CBS-All Access has just released the third episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks for streaming, and “Temporal Edict” (written by Dave Ihlenfeld and David Wright) has nothing to do with time travel, despite the title. Instead, this week’s story is all about that unwritten rule of USS Enterprise former Chief Engineer, Montgomery Scott; always leave yourself a little wiggle room by padding your repair estimates.
The teaser opens with Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid) doing a sad-sack violin solo during the USS Cerritos’ talent night in the ship’s lounge. Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome) bursts in with an electric guitar and amp. She does an obnoxious, wannabe-Hendrix set that not only reverberates throughout the hull, but apparently into the vacuum of space as well, upsetting a delicate rendezvous with trigger-happy Klingons. Mariner then stops playing and walks away, leaving a shaken Boimler to continue his performance. Seconds later, Lt. Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) rushes in and smashes Boimler’s violin on captain’s orders, believing it was the source of the offending disturbance.
Note: the smashed violin might be a reference to the late comic actor John Belushi violently smashing a beatnik’s guitar in 1978’s “Animal House.”
Mariner, Boimler, Tendi (Noel Wells) and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) are once again complaining about work, while enjoying the perks of ‘buffer time’ (overly-padded repair estimates), including some freshly replicated margaritas. The naive Tendi is shocked to learn that the Starfleet officers she idolizes lie about their repair times, while the uptight Boimler actually prefers tighter scheduling.
That Lower Decks ‘tradition’ of buffer time is threatened when a nervous Boimler accidentally spills the beans about said tradition during a turbo lift ride with Capt. Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), who is outraged and issues a ‘temporal edit’ that all repairs will be completed within narrower, command-mandated schedules.
These revised schedules leave the crew desperately tired, as they feverishly rush to complete one task after another, often tripping over one another and cutting many corners in order to finish within the allotted times…except, of course, for Boimler. Boimler just loves the newly mandated schedules, promptly finishing one task just in time for the next one.
Meanwhile, a landing party led by First Officer Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) shuttles down, instead of conveniently beaming down (for drama’s sake), to finalize negotiations with a race of newly admitted Federation members who place great symbolism with crystals. Ransom and Mariner instantly butt heads when he tells her to roll down her sleeves. She doesn’t, of course…
The crew’s mad rush to complete assignments sees a crystalline gift to the planet’s leader being accidentally switched with a log of wood from their sworn enemies. This, of course, deeply offends the aliens, who go on a rampage. A spear pierces the shoulder of Vendome, a Bolian crewman of the Cerritos landing party.
With the landing party pinned down, the USS Cerritos is met by an incoming fleet of hostile ships from the planet’s surface. The deeply offended aliens board the starship, spraying crystalline graffiti throughout its decks.
With the landing party taken prisoner, a busy Ransom is attempting to write a speech which he hopes will save the day (just like one of Captain Picard’s memorable soliloquies from TNG), ignoring all of Mariner’s sound advice. With the ranks dropped, Mariner tells her pompous superior (who often does the knee-raised stance of TNG’s Riker) what she really thinks of his stuffed-shirt leadership style. Ransom and Mariner then argue over who gets to fight in ritual combat with a giant alien brute named “Findor.” The argument heats up, as Ransom accidentally stabs Mariner in the ankle, leaving him the only viable challenger.
Aboard the Cerritos, Boimler picks a really bad time to tell Capt. Freeman that perhaps morale aboard ship might improve if she were to loosen the reins a bit on the crew, bringing back the ‘buffer time’ that improved the overall efficiency of the ship. Surprisingly, the captain takes his advice, and tells the crew to do whatever they have to do (their way) in order to retake the Cerritos.
A shirtless Ransom (mocking the often-shirtless Captain Kirk) enters the arena with Findor, and easily defeats the massive alien challenger (using a number of Kirk-Fu moves). Ransom’s defeat of Findor easily wins the planet’s respect. Turns out the big alien was only pretending to be a big dumb brute.
Note: The ritual combat is not only a salute to TOS Star Trek’s “Arena” and “Gamesters of Triskelion”, but many such ritualistic combats seen in science fiction, dating all the way back to Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Princess Of Mars,” first published in 1912. “Princess of Mars” was, of course, the first in the “John Carter of Mars” books, which were adapted into Disney’s criminally underrated movie, “John Carter” (2012).
The situations on both the planet and the ship rapidly de-escalate, as the alien’s withdrew and then meekly seek forgiveness for their earlier ‘un-crystal like’ behavior. Later in sickbay, a recovering Mariner is greeted by Ransom, who came to offer his apologies for stabbing her ankle. She tells him she’s not filing it in her report, and that she’s even keeping the scar. Naturally, their truce is short-lived when Ransom tells her he’s putting her on report for wearing her sleeves up. A fight ensues, and she gets brig time, which suits her just fine, of course.
Meanwhile, the captain tells Boimler that she’s naming his earlier action “the Boimler Effect,” which means allowing the crew sufficient ‘buffer time’ to do things their own way; which is the very antithesis of everything the anal-retentive, regulations-loving Boimler stands for, but he is too meek to tell his captain. Boimler assumes no one will remember his association with the ill-named “Boimler Effect”…
The coda sees an outdoor classroom of young people in the ‘far off future’ who learn of “the Boimler Effect” (with Boimler doing the same upright knee-stance as Ransom). The class also learns of the ‘greatest’ hero in the history of Starfleet; Deep Space Nine’s often put-upon, working-class engineer, Chief Miles O’Brien…
“Temporal Edict” once again has Mariner and the Lower Decks gang coming to the rescue of the stuffy command crew of the USS Cerritos, one of the lesser ships in the Federation’s Starfleet. This seems to be pretty much how the show will go every week; the unsung slackers who save the day over and over without recognition; rinse and repeat. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.
The humor of “Lower Decks” is mainly hit or miss, depending on one’s taste. I can sit through an entire episode completely Vulcan-faced.
Many of the Trek in-jokes may not register with newfound fans, such as the Miles O’Brien bit in the coda, or Boimler humming the opening bars of Jerry Goldsmith’s TNG theme (originally composed for 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”). These in-jokes are fine, but I think there is a tendency of this series to rely too heavily on them. This reliance, combined with the show’s almost feverish attempts at over-the-top gags, makes the comedy of Lower Decks feel a bit too labored for my tastes.
Personally, I find Mariner doing her obnoxious guitar set during Boimler’s violin solo to be lowest common denominator stuff. I prefer Star Trek comedy to be more clever than just characters acting rude or stupid for laughter’s sake. Take “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” for example; finding a pair of extinct humpback whales to save future-Earth isn’t funny, but Spock wandering the streets of 1980s San Francisco pretending to be an old hippie from Berkeley is hysterical.
As a half-century fan of Star Trek, I certainly get all of Lower Deck’s myriad references, but endless-referencing doesn’t necessarily equal comedy. For my own gold-pressed latinum, I think Seth McFarlane’s “The Orville” does Star Trek-style parody with a lot more wit and social commentary. It even manages to tell solid allegorical sci-fi stories at the same time (just without the official Star Trek licensing).
Once again, there’s always the possibility for improvement, and other Star Trek series sometimes stumbled out of their respective gates as well, so I’m willing to wait and see if Lower Decks’ often-frantic and forced humor begins to settle down at some point.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available for streaming on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Crave in Canada. No word just yet on an overseas release streaming platform.
To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic as well. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States is nearing 173, 000 as of this writing (that number is increasing daily). So, for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing wherever possible, wear masks in public, and avoid crowded outings as much as possible.
Live long and prosper!