“Temporal Edict” shows what happens when the rank and file can’t bend the rules, and predictably it’s nothing good.
This recap of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, episode 3, “Temporal Edict”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Temporal Edict” feels like exactly the kind of episode that Star Trek: Lower Decks was designed to showcase. Since the entire focus is on the unsung heroes of a starship like the USS Cerritos, which falls within the bureaucratic purview of a rules-and-regulations organization like Starfleet but is mostly operated by anonymous rank-and-file employees, it’s only right that we get to see what happens when the only way of doing things is by the book. And predictably, it’s nothing good.
Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 3 delights in the concept of “buffer time”, the free time the technical crewmen get after grossly overestimating how long an assigned task will take. Having Boimler, Mariner, Rutherford and Tendi sit around drinking margaritas might be a touch exaggerated, but the concept is pretty universal and will be immediately recognizable for anyone who has worked a job where menial tasks are dismissively handed down from on high. It’s a good gag within a Star Trek context just for how funny it is to imagine all this going on while, say, Kirk and Spock discuss war with the Klingons or whatever.
Of course, Boimler, being the try-hard dork that he is, rats out buffer time to Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), who goes bonkers about it and starts mandating that all tasks are completed within the assigned duration, which leads to the crew getting knackered and useless almost immediately. This, in turn, leads to a colossal blunder on a peacekeeping mission to Galrek-5, leaving Mariner and First Officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) captives of the native race, forced to fight the local hulking champion or have the away team crushed by a giant rock (there’s a good gag in “Temporal Edict” about this rock being built entirely for this purpose.)
Jack Ransom’s a muscled, square-jawed pastiche of the Captain Kirk archetype, a supposedly heroic no-man-left-behind figure whose rigid adherence to protocol has left his impressive physique free of battle scars. The all-action Mariner thinks he’s a fraud, and the big debate in their captivity is about who gets to fight the champion: Ransom, who can’t stand to let his crew endanger themselves in his place, or Mariner, who might actually win the fight. It’s the age-old debate between doing things “right” and doing things well, but the twist here is that Ransom’s actually absurdly capable, and Mariner can’t help but be impressed and a little bit turned on by his heroism, even if he had to breach procedure and stab her through the foot in order to fight in her stead.
This underlying sentiment bleeds into a closely-related B-plot, which sees Boimler back aboard the USS Cerritos trying to help stave off a hostile boarding party while Captain Freeman insists that the exhausted crew make sure to complete their assigned tasks in amongst fighting the invaders. Of course, having everything be micromanaged only results in further disaster, and it’s only by loosening the rules that the Cerritos crew are able to come together and get the job done. This comes at the reluctant suggestion of Boimler; brilliantly, the Starfleet-wide relaxing of protocol is named after him, forever immortalizing him as a maverick rule-breaker, much to his distress.
Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, episode 3 isn’t a perfect episode in and of itself, but it’s kind of a perfect episode for this show, which wants to highlight how a brand usually fastidious about rules would fare if those rules weren’t consistently broken behind the scenes.