One of the cool things the first Star Trek animated series did was not only bring back most of the cast to voice their characters, but on three occasions, they were able to do the same with guest stars: Mark Lenard (Sarek), Roger C. Carmel (Harry Mudd), and Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones) were able to reprise their roles from the original series without having to worry about the timing of their ability to be on set, because their lines were recorded individually. (Indeed, Lenard wasn’t available until the last minute, and James Doohan had recorded Sarek’s part initially.)
One of the difficulties of having mortal actors play immortal characters is that the mortal actors will age. Seeing, for example, Q on Picard or Discovery would be problematic, as John deLancie has aged.
But he can lend his voice to the role…
Seeing—or, more to the point, hearing—John deLancie voice Q is but one of many highlights in “Veritas,” which is by far the best episode of Lower Decks to date. Our four ensign protagonists are put into what Boimler thinks looks very much like an alien jail—or an alien dungeon, as Rutherford less-than-helpfully corrects him—and then are brought into a huge room where they are questioned by Imperium Magistrate Clar about events that occurred recently.
What follows is right out of the characters-put-on-trial playbook. While there are lots of other examples of this in on-screen science fiction, there were two specific examples that this one reminded me of, one obvious, one not so much. The obvious is the Klingon court in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, seen again later in Enterprise’s “Judgment,” but also the Farscape episode “The Ugly Truth.” Part of it was the visual of our heroes being lifted from a dungeon up into the place where they would testify and then they would each tell their side of what happened.
As in both above examples, the chamber where they testify is dark, with people looking down on them. The senior staff—Freeman, Ransom, Shaxs, T’Ana, and Billups—are being held immobile. Mariner, Tendi, Rutherford, and Boimler all get their shot at telling what happened by testifying into the Horn of Candor.
The first obvious difference from the usual trial episode is that the quartet have absolutely no clue what’s going on. They don’t know what they’re supposed to be testifying to, they don’t know what incident is being discussed. (Tendi at one point thinks they’ve been imprisoned for making ice.)
The testimony that follows doesn’t exactly clear things up. Mariner talks about a time they were on bridge duty and Freeman obtained a map of the Neutral Zone from some aliens. The encounter goes badly, as they take offense at the fact that Freeman thanked them. To make matters worse, when Freeman says to send them a message, Mariner interprets that as firing a warning shot, when all Freeman wanted to send them an actual message to try to talk peace.
However, it turns out that the important part of that bit of testimony was the acquisition of the map. We then have Shaxs and Billups recruiting Rutherford for a mission to steal an old Romulan Bird of Prey (like the one introduced in the original series’ “Balance of Terror“) from a Vulcan museum. Unfortunately, Rutherford is in the process of updating his implant and it keeps updating, rebooting, and causing blackouts, so he missed out on several important parts of the mission, like the briefing. So we only get snippets of the mission, including Rutherford distracting a guard with a fan dance (which is the best satire of that stupid, offensive, despicable, horrible bit with Uhura in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), Rutherford trying to save Billups from asphyxiation while spacewalking on a cloaked Romulan ship, and Rutherford trapped in a Gorn wedding, where apparently tradition is to eat the guests.
Tendi’s was my favorite, though, because she was assigned to clean the briefing room, and so she identified herself as “the cleaner,” which resulted in her being mistaken for a different operative on the covert mission Ransom was taking a special-ops team on, using both the map and the stolen Bird of Prey. Especially when we learn that Tendi is, in fact, a badass. (One loose end, though: What happened to the original final member of the team? Is he still standing around in the briefing room wondering where everyone is?)
After all that, though, the foursome still don’t know what the actual mission is, which Clar finds impossible to credit. Starfleet officers plan for every contingency and always tell the truth, and Freeman’s crew should know everything that goes on. This leads Boimler to give an impassioned, hilarious speech about how they’re just the lower-decks ensigns, they don’t know everything, and heck, the senior officers don’t always know everything either! They’re all hugely busy and playing it by ear half the time.
When Boimler gets to the part where it’s unfair to put them all on trial—and also try to dip them in a vat of screaming eels for not telling the whole truth—Clar gets all confused. It’s not a trial, it’s a party, as he reveals when he brings up the lights to see balloons and such. This is a celebration—the “package” that Tendi’s team recovered was Clar, who was a prisoner of the Romulans. The point of this exercise is to celebrate the brilliance of the senior staff in rescuing him, and the ensigns’ testimony is to support that.
In the end, Freeman allows as how she probably should’ve been more forthcoming with the crew about what was going on, but once they start asking questions (Why steal a ship? Why use a physical map? Why eels?), Freeman shuts down, says it’s classified, and dismisses them.
One of the reasons why this episode works so well is that it doesn’t try to cram too much in. There’s really only one plot here, but it’s all split into different segments, so you still have the rapid-fire pacing that a half-hour comedy needs, but you aren’t trying to do too much in the allotted time.
Best of all, there’s a theme to the episode! Throughout the entire story, people make false assumptions. Mariner assumes that Freeman’s use of “send them a message” was a euphemism for firing a warning shot. Freeman assumed that expressing gratitude would be well-received by the aliens who gave them the map; the aliens assumed that Freeman was insulting them. Ransom assumed that Tendi being “the cleaner” meant she was part of his team. Shaxs and Billups assumed that Rutherford was compus mentis throughout the mission when he really really wasn’t.
And all four of our heroes assumed that they were in a dungeon and on trial. The beam in which the senior staff is suspended is, in fact, the Beam of Celebration, not an imprisonment. Best of all, there are actually some hints that all is not what it seems. For one thing, Clar is the only one talking. The person who bangs a gavel never actually speaks or runs the trial as a judge would (in fact, he’s setting up for a birthday party that will be in the hall once Clar’s celebration is finished). And his cries of, “Oh, come on” and such aren’t very lawyerly, which only makes sense, as he’s not actually prosecuting anything.
One of the fun things about the TNG episode that inspired this series was that Lavelle, Taurik, Sito, and Ogawa didn’t know the whole story. This episode is a hilarious satire of that, with several brilliant set pieces. My favorite is Rutherford’s, though, because it’s so delightfully random.
Ultimately, this episode was funny as hell, and that’s really the most important yardstick for a comedy show.
- I finally started watching season two of The Boys (read my review of season one right here on Tor.com!), and it’s really really really weird hearing Boimler’s voice come out of the show’s protagonist. These are two very different roles for Jack Quaid, yet both Hughie and Boimler have the same schlubby tones to their speaking patterns. It’s kind of hilarious, truly.
- GORN WEDDING!
- Q appears twice, once in flashback to a time he kidnapped the senior staff of the Cerritos and put them in a weird amalgam of chess, poker, and both versions of football, and a second time at the end to torment our four heroes, but Mariner tells him to screw off. “We are done with random stuff today, we’re not dealing with any of your Q bullshit!”
- Also: Q is wielding a spoon. This amused the hell out of me for some reason.
- In addition to deLancie, we get another long-time Trek guest, Kurtwood Smith, as Clar. Smith appeared on DS9 (as Odo’s predecessor Thrax in “Things Past“), on Voyager (in the “Year of Hell” two-parter as Annorax), and, most notably given the callbacks to it in this episode, in The Undiscovered Country as the Federation president.
- Mariner and Boimler argue over who’s the biggest badass. Mariner says it’s Khan Noonien Singh. Boimler says it’s Roga Danar. I gotta say, I’m with Boimler on this one—Khan lost to a genetically inferior opponent, twice (and a third time in another timeline). Danar ran rings around the Enterprise crew twice, and actually got what he wanted in the end.
- Once again, Mariner screws up in a manner that endangers the crew, and the sound you hear is my disbelief asphyxiating. As seen in both “Moist Vessel” and “Much Ado About Boimler,” Mariner’s incompetence is feigned—she actually does know what she’s doing, she just chooses to be a fuckup so she can stay an ensign. But for the second week in a row, that deliberate failure puts lives in danger, and we’re at the point where she should be serving time in New Zealand after a court-martial, not serving on a starship.
- “We don’t want you getting Denobulan flesh-eating bacteria on your pee. … It’ll eat right through your underpants…”
- GORN WEDDING!
- “Quiet! We don’t want to draw any attention!” “From who? What are we doing? What’s happening?” “Hey, what are you two doing back here? You’ve drawn my attention!”
- During his rant, Boimler mentions past missions where the Cerritos crew didn’t know what they were doing, including Q showing up, Ransom going on a date with a salt vampire (from the original series’ “The Man Trap“), and T’Ana thinking she’s in a parallel universe but actually having boarded the wrong ship in spacedock (“Fuck! They all look the same!”).
- Boimler then talks about how Starfleet officers don’t always know what to expect. He mentions Picard not expecting the Borg (“Q Who“), Kirk not expecting the giant Spock (“The Infinite Vulcan,” and YAY! another animated series reference!), and Crusher not expecting to have hot green smoke sex (“Sub Rosa“).
- There are a couple of shots taken at Picard here, as Mariner says that if they get kicked off the Cerritos, they’ll have to live on Earth where all there is to do is make wine, and Q later replies to the notion that he should bother Picard by saying all he ever does is quote Shakespeare and make wine.
- Mariner’s comment also includes one bit that tweaked me a little. The other thing you can do on Earth, according to her, is eat at soul-food restaurants. We’ve never actually seen anyone do that, but we have seen Sisko’s Creole Kitchen in New Orleans. Which isn’t a soul-food restaurant, it’s a Creole restaurant—it’s right there in the name and everything. The fact that they couldn’t be bothered to get that right (especially when so many other Trek references were accurate) with the restaurant run by a character of color is not a good look.
- GORN WEDDING!
Keith R.A. DeCandido recently did a panel for “Con-Tinual: The Con that Never Ends” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the famously awful fantasy novelette The Eye of Argon, alongside Gail Z. Martin, Hildy Silverman, Ian Randal Strock, and Michael A. Ventrella. Check it out!