Lower Decks Tackles a Fundamental Truth of Star Trek

Lower Decks Tackles a Fundamental Truth of Star Trek

It’s a fundamental truth that is deeply human (and Vulcan, and Andorian, and Klingon, and Betazoid, and Trill, and so on): Pobody’s nerfect?

Illustration: Jim Cooke Image: CBS

The aptly named “Veritas” is a rare moment where our entire quartet of heroes is involved in the main plot, as is the bridge crew they serve under. After Captain Freeman, Commander Ransom, Doctor T’Ana, Lieutenant Shaxs, and even Chief Engineer Billups are seemingly put on trial by an alien race, it’s up to the Lower Deckers to testify about a top-secret mission gone wrong. But the problem is that, as a unit, Boimler, Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi don’t actually know the full picture of the mission.

As each steps up to Imperial Magistrate Klaar (longtime recurring Trek actor Kurtwood Smith, just one of two very good cameo appearances this episode) and his horn of truth, we flash back between a delightful hodgepodge of Star Trek tropes, as each Lower Decker recalls their versions of events. Boimler and Mariner are the least involved, recounting a bridge encounter with an insectoid race gone wrong, thanks to a map of the Neutral Zone and Mariner’s interpretation of “sending a message” to the Cerritos’ opponent. Rutherford and Tendi’s accounts, however, are much more pertinent to Klaar’s testimony, as they both explain their own involvements (willing and otherwise) with a secret mission into the heart of the Romulan Empire.

Image: CBS Image: CBS

There’s stolen warbirds, fan dances, even Tal Shiar so secretive Tendi’s recollection of them censors their faces. As to be expected of Lower Decks at this point, it’s a cavalcade of Trek touchstones, themselves wrapped inside another Trek trope entirely — because god, what sci-fi show loves a trial episode more than Star Trek? But beyond those surface jokes, really “Veritas” is another take on its Next Generation namesake. Like “Moist Vessel” earlier this season, it’s an examination of power dynamics, yes. But this time around it’s even structurally in sync with “Lower Decks” the episode — an episode about a secret mission that the titular Lower Deckers of the Enterprise-D were kept in the dark about by their senior officers, even as they were inadvertently embroiled in it.

As Klaar continues to pressure our ensigns into revealing every detail of this mission, it’s Boimler that breaks: they can’t tell Klaar everything because, as lower-ranking officers, they don’t know everything their bridge officers do. At the end of the day, they’re at the bottom of the pecking order, and the people above them are just as chaotically messy as they can be. To the shock of Klaar, who believes the Federation and Starfleet to be a bastion of perfect truths, Boimler reminds him: no one is ever perfect. Even the best and brightest Starfleet has to offer can miscommunicate, keep things secret that they shouldn’t, or just, as a brief comical flashback shows, mess up.

Image: CBS Image: CBS

In the end, the trial is likewise a miscommunication. Klaar, it turns out, was the package Ransom’s team was securing from the Neutral Zone, returning him to his people after being captured by the Romulans. Boimler, Mariner, Rutherford and Tendi aren’t meant to be testifying in a trial, they’re meant to be extolling the heroics of their commanders. Klaar presumes, as fellow Starfleet officers — as people who participated in said mission, to varying degrees — the ensigns would’ve been given the full picture: they were there to celebrate their commanders, not defend them. But as Boimler’s triumphant speech made it clear, Starfleet is not a society of perfect people. It is an organisation, and like any organisation, there are structures and hierarchies built to be imperfect, because the beings that made them are imperfect. Starfleet’s reputation may precede itself in the Star Trek galaxy, but not every vessel’s going to be an Enterprise. Hell, the Enterprise included!

Star Trek has acquired a peculiar allure over the years as the sci-fi show of the hypercompetent. Its heroes weren’t given godlike powers or superhuman abilities, or weapons and magics destined by blood or by fate. They were smart, good people, who believed in a better galaxy for the beings beside them, and set out to explore and extoll those values. Lower Decks has repeatedly reminded us of that idealistic passion time and time again, even as it has lovingly prodded the familiar plot points that Star Trek storytelling has hung its combadge on for decades.

Image: CBS Image: CBS

But the episode brings with it another just as potent reminder — these people are our heroes, yes, but they are still just simply that: people. They all have moments of failure, they all have mistakes and regrets. They don’t always get along, or get on the same page as one another. Power dynamics in 24th century Starfleet are very much the same kinds of power dynamics we see today, because just as people’s indomitable spirits have persisted into Star Trek’s future, those all-too-relatable flaws have, too. And just like our Cerritos crew, we’re fine with that.