This week, we celebrated Star Trek Day on Tuesday, September 8, which marked 54 years since the show first debuted in 1966. Since those very first episodes, the communicator icon (popularly known as the combadge) has become a symbol for the entire Star Trek franchise, coming to represent hope, inclusion, and the promise of a better tomorrow. On this week’s Star Trek: Lower Decks, it also became a murderer.
At the beginning of the episode “Terminal Provocations,” Tendi reveals to Rutherford that she didn’t pass her space walk training, and that she’s terrified to proceed on a mission that might require her to use those skills. Rutherford, always wanting to help (and impress) his friend, offers to help her learn to space walk using the holodeck — specifically with a learning program he’s created.
This entire story line is hilarious on a number of levels, starting with how corny “Badgey” is. He’s the Starfleet equivalent of Microsoft’s Clippy, in every sense. The interminable loading screens every time Rutherford makes a request are just icing on the cake. And, for what it’s worth, it’s nice to see this work in progress. Often on Star Trek, we see holodeck programs as fully formed — it’s rare we get to see them in progress, and most of what we did experience was through Tom Paris and the Doctor on Voyager. I like seeing these growing pains and development headaches; it’s one of those small glimpses that makes Star Trek more real and more accessible.
But all doesn’t go as planned, of course. When the Cerritos engages in battle and systems start going haywire, the safety controls on the holodeck disengage. Unencumbered by the protocols that previously defined him, Badgey self-actualizes into a murderous, rampaging serial killer intent on destroying Tendi and Rutherford, the person he calls father. I laughed out loud so many times during this entire sequence; it’s such a play on the tropes that Star Trek often uses to great effect, and the parody here is really well done. (And, as an aside, chasing someone because you want to murder them is actually probably a very good way to quickly teach them how to space walk.)
In the end, Tendi and Rutherford manage to defeat Badgey, and he dies in Rutherford’s arms. The program reboots and Badgey returns to his original form, but with an added creep factor that will never go away. Rutherford also admits to Tendi that he knew Badgey wasn’t ready to be shared, but he wanted to impress her. Between this and the awkward-but-cute scene near the beginning of the episode, when they became tangled in each other during space walk training, I think it’s safe to say the writers are setting these two on a romantic path.
Elsewhere, Mariner and Boimler (who once again have the main story line — I’d love to see either of the pairings get switched up, or for Tendi and Rutherford to have the A plotline before the season closes out!) are grappling with Ensign Fletcher, who is making their lives difficult and possibly endangering the ship. Fletcher means well, certainly, but that only goes so far. On the surface, he’s very likable and generous, but his competence is questionable, and that leads to serious problems when Mariner and Boimler trust him to cover for them.
The bottom line is that Fletcher messes up, and his attempts to fix the problem make everything even worse (the levels of dumb here are epic, to say the least). Rather than confiding in his friends and asking for help, he allows the situation to get worse and worse (and reveals serious, deep-seated anger issues in the process), which puts the ship at risk. Despite the fact that Mariner and Boimler want to help, Fletcher resorts to self-pity (and self-flagellation) rather than actually working with them for a solution. It’s incredibly frustrating (which means it’s very effective, because Boimler and Mariner are just as irritated as we viewers are).
Our dynamic duo expertly resolve the situation, sending the tainted power core into space and accidentally destroying the ship that is threatening the Cerritos. And to get Fletcher off their lower decks, they conspire to get him promoted, and he lands the plum assignment that Boimler desperately wants. (But of course, he gets fired in just a few days for DROPPING TRASH INTO THE WARP CORE, oh my God).
With the wrapping up of this plotline comes a reiteration of the theme we’ve seen previously: Mariner is Starfleet to her core, despite her rule-breaking, because of her priorities, values, and determination to get things done. The continual reiteration of this question — what does it means to be a Starfleet officer — may seem repetitive, but it’s quite provocative. There hasn’t really been much interrogation of this issue over the course of the franchise, and it’s good to see that there’s more than one way to be effective here.
We’re over halfway through Star Trek: Lower Decks’ first season at this point, and the show really feels like it’s found its footing. Sure, there has been some unevenness generally, but that’s to be expected in the premiere season of a show. It’s set its tone, the characters are established, and the jokes are really good — I find myself laughing out loud at least a few times per episode. At this point, I feel pretty confident in saying the show will have an excellent first season.
• I will never look at a Starfleet combadge the same way again.
• Someone please just let Lieutenant Shaxs destroy a ship. Poor guy.
• The Riker joke was very well-placed here.
• The glimpse of Commander Ransom in this episode made me realize how much I like the character and hope we get another one with him soon.
• I love how cranky Dr. T’Ana is and I hope we see her and Mariner paired together in a future episode.
• Now I really want to see Starbase 80 on screen.
• I loved Mariner’s truncated #WeAreStarfleet speech, it was perfect.