Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Lower Decks Recap: Productivity Is Futile

Star Trek: Lower Decks

Temporal Edict

Season 1 Episode 3

Editor’s Rating 5 stars *****

One of the hallmarks of older millennials is an obsession with productivity, the conviction that by amending processes or switching to that one perfect tool, we can defy time itself. We constantly are trying to figure out a way to do more and more in the limited time we have (which is why we’re also the burnout generation), rather than giving ourselves the time and space necessary to relax. We know logically that we can’t be productive all the time, and yet we try anyway. It’s been a problem for years, and now it’s been made worse by the pandemic, when we’re all working remotely and badly managing our own work-life boundaries. A human can’t be productive for eight to ten hours a day straight, but by god we’ll kill ourselves trying.

The junior officers of the USS Cerritos are wiser than we are. The concept of “buffer time” is one that we should all integrate into our workflows, because we need it now more than ever. Relaxing and taking time to decompress actually makes us better at our jobs and also better humans (er, Orions?). And the time that Ensigns Boimler, Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi spend together, celebrating after completing a task, is priceless. That camaraderie is absolutely necessary to make everyone’s lives better (but especially when you live in a tin can in outer space).

Constant time pressure might be a good short-term motivation, but it has negative long-term effects, as we see in the third episode of the season, “Temporal Edict.” Captain Freeman, sore after losing a spot in brokering a major peace deal on Cardassia Prime (to be fair, that admiral was right, the Cardassians ARE very creepy, though we love them anyways), turns her anger on Ensign Boimler when he accidentally reveals the secret of buffer time. She’s convinced the reason that the Cerritos doesn’t get the plum assignments is because they don’t demand respect. Her solution is the most millennial: To make her crew the most productive through micromanagement, timing their assignments on duty shifts, and forcing them to adhere to a strict schedule.

It goes about as well as you’d expect. Overtired, stressed out, anxious officers complete their tasks poorly, or not at all, in an effort to stick to Freeman’s unreasonable schedule. Even Mariner is running through the halls, late to her next task, and for once it’s not her fault. So far in the series, Captain Freeman has come across as a bit self-important, but never completely out of touch with the realities of working on a starship. This selfish quest of hers to elevate the Cerritos is not a good look, to say the least.

As the crew runs around trying and failing to achieve the impossible, Ensign Mariner accompanies Commander Ransom down to the surface of a planet to welcome a new species into the Federation. Only, it doesn’t go well due to a mistake in protocol — an understandable occurrence, given the pressure under which Freeman put her crew. (The nerdy side of my brain, which is also obsessed with the productivity I’m bemoaning throughout this article, would love to see the statistics on the increase in mistakes aboard the Cerritos during this time period.)

The away team is captured after sustaining some injuries. Ransom and Mariner are in a cell together (if this sounds like the setup for a romance novel, well, there’s some spectacular sexual tension throughout this scene), and Ransom decides it’s time for him to write a speech to convince the aliens to let them go. Mariner disagrees, to say the least, and they have a fantastic argument. Once they discover that they are in a trial-by-combat situation, the question becomes which of them will fight for the away team’s freedom.

I, of course, expected it to be Mariner, given … well, everything we’ve learned about Ransom so far. But it turns out that Mariner was wrong — Ransom does know what the job of Starfleet officer entails, and he’s willing to fight dirty to make sure he takes on his responsibility. He stabs her (after another pretty amazing argument) to make sure he’s the one who fights, and Ransom emerges victorious and secures his people’s freedom.

Back aboard the Cerritos, Boimler, who loves a strict rule-based environment, is the only one who seems to be enjoying himself with Freeman’s new regulations. But even he realizes that things have gone too far when the captain seems more interested in sticking to her productivity metrics than repelling the invaders aboard the ship and protecting her crew. He gives her a Boimler pep talk, recognizing that while he might be thriving under this new system, his crewmates aren’t. Freeman recognizes that micromanaging isn’t the answer, and that she needs to give her crew the flexibility to do well and excel on their own terms — hence the Boimler Effect (poor, poor Ensign Boimler).

We’re getting into a really nice rhythm with these episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. The storylines are tight and well-told and the jokes make me laugh out loud. It’s still a little gross-out sometimes, but that’s the nature of an animated adult comedy, so I can live with that. I really feel like the show is finding its footing, and I think that’s elevating it from a fun watch to a must-watch in the Star Trek universe.

• I need the Tendi/Mariner album immediately.

• Where is this Ransom/Mariner thing going, BECAUSE IT IS CLEARLY GOING SOMEWHERE.

• In that vein, I’m wondering how this adherence to protocol versus making your own rules situation is going to play out, because it’s not necessarily an either/or argument.

• I want more Rutherford!! Here’s hoping he gets a big storyline in the next episode.

• I aspire to Doctor T’Ana’s acerbic wit.

• Did anyone else notice that Borg in the front row of the “Far Future” segment?

• The great bird of the galaxy!!