A race for comfy new quarters and a chance for nerds to relax leave things light but entertaining.
Lower Decks is tons of fun when it features explosive, albeit loony, adventures across the quadrant. It can also be stealthily poignant when it takes a break from the hijinks to offer some committed character development. But sometimes, the show is at its best when it delivers a low-stakes escapade with only minor, if entertaining, obstacles for our heroes to overcome.
That’s the case in “Room for Growth,” where Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Boimler (Jack Quaid), and Tendi (Noël Wells) embark on an epic quest to…secure private rooms on deck 1. Look, that change of scenery is a big deal when the junior officers aboard the Cerritos are overcrowded in their bunks during their “workhorse” shift. (Especially when a big honking spoof of “Masks” from The Next Generation rolls through the corridor!) But at the end of the day, we’re talking about some fancy living space, not life-or-death confrontations or galaxy-hopping pursuits.
And yet, the show plays the premise to the hilt. The trio of ensigns must race through the hidden spaces on the ship to beat the dastardly Delta Shift and reach the computer terminal that can guarantee them their own rooms. The mission is a good excuse to send our heroes through the unusual corners of the Cerritos, with entertaining, but not particularly dangerous, environments to withstand en route to their goal.
Each of the gang’s stops along the way is a hoot. A sneak through the holodeck forces them to dodge Dr. Tiana’s (Gillian Vigman) and Shax’s (Fred Tatasciore) bullet-slinging, Bonnie & Clyde-style foreplay, where the relationship talk is as terrifying as the projectiles. There’s a Willy Wonka-like quality to their visit to the ship’s swamp zone (which exists both for hydroponics purposes and to take shots at Keiko O’Brien), as it turns into a psychedelic trip for Boimler and Mariner. Their hallucinations let the show get funky with its visuals while Tendi drags her allies to fresh oxygen, giving the incident just enough stress to be exciting.
Likewise, the fun of a special low-gravity room on the ship (with shades of Mayweather from Enterprise) sees the rebirth of Bradward as “Anti-Grav Boimler” alongside his amusing acrobatics. But things turn more perilous when Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) turns on the deflector, and the room becomes a centrifuge. Tendi and Mariner stripping to their skivvies to forge a tether and rescue Boimler feels a little gratuitous. But again, seeing these friends explore the ship together and go on misadventures as a group is a fun lark, even when the threats are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.
Once more, the perils here aren’t especially high, but there’s an insight into nerdy problem-solvers at the core of the subplot.
The stakes in the B-story are relatively small as well. After working around the clock to clean up after Captain Freeman’s (Dawnn Lewis) mask-related mishaps, the Cerritos’ Engineering department is exhausted. Recognizing her team’s weariness, Carol orders a mandatory vacation at DOVE, a special spa and relaxation center that uses science to help de-stress officers from across the galaxy. The only problem is — this gaggle of devoted nerds can’t stop engineering, even when they’re supposed to be on vacation.
The setup is a recipe for more entertaining antics. Unfortunately, the rhythm of the subplot is a touch predictable. Every time, the head of the relaxation center devises some standard treatment like sand art, massages, or mani-pedis. Then, Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and Lt. Cmdr. Billups (Paul Scheer) find some way to turn it into an excuse for problem-solving, thereby frustrating Captain Freeman’s efforts to force her subordinates to stop tinkering and start chilling.
The narrative twists are top-notch, though. It turns out Carol herself is a big bundle of repressed tension after all she’s been through. Ironically, her officers’ inability to fully commit to relaxation is the last straw before her own full-blown, puppy-resistant meltdown. The engineers’ epiphany that problem-solving is their method of relaxation dovetails neatly with their decision to build a fancy anti-stress contraption that relaxes Captain Freeman in seconds. The ploy allows her and them to return to duty.
Once more, the perils here aren’t especially high, but there’s an insight into nerdy problem-solvers at the core of the subplot. More than that, the storyline provides plenty of chances for silly mischief and genuine compassion along the way.
Seeing these friends explore the ship together and go on misadventures as a group is a fun lark, even when the threats are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.
The same goes for the ensigns back on the Cerritos. A stop in a time-release air vent forces them to spend a moment with three of their Delta Shift rivals as both groups wait for their chance to sneak into the right control room. What they find amid their chat about senior officer foibles and other goofy ship-wide mishegoss is a trademark Star Trek “We’re not so different, you and I” realization. Whatever shift these ensigns happen to be on, the lower deckers have more that unites them than divides them. The epiphany is a heartening one, even if the Delta Shift snakes use the apparent camaraderie to catch our heroes off-guard and sneak into the terminal at their expense.
But when a portentously questionable stunt from the new “Bold Boimler” gives him and his allies an alternate path to victory, they discover that there’s only one room up for grabs. Rather than using their technical prowess to assign it to one of them, they decide it would make it harder to go on these sorts of capers together. Whatever the stresses of cramped quarters, Boimler, Mariner, and Tendi would rather be packed in with one another than comfy by themselves.
The show smartly cuts through the treacle when Delta Shift simply turns the open quarters into their own little clubhouse, and Rutherford rightly points out that they could all still keep hanging out anyway. But the point, and the communal warmth of the sacrifice, remain.
It’s the closeness of our usual crop of ensigns, and the challenges they face as junior officers, that keep these journeys so entertaining, whether or not there’s an enemy threat or explosive situation at play. Keeping the stakes low, the romps lighthearted, and the friendship high remains a winning play for Lower Decks and the young officers whose genuine camaraderie always buoys the series, no matter what’s at stake.