he did not try harder to find her. He just gave up too quickly. Had it been anyone on his main crew, like Troi, Riker, LaForge etc, he would have gone out of his way to find them, but here he just gave up. That was too convenient and again, atypical for Picard (or anyone in the crew. They all just took it as a given).

    Secondly, he should never have put someone fresh out of the Academy into such a dangerous situation. That was irresponsible and something I just cannot see Picard doing. I mean, it is not like she possessed certain skills unlike anyone else and this was the only one who could do it. I am certain there was no shortage of Bajoran volunteers for a mission like this. And even if there werent, you dont act knowingly put the lives of your crew in danger like that.

    I wish they had not killed Sito. I wish the episode had stayed light and joyous as it was in the beginning without the drama of killing off such a lovely character in such a senseless manner. And let's face it, Sito's death was senseless.

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