Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 6 – Debuted Thursday, September 10th, 2020
Written by John Cochran
Directed by Bob Suarez
The sixth episode of Lower Decks serves up a tasty mash of familiar 90s Star Trek stories, but with some spicy twists. There’s still time for some character development, with some feeling like unnecessary repeats of beats from earlier episodes. A trio of guest actors helps move the well-paced episode along, with Jack McBrayer bringing a new favorite character to life.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Don’t Tell Captain the Shield Core’s Dead
Returning to the cold open format, “Terminal Provocations” begins on some fun classic technobabble with a discussion of Starfleet ship warp hums, setting up a recurring theme about technology for the episode. The main plot has the Cerritos trying to keep some 23rd-century Starfleet tech out of the hands of very annoying alien scavengers while our favorite ensigns face ordeals with some 24th-century technology failing in spectacular—yet familiar—ways.
Joining Boimler and Mariner on their adventure is Fletcher, a popular Cerritos ensign and old Academy pal of Brad’s. Fletcher is another plays-by-his-own-rules type, showing that the persnickety Boimler has an opposites-attract habit when choosing his friends. After Fletcher offers to finish work loading isolinear computer cores for the shields so Mariner and Boimler can attend a famed “Chu Chu” dance event (they made shirts for it and everything!), things start to go bad. After returning to find Fletcher knocked out and a core missing—and a fun yet unproductive confrontation with their Delta Shift nemeses— the ensign trio vows to stick together to solve the case of the missing computer component.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Fletcher’s evolving and his fishy story isn’t adding up, which leads to his admission that he took the core in a futile attempt to use it to enhance his own brain. When has something like that ever gone wrong? Oh, wait, all the time. And now the core springs to some kind of techno-spidery life complete with an imprint of Fletcher’s insecurities, and it starts working out Daddy issues on the ship, trying to absorb as much of it as it can.
So the new plan is to get this growing evolving (and whining) bit of semi-sentient tech the hell off the ship, and Boimler and Mariner are on their own as Fletcher has now fully revealed himself to be one of those affable people who stumble through life but are useless in a crunch. His only suggestion now is to blame a Q, who are apparently the 2380s’ version of blaming the dog.
Pump Up the Tractor
Up on the bridge the senior officers are facing off with Drookmani scavengers who are determined to get their hands on the scattered contents of a derelict 23rd century Starfleet cargo ship. In the fine tradition of Worf, Shaxs’ eagerness to shoot at something continues to be denied. Freeman is still determined to hold true to her ideals and stay diplomatic even though these particular aliens had the cordiality of Malons combined with the brains of Pakleds.
After some literal tractor beam tug-of-war, things go bad when the Drookmani show some cunning by using their beam to start flinging random pieces of the debris field at the Cerritos. This probably wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the missing shield computer core. As Shaxs breathes down her neck with another “Permission to destroy the enemy ship” request, Freeman’s patience is pushed to a level that would even have Picard boiling hotter than his Earl Grey.
All of this is hanging a lantern on how every Tom, Dick, and Hairy Alien seem to have Starfleet’s number and know how far the Federation can be pushed around in the 24th century, confident Starfleet will bend over backward to avoid a fight. J.G. Herter is perfect as the obnoxious Drookmani captain, but he’s just lucky he wasn’t dealing with his more famous character, who would have blown him out of the stars in the first minute of the episode.
Sam and D’Vana’s Terrifying Adventure
Tendi and Rutherford are also having their own technological challenges with something that was inevitably coming to Lower Decks: a holodeck malfunction. Rutherford offers up his own training program to help Tendi learn to spacewalk so they can partake in the recovery of that cool old school tech—Tendi is hoping for a classic communicator. But the crisis with the aliens (made worse by Fletcher’s crazy brain enhancement plan) results in a power loss, and the holodeck safety protocols being disabled. Oh, and the old “computer, end program” command isn’t working either. Classic.
Rutherford’s zeal to impress Tendi with his not-ready training program backfires in a big way as his eerily familiar virtual tutor named “Badgey” goes badder than any other hologram has gone bad before. Badgey’s initially gleeful “Can I teach you a lesson?” attitude turns dark, real dark—“I’m going to wear your skin” dark.
This whole subplot was the best part of the episode as Tendi and Rutherford go from environment to environment, trying to outrun the psychopathic animated Starfleet Delta, who also has some serious Daddy issues (with his creator). A big part of the fun was guest voice star Jack McBrayer, showing us a whole other side of Kenneth.
Note to self: stop yelling in frustration at Alexa, just in case. Wait, is she watching us? Ok, everyone just play it cool.
Back on the bridge, it’s a dream come true for Shaxs as he gets the order to target a warp core, but alas: Too much damage has been done and all hope is lost. Or so it would seem, until the very same core that lead to the shield collapse is finally ejected and finds its way to the Drookmani, delivering some poetic justice to the scavengers by scooping a path through their ship in search of more tech.
As this is all going down, things get very modern Promethean in the holodeck as Rutherford is forced to kill off his creation. Sure, Badgey may have become “a killing machine,” but somehow this moment gets touching as the dying rogue hologram is comforted by his creator.
The bridge crew is happy to be alive but wants answers from the ensigns to make sense of it all. Ready to rid themselves of Fletcher, Brad and Mariner give the troublesome ensign all the credit for saving the ship, failing him upwards into a promotion, and off to the USS Titan. Poor Brad, forced to watch another pip go to waste, but it’s for the best.
I Know What You Did Last Episode
“Terminal Provocations” is another solid episode for Lower Decks, offering a nice balance of sci-fi, humor, and character. It was particularly adept at giving each set of characters a familiar Star Trek tech plot, but with different spins to make them fresh. And it found fun ways to weave these stories together in clever ways.
More than other episodes of Lower Decks, this one felt more familiar in the way it leaned on its sci-fi plots, and even though we have seen things like holodeck malfunctions before—many times—Lower Decks made it personal, turning it into a character moment for Rutherford and Tendi. Badgey may have been hilariously homicidal, but there was a tragedy to him as well. And it was to his failed creation that Rutherford finally admitted he has a thing for Tendi.
It was also nice to see Shaxs get some more to do in this episode; voice actor Fred Tatasciore got to shine as the security chief, even getting to do an opening log. There is some danger of the character striking only the one note of really wanting to shoot at things, but he did surprise everyone by planting a kiss on Dr. T’Ana in the excitement at the end, so there is another love connection to keep an eye on.
The Boimler and Mariner storyline was a lot of fun, and the evolving bit of insecure computer core was a unique spin, but some of their character moments felt like old ground. And even though Tim Robinson did an admirable job keeping Fletcher funny, the character may have been an unneeded funhouse mirror to hold up against Mariner to prove she (and not he) belongs on the USS Cerritos. The episode certainly broke a basic rule of storytelling with excessive dialogue about the strength of the Boimler/Mariner relationship and her version of the Starfleet code.
Dude, Where’s My Riker?
As with the previous episode, “Terminal Provocations” kept the meta moments and references down to a good balance, weaving them into the episode well. However, right at the end, there was potential for fun fan service that was surprisingly not taken up. For a show that likes to drop famous Star Trek names at a regular clip, it was curious that the reference to the USS Titan didn’t have any follow-up mention of Captain William T. Riker, who recently took command (Lower Decks is set one year after Star Trek: Nemesis). Of course, an actual cameo from Jonathan Frakes would have been even better. A fan can dream.
No Things I Hate About You
Sure, there may be some quibbles here and there, but Lower Decks continues to delight and impress. The series continues to prove that Star Trek is flexible enough for an animated adult comedy. It not only warrants it, but now it feels like a natural part of the franchise, filling an unknown need.
The sixth release may be an average Lower Decks episode, but that is saying something in a world with so many uninspiring, unfunny shows, and in general, dwindling prospects to be entertained during these times.
Today we learned
- Stardate 57663.9
- Starbase 80 has a bad rep in Starfleet, and saying someone should be stationed there is an insult.
- The crew keeps tabs on records like who can chug the most cantaloupe puree.
- The Zebulon Sisters are the masters of the “Chu Chu” and “Chu Chu Chu” Dance, and have performed it on Deep Space Three.
- Mariner and Boimler are part of Beta Shift.
- Mariner sacrificed her special tricorder to lure the evolving computer core out of the ship.
- Serving on the USS Titan is Brad’s dream job.
- The USS Cerritos has a captain’s yacht.
- “Please, please let me shoot their warp core. I have been very good this month.”
- ”Do you know how hard it is to get cheese out of fur in a sonic shower!”
- “These creepy Delta Shift guys have always rubbed me the wrong way. I mean what, they do our jobs while we sleep? So weird.”
- “Fun fact, I am going to rip your eyes out.”
- “Who says you are not supposed to empty trash into the warp core, it all burns up anyway.”
More to come
Every Friday the new TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network. And on Saturday we will post our weekly analysis of Easter eggs and references for this episode.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It has not yet been announced where and when Lower Decks will be available outside of the USA and Canada.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.