HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
If you ever wanted to see an animated Galaxy Quest that was somehow less funny and less satisfying, boy, have I got the show for you. To date, the humor has been the weakest aspect of Lower Decks, and nowhere is that clearer than in the show’s third installment. “Temporal Edict” tries too hard to be funny and sacrifices some of its Star Trek spirit for laughs that aren’t coming.
In the teaser, Ensign Boimler subjects a handful of crew-members to his quiet violin playing, and predictably, Ensign Mariner drives him off the stage in order to shred some electric guitar with Ensign Tendi on drums. The base reverberates around the entire ship and insults the Klingons with whom Captain Freeman is negotiating. She orders Shaxs to take care of the issue, and Shaxs heads to the bar which Mariner recently vacated. Upon finding Boimler, who has stepped up to play his “Requiem for a Hug”, he destroys the violin, blaming Boimler for Mariner’s base.
Having been reassigned from participating in a groundbreaking diplomatic conference, the Cerritos travels to Gelrak V in order to deliver diplomatic trinkets. While en route, Captain Freeman and Ensign Boimler share a turbolift, and Boimler inadvertently revealed that the Lower Decks crowd has been adding “buffer time” to the figures they report to command when estimating how long they will require to complete a task. Incensed because she believes Starfleet reassigned the Cerritos due to the ship’s inefficiency, Captain Freeman institutes a ship-wide policy limiting the time allotted to complete tasks to that determined by Command. Predictably, the crew cannot keep to the schedule she sets, resulting in overworked, exhausted crew members making critical errors as they rush from task to task.
Commander Ransom takes an Away Team, including Ensign Mariner, to Gelrak V, in order to deliver their gifts. Gelrak V is a planet whose culture is entirely based on the veneration of crystals, so the Away Team must present the Honor Crystal at the time of arrival in order to prove that they come in peace. An exhausted Bolian grabbed the wrong container, so instead of the Honor Crystal, he presents a fertility charm from the Gelrakian’s greatest enemies. The Gelrakians declare war on the Away Team and the Cerritos. Ransom attempts to negotiate, but the Gelrakians takes the entire team prisoner. The Gelrakians confine Ransom and Mariner in a single cell and present them with a seemingly impossible choice—in an hour, one of the two of them must engage in trial by combat against the Gelrakian champion. Predictably, Mariner and Ransom proceed to fight each other both for the privilege and regarding the role of regulations in mission success. Ransom stabs Mariner with the ceremonial combat blade and proceeds to rip off his shirt, drop the sword, and wipe the floor with the Gelrakian champion, who turns out to be a bookish sort despite his size.
The Gelrakians also dispatch ships to board the Cerritos, and despite the Gelrakians’ antiquated weaponry, the exhausted Cerritos crew cannot repel the boarders, especially with Freeman screaming at them that they must complete their work on schedule in addition to combatting the invaders. Boimler, the lone crewmember to complete his tasks on time, finds his way to the Bridge. He sees Freeman running from station to station and despite his own deep love for the rules, he reminds her that there are times when suspending the rules will be necessary. Freeman agrees and issues a ship-wide command that the crew feel free to disregard regulations as necessary to defeat the Gelrakians. The Starfleet crew rallies and then makes short work of the Gelrakian forces now that they can look up from their PADDs and use them as beating sticks.
Ransom is successful, and with the boarders repelled, the Cerritos crew can present the Honor Crystal, smoothing over the entire diplomatic incident. As a coda, the episode flashes to the far future where Boimler is shown holding the Great Bird of the Galaxy and being praised as the second most important figure in Starfleet for having originated the Boimler Effect, a rule that allows for the use of buffer time. The show wraps up with a nod toward Transporter Chief O’Brien as being the most important man in Starfleet history.
As with previous episodes, the teaser sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Boimler gets blamed for Mariner’s inappropriately loud bass, and he gets credited for the Boimler Effect, which is far more in line with Mariner’s philosophy than his own. Thematically, the episode purports to be about the tension between slavishly following the rules and bending them where necessary, which is not new ground for Star Trek. In fact, the concept of “buffer time” comes from Scotty, both in Star Trek III: the Search for Spock and the TNG episode “Relics,” rendering the episode a half hour long reference.
In case you missed that subtext, the show has Ransom and Mariner reenact the Lethal Weapon III scar scene in order to establish which of the two of them is the Kirkiest. Ransom decides not to play because this is the 24th Century where scars are an aesthetic choice rather than street cred. He stabs Mariner, rips off his shirt, and sets out to whallop the Gelrakian with a judicious application of Kirk Fu. The fight sequence feels very much lifted from Galaxy Quest. Just switch out “Gorignak” for “Vindor” (or whatever Memory Alpha says the character’s name is). Ransom should get credit here for being a good leader and officer, despite his inappropriate commentary regarding his ex. He does his duty by protecting not only Mariner but also the Federation’s diplomatic relationship with Gelrak V.
Captain Freeman comes out of this episode less well. Her insistence on the timetable even to prioritizing it over defending her ship makes precisely zero sense. While there are bad captains in Starfleet, Freeman’s incredibly poor decisions in this episode put her in a class by herself. In Star Trek, we’re supposed to assume that Starfleet officers have a certain level of competence. Thematically, “Temporal Edict” is ostensibly about the importance of using individual judgment and relying on that competence, but Freeman herself does not demonstrate that she is a good leader. Certainly, she can operate every station on the Bridge, but when it comes down to the brass tacks, she fails her crew. Lower Decks features an almost-Simpsons-esque reset at the end of each episode, so it’s very likely that it won’t revisit that issue. That’s not Star Trek. That’s The Office in space.
“Temporal Edict” does feature a few zippy one-liners, such as when Ransom yells that literally no one can keep Mariner from speaking freely or when Mariner tells Vendome that no one is going to die from a spear wound because they live on a space ship. The folks aboard the Galileo in TOS might disagree with her, but it’s a line worthy of a solid chuckle. Unfortunately, the biggest gag in the episode just falls flat. Someone shouts “He’s got wood!” when Vendome presents the fertility charm from Mavok Prime, and while that might be funny in a game of Catan, it’s just cringe-worthy in a Star Trek episode. Lower Decks can and should do better.
Two cups of Earl Grey Tea
- I kind of love that Ransom does the Riker kneel in the episode.
- The Great Bird of the Galaxy is a reference to Gene Roddenberry, so to end the episode with a statue of Boimler erected to commemorate the “laziest man in Starfleet,” holding Roddenberry’s avatar makes some kind of statement. I’m just not certain what that would be.
- Yes, we get it. It’s Star Trek. We get what you’re trying to say with that statue of Transporter Chief O’Brien. Ha ha.
- A romantic relationship appears to be developing between Ransom and Mariner, at least if the Lethal Weapon reference turns out to be true. I’ll be interested to see what the show does with that.