You Talking Trek To Me? – “No Small Parts”

“No Small Parts”
Lower Decks – Season 1, Episode 10

Although Lower Decks is not the first animated Trek series, it’s still been a unique chapter in the Star Trek mythos that has pushed the franchise into new territory. The first season saw a completely new and irreverent take on the world of Trek, combining fast-paced humor, low-stakes situations, and a dizzying bevy of continuity callbacks. All of these threads crescendo in the Season 1 finale “No Small Parts” for an adventure that successfully marries the silly and the serious.

The episode begins with one of those callbacks as the Cerritos is visitng Beta III, featured in The Original Series “The Return of the Archons.” Like a lot of references in the show, it’s played for laughs as an irritated Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom are reminding the planet’s inhabitants to not allow the supercomputer Landru to control their society (and minds). Beta III was of course one of many wacky planets in TOS that just happened to mirror a past Earth society, and this jokey sequence gives it about as much weight as it deserves (Landru still exists, but is cowed into submission when Freeman threatens to talk it into self-destruction again, a la Kirk). Trek is replete with so many bizarre (and dramatically narrow) one-off planets/societies, so there’s a silly appeal to checking in with one of them. Ransom wistfully references that bygone “TOS” era, which he explains as standing for “Those Old Scientists.” Yuk yuk yuk.

Meanwhile, Mariner stands on a street corner tossing free art supplies to local children. She’s surprised when Boimler helps her instead of quoting rules and regulations. He explains that he doesn’t want to stick to the rules all the time, and it’s nice that he seems like he’s starting to loosen up. I’m not really a fan of either of these characters and all the scenes featuring them in this episode are the least interesting (and most annoying) ones for me. Case in point, we get a truly stale sitcom-level situation where Mariner’s communicator is somehow active and broadcasting their conversation to the entire bridge crew (???). Having recently learned that Mariner is actually Captain Freeman’s daughter, Boimler incessantly teases her about it as her anger reaches a boil. As a means of spilling the beans to the crew about Mariner’s parentage it’s dumb and played in such a grating way. They’re both just really immature assholes and are not fun to watch. There’s a bit of genuine humor as Freeman beams the two of them directly to the bridge where a horrified Boimler lets out a perfectly cut scream.

Fortunately, we get a reprieve from these antics as we check in with the newly-minted USS Solvang (another California-class ship) on its maiden voyage. It’s so new that the protective plastic film is still on the control panels, and the captain barks at everyone to keep their shoes off on the bridge carpet. Heh. Things turn deadly serious when a mysterious, huge vessel ambushes them. Pummeling them with weapons fire, they use grappling hooks to tear one of the warp nacelles off which destroys the ship. The wide shot of the battle’s aftermath that lingers on the explosion for a few beats is a nice touch, allowing the horror of all those sudden deaths to sink in a little.

“I would have been valedictorian, but I had one billion nanites in my class. You know how those guys are.”

The show is very fast-paced – which doesn’t always work for me, but at the same time it’s impressive how much it crams into a half-hour episode. True to that, Tendi welcomes a new crewmember aboard – a robotic Exocomp like the ones featured in The Next Generation’s “Quality of Life.” It’s a callback that works, and it’s interesting to see these new mechanical life forms fully integrated into Federation society (although their legal rights are an ongoing nightmare, I’m sure). The Exocomp introduces herself with her mathematically-perfect English name “Peanut Hamper,” which Tendi totally loves.

Back to Mariner (sigh) – with her secret spilled, she’s annoyed at the newfound attention (and sucking up) she is now receiving from the crew. Boimler gloats that she won’t be able to fly under the radar and get away with stuff now as he asks for a letter of recommendation for a promotion/transfer to the USS Sacramento. She schemes that if she were to get the transfer to the Sacramento (or “the Sac,” as it’s unceremoniously called), she could have the freedom to goof off again. Deciding to be a model officer, Mariner pulls down her sleeves, fixes her hair, and starts calling Boimler “sir.” The visual change is a little funny, but again I’m not invested in either of these characters and honestly don’t want to see either of them get what they want. They both appeal to Commander Ransom (hilariously shirtless and working out the entire time) for the promotion. Boimler has the qualifications, but Mariner is the suck-up’s choice. Decisions, decisions!

“I’m pissing myself with indecision! Or maybe I have too many plates on the rack.”

Meanwhile, Peanut Hamper is having trouble with basic tasks (because she doesn’t have hands, dontcha know) and Tendi is worried for her. But she turns out to be a natural in sickbay with surgery and impresses Dr. T’Ana. Bendi seems suddenly insecure about this, but then decides to not be and instead becomes Peanut Hamper’s supporter/cheerleader. I’m not really sure what the point of this subplot development is, but it’s innocuous enough to not get in the way of the main story. The general pace of the show is so breakneck and it can be hard to keep up with or parse its plot points before it barrels into the next one. Unlike Mariner and Boimler, Tendi’s enthusiastic personality is infectiously adorable.

Rutherford’s silly subplot sees him discovering an attitude setting on his head thingie and he continually scrolls through all the options (Optimistic, Klingon, Sarcastic, etc.), trying to get back to his default one for most of the episode. Like Tendi, Rutherford is a not-annoying character that’s entertaining to watch.

Not pictured: Problematic Thinly-Veiled Ethnic Stereotype

Dropping out of warp to the Solvang’s position, the Cerritos finds itself in the midst of a debris field and Captain Freeman is horrified to see the ship’s ruined saucer section floating in space. In a nice visual reveal, a grappling hook grabs the saucer and the attacking alien vessel slaps the piece onto its own hull. The alien ship hammers the Cerritos with its weapons and once again uses its grappling arm to ensnare a Starfleet ship. The score is really great here. Freeman wisely orders their engines to shut down, and instead of being totally destroyed, they only manage to lose a warp nacelle. The alien ship hails, and it turns out to be an aggressive Pakled who gloats over “the Enterprise.” It’s a great way to re-introduce the species, and it successfully builds off their introduction in “Samaritan Snare” as an easily-underestimated threat. And I love that they just refer to any Starfleet ship as “Enterprise” – there’s something dumbly child-like that really fits them.

“I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something doesn’t feel right.”

Boimler’s scans indicate that the source of the Pakled’s power is the fact they’ve been grafting pieces of other alien ships onto their own. The design of the Pakled’s upgraded vessel is cool, and I like how their original tiny freighter now forms the head of their bird-of-prey-looking warship. It works in a simple, cartoon logic kinda way but again, it’s also consistent with their original conception – in “Snare,” the crew discovered they had scavenged other alien tech and integrated it into their own ship. This execution of that theme is more literal and visually interesting for a cartoon.

Thematically, the Pakleds are good villains that highlight the values and philosophies of Star Trek. It’s a property that prizes intelligence and learning – not just about scientific phenomena, but peoples as well. Trek also emphasizes peacefulness, sensitivity, and avoiding conflict. The Pakelds are the antithesis of all of this – they’re dumb, aggressive, and want to take shortcuts to attain the greatest amount of power. Their theft of others’ technology is similar to the Borg’s method of assimilation and shows a disregard for the value of discovery and learning.

“Dear god, they’ve scavenged pieces of Windows Phones, Google Glass, and HD DVD players!”

Out of options, Freeman asks her daughter to come up with a crazy plan that flies in the face of regulations and which will piss her off. Literally. Predictably, the main characters who haven’t mattered in the grand scheme for the majority of the season are now the only salvation for the crew. But it picks up on several threads laid throughout the season and unfolds in an exciting, mostly organic way. They figure they can plant a virus in the Pakled’s ship while the Cerritos is being carved up by their laser beams. Rutherford conscripts his killer computer helper program Badgey into the plan, who conveniently has several viruses that could be used. But they have to be delivered manually.

The Pakelds begin boarding the ship and the crew has to fight them off while figuring out a way to deliver the virus. Mariner’s contraband of weaponry conveniently becomes helpful to the senior staff (except Ransom, whose double fists need no reloading). During the melee, Boimler admits he was jealous of Mariner since she’s ultimately a better officer than him and would have gotten the Sacramento promotion. And he says that she’s his best friend. It’s silly but fine, I guess. Still don’t like these two.

“I have AVG, McAfee, and Norton Security right here. Just one of these is sure to fuck up any OS! I mean, PROTECT IT, heh heh heh.”
Fisticuffs, engage!

Freeman gets injured, and they manage to get her to sickbay. They realize that Peanut Hamper is the crewmember most perfectly suited to get the virus to the Pakleds and she… refuses. Unlike Badgey, who is cartoonishly evil, Peanut Hamper is simply selfish and doesn’t want to endanger herself to help the crew. She promptly beams herself off the ship to save herself. It’s a shocking turn, and helps upend the status quo we’ve come to expect from Star Trek. Not everyone’s meant to be a hero, and some officers are clearly not cut out for Starfleet. It’s a theme that Lower Decks has featured in other episodes this season – that of seemingly fine and upstanding officers being revealed as less than ideal. As opposed to people like Mariner and Boimler, who don’t really seem like capable officers normally but reveal themselves as talented and dependable in the clutch.

Rutherford realizes that he’s the one who has to deliver the virus, and Shaxs hilariously throws him over his shoulder and barrels towards the shuttlebay. Boarding the Pakled ship, Rutherford uploads the virus but at the last second Badgey betrays him by stopping the transfer and initiating the self-destruct. Is this… supposed to be a shock? Unlike Peanut Hamper, this is totally 100% what I expected to happen, so the moment falls a little flat. Like, of course he betrays Rutherford, he’s still clearly, clearly evil. But Shaxs tears out Rutherford’s head thingie, throws him on the shuttle, and shoves the entire thing out of the Pakled’s hull. It makes absolutely no sense but is too funny for me to care, especially as Shaxs calls him “Baby Bear” before being blown up with the Pakled ship. Eat shit, Badgey!

The victory is short-lived as three more Pakled ships drop out of warp and attach their grapplers to the Cerritos. When all hope seems lost, in swoops the USS Titan, commanded by William T. Riker! It’s an awesome moment as the Titan blasts the Pakled ships while The Next Generation theme blasts triumphantly. Thwarted by this new “Enterprise,” the Pakleds quickly retreat.

“Just call these Pakled ships ‘Minuet,” cuz’ I’m slammin’ them hard! And passionately!”

Later on, while the Cerritos is being repaired at a starbase, Rutherford wakes up to see Tendi but doesn’t seem to remember her or anything that happened in the entire season. It recalls the Doctor’s mindwipe in Season 3 of Voyager when his program had to be fixed to save it (as well as that other mind wipe to fix his program). It’s a curious development and I’m not sure what purpose it serves aside from a brief punch of pathos (my favorite drink). In her characteristic chipper demeanor, Tendi relishes the opportunity to become friends with him all over again. It’s nutty, but cute.

Friendship.xlsx could not be found.
“Of all the souls that I have encountered, his was the most… bloodthirsty.”

They have a funeral for Shaxs. His death is a surprising turn, and some pathos that actually worked for me. I love me a good heroic death, and it’s a good way to establish some actual stakes in this overall lighthearted series.

Freeman and Mariner meet and seem to reach an understanding. Mariner (correctly) points out how Starfleet’s generally hands-off non-interference policy doesn’t really work out in the real world. In the case of Beta III, simply leaving people to their own devices didn’t work. It’s an astute observation, and I appreciate the complexity it imparts upon Starfleet’s high-minded ideals. It’s also a prescient idea, as we’ve seen how people can be easily influenced by nefarious forces to warp their minds. Whether it’s Landru or any number of propaganda media outlets, it’s not enough to simply check in with people every once in a while. They have to be taught and guided properly, otherwise they will turn out like the Betans. Or worse, the Pakleds.

Riker and Troi chill with the Cerritos crew in their lounge (Frakes really sounds like he’s having a lot of fun here and his much more animated voice matches the wacky tone of the series). Boimler admits to Mariner that she’s his mentor, and they seem to reach an understanding.

Who wants to be likable anyway? It’s overrated.

…And moments later he has accepted a promotion-transfer to the Titan while Mariner’s angry messages pour in on his PADD. Boimler seems to think he’s hot shit because he has a little experience under his belt. Cool. No one really comes off great here, but whatever. The End.

The first season of Lower Decks is an interesting affair. It’s too frenzied, silly, and inconsequential for my tastes (and its characters very hit-or-miss), but I appreciate what it’s doing and I want to like it. As its name suggests, it presents a different perspective on the typical Trek hero ship and its light-hearted, lower stakes adventures are a unique direction that show a more expansive world. “No Small Parts” is a nice conclusion, mixing in some serious and tense action to mitigate its grating aspects. The episode’s title is a clever double entendre, referencing both the ship debris scavenged by the Pakleds, but more importantly the great importance even the lowest ranking crewmembers can have. Like the hodgepodge Pakled ships, the makeup of the crew is its own mismatched bunch of disparate parts that are sometimes able to attain a chaotic alchemy when the situation requires.

Stray Observations:

  • Kudos to the visuals in this episode, lots of really beautiful shots.
  • I think the writers sometimes forget that ships have long-range sensors. This was also a dumb plot point in the reboot Star Trek film, but the Cerritos drops out of warp right in the midst of a big debris field and almost collides with pieces of the Solvang. It’s a dramatic visual, but are y’all not scanning the area where you’re dropping out of faster-than-light-speed at all?
  • I guess I’ll go off on the whole Freeman/Mariner subterfuge here. Aside from being wildly unethical for the captain to hide the details of her and her daughter’s relationship from the crew, it seems totally implausible. Aren’t there computer records of their relationship? This is Star Trek after all, where information is free and easily accessible to everyone. Anyone could just ask the computer for Mariner’s (or the captain’s) service record/bio and easily see the relation. Unless the records have been changed, in which case that seems like an even bigger ethical deal. I guess I’m over-thinking this, but this is still the world of Star Trek, and I can’t see this kind of thing flying in Starfleet. The first officer doesn’t even know!
  • I just love that the file photo of Kirk and Spock on Ransom’s PADD is directly from The Animated Series.
  • This episode contains the biggest laugh I had from the entire season with a rando crewmember who believes that Wolf 359 was an inside job. Also, Changelings aren’t real and the Dominion War didn’t happen. As funny as it is, there’s something kind of disturbing about it, as it’s an uncomfortable reminder of the hellish anti-truth fake news world we currently live in. Sigh.
  • Second biggest laugh of the season: the sight of Tendi’s weird-ass dog transforming into a cube and rolling away as the crew watches in silent horror.
  • YES, the fucking Titan, FINALLY. This is actually the first on-screen appearance of the vessel, despite it being mentioned in (ugh) Star Trek: Nemesis. One of the many boneheaded decisions that film made was to make a big deal about Riker leaving the Enterprise for his own command and then not show his new ship at all. It was dumb and just bad storytelling. It only took almost 20 years for the ship to actually show up on-screen. Better late than never.
  • The Starfleet uniform discrepancy in the series is odd. The crew of all the California-class ships sport a new uniform design that recalls the TNG-era jumpsuits. But the black and grey First Contact/DS9 uni’s still exist, as well. That’s what everyone on the Titan wears (including Boimler after he transfers). Also, everyone seems to wear different boots from each other? Not sure what the deal is with that.
  • Peanut Hamper’s difficulty in manipulating physical objects is extra nonsensical because one of the Exocomps’ native abilities is to replicate whatever tools they need in their front port. Like a clamp? Or a mini tractor beam? C’mon, how did you get through the Academy without handy thingies?