Violence in Star Trek: Lower Decks as a Perceived Reflection of Innate Impulses
In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode, “Terminal Provocations,” (2020) Ensign Rutherford introduces Ensign Tendi to his interactive holodeck Starfleet training program that has an interface character, Badgey. Badgey exists as a generic interactive tool. Badgey is just like the browser from which you enter commands to reveal and expose new holodeck training environments. However, through the ever popular holodeck malfunction scenario, safety protocols are lost and Badgey develops a personality that is determined to harm others.
There is a course load of imposing precedence with officers stuck in holodecks programs that have become danger zones. From Star Trek: The Next Generation we have “Ship in a Bottle” (1993) where the character of Moriarty takes control of Enterprise. From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine we have “Our Man Bashir” (1995) where again the holodeck safety protocols are lost and Dr. Bashir and Elim Garak must carefully navigate the storyline without harming the captive crewmates. From Star Trek: Voyager we have “Worst Case Scenario” (1997) where the holo-program was sabotaged by former crewmate Seska in order to inflict as much damage as possible and trap those in the program. When just these examples (there are others) there is ample evidence that sometimes holo-programs manifest into immediate danger and here in “Terminal Provocations” that danger is illustrated through the holo-character of Badgey.
I have commented before on violence taking on different proportions in more recent Star Trek iterations, such as Star Trek: Picard when Seven of Nine kills Icheb. It should also be noted that despite the franchise’s very public intentions to be socially progressive programming in the premier episode of Star Trek: Picard a black man is killed in the first five minutes of “Remembrance,” (2020) which sets the tone for the hypocritical nature of insisting on a future of paradise while embracing exploitative exhibition. To demonstrate that the Federation must fight either Cardassians or Romulans or The Dominion in order to preserve the freedoms they enjoy is just one element of reflecting reality and I cannot fault them for as Star Trek also often demonstrates a solution to this violence-narrative and they indeed try or even succeed in resolving conflict. However, with newer Star Trek episodes violence appears to be more in the tone of violence for the sake of violence.
In “Terminal Provocations” there are three storylines. There is a tradition in Star Trek to maintain an A and B storyline in an episode. Arguably here there is a C plot, however, it is difficult to tell which is a A plot and which is the B plot. On the surface it would make more sense that Captain Freeman’s interactions with the Drookmani would take the lead as the A story. However, little time is devoted to this series of incidents. Still, the rest of the entire moving plots resolve around it leading us to believe that Ensign Mariner’s and Ensign Boimler’s adventurous interplay with Fletcher is the B line, but more time is devoted to how that interaction mingles within the rest of the play set from a more dominant glance.
What I found most violent, apart from the actual inclusion of animated blood, is Rutherford’s execution of Badgey. It is a violent scene in which Badgey repeated declares the different ways he will inflict consequential harm on Rutherford.
The scene and plotline is resolved with Rutherford breaking Badgey’s neck as seen below.
This immediately recalls Worf breaking Weyoun’s neck in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Strange Bedfellows” (1999).
To impose violence on the viewer is exploitation and nothing less. Reflecting images of violence masks true violence.
You can reflect violence without seeking to replicate it. To indulge in violence only reflects that the artist does not understand violence and how it intersects life. There is no common interest in gratuitous violence for the course of the matter and to do so is not art, but exploitation.
The violence coming from Badgey as a violence-source and equally the violence directed towards Badgey with his murder demonstrates our perceived collective intention towards violence. It is not real. While there is the firm impression from various media sources, literary giants, the recitations of philosophers and adulated thinker-prize winners, the possession of violence is cyclical, not natural. It can be withdrawn from collective society through processes that start, first, with an examination of the construct of violence. For more on these thoughts please visit my other project postviolence.com.
However, because violence is cyclical it is assumed we are violent by nature and that therefore our art must reflect these tendencies in order for the subject, in this case the Star Trek viewer, to understand and relate to the characterizations and plot developments. It is my dearest hope this failed philosophy will one day perish. It can be stated violence resonates but it is perceived, mutually – between artist/creator and viewer/participant – to be a naturally occurring discourse and in a way they are correct. Because it is fed into, there is an agreement that it is reality and with that mutual cooperation violence sustains itself.
However, there is hope, yet. The witnessing that Mariner and Boimler participate in, observing and acknowledging Fletcher’s mania, give us a sign that violence in ill-formed placement of tangible traits do not belong on the ship. Through Mariner’s and Boimler’s observation and shared declaration that Flether does not belong they are forming a pact of condemn violence-customs and violent traits, as, after all, it was Fletcher’s intentional errors that holistically cause the cycle of violence in “ Terminal Provocations.” Their rejection of Fletcher indicates a dispassion with the error of violence and restores the optimism that Star Trek represents about the future of humanity.