Star Trek Lower Decks Recap: “Temporal Edict” puts a pin on ‘buffer time’

Star Trek Lower Decks Episode 3 "Temporal Edict" -- Pictured (L-R) Nol Wells as Ensign Tendi, Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler, Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner and Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. Photo Cr: Best Possible Screen Grab CBS 2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Boimler’s rule-following puts the ship in danger, and Mariner and Ransom compare battle scars on an alien planet.

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After last week, it’s clear that Star Trek: Lower Decks is content to merely exist in the shadow of Treks before, to play within the tropes and nostalgic imagery of shows past without forging a destiny of its own. It’s hard to know how to feel about that, honestly. On the one hand, episodes like this week’s “Temporal Edict” could serve as fun little morality plays on the foibles of Starfleet from the perspective of its lowest members. Unfortunately, the half-assed Rick and Morty-ness of it all gets in the way, leading to yet another show more interested in making references than telling jokes.

This week, Starfleet bumps the U.S.S. Cerritos last-minute from a high-profile negotiation on Cardassia Prime to make a milk run delivering gifts to the Galrakians. It’s a source of consternation for Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), who desperately wants the Cerritos to be more than the “the funniest joke in all of Starfleet.”

But inspiration strikes when she bumps into Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid) in the elevator, and he lets slip that the rest of the down-line workers engage in “buffer time.” Which, of course, is that classic Montgomery Scott practice of inflating repair estimates so you look like a miracle worker for getting the job done early. (Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) refers to it as ‘creative estimating’.)

“Temporal Edict” — Pictured Jerry O’Connell as Commander Jack Ransom of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. Photo Cr: Best Possible Screen Grab CBS 2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Naturally, Freeman puts in a ‘temporal edict’ demanding the end of buffer time, putting everyone on extended shifts and strict timelines for their work. Cut to one week later, and the strictness of the edict has left the crew frazzled, rushed, and exhausted. (Except for Boimler, of course, who carries a level of insufferability about productivity that would impress even the most fastidious Vulcan.)

Of course, putting a Starfleet crew on a crunch schedule any AAA games developer would envy has its drawbacks, especially when Commander Ransom’s (Jerry O’Connell) away team accidentally packs the wrong gift for the Galrakians, thus offending them. He and Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome) get captured, and the rest of the Galrakians invade the ship.

And here’s where “Temporal Edict” gets even weirder: Freeman demands that her crew keep up their maintenance schedules even while an alien force is destroying the ship. Look, I get that suspension of disbelief is a thing, and sometimes you have to go with the conceit of an episode, especially in a wacky animated comedy. But to this, I offer a mighty come on — I’ve seen my fair share of stubborn Starfleet admirals and captains in my day, but to give Freeman such a massive lapse in obvious judgment, just to make the show’s basic premise work, is incredibly sloppy. All Boimler has to do is tell Freeman that she’s already a great captain (which lol, given the state she put the ship in), and she orders the crew to remove the Galrakians with incredible speed.

Ugh, I feel like a shrieking nerd even bringing this up. But it’d be quite different if the gags themselves worked; if the scenario was funny, I really wouldn’t mind!

The half-assed Rick and Morty-ness of it all gets in the way, leading to yet another show more interested in making references than telling jokes.

Slightly more interesting, mostly due to O’Connell and Newsome’s admirable chemistry, is the life-or-death scenario on Galrak Five. It’s a classic “high-concept fight” to the death, which lets writer Mike McMahan go full Original Series on us. Here, Ransom and Mariner begin the almost-predictable level of sexual tension, reflected in their similarities: they’re both hot-headed ‘cool guy’ crewmembers whose real talents often go unremarked.

Still, in classic Trek fashion, Ransom fights a big, dumb monster named Vindor to earn their freedom, with nothing more than no shirt and interlocked fists, Shatner-style. And it turns out that Mariner’s into that kind of Kirkian himbo action. (Though I wish the script didn’t make her verbalize it so obviously.)

Between Ransom besting the monster, and Freeman letting her crew loosen up, things go back to normal. Freeman even rewards Boimler with a new edict — “The Boimler Effect”, which encourages crew members to look for shortcuts to make their job easier. This, frustratingly, causes Boimler some consternation: Dude, you saved the day, just take the win. That might be the most annoying thing about Boimler, really; every episode, he proves himself to be a stuffy, inflexible incompetent with enormous anxiety issues, and every problem he solves is one he directly causes. We’d better start to see some self-reflection out of him, or else he’s going to grate quickly.

But so it goes with “Temporal Edict” and Lower Decks as a whole, a show content to remind you of Trek series past without forging ahead on its own or even treating its own characters with any sort of real care. I get that these episodes only have 25 minutes to work, but given the robust universe in which they get to jet around, I’m expecting more at this point. Let’s hope this groundwork gets laid quickly so we can get to the good stuff: after all, we’ve only got ten episodes this season. There are some good bones here, to pardon the pun — the cast is charming, the animation style is nice, and McMahan and the writers clearly love Star Trek. They just have to figure out what Lower Decks is going to be besides an Easter egg fest.

Ensign’s Log:

  • The cold open feels like the millionth iteration of Boimler and Mariner’s static dynamic: Boimler hosts an awkward, boring violin/riverdance recital called “Requiem for a Hug,” and Mariner cuts him off with some power chords from an electric guitar so loud they rattle the ship (and apparently the sound travels through space to a nearby Klingon ship, the implications of which I won’t even touch). I get the dig at the boring recitals on TNG, but again, references aren’t enough.
  • That said, I would indeed like some replicator margs, please and thank you.
  • “We live on a spaceship! You’re not dying of a spear wound!” is an actually funny dig at common Trek tropes, so I appreciated it.
  • I’m still waiting for them to do…. anything interesting with Rutherford or Tendi (Noël Wells).
  • The last-minute cut to “the far future” was very Family Guy, and also very sloppy. We already know how Boimler (seen scared by a bald eagle, aka “one of the Great Birds of the Galaxy”) will be remembered by history now, so why bother with stakes? Though they are correct that Miles O’Brien is “the most important person in Starfleet history.”

Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 3, “Temporal Edict” Trailer:

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