Friday, August 19, 2011

Somewhere Below The Bridge, There Are People Like Us In “Lower Decks”

The Good: Idea, Basic plot, Moments of character
The Bad: Character "types" and acting
The Basics: While the main crew works on an undercover operation in relation to the Cardassians, four junior officers and their bartender try to piece together their places on the Enterprise.

Over seven years of Star Trek The Next Generation, we come to understand that the USS Enterprise is populated by over a thousand people, but the impression we are given is that no more than ten of them are really ever terribly essential. That is to say, the only characters we truly care about are the seven to ten characters we see in episode after episode. "Lower Decks" was an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation where they decided to buck the trend and show that there is more to the starship than the officers we have seen time and time again.

In "Lower Decks," the lives of four young officers are explored. They are good friends who have minimal duties aboard the ship and they compete for promotions, play cards, go to Ten Forward and do everything else with one another. This story finds them each immersed in individual pieces of a larger conspiracy story with orders to not discuss it. So, while Sam tries to curry Riker's favor, he finds himself shut out, Sito Jaxa becomes the central figure in an undercover operation, Nurse Ogawa treats an alien agent in SickBay, and Taurik the Vulcan helps Geordi prepare a shuttle to look as if it were in battle. The main energy of the story is played out in scenes where they try to talk with one another about their suspicious mission without revealing their own parts in it.

"Lower Decks" is a good idea, but it suffers from a few problems. The biggest problem is that the characters are put into the episode mostly as "types," not actual characters. So, you have the young, ambitious career man, the straight man (Taurik), the medical professional wrestling with her professional and personal ethics, and the shaken, uncertain young woman who needs an abrupt lesson in believing in herself. Add to that a young bartender and you have the pretty standard mix. Perhaps Ben, the young bartender, is the most disappointing addition to the episode. He mingles between both the junior officers and the senior officers outside any sort of StarFleet affiliation. The problem here is that he seems like a iridescent green sheep in the field when interacting with the senior officers. After all, we've never seen him before this episode, why do the writers think it's fair for us to assume he has been around and befriended the senior staff? Instead, he feels like a cheap addition, a conduit to connect the two stories. Where was Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan for this one?

Outside that, the episode suffers only in the acting. Of the junior officers, only Patti Yatusake, who has had a recurring role as Ogawa, and Shannon Fill as Sito Jaxa convince us of their characters. Yatusake is a professional, long at ease with her character, making her part in "Lower Decks" quite believable and much easier to watch than had they gone with four totally new (unique to this episode) characters. Shannon Fill played Sito Jaxa in the fifth season episode "The First Duty" (reviewed here!) which is heavily referenced in "Lower Decks." Despite her character's ridiculously easy arc of low self-confidence turning into determination to prove herself, Fill makes the character believable through her facial expressions and the passion she infuses into her eyes when she takes a stand. Her last scenes are memorable and quite believable.

The nice thing about "Lower Decks" is that it engages the viewer from the first moment. This piece connects the viewer to the world of Star Trek The Next Generation far better than any other episode. It's easy to see us, non-military, non-heroic, non-profound people in these characters who are simply going along their lives, doing their jobs. They are likable. So, it's a good idea.

Add to that, the actual plot is a neat one. The mission that is pieced together through the actions of these junior officers is a great idea and worth seeing again and again. It's a clever way to use these people we see in the background and nice to see their perspective. Had this one not come so late in the series, perhaps it would have been fun to see these officers again.

For people who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation, this is a nice way to be introduced to the series. It is a rather non-threatening episode in terms of what it expects out of the audience and it is entertaining as well. It's a fairly solid hour of drama with an interesting story that introduces the main crew in a very different light from the heroic stature they appear to have in so many other episodes.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episodes, movies or DVD set reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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