The Irreverent Sci-Fi Comedy with a Heart of Gold Is Back!
I might be in the minority in finding Star Trek: Lower Decks the best of all the New Treks, but that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. And the first episode of the new season reminded me once again why I love this show so much.
Lower Decks was conceived as a show about, and I’m paraphrasing here, the lowest officers on the worst ship in Starfleet. And of course, hilarity ensues as these scrappy young ensigns repeatedly get themselves in and out of trouble. Yet, despite its irreverent tone, Lower Decks has always had a red giant-sized heart when it came to the character relationships.
Season 2 ended on a cliffhanger that saw the tough-as-nails and perpetually exasperated Captain Freeman arrested by Starfleet for the destruction of the Pakled home planet. In the first episode of Season 3, “Grounded”, the ever-volatile Beckett Mariner is extremely upset that her mother is being tried for a crime she didn’t commit and, in true Mariner fashion, decides to take matters into her own hands (after destroying a number of innocent household objects). So she rounds up the gang—Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford—to hatch a characteristically madcap plan.
Because Boimler is such a try-hard, he diligently recorded logs that proved that Captain Freeman was nowhere near the Pakled planet when it was destroyed. However, those logs are still physically aboard the USS Cerritos, which is docked in space while the crew is grounded. So our scrappy quartet first tries to hijack a transporter, only to be thwarted by a grandfatherly engineer, then decides to hijack… an amusement park ride.
In a fun reference to Star Trek: First Contact, the gang makes their way to Historic Bozeman, a first contact-themed amusement park that includes an automated ride into Earth’s atmosphere on board the Phoenix, an early starship. Rutherford promptly disables the autopilot, and the four make their way to the Cerritos… with a hapless park patron on board.
Upon arriving, they retrieve Boimler’s logs and plan to take a shuttle back to Earth. But at the last moment, Mariner sends the other three off and runs back to the bridge. For her, the logs aren’t enough—she wants to discover the truth. But she doesn’t want to get her friends in trouble and insists on taking the Cerritos alone. Of course, the others aren’t going to let Mariner go at it alone, and Boimler manages to hijack the autopilot Mariner had set and take them all back to the ship. After a few fisticuffs, Mariner finally breaks down in tears and reminds them all that while Freeman is their captain, that’s her mom who’s in trouble, and she can’t stand feeling helpless.
This is what I love about Lower Decks: behind the hijinks and silly jokes are characters you can truly care about, who may be cartoons but feel as human as any live action actor.
Starfleet security is, of course, alerted to the Cerritos leaving the dock unauthorized, and at the same time a bunch of passing space bugs decide to make the ship their breeding ground (because this is Lower Decks, after all, and absurdity is the name of the game). Tendi tries to convince the security team that the four were assigned to observe the space bugs for science. For a moment it seems to work—until they ask who authorized the assignment.
That’s when Captain Freeman arrives triumphantly to bail them out, saying she ordered the observation. Turned out, justice had prevailed as Starfleet uncovered the true conspiracy around the Pakleds: They destroyed their own homeworld so the Federation would have to relocate to a better planet. Absolutely nothing Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford did made a lick of difference, and none of the episode’s adventures had any consequence other than to further exasperate Freeman.
Which I totally loved. Because, again, this is Lower Decks, and it was nice to see the show go back to its original concept of being about the “forgettable” crew members… the ones who aren’t the heroes who save the day, who do the day-to-day grunt work and do their darnedest but ultimately aren’t main character material. Over the past two seasons, our four ensigns have gotten into a lot of consequential situations that seemed to bely the show’s original pitch, and it felt like this episode was meant to remind us that no, this is not about the expert command crew of the fleet’s gleaming flagship. It’s about the underdogs… the losers, even. Yet just because they aren’t making galaxy-changing decisions doesn’t mean these characters don’t matter. And of course, being a cartoon comedy means Lower Decks gets to lovingly poke fun at Star Trek itself.
Overall, “Grounded” is an apt title for an episode that brings the show back to its roots by knocking its “heroes” down a peg while remaining true to its fun and friendly tone.