The writers are becoming more comfortable experimenting with the form and function of their weird little stepchild of the 'Star Trek' brand.
- - Really novel multi-ship storyline
- - The gags with the "bridge buddies" are pretty good overall
- - Comedy takes a backseat this episode, but not so much that it feels like a true departure
- - The plotting feels a little too ambitious for the half-hour format
This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks. Check out our last review here.
"Three Ships" seems indicative of an underlying tension in how Lower Decks is perceived as opposed to what kind of show it wishes to be. As an American animated comedy, there’s an underlying expectation that the show has a certain raunchy adultness that seems to have a limited mileage within the tone and tenor of Star Trek, and as the show’s jokes have gotten weaker, the reverence for Trek mythos has only gotten stronger. As frustrating as the reliance on fan service in-jokes became this season, there seems to have been this persistent temptation to abandon humor in favor of playing around in this universe, to use the medium of animation to tell stories that the previous shows couldn’t. "Three Ships" feels like a step in that direction, and while it doesn’t abandon comedy entirely, the bulk of the runtime is devoted to something a bit more conceptually interesting.
The ostensible plot with our main characters this episode finds Boimler (Jack Quaid) without a bridge buddy, a member of the command staff that he has an established work relationship with to spend his off-hours. In attempting to crash the time his friends are spending with their bridge buddies, he finds he consistently fails to fit into their dynamic.
Trying to talk to Shax (Fred Tatasciore) about his past sends him into a frenzied rage that only Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and pottery-sculpting can quell. Dr. T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) and Tendi (Noël Wells) go holodeck rock-climbing in an homage to Star Trek V, only for Boimler’s rocket boots to fail to keep up. Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) aggressively bond over arguments and combat training. This leads Boimler to accidentally lie his way into a relationship with Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) over a shared origin in Hawaii, a gag that is resolved so quickly that it’s difficult to even call it half-hearted. What’s most interesting about this episode is that this is the B-plot, and it really seems as though the writers are begrudgingly acknowledging the need to be funny to allow for their more interesting premise.
As the episode’s title would imply, we spend a substantial amount of time with two other ships, specifically members of those crews’ lower decks in a story that eventually converges on the ships meeting in battle. The first is a Klingon ship in which an ensign ingratiates himself with the honorable sensibilities of his captain, only to recognize the captain’s own dishonor in plotting against the Federation with covert collaboration of Pakleds. The second is a Vulcan vessel, wherein a rebellious streak in a Vulcan ensign ends up saving the day from the Klingon-Pakled assault, though her reliance on instinct is still dismissed as entirely inappropriate.
These two stories serve as strange reflections of Boimler’s and Mariner’s characters, respectively, and they give a bit of a Sliding Doors perspective of what their life trajectories would be like if they’d been born to different species. It’s a cool idea, pushing the conceptual identity of Lower Decks in a manner that other Trek shows never contemplated.
It’s unclear at this point whether this episode is a high-concept one-off or whether it foreshadows a further shift in the show’s sensibilities, or even if it foreshadows upcoming plot complications with the Pakleds. What is clear is that the writers are becoming more comfortable experimenting with the form and function of their weird little stepchild of the Star Trek brand. While they’re still working out exactly how comedy plays a role, it’s heartening to see them make the attempt to grow for the sake of the show’s longevity.
Star Trek: Lower Decks releases new episodes every Thursday on Paramount Plus.
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