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Star Trek: Lower Decks

California vs. Texas: The battle for outer space

Following the bad press in "Trusted Sources," Captain Freeman is admonished by Starfleet Command and informed the entire California-class starship contingent will be replaced with a line of Texas-class autonomous drones that are the brainchild of Admiral Les Buenamigo (whose cutesy name should be considered an ironic warning).

As an attempt to head off this decision and prove her crew’s value, Freeman challenges Buenamigo to a "second-contact race," where she intends to complete a series of missions with her flesh-and-blood crew before his lead automated starship, the Aledo, can do the same.

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‘Trusted Sources’: Many leather-bound books

A news reporter comes aboard the Cerritos to document a long-delayed second contact between the Federation and the Ornarans (the drug-addicted people for whom Picard mediated in "Symbiosis" 17 years earlier), amusingly aptly dubbed "Project Swing-By." With the reporter aboard, Freeman orders everyone to be on their best behavior — and orders Mariner, always the maverick, not to talk to the reporter at all — so the Cerritos can be seen as important rather than trivial.

"Trusted Sources" is ironically named, because it goes out of its way to conceal the truth while building its case, only to reveal the entire foundation of the case to be secretly fraudulent. The deception somewhat undercuts a character story that ends up being the most significant of the entire season, but which is revealed here through trickery rather than honesty. That this character core is still interesting is significant, but this feels like something of a missed opportunity because of the shameless layer of manipulation.

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Episode II: The First One Was Better

I didn’t expect "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" to be the equal of "Crisis Point," and let me be perfectly clear in saying, no, this is not in the same ballpark. But it’s an enjoyable romp through the holodeck with enough character beats to feel worthwhile as an episode of Lower Decks.

"Crisis Point" still remains the best episode of the series, mainly because it fully confronted its character core (Mariner’s issues with her mother) and the underlying darkness of that particular fantasy thread, alongside its parody/homage of elevated Trek-movie conventions. "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" doesn’t have a thread nearly as worthwhile or as earned, but it does put forth at least something of an effort on the character front while dropping us into the most tried-and-true of all Trek movie plots — the time-travel adventure.

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‘Lower Decks’: Revenge of the redemption arc

"A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" is the best episode of Lower Decks so far this season because it manages to execute a nearly mathematically perfect formula for comedy. That formula is to ask the question: What happens if we follow a disgraced Starfleet officer who is a completely selfish a-hole and resists every opportunity to overcome her self-centered me-first nature?

The result is a consistently funny off-format episode that works so well because the material finds amusement by simply satirizing well-trodden tropes, which are more or less played with a straight face but with an elevated sense of aggrandizement that plays as a knowing wink. The selfish Starfleet officer in question is Peanut Hamper, the exocomp who abandoned her shipmates in "No Small Parts" and has been floating in space ever since.

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‘Lower Decks’ drops by DS9 to circle the pylons

The Cerritos is assigned to oversee post-Dominon-war trade negotiations with the Karemma, the mercantile Dominion member world that was perhaps most memorably represented in DS9‘s "Starship Down" with a guest appearance by James Cromwell. The negotiations take place on Deep Space Nine, providing Lower Decks an opportunity to geek out using the backdrop of the Trek franchise’s middlest of middle children.

And, sure, as an homage to DS9, "Hear All, Trust Nothing" puts forth its fan-service bonafides. We’ve got ops. The promenade. Quark’s bar (the original, not the franchise extensions). Morn. Dabo tables. Shaxs and Kira swapping war stories from the Bajoran Resistance days, with each trying to one-up the other over who owes whom. The cold open gently mocks the profundity of DS9‘s title sequence: "Circle around and pretend we’re in awe of the pylons." Armin Shimerman (Quark) and Nana Visitor (Kira) provide their voices to lend legitimacy to the whole enterprise. The animated sets of the station are flawlessly replicated. If DS9 is your Trek series, then this episode is for you.

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Rutherford meets his bad-boy alter ego in ‘Reflections’

Not long after Rutherford has a nightmare about an explosion that happened in his pre-implant days, his implant goes on the fritz and an alternate personality with a bad attitude emerges (let’s call him Dark Rutherford). Imprisoned within his own mind is the OkeeDokee Rutherford we all know and love, who manifests to his dark alter-ego as a reflection in glass surfaces and tries to battle back control of his consciousness.

Dark Rutherford tries to thwart security and escape the ship, but is phasered by Shaxs, which overloads Rutherford’s implant and puts him in a coma. Inside his mind, OkeeDokee Rutherford and Dark Rutherford compete for mental dominion by agreeing to a race — the winner gets to stay and the loser gets erased. There can be only one victor, because the implant does not have room for both personalities and sets of memories.

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‘Room for Growth’: The title says it all

With the engineering staff exhausted from working around the clock to repair damage to the ship caused by Freeman’s recent mask-based alien takeover (unlike in TNG‘s "Masks," the ship is not magically transformed back after having been turned into a museum), the captain orders downtime. The Cerritos arrives at the Dove, a Federation spa facility where the patrons are issued color-coded stress-detecting bracelets and ordered to relax using amenities such as the massage parlor or the (admittedly adorable) puppy play room. (The spa manager says they also have a kitten room if you are one of the "deviants" who are into such things.)

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‘Lower Decks’: Mining for the obvious

When a scientist at a research station on an alien world inhabited by stone-like people (the "Scrubble") is tempted by his greatest fantasy (his hot seventh-grade teacher) and turned into stone by a magical telepathic artifact, the Cerritos crew comes in to clean up the artifacts before they can do any more accidental harm.

The lower deckers are on the case, and while they do the cleanup, they have to deal with hallucinations created by the artifacts which reveal their deepest fantasies. They must avoid temptation lest they be turned into stone — while also competing against the USS Carlsbad‘s lower deckers, whom they are assigned to work with, and whom they assume regard them as a bunch of screw-ups.

The biggest problem with "Mining the Mind’s Mines" is its utter lack of imagination. A story that uses the Trekkian staple of the fantasy world showing the crew false images could’ve been used to reveal interesting things about the characters, or at least use the fantasies to drive some clever comedy. Instead, we get a bunch of surprisingly obvious jokes and "zany" cartoon action.

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‘Lower Decks’: Hunting for, or preying on, ambition

When the crew comes to the assistance of a planet (whose society considers health and wellness a top priority) to help them repair one of their space elevators orbital lifts, Ransom assigns himself and Mariner to complete the engineering job while sending the engineers (Rutherford and Billups) to the planet surface to carry out the diplomatic mission.

Meanwhile, aboard the Cerritos, the normally risk-averse Boimler learns that a considerably less cautious peer has had a meteoric rise to become a captain, which makes Boimler think he should take more risks in his professional life in an effort to become "Bold Boimler," leading him to say yes to any opportunity presented to him (like Jim Carey in that movie Yes Man). This quickly goes too far: Boimler agrees to be hunted by a hulking sharp-angled alien aboard the ship, who pulls out various stabbing weapons and informs his new "prey" that the hunt begins in an hour. Comic mayhem ensues.

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‘Lower Decks’ returns for its third season

With Captain Freeman wrongfully accused and awaiting trial for the destruction of Pakled Planet, the Cerritos has been put in drydock and its crew placed on leave. Mariner, convinced her mother is going to be railroaded without additional exculpatory evidence, goes on a mission to find evidence that may clear her mother’s name.

"Grounded" is a reasonable start to Lower Decks‘ third season. It’s easily the best season premiere for this series, but still a bit of a mixed bag. This is fine, but not a ton here to write home about. It’s got the usual Easter eggs, some of which I appreciated. (Boimler works on his family vineyard, where they cultivate grapes for raisins instead of wine. Rutherford and Tendi eat dinner at Sisko’s Creole Kitchen, where the hot sauce is "ketracel-white hot." Boimler exclaims how something is ridiculous, "for Kirk’s sake!" Etc.)

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