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Star Trek LD - Season 1

Star Trek LD - 1x01 - Second Contact

Originally Aired: 2020-8-5

Synopsis:
Ensign Tendi has her first day of work on Starfleet's U.S.S. Cerritos, where she meets fellow support crew members, Ensigns Mariner, Boimler and Rutherford. Meanwhile, Boimler is tasked with a secret special assignment and Rutherford attempts to keep his dating life intact while a sci-fi disaster strikes the ship.

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 5.83

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Problems
None

Factoids
- The title of and entire concept behind this series is in part inspired by the TNG episode of the same name, TNG: Lower Decks which similarly focuses on low ranking characters.

Remarkable Scenes
- Mariner ridiculing Boimler for making a fantasy captain's log.
- Much of the crew suddenly turning into zombies.
- T'Ana discovering that the slime is the cure for the zombie infection.
- Boimler covering for Mariner.

My Review
An animated comedy is a risky move for Star Trek. Star Trek has had a checkered past with animation. The 1970s animated series was mostly embarrassing, Star Trek: Discovery's "Ephraim and Dot" short was a mixture of pointless and canonically problematic, and Star Trek: Discovery's "The Girl Who Made the Stars" was reasonably well-made and charming but probably should've been incorporated into an actual episode of Discovery instead, since presenting it as a short makes it feel more like a deleted scene than a piece of its own.

When it comes to comedy, Star Trek has had a checkered past there as well, but less so. Some of Star Trek's most celebrated episodes are highly effective comedy, like TOS: The Trouble with Tribbles, TOS: Shore Leave, TNG: QPid, TNG: Hollow Pursuits, DS9: Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places, DS9: Trials and Tribble-ations, Voy: Message in a Bottle, Voy: Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy, and Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly, not to mention Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and of course countless funny scenes in countless episodes that were not primarily comedy episodes. Notably excluded from that list are episodes of Star Treks: Discovery and Picard though, which have delivered little to no effective comedy so far, which is harder to do with fully serialized dramas. Plus the older series had plenty of failed attempts at comedy peppered throughout their long runs too, so botched comedy is not a new phenomenon in Star Trek.

Star Trek: Lower Decks so far is no exception to that trend. Some of the comedy in this pilot episode is effective, some of it is not. Thankfully they didn't try to double down on the dreadful tone in the absolutely awful Star Trek: Discovery "The Trouble with Edward" short. While "The Trouble with Edward" and Lower Decks both draw comedy from characters behaving in awkward and at times reckless ways, "The Trouble with Edward" took it much too far, trying to present deadpan, vindictive cynicism as somehow a species of comedy as well whereas Lower Decks is more upbeat and goofy. Ensign Mariner—the standout character so far—is a screw the rules rebel not unlike Ensign Ro Laren from TNG, but more carefree about it like an even more unhinged Tom Paris from Voyager. The fact that she's serving aboard her own mother's starship in a remedial role adds even more fun texture to the premise of her character.

Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford seem less interesting so far. Rutherford in particular was a bit of a head-scratcher given his presentation as a "recent cyborg" which isn't explained all that well. Why does he have that implant? Why does it randomly suppress his emotions? Are we really to believe that because the implant was made by Vulcans that it has that severe a side effect? Hopefully that's a plot point that will be expanded on and buttoned up better in the future. Another aspect of the comedy that is less effective is the continuation of Discovery's trend of overly contemporary and usually hyperactive delivery of dialog, making the characters seem positively manic at all times, as though the mania is the joke. Fast dialog can be used effectively for comedy (Bojack Horseman was excellent at this), but the content of the jokes has to be funny too. Often the fast dialog existed solely to deliver rapid fire references to previous episodes of Star Trek for longtime fans to pick apart and giggle about, like "haha, she's talking about Martok!" The references are certainly amusing on a mostly banal surface level, but we need more than that.

That said, the references to previous Star Trek series do run pretty deep in places too. There are countless tasteful and well-placed visual and audio callbacks to old series, the most impressive being the setting and set designs. When Boimler fantasizes about being captain in his log entry, he cites the stardate as 57436.2, which translates to roughly the year 2380, about a year after Star Trek X: Nemesis and roughly 20 years before Star Trek: Picard. The visual design of the Cerritos, the starbase, and just about everything we see embeds this series perfectly in that era to a degree of accuracy that has a surprising amount of attention to detail, a sharp departure from the "visual reboot" trend we've seen recently. The computers have the LCARS design, the holodeck looks like TNG's, the ship design looks plausibly like TNG-era ships, the warp effect has been restored to the beautiful star flybys instead of the hideous hyperspace effect we get in Discovery and Picard, etc, there are too many examples to list. They even brought back the font from TNG.

It's worth noting that people so often complained about how the original series and TNG visual designs looked "dated" thus justifying Discovery's and Picard's visual reboot, but Lower Decks does much to undermine that notion. For example, Discovery and Picard didn't just take the original series' jelly bean button computers or TNG's LCARS displays and add more detail, they morphed them into a considerably less plausible "movie OS" holographic display that would be an ergonomic nightmare for anyone to actually use for serious work. It may look flashier on TV, but it's less realistic than the interfaces presented on both TOS and TNG, just as the Discovery/Picard hyperpsace-style warp effect is less realistic than the old stars flying by warp effect from TNG. In this sense, Discovery's and Picard's visual reboot is only "modern" in the sense that their aesthetics are currently trendy, not because those aesthetics are actually better. They're dumb fads, not improvements. Lower Decks, Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly before it, and Rogue One from the Star Wars universe have each shown us it's entirely possible to add a bit more detail to previous, timeless aesthetics to make them look more modern instead. That's the most updating the visuals ever needed. If only Star Trek: Discovery and to a lesser extent Picard treated canon with as much care as this silly comedy show does.

All things considered, while this may be a silly comedy show, it's an unexpectedly effective one. The writers would do well to pivot the comedy more in the direction of the smarter, subtler comedic style and tone seen in Futurama or The Orville rather than making it so reminiscent of Rick and Morty slapstick, but by and large this show works surprisingly well as-is and so far is a welcome and promising addition to the canon.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Ross on 2020-08-25 at 10:11pm:
    I was actually surprise by this show. The trailer fooled me into thinking I'd hate it or maybe I went into it with such low expectations that all opinion of it could only go up.

    After the missed opportunity in Discovery and the dreadful misstep with Picard -- Just give us a new generation set in the 25th century already -- well, this show turned out to be the better of the three. Not a high bar to reach, certainly, but I didn't expect that the creative team behind it would have a solid appreciation of not only the larger universe of Star Trek, but (as you mentioned) it has respect enough for the old shows aesthetics too. I also liked the Andorians in the second episode. Can't have enough of them.

    Mind you, it could tone down some of its goofier humour though, (not every scene needs to get a laugh or chuckle out of its viewers) so I will give it a three out of five for the time being. It's got a bit of promise and I hope they improve upon a good foundation.

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Star Trek LD - 1x02 - Envoys

Originally Aired: 2020-8-12

Synopsis:
After a high profile mission goes awry, Boimler is further plagued with self-doubt when Mariner proves herself to be a more naturally talented sci-fi badass than he. Rutherford quits his job in engineering and explores other departments on the U.S.S. Cerritos.

My Rating - 5

Fan Rating Average - 5

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Problems
None

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- Mariner: "All Klingon names sound the same, like they all have an apostrophe for some reason."
- Rutherford's ridiculous command training simulations.
- Rutherford's awful bedside manner in sickbay.

My Review
Another mixed bag with some effective comedy and some less effective comedy. While overall enjoyable, this episode featured some unfortunately problematic content as well. First, the opening scene with the energy life form had a number of conceptual problems. For one, why didn't Mariner or Tendi report an apparently hostile alien encounter to security? Also it seems not terribly in the spirit of Star Trek for Mariner to attempt to exploit its life force to replicate tools. And lastly, what happened to it when it collided with the captain? Did it possess her? Did it die? It's entirely unclear, but since it's not followed up on by the end of the episode, we have to presume it's either dead or this is a long term plot thread that will be followed up on in a future episode. Either way, it was a pretty tasteless joke to start the episode off with.

Another wrinkle is Rutherford's implant continuing to be a source of annoyingly unexplained superpowers. It now apparently imbues him with exceptional fighting skills which further compounds the question of why does he have the implant, why aren't more people getting them if they're so awesome, and so forth. But the writers apparently have no interest in that question thus far. The most annoying detail though was the little one liner at the end of the speed walking scene when Boimler quipped that "Section 31 does this." On the surface it may seem like an innocent jokey canon reference, but we have to remember that this show takes place only about five years after the Dominion War. Prior to that, Section 31 was a secret, shadowy organization that nobody knew about. Presumably in the ensuing five years Bashir and O'Brien have blown the whistle, so people knowing about Section 31 now is not nearly as problematic as Discovery's portrayal of Section 31, but similar to Discovery's problematic portrayal of Section 31, Boimler felt it was entirely appropriate to name drop them as though they were some kind of admirable organization; this admiring reference being made a short time after they attempted to commit a genocide against the founders of the Dominion. Like the energy life form scene, this too is in poor taste.

Annoying wrinkles aside, there is much to love about the main plots of this story though, not the least of which is the first authentic portrayal of Klingons since Star Trek: Enterprise. General K'orin looks, sounds, and acts like the Klingons we know and love from previous Star Treks, avoiding the rebooted downgrades we saw in the Kelvin films and Discovery. Mariner's affinity for him and her overall consistent success with thinking on her feet and fitting in with diverse groups of people with ease was a delightful running gag especially contrasted to Boimler's inferiority complex and overeagerness. The staged Ferengi encounter to make Boimler feel better at the end was quite touching and nicely done, as were Rutherford's rotations through different crew assignments for the most part with the bedside manner scene perhaps being the highlight of the episode, though the command training simulations might be a close second. While it would be nice if they would cut back on the canon references a bit if they aren't willing to use them more carefully, this is another solid episode of what's shaping up to be a consistently charming show.

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Star Trek LD - 1x03 - Temporal Edict

Originally Aired: 2020-8-19

Synopsis:
A new work protocol eliminating "buffer time" has the Lower Decks crew running ragged as they try to keep up with their tightened schedules. Ensign Mariner and Commander Ransom's mutual lack of respect comes to a head during an away mission.

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 8

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Problems
None

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- Tendi: "Wait, don't we have to report that we're done so we can get a new task?" Mariner: "Don't sweat it baby girl, like many things, commanders have no idea how long it takes to balance a phase variance." Rutherford: "You never admit the actual amount of time it takes to finish a job. If you did, your days would be packed." Tendi: "Isn't that lying?" Rutherford: "No. It's creative estimating. When you get an assignment, you exaggerate how long it's gonna take, then you're a hero when it's done early!"
- Freeman demanding that Boimler explain buffer time.
- Ransom: "I'm picking up an increase in atmospheric hydromounds." Mariner: "Yeah, they're called clouds, man."
- Mariner: "Hey guy, is this what you wanted to do with your life? Just capture people? Is that what you dreamt of when you were a little whatever you are? Are you fulfilled by that?" Guard: "Yes." Mariner: "Wow. All right, uh, well, do you know what? That means you're lame. You're a loser."
- Ransom injuring Mariner so she can't fight in the duel.
- T'Ana: "Want me to clean up those disgusting scars?" Mariner: "No way, no these are my trophies!" T'Ana: "Congratulations, you look like a fucking scratching post."

My Review
This episode is both wonderful comedy and a fantastic commentary on workism: the cult of hyperproductivity that has afflicted modern society. Captain Freeman becomes obsessed with squeezing as much productivity out of her crew as possible, so she imposes the equivalent of an excessively rigid implementation of the Agile/Scrum-style management fad on the crew, complete with down-to-the-second time tracking like something out of bad Silicon Valley companies or the dystopian Amazon fulfillment centers.

This parody of modern surveillance capitalism might seem especially out of place in the socialist utopia of the Federation, but that's precisely what makes it such inspired comedy. Even in the real world, it isn't just low income people exploited by abusive employers who are worked to the bone. In fact some of the most strict adherents to the cult of hyperproductivity are the more affluent among us who put in excessive numbers of hours working out of a desire to appear as productive as possible since the image of being among the idle rich has long since become passé. As such, it makes sense that people in the Federation would struggle with this impulse too.

The story even peppers the plot with other delightful details that reflect modern commentary on micromanagement fads, such as Tendi's naive discomfort with juking estimates to get more break time, Boimler's bootlicker stance, and Mariner immediately blaming delta shift for the higher workload rather than punching up towards the real villain of management. Indeed, this is among the most class-conscious episodes of Star Trek ever written and the result is exactly what we see in the real world when middle managers mire us in micromanagement, multitasking, and continual interruptions. People get exhausted and the quality of their work declines. Crucially, the crew commits a serious and easily-preventable diplomatic error because they had been so overworked.

The conflict with the aliens could've been written better though. It is stated that they're new members of the Federation, but they also spend much of the episode trying to kill members of Starfleet. It's hard to imagine the Federation would allow a member world to have laws that punish diplomatic offenses with executions. Vindor even suggests reforming their legal system towards something less crazy at the end of the episode and his suggestion is quickly quashed in a glib joke.

The interplay between Mariner and Ransom worked much better, though. The begrudging admiration they develop for each other by the end of the episode was great character development for both of them. It is remarkable that Ransom's lack of scarring was neither because he fails to take risks, nor because he had the scars removed as it may have seemed at first. He is apparently just that good in a combat situation, much to Mariner's surprise and at times girlish glee. Last but not least, what a tease opening the episode with a captain's log outlining a mission to Cardassia Prime only to have it yanked away seconds later. It sure would be nice to see how that unfortunate planet is doing five years after the Dominion War. All things considered though, this is the best episode of the series so far.

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Star Trek LD - 1x04 - Moist Vessel

Originally Aired: 2020-8-26

Synopsis:
Captain Freeman seeks the ultimate payback after Mariner blatantly disrespects her in front of the crew. A well-meaning Tendi accidentally messes up a Lieutenant's attempt at spiritual ascension and tries to make it right.

My Rating - 2

Fan Rating Average - 2

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Problems
None

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- Ransom: "She's having a great time." Freeman: "What?!" Ransom: "She's finding little ways to inject joy into otherwise horrible tasks." Freeman: "Then give her worse jobs!" Ransom: "I've got her emptying [bleep] out of the holodeck's [bleep] filter!" Freeman: "...Ugh. People really use it for that?" Ransom: "Oh yeah, it's mostly that."

My Review
This one is mostly a swing and miss. Captain Durango almost got a bunch of people killed for no reason and nearly destroyed a priceless artifact. The whole thing was a petty manufactured conflict. The ascension subplot was annoying too. So apparently anyone can become an energy being now just by studying some alien religion? Plus it's entirely unclear why some replicators would have better food than others given that the whole point of replicators is to eliminate scarcity. Ransom's hysterical remark heavily implying people primarily use holodecks for sex is worth an extra point though. But one really good scene does not an episode make.

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Star Trek LD - 1x05 - Cupid's Errant Arrow

Originally Aired: 2020-9-2

Synopsis:
Mariner is suspicious of Boimler's new girlfriend. Tendi and Rutherford grow jealous of a bigger starship's gear.

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 4

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Problems
None

Factoids
- During the flashback to Mariner's visit to Deep Space Nine, her colleague tells a recent story of Data's twin brother having teamed up with the Borg, which places the flashback shortly after TNG: Descent which would be a few years before the introduction of the uniforms the characters were wearing. Although it's possible the ship she was serving on at the time (the Quito) adopted the uniforms before the Enterprise and DS9 crew.
- Mariner's conspiracy board was a reference to a famous scene from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and the associated meme that resulted from it.
- Tendi heavily implies that the Cerritos' maximum warp speed is warp 7.

Remarkable Scenes
- Boimler: "I can't believe she used to date Jet! That guy's like a Kirk sundae with Trip Tucker sprinkles!"
- Mariner's flashback to visiting Deep Space Nine.
- Freeman: "There are two fucking people on your whole fucking planet?! [...] Implode the moon."

My Review
Mariner and Boimler were both pretty annoying in this episode, though at least Mariner had an excuse given that when she said before that she'd "seen stuff" she sure wasn't kidding! It was played off as a bit of a joke by the plot, but in all seriousness what she experienced while visiting Deep Space Nine would leave most people with a bit of PTSD. Also wow it was nice to see DS9 again, if only they'd given us a bit meatier a cameo. Oh well.

Beyond that there's not a whole lot to talk about with this one. The girlfriend A plot was a mixture of irritating and entertaining. The Tendi/Rutherford Vancouver recruitment B plot was mostly forgettable. And the diplomacy C plot was a bit more interesting but would've been a lot better if it had been fleshed out more. Fairly mediocre overall, but not bad.

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Star Trek LD - 1x06 - Terminal Provocations

Originally Aired: 2020-9-9

Synopsis:
The lovable, but awkward, Ensign Fletcher makes work difficult for Mariner and Boimler. Rutherford introduces Tendi to a holodeck training program he created.

My Rating - 3

Fan Rating Average - 3

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Problems
None

Factoids
- J.G. Hertzler, who played Martok on DS9, plays the Drookmani captain in this episode.

Remarkable Scenes
- T'Anna: "Do you know how hard it is to get cheese out of fur in a sonic shower?!"
- Tendi fallling for Badgy.
- Badgy going on a rampage.
- Fletcher getting promoted and transferred to the Titan only to be fired shortly thereafter.

My Review
It was inevitable for this show to do a holodeck malfunction episode and they didn't disappoint! Badgy was hilarious and stole the show. The Fletcher main plot was unfortunately much less effective, as he was mostly just annoying the whole way through rather than funny. His best scene was bumbling into a promotion and a transfer to the Titan only be fired days later. But hot off the heels of the last episode's DS9 cameo, this was definitely a missed opportunity for a meatier cameo once again. This show needs to commit to its cameos more! If you're gonna have Fletcher get transferred to the Titan, then show a cameo of Captain Riker firing Fletcher! If you're gonna show a bar scene at Deep Space Nine, make it Quark's bar instead of the Quito's! Show Quark or other DS9 characters in the background or something. You don't even need to give them lines. With an animated medium, it should be trivial and largely costless to flesh out these cameos more.

The most unfortunate detail in the episode though was Shaxs' preoccupation with murdering the Drookmani, repeatedly asking for permission to fire on their warp core, which would've destroyed the entire ship. It's well-established on Star Trek by now that there are plenty of less than lethal methods of disabling a hostile opponent in battle. It doesn't always work, but it's at least worth trying. Apparently even Captain Freeman forgot this when she eventually broke down and ordered Shaxs to fire on their warp core. And the only reason it didn't work was because of a computer glitch. That scene did much to undermine both of their characters and ran quite counter to the spirit of Star Trek. It was perhaps the most dispiriting scene in all of Lower Decks so far. Sure, people might defend it by claiming it was just a joke, but it's important to remember this show is canon, not a parody, and murder is not funny. That scene was the closest thing this show has gotten to the atrocious Discovery short "The Trouble With Edward" so far, and let's hope that's as close as they ever get.

By and large though, this was a pretty entertaining episode. With fewer flaws, better use of cameos, and more focus on effective comedy ideas like Badgy, it would've been worth considerably more points.

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Star Trek LD - 1x07 - Much Ado About Boimler

Originally Aired: 2020-9-16

Synopsis:
Mariner tries to impress her best friend from Starfleet Academy who is now a visiting Captain. Boimler is sent to a Starfleet medical ship after a transporter accident puts him "out of phase."

My Rating - 7

Fan Rating Average - 7

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Problems
- Tendi discusses using "Cas9 snipping" on the dog, which refers to the real world CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique. However, she refers to protein bonds "accepting" the Cas9 snipping, which is a bit incoherent. Gene editing refers to editing DNA, not protein bonds, so it's unclear why the line was written to connect those two things.

Factoids
- The giant newt was very likely a reference to the infamously bad episode Voy: Threshold, which has largely been regarded as dropped from canon. Since the giant newt is just a background detail with no explicit plot relevance and no explicit story reference to Voy: Threshold, there's no reason to believe that this visual gag is at all meant to imply that Voy: Threshold needs to be seen as canon. Instead, it was likely meant to poke harmless fun at a less than proud moment of Star Trek's past.

Remarkable Scenes
- Mariner: "You're just excited to kiss a whole new butt, aren't you?"
- Boimler: "Wait, I'm still all phasey!" Rutherford: "Yeah, but you're not making the sound anymore which was the worst part, right?"
- The Division 14 Medical Specialist's creepy appearance.
- Mariner: "Maybe let's talk like after the giant space emergency?"
- The Division 14 Medical Specialist apologizing for his creepy demeanor.

My Review
This is a strong offering. Everything in the episode was quite endearing except for Tendi's dog plot, which was more weird than funny. One quite distracting detail about that is it further compounds Star Trek's incredibly complicated relationship with genetic engineering, which has long been established to be banned in the Federation and yet we see it used from time to time anyway such as when Voyager's doctor used it to correct a birth defect in B'Elanna's baby though it was strangely not allowed to be used to cure Archer's father of a terminal illness. Tendi uses this banned or perhaps not quite so banned technology to create a brand new life form which aside from the problems of questionable legality based on past canon also raises moral questions as well that the episode doesn't deal with in at all a mature way. It seems at the very least morally questionable for Tendi to just cavalierly create a brand new sentient(!) life form using a nominally banned technology like some mad scientist creating some kind of Frankenstein monster and then just dump it on some random hospital planet because she clearly didn't know what she was doing. This is serious stuff that the episode treats entirely unseriously.

That said just about everything else about the episode was terrific. The main plot exploring Mariner's clear competence but total unwillingness to accept promotions by contrasting her with a former classmate who's the same age who made it to the rank of captain puts Mariner's personal problems into much greater focus. It was both touching and an important piece of character development to have it said out loud that many people expected Mariner would be a captain by now as well as her admission that she still has some stuff to figure out and she's not entirely sure who she wants to be; that she's still finding herself. This was nicely done; indeed there are many people in the world who are still finding themselves even decades after finishing school. Not everyone has a perfect career trajectory with unbroken upward mobility. Many if not most people zigzag all over the place throughout their lives with various ups and downs with their careers, personal lives, and subjective well-being.

Many smaller details were delightful as well. For instance, Captain Ramsey wasn't just a vehicle to deepen Mariner's character, but a charming character in her own right, as was her Vulcan sidekick Durga. The copious references to TNG: Chain of Command were nicely done too and one of the best details of the episode was the introduction of a new character of the same species as Arex from TAS, the tripod alien. The Division 14 Medical Specialist was beautifully animated in a way that there wasn't budget for on TAS. The writing and voice acting for his character were excellent as well, ultimately leading him to be a standout character nearly as strong as Ramsey. All things considered, this is one of the strongest episodes of the series so far. If the writers had avoided the unfortunate Tendi missteps, this could've been the strongest episode so far.

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Star Trek LD - 1x08 - Veritas

Originally Aired: 2020-9-23

Synopsis:
Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford are caught off guard when aliens force them to testify about a series of seemingly unrelated events.

My Rating - 1

Fan Rating Average - 1

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Problems
None

Factoids
- Kurtwood Smith, who plays Clar in this episode, also played Annorax in Voy: Year of Hell and the President of the Federation in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
- With this episode, Q has now appeared in four Star Trek shows: TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Lower Decks.

Remarkable Scenes
- The clumsy censoring in Tendi's flashback.
- Tendi functioning well under pressure on the secret mission.
- The Q cameos.

My Review
While the Q cameos were charming and there are some nice moments of levity in Tendi's flashback, the rest of the episode is a jumbled mess. The surprise twist at the end inexplicably turning the tone from scary to goofy on a dime bends suspension of disbelief to the breaking point especially given that the episode opens with the characters being abducted and put into a cage against their wills and later threatened with "death by eels." There are countless intentional holes in the plot thanks to the numerous out of context flashbacks that aren't connected together in any coherent way making the whole story quite hard to follow. Yes, the story intentionally favored mystery over suspense, but just because it was intentional doesn't mean it was good idea. Moreover, much of the plot was once again driven by Rutherford's implant's magic superpowers and once again no attempt was made to explain why he has the implant, why it's so powerful, and why more people don't get them. Plus the marathon of references to previous Star Trek episodes reverted to the pilot's tendency to overload us will banal surface level one liners rather than anything substantive. A real clunker.

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