Sci-fi double: Star Trek – Lower Decks (S4, E1-2) and Invasion (S2, E3)

(courtesy IMP Awards)

Star Trek Lower Decks season 4, episode 1: “Twovix”
Lower Decks is back, ready to fill the Star Trek-sized hole left in our viewing hearts by the end of Strange New Worlds‘ diversely creative second season. And what a return it is. Pivoting on the love the show’s writers have always had for the franchise in all its many forms, “Twovix” is a gloriously chaotic, endlessly funny and maybe just a little bit serious tipping of the hat to Star Trek: Voyager and in particular, the 40th episode in the show, “Tuvix” where a transporter accident involving Neelix (Ethan Phillips), Tuvox (Tim Russ) and the stray petal of a highly nutritional plant created a merged being which naturally Star Trek protocols demanded must be respected as a new form of sentient life. UNLESS you are Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), and figure the best way to fix the great big DNA soup is to murder Tuvix and get two of her personnel back. Now that’s left field but as the crew of the USS Ceritos observe, lots of strange sh*t went down on Voyager and this is no different. That’s not quite what happens here thanks to quick thinking and a delightful mix of logic and empathy by best science buds, D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) and T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz) but it’s not far off in an episode that sees Voyager, now remade as a museum with exhibits aplenty and some artistic license taken by highly strung curator, become a place of pure anarchy with a Borg-infused macrovirus running riot, holodeck characters multiplying and setting course for a very dangerous place indeed and Boimler (Jack Quiad), sweet Boimler, looking set to blow his promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade. All he has to do the day all this chaos takes place is not mess up, says Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell), which is highly unlikely. Ha! Has he seen how quickly and hilariously a Lower Decks episode can escalate? VERY QUICKLY, and so “Twovix” does with Boimler promotion looking doomed; well, that is until Mariner (Tawny Newsome) gives him a pep talk and it’s crisis averted? Best left to the watching but suffice to say this is a magnificently strong, very funny start to Lower Deck‘s fourth season, which has all the characters except for dear sweet Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) getting long wished-for promotions to Lieutenant junior grade (big changes! BIG as Gizmodo beautifully explains), a homage to yet another part of the sprawlingly good Star Trek franchise and our characters back to being best friends and saviours of the episode. It’s a ton of fun and augurs well for a return-to-form fourth season after the wonderful but patchy exploits of the third.

Star Trek Lower Decks season 4, episode 2: “I Have No Bones, Yet I Must Flee”
One of the things that’s an absolute hoot about Lower Decks is the way it slips in references to all kinds of Star Trek lore. In the case of “I Have No Bones, Yet I Must Flee”, that’s an hilarious aside about the way that humans somehow keep ending up in alien zoos aka menagerie (and not related, a gloriously good throwback involving Ransom and Shaxs, voiced by Fred Tatasciore, to an old TNG episode; for more, see the video below). Step out of the upload beam people! Nope, too late, and so, in this episode that features the CUTEST bone-sucking creature you’ve ever seen, Mariner, who’s convinced that Ransom means to get rid of her and so sets out to be as disruptive and insubordinate as possible since she’s about to be demoted anyway she figures, her boss and an anonymous ensign who’s thrilled and then not-so-thrilled to be on an away mission, must go to an alien zoo and rescue yet more captive humans. It’s all very pedestrian … until, it’s not, and while it looks like Mariner started all this by releasing the creatures, thing are not as straightforward as they seem and it all ends with Mariner perhaps realising that being her own worst enemy is maybe not the wisest of life strategies. It’s always great to see real character growth occurring and while the promotions are a great step forward in changing the character dynamics of the show, they won’t mean much if everyone keeps acting in the same old way. Thankfully, this episode means that some more maturity might be on the way for everyone which can only be a good thing. Meanwhile, back on the Cerritos, Rutherford’s desperately trying to get his promotion to Lieutenant junior grade by besting the wunderkind new engineering marvel, which isn’t going well until something D’Vana says reminds him he’s been recommended for promotion multiple times – all turned down because he didn’t want to leave his ensign peeps behind – for some HUGE achievements. Promotion in the bag, all that’s left is to find he and Boimler someplace good to live (a very funny running gag sees the hapless Boimler given rooms next to the nacelle and also in-between the holodecks, which is noisy and totes awkward). While all this is going on, some mysterious ship is blasting Klingon and Romulan ships out of existence – hilariously, each ships features their own lower deck doppelgangers, each with their own twist culturally relevant to the species in the spotlight – which is going to give us a tasty arc upon which to hang all kinds of narrative arcs going forward.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is currently streaming on Paramount+

Invasion S2, E3: ‘Fireworks”

When something as cataclysmically world-ending as an alien invasion takes place, it’s generally the kind of thing that doesn’t come with a whole lot of up moments. Sure there are films like Independence Day where humanity lucks out, a virus crashes the aliens’ woefully unprotected software and ships crash and we’re saved or there’s The War of the Worlds where virus do the war winning for us, but by and large, we are royally, you know, and there’s not a lot left to be said beyond “see you later universe and best of luck to everyone bar the scummy race of aliens who ended it all for us”. But in the third episode of Invasion‘s still meditative but things are really happening second seasons, we actually get a win, a big win, and not the illusory kind that marked the end of season one where one downed ship seemed to signal the end of hostilities. It did not, of course – bummer of a cliffhanger, Hal – and after a few hundred million more of us shuffled us this mortal coil in body-skewering alien-assisted fashion, we regrouped and sharp minds like Mitsuki Yamato (Shioli Kutsuna), albeit quite unwillingly at first on account of being kidnapped by a devil-may-care billionaire named Nikhil Kapoor (Shana Zazza) got to work to determine if the invaders had kinks in their armour and whether if they did, how to exploit them to our advantage. Ex-marine Trevante Cole (Shamier Anderson) is also on the road to figuring it all out, although being stuck in a jail cell in nowhere Oklahoma isn’t helping him make much progress, with the military hiding things at their base, and the admin Rose Calloway (Nedra Marie Taylor), who you may recall worked with now abducted Sheriff Jim Bell Tyson (Sam Neill) from way back at the start of season one, disinclined to free him.

The thing is though that unlike many of the people who have chosen to pay ’til they die, Mitsuki and Trevante are trying to do something to fight back, and however successful they turn out to be, the fact that they are doing something is damn impressive. Thankfully, we don’t just have to stand back in admiration and awe because (a) Mitsuki discover some pretty key things that make a HUGE difference ———- SPOILER ALERT !!!!! ———- pssst! She works out the frequency they use to cloak themselves and hack a distress signal from the downed alien ship she’s working in, hacks the mother ship and blows SH*T UP! Huzzah! and (b) Tervante, having convinced Rose to help him, uses his book to work out that the dates on which all 37 of the local missing townspeople were abducted appear in the sketch by a still comatose (in Paris; though we don’t see him or his pals on the way to rescue him) Casper Morrow (Billy Barratt). Not only are things HAPPENING but there’s a delicious sense of victory maybe impending and a mystery unfolding too and while poor old Aneesha Malik (Golshifteh Farahani) doesn’t get to do much more than look sullen and survivor-ish, you get the sense she’s about to be looped into it too (especially when something tragic, or possibly tragic happens to her) … somehow in the midst of all this exciting forward progression, Invasion keeps its thoughtful ruminative air intact, giving it that rare thing in TV these days – atmosphere and narrative in perfect, highly agreeable tension – which no doubt is leading us to somewhere thrillingly exciting and hopefully deeply satisfying indeed …

Invasion is streaming on AppleTV+ with episode four due to land next Wednesday AU time …

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