When Star Trek: Lower Decks was first announced, the elevator pitch was essentially “people on an unimportant Starfleet ship being comically bad at their jobs.” And while its heroes have done plenty of mucking up (about as much as any Starfleet officer we’ve met on screen does, really), Lower Decks so far has introduced a crew that’s actually anything but incompetent.
That doesn’t change in this week’s episode, “Terminal Provocations.” One of the still continuously joyous surprises of this series is how much it simply revels in its protagonists’ earnest pleasures in being loveable, relatable goofballs, but ones that are also really damn good at what they do. And what they do is cool as hell — it’s being in Starfleet, sciencing the shit out of everything.
So far, Star Trek: Lower Decks has found itself striking a pretty fine balance between jabbing at its franchise’s nerdiness and truly embracing it. But this week, in perhaps its closest move yet to comedic farce, it ponders an interesting question: what happens when a Star Trek character has seen...Read more
But the episode also gives a mirror into what could’ve been if many of our initial skepticisms about the series were actually true. It funnels all of those doubts and assumptive concerns into a singular, red-clad fleshy vessel: Ensign Fletcher, a “new” shipmate aboard the Cerritos in that we’ve never actually seen him before, though he’s established to have been around somewhere in the background until deemed important enough to step to the fore.
Elswhere, the bridge crew and Rutherford and Tendi both tackle their own Star Trek trope subplots in the form of a hostile encounter with a scrap-scavenging alien and holodeck safety protocols gone wrong, respectively. It’s a set up that is similar to last week’s episode, in that it feels like there’s almost just too much going on and still kind of frustrating that Rutherford and Tendi’s arcs continue to be kept sequestered from their friends in the command division. In the meantime, Boimler and Mariner are left to hang out with Fletcher.
At first, he’s presented as almost a little too-cool-for-school, cut from a similar cloth as Mariner but less self-aware and more brodacious. He looks out for his fellow ensigns, cheers them on in solidarity, and is always willing to help if it means getting a chance to hang out with his buds, whether it’s checking on shield modulators or chugging replicated nacho cheese right from the dispenser. He’s a frat guy with a Starfleet delta slapped to his chest, with all that entails.
But when Fletcher nobly lets Boimler and Mariner ditch their task early to check out a concert, our hapless bro friend messes up and inadvertently damages the Cerritos. Instead of admitting to it and just working with Boimler and Mariner to fix things before it gets worse, he enlists them on an increasingly dangerous and damaging farce — as Fletcher’s mistake spirals out of control, threatening to compromise the Cerritos’ encounter with the scavenger and nearly kill Tendi and Rutherford when their holodeck training program goes awry.
This isn’t the first time our protagonists have let a misstep spiral wildly out of control, but when that’s happened in the past, they’ve done what all good Starfleet officers do: put their heads down, buckle up, and fix their mistakes. But Fletcher doesn’t. Because Fletcher sucks. And that’s the point.
He’s meant to be what we all thought we might expect coming into Lower Decks with its characters. He’s abrasive, he’s brash, he skirts responsibility to the detriment of everyone around him. We’re just as frustrated as Boimler and Mariner are, because not only have they proven you can still slack off and still do what needs to be done aboard the ship, but also because Fletcher tries to turn their own brand of Lower-Decker solidarity into foisting the blame on anyone but himself. He never actually perseveres, or admits to his mistakes, or rights the wrongs he caused in the way we’ve seen Boimler and Mariner do — especially the latter — to prove that they’re worthy of the positions they’re in.
Fletcher just wants all the privileges of the command division without putting any of the work in himself. Thankfully, with the day saved thanks to Mariner and Boimler ejecting the wildly corrupted shield modulator — which, at this point, has evolved into a magnetised sentient tech-devouring monster, thanks to Fletcher’s increasingly strained attempts to avoid shouldering the blame — Fletcher sort of gets his way. The duo decides to let him take credit for the success, which earns him a promotion. But that promotion comes with a transfer, and blissfully, he’s someone else’s sucky problem now.
Our regular heroes of Lower Decks all make mistakes. Lots of mistakes, to a comical effect, even. But there is still, even at the show’s zaniest, a baseline level of ability, passion, and pride in what they do that makes the comedy work and still keeps the show feeling like a tried and true piece of Star Trek. “Terminal Provocation” offers us a brief, suitably frustrating glimpse into what could’ve been if Lower Decks had proven itself worthy of all those negative assumptions going in.
Thank god it’s not, frankly, and good luck to the U.S.S. Titan on its new bro.
John de Lancie is returning to Star Trek, and in just the right medium for more Continuum shenanigans.Read more