This Star Trek: Lower Decks review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 3
If one of the unspoken goals of Lower Decks was to make Galaxy Quest-style jokes, but more on-the-nose, the third episode of the show, “Temporal Edict,” succeeds. In Galaxy Quest, when Tim Allen’s Commander Taggart gets his shirt ripped unnecessarily, the Trek people in the audience get that this is a joke about Captain Kirk. In Galaxy Quest, the joke worked without having to say the name “Kirk,” but, in Lower Decks, making jokes about Kirk’s shirtless machismo comes with name-checking. As a series, Lower Decks is both on-the-nose and oddly subtle. So far, “Temporal Edict” is the best example of how that balance works. The story also does something the previous episodes did not do: Create stakes that felt like an old-school Star Trek adventure.
I can’t prove that the writers of Lower Decks intentionally made a nod to Scott Pilgrim Versus the World in the opening scene of “Temporal Edict,” but had Mariner and Tendi said, “We Are Sex Bob-Bomb!” before playing their electric guitar and drums respectively, I would not have been surprised. In my head, this connection is only helped along by the fact that Alison Pill — the person who brought those words to life in Scott Pilgrim — is also a member of the Star Trek family, and for some reason, I couldn’t help but wonder what Dr. Jurati was doing at the exact moment Tendi started playing the drums. (Um…it’s 2280, has she started working with Maddox? Probably? Okay. I’ll stop.)
Lower Decks may be the first episode of Star Trek to show a Starfleet officer wailing on an electric guitar, but all the other notes played in this episode are the classic hits of Trek. It’s hard to really decide what the “A story” and the “B story” of this episode are, but it’s pretty shocking that both of these ideas are weaved seamlessly into less than 30 minutes of runtime.
In what we’ll call the “A-story,” Captain Freeman gets wind of the fact that the junior officer in the crew employs something called “buffer time,” which means they basically pretend like certain tasks take longer than they really do. This joke comes straight from Scotty in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock when Kirk realizes that Scotty always multiples his “repair estimates by a factor of four.” Basically, when Captain Freeman realizes that everyone in the crew uses what Rutherford calls “creative estimating,” she suddenly implements time limits and quotas on everyone’s tasks on the ship, everywhere. This idea allows Lower Decks to create a shipboard crisis that is totally of their own making. It keeps the show true to its structure as a workplace sitcom in space, but if you’ve ever seen the Voyager episode called “The Voyager Conspiracy,” you’ll find something familiar here. Boimler is by no means the Seven of Nine of the USS Cerritos, but he does love work and he does love efficiency. And, just like Seven, part of the episode is designed to remind Boimler that he needs to lighten up.
Meanwhile, the “B-story,” focuses on how to follow the rules when you’re fighting aliens with crystal spears who have been profoundly offended. And this is where the non-stop Captain Kirk jokes happen. Yes, Commander Ransom often does leg-leans reminiscent of Riker, but he’s clearly the Kirk of this series. That said, Mariner has proven herself to also be the Kirk of the show, too, insofar as she loves to break rules and she definitely kicks ass. In this episode, she gets, what is perhaps, the best joke in the entire series saying, “Circled by spears, this is a classic! What am I Kirk, what is this, the 2260s, all right.”
Some might say this kind of meta-joke goes too far, because Mariner shouldn’t be making jokes about Kirk so much. But, as we already know from Icheb in Star Trek: Voyager, Starfleet officers in the late 24th century have deified Kirk the same way we love Batman, only in this case Batman would be a real person. Marnier is clearly a Kirk fan, and when she shows Ransom all of her scars, it might be clear that she’s more of a Kirk than him. And, in some ways, that’s kind of what the episode is about. When Ransom goes out into the ring to fight the giant green space monster (who is actually a nice guy) he rips off his shirt and proceeds to do basically all of Kirk’s signature fight moves.
The fight recalls “Arena,” but it also has elements of Chris Pine’s Kirk in Star Trek Beyond. The music is nearly identical to Gerald Fried and Sol Kaplan’s famous fight music for “Amok Time,” and numerous other Trek episodes where Kirk employed similar moves with a ripped shirt. Ransom, for a moment, gets to be the hero, but by the end of the episode, because Ransom is such an egomaniac, we’re still rooting for the funnier, more likable, Mariner. In the classic Star Trek, one guy usually ended-up fighting for the entire crew. But in Lower Decks, we’re more concerned about the entire crew, and that one guy ends up being a punchline.