Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Lower Decks, Season 1: Terminal Provocations

 Lower Decks, Season 1
"Terminal Provocations"
Airdate: September 10, 2020
6 of 10 produced
6 of 10 aired


Rutherford shows Tendi his holodeck program. Boimler and Mariner run afoul of one of their less qualified shipmates.

Ah, good old Kurtzman Trek.




Kevin: In the plus column for this week, the parody of Clippy, Microsoft's never-helpful assistant made me laugh very loudly. Also, a send up of the endless line of accidentally murderous holodeck programs is always well received. The Fletcher plot was slightly less successful, if only because the show is starting to lean a little too hard into the notion that only the Enterprise is staffed by the hyper-competent officers we think of when thinking of Star Trek. I get that the show wants to pitch the story from the non-hero angle, but they seem to be equating "not heroic" with "not capable." I will say, the resolution actually worked for me, since it showed Starfleet actually responding appropriately to an officer who wasn't able to do the job, and they managed to do some nice character service in terms of showing that Boimler and Mariner are actually friends, and it gave some shading to Mariner's insubordination. She breaks the rules to get the job done, at least as she defines it. She doesn't break them because she is lazy or insecure. To the extent her attitude has been a narrative problem, this does help shade it more as a viable character trait.

Matthew: So look. I do a couple of things when I watch something in order to review it. Firstly (and especially for Star Trek) I poll myself to see whether I'm engaged intellectually by the proceedings, and whether the story at hand bears scrutiny. But secondly, and just as importantly, I am polling how I feel. Am I bored or enthralled? Is my attention wandering or am I riveted? Do I want more or do I just want this to be over? Last week's episode succeeded along both axes. This week's.... did not. In both plots, A and B, there were points at which I just started wishing the stories were over. I can tell you when, too. With the Badgy plot, it was when Badgy began ripping people's heads off of their torsos with accompanying bloody spray. I though to myself: I don't enjoy this, and now I'm not going to show it to my kids, either. I wish it were over. I had been enjoying the plot for the reasons Kevin laid out - Clippy jokes are hilarious, and holodeck malfunctions are a rich trope for satire. But, as per usual, the creators of this show took it too far, into tonal areas unsuitable for Star Trek (in my opinion, to be sure, but based upon 700 hours of evidence). In the other plot, it was when Fletcher was exposed as criminally violent and deceitful. I had been enjoying his plot, because he opined that all Starfleet officers are exceptional in one way or another, and nice, which Boimler and Mariner agreed with. Cool, I'm on board, and that squares with my experience of Trek. But then we got the big reversal. Am I supposed to take this as meaning that the idea is wrong? Then, he gets promoted. This does not square with my idea of the commonly held moral incentives of this fictional universe. He was promptly fired, to be sure, but what does this end up meaning? That the Cerritos is the degenerate ship? Why would anyone trust them again, after they promoted and transferred such a criminally unfit officer? And so, in both tales, I was just sort of marking time and wishing they would end so that I could spend time with characters I actually like, doing things that don't appall me.

Kevin: I do have one macro-level complaint at this point and it's that the main four are always separated into pairs. I find "will they/won't they" romances fairly overdone at this point, so I would actually like to see them just get together and navigate a romance in Starfleet, and I would also like to see other combinations for stories other than just Mariner/Boimler and Rutherford/Tendi. If nothing else, Boimler has much more in common with the other two, so episodes showing their bond, or why they ironically haven't bonded as closely as he has with Mariner would be fertile narrative ground.

Matthew: I tend to agree. Really, I wish the show would do character focus stories, a la Piller's run on TNG/DS9/VOY. Focusing on one character would allow the show to develop them much further than always trying to lean on the foursome.


Kevin: Given that most voice actors record their dialogue alone, I think it has to be a little harder to generate chemistry, but both Newsome and Quaid have done a really good job of giving their unexpected friendship some real depth, and this episode is no exception. Cordero and Wells have also done good work with their obviously impending romance. It's fine line between chipper and annoying, and they've nailed it each week.

Matthew: Agreed. No one stuck out as bad. Even Fletcher had a douche-bro voice that fit his (unfortunate) characterization. So all good, here.

Production Values

Kevin: The animation on the show is top notch, no two ways about it. I particularly liked the 'feel' of the old Starfleet debris. The detail work on the show has been really great and really helps with my sense of immersion. The zero-G training program was well done, too. The violence was not my cup of tea but at least was brief enough to dismiss as cartoonish rather than oppressive for me.

Matthew: Indeed, designs and effects were all well done. Badgy was just right. But the ultra-violence was way over the top for me, and wholly unnecessary, I wish the creators would stop trying to prove how edgy they can be and how many rules they can break. I liked those rules. Those rules meant that I could show literally any episode of Star Trek to my kids. Now, I can't, and it's a cartoon no less.


Kevin: This falls back into 3 territory for me. I hope that the creators take from this first season the knowledge that the world and characters they made are interesting and textured enough to sustain a story all on their own and they don't need to lean quite so hard into the setup every single episode. I am still very much enjoying myself, far more than I honestly thought I would. I just want them to know they don't have to paint Starfleet as largely incompetent to set up viable conflicts for their main characters.

Matthew: I'm at a 2. Badgy was funny until the violence became gratuitous. I like the main foursome. But both A and B stories derailed for me, and I wished they would end. When my feelings end up that way, a 3 is off the table for me. I don't think it's unreasonable for me to expect something called "Star Trek" to be appropriate to view as a family, especially a cartoon iteration of it. So that makes our total a 5.

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