Sep 11, 2020
Star Trek: Lower Decks “Veritas”
This week’s cold open is a dang hot one! The setting: K’Tuevon Prime. Our four intrepid lower decks ensigns are pushed inside a circular stone dungeon in a creepy tower. Jagged metal barriers retract from the door frame, preventing them from leaving.
They’re all babbling to one another trying to figure out what they did. Tendi thinks she may have been replicating too much ice. (Think of all the jokes that beat out.) Mariner tries to reassure them that she’s gotten out of worse scrapes than this, when the floor suddenly starts to push them up a shaft and toward a lighted room at the top. Cut to credits. Hey, a cold open that’s not just a pointless gag they couldn’t find a home for! Nice.
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After the opening credits, the elevator stops in a huge, dimly lit cavern with a judge using a skull as a gavel sitting on a pedestal several stories above them. Observers lurk and murmur from balconies on all sides. Spikes and scary stuff are everywhere. The senior staff of the USS Cerritos are in front of them, silent, seemingly in stasis, and held floating above the floor by a tractor beam. An alien prosecutor named Clar (voiced by Kurtwood Smith) addresses them. The senior officers will remain where they are, Clar says, until the lower deck ensigns speak the truth about what the commanders did. They’re given a “horn of truth” for this purpose.
Mariner goes first. She says that on the day in question, the four of them were all fixing a shuttle together and shooting the shit with a classic “Khan vs. Roga Danar” debate. Tendi has to step outside and pee, but comes right back in because the ship’s at Red Alert, which they didn’t hear because Rutherford screwed the speakers up trying to make the alert louder. (His mechanical aptitude goes up and down like Riker’s weight.) They step outside and start rushing to their stations. Mariner and Boimler slip into their positions on the bridge and pretend they know what’s going on.
As Mariner and Boimler sneak in, Captain Freeman beams in from a ship belonging to aliens called Clickets, holding a map of the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Clickets gave them this map, but there was a wacky cultural mix-up of some kind and now they want it back.
Freeman asks both Mariner and Boimler for advice. Mariner expertly bluffs and passes the ball over to Boimler, who loses his cool and shows his ass with several stupid suggestions. Freeman tells Mariner to “send them a message”, which Mariner—zoinks!—interprets as “fire a warning shot” and not “invite them over for dinner to talk things through”.
Back in the present, Mariner starts to describe the space battle she caused, but the alien prosecutor cuts her off, wanting to hear more about the map. Mariner doesn’t know anything about it. Enraged, the prosecutor orders her snagged with a tractor beam and dropped in the “Tank of Contempt”, which is full of hungry and no doubt very contemptuous eels.
Boimler vouches for her, saying he was there and he doesn’t know what the map’s about. Tendi babbles nervously, clearly knowing something, but no one notices.
Rutherford steps up to the horn next. With his cyborg implant granting him super-memory, he can perfectly recall the incident that occurred on Stardate 57791.1. Lt. Shaxs and Lt. Billups (the mustachioed chief of engineering) breathlessly confront Rutherford while he’s rotating EPS capacitors, and ask him to download some Romulan ship schematics into his cyborg implant. He says okay, but warns that he’ll have to do a software update and restart. His HUD counts down to restart while Shaxs and Billups start to fill him in on his mission and all its horrible dangers, which include Denobulan penis-eating bacteria.
Rutherford loses consciousness. He soon discovers that the implant takes over his body when he’s blacked out during an update. When he wakes up, he’s on a ship with several unconscious Vulcans and he, Shaxs, and Billups are wearing the Vulcans’ clothes.
This is the first of several restarts Rutherford will undergo. He blacks out after Shaxs pushes him out of the ship with a parachute on, and comes to in a museum next to an old Romulan Bird-of-Prey, with Shaxs (shimmying up the side) hissing at him to distract the guard with an Uhura-style fan dance.
He blacks out again and now he’s out in space in an environmental suit. Lt. Billups is also here and he’s suffering from nitrogen intoxication and Rutherford has mere seconds to carry him over the surface of the Bird-of-Prey (a tricky job, since the ship is currently cloaked) and throw him into a waiting shuttle with Shaxs. He passes out again and his falling head hits the controls of the shuttle, making them crash right into a Gorn wedding.
The Gorn start eating him. He blacks out again but the Gorn are still eating him when he wakes up. Luckily, their rubber jaws aren’t doing too much damage.
The prosecutor cuts off this digression and demands to know how Rutherford stole the Bird-of-Prey. Unfortunately, he has no idea, so Rutherford gets tractored up and held above the eel tank along with Mariner. Again, Tendi clearly knows something. This time, the prosecutor seems to take note, and calls her to the horn, asking if she ever went on a black-ops mission with Commander Ransom.
Tendi launches into her testimony, but having to redact lots of stuff, as this mission is classified. In a flashback to the day in question, Tendi’s super excited because she gets to clean the conference room. (Yeah, it’s a comedy, whatever, but don’t they have enlisted people to do this sort of thing? Looks like Academy training is worth about as much as my college degree.) While in there, Ransom and a black-clad team (with their identities obscured by black bars over their eyes, and names and places redacted with bleeps) come into the conference room.
They ask Tendi if she is “the Cleaner”, and when she answers in the affirmative, Ransom starts laying out deets on some treaty-violating excursion they’re planning in Ro[REDACTED]mulan space (yes, they put a bleep between “Ro” and “mulan”). Tendi, “the Cleaner” is going to “do her thing” in case of trouble. The team picks up phaser rifles and do a war whoop as she realizes she’s made a huge mistake.
Later, they’re on the stolen Bird-of-Prey, and an uncomfortable Tendi tries to explain the misunderstanding that landed her here, but every time they do, the [REDACTED] start scanning the area and force everyone to shut up. They make it onto the surface of some (cough) “Unidentified Planet”, knock out some chatting guards (“You know who I hate? Remans.” “Oh, they’re the worst.”) and soon they’ve stolen a large coffin-sized object. Guards are hot on their tail, and Ransom tells “the Cleaner” to do her thing. Tendi starts kicking all the [REDACTED]‘s butts with alien kung-fu, as the rest of the team watches bemusedly, thinking “her thing” was to beam them all out.
This is the most unbelievable story of all, and Clar is furious. “I tried to be reasonable. I tried to get the truth. Today didn’t have to end in eels!” Tendi, Mariner, and Rutherford are all dropped in the eels, and burners are lit underneath the tank so that the water will slowly boil as well. Despite Tendi’s protests that this can’t be good for the poor eels, Clar demands to know what was in the package. Tendi doesn’t have a clue.
“This could all be over if you tell me what your bridge crew did!” shouts Clar.
Boimler takes the horn. “We don’t know! We don’t know anything! We’re lower decks; no one ever tells us what’s going on.”
It’s a good punchline on paper, and it would be in practice, if this show actually took inspiration from the Next Generation episode of the same name. But since Lower Decks has decided that the senior staff need to be major characters, and the lower decks ensigns are constantly going on important missions with them and getting mixed up in their business all the time, it just smells like a desperate attempt to bring this series of plot cul-de-sacs to a dignified end. Clar seems to think so too. “Lies!” Clar rages. “You are the best of the best! Your senior officers are always in full control!”
Boimler contradicts him, saying they mess up all the time… like whenever Q shows up (voiced by John de Lancie) and transports them into an overlong Family Guy cutaway gag…
…or whenever Ransom is constantly getting almost murdered by his dates…
…or when Doctor T’Ana got switched into a parallel universe.
The deal is, Boimler says, the senior staff aren’t infallible heroes, and that’s okay, because everyone’s learning and figuring things out as they go, which is what Starfleet is all about, and this trial is a sham. “Wait, you think this is a trial?” Clar says, and tells someone to turn the lights up. The previously dark and scary cavern is now festively decorated with balloons.
Clar says he was trying to honor the staff of the Cerritos, who saved him from that big coffin that Tendi helped steal, and smuggled him home in the Bird-of-Prey that Rutherford helped steal. “This was supposed to be my special party!” Clar wails. He wanted the testimony of the lower decks ensigns, so he could etch the crew’s heroic deeds into his big history stone, but now he won’t get to because he only rented the room for 22 minutes.
“You had our bosses suspended in this scary-ass beam!” shouts Mariner. “That is the beam of celebration!” Clar protests. “You raised us up on a platform into a creepy courtroom!” accuses Rutherford. “This is one of our nicest event silos!” says Clar. “I got married here!” Out of patience, Freeman steps out of the Beam of Celebration and drags Mariner away while she and Clar snipe at each other: “You dipped us in eels!” “You ruined my party!”
Back on the Cerritos, Freeman grudgingly congratulates the stupid lower-deckers for standing up for her while they thought they were about to be killed, and promises to try to communicate with them better. This newfound openness does not extend to questions such as “why was Clar imprisoned?” and “why did you let us get thrown into an eel tank if you knew it wasn’t a trial?”
They don’t quite know how to end the episode after this, so they have Q show up again.
Next week: Boimler’s letting his inner Barclay out with some good ol’ fashioned personal-boundary-violation via the holodeck. Meanwhile, Q puts humanity’s future on the line by challenging the Cerritos crew to a mincing contest.