This Star Trek: Lower Decks review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 9
If you had to pick one Star Trek thing to represent the entire franchise and put that piece of media on a Golden Record, would you select an excellent Trek movie or a fantastic Trek episode? This division is at the heart of “Crisis Point,” a brazen episode of Lower Decks that brings a fresh perspective to the basic differences between Trek movies and Trek episodes.
And though this episode is startlingly on-the-nose, it paradoxically makes an argument that maybe, the very best of Trek can exist as both episodes and movies, but with wildly different narrative methods.
One of my favorite lines from the TOS episode “City On the Edge of Forever,” is, while trapped in 1930, Bones says “Well, I know what a movie is.” The thing is, within the future context of the 23rd and 24th centuries, it’s tough to really know if people actually do know what a movie is, at least relative to how we think of movies. Yes, Trip made everyone watch old movies on the NX-01 in Enterprise, and Tom Paris subjected the crew of Voyager to vintage movies projected on the holodeck, but for the most part, when we see characters experiencing fiction in the 24th century, they’re doing it by participating. Picard and Data had their interactive Dixon Hill and Sherlock Holmes programs, while Janeway and the Doctor had their holonovels. Lower Decks uses this conceit — fiction as an interactive simulation — as a jumping-off point for the entire conceit of the episode. After Boimler creates a holodeck simulation that recreates the crew of the USS Cerritos in perfect detail, Mariner sees an opportunity to create an…interactive movie!
From that moment on, “Crisis Point,” plays out like a greatest hits album from all the Star Trek films. From the J.J. Abrams lens flare to the iconic opening credits of The Wrath of Khan, to the saucer section crash from Generations, this episode makes it clear that what you’re watching is LOWER DECKS: THE MOVIE, and that you should be very much aware how different — and bombastic — Trek movies are from their TV episode counterparts. It’s not exactly a diss on the concept of Trek movies in general, but as Lower Decks makes clear, you can get away with things in Trek movies that you couldn’t do in a random episode of the show. In other words, the Genesis Device is awesome and everything, but the colossal power of that technology is something we easily forget about because The Wrath is basically a character piece, rather than a piece of episodic science fiction.
In this way, “Crisis Point,” makes a second, slightly more subtle point: Trek movies might be more over-the-top and simplistic than Trek episodes, but the character stories in the best Trek movies sometimes tend to be more memorable than even the best episode. For Mariner, this is especially true in “Crisis Point,” because, when she’s confronted with her holographic self (who is also her true self) we get a deeper layer of her psyche, which just builds upon the great character work from Episode 7. Basically, this episode covers the same philosophical ground: Why is Mariner a slacker? Does she hate Starfleet? Does she hate her mom? The answers to all of these questions are no, and, it’s complicated. But the essential difference between this episode and Episode 7, is that in the former, she was having a normal conversation about this with a friend, and in Episode 9, she’s arguing with a holographic duplicate of herself who she is trying to kill. Of the two parallel conversations, we’ll probably remember this one more, and that’s because the hyperbolic conceit of Mariner versus Mariner has as more of a cinematic impact.
In the end, the message of Lower Decks Episode 9 is to say that when it comes to Trek films, the medium — film or TV episode — might very well inform the message. But, if the message is a good one, that might be just fine.