Badass Pakleds? Badass Pakleds… — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “No Small Parts”

In 2002’s Star Trek Nemesis, it was established that William T. Riker and Deanna Troi were going off to the U.S.S. Titan, which would be Riker’s first true command of his own. But Riker and Troi’s subsequent appearances—on Enterprise’s “These are the Voyages…” and Picard’s “Nepenthe“—took place either before or after Riker’s tenure on the Titan. It was left to the tie-in fiction to give us Captain Riker in his big chair—

—until now.

[SPOILERS AHOY!]

First of all, let me tell you that my absolute favorite thing about the appearance of the Titan in the climax of “No Small Parts” is the appearance of the Titan. When the Star Trek: Titan novel series debuted in April 2005 with Taking Wing by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin, the cover featured the ship itself, which had been designed by Sean Tourangeau, who won a contest Simon & Schuster held to design Riker’s command.

When Titan shows up in “No Small Parts,” it’s Tourangeau’s design. Same registry as the ship had in the novels, too.

And we get Riker and Troi! Voiced by Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis! And it turns out that Riker and Mariner are old buddies, because of course they are.

Besides marking the second straight season finale of a CBS All Access Trek series that features Riker (following Picard’s “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2“), “No Small Parts” is a slam-bang season-ender that has tons of action, a lot of good laughs, and actual forward movement for both Boimler and Mariner. It also has a certain amount of serious tragedy that doesn’t quite land in a series that isn’t taking things as seriously.

The main plot involves a bunch of Pakleds, the not-too-bright aliens who kidnaped La Forge in TNG’s “Samaritan Snare,” who have turned themselves into badasses. They’re still not very bright, but they’ve managed to scavenge some impressive technology. They destroy the U.S.S. Solvang, and come pretty close to doing likewise to the Cerritos before the Titan shows up.

The loss of the Solvang is the first onscreen death Lower Decks has given us, and it’s of an entire ship and crew, and it’s followed up by the death of Lieutenant Shaxs, who sacrifices himself to save the ship, and also saves Rutherford’s life by ripping out his cybernetic implants and putting him on a shuttle back to the Cerritos. Said cybernetic implants had a virus in them that was created by Badgey—yes, Badgey is back! and I’m spelling his name right this time!—but Badgey is still pissed about the events of “Terminal Provocations” and his virus won’t just shut down the Pakled computers, but blow them up.

There is a brief memorial service for Shaxs, at least, but it feels off somehow, as does the lack of any kind of mourning for Captain Dayton and the Solvang. The tone of the show doesn’t really work with this kind of tragedy, and it’s a poor fit.

Credit: CBS

So is the handling of the revelation that Mariner is Freeman’s daughter. Boimler spills the beans that he knows to Mariner herself, not realizing that he’s got an open comm channel to the bridge, so the whole ship finds out. This results in the entire crew sucking up to Mariner, which is the sort of plotline that you’d see in a 21st-century office comedy and which does not work even a little tiny bit in the 24th century of Star Trek.

I do like, however, that Mariner and Freeman discuss one of the things that we’ve seen a lot in Star Trek, which is that sometimes Starfleet doesn’t do follow through all that well. This is perhaps most obviously seen in Khan’s fate following “Space Seed,” as established in The Wrath of Khan. It’s also seen in this episode when the Cerritos has to go to Beta 3 to remind the people there to not follow Landru again, not to mention underestimating the Pakleds. Freeman is determined to follow up on things and to use Mariner’s proclivity for breaking the rules to accomplish it. This strikes me as the fodder for many season two plots…

The question is whether or not Boimler will be there. In the end, he’s transferred over to Titan, where he seems to be thriving now that he’s away from Mariner. This is a good move for the character, and honestly a good one for the show. Tendi and Rutherford are way more interesting. I fear, however, that the second season will contrive to get Boimler back on the Cerritos and be abused by Mariner. I hope I’m wrong, because that toxic friendship is pretty much played out, and the show could use a different direction.

One other side plot that worked despite itself was the journey of Ensign Peanut Hamper. An exocomp—from the TNG episode “The Quality of Life“—she chose that name because it’s apparently a mathematically perfect one, based on a study of all Federation languages. The biggest problem with this plot is that the exocomps in the TNG episode were not sentient. But it works anyhow, because Kether Donohue does such a fantastic job with Peanut Hamper’s voice, from her initial eagerness to her frustration with her inability to manipulate tools (what with not having limbs or hands or anything) to her being incredibly brilliant at medicine to her selfish (and insubordinate) refusal to help the crew and beaming herself off the ship so she doesn’t get killed. That last part backfires rather spectacularly, as the Cerritos is able to escape and Peanut Hamper is left floating alone in space.

Yeah, now that I wrote that out, that plotline doesn’t work, either, but Donohue is so good I almost don’t care.

Ultimately, this season finale is Lower Decks in a nutshell. There are funny parts (every bit with Ransom is comedy gold, but my favorite is the fact that he’s shirtless and working out while going over Boimler and Mariner’s dual requests to transfer to the Sacramento, though, “Setting my fists to stun and my kicks to kill” is a close second), and some hilarious touches (Mariner leaving bits of contraband all over the ship), but too many other parts that are just off, and the attempt to crowbar tragedy into a goofy workplace comedy doesn’t really succeed.

Credit: CBS

Random thoughts:

  • The Solvang is a brand-new ship, and Captain Dayton wants to keep it seeming new for as long as possible. She doesn’t peel the plastic covering off the displays and makes everyone take their shoes off when they enter the bridge.
  • I have no trouble believing that the same Riker who cleaned up at Quark’s, and who generally was willing to do whatever was necessary to get the job done would be one of Mariner’s primary sources of contraband…
  • Jonathan Frakes has now appeared as the person born as William T. Riker on six shows: The Next Generation (every episode), Deep Space Nine (“Defiant“), Voyager (“Death Wish“), Enterprise (“These are the Voyages…”), Picard (“Nepenthe,” “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2“), and Lower Decks. There’s still time for him to appear on Short Treks, and hell, you could probably contrive to have him appear in some form on Discovery in some kind of historical document now that they’re nine centuries in the future.
  • Marina Sirtis has now appeared as Deanna Troi on five shows: TNG (most every episode), Voyager (“Pathfinder,” “Life Line,” “Inside Man”), Enterprise (“These are the Voyages…”), Picard (“Nepenthe”), and Lower Decks.
  • I first discovered the magnificent Kether Donohue on You’re the Worst, a hilarious comedy series on F/X that I strongly recommend. (You can read my review of the first four seasons of the show on my Patreon, and I do intend to review the fifth and final season soon.)
  • The only sucking-up-to-Mariner scene I liked was with Lieutenant Steve Levy, who thinks that Wolf 359 was an inside job and that Changelings aren’t real and the Dominion War didn’t happen. I don’t know why, but the idea of a reality-denying conspiracy theorist in the Star Trek universe appeals to me for some reason, especially given how batshit crazy many of the things Trek characters encounter are.
  • The episode opens on Beta 3 from the original series episode “Return of the Archons,” with Freeman lecturing the Betans on not going back to worshipping Landru, and also threatening Landru with another paradox if he doesn’t behave. Also when Freman and Ransom look at the records of the era, the picture of Kirk and Spock has them rendered the way they were in the animated series. Oh, and Ransom refers to that time period as the TOS era: Those Old Scientists…..
  • When informed that Badgey is going to kill them all by Rutherford, Shaxs’s response is “Not if I have anything to scream about it.” I love Shaxs. I will miss Shaxs.
  • Riker is late for bridge duty on Titan because he was on the holodeck re-creating Archer’s Enterprise, which we also saw Riker doing in “These are the Voyages…” Riker comments that it’s been a long road getting from there to here
  • Titan is headed to Tolgana IV, which Riker tells Troi has a Little Risa. Troi then asks if they should bring the little horga’hn, but Riker says to just take the one they always use. Wah-HEY!
  • If you want to read more adventures of the U.S.S. Titan, I strongly recommend the novels featuring that ship, starting with the aforementioned Taking Wing, and also including The Red King by Mangels & Martin; Orion’s Hounds and Over a Torrent Sea by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett; Sword of Damocles by Geoffrey Thorne; Synthesis, Sight Unseen, and The Poisoned Chalice by James Swallow; Fallen Gods and Seize the Fire by Martin; Absent Enemies by John Jackson Miller; and the Destiny trilogy and Fortune of War all by David Mack (who is a consultant for Lower Decks).

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest book is on sale soon from eSpec Books: To Hell and Regroup, written with David Sherman, the final book in Sherman’s “18th Race” trilogy of military science fiction novels. Ordering information here.

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