Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Any episode following last week’s season premiere would probably suffer in comparison, but season three’s second episode “The Least Dangerous Game” feels like the show didn’t even try. While entertaining, the episode doesn’t really cover much in the way of new ground, which is something that Lower Decks can and has done very well. However, “The Least Dangerous Game” embraces the show’s identity as a comedy and leans into it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having fun, but this episode could have done with a little more heart interspersed between zany antics.
Boimler, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford have gathered to play a hybrid game of “BAT’LETHS AND BIHNUCHS,” an obvious Dungeons and Dragons allusion, when Ransom pings Mariner to remind her that she needs to be very early for their mission to help repair the Delainains’ space lifts. She grumbles but acquiesces, and eventually she, Ransom, Chief Engineer Billups, and Rutherford head to the space elevator. Ransom sends the engineers down to the planet to engage in diplomacy, leaving the repair work to himself and Mariner. As time drags onward, Mariner quickly realizes and, being Mariner, comments that the division of labor Ransom chose was inefficient. Certainly, Billups and Rutherford are by far more qualified to complete the repairs than she and Ransom are.
Down on the planet, Billups and Rutherford enjoy themselves at first but quickly run afoul of their ignorance regarding the Delainain religion. Eventually, they cause an all-out diplomatic incident, culminating in the Delainains attempting to sacrifice Billups to a sentient volcano. Frustrated, Mariner grabs an EVA suit and prepares to jump from orbit down to the planet’s surface a la Star Trek 2009.
Aboard the Cerritos, Boimler discovers that Vendome has become a captain, and bemoans his own inability to do that. Tendi recommends that he try being a bit bolder by saying yes to risk, and Boimler initially declines. As he decides to stay on the path, both the metaphorical life and the imaginary Klingon one, Martok condemns his character to life as a dentist. Partially inspired, Boimler listens to Tendi and decides to agree to everything. Thus, when K’Ranch, an alien marooned by the space lift’s malfunction, asks him to become prey, Boimler accepts. What ensues is a Predator-esque chase through the Cerritos.
Eventually, Boimler resolves to grab a weapon and turn the chase back onto K’Ranch. However, Boimler only manages to get a spear to the shoulder for his troubles. When he receives treatment after K’Ranch takes his hunt selfie, K’Ranch’s species valuing life above all else, he learns that he’ll have permanent nerve damage in that shoulder. Tendi cautions him to embrace moderation, but Boimler being Boimler, ignores the path of reason and resolves to continue taking every adventure that presents itself.
Aboard the space elevator, Ransom confesses to Mariner via comm that he was, in fact, trying to get under her skin, and he acknowledges that they should probably go help Billups and Rutherford. Mariner interrupts her skydive to rush back up to meet Ransom. She makes it, and Ransom has them skydive down to the planet where he saves Billups and Rutherford by virtue of his perfect abs. Aboard the Cerritos, Ransom apologizes to Mariner for trying to wind her up, and Mariner confesses that he was pretty impressive. He tells her to stop buttering him up but smiles after she storms out of his office.
Once again, the status quo gets restored, and the Cerritos warps off into the distance.
I’ve said before that not every episode of Trek has to have some major moral theme or even has to have something significant to say. There’s a lot to be said for embracing fun, and Lower Decks is positioned perfectly to do just that. However, Lower Decks often manages to do both, and I confess that I may have gotten a bit spoiled. “The Least Dangerous Game” doesn’t really offer much of anything beyond chuckles.
Mariner does indicate that she’s capable of course-correcting where necessary when she interrupts her first dive to head back to Ransom. Her acknowledgement of Ransom’s particular brand of competence seems to reflect a shift in attitude. However, the episode brings us right back to where we started, with Mariner cursing Ransom.
Boimler embraces his inner boldness, and despite his injury, he decides to continue doing just that. Bold Boimler may be here to stay, but I’d argue that it doesn’t represent the character evolution one might think it does. Season one established Boimler’s obsession with one day having command, and at no point in the show’s run has Boimler demonstrated an ability to recognize the need for moderation. He constantly bounces between extremes. Moreover, Bradward Boimler exemplifies the adage that any attention, even negative attention, is better than none. There’s nothing here that’s new, especially since I doubt we’ve seen Screaming Boimler disappear for good.
“The Least Dangerous Game” also falls prey to one of TNG’s big problems, especially when one looks back on the show. How often would a basic Google search on an issue or alien have averted 90% of the plot issues? Frequently. TNG, of course, gets the excuse of being conceived and largely realized in a pre-browser search world. While that can sometimes make a rewatch frustrating, it’s ultimately understandable. Lower Decks doesn’t have that excuse because its writers and audience all have access to the sum total of human knowledge hanging out in their pockets. Maybe I’m too much of a Millennial, but I find Boimler’s refusal to at least do a cursory search of Starfleet’s databanks on K’Ranch’s people and their mores incomprehensible. There’s got to be at least a Wiki entry on Kraspioids. With Rutherford, he’s demonstrated a long-standing tendency toward tunnel vision, so I’m willing to give him a pass. Boimler, however, doesn’t get that same consideration.
However, I think the episode’s biggest problem lies in its reliance on a conversational understanding of Trek lore. Lower Decks frequently incorporates and then subverts common Trek tropes. The show also plays with general science fiction tropes the same way, but the genius of the episodes is that they don’t rely on them. The plot still works without pulling from Trek-specific knowledge. The jokes are still funny; they’re just funnier if you happen to get the reference. “The Least Dangerous Game” doesn’t quite manage to achieve the balance between reference and reliance. The Delainian plot works because we know how “Justice” ends, and sure, you’d have to have been living under a rock in order not to recognize the alien hunter trope. However, knowledge of those tropes is necessary to get the joke, so if you lack that knowledge or background, this story won’t hold together well.
Despite those issues, “The Least Dangerous Game” manages to be a fun romp, offering plenty of laughs along the way. There are worse ways to spend thirty minutes of your life.
Three glasses of blood wine
The Egg Hunt
- The Delaney sisters were twin officers aboard the Voyager who factored frequently into Tom Paris’s romantic plans, so that’s likely where the name comes from.
- The space jump is clearly from Star Trek 2009.
- Most of the Rutherford/Billups plot gets lifted from “Justice,” which is not one of TNG’s finest episodes.
- ”The Least Dangerous Game” directly alludes to “The Most Dangerous Game,” but the trope isn’t subverted here so much since we know from the beginning that K’Ranch isn’t going to kill Boimler. The joke isn’t funny until the selfie-stick comes out.
- I think they really brought J.G. Hertzler back to voice Martok!
- Boims, maybe don’t take life advice from a Ferengi-programmed one-eyed Klingon.
- Springball is from DS9.
- The space lifts recall “Rise.”
- The Delainians look like the aliens from “The Apple.”