“Terminal Provocations” repurposes Star Trek‘s most iconic symbol while making the usual point about what it really means to be a part of Starfleet.
This recap of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, episode 6, “Terminal Provocations”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
As with all the Star Trek spin-offs released under the CBS brand, Lower Decks received a generous amount of stick from precious longstanding fans about how it wasn’t really Trek and the world had no use of such a thing. But unlike Discovery and Picard, which made earnest attempts to really earn their stripes despite the backlash, Lower Decks has kind of reveled in poking fun at the idea of itself as a Trojan horse snuck into the official canon. Never has that been more true than in Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 6, “Terminal Provocations”, which takes the image most singularly redolent with the franchise’s underlying values – that of the communicator icon, or combadge – and turns it into a sentient nutcase murderer.
The way the episode gets to this feels pretty Star Trek, though. Badgey is basically a riff on Microsoft’s Clippy that Rutherford has invented to lead ensigns through a virtual training program. He’s a chirpy, corny little guide for Tendi as she learns how to spacewalk since apparently she never passed the training for it. It’s a work-in-progress holodeck program that has to keep stopping to load and never quite works as intended, which is a funny Star Trek joke in and of itself, and also telling of Rutherford’s character, who deep down knows the program isn’t ready but wants to show it to Tendi regardless, in part to help her out but also, frankly, to show off.
Naturally, it all goes wrong, not necessarily in a way that’s Rutherford’s fault – the USS Cerritos engages in battle, sending its systems, including the holodeck’s safety controls, completely haywire – but in a way that definitely exposes the mistake he made in allowing Tendi to use it. The whole ridiculous process of Badgey getting steadily more bonkers is pretty funny as such things go, and burns a lot of familiar tropes for fuel. It eventually amounts to Rutherford wringing Badgey’s neck in his arms, wailing at the tragedy of it all, and even though when the system reboots Badgey’s back, much the same as he was pre-rampage, there’s a little hint that he’s still nuts. I laughed, anyway.
Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 6 makes no secret of the fact that this is largely functional; it’s setting up a Rutherford/Tendi romance since we need one somewhere and we’ll never get it between Mariner and Boimler. Speaking of those two, they get the A-plot again in “Terminal Provocations”, but I found it less interesting this week because it’s a rather trite insistence that being honest and working with your friends is always better than trying to hide your mistakes. This is exemplified by Ensign Fletcher, one of Boimler’s mates who’s a nice, easy-going sort of chap, but is largely incompetent and can’t keep his anger in check. Mariner and Boimler accept his offer of covering for them while they attend a concert and then they have to spend the rest of the episode trying to correct his mistakes while begging him to just take ownership of them and help out. Frustration on the part of Boimler and Mariner and indeed the audience is the whole point here, and I’m not sure that’s what I want from my light-hearted animated entertainment. It was annoying in large part because it was so obvious where it was going and what the conclusions it was going to draw would be.
Those conclusions are pretty on-brand, at least, since they were just a reiteration of the idea that you don’t have to be totally by-the-book to still uphold the priorities and values of Starfleet. The whole first season – we’re over halfway through now, so I think it’s safe to make those kinds of macro statements – has been about the same thing, especially in regards to the maverick Mariner and the square Boimler. If there’s one thing I’d change about Lower Decks it’s how it presents this as new every time, rather than just different examples of the same theme. I’m okay with it cropping up often since it’s surprisingly fertile territory, but I just get the sense that Lower Decks thinks it’s ever-so-slightly cleverer than it actually is.
Still, it’s clever enough. The jokes land, the ideas are good, and it’s pitched in a just-right space between earnestly loving Star Trek and being able to admit what’s ridiculous about it. I’m happy with that balance, and I’m enjoying the show a fair bit. Even better, I suspect there’s probably a lot more good stuff to come from it.
Thanks for reading our recap of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, episode 6, “Terminal Provocations”. For more recaps, reviews, and original features covering the world of entertainment, why not follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page?
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.