wej Duj: Cross Cultural Shenanigans

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

wej Duj” wafts into season two Lower Decks like a breath of fresh air because the episode reminds us that the Star Trek universe is vast and rich. While the Cerritos crew encounters its fair share of non-human life as do the other ships in the franchise, the stories Star Trek tells tend to be either human-centric or Starfleet-centric. Some of that no doubt has to do with the realities of producing episodes for television, but more than that, the stories Trek wants to tell are human stories. More often than not, Trek gives itself a pass on that. “wej Duj” takes advantage of its animated format to give us two non-human crews in the same way Prodigy will when it airs in the not too distant future. Episodes like “wej Duj” contribute to the overall richness of Trek canon in unique and fantastic ways, and it helps that the episode is a pretty good one, too.

Plot Ahoy!

The Cerritos has been tasked with a mission requiring a good twelve hours in warp, so Captain Freeman offers the crew downtime while they’re traveling in space. Most of the Lower Deckers take advantage of this to spend time with their respective department heads. Rutherford throws pots with Shaxs and hangs out with Billups. Tendi goes rock climbing with Dr. T’Ana, and Mariner, predictably, spends her time engaging in phaser-centric games on the holodeck with her mother. Boimler, however, lacks a so-called “bridge buddy,” so he sets out to find one.

Aboard the IKS Che’ta’, Ma’ah and other members of his own lower decks cohort prepare to start their duty shifts. Ma’ah speculates that their captain, Dorg, plans to kill his first officer, Togg, as Togg has been undermining him. Ma’ah hopes to impress the Captain enough to take Togg’s place, and they all head out after a good laugh at Ma’ah’s use of the term “logical.”

The episode shifts next to the Sh’vhal where lower decker T’Lyn has opted to ignore her duties in favor of extending the cruiser’s long-range sensors. Very calmly, her fellow lower deckers express their disapproval with her actions, but T’Lyn remains resolute in the face of their concerns. Her new sensors detect strange metreon particles that she brings to her Captain’s attention based on her “gut feeling,” which horrifies her cohort.

Ma’ah’s own instincts prove correct when he enters the bridge to find Dorg and Togg in a fight to the death. Dorg fatally stabs Togg and declares that whoever impresses him most by the end of the day will become the new first officer. Ma’ah gleefully throws himself into suck-up mode and accomplishes each task set to him, including walking Dorg’s targ. The targ in question seems thrilled with this state of affairs.

Back on the Cerritos, Boimler has less success than either Ma’ah or T’Lyn in his chosen endeavor of finding himself a bridge buddy. He first attempts to curry favor with Kayshon who takes offense when he inadvertently calls the Tamarian fat in Tamarian. Boimler then interrupts his friends while they’re engaged in their respective activities. He narrowly avoids falling to his death after using anti-grav boots to say hellow to Tendi and T’Ana, and Boimler manages to trigger Shaxs’ latent PTSD during the pottery class Rutherford and Shaxs attend. When he finds Mariner and the captain engaged in an extremely competitive competition in the phaser range, he slips away unnoticed. Defeated, he walks to a turbo lift where he finds Ransom and two other crew-members, including a Benzite, waxing poetic about how much they miss Hawaii. To join their clique, Boimler pretends that he, too, hails from the islands.

T’Lyn’s rash actions, for a Vulcan definition of the word, incur the Vulcan captain’s extremely calm disapprobation. While he agrees that her findings merit further investigation, he directs her to engage in two days of silent meditation. T’Lyn attempts to refuse as she has a project nearing completion, but her captain remains resolute. T’Lyn retires to the meditation chamber, bringing her PADD. Her colleagues enter the chamber just as she begins work, and they threaten to report her for her “rebellious” behavior to the High Command. T’Lyn remains unmoved by their opinions of her.

Boimler, however, cannot say the same. Having been invited to the holodeck with his new “ohana,” Boimler has a crisis of conscience over having lied to Ransom and the others. He heads to the holodeck regardless. Ma’ah fares better than Boimler. Dorg declares Ma’ah his second in command, and they beam aboard a Pakled clumpship. The Pakleds want another bomb because they used theirs already to see what it did, and Dorg agrees, horrifying Ma’ah. Despite that agreement, Dorg grumbles that the detonation of the bomb will result in unusually high metreon particle levels, which will attract attention. After transfer of the weapon completes, the Cerritos, drawn by the elevated metreon particle levels Dorg mentioned, drops out of warp and offers aid to the Che’ta’. Dorg and Ma’ah beam back to the Bird of Prey, and Dorg orders the crew to fire upon the Cerritos. Ma’ah protests that disturbing the peace is unwise. Dorg contends that he seeks to upset the balance of power in order to secure Klingon superiority in the quadrant, but Ma’ah argues that using the Pakleds to fight their battles is dishonorable. Dorg reacts badly.

While the conflict aboard the Klingon ship’s bridge rages, the Cerritos sustains critical damage from both the Pakled clumpship and the Bird of Prey. Just as the situation turns truly dire, the Sh’vhal drops out of warp to interpose itself between the Cerritos and the hostile ships. The Sh’vhal’s shields begin to weaken, but T’Lyn has developed a regenerative shield amplifier that she convinces her captain to use. With their shields at 120%, the Sh’vhal rejoins the fray.

The battle for the Che’ta’ intensifies, turning physical and Dorg attempts to kill Ma’ah for insubordination. Ma’ah fights back, but Dorg overpowers him until Dorg’s targ intervenes on Ma’ah’s behalf. Ma’ah stabs Dorg, killing him. The rest of the crew salutes Ma’ah as captain, and he orders the ship to return to Quo’noS to inform the High Council of Dorg’s actions. The Bird of Prey abandons the Pakleds, who in turn, flee.

In the wake of the battle, Captain Freeman determines that they need to brief Starfleet, and the Sh’vhal captain reassigns T’Lyn to a human ship. He explains that even though her actions saved the ship, he worries that this success will reinforce the validity of her emotional behavior. T’Lyn channels her inner Star Trek: 2009 Spock and offers him a sarcastic “Live long and prosper.” Boimler grieves his failure to find a “bridge buddy,” as he’d managed to get himself kicked out of the Hawaii clique. As it turned out, none of the others were from Hawaii either, but they were from moons. Having grown up in Modesto, Boimler was therefore not from a moon, so they exclude him. However, Ransom does send a young man to him for help with his duties because Boimler is the most organized person he knows.

The episode ends with a clip of the lower decks on a Borg cube; the drones remain in their regenerative alcoves.

Analysis

Star Trek tends to prioritize humans and human-stories. Some of this is due to the cost and time limitations constricting the number of aliens that can appear on a show; plus, the production has to work around an actor’s physical body for the most part. Not everyone can be Doug Jones, who can apparently work quite happily underneath pounds of prosthetics and while wearing boots that give him hooves. A lot of this tendency comes down to the idea of humans as the “default,” which makes sense in terms of a production that seeks to tell a story about human issues and concerns. However, centering the story around humanity makes far less sense in a franchise that exists in a universe teeming with other intelligent life. Babylon 5 sticks out as being a multi-season, live-action show with a human-to-alien ratio in the cast that seems appropriate to this kind of universe. Within the Trek franchise, only Deep Space Nine achieves a similar ratio, which makes some sense given some of the controversy underlying that show’s genesis.

Regardless, Trek does exist in a big, albeit fictional, universe, in which the characters are integrated. As such, they need to tell stories about different species without relegating them to “monster-of-the week” creatures, and generally, each franchise tends to pick a species and work with it. “wej Duj” affords us a glimpse into ships which are not human-centered. The crews of the Che’ta’ and the Sh’vhal are alien to us, but the show very carefully portrays them as not alien to themselves. They’re simply characters at home, living lives within their own culture, and most importantly, they aren’t metaphors for any aspects of human experience.

Ma’ah and T’Lyn do share aspects of their personalities with Boimler and Mariner, but they aren’t solely analogues for their human counterparts either. Ma’ah is very much a product of Klingon culture and therefore acts like a Klingon where Boimler would not. Like Mariner, T’Lyn prefers to do things her own way and stoically ignores how the other Vulcans see her, but her rebellion, if that’s what it is, exists within a profoundly Vulcan schema. They’re fantastic.

I’m not sure what to make of the decision to have a Klingon as the mastermind behind the Pakled threat, if Dorg even is. There remains the possibility of a further twist. Without a twist, this storyline brings back shades of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, to which Ma’ah alludes when he comments that Klingons disturbing the peace don’t come to good ends. I’ll be interested to see where the show-runners take this in the season’s final episode.

I am thrilled, however, that this episode’s humor does not trend toward the scatological. The laughs arise organically from the situation. We can sympathize with Dorg’s frustration at the Pakled’s belief that a bomb would be a multiple use object, and frankly, that’s pretty funny. Boimler’s search for a bridge buddy takes us along for a nearly slapstick ride, and I happen to think T’Ana’s nonchalance regarding the holodeck safety protocols is a pretty shining moment. Sex jokes can be funny, but “wej Duj” demonstrates that there exist other ways to elicit laughs. That Borg sequence is comedy gold.

Rating:

Four cups of Earl Grey Tea

The Egg Hunt

  1. ”wej Duj” translates to three ships and is the English transliteration of the Klingon title, which I cannot replicate here. Sorry.
  2. Shaxs putting his rage into the clay will never not make me crack up, and Rutherford’s very real chill about that rage is purely on brand. The Papa Bear line comes from season one when Shaxs more or less adopts Rutherford.
  3. The pink blood comes to us from Star Trek VI, and I kept thinking of Azetbur’s line about how “human rights” is a racist term throughout this episode. That moment stands out as one of the few moments in which Trek acknowledges its humanity problem. Dorg quotes “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war,” which is a line from act III of Julius Caesar. General Chang quotes the same line in Star Trek VI.
  4. Spock tells Valeris that ”Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end,” in the same film, and T’Lyn sports a hair-style that looks a great deal like Kim Cattrall’s as Valeris.
  5. We jump back to Star Trek V: the Final Frontier with Boimler’s anti-grav boots and “go climb a rock” shirt. Spock wore the former to save Kirk when he fell while free-climbing (as T’Ana and Tendi are doing) El Capitan. Kirk wore the latter under his uniform jacket when he arrived on-board the ailing Enterprise A. The framing of the shot featuring T’Ana and Tendi also recalls those early scenes.
  6. Spock, Kirk, and McCoy get sent to a penal colony in Star Trek VI, so that could be the reference Boimler makes during his meltdown about the Hawaii thing.
  7. The Sh’vhal captain has a model of the Kir’shara in his quarters, and you might recognize his voice as belonging to Marc Evan Jackson, who famously plays straight men (in the comedic sense).
  8. The concept of promotion by assassination in Klingon culture comes to us not from the Chronicles of Riddick but rather “A Matter of Honor.”
  9. The Pakleds named their ship the Pakled and have “red alarms.” I’m still chuckling. We do actually see their lower deckers as well, and they’re about what one should expect.
  10. The targ could be an allusion to the one in Star Trek III: the Search for Spock.
  11. I hope T’Lyn makes her way onto the Cerritos. Her inevitable conflict with Mariner would be hilarious to watch.
  12. I use “Hawaii” without the okina for the state because that’s the state’s official name. The island is an entirely different matter.

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