This episode reminds me of two prior Trek episodes, both of which handled this slightly better: TNG’s “Half a Life” and Voyager’s “Thirty Days.” In the case of the TNG episode it worked because the person who is trying to effect change in an entire society because she doesn’t like the way one person is being treated is Lwaxana Troi, an eccentric, and very self-centered, civilian. And even there, Lwaxana comes around to understand that there’s not really anything she can do. As for the Voyager episode, it’s also got a dumbshit Starfleet crewmember acting on too little information and causing major problems, but at least Paris got a month in the clink and a demotion.
So it’s nice to get some notion of Denobulan culture, including that they have a boogeyman—and the boogeymen feel the same about the Denobulans. It’s not particularly illuminating about who the Denobulans are as a people, but it does that other thing that science fiction is good at, which is use alien species to shine a light on human behaviors. The tension between the Denobulan and Antaran people is completely ridiculous and also completely believable. It’s what happens when opposite sides of a war believe the propaganda even when confronted with the reality, something we still see far too often on twenty-first-century Earth. The whole thing is, of course, beautifully played by John Billingsley, who gives a very real and very moving performance as a very conflicted Phlox, who is processing so many different things: his instinctive discomfort in the presence of an Antaran, his discomfort with that discomfort, the awful memory of his grandmother’s prejudice, and the even more awful memory of the rift with his son. Just a bravura performance.
Dal is still growing into his leadership role, but what’s interesting is that the rest of the group is more than happy to follow his lead. And he is making some better decisions.
One of his not-better decisions is to check out a dormant Borg cube in last week’s episode, “Let Sleeping Borg Lie,” which would’ve been good advice for the writers to take. I get that they’re in the Delta Quadrant, so we’re gonna get some Voyager hits, but do we have to do another story where they encounter the Borg and unconvincingly get away? And are the Borg the best idea to feature in a kids’ show anyhow? Also, how have none of the people on the Protostar ever heard of the Borg? I mean, okay, they’ve been slaves for a long time, but I find it hard to believe that Gwyn, at least, didn’t know who the Borg are. I mean, the Diviner must know about them, and it seems to me he would’ve told Gwyn about them in case they showed up at Tars Lamora, if nothing else…
Anyhow, this second story follows the usual beats of a Borg story—specifically a Voyager Borg story, and this is not a compliment, as the Borg are utterly toothless and not at all scary.
Okay, here’s a little bit of Scriptwriting 101: in a show with the format of Enterprise (and all the prior Trek shows), there’s a bit before the opening credits. While the stuff after the credits is structured the same way theatrical productions are, as acts (Act 1, Act 2, etc.), that prior bit is specifically in teleplay writing referred to as the teaser.
A teaser is defined by Dictionary.com as “a person or thing that teases,” as “presented to generate interest.”
You know what totally doesn’t generate interest or tease much of anything? A guy sitting in low-G reading a book and being summoned to the bridge for a course change.
I’ve rung this bell a lot in this rewatch, but I’ve also been rewatching Enterprise for a year now, and the thing that has really stood out more than anything over the past twelve months is the spectacular inability of most episodes to actually tease in the teaser. Combined with the sheer awfulness of the theme music that follows these unteasing teasers, it makes it incredibly difficult and challenging to scrape up any enthusiasm for the subsequent episode.
One of the dichotomies this show has had to face is the desire for a big-ass climax to end the season, which is at odds with its mandate as the show that focuses on the belowdecks personnel. “A Mathematically Perfect Redemption” and “The Stars at Night” contrived to put Boimler, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford on the bridge because that’s where the action is, and yet it contravenes the whole point of the show to have them regularly having bridge duty. “Grounded” did a much better job of this, having Mariner and the gang doing their thing while the good stuff all happens off-camera.
Okay, we’re on the ninth paragraph, and I’ve barely talked about the actual stars of the show. And there’s not much to say. Aside from Scott Bakula, the main cast is barely even in it. Truly, this is a story about the evolution of the Klingon Empire and an examination of the society of the Klingon people, giving us a new look at one of Trek’s most venerable alien species while utilizing several familiar elements, particularly from The Undiscovered Country. This story would work with pretty much any generic human ship captain—which is handy, as there is no more human ship captain more generic than Jonathan Archer…
However, this is the second straight episode (and the third of the last four) of a show called Lower Decks in which the lower-decks characters are really only supporting cast. We saw a lot more of Freeman in these last two episodes than we did our four nominal heroes, and speaking as someone who’s written quite a bit of Trek fiction, it’s a tough needle to thread. The reason why so many Trek stories focus on the captain and the folks in charge is because that’s where the fun stuff is. Yes, there are also stories to be told about the grunts belowdecks, and for the most part LD has been good about telling those stories. But if they also want to do big-ass finales, they wind up giving their main characters short shrift. As it is, they’ve covered it by having Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford on bridge duty for the important bits, but that’s something else we can’t see too much of, lest we lose the lower-decks feel…
The conversation between wisp-Tucker and Archer is really compelling stuff. I loved the idea of non-corporeal life forms trading places with the humans on board so they could compare notes on how the other half lives. It’s a perfect Star Trek plot.
And then it goes straight into the shitter as soon as Reed starts macking on the female crew. We go from one wisp being fascinated by the concept of gender, and then go straight from that to “tell me of this human thing you call ‘sex’,” and it’s just so lazy and uninteresting and predictable.
The title of the episode is a not-very-veiled reference to a trend that has been often seen (and made fun of) since Discovery debuted in 2017, as people have claimed online (mostly in YouTube videos) that they have “trusted sources” that tell them that Alex Kurtzman is about to get fired for ruining Star Trek. Five years on, with Kurtzman’s job as secure as that of anyone in Hollywood not named Kevin Feige, those videos are less prolific than they used to be, though they still show up every once in a while.