A fixture of Star Trek shows, verging on cliché, is the captain giving a rousing speech about Federation values, humanoid rights, etc. I previously noted Pike’s speech in Strange New Worlds.
But what about the other crew? Where are their speeches?
What is the Federation?
In the third episode, a hologram of Captain Janeway (technically not the captain) explains the Federation to a bunch of alien kids from the other side of the galaxy who just stole a (stolen) ship … and their hostage.
This whole episode is on YouTube. (For now.)
“You’ve Made Your Choice.”
Not so much a speech but a Big Damn Heroine moment …
Gwyn, the hostage, is the daughter of the other kids’ former master1, the Diviner. She isn’t fond of her father’s methods and doesn’t know his Master Plan, but she’s always been loyal. After a couple of adventures with her “captors”, though, her loyalties begin to shift. That she was complicit in forcing these kids into hard labor becomes impossible to ignore.
Then the Diviner left her to die in his pursuit of the ship, and her former “captors” saved her.2
Oh, and they just found out “Protostar” isn’t just a name. It’s the weird glowy thing in the engine room …
Gwyn’s my favorite character on Prodigy. For eleven minutes of Gwyn in action3, including an extended version of the scene above, watch this.
Garrovick’s Final Message
In Episode 1x13, the Protostar crew find a planet of natives influenced by a stranded ensign from the Original Series era. They call themselves Enderprizians and they study the ways of “Starflight”. Half the crew are trapped in the “forbidden zone” that causes sickness: the site of Garrovick’s wrecked shuttle, leaking radiation and about to cause a massive volcanic eruption. Dal has to maneuver the Protostar to rescue them4 but doesn’t have enough crew … so he recruits the Enderprizians.
As the shuttle is about to plunge into an abyss, the others activate Garrovick’s last message:
This is Ensign Garrovick of the USS Enterprise. This’ll be my final call to Starfleet… […] Hoping you’ll come, though I’ve long given up that anyone’ll hear it. Hope’s a funny thing, isn’t it? I tried to do my duty, salvaged what I could from the wreck, went to save the locals from the danger. Before I fell to my injuries. But then, they welcomed me, healed me, gave me hope when I had none. In the end, they were the ones who saved me.
What I like about the whole story is that the Enterprizians at first seemed like a cargo cult: emulating Starfleet (badly) in hopes that they’ll come back to help them. The story seems like a way to have some fun at the Original Series’s (and the natives’) expense. Then, before the scene above, an elder admits they know they’re not Starfleet: their technology is woefully inadequate, and their knowledge imperfect. But they know some things about medicine using their native flora and fauna.
In the end the writers subvert the hoary “ignorant natives” trope to portray an intelligent, curious people who memorized old manuals well enough to fly a starship. The Prime Directive commands Starfleet to leave such people alone until they develop their own warp drives. The damage is already done, though, and the Protostar crew, not officially Starfleet, leaves them with things to make their lives a little easier. (And the right way to do a Vulcan salute.)
The Distress Call
In “Supernova, Part 1” (1x19) an alien virus is propagating through Starfleet communication channels, making all ships fire on each other. Gwyn appeals to allies outside the Federation for help.
KLINGON: Why should I help?
GWYN: Because in the infinite of space, everyone needs to know there’s a place willing to accept us all, no matter how different we think we are.
And, whether he would have phrased it this way or not, that was Roddenberry’s ultimate vision: a star-spanning society that accepts all differences and supports even those outside itself, simply because it can.
Tendi goes to her former superior Dr. T’ana for a pep talk.
Like many Lower Decks scenes, somewhere among the screaming and chainsaws is the optimism and positivity of classic Star Trek.
“They Mess Up All The Time”
In an alien tribunal, Boimler highlights the fallibility of Starfleet officers, even the bridge crew:
They mess up all the time. […] Like when Q shows up. […] Or half of Ransom’s alien dates that he doesn’t do any research for. […] I read all their logs. They’re stepping in it all the time. […] And that’s OK."
One of the things I like about Lower Decks is that it portrays characters who aren’t infallible heroes, but flawed and in some cases dysfunctional people who still do great things despite those flaws.
Too Many Speeches?
Rewritten again 2023-09-20 for missing video.
In one story thread5 of “The Spy Humongous”6 (2x06), Boimler has fallen in with a clique of ensigns that call themselves the Redshirts because they think it makes them sound invincible. They’ve decided that looking and acting like past captains is the path to becoming a captain.
Meanwhile, Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi have been collecting dangerous space artifacts for disposal all day, and Tendi has had enough. After touching one artifact mid-rant, Tendi turns into a giant scorpion. (Not the weirdest transformation in Trek *cough* salamander *cough*.)
Luckily the Redshirts are there to “help” … by giving simultaneous “inspiring” speeches. Meanwhile Boimler, remembering Tendi’s earlier laughter when he spilled food on himself, does food-based pratfalls until the scorpion laughs … and turns back into Tendi.
The lead “Redshirt” is not pleased.
Granted, “Be your own captain” isn’t as profound as Pike’s Knowing Your Future speech, Spock’s “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, or even Kirk explaining the preamble of the U.S. Constitution to post-apocalyptic tribes who only know the garbled, ritualized version of it.
Perhaps an audience in the 21st century doesn’t need the lofty idealistic speeches. Perhaps we need the simple lessons to get through our days, reminders that even the head honchos are human7, and examples of flawed people still doing the right thing.
Who bought prisoners and orphans to work his mines and dig for the Protostar. Nice guy. ↩︎
And some out-of-order moments where her doubts grow. ↩︎
The transporters can’t cut through the radiation, naturally. ↩︎
It amazes me that a 25-minute comedy can have B and C stories. Maybe it’s because, unlike many A and B stories in Next Generation and elsewhere, the separate stories typically intersect at some point. ↩︎
Mostly about Captain Freeman trying to negotiate with the Pakleds while two officers accompany a Pakled spy the Cerritos … a story that owes far less to John LeCarre or Tom Clancy than Monty Python. ↩︎
Or Caitian. ↩︎