Thursday, October 8, 2020

Lower Decks, Season One: Crisis Point

Lower Decks, Season 1
"Crisis Point"
Airdate: October 1, 2020
9 of 10 produced
9 of 10 aired


Mariner reprograms Boimler's holodeck simulation of the crew in order to play out her violent revenge fantasies against them.

 Kurtzman Trek gets a much needed infusion of viscera.


Matthew: This is a real tale of two episodes for me. On the one hand, the reference game is very, very strong with this one. Xon, ship-porn fly-bys, and the like. Great. But on the other, how well does it develop the characters and what lines of logic and decency are crossed doing so? I will start with the logic questions first. In the teaser, how did Mariner get into this situation in which she single-handedly liberated an alien world without the permission of the captain? How did Boimler get access to the whole crew's personal logs? Isn't that the sort of offense that would result in him being fired? 

Kevin: I want to break out the "It's for the sake of the joke" stick as sparingly as I can, because overuse would mean the story just has less actual meaning to the show, but Boimler hacking the logs for such a brown-nosy purpose felt inside the line. That's an entirely subjective assessment, but there it is. The references, and the musical ode to the movies really worked for me. We've discussed how the movies have to rely on a big villain and more action and I daresay the creators of this show seem to understand that.

Matthew: Mariner is shown undergoing extremely rapid character growth (which I'll get to), but it is sandwiched by some really unpleasant violence. Is it really healthy to murder one's crew mates and relatives in such a realistic fashion? I have to think brutally murdering even a simulacrum of one's mother would be extremely unhealthy, not to mention any number of shipmates. The severed Borg head exploding Shaxs into a shower of blood and guts was too much for me. My mind is drawn to another Trek episode featuring a crew member simulating his shipmates: Hollow Pursuits. How would that episode have been different if, instead of making fun of shipmates and maaaaybe having sex with them, Barclay had been simulating their grisly murders? I think Barclay would have been sent to a mental institution for evaluation. Mariner is not. Instead, she apparently heals herself - she goes from "unwilling to speak to ship's counselor under any circumstances" to "accurately diagnoses her own behavior extemporaneously," all while acting out quite grisly violence against her compatriots. Now, to be fair, Tendi does call her out on this very thing, saying it's unhealthy. But what of it? By the end of the episode, Mariner is fine. Better than fine, in fact. She's solved all of her problems, apparently, and come to a greater understanding of herself. But what's the message I'm supposed to take from the preceding 22 minutes? That she is a budding psychopath? Or that, if only we could all simulate the murders of people who bother us, we could make big psychological gains? I don't like either of those messages, frankly. 

Kevin: I think had they stretched this episode into a full length hour of a story, it would have felt less rushed. I agree it is rushed, and it pushes both the extremes and the resolution a little too far, but again, I wasn't that bothered by it. The show was directly engaging Mariner's behavior, the reasons for it, the crew's reaction to it, and had her change by the end. Whatever the other faults, the show technically gave me what I wanted and indicates that they either always were or became aware that they had painted themselves into a corner on how insubordinate she was. And the reasoning even makes sense. Being a good officer IS hard, so constantly riding a too cool for school vibe lets her never risk failure and have a plausible thing to blame for her career path. That's understandable enough. And I even like that they call out the somewhat inconsistent rules on racism in the Star Trek universe. Really? All the Kressari are botanical DNA traders?? I get what Matt is saying and the rapid pace does blunt some of the edges but at the end of the day, the character that had the largest question mark in her character development had answered it. That's more consistency than I have been getting in other Star Treks lately, and I will take it.

Matthew: The Boimler side of the story is fun, in that he gets to be a brown-noser and he creates an amusing program to hone his skills. But the coda of the episode was a bizarre sideline to the story. He discovers the "secret" that Mariner is the Captain's daughter. Would this really be so shocking to him that he would utterly tank the interview which had been his entire motive? Another odd side-story was Tendi's dislike of being racially stereotyped. I'm all in for this sort of story thread - but as a three line throwaway plot? Nah.

Kevin: I laughed at the Boimler tag. Poor Boimler. He'll get a win one day. One day.


I like the voice performance for Mariner quite a bit. I believe the emotional tone of the line deliveries, which goes a long way towards rooting me in the story, especially when it feels rushed. Just like an "in person" acting performance can rescue an under-baked live action episode, so does this here. I also like Boimler a lot, as his character has a lot of emotional shades that come off well.

Kevin: I've always like Newsome's performance a notch higher than Matt, but generally I agree. The main cast has turned in some solid performances at a minimum throughout the series. 

Production Values

Music does a lot for any sci-fi movie, and the music is really terrific here. Someone clearly had a lot of fun aping the cues of the TOS movies with the LD melody, and they did an amazing job. It really feels like a movie, with the aspect ratio shift, the sweeping music, and the well executed camera angles that mimic the movies. With that said, the lens flare stopped being a joke for me after a minute or two and just became annoying, a la ST2009. I want to admire all of the artists' work, and I can't when it's being obscured by cheap effects.

Kevin: I agree on the music. It was perfect. It made me go listen to the recordings of the other films' scores. The joke that landed best for me was just how long they held the rotating flyby of the Cerritos with everyone staring in awe. Just a perfect executed sequence.


Matthew: This ended up being very uneven for me. I loved the referential humor and audio/visual accouterments. I was entertained. But the way things unfolded kept dragging me out of the Star Trek Happy Place and into the "eeew, why?" place. I'm wavering between a 2 and a 3 on this. I think it just squeaks into a 3 based on the strength of the visuals and music.

This is more solidly a 3 for me for a total of 6. Maybe making it a longer episode to let the arcs breathe would taken this to a higher level, but as is, a character filled in a vital piece of their story and the art and music were a gorgeous love letter to the fans. Once again, I am happily entertained in a way that allows me to guiltlessly disconnect from the toxic swamp that is October 2020. And again, I am genuinely looking forward to next week.

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