Review: Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 10 – No Small Parts – A Glimpse At What Could Have Been
The season finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks is a glimpse into what the series could have been had the writers opted for sincerity over irony.
This episode makes me so mad.
So much so that I felt the need to break my normal third-person-reviewer-voice to tell you directly, dear reader/viewer, that this episode makes me so angry.
No Small Parts begins with the reintroduction of Captain Dayton, last seen in the episode Much Ado About Boimler, as she is given command of a new Federation starship, the USS Solvang. Almost immediately upon taking command of the brand new vessel, Dayton and her crew are attacked by a Pakled ship, which proceeds to rip out the Solvang’s warp nacelle as the ship attempts to flee. This attack results in the complete destruction of the Solvang and the death of every member of its crew.
Meanwhile, a distracted Boimler leaves his combadge channel open while making fun of Mariner for being Captain Freeman’s daughter, revealing the nature of their relationship to the entire crew of the USS Cerritos.
As a result, the crew begins to bombard Mariner with gifts and special treatment in an effort to suck up to Captain Freeman. In turn, Mariner decides that the only way to avoid this attention would be to transfer to another ship and begins to straighten out her behavior in an attempt to earn a promotion to the USS Sacramento.
Suddenly, in a case of mistaken identity, the Pakleds appear before the Cerritos and begin opening fire upon the ship, believing them to be the Enterprise and seeking revenge for the humiliation caused by Captain Picard and his crew in TNG episode, Samaritan Snare.
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What ensues is a full on battle between the Cerritos and the Pakleds, complete with Mariner using her rebellious strengths to outsmart the Pakleds, Rutherford enlisting the help of Badgey (last seen in Terminal Provocations) to code a virus to destroy the Pakled ship, and Shaxs sacrificing himself to save Rutherford and ensure the Cerritos escapes intact.
However, after the Pakled ship is destroyed, the Cerritos is taken by surprise when three additional Pakled ships drop out of warp in an attempt to continue their fallen comrade’s mission. Faced with their imminent destruction, the Cerritos and her crew are rescued at the last second by the appearance of the USS Titan, piloted by William Riker and his wife, Deanna Troi. The Star Trek alumni proceed to rain down fire on the Pakleds, driving them back into warp and saving the Cerritos from total destruction.
So why does this episode make me so angry?
It’s because if the writer’s removed everything ‘ironic’ or ‘humorous’ from this episode, such as the name “Peanut-Hamper” being used by a robotic ensign, you would have a genuinely GOOD Star Trek story.
There are so many elements to this episode that feel authentically ‘Star Trek.’ The Pakleds destroying the Solvang out of their desire to ‘add’ to their ships, Rutherford’s compromise with a dangerous AI to save the crew, and even Freeman’s conclusion that they ran into trouble because Starfleet does not routinely update their records or check-in on already-contacted planets all feel like the sort of intellectual and protocol-guided conflicts that would be encountered by an official Starfleet crew in any of the classic series.
Even the references to previous Star Trek series are handled well in this episode, particularly in the appearance of Riker, Troi, and the USS Titan.
In previous episodes, nods to Star Trek’s past were thrown in the viewer’s face, to the point where it almost felt like whomever was making a given reference was directly addressing the audience and saying “HEY, REMEMBER THIS? DON’T YOU LOVE THIS? YOU LOVE THIS BECAUSE YOU REMEMBER IT!”
Conversely, in No Small Parts, these nods instead happen organically, with characters and references being brought up or appearing due to relevance to the story, rather than appearing solely to score nostalgia points with fans.
Hell, if you’d’ve asked me even one episode ago if I would have liked to see my favorite Star Trek character, Riker, appear in Lower Decks, I would have groaned, complained, and guessed that he would’ve been handled in a horribly character-destroying way.
To my surprise, his appearance, along with other references to past Star Trek media, actually made sense and seemed like a realistic moment that would occur in-between his time aboard the Enterprise and his life on Nepenthe (though the revelation that he was Mariner’s ‘mentor’ does feel a bit ‘Mary Sue’-ish).
Of course, I couldn’t review Lower Decks without gushing about how beautiful it looks, and No Small Parts is no small exception. From the explosive confrontation between the Packleds and the Starfleet ships to the crew’s hand-to-hand battle against a Packled boarding party, this episode continues to provide evidence that Lower Decks is one of the best looking animated shows on television, aside from its general Dollar-Store-Rick-and-Morty art style.
Furthermore, special mention should be made of the scene wherein Shaxs rips out Rutherford’s cybernetic implant, as this moment actually SHOWED Rutherford’s impacted and open flesh after following the implant’s removal. I definitely wasn’t expecting to actually see something so realistically brutal, but Lower Decks has proven that it’s apparently full of surprises.
There’s a lot to say about this episode, to the point where if I go on any longer, I’d end up either recapping the entire episode or falling into a rather optimistic discussion on where the series could go from here to keep up this level of quality. The most surprising thing to say, however, is that this episode was good.
And that’s why No Small Parts makes me so angry. If the entire season had even an eighth of the quality of this episode and avoided its uninspired attempts at lol-so-whacky-sitcom-humor, fans would have experienced an authentic and admittedly interesting Star Trek series.
In fact, one of my biggest criticisms for this episode is the fact that the story was compressed to a single 20-minute episode, as it could have easily been expanded into a season-long story arc, giving each emotional moment an appropriate amount of weight and sparing us all from nine-weeks of disappointment. Instead, viewers were treated to a season-long Star Trek-based comedy sketch, with about as many laughs as expected.
I cannot believe I’m optimistic for a second season, but if this episode is any indication, Lower Decks might just have the potential to become the best Star Trek series in the Kurtzman era (though, admittedly, that’s a very, very, very low bar).