Star Trek: Lower Decks Premiere Brings In Flesh-Eating Zombies & Vegetarian Spiders
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks, "Second Contact," now streaming on CBS All Access.
After months of anticipation, Star Trek: Lower Decks is here. In the series premiere, showrunner Mike McMahan shows how this is different from Trek's previous outing into animation, bringing equal parts comedy, creativity and chaos as he dives deep into the bowels of the U.S.S. Cerritos.
The show displays how much it aims to subvert expectations in its opening scene. A detached voice does a familiar log entry over static shots of a docked Cerritos. The narration exudes professionalism and pride as its speaker talks about the importance of "second contact." Though not as glamorous as first contact, its importance cannot be understated, between getting paperwork signed and figuring out the popular spots to recommend to tourists.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
Cut to the inside of the Cerritos and the first surprise of the episode. The narration is coming from Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), a purple-haired stickler whose eyes are focused squarely on the captain's chair. His log is interrupted by Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), who busts into his supply closet hiding spot to mock his private activities. Drunk on Romulan whiskey and chattering at warp 9, Mariner excitedly shows off the contraband she got on shore leave, including a bat'leth. She accidentally cuts into Boimler's leg, and between the informal tone, the in-jokes from across Trek, and the cartoon gore, one thing is clear: This is not your mama's Star Trek.
After the series' opening sequence, which involves the Cerritos doing things such as clipping an ice spire and chickening out on a fight with a Borg cube, we see the arrival of Ensign D'Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) to the ship. The Orion science officer in training is bursting with energy as soon as steps off the runabout. She meets up with Boimler, her orientation liaison, who is trying to solve a hot banana replicator crisis alongside a laconic Mariner. Mariner introduces us to her core philosophy: Lower Decks is where it's at. "Senior officers are overrated," she says. "They’re always stressed out and yelling about directives. It’s better down here where the real action is."
She then proceeds to hijack Tendi's orientation to take her on a tour of the Cerritos. Boimler's fawning over the bridge and highlight of the surprising number of Ops rooms gets interrupted with the introduction of Ensign Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero). The engineer is working through his recent Vulcan cybernetic implant, which is tamping down his feelings. And that includes any anxiety he has about his date tonight with Ensign Barnes.
Bidding a nervous Barnes adieu, the three go from the musty hallway bunks to the holodeck. Inside the famous yellow lines, each uses the limitlessness of the room to show their personalities. Mariner goes to a Hawaiian beach, as well as a more risque all-nude gym. Tendi gets a chance to say goodbye to home one more time on a holo-Orion. And Boimler goes to his personal favorite place on the ship: The warp core. Luckily, he's called away to the bridge to prevent any further mockery from Mariner.
Down on the planet Galador, a crew led by First Officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O'Connell) makes the final arrangements for second contact. Upon beaming back up to Cerritos, we discover Ransom is a somehow even more masculine version of William Riker. Celebrating with chest bumps -- and some shade throwing at Boimler -- he comes back with more than a smile in the form of a mysterious bug bite from the planet.
Meanwhile, a nervous Boimler sits down with Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), who gives him a mission. As she describes, "I like my crew working in lock step. There’s no wiggle room on the Cerritos." His task: Keep a watch on Mariner and report any breach of protocol back to her. It's something at top of mind as he beams down alongside her to Galador to work on constructing a subspace array.
Despite his implant, Rutherford seems to be getting on with Barnes (Jessica McKenna) during their date in the ship bar. Calamity soon ensues, though, as Ransom's bite turns him into a flesh-eating, black-bile spewing creature. While crew members around them begin to turn, the daters are not deterred, continuing to banter amongst the danger around them. The chaos continues planetside, as Boimler tries to catch Mariner giving Federation supplies to two Galadonians. Panicked, the purple creatures release a giant spider, putting the two on the run.
In hiding from their arachnid pursuer, Mariner explains her intentions. She was breaking protocol by giving farm equipment to the Galardonians, but it was to prevent them from starving while they waited to get through the red tape of Starfleet bureaucracy. She also fills us in on her background, having served on five different ships and undergone a number of adventures (including a nasty time in a sentient cave and a bout with a "dickish" yeti). She most recently served on the Keto, where she had made first contact on Galador before getting demoted and sent to the Cerritos.
With no more time for backstory, Mariner jumps into action. She sets a trap using uniform-clad dummies, getting the literal jump on the spider. A hesitant Boimler attempts the same thing, only to get gobbled up by the creature. The good news: The spider is a vegetarian Galadorian bovine, meaning his death will not come today. But there will certainly be trauma as it lengthily gums him for moisture.
Back on the Cerritos, Rutherford and Barnes' date continues swimmingly amongst spacewalks and phaser fights. It hits its climax when she kisses him at the rally point. But his engineering wins out when he shows more interest in an error on the maintenance hatch doors. At sickbay, Tendi gets a trial by fire courtesy of grizzly Caitian doctor T'Ana (Gillian Vigman). Dealing with infected crew members en masse, it gets so extreme that the Orion has to manually pump the heart of a man outside of his body to keep him alive.
Driving back from the farm, Boimler admits his mission to Mariner. She again chides him for looking up to the senior officers, insisting they have no regard for those of lower rank. Despite his protestations, he sees that firsthand when they beam up into the fray. T'Ana grabs the slime off of Boimler and finds it's extremely important (while saying outright that he isn't). Flanked by a crew that includes Freeman, Barnes, Rutherford and Bajoran Lieutenant Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore), they get to sickbay, where T'Ana synthesizes a cure from the slime that reverts the infected.
Without a beat, the senior officers pat each other on the back and walk away (with the exception of Random, concerned with how much flesh he ate when he was turned). Resigned at the lack of appreciation, Boimler leans up against a wall exhaustedly with the other three ensigns. Luckily, her first day has not deterred Tendi's enthusiasm, as she fist-pumps and yells, "I got to hold a heart!" Back in Freeman's office, her disregard for Boimler continues, obfuscating his part in saving the day and even getting his name wrong. In response, he displays a streak of rebellion, lying to the captain about what happened on the planet. Frustrated, Freeman chats with her admiral husband and makes a surprising reveal: Mariner is her daughter, sent to the Cerritos so she could have a more watchful eye over her.
Despite the events of the day, the premiere wraps with the crew back at the bar. Tendi takes Rutherford's side in the maintenance hatch situation, possibly hinting as a pairing that prides diagnostics over romance. Boimler thanks Mariner for saving him, begrudgingly admitting, "Starfleet is better with you in it." She's surprised at his insubordination, and happily declares herself his mentor, set on getting him in a captain's chair. The episode closes as it opens, with Mariner on another quick-paced rant as she tried to educate her new mentee about everything from Sulu's sword wielding to Deanna Troi's outfits.
"Second Contact," like an errant bug bite, planted plenty of seeds for things to come, including Mariner's relationship with her mother, Boimler's journey to captain, and Tendi and Rutherford's possible romance. Over the next nine episodes, the Cerritos should be a fun place to hang -- at least more fun than the warp core.
Star Trek: Lower Decks stars Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner, Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford, Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler, Noël Wells as Ensign Tendi, Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman, Jerry O'Connell as Commander Jack Ransom, Gillian Vigman as Doctor T'Ana and Fred Tatasciore as Lieutenant Shaxs. The show premiered on CBS All Access on Aug. 6.
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