Star Trek: Lower Decks
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 -5)
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!
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 3:35am (UTC -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 12:22pm (UTC -5)
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
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 3:39pm (UTC -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
Thu, Aug 25, 2022, 9:09pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 1:35am (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 3:29am (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 5:09am (UTC -5)
Yeah. If you've just overdosed on amphetamines, coca-cola and cotton candy.
Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 6:12am (UTC -5)
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 -5)
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.
Sat, Aug 27, 2022, 5:16pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Aug 29, 2022, 9:08pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Aug 30, 2022, 5:55pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Aug 31, 2022, 12:27pm (UTC -5)
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 -5)
Wed, Nov 2, 2022, 5:30am (UTC -5)
Thu, Feb 16, 2023, 12:30pm (UTC -5)
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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