Star Trek: Lower Decks
Last week, I was a little salty about Star Trek: Lower Decks needing to change things up. On the whole, the show is really well done, but I wanted to see more from some of the secondary characters. This week, I got my wish; “Veritas” is a classic Star Trek trial episode, with equal focus on each of our four main characters: Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford.
Star Trek has a rich history of putting its characters on trial as a narrative device, from “The Measure of a Man” and “The Drumhead” in The Next Generation to “Tribunal” and “Rules of Engagement” in Deep Space Nine and beyond. It’s a really useful way to change up the storytelling — a lot of exposition can come from flashbacks, and the main thrust of the episode usually centers on the value or theme that the writers want to express. It works in excellent fashion for this week’s Lower Decks. Not only do we get an all-new story structure, but it allows the entire thing to feel fresh. And it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.
The episode opens with our four junior officers thrown into a prison cell and freaking out about what they might have done to deserve this punishment. (Tendi’s “I’ve been replicating a lot of ice!” was especially on point.) They’re brought up to a Klingon-looking courtroom, reminiscent of the one Bones and Jim face in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and discover that it’s actually their commanding officers who are on trial.
The alien demanding testimony from each of them is clearly looking to put together a story; he queries each of them about a recent mission, starting with Mariner, followed by Rutherford and Tendi. Each gets a chance to tell their version of the story, to discuss their part in a supersecret classified mission into Romulan space.
At this point, the supernova that destroyed the Romulan homeworld (the aftermath of which is discussed in Star Trek: Picard) hasn’t happened yet, so the Romulan Neutral Zone still exists. Over the course of the episode, as the different narratives unfold, it becomes clear that the Cerritos ventured across the Neutral Zone into the Romulan Star Empire to retrieve some sort of package, and this is what the alien wants information on.
One aspect of the original “Lower Decks” episode of The Next Generation, upon which this series is based, was a few of the ensigns grappling with being part of a confidential mission they couldn’t discuss with their friends. There are echoes of that here; from the beginning, Tendi knows more than Rutherford, Boimler, or Mariner, and it’s really nice to see that tension onscreen. These ensigns talk about work a lot in their spare time, so when one knows more than the other and can’t share, it makes things more complicated.
It’s really amusing to watch how each of the junior officers responds to this challenge. Beckett proclaims her own ignorance, making herself appear completely out of the loop and taking responsibility for any errors made as a result. It’s unclear whether this is what actually happened or if she’s covering for the senior officers, but her usual extreme competence makes me think she’s probably exaggerating the truth here. Either way, though, the map of the Neutral Zone is in hand.
On the other hand, I absolutely buy Rutherford and Tendi’s version of events (at least for the most part). I can’t tell you how hard I laughed during the implant upgrade: Who hasn’t accepted an upgrade on their computer, seen that it will take six hours, and been like, I HAVE MADE A MISTAKE! (Why do we even need Klingon font updates?) This was so real, especially in These Times, when we’re all extra reliant on our computers and phones for communication. As much as I do love Mariner, Rutherford, with his need to please others, might actually be my favorite character.
After the strike team steals the Romulan Bird-of-Prey from the Vulcans, it’s Tendi’s turn to discuss what she knows. And in classic Starfleet fashion, she only agrees to tell her story with the confidential details redacted. The fact that she was supposed to be cleaning the conference room and instead was confused for a cleaner on a classified mission is the most Lower Decks thing I’ve ever heard (if I’m allowed to say that during a show’s first season). The fact that it was Ransom in charge of the mission and he didn’t double-check who was assigned to it? Also a classic.
In the end, it’s Boimler who saves the day by explaining that command officers on starships aren’t infallible, but they do their best with the information given. It’s an incredible moment for the usually timid, insecure ensign. But it’s not the best part of “Veritas.” It turns out this wasn’t a trial at all. It was actually a party in celebration of the commanding officers, and the junior officers failed miserably. It’s the best kind of twist, both funny and incredibly delightful.
“Veritas” really changed things up for Star Trek: Lower Decks. It put the focus on different characters, told a different kind of story, but had the same humor I’ve grown to love over this first season. I’m really excited to see what the last two episodes of the season have in store for us.
• The Q cameos were everything. EVERYTHING.
• I also want to talk about Khan’s thicc chest, Tendi.
• It’s the Gorn Hegemony!
• I have definitely been the person who asked a stupid question when there were supposed to be no stupid questions. Should we call that “pulling a Boimler” from now on?
• “You know who I hate? Remans.” READER, I laughed out LOUD.
• I’ve told many, many, many non-Trek fans about the plot to “Sub Rosa,” and they don’t believe me. I think we need to organize a Twitterwide watch party.