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In a suprise twist, CBS All Access made the first episode of Star Trek Lower Decks available to watch on youTube worldwide. They geo-locked it not long after, but I managed to see the show in that little window when it was available.
So, here is the review I never thought I'd be able to give you. I present Star Trek Lower Decks "Second Contact".
Welcome to Nerd Heaven.
I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars
And I am a Nerd.
This is episode 33 of the podcast.
I wasn’t expecting to do this episode. I thought we’d just be going straight into Justice League next week. But CBS All Access just did something unexpected.
They’ve released the first episode of Star Trek Lower Decks onto youTube to watch for free for a limited time.
And best of all, they’ve not geo-locked it, so it can be watched anywhere in the world.
That means I can watch it and share my thoughts about it here.
So that’s what we’re doing today.
I’m very grateful they’ve done this. I don’t want to sound too entitled, but I almost feel as though they owe us this, after the failure to release the show outside of North America.
Anyway, it’s a nice gesture and I think it was totally the right thing to do on their part.
So thank you CBS. It’s very much appreciated.
Okay. Stop the press. This is Adam from the future. You see, we have a problem. The video was only available internationally for a few hours. It has now been geo-locked. So I am far less generous with my praise. Anyway, we’ll get to all that shortly. Back to you, past Adam.
So the name of this first episode is Second Contact.
The description on IMDB reads
Ensigns Mariner and Boimler run into difficulty on Galar. Meanwhile, an alien virus infects the crew of the Cerritos.
The episode was written by Mike McMaan.
It was directed by Barry J Kelly and Juno John Lee
And it first aired on the 6th of August 2020
Make it so.
So Lower Decks is such a strange beast. It’s an animated comedy, and yet, it’s so Star Trek. I could already tell this from the trailer, but the show has been mode out of a great love and reverence for Star Trek. The visuals, the sound effects, the music. It’s very trek, and specifically, very TNG.
We first encounter the USS Ceritos docked at Douglas Station, which, like a lot of starbases in the 24th century, is designed like the space dock in orbit of Earth as first seen in Star Trek III. I love that design.
The premise of having a ship dedicated to second contacts was kind of a brilliant idea. It means that even the senior bridge officers are, in a way, lower decks themselves. Just like the ensigns who are the stars of the show, they’re the lowly guys, trying to live up to the shadow cast by the crews of more important ships, such as the Enterprise, Defiant and Voyager.
And we see that, especially in the captain, who is looking for meaning and significance in her job making second contact.
Nice to see they got the stardate correct, for a post-nemesis show.
The opening log entry kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, because the minute Mariner sees Boimler in the closet things ramp up significantly.
And again, we saw this in the trailer. Mariner is so overly hyperactive I actually find it a little hard to watch her sometimes. I feel like I need to give her a stimulant just to keep up. Talking at a hundred kilometers an hour, bouncing around the room. It’s like she’s on a permanent coffee high or something.
It’s kind of exhausting just watching her. Admittedly, she’s very drunk when we first see her, but even sobre, she’s intense. She’s like that for pretty much the whole episode. She goes from hyper, to extra hyper and back again.
And that ends the teaser.
So … now I have a brand new Star Trek opening theme to talk about.
The music begins very much like the discovery theme, with a variation on the dings from the start of the TOS theme. Then there’s a bit that almost seems reminiscent of the animated series theme.
The main piece of music is not as memorable as any of the 90s Trek shows, but it seems to fit the series. It’s kind of operatic and heroic, which is amusingly paired with imagery of the USS Ceritos messing up and failing in various ways.
I don’t think we’re meant to take these scenes too seriously. I don’t think we consider the opening titles of any other show canon as such.
But the titles themselves use the classic blue TNG font. And the episode-specific credits, like writer, director etc all play over act 1, just link in the old days. This give a really strong Next Generation vibe to the whole thing which I really liked.
And they use the proper warp effect from the TNG days as well.
And this is where we run into a problem.
The way I usually do these, with something I haven’t seen before, is I’ll watch it twice. The first time, I’m just watching for pure entertainment value.
I don’t take any notes.
The second time, I basically write the script for my podcast, pausing frequently as I go through the episode.
I first discovered that this episode had been made available in the evening. Once the kids were off to bed I watched it. I stayed up to start making a few notes here and got as far as the end of the opening credits. Then I went to bed.
I came to continue the work this morning over breakfast, only to discover that CBS All Access had geo-locked the video.
So I can’t watch it the second time.
I’m just going to have to talk about the rest of the episode from memory.
And I’m gonna have to push through my bitter disappointment with CBS and try not to let that colour my thoughts.
This is just another example of CBS flinging their feces at their international fans.
It just feels like they're playing with us.
I have a whole lot of hard feelings built up within me right now, but I’m not going to depordise my family friendly status to fully express them.
I’m one of the lucky ones, I at least got it see it within that window of a few hours.
But I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to do this podcast justice. And for that, I apologise to you listeners. All 4 of you.
Ok, back to the episode.
We see Tendi arrive on the Ceritos with a number of other new crew.
She’s so wide-eyed about being here. She’s the Starfleet fangirl. She’s kind of represents us, the Star Trek fans
But in a different way to Boimler. He’s got all this promotion anxiety. He’s desperate to move up the ranks. Tendi is just excited to be here. Doesn’t matter if she’s an ensign or an admiral. She’s in Starfleet, and that’s so exciting to her.
We get to see a lot of familiar Star Trek races in this episode. There’s a benzite behind her, complete with breathing thing.
Boiler and Mariner are both in the command division. Which is interesting, because Boimler is currently repairing a broken replicator. That’s a job for a yellow-shirt engineer.
But it raises the question. What does a junior officer in the command division do?
We often see them as helm officers, such as Tom Paris, the random extras that sat at the helm of the Enterprise D, and Wesley Crusher, for that matter.
Being the liaison for a newly arrived officer does make sense. That’s a good training ground for command.
We get to learn quite a bit about Boimler and Mariner in this next section of the story. Boiler is formal and straight-laced, but Mariner is easy-going and doesn’t care about the rules.
We also learn that Mariner has a lot more experience. She’s been in Starfleet longer, and she’s previously held a higher rank. That’s really interesting.
We very briefly meet Rutherford, but he’ll become more important later on.
So they visit the holodeck, which looks and sounds just like a holodeck should. Note that it’s the older model like on the Enterprise D, not the newer model like on Voyager. But that makes sense. This ship has probably been around a long time.
We learn that Tendi has never seen sand before, so I guess there are no beaches or deserts on the Orion homeworld. She would have spent years on earth at Starfleet Academy, but I guess she never went anywhere she’d see sand.
And I have to say, it’s nice to see an Orion female who is not a sex slave. Star Trek 2009 gave us an Orion woman who was a starfleet officer, and yet, it still managed to have her stripped down to her underwear.
Anyway, it’s nice to see that Orion women in the 24th century can live a normal life.
So we get our first look at the planet Galar, and we see the Galardonians. They’re kind of pig-like creatures with big heads. I’m not sure how well they really fit in with the Star Trek universe. Animation gives this show the opportunity to show some variety in the aliens, so they don’t just all look like humans with bumps on their faces, which is great, but these guys look a little too cheesy, a little too …. Kiddie.
Anyway, first officer Jack Ransom gets bitten by an inspect, which he completely dismisses. That’s a really bad idea. You get bitten by an unknown alien insect on a planet you’re not overly familiar with, you should make sure it’s not gonna kill you. That should be basic Starfleet procedure.
The exchange between Ransom and Stevens, which we saw in the trailer, didn’t feel very Star Treky. It’s not so much that they talk about having a cold beer after a successful mission, it’s just the general way they talk to each other and I dunno, I can’t quite remember, was it high fives, or chest bumps or something. It just didn’t feel very 24th century to me.
Anyway, Boiler is called into the Captain’s office. She sees some potential in him, which is exactly what he’s hoping for. But she gives him a special assignment. She is to report any breaches in protocol made by Ensign Marriner directly to her.
Not only that, but he’s to keep this a secret.
That puts Boimler in a very difficult situation. He’s essentially expected to spy on his friend and covertly pass information on her behaviour back to the captain.
Frankly, I think it’s inappropriate of a captain to ask this of him.
Now these are the kinds of nitpicks that you’re possibly not supposed to make with an aminated comedy. I mean, the rules are different.
And I’m still trying to figure out how to reorient my brain, how to consume this story in a different way. And I’m definitely still figuring out how to talk about it.
There is clearly something going on between the captain and Mariner. So why would the captain concern herself over a lowly ensign like this? We’ll see.
So Boimler and Mariner beam down to help build the subspace relay. Liked the transporter effect, both the visual and the sound. It very much felt like a TNG movie era transporter.
Rutherford is having a date in the crew lounge with Ensign Barnes, who appears to be a trill. They’re really hitting it off well. But then something weird happens to Ransom. His inspect bite has infected him with some kind of zombie virus. And this is really weird. As they duck for cover behind a table, Rutherford and Barnes just keep talking calmly, getting to know each other. All this stuff between those two was really sweet, and I kinda liked that, but I just don’t know how to take their reaction to the chaos around them. There is one situation where the loose realities of an animated comedy might be pushed too far for me.
Back on the planet, Boiler notices Mariner has snuck some supplies into an argo and drives off. Believing she’s doing something illegal, he follows her.
We meet the ship’s chief medical officer, T’Ana, who is Caitian. Still not sure what to think of her. She’s got less bedside manner than the holographic doctor from Voyager season 1. I’m sure she’s got some compassion we’ve yet to see, but she comes across a bit prickly in this episode. But I can hardly blame her given what she’s dealing with.
So Tendi has to manually massage a guy’s heart while it’s outside of his chest. Again, this was a step too far for me.
It turns out, Mariner is giving farming equipment to some Galardonian farmers. But in the chaos, as Boimler confronts her, an alien animal is released from it’s barn and begins to chase the two ensigns.
So technically Mariner is breaking the rules. She left her post, and she’s giving this equipment before it has been authorised by the Federation. She believes these farmers can’t wait that long. So, yeah, breaking the law, but her heart is in the right place. She’s genuinely trying to help these people. She’s not just being an idiot.
The farmers need that animal and Mariner isn’t going back until they retrieve it.
We get a bit more insight into Mariner’s character at this point. She was present during first contact with this planet before she was demoted and transferred to the Ceritos.
She’s actually got a decent amount of experience.
She’s a bit of a Kirk. She like to think for herself, outside the strict bounds of starfleet protocol.
Boiler is a sticker for the rules, which sets these two at odds, or maybe not at odds, but definitely opposite ends of thespectrum.
I’ve gotta say, I identify ay more with Boimler. I’m a sticker for the rules myself.
But it’s a nice dynamic between these two.
So stunning the creature will spoil it’s milk (the farmers confirm this).
Mariner draws on her years of experience and comes up with the bright idea of having them both strip down to their undies, and distract the creature with dummies dressed in their uniforms.
I imagine this particular story point was put in here to amp up the sexiness factor.
It kinda works but Boimler ends up in the creature’s mouth.
Turns out the animal is a herbivore and is suckling Boimler for moisture. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I mean how much moisture is it gonna get off his skin. A little sweat to start, maybe. But the things keeps sucking him in and out of its mouth for an extended period of time. And Mariner just lets it do it. No further attempt to rescue him. Sure, he’s not in danger of being eaten, but this is clearly a very unpleasant experience for him, so I found her pretty heartless here.
Rutherford and Barnes are continuing to get along great. They seem perfect for each other. But just as she kisss him, he’s distracted by a strange engineering problem. Now we think, at first, that he’s the stereotypical nerd, so absorbed in his obsession that he doesn’t even notice the hot girl hitting on him, but the episode actually twists this trope. As we learn in a conversation with Tendi later, he was well aware of her, and puzzled by her lack of interest in the engineering problem. If she has so little interest in a problem like that, she’s clearly not the girl for him, and he doesn’t plan on seeing her again. Interesting.
Boiler and Mariner beam up to find things really out of control, but T’ana realises the pink slime from the animal can cure the zombie virus. The senior officers protect him at all costs, not because he’s important, but because the slime is important.
The crew are cured, and everything is back to normal.
And it seems Boimler is getting no credit at all for his part in saving the ship.
(although technically, his only contribution was having slime on him. He didn’t actually figure out the slime was useful)
Anyway, having gotten to know Mariner a little better, he chooses not to report her breach of protocol. He protects his friend and lies to his captain.
The captain is annoyed. She was really hoping to have some dirt on Marnier. So what’s her obsession?
It turns out, Mariner is the captain’s daughter. Her husband is a Starfleet admiral. They have no idea how to handle their kid.
So….Mariner is a starfleet brat. When your mum is a captain, and your father is an admiral, you’re probably gonna have some rebellious tendencies.
That’s why she acts up so much.
And yet, she’s not totally against the ideals of starfleet, she just doesn’t like the rules.
Mariner is thrilled he didn’t rat her out and vows to be his mentor and help him reach the rank of captain.
Honestly, I’m not sure she’s the best person to be his mentor, but maybe she’ll be good for him, and maybe he’ll be good for her. They might find some balance between them.
And then she starts rattling off all these famous figures from Starfleet history.
In the end, it turns out that all 4 of our major characters are big Starfleet fans, but all in different ways.
Tendi just loves everything about starfleet. She’s the wide-eyed fan.
Boiler is the rule sticker who dreams of sitting in the captain’s chair.
Rutherford is the techie trekkie who loves all the technical manuals and made up science
And Mariner loves the legends of starfleet, she’s just a bit of a rebel.
At first, I thought Tendi was the character that represented us.
But I now realised, that all four characters represent different aspects of fandom.
And I think that’s really clever.
It gives us all a character we can relate to.
In the end, I was impressed with the character dynamics we got in this show. I like these characters and I’ve love to spend more time with them. I’m sure that I’ll have that chance some day, when they finally organise an international deal for the show.
As I said, I didn’t really connect with this show on a comedic level, but I did connect with it on an emotional character level.
Oh, it’s a show I find hard to take seriously, but it’s not the kind of show you’re supposed to take seriously.
But issues with it have nothing to do with uniforms or the finer points of canon. This show has already done a significantly better job on all that stuff than either Discover or Picard ever have. My difficult just comes from the tone, and from the overly-ramped up nature of some characters (particular Mariner).
While I may have trouble reconciling this wacky cartoon with the rest of the Star Trek universe, I can say that I certainly enjoyed watching it, and would very happily continue to do so.
So well done to Mike McMahon and his team for pushing the boundaries in a very creative way, and giving us a kind of Star Trek none of us would ever have thought to ask for.
I’m very disappointed in CBS’s decision to geo-lock this video after a very short time. I’m so lucky I got to see it in that little window.
I understand there might be a good reason. It may be related to ongoing negotiations over international rights, but I feel they’re just kicking us while we’re down. They keep offering hope and then snatching it away.
And never once have we had an actual apology from them.
I think a “sorry, we know this sucks,” would have been really nice.
Anyway. I think I’ve sufficiently beaten this dead horse.
Next week, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled episode looking at the Justice League movie. I actually recorded that before this one.
Originally, I was planning to stop there, but I think I’ll probably also cover Aquaman and Shazam. (I can’t talk about Birds of Prey because I haven’t seen it).
That’ll almost bring us up to the beginning of Discovery Season 3.
So have a great week. See you next time in Nerd Heaven.