Oct 2, 2020
Star Trek: Lower Decks “Terminal Provocations”
This week on Star Trek: Lower Decks: The show still hasn’t decided whether or not it has a cold open, nor what should go in it. Last week didn’t have one. This week does, but wastes it on a runtime-padding, story-superfluous gag that should have ended up on the cutting room floor. I’ll skip it and dive into the episode proper, which is being introduced by Lieutenant Shaxs.
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The Cerritos is currently holding position in space near the site of a recently discovered shipwreck. It’s a Starfleet ship, so Starfleet understandably wants the remains, but the Drookmani freighter captain who discovered it is claiming that the ship’s advanced age (over a century old) has voided any salvage claims Starfleet may have had. The bellicose Shaxs is champing at the bit to blow the freighter out of space, but unfortunately Captain Freeman is insisting on a diplomatic solution.
While this tense standoff is going on, the Lower Decks crew is goofing off—those goofers!—in the mess hall. An ensign named Fletcher is standing under the replicator and the machine is pouring cantaloupe puree directly into his mouth.
In her excitement, Mariner stumbles into Dr. T’ana, pushing her face into a plate of nachos and getting cheese all up in her fur. Dr. Grumpy Cat loses her temper and tells Mariner to go work on Starbase 80 if she’s so interested in screwing around. This gets a shocked “oooooh!” from the crowd, and things nearly come to blows, but then the suave Fletcher steps in and smooths the whole thing over. Boimler remarks that Fletcher was always doing that sort of thing when they were at the Academy together. They make sure to paint Fletcher as a collected and competent officer so later when Fletcher turns into a gormless gibbering idiot, it’s extra confusing.
Rutherford and Tendi are talking about what could be in those cargo containers floating out in space. Rutherford remarks that they’ll probably have to spacewalk to retrieve them, since the cargo’s too massive for the transporters to handle.
This news fills Tendi with apprehension. She reveals that she never passed her spacewalking course at the Academy. How did she graduate, Rutherford asks. Was it an incriminating scheme of deception? A wacky, farcical misunderstanding? No, those would require too much effort on the writers’ part—it was a clerical error that Tendi never bothered to report. Luckily, Rutherford is working on a holodeck program that can help train Tendi for this.
Later, Mariner, Boimler, and Fletcher are putting their Academy training to work changing out chips in a series of isolinear cores. Mariner moans that it’s taking so long they’re going to miss the “Chu Chu dance”, whatever that is. Fletcher, swell guy that he is, assures Mariner and Boimler that he can handle this on his own, and sends them off to get their Chu Chu on.
Meanwhile, Rutherford unveils his holodeck training program, which has a Clippy-like virtual assistant shaped like a Starfleet badge, with the unimaginably creative name of “Badgey”. This whole plotline hinges on Badgey suffering malfunctions that totally alter his personality, which didn’t really work for me because Badgey is already clearly evil. His wide, vacant eyes mask a bottomless well of nihilistic hatred. Every peppy, relentlessly positive phrase that falls from his mouth carries a hissing undertone of contempt.
Soon they’ve got spacesuits on and are dashing around in holographic space. Tendi likes it. Her magnet boots get “accidentally” stuck to Rutherford’s and they share a romcom moment. Suddenly, Badgey appears and offers to start the training program. While loading the program, Badgey’s progress bar gets stuck. Rutherford is frustrated in his attempts to impress Tendi and savagely yells at and kicks the hologram. It spits out the program Rutherford wants, but… at a price.
Mariner and Boimler come back from the Chu Chu dance to find Fletcher passed out and woozy. One of the ioslinear cores for the shield array is missing. It’s a redundant system, but one which will definitely be noticed; Boimler deduces that the culprit must have wanted to get Fletcher in trouble, but not harm the ship. (You can go ahead and stop speculating. It’s a total red herring, unrelated to anything.) Fletcher claims he was stunned by an unknown assailant, as depicted in a flashback.
“Who’s shady as hell and knows these systems as well as we do?” asks Mariner. The unanimous answer is “Delta shift!”
Delta shift, aka the third shift or night shift, are the rivals of Beta shift, which Mariner, Boimler, and Fletcher work, and what follows is an amusing bit of high school cliquery featuring race-swapped versions of Boimler and Mariner. Taunts ensue. In total contrast to his previous collectedness, Fletcher flies off the handle and threatens one of the Delta-shifters with having his bleep bleeped off. (I’m pretty fluent in bleeped profanity, but I can’t make heads or tails of that one.) “Ah,” the viewer says, “so Fletcher has an alien ghost possessing him!” Nope, this is another red herring. I don’t even know if I want to call these red herrings, because that presupposes a conscious desire to mislead the audience, and I think these writers are simply bad at cleaning up dialogue from a couple of drafts ago.
A fight almost breaks out when the Delta-shifters reveal that they couldn’t have done it, because they were at the Chu Chu dance too, as depicted in a flashback.
On the bridge, things are heating up. The Drookmani ship is somehow managing to hit the ship despite having no weapons; it turns out they’re reversing their tractor beams to throw huge bits of wreckage at the Cerritos. Shaxs pleads to be allowed to destroy the ship—“I have been very good this month!”—but Freeman stands firm. The shields are draining fast because of the missing core. The resulting power shortage doesn’t shut off the holodeck, but does shut off the safety protocols. Shouldn’t it take more power to make things deadly in there? The default state is empty air! While Rutherford tries fruitlessly to end the program, Badgey takes his chance to launch himself at Rutherford and exact his revenge for the beating he received earlier.
Thinking quickly, Rutherford changes the environment to a Bajoran marketplace. Badgey follows him in, and gruesomely murders two holographic Bajorans. Rutherford and Tendi change into robes to blend in as locals, but Badgey has already spotted them and pursues them out of the city and up a long staircase up a mountainside to a temple.
The Drookmani captain is still peppering the Cerritos with debris and the writers are still insisting that someone saying a bleeped “Fuck you!” on Star Trek is inherently funny. Fletcher’s missing core is perilously close to being discovered. He now thinks the Drookmani must have stolen the core. The three ensigns run back to their bunks to grab their scanners so they can locate the intruder. In the process of doing this, Boimler notices a lump on Fletcher’s bunk. It turns out to be the missing core.
Fletcher breaks down and confesses everything with the help of another flashback. He felt taxed by doing all the cores by himself, so he hooked up his brain to one of the cores in an attempt to make himself smart enough to do it in a jiffy. Things went predictably bad.
So that’s our mystery: instead of wild theories like inter-shift rivalries and alien sabotage, the answer is a simple matter of Fletcher’s IQ dropping 50 points and his entire personality changing for no reason. Fletcher begs Boimler and Mariner not to report him, and they sigh, say they support him, and go about trying to replace the core without anyone noticing.
Their efforts are complicated when the core, animated by Fletcher’s brainwave patterns, scrambles away from Boimler. It picks up a PADD and begins to “eat” it, chanting “make me smarter!” Grabber tentacles pop out and start pulling stuff into a giant ball.
In the holodeck, Badgey is still chasing Rutherford and Tendi up that staircase. Rutherford notices that Badgey is getting tired, too. It seems his lack of holoprogramming expertise has left Badgey subject to a normal lifeform’s physical limitations. How do you accidentally do that? Wouldn’t that require like 5000 miles of code? Knowing this, he decides to freeze Badgey to death by changing the environment to a snowy mountaintop.
Meanwhile, the mutated core is eating everything. Mariner throws a sheet over it and begins to drag it away. Excitedly, Fletcher declares he’s come up with a plan: let the core beat them up, and tell their superiors that a Q showed up and did all this. “No one’ll doubt us, ’cause we’ll be all busted up!” This suggestion gets him tied up and left in a corner while Mariner and Boimler try to drag the core to the transporter before it gets too big to move. They don’t quite make it to the transporter, but they do get it out an airlock. The day is saved! …until the core drifts over to the Drookmani ship.
On the bridge, there’s a red alert and all the shields are failing. Shaxs finally has permission to fire on the freighter, but weapons are down. In an unbelievable stroke of luck, the big mutant computer ball tears into the freighter, totally destroying it, presumably killing everyone on board. Hooray!
But instead of resetting the holodeck to its former state, the holoprogram degrades slowly so that Rutherford can have one final fistfight with Badgey, watch him succumb to cold, and then break his neck, wailing over what he’s done.
The program ends, and a new version of Badgey pops up, which is all glitch-free and knows nothing about what he just did. Rutherford and Tendi rush out. “If you need to learn a lesson, I’m here!” he says. The door closes and his expression darkens. “I’m always here…”
Fed up with Fletcher’s antics, Mariner rats him out to Commander Ransom. For his efforts, Fletcher earns… a commendation from Starfleet for saving the Cerritos, and a promotion to lieutenant, and a transfer to the USS Titan, which was the ship Boimler always wanted to be on. Boimler takes this in stride; maybe the responsibility will make Fletcher mature into the guy he was at the beginning of the episode.
No matter, though; Fletcher calls them less than a week later, having been busted back down for emptying trash into the warp core. Mariner and Boimler wave him off, decide they make a pretty good team, and resolve not to fight as much in the future. They’ve got enough enemies on Delta shift, after all.
Next week: Tendi “updates” a dog. Boimler tries to replicate love. Mariner shows a Klingon undergoing a crisis of faith that the true Sto-Vo-Kor is in the heart.