Sunday, October 18, 2020

Lower Decks, Season 1: No Small Parts

 Lower Decks, Season 1
"No Small Parts"

Airdate: October 8, 2020
10 of 10 produced
10 of 10 aired


Boimler inadvertently reveals Mariner's parentage just as an unexpected adversary rears their slow-witted heads.

"The Red Hour" reminds me of how I feel while watching Discovery...


Kevin: I think this episode is very good. Full stop. No qualifiers at all this time. I think they managed to successfully integrate Mariner's maverick streak with its critique of Starfleet culture more broadly. They have at least articulated a specific worldview, that the Federation by its nature is so big that it tends to bureaucratic inertia and trouble following through. They are great at charging in and leveraging their technological superiority to save the day, literally this day, but not as great at the granular follow up, and that, at least in part, is what Mariner is rebelling against. Having that interest align with her mother rather than buck against it opens up for more interesting avenues for a second season than the brat she was in danger of remaining. Does it all hang together perfectly? No, but it's got a clarity that it lacked before and I really enjoyed it. If nothing else, I will take a critique of the Federation that boils down to a mix of the entropy of victory over too great an area rather than "they will all turn into murderous xenophobes" any day.

Matthew: I can't help but feel that the overall point of the season could have been arrived at within one 45 minute teleplay of another show. This character arc really isn't all that different than, say, Ro's arc on the Enterprise. I think it would have been strengthened by a longer look at what Federation policy means for a culture that's been "helped." They reference things (like Landru here), throw in a joke or two, and then show Mariner butting heads with the Captain. But it doesn't really get any deeper than that. I think you're filling in a lot of blanks here, Kevin.

Kevin: Character work was good here too. The needed shading for Mariner's rebelliousness is good, and it was fun to see the nature of her friendship with Boimler really articulated and then challenged. I would even go so far to say as taking the Titan promotion feels 1000% in character for who Boimler is, even accounting for the growth he's had in the season. I am surprised as anyone to say it, but while I wasn't Spock or K'Ehleyr levels of distraught at Shaxs' death, the moment they took to genuinely mourn him and resist the urge to save him at the last second (or heaven forbid, resurrect him)  did make a gentle impact on my 2020-withered heart. The beat of Dr. T'Ana revealing she was attracted to him and the quiet, universal acknowledgement that he was somewhere yelling at the Prophets and ejecting a warp core did get me. Even I wasn't necessarily bonded to him, in a non-frivolous way, I believe the other characters were.

Matthew: Yep, the character stories work. I especially liked Boimler telling Mariner that he would miss her, and her reaction. I also enjoyed Tendi-Rutherford. I wish the show would just slow down and give us more of this. I suppose things will be different in Season 2 with Boimler having left. Some contrivance will be needed to reunite them. But you know what? I actually care about the resolution to that question, which is something I've been wholly unable to say about any of the characters in STD/STP.

Kevin: The fan service was coming in hot and heavy wasn't it? I read an interview with Frakes where he said it was super fun getting to record it since he just got to lean in to the wackiest parts of Riker. Sending the ship to warp to "5,6,7,8" and Troi groaning "so much jazz" did make me laugh very loudly. More than anything, they used some of the most fun characters to really drive home a general tone of the show. The TNG world was a delightful place to live and seeing the Riker-Trois just made me so happy. Boimler was going "WOOOOO!" at their presence and I have to say, so was I. Smaller touches like bringing back the exocomps or the Pakleds thinking all Starfleet vessels are the Enterprise were also just a fricking delight.

Matthew: Yeah, the episode started on Landru with some well-pitched jokes and just kept going from there. The Titan material was a lot of fun.... though it perhaps starts to make a person wonder why that isn't the show they're watching. The thing about using such copious amounts of referential material as a source of humor is that it sometimes goes awry. I think Ensign Peanut Hamper is a prime example. Do I like that someone remembers the Exocomps? Sure. Is an Exocomp officer an interesting idea? Hell yes. But what they did with it here, in the service of humor, was not consistent with the Exocomps we know (they have... Dads? Dads that they want to mess with?) and also inconsistent with the world we know. Could any being, Exocomp or flesh and blood, really pass through 4 years of Starfleet Academy without betraying their total disinterest in risking life and limb to save their comrades? That's like Starfleet Officer 101, right there. And so that's ow this show ultimately feels to me. The spaghetti on the wall approach to humor ends up pulling me out of the story just as much as it rewards me for being a Star Trek fan. I'm not saying it isn't fun, but it does prevent me from engaging with this show on a deeper level, the level at which it lives in my brain rent free and I mull it over weeks after watching it. The reappearance of Badgy is another instance of this. Why in heaven's name would Rutherford trust Badgy to rescue the ship? And can you rip out someone's cybernetic skull implant without killing them?


Kevin: Regular round of applause for the main cast. I particularly found the conversation between Newsome and Wells really well done this week. Frakes and Sirtis demonstrate they should get their own animated show. They were almost certainly in different rooms at different times recording their cameos, but the rapport was as strong as ever. We've joked that a TNG season 8 should occur in animation for ever, and boy howdy was this proof of concept.

Matthew: Yup. I want the Riker/Troi animated hour. More than basically anything at this point. Why is it so hard for the corporate fools at CBS to recognize what their market actually wants, and then to deliver it to us? I know Picard was at least conceptually a step in that direction, but then the Kurtzman of it all turned it into an incomprehensible murder festival. Why can't we have nice people doing good things on a spaceship?

Production Values

Kevin: When the stage was being set for the epic battle, I did internally cringe a little expecting a tonally dissonant bloodbath, but instead we got another pitch perfect blend of referential humor. The batleth that sliced open Boimler's leg in the premier was used pretty much exactly like its TNG counterpart, a blunt quarterstaff. Add in Ransom serving some solid TOS cowboy punches, and the fight made me grin like an idiot.

Matthew: Shaxs ripping out the implant was where it went too far for me. I also thought the overall damage to the ship during the fight was a bit too much to believe that they could recover. But overall, all of the design work and animation was on point.

Kevin: Once again, the music is great. The timing, swell, and amount of TNG's theme song was perfect. I felt exactly what they wanted me to feel. And maybe it's the goodwill I have for the show, but a bunch of the smaller touches, like a decal with a Starfleet delta that warns "Do Not Obey" like it's something they have in stock made me giggle as well.

Matthew: There were indeed fun visual in-jokes, such as using the animated images from TAS, the Do Not Obey sign, and just he overall visual design of those elements.  The music.... well, when you play that music for the first time in so long, it's hard not to react emotionally to it. It was integrated well into the episode's score.

Kevin: I am delighted they made the Titan as depicted in the post-Nemesis books canon. Delighted.


Kevin: This is a 4. Easily for me. The visuals and acting and background music were top notch as ever. The story had a clear point of view about its characters and the universe and it clearly loves the Berman/Piller era of my youth. I'll say it this way, I will go back and rewatch this one, probably more than once.

Matthew: I'm still at a 3. For everything that pleased me, another thing irked me. I love Troi and Riker as much if not more than the next man, but if I'm not going to give "Nepenthe" a pass, I also won't here. This is good but not great, and the problems of the show overall show no signs of having been solved. I like Lower Decks but can't really bring myself to love it. I wish someone with a defter touch at managing tone were involved in vetting each episode. So that makes our total a 7.

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