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STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS 2×01 “Strange Energies” Review

Neil reviews STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS episode 2×01, “Strange Energies,” saying the series “returns with an incredibly strong episode.”

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Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS)

Created by Rick & Morty writer Mike McHMahan, Star Trek: Lower Decks features the voices of Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells and Eugene Cordero as the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos.

Synopsis

The animated comedy series follows the support crew on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos, in 2380. Ensigns Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford and Tendi have to keep up with their duties and their social lives, often while the ship is being rocked by a multitude of sci-fi anomalies.

Review

It feels like Lower Decks has been away for far too long. It’s been ten months since the finale of season 1 left Mariner (Tawny Newsome) without Boimler (Jack Quaid) after his transfer to the U.S.S. Titan. As such we’re picking up with Mariner working through her feelings on the holodeck.

The opening sequence, featuring the Lower Decks debut of the Cardassians, is outstanding. It’s easily the strongest opening we’ve had for an episode to-date. In true Lower Decks style its hugely self-referential. For example, there couldn’t be a scene featuring Cardassian interrogation without a joke about lights. But what has changed from season one is that Lower Decks seems much more confident. It’s proven itself a true entry to the Trek pantheon and is now just able to have fun.

Fun is definitely the name of the game in “Strange Energies.” The whole episode continues the series’ ethos for taking recognisable Trek scenarios and playing them for laughs. Mirroring the season one premiere the U.S.S. Cerritos is on a second contact mission. For a moment I thought they were in the Amargosa system from Generations but it sounds more like Ambargosa. A sensitive, indecisive people who are struggling to pick a subspace frequency.

With Boimler out of the picture (and most of the episode) Mariner has gotten closer to her mother (Dawnn Lewis). The Captain has allowed her daughter to go on side missions but the two are beginning to grate on each other. Moving their relationship forwards has shown that Lower Decks isn’t afraid to adjust its scenario. Of course Mariner is back in the brig by the end of the episode. But for a brief moment the writers have shown an emotional intelligence that animated series often ignore.

Allowing Mariner a side mission quickly causes everything to go awry in true Lower Decks style. When the titular “strange energies” take over Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) the series brilliantly recalls the pilot episode of The Original Series. The situation reflects what happened to Gary Mitchell, killed by James Kirk after he too was taken over by strange energies.

Lower Decks brilliantly plays in to the comedy of the scenario. Ransom uses his new found power mainly to focus on himself. The setup allows O’Connell to push the character to the absolute limit. In addition, seeing a giant floating Ransom head trying to eat the Cerritos is the perfect level of insanity which proves Star Trek can do comedy.

Elsewhere Lower Decks maintains its balance amongst the ensemble. There’s still room for a sub-plot featuring Tendi and Rutherford. Picking up from last season Rutherford is still without his memories and Tendi is struggling with their altered relationship. It’s clear she has romantic feelings for him so I hope this is explored later in the season.

As for poor Boimler… well there’s a lot going on as the U.S.S. Titan finds itself flying from battle to battle. His brief appearance he reminds us perfectly what the Cerritos is missing.

Verdict

Lower Decks returns with an incredibly strong episode. Brilliant performances from the main cast enhance the already hilarious script proving the show has really hit its stride.


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