Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 8 – Debuted Thursday, September 24th, 2020
Written by Garrick Bernard
Directed by Kim Arndt
As Lower Decks heads towards the end of its first season it takes on another classic Trek trope, but this time with more mixed results. While there are a lot of funny moments, much of the humor relies too much on fan service references. The episode nicely leans into some of the series themes but doesn’t really move the ball forward when it comes to our characters. “Veritas” is elevated by its guest stars, most notably veteran actor Kurtwood Smith returning to the franchise in a new fun role.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
12 Angry K’Tuevons
This week the Lower Decks band is playing the courtroom episode song, starting us off with the smooth stylings of a real Star Trek VI Klingon trial vibe. The Cerritos is in orbit of K’Tuevon Prime, and our gang of ensigns finds themselves called as witnesses to “speak the truth” about the senior officers, who are being held aloft in some kind of beam. Clar, the lead alien, presents them with “the Horn of Candor” (one of their “most sacred horns”). And thus the structure of the episode is set up, with a series of flashbacks told by each of our ensigns, starting with Mariner.
Clar—played masterfully by Kurtwood Smith—demands to know of the “wondrous events” of Captain Freeman on the bridge of the Cerritos during a confrontation with some bug aliens named the Clicket. As Mariner and Boimler were late to arrive at their posts, they don’t really know what’s going on except that Clicket captain is really upset over how the captain thanked them for giving her a map. There is even more miscommunication when Mariner fires a warning shot after the captain asks her to send “a message,” which was supposed to be a dinner invitation and not phaser fire. I’m with Mariner on this one.
Clar is not satisfied with the flashback, demands to know more about the map, and threatens Mariner with the tank of contempt, which is full of giant wriggling eels.
My Cousin Vulcan
You would think Rutherford’s flashbacks would satisfy Clar because of the accuracy of his cybernetic implant, but on the stardate in question it was glitching and causing blackouts, leaving some frightening and funny gaps in his story. Rutherford was speaking the truth of a mission he went on with Shaxs and Billups, who finally gets something to do.
The disjointed story takes us on a hilarious covert HALO drop into a Vulcan museum to steal a Romulan Bird of Prey, a distracting fan dance that would make Uhura proud, a perilous spacewalk with Billups having TNG flashbacks due to a lack of oxygen, and then for some reason, a Gorn wedding. None of this satisfied Clar, so Sam was sent to hover over the eel tank too.
Judgment at Romulus
When it’s Tendi’s turn to speak the truth—this time about Ransom—she’s hampered by the fact that her story is classified by Starfleet. It turns out though yet another failure to communicate (this time over the name “The Cleaner”), she fell into a covert mission aboard the Romulan Bird of Prey that Rutherford sort of remembered helping to steal. Using that map to the neutral zone from two flashbacks ago, the overly enthusiastic Orion ends up joining Ransom’s special ops force to extract “the package” from a facility on Romulus. It’s all very hush-hush, so her flashback is humorously seasoned with bleeped audio redactions and black bars to protect the identities of the team.
Needless to say, Clar was not happy about this and sends all three testifying ensigns into the vat of eels, which for some reason is now also being boiled.
With his friends in peril, Brad finally puts his big boy pants on, laying on some “veritas,” which is that as lower deckers, the ensigns “never know anything!” They can’t satisfy this odd line of inquiry about the senior officers, whom Clar imagines are all “infallible heroes,” like all members of Starfleet. So Brad drops some more truth, that the bridge crew of the Cerritos put on their space suits one leg at a time just like everyone else… and they make mistakes.
He uses his flashbacks to recall some fun and winning moments, like when Ransom hit on a Salt Vampire and that time Dr. T’Ana thought she was in a parallel universe when she was just on the wrong ship. The highlight of this reel of Seniors Officers Gone Wild was the time that Q (yes the real Q in full de Lancie judge robe glory) dropped by the Cerritos, bewildering the bridge crew with some crazy Q puzzle to prove humanity is worth saving. Classic.
A Few Good Aliens
Brad declares the whole trial a sham, which turns out to be sort of right: The final—and should be obvious—miscommunication twist was that this never was a trial. Clar isn’t an interrogating prosecutor, he’s a thankful kidnapped-by-Romulans magistrate, rescued by the crew of the Cerritos. He was “the package” that all those flashbacks led up to. The creepy courtroom? Actually, one of the “nicest event silos” on the planet, and it’s where Clar got married. The bridge crew isn’t being held in stasis for judgment but in the “beam of celebration” awaiting their story to be carved in stone. Of course, Mariner isn’t cool with all of this.
After getting commendations for standing up for Starfleet ideals in the face of death (even though they were really facing a party venue full of balloons) everything resets back. The captain gives some lip service to keeping the crew informed but once pressed to tie up some serious loose threads, she doesn’t follow through, and our four ensigns are sent back out into the blissful ignorance of being lower deckers, as it should be.
Oh, and Q returns at the end to drop some Picard references, which was nice.
A drink of truth, with a twist
On the surface, this episode was a charming homage to classic Trek courtroom dramas from Star Trek VI to “Measure of a Man” to “Drumhead” (which got literally name-dropped by Brad). But “Veritas” (Latin for “truth”) took this deeper, telling an in media res story through a series of flashbacks hearkening to cinema classics like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Usual Suspects. (This was also put to use in several Star Trek episodes, including TNG’s “Suspicions” and Voyager‘s “Thirty Days.”) It’s good to see Lower Decks take risks in how it shapes its stories, although “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” was more successful with its experimental homages.
Like any story with a twist, it’s overly dependent on that payoff at the end, in this case, the big reveal of the party. It was fun, but suffered from the Shyamalan effect of feeling like too much setup and not enough punchline, and maybe not all that surprising either. And the whole setup led to yet another retelling of the theme we know all too well at this point, which is this show is about the lower deckers, who are only witnesses—and in some cases unreliable narrators—of the traditional cool Star Trek sci-fi stories happening on the bridge. We get it.
One of the areas where “Veritas” excelled was with the character moments and humor. Each of our main four ensigns got to lean into what makes them unique and funny. From Brad reading all the senior officer’s logs to Tendi being concerned for the eels while she is also being boiled to Rutherford glitzing out after questioning a cybernetic Klingon font upgrade to Mariner bluffing her way through an encounter with some bug aliens, roll with it.
And Lower Decks delivered on its promise to bring back legacy voices and characters without being fully gratuitous. It was great seeing John de Lancie’s Q again, in full toying-with-humanity form. But he was introduced in a way to make a point and fit well within the theme of the episode, even with all the name-dropping.
And the show continues to excel and expand with great new characters, with Clar as a welcome addition. Kurtwood Smith oozed menace and deftly switched after the twist to become just a guy trying to do a nice thing who’s dealing with annoying party planners. It was great to hear Discovery guest actor Ken Mitchell show his funny side as the Clicket Captain Tweerk. And even though Commander Billups has been recurring, this is the first episode where veteran comedy actor Paul Scheer has been able to show how funny he can be.
The best animated comedies build a roster of characters beyond the core family. Where would The Simpsons be without the likes of Flanders and Mr. Burns? Or Family Guy without Tom Tucker and the Evil Monkey? Slowly but nicely Lower Decks is also building a bench that it can hopefully rely on in seasons to come.
Only two more to go
“Veritas” was a solid effort, ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack of the eight Lower Decks episodes so far. It presented a somewhat confusing story, which was either a bug or a feature, depending on your point of view. But if you are one of those who needs to totally understand a plot, this one may require a second viewing.
Today we learned
- Stardates for flashbacks were 57818.4 and 57791.1
- Tendi “really” likes ice, replicates a lot of it.
- Tendi also knows Kung Fu or some kind of martial arts enough to beat up four Romulans.
- Boimler takes pottery classes.
- Sam Rutherford’s full first name is Samanthan
- Ransom has a Starfleet insignia neck tattoo, matched with the same on members of his covert team
- There is another California-class ship named the USS Alhambra
- “Then we’ll have to live on Earth, where there’s nothing to do but drink wine and hang out at vineyards and soul food restaurants.”
- “Dude, I work on a spaceship. We don’t have maps. We have stellar cartography.”
- “Who cares. Bug alien. Roll with it.”
- “You know who I hate? Remans.”
- “I tried to be reasonable. I tried to get to the truth. Today didn’t have to end in eels.”
- “Get out of here, Q. We are done with random stuff today. We aren’t dealing with any of your Q bullsh*t.”
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.