Review: ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Seeks Tech Support In “Terminal Provocations”

“Terminal Provocations”

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 6 – Debuted Thursday, September 10th, 2020
Written by John Cochran
Directed by Bob Suarez

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

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.

Which one of you made that litter box crack?

 

WARNING: Spoilers below!

RECAP

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.

Fletcher’s isolinear core-to-bong conversion didn’t go well

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.

The commander still finds nacelles hilarious

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.

The install of Microsoft Office 2380 did not go well

Ensign Blues

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.

The Trill ensign isn’t impressed with the captain’s gun show

ANALYSIS

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.

Boimler is getting some dork onto Mariner

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.

Did you hear, there’s only four more episodes left

MORE BITS

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.

Laugh lines

  • “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 PodcastsSpotifyPocket CastsStitcher 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.

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Lower Decks is by far the most entertaining thing on TV right now. While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, at least we Lower Decks to look forward to. This show provides a few laughs every week and I love that.

The news is so depressing and the world is in a dark place. Nothing is fun on TV anymore expect Star Trek: Lower Decks. That says a lot.

So absolutely true. I look forward to this show a LOT.

The trailer for this episode made it seem like we were going on an away mission to a TOS ship. When that did not happen, it bummed me out for most of the episode. Most of the comedy went over my head at that point. I need to give this a re-watch knowing what I know. But for a first time viewing, I was pretty disappointed. Also, I thought the comm badge ripping heads off was excessive for this show.

Yeah, all the All Access shows are pretty gleeful about showing gratuitous violence and gore which immediately make them questionable choices for family-viewing. I just think it’s a shame for the franchise in the long run when it comes to growth and vitality – so many kids’ formative years were influenced by TOS-JJ Trek, and now anyone under 12 might be excluded from watching the new shows and may not have the same emotional attachment to Star Trek when they grow up that many of us have now. Look at how Transformers, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Doctor Who thrive off of adult fans happily introducing new offerings to their kids now. There’s room in Trek for some R-rated offshoots, but every single new show is like this now – that’s short-sighted.

Agreed, great show, have loved it up to this point, hated the blood and gore in this episode! A little is fine but this was too much and the story was weaker. Please just get back to great funny stories and leave the gratuitous gore to other shows on TV.

This goes to show how forgettable this show is. I saw it and don’t even remember the ripping off heads part.

For me it is no longer “must see” the day it’s available. It’s just not that good. I didn’t watch this episode until Saturday.

Yeah, found the violence somewhat offputting, arm-breaking thing sticking to my mind not in a good way. Graphic violence kind of stuck out like a foreign body on a feelgood show. Also, it did not serve to up the tension for Rutherford & Tendi as it made Badgey’s fight with Rutherford look underwhelming in comparison. To me, horror can often be more effective when set up to play out in the mind instead of graphically.

Last edited 13 days ago by Webguest

More Badgey! Hilarious!

nice bit of continuity for the debris field to be made up of the old style cargo transports from the original animated series

I love the homages and continuity with TAS with the transport design, the Caitian, and the shape-shifter species.

Yup, I love how Mike McMahan and the writers are gleefully leaning into TAS. There’s at least a couple of TAS Easter eggs in every episode.

And for all of you still out there saying to yourself “yah, but everyone is down on that lousy Filmation 70s Saturday morning cartoon quality animation, and Roddenberry spent a decade denying it was canon due to IP rights stuff” , please just give TAS a chance already.

I thought this one was pretty solid. The “Chu Chu” stuff was a little lame, as was the too-frequent “we’re Starfleet!” stuff, but otherwise, solid. I laughed frequently.

Well, it was mocking that “We’re Starfleet” stuff–that was the point. :)

So now even Lower Decks is mocking St. Michael and Discovery? ;)

Last edited 18 days ago by Vulcan Soul

Yes. And to good effect

I’m not sure I agree that that was mocking. It didn’t play that way for me. It’s fine either way, it didn’t bother me much.

Thank you! I was desperately hoping I wasn’t the only one who thought “We are Starfleet!” is the cheesiest pep-talk rallying cry in the history of rallying cries. And ridiculously overused over the past two years. KInda like the JJ movies literally embroidering 10,000 tiny deltas into the fabric of the uniforms (Discovery too, along the sides). And slapped it on the communicator. And the phaser. And apparently on the soles of the boots.

Yes, we get it. You’re Starfleet. Now act like it, for crying out loud.

And I absolutely adored Homicidal Badgie. It was a HUUUGE Windows 95 flashback.Which is ironic, as I evidently have Delta Fatigue.

That was the one thing I thought was slightly amusing in the episode. Badgy was obviously a riff on Windows. Which reminded me of an old bit from the 90’s if the Enterprise Computer ran on Microsoft…. It was filled with Data saying things were waiting to load and that they should control-alt-delete and things. It was actually funnier than anything we’ve seen on LDX.

Badgey for President!

I dunno… Badgey sure did go off the deep end pretty quickly after getting kicked around for being “slow”. And going on a murderous rampage? How many hundreds of thousands of people have to die before people start to realize that voting for Badgey might not be in their best interest?

Biggest laugh: when they all said Delta Shift, but one guy said it a beat later. Lolololol

I LOLed at this too.

Episodes 5 & 6 now have been the best so far. It’s almost a contest to see how many Easter Eggs can be recognized.

I was glad to see that there were lines Mariner wouldn’t cross, but the whole Fletcher situation just seemed too awful to be funny to me. I want the characters to STAY STARFLEET while doing funny things, and Fletcher’s dishonesty and incompetence turned me off of that whole plot line.

I liked the Rutherford/Tendi story better. I mean, the holodeck seems way too dangerous to actually be tolerated on their ship by any sane captain, but holodeck weirdness is an established Trek trope at this point, the 24th-century equivalent of transporter accidents. :-)

Starfleet has always been full of people who really don’t belong there. The only part that is hard to believe is that Fletcher was demoted on the Titan instead of being made an admiral.

Wait what! We have to pick between holodeck malfunctions and transporter accidents? Can’t we have BOTH?

P. S. And don’t forget the shuttle crashes ;)

It looks like the transporter accident is next week.

And spaceship crashes ;)…The awe when Voyager crashed and left a furrow on the ground…

Last edited 17 days ago by Webguest

As for starship crashes, that will arrive on Discovery swiftly ;)

Yeah, the TWO TIMES they put Deanna at conn, she augered two Enterprises into planets and ships.

To be fair, she was supposed to ram the Scimitar.

I take it the point of this series is also bringing up office/organisational topics to reflect upon in a fun environment: Fletcher’s story showed how a small problem can grow bigger and bigger when trying to sweep it under the carpet. And in Fletcher’s defence, he seemed quite competent in deescalating the situation in the mess hall. Maybe he fried his brain a little when connecting himself to the core?

It seems that Fletcher had some great people skills that covered up and compensated for a major ethics deficiency. Can happen.

I question Mariner and Boimler letting him take credit, but by falling upwards Fletcher exposed his ethical deficiencies in an environment that wouldn’t tolerate them and pushed him out.

So, the system worked.

For those of you on the board who know UK comedic television and film, didn’t Fletcher give you a “Billy Liar” vibe?

I had a flash of Billy trying to flush the complimentary calendars from work (that he was supposed to have distributed) down the toilet and causing a whole city block level plumbing disaster.

Last edited 17 days ago by TG47

I’m a little tired of Boimler/Mariner and Rutherford/Tendi stories. Why don’t they intermingle? I mean, there’s only so much Data and Geordi shenanigans you can take before maybe a little Worf and Data or Troi and Geordi interplay is necessary to even things out. It’s a CREW, not a series of duos.

Agreed. And not only that, we need to see more of them working for, you know, their group leaders? I mean, isn’t Tendi in medical?

I’ve enjoyed Lower Decks, but this was the stupidest, most unintelligent and childish episode I’ve seen. A metal core that plugs into a human(?), takes on it’s worst traits(??) and becomes alive with arms(???)? Trek can be campy, but it’s supposed to be technically intelligent. Clippy in the holodeck ripping people’s heads off and wearing people’s skin? WTF? I’m actually embarrassed for the writers of this episode.

Yeah, I also had to ignore that metal core plugging into human by means of conveniently available helmet thing very hard ;-) But I can overlook it when it serves to illustrate a work topic like hiding a problem until it grows out of hand. As for Clippy, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that all of his threats might be referencing other movie villains. What I recognised right away was the very meta Moriarty reference. As for the skin, Google points to “Blades of Glory”, an ice skating movie…did Clippy happen to be cold when he said so?

Last edited 17 days ago by Webguest

There was no ‘Clippy’ in this episode!

I loved this episode mostly for “Badgey” which was a hilariously dark takedown on many of the Holodeck tropes, besides being a hilarious riff on Clippy. Many other things in this episode turned into zany nonsense like the entire “Chu Chu Chu” joke and the isolinear core monster. Still, there is SO much stuff in this episodes that is incredibly Star Trek literate with roots in many TNG stories. Sometime they really stretch to get there, but I can’t help but geek out in ways only a super TNG fan could. This show makes me feel seen and I love it!

Last edited 17 days ago by Michael K

That is an excellent term… “Star Trek literate”. This perfectly expresses how I feel about this series. They’re playing in a playground that I KNOW, and it’s working for me. I’m not constantly worried that they’re going to rewrite history. And if they do deviate from canon, they’re winking in your face when they do it. They know they’re doing it,they know YOU know they’re doing it, and they’re not trying to cover it up. They’re inviting you along for the ride.

I sometimes feel like it wouldn’t be as enjoyable if the viewer didn’t know as much about Trek, but even my girlfriend, who has seen every TNG episode at some point but isn’t a total FREAK like me, laughed her ass off at the joke about the beautiful people in rompers who will kill you for stepping on the grass.

God… the 80’s were a magical time…

I still haven’t found this show to be funny at all, BUT, it is still entertaining so I shall continue to watch. I’m glad Riker fired Fletcher. He was not a good Starfleet Officer.

I’d be ok if they brought back Psychotic Badgey in a comic or something. Or at least offered a Badgey who was loading the scenario as a toy.

Another solid episode! Not as great as last two, but still loving this show far more than Disco or Picard. Sad about the the attitudes to the Doctor’s species though. After the attitude B had to the Feringi, it’s the only area I’d like to see LD improve.

Been there done that. Same old same old. One or two semi clever bits. Nothing really funny. The sample size is 60% and confirming that this show’s final analysis will be that it’s a dud. This is very disappointing as it was the first show from Secret Hideout I was really looking forward to.

PS… Really wish they would stop calling this an “adult” comedy. This is a full on family friendly G rated show. A very soft PG at worst. I would have no problem with my kid watching this when he was 6. He probably would find it funnier than I do.

I did notice something though. For the second time this season, an ensign has been promoted, skipping a rank from Ensign to Full Lieutenant. With Mariner, I assumed it was due to the fact that she’s been a Lt JG before. But now I wonder if the animators simply weren’t told how the rank pips work.

I know we’re a few weeks past, but am I the only one who thought of Quad City DJ’s when Mariner and Boimler were geeking out over the Chu Chu Dance? If Wycliffe Jean can survive into the 23rd century, Quad City DJ’s could arguably make it to the 24th. And it was nice to see them both be into something really dorky.