My teenager and I get up first thing on Thursday morning and watch Lower Decks together. This didn’t happen with Discovery and Picard, let me tell you. He thinks Discovery is unwatchable nonsense, which is even a worse estimation than mine; at least I can sit through it calculating all the ways it’s just wrong. He has no time for it at all. This didn’t happen with Picard although he at least wathed all of Season One with me, like most TNG fans, hoping, at the very least, that a Star Trek we could recognize would bubble up to the surface eventually. My kid came away from it, like we all did, thinking, “Well, that was something, and it was nice to see Riker and Troi again, but what was the point of all of that?”
But every Thursday for the last month, we get up excited to watch a new Star Trek, because despite being an animated cartoon, that’s where honest Star Trek lives, now.
I mean, let’s count all the ways, just in this episode. Right off the bat, we get a captain’s log entry from Captain Freeman. If Alex Kurtzman doesn’t understand Star Trek fundamentals, at least Mike McMahan does. Of course you can start episodes without it, but it has to be there. It has to. Such a simple thing provides a needed context for the audience. Forget that every issue is somebody’s first issue of Spider-Man, and you need to lay in the who’s who at least at the character level: good guy, bad guy, conflict, potential resolution… but the Captain’s Log isn’t just a narrative shorthand and a painless way to do a quick bit of exposition… but it is as reassuring to the audience as a hot cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie. Oh, starting off an episode with a Captain’s log entry? How we have missed you.
And who would have thought a twenty-two minute cartoon with an A and B story would dovetail so nicely thematically and resonate so powerfully for the audience in a sea of fart jokes and pratfalls? The accidental organic terrraforming of a starship is a pretty cool Star Trek danger, and the accidental spiritual enlightenment of a crew member who was faking it until he made it was almost a tear-jerking payoff for this old jerk. Riffing on the Ed Gruberman character from The Frantics’ Ti Kwan Leep sketch was amazing, as well as seeing Crewman O’Connor’s ascension punctuated by the V’Ger Energy Wink.
And, yes, Mariner learned a lesson, and Captain Freeman garnered some respect for her daughter, and Captain Tellarite gets to Starfleet the shit out of a sleeper ship…
… but if you didn’t get a wistful twinge of sadness at O’Connor’s empty boots and the little shrine his friends set up in his hallway bunk, I don’t know what McMahan and his team has to do to win you over. They are dosing us with 100% Star Trek, and that’s a fact.