I'm cautiously optimistic but it seems that with Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 4, there is some stride-hitting happening.
We get a couple of seemingly disparate plotlines -- Mariner's face-off with Freeman and Tendi's quest to win O'Connor's forgiveness -- but both result in some very fundamental honesty about each character's personal motivations and their relationships.
This feels like an echo of the Next Generation template. The drawback to the half-hour format, of course, is that we'll never get anything but a breakneck pace.
Furthermore, on the side, there's some Boimler "bad boy"ing (which is more sad than revealing) and Rutherford's also-ran appearance as a Tendi garnish.
In the trivial trappings of the episode, my attention was caught by Captain Durango and his ship, the USS Merced.
As noted on previous occasions, the USS Cerritos is purposefully described as "one of Starfleet's least important ships" and its name is reflective of that grunt-level status.
Likewise, the USS Merced is just as unimpressively named and equally designated at least as unimportant as the Cerritos.
(And none of this is meant to cast aspersions on the beautiful California cities for which the ships are named so don't be flaming me for that.)
The primary difference between these comparable vessels (and their captains) seems to be their crew.
While Freeman's crew drives her blood pressure to new high records on a daily basis, Durango's ship runs so smoothly that he sabotages his own mission out of boredom (?) to jostle for a more prestigious position.
And his crew is so well-trained and compliant, they let him. Go figure.
Meanwhile, despite the insanity of having her maverick daughter flouting protocol at every opportunity, Freeman's able to pivot in a crisis in order to ensure the survival of the Cerritos.
And that's why being a captain is a lot like vocal jazz. It's all about the notes you don't scat.Freeman
A couple things are pretty clear here.
First off, Mariner would never get away with her shenanigans on any ship not run by a parent.
And, you know what? I think she knows that. I think Mariner's secret insecurity is that she would get herself in real trouble on a typical ship. So she sticks with the Cerritos, knowing that even if her mother drives her nuts, at least it's a two-way street.
Secondly, Freeman and Durango are commanding exactly the right ships for their skill level.
In fact, Freeman and Durango are very likely what Mariner and Boimler might turn into if they don't learn to learn from each other.
Couldn't you just see Boimler needing to nose in closer on a towed vessel despite the danger of breaching its hull with a fluctuation in the tractor beam?
Boimler: Where's your pip?
Mariner: I'm pretty good at getting demoted.
Boimler: In the last hour?
Tendi's interaction with O'Connor smacked of a DS9 homage with a comedy of errors twist.
When Tendi was introduced on Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 1, I commented that she was extremely likable and unique to the Trek-verse as both an Orion and a Pollyanna-esque character.
Knowing now that she is driven by that need to be liked, I have to salute the effective deliberateness of that character-building.
Her counter-productive approach to making amends with O'Connor actually reminds me of Q in a weird way. He was never one to let go of a riddle once he set out to solve it. (Mind you, the riddle was usually Picard but whatevs).
And he was deliberately obtuse about good advice too.
Tendi: I want to help him so bad, IT HURTS!
Rutherford: Geez, I get that you want to see an Ascension happen but isn't this a bit much?
Tendi: No! It's not enough! I owe it to O'Connor. I'm just going to have to study the ancient ways twice as much. Just freakin' blow him away with spirituality.
Rutherford: I don't think it works like that.
O'Connor's Ascension is actually probably one of the first moments of truly brilliant writing so far in the series. It pairs solid irony with a strong streak of the absurd. I'm highly intrigued as to whether the Koala God will make another appearance this season.
Psychological studies indicate that one's personality is actually pretty static throughout their lifetime (barring traumatic brain injury of some sort) and core motivations don't change much either.
You know, when O'Connor was screaming and turning into energy, it made me realize that life's too short to be hung up on whether everyone on the ship likes me.Tendi
Hence, it's realistic that despite everything Tendi learns about the futility of chasing general adoration, she doesn't actually change.
And there too is the crux of the issues between Freeman and Mariner.
Despite healing some of their personal conflicts by working together to save the ship, Mariner realizes that her mother is never going to change. She will never be able to stop micro-managing Mariner, pushing her to fit her mold of the model Starfleet officer.
Freeman: I'm really glad we found a way to work together.
Mariner: Yeah, you know it's a nice change of pace. Going for each other's jugulars all the time is kind of exhausting.
And so Mariner does what she does best -- push every one of her mother's buttons like an octopus playing Mozart.
But notice: she doesn't put in for a transfer.
I wonder how many people on board know about their relationship?
I feel like Ransom's in the know which would only make sense as he, being the Number One, should know every crew member's info.
The other Lower Decks ensigns, though? I don't think Boimler would be able to form a full sentence if he knew Mariner was the captain's daughter.
Also, he wouldn't have spied on her for the captain if he had any idea. It probably goes against some regulation.
I don't know that Tendi or Rutherford would care but Mariner probably keeps it under wraps in order to keep things casual.
Besides being really good at being Starfleet, Mariner's shown that she's also willing to step up to the work that being a Lower Decks ensign entails as evidenced by how she tackled the list of terrible tasks she was assigned at the start.
Mariner: Let's see what I got assigned. Turbolift lubing, holodeck waste removal, and scraping carbon off the carbon filters?
Boimler: Those are the worst jobs on the ship. Scraping carbon off of slightly harder carbon? That's Klingon prison stuff.
Although the framing of the main cast is to pit Boimler and Mariner as opposites, they are both actually very hardworking crew members.
Mariner just likes to play as hard as she works.
Personally, I find it hard to rate this series as the episodes roll out. I enjoy them as light, sometimes clever, entertainment but they are never going to tackle major societal dilemmas or ethical quandaries in the tradition of the Trek that has come before.
Nor should they have to.
As you watch Star Trek: Lower Decks online, consider this:
As the first comedic take on Star Trek, much of the humor is mined from the massive body of television and film canon.
And yet, because Star Trek has become such a pillar of popular culture, even those viewers without previous knowledge recognize the ironies and situational comedy as, if not laugh-out-loud funny, pretty darn amusing.
That, my friends, is pretty impressive in my mind.
What's your take on the series so far?
Let us know in the comments if you're sticking with it out of love or loathing!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.