Star Trek: Lower Decks


2.5 stars

Air date: 8/25/2022
Written by Chris Kula
Directed by Jason Zurek

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

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.)

The opening sequence between Mariner and her father falls into this series' frequent self-made trap/assumption that repeating a noisy gag enough times — in this case, Mariner breaking a lot of things in her father's office out of fury and frustration — is somehow funny. It's not; it's merely loud and obnoxious.

Boimler comes up with the idea of using his personal logs to clear the captain, since the ship's official logs during the time of the crime in question were lost and is a big reason why Starfleet thinks Freeman is covering up a crime. The Lower Deckers decide to break onto the Cerritos to retrieve the logs. But they can't use the transporters because of interference caused by a migration of a swarm of space creatures near Earth's orbit, so they have to commandeer a ship.

Easily the most inspired idea here is the whole notion of the First Contact site in Bozeman, Montana, having become a kitschy tourist trap, replete with shops, restaurants, the original Vulcan ship sitting at the landing site, and a space launch ride in a replica of Zefram Cochrane's Phoenix, where a hologram of Cochrane pilots the craft. (James Cromwell provides the voice, in the spirit of this show's dedication to unwavering authenticity.) Somehow, this works as both comedy and world-building. It seems somehow right that the First Contact site would now be a tourist destination, and seeing it here provides a nice historically-themed revisit. Rutherford overrides the automation to pilot the Phoenix clone to the Cerritos, which is a pretty ingenious idea, honestly.

That's the only real inspiration in this story, which mostly plays through the usual Lower Decks plot and gags. When Boimler's logs turn out to be a bust, Mariner decides to steal the Cerritos and take it out of drydock because ... well, I can't remember exactly why, but it doesn't really matter. Her friends try to stop her from escalating a questionable situation into something far worse, which ends with a bunch of loud slapstick fighting that doesn't really accomplish much comedically. The use of the alien slugs in an elaborate con played on the security officers at a monitoring station is ... okay, I guess.

Ironically, Freeman is exonerated without Mariner's help. It turns out her defense was taken seriously, and Starfleet investigated the matter and found out the Pakleds blew up their own planet and framed her. Mariner just needed to "trust the process," as her father said. Because it's Starfleet, after all. They don't railroad people, right? This feels about right. Not inspired or hilarious, but about right.

Following Mariner's actions, Freeman washes her hands of any future disciplinary decisions for her daughter because she can't be objective. So she puts Mariner's future in the hands of Ransom. Not sure how this really changes the game except to further set up Ransom as Mariner's nemesis, but we'll see how it goes. We'll see how this season goes. More ideas like First Contact as a tourist trap would be the right way to go.

Previous episode: First First Contact
Next episode: The Least Dangerous Game

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24 comments on this post

Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 3:05am (UTC -6)
A fun opener with some great callbacks to "First Contact". The big story, that is, the Pakled conspiracy that got Captain Freeman arrested was not even the plotline of the episode. In true Lower Decks style, the big mission was completed offscreen and we saw the Ensigns struggle with smaller problems completely out of their hands.

I must confess, I was more in Mariner's camp. I didn't think the Federation would figure out the scheme that scapegoated Freeman. It looks like this is the beginning of an arc where we finally see that Mariner is above her head in some situations and needs some grounding to become a great officer. Or, who really knows, this show has a knack of pulling a fast one on the viewer.

Many of the jokes landed well for me this week. Starfleet headquarters is always great fodder for Trek Lore - Rutherford wearing Geordi's 80s shirt, and why does San Francisco need a bridge in the 24th century? (Okay, Picard answered this question, but it's still a funny observation).

I would have liked to see a tad more follow up for the big story from last season's cliffhanger. Something's still wrong with Rutherford's implant, right? More answers to come, I hope!
Tim C
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 3:35am (UTC -6)
I thought this was a remarkably low-key premiere, as compared to last year's "Strange Energies". And that's not necessarily a bad thing - Lower Decks has almost always been better when there's less flop sweat - but it does concern me that the show may be settling for the gentle good vibes of Star Trek comfort food rather than shooting for the moon in season 3. If that's how it's going to be going forward, it'll be... fine... But I still feel like there's potential here that isn't being tapped.

My favourite gag this week was easily Boimler's absolute obliviousness to all those farm girls thirsting for him 😂
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 8:42am (UTC -6)
I enjoyed it right up until the sudden twist with Freeman's saving the day. I thought the resolution was way too anticlimactic and unsatisfying. I also don't understand why they couldn't have just borrowed a shuttle or something to ride to the ship, and had to go through the First Contact ride to get there. I mean they could've easily had a throwaway line forcing them to go to Montana to make the transition not feel so sudden and forced.

On the other hand, it was fun to have James Cromwell back, and the First Contact area as this sort of Disneyland esque themepark is pretty fun and at this point in the future makes perfect sense. The visuals were fantastic this episode, and I did enjoy some of the more lowkey aspects to the story.

Overall, I'd say a 2.5/4 on the Jammer Scale. Maybe a 2 star. This was a weak start, but I hope the rest of the season rides a little stronger.
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 8:53am (UTC -6)
The Lower Decks style/tone doesn’t always resonate with me, but I really enjoyed this episode. Bozeman was perfect, and I rather liked the sudden resolution to last season’s cliffhanger.

PS - I expect that Starfleet will help the Pakleds relocate anyway, because that’s just what they do.
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 10:08am (UTC -6)
@Tim C

I think Tawny Newsom said this season has a bigger emphasis on action than the last two seasons, so this episode is probably more of an outlier.
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 10:38am (UTC -6)
So happy to have Lower Decks back just before I start instructing for the semester again! It's my little weekly reward.

I thought this was a decently strong opener! The humor landed consistently and the whole First Contact section was a fun tribute. I also appreciated that the big plot action happened off-screen, as is fitting for this show, but the pacing leading up to the resolution felt a bit stop and go compared to past offerings. Not a huge complaint, but I hope the rest of the season moves a little more smoothly.
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 10:56am (UTC -6)
Reminds me a lot of how The Orville would always start on a low-key, character-based premiere.
Latex Zebra
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 12:22pm (UTC -6)
Yeah, that was a good fun and pleased to have Lower Decks back.
Not among the best episodes but wraps things up nicely and we can now crack on.
Lots of excellent Easter eggs and didn't feel laboured. 2.5/4
Karl Zimmerman
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 3:39pm (UTC -6)
I love almost everything about Lower Decks, from the unusually strong focus on character given the short runtime of the episodes, to the incredible heart the series shows. it's unapologetically a series which is made by a giant Trek nerd for giant Trek nerds, and there's absolutely nothing cynical about the show at its core, which is really about a group of four friends in a workplace trying to do the best job they can while supporting one another.

Almost everything though, because the show usually has one major flaw: It's a comedy show that's not actually all that funny. It's lighthearted, it's charming, it's clever. But I seldom laugh outloud at anything, perhaps because the humor attempts are too focused on Trek deep cuts and seldom random/surreal enough to actually catch you by surprise.

Regardless, this episode is a great example of it. The strongest season opener for the show to date (wouldn't take much huh though) and in many ways a successful episode which furthers Mariner's character arc and has a clever twist at the end (protagonists didn't need to save the day, the system actually works in the Federation). But ultimately this was just a half hour drama with some lightly comedic bits, not anything actually funny. Which is a shame, because the show is otherwise running on all cylinders.
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 5:42pm (UTC -6)
I'm so happy Lower Decks is back!!

There is a part of me that wanted to see that investigation, but then again this series in its entirety is from the Lower Decks' perspective so I can understand why we didn't.

Well-paced and the humor was good and not forced. Everyone was in character and as this series does, paid homage to a wide variety of our beloved Star Trek. I loved the Bozman Montana theme park, and Sisko's restaurant (which I confess I didn't know the entire name - 'Sisko's Creole Kitchen').

The best line? ... when Boimler said "... for Kirk's sake" while talking to Mariner in the vineyard. haha!!

Second best line? ... when Tendi said "holy $hit" after Captain Freeman told her story. Didn't expect that one. ... lol

Tons of great lines as always.

Loved seeing Tendi asserting herself and taking charge.

I really felt Mariner feared for her mother.

Always a great ride in Lower Decks.

2.5 is probably right, but I enjoy this show too much. 3 stars for me.
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 8:13pm (UTC -6)
It was total nostalgia bait but I had to go back and listen to the First Contact theme drop a couple times, I am in love with that moment
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 9:09pm (UTC -6)
Just silly entertainment, but lots of fun and full of heart. Loved Bozeman--what a great idea. Welcome back, Lower Decks.
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 1:35am (UTC -6)
Rather enjoyed the twist, personally.

At first I was wondering just what the hell was going on, but quickly I realized our gang jumped the gun. They were about to go all 'Search for Spock' for their Captain because they didn't trust the system.

But nobody -- audience included -- ever stopped for a moment to think the more experienced officers would actually have their own little adventure going on that we're not privy to... because this is about the LOWER DECKS. Of course they wouldn't be kept in the loop of a major operation like that.

Once I got that perspective... yeah, that was a REALLY good twist.

Different, too, which I eventually appreciated.
Latex Zebra
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 3:29am (UTC -6)
Clever link with Bozeman, Montana and Morgan Bateson, Captain of the USS Bozeman.
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 5:09am (UTC -6)
Yanks: "Well-paced"

Yeah. If you've just overdosed on amphetamines, coca-cola and cotton candy.
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 6:12am (UTC -6)
Great review, Jammer! My feelings are similar to yours but I might score a little higher. I guess that proves you shouldn't judge episodes on star number alone.

As for the pacing discussion, I often feel like LD's writers are trying to cram an hour's worth of material into 30 minutes, so it's always going to feel a bit frantic. The nice thing about the shorter episode is it's easier to figure out the thematic core of the episode. Watching Discovery or Picard feels like I'm on a crazy roller-coaster and I have no idea what the writers want to do, hah!
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 7:01am (UTC -6)

"Yanks: "Well-paced"

Yeah. If you've just overdosed on amphetamines, coca-cola and cotton candy."

HAHA... I guess I'm just used to it now. It took me a few episodes though.
Marc K
Sat, Aug 27, 2022, 5:16pm (UTC -6)
I actually liked the twist. Good to see our protagonists sometimes get it wrong and that Starfleet wouldn’t be so easily duped.

Bozeman being a corny tourist attraction was great, and I had to do a double take with Captain Bateson. Real shame they didn’t get Dr. Frasier Crane to record a few lines. I’ve always wanted to see him return to Star Trek. Same goes for Tuvok, would have liked to hear him as well. The First Contact theme was a wonderful little moment. The musical homages (Riker’s entrance in Season 1) are some of the most powerful.
Gorn with the Wind
Mon, Aug 29, 2022, 9:08pm (UTC -6)
For some reason, the Admiral’s delivery of the line, “People like the bridge. *I* like the bridge” cracked me up. Comedic highlight of the episode.

If Lower Decks would mix in a few downtempo moments per episode to leaven all the screaming and rapid-fire delivery, I would be eternally grateful. If everything’s zany, nothing is.

2.5 / 4 stars feels like the right score. The anticlimactic conclusion where it turns out that, yes, Starfleet actually is a virtuous institution was perfect, but everything leading up to it felt a little half baked.
Boimler’s Mincemeat
Tue, Aug 30, 2022, 5:55pm (UTC -6)
No one has mentioned the tragedy that befell the Sonny Clemons concert? There’s vital intel in that news crawl, people!
Wed, Aug 31, 2022, 12:27pm (UTC -6)
I liked the twist. It reminded me of how in [SPOILERS FOR ASIMOV'S FOUNDATION] Foundation the main characters desperately try to fix something that seems very wrong, just to find out while trapped somewhere that things turned out fine, just as predicted by psychohistory. It drove the point that the story wasn't about a single person journey, but that we are inconsequential in the big scheme of things.

In this case it served to point out that Starfleet is not the corrupt, complacent, incompetent organization that needs constant saving by "brave" individuals seen elsewhere.
Mon, Sep 26, 2022, 5:41pm (UTC -6)
I wasn’t a big fan of the whole “let’s leave the season on a huge cliffhanger, only for it to be explained away in 30 seconds of the new episode” schtick, but maybe they’re poking fun at Discovery since that is their MO every. single. episode. But otherwise it was a fun watch. Boimler being clueless:exasperated at all the women throwing themselves at him was pretty funny. 2.5 stars from me.
Wed, Nov 2, 2022, 5:30am (UTC -6)
The big problem of the day being solved (or at least witnessed) mostly offscreen by the bridge crew (who would otherwise be the main characters in a different show) while our lower deckers got into somewhat unrelated hijinx is the kind of joke I was expecting to see a lot more of the first time I heard about this series, so I appreciated it being used here.
The Queen
Thu, Feb 16, 2023, 12:30pm (UTC -6)
I'm finally catching up with this series. I'm obviously not the intended audience for LD, so there's that bias, but it still seems to me there's something lacking. I mean, Mariner is SO awful ALL the time, she's even worse than Burnham in Discovery. And it can't just be because it's a cartoon - I mean, the Simpsons have developed characters. But Mariner is always the same. After two seasons I still don't see any depth in her. We are TOLD she loves her mother, but we don't see it; we see nothing but constant bitching and rage. And she's a terrible influence on her friends.

This episode had a heavy message amongst all the Easter egg litter: that it was in fact correct to trust Starfleet. And I understand the philosophical reason for not showing the details of that. But IMO it severely weakened the effectiveness of the plot. It was so odd to hear Freeman giving an extremely wooden summary of how she was freed. The woodenness was obviously intentional, and I don't understand why. To the character of Freeman, all these details should have been emotionally laden, but the writer took that away - Why?

The only guess I can make is that the producers don't much care about Freeman, but they got worried that they'd gone too far with Mariner and decided to back off a bit. Therefore the trumped-up arrest of Freeman and the hasty release, proving that Mariner was wrong and needs an attitude adjustment. But I'm left wondering, if she detests Starfleet that much, A: How did she ever get through the Academy in the first place, and B: why on earth does she want to stay? Wouldn't she be happier running some planet? Or is she even capable of being happy?

Thank god for Rutherford. He's likable and interesting. In fact, I like all the other characters, even the still-shallow Ransom. I wish there were a few more women writers on this show; maybe they'd be able to find some humanity in Mariner.

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