“No Small Parts”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 10 – Debuted Thursday, October 8, 2020
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Barry J. Kelly
The first season of this new kind of Star Trek show delivers on the promise of an animated comedy that is a worthy entry in the canon. “No Small Parts” brings big action, major character growth, huge surprises, and a lot of laughs along the way.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
We start with fun visit back to Beta III to find the residents no longer doing the whole Red Hour/Purge thing, but they have returned to worshipping the insane computer Landru, and Captain Freeman is not amused. This trip back to a planet from the TOS era (which Ransom slipps a note through the fourth wall to refer to as the “TOS era”… as in Those Old Scientists) is more than just a bit of nostalgia, but foreshadows what is to come for the rest of the episode and possibly even beyond. Freeman finds a flaw in Starfleet’s “some intervention” policy where they leave these once-visited “legacy civilizations” to go off the rails.
Cut to the Kalla System, which was last seen in the TNG era—if you can remember that sort of thing, which apparently the crew of the shiny new USS Solvang did not. Captain Dayton and the crew of the former USS Rubidoux from a few episodes ago were just minding their business scanning some plasma rings when they were attacked by a giant hodgepodge of a ship and literally torn apart, which is a shame as the Solvang still had that new starship smell. Oh, and everyone died. So yeah, strap in, because this episode is going to get intense.
The Cerritos answers the distress call (expecting it was just a mistake) only to find that giant ship “harvesting” the wreckage of the Solvang. Now Freeman and crew find themselves locked in a grapple with no way to call for help. Is this some new threat to Starfleet? Has some enemy come back to challenge the Federation? Well, sort of. Turns out it’s the Pakleds—yeah, the “we are smart” dimwits who kidnapped Geordi that time. And yeah, they are still dumb (they think every Federation ship is the Enterprise), but their little game of sending out fake distress calls to trick ships and steal their tech has worked like a charm during the decade-plus Starfleet has been ignoring them. Like moronic Borg scavengers, the Pakleds have cobbled together ships with some serious firepower from dozens of species, and they start to slice up the Cerritos “like a First Contact Day salmon.”
The stakes of this episode couldn’t get higher as Freeman’s comment “looks like they are not a joke anymore” has multiple meanings. With no options for escape, the captain turns to her criminally insubordinate daughter, ordering her to come up with a “half-baked solution that breaks Starfleet codes.” As the Pakleds start slowly—really slowly—boarding the ship, Mariner quickly gravitates to the Independence Day solution, and Rutherford has the key: Badgey. Oh yeah, it’s all coming together now.
As all of this is happening, Boimler is dealing with last episode’s big reveal. It turns out Brad is elated his best friend has a “Captain Mommy,” as that fits with his core desire to brownnose his way up the ranks. Unfortunately, as he explains this to her he ends up blabbing via an open com channel to the whole bridge crew. Needless to say, Beckett is not cool with it.
Now everyone wants a piece of Mariner; even the senior officers start kissing her insubordinate butt. All this unwanted attention leaves her with only one insane, radical solution. Mariner decides to do her job, by the book, including—gulp—finally rolling down her sleeves to Starfleet regulation uniform code. And to escape the attention, she starts angling for a promotion to the USS Sacramento, the same promotion Boimler’s after. Bradward doesn’t take Mariner’s transformation well. Not. At. All. Hilarious.
Not normal mode
As for Tendi, her enthusiasm meter goes one notch past “unbridled” as she bookends her season by becoming the liaison officer for a new special crewmember even rarer in Starfleet than a non-piratey Orion… an Exocomp. This episode’s exploration of Trek past’s repercussions keeps coming as this sentient floating robot life form first discovered in TNG has now apparently been woven into the fabric of the Federation. This new crewperson—delightfully voiced by Kether Donohue (You’re the Worst)—has even selected a mathematically perfect “normal” name… Peanut Hamper. Hmm, maybe Ensign Hamper needs to check her math. Tendi bonds with the clumsy robot right away, and beams with pride when Peanut surprises Dr. T’Ana with some impressive surgical assisting.
As for Rutherford, he spends most of his time struggling with some entertaining cybernetic glitches as he can’t seem to get back to “normal” mode. With everything going on, he has to face it down with his mind jumping from enthusiastic mode to sleepy, sassy, and beyond.
The storylines converge when Mariner’s virus-planting plan requires someone capable of internally storing the tech to go over to the Pakled ship, and Peanut Hamper—the obvious perfect choice—reveals her true nature: She’s kind of a jerk. Tendi takes a double punch as she watches the cutesy-turn-cowardly robot beam away only to see Rutherford volunteer as computer-virus-carrying tribute. D’Vana is convinced her best friend (and maybe more, it’s hard to tell with these two) is stuck in some kind of courageous mode. But no, this is the real Sam, and of course he is ready to help save the ship. That’s all Shaxs needs to hear as he loads the ensign on his back, bounds through Pakled-infested corridors to the shuttle the ensigns have been fixing all season, and literally blasts his way out of the ship. He is loving this!
Surprise surprise surprise
As the episode progresses past the halfway point, Lower Decks moves from comedy to catastrophe with more action than we have seen all season long. Ransom is going full Kirk Fu to repel boarders, an injured Freeman is put under the
ferociously feline gentle care of Dr. T’Ana, and Mariner finds herself in command of the ship. God help us all. Over on the Pakled ship, Shaxs is literally having the best day of his life as he mows down Pakleds protecting “baby bear” Rutherford. But to no one’s surprise, Badgey double-crosses his father, refusing to load the virus. However, the psychopathic AI helper was happy to set the Pakled ship to self-destruct, so the buff Bajoran seized on this moment to go out in a genuine blaze of glory, sacrificing himself to save Sam. That’s right, this animated comedy just killed off a main character. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
And Lower Decks doesn’t even give you a moment to ponder your own mortality as three more big bad Pakled ships show up and Captain Mariner has run out of crazy ideas short of abandoning ship. This all feels like the perfect cliffhanger moment, but “No Small Parts” has one more surprise up its sleeve: William F-ing Riker. Apparently, CBS is now required to Frakes up season finales as the USS Titan roars in on the theme to Star Trek: The Next Generation to save the day and scare off the Pakleds. And Marina Sirtis’ Troi is there too this time, masterfully lending some much-needed sarcastic wit to these serious events.
In standard Lower Decks fashion, we get an episode wrap-up cooldown in the Cerritos bar (after a somber funeral for Shaxs) as the ship gets returned to showroom condition. Of course, Riker is old friends with Freeman and Mariner. Troi is calling out Ransom’s macho over-compensation. And our four ensigns are together again, although Rutherford losing his implant has rebooted him back to episode one mode, so Tendi gets to become his best friend all over again!
Freeman and daughter Mariner have also come to a détente and even an alliance. The captain has a new private mission to deal with all these loose ends the Federation is ignoring, and her insubordinate offspring is the perfect ensign to help her do it under the subspace radar. Beckett and Brad also appear to have achieved a new friendship level after facing everything they have together. Unfortunately, this camaraderie doesn’t last as there is one last surprise in store.
Brad finally gets his ultimate dream. Ransom recommends him for promotion and transfer to the Titan. We leave it there, with a confident Lt. Brad jazzily warping off with Riker and crew and Mariner left stewing alone in her Cerritos hallway bunk. To be continued…
The Next Next Generation
“No Small Parts” moved Star Trek: Lower Decks into a whole new level. The previous episode (“Crisis Point”) parodied Star Trek movies; this episode delivered a Star Trek movie… and a pretty good one at that. All the right elements were there from the action, character moments, high stakes, a strong theme, surprises, and of course, lots of explosions. With many of the gags front-loaded, as the episode progressed this season finale felt more and more like a top-notch entry from the Next Gen era of Star Trek that inspired this animated comedy.
Even with all the nods to the past, “No Small Parts” was not a mere exercise in nostalgia, but a unique take on Star Trek. Writer and show creator Mike McMahan was even taking the franchise he loves to task, asking some tough questions about how the vaunted ideals of the Federation and Starfleet may have some unintended consequences. And while bringing in the Troi-Rikers as ringers was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, this finale was also willing to again take risks. Killing off a major character wasn’t something expected of Trek’s first official comedy, although perhaps we should have expected to lose the Bajoran security officer in the first season of a show developed by a man obsessed with TNG.
Having Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis reprise their roles from TNG was a wonderful surprise, as was finally seeing the USS Titan in action. Hearing Frakes’ patented “Red Alert!” never gets old, but this version of Riker did feel a bit more casual than the more serious officer that left the USS Enterprise-E just a year earlier. Perhaps marriage and his own command have loosed him up, but it felt like Jonathan Frakes was injected a bit more of himself into his Riker. There was also a bit more Marina in Troi as well, but it all worked.
If there is a quibble with “No Small Parts,” it comes as it takes on the trappings of a solid action-packed Star Trek finale, leaving much of the humor expected of an animated comedy in the back seat. But there are still plenty of laughs and even though there is a lot of winking to Trek, it still works organically, including Ransom’s meta-joke about the “TOS era.”
Playing the long game
Star Trek: Lower Decks has generally stuck to the episode format of Star Trek: The Next Generation and this episode could probably be enjoyed on its own. But it truly pays off in context of the whole season. All of the character dynamics at play deliver key moments for the arcs that have been building all season, especially for our four ensigns, but also for Captain Freeman. And in a way Shaxs as well, who finally got that ultimate fight he has been craving, albeit his last.
Peppered throughout the episode were callbacks to the previous nine entries of season one. These ranged from the more obvious like the return of Captain Dayton and the crew of the Ribudoux to the subtle like Mariner’s hidden contraband from episode one, or Brad talking up the Andorian bar on Tulgana IV from episode two. McMahan and company aren’t requiring us to watch every episode, but regular viewers are being rewarded for their loyalty.
And going even deeper, we can see how moments in the finale were foreshadowed, like Brad’s dream of being assigned to the USS Titan.
What a season
The bottom line is “No Small Parts” was the cherry on top of a delicious first season for this new kind of Star Trek show. It could be argued it is the strongest first season of any Trek series since the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series in 1966. Of course, it’s not perfect. There are times Lower Decks got a bit too dark, a bit too meta, or even a bit too reliant on references for the humor. But this is all outweighed by the strength of bringing us a new Star Trek family we have grown to love, a ship with its own fun personality, and a different take on the franchise that is more than welcome.
Work on the second season has already begun and hopefully, we won’t have too long to wait to see how Mariner, Boimler and everyone else get back together to have more fun adventures in the 24th century.
Today we learned
- Mariner doesn’t eat after 7 pm.
- USS Solvang (NCC-12101) was another California-class ship and third seen destroyed this season.
- USS Sacramento is presumably another California class.
- USS Cerritos holds an annual Captain Freeman day.
- The shuttle the ensigns have been working on all season is named S0equoia.
- Cerritos has a crewmember (Lt. Steven Levy) who is a conspiracy theorist.
- Seen for the first time in canon, the USS Titan has the same design and registry (NCC-80102) used in the Trek extended universe.
- The Titan has a Saurian first officer.
- The Titan crew wears Starfleet uniforms introduced in Star Trek: First Contact.
- Riker considers Freeman his cha’DIch (and himself her mentor) and reveals they used to “get in so much trouble.”
- Riker and Troi have multiple horga’hns.
- Rutherford’s implant has the following modes (in addition to normal):
- Extremely optimistic
- Holiday spirit
- Hot Take
- “Don’t make me paradox you into destroying yourself.”
- “Who wants crayons? Here you go kid, way better than the Red Hour.”
- “Changelings aren’t real! The Dominion War didn’t happen!”
- “I would love to snag that Bajoran beefsteak with my coital hooks.”
- “Kind of stuck between a rock and a kiss-ass place, aren’t you sir.”
- “Setting my fists to stun and my kicks to kill.”
- “A Pakled party and I wasn’t invited?”
- “I hate it when a ship gets repaired and comes out looking all Sovereign-class.”
- “Sooner or later I am going to run into you and I’m going to feed you to an Armus.”
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.