Star Trek: Lower Decks is the best of “New Trek” so far.
And it’s nothing but heart.
There are some bugs to work out. But the show’s third episode, ‘Temporal Edict’ proved me wrong. After the second episode, I said Lower Decks couldn’t have it all.
Meaning that it couldn’t be Star Trek, edgy, and parody all rolled into one.
‘Temporal Edict’ was all of the above. And then some.
Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) turns into even more of a hardass when Starfleet pulls her off an assignment she’s worked weeks for.
And with the captain in a foul mood, it’s the worst possible time for Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid) to let slip the concept of “buffer time.” Remember the original series Star Trek movies? Sure you do. It’s the concept Scotty used to earn a reputation as a miracle worker. You exaggerate your estimate for how long a task will take. Then you look like a genius when you finish “ahead of schedule,” and the rest of your day is free. Ancient Trek concept, but Star Trek: Lower Decks gave it a name.
Freeman’s solution? Every task assigned every officer has a time limit, immediately followed by a subsequent task. Within a week, the crew of the Cerritos is run ragged. Just in time for Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) and Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome) to go on an away mission resulting in their capture by the natives and an attack on the ship.
Naturally, Boimler loves the end of buffer time and finally gets a chance to be the hero. And on the planet, the captured Ransom and Mariner argue the merits and perils of protocol.
Star Trek: Lower Decks knocked its script out of the park this week.
‘Temporal Edict’ has it all. A solid, Star Trek premise, edgy jokes that would be natural in any setting, and some tremendous barbs at the franchise itself.
I won’t get into details, but who could’ve guest that Chief O’Brien would end up as the most important person in Federation history? And no, he’s not in this episode.
To date, Star Trek: Lower Decks has been a show that deconstructs Star Trek without breaking it. The first two episodes were at their best when they made our heroes learn hard truths about themselves. ‘Temporal Edict’ excels by turning our heroes’ flaws into virtues.
Boimler is the stick-in-the-mud who values Starfleet protocol above all else. And he excels in Captain Freeman’s back-breaking new world. But he also recognizes when it’s gone too far.
Mariner is the ultimate rule-breaker. But despite her speech to Ransom about how Starfleet isn’t about enforcing rules but stretching and redefining them, she comes to respect Ransom just the slightest bit. Maybe even something more than respect.
Also, it’s incredibly funny.
Each episode’s cold-open has been a dig at a Star Trek trope. Last week, it was the sentient energy field. This week, it was the classical music concert in the bar. Seriously, watch some old TNG episodes. Maybe four or five in a row. I bet you’ll see at least one violin recital in Ten Forward. Boimler puts on a violin recital that gets interrupted by Mariner wailing on her guitar loud enough to be heard on the bridge. Leading to Shaxs (Fred Tatiscore) uttering the best line of the episode.
“THE CAPTAIN SAYS YOU’RE TOO LOUD!”
The script for ‘Temporal Edict,’ written by Dave Ihlenfeld and David Wright, proves its Trek cred without making a spectacle of it.
Somehow, Dawnn Lewis’s performance turned ‘Temporal Edict’ into a Captain Freeman episode. Freeman’s time-management experiment was the inciting incident. But in animated comedy, that usually the character who’s forgotten before the first act break. Simpsons did it first. And Simpsons still does it.
But even though she isn’t the lead in this one, Lewis is able to balance a lot on her plate. It would’ve been very easy for this to de-evolve into screaming and Bond-villain-level overacting. Lewis plays it cool. She’s intense, and her predicament has her near breaking, but she never does. A little subtlety goes a long way.
Now. Time for the undisputed opposite of subtle. If Star Trek: Lower Decks has a weak link, it’s definitely Tawny Newsome’s performance as Mariner. I get it. The ensign is the coolest, most worldly, fastest-talking protocol-breaker in the quadrant. But Newsome comes across like she drank a case of Red Bull by herself before recording.
I have to stop and think if any of Mariner’s lines this week were funny. Because she runs through them at warp speed. See what I did? I did like a Star Trek thing. Anyway.
She doesn’t have the rhythm or cadence for the kind of comedy Star Trek: Lower Decks is going for. One joke doesn’t have time to breathe before she’s moved on to the next one. It’s like watching a Judd Apatow fever dream.
Newsome’s take on Ensign Mariner is going to be a problem for Star Trek: Lower Decks if they don’t find a way to tone the character down while maintaining her edge.
But that doesn’t change the fact that ‘Temporal Edict’ was a feather in the young show’s cap.
A great mix of Star Trek heart, genuinely funny content, and great character development.
It’s nice to be surprised. And it’s nice to remember that sometimes you can have it all.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks stream Thursdays on CBS All Access.
All images courtesy of startrek.com.
'Star Trek: Lower Decks' - Temporal Edict
- An episode with a solid premise that's well-executed
- The script is as sharp as any in the "New Trek" era
- A fun Captain Freeman episode. Who'da thunk it?
- Boimler gets to be a hero
- Tawny Newsome doesn't have the comedic timing this character requires