One of the things I love about Lower Decks is how it shows us stuff we always knew had to be happening aboard Starfleet vessels, but had just never been shown on screen before. In episode 1, we saw the inevitable second contact with an alien world; in episode 2, it was a case of drunk driving. In episode 3, we see that Montgomery Scott wasn’t the only Starfleet officer to figure out that he could pad his time estimates and look like a miracle worker.
In a story premise that wouldn’t feel out of place on The Office, the crew of the Cerritos is pushed to their limits. It’s a simple story idea turned into another classic Star Trek premise, recalling The Next Generation’s “Night Terrors” or Voyager’s “Scientific Method.” Mariner and Boimler are at the center of the story’s A- and B-plots; and while one is instrumental in solving a crisis, the other learns a valuable lesson (maybe) and neither is entirely happy at the end of the episode.
“Temporal Edict” is perhaps a bit more zany than I want to see in my Star Trek, and again suffers for being too short, but it executes its premise well and the comedy lands quite adeptly. Even if I consider it the weakest episode of the series thus far, it’s still really good; and, in the great tradition of Star Trek, asks really interesting questions.
In this case, that question is “what if a first century Jewish holiness sect was put in charge of a state-of-the-art Starfleet vessel?”
Spoiler warning: plot and ending details for “Temporal Edict” follow.
Originally formed to maintain a commitment to God amid encroaching Greek thought, the Pharisees were actually quite winsome and welcoming…at first. They’ve been described as a “Back to the Bible” club; a holiness sect desperately trying to point Israel back to God.
But by the time Jesus came onto the scene, the Pharisees had expanded God’s law outward, making rules upon His rules that constrained the faithful even further and insisting on blind adherence to their rules, whether or not those rules even made sense.
After Captain Freeman loses an opportunity she had hoped desperately for, and Boimler accidentally tells her about “Buffer Time,” Freeman turns the Cerritos into a pharisaical hellscape; even though her rules aren’t Starfleet regulations, she’s put these rules in a place over and above those regulations and expects her crew to follow them blindly rather than trusting in their training and judgment. She thinks this will increase productivity and improve the Cerritos’ standing within the fleet, but reality neglects to cooperate.
Just like in our world, working people to the bone with no relief or attempt to understand, disregarding their individual skills and gifts, and refusing to allow grace for mistakes and the unexpected is not exactly the best way to run a team. The Cerritos crew is overworked, exhausted, and still way behind; they even cause a diplomatic incident. Further, like an overstressed immune system, when invaders come aboard, they’re completely unable to repel them.
They’re falling apart, and all because of the added rules Freeman put on the people. It’s a Starfleet form of legalism, and just like the Pharisees’ version, it’s completely unsustainable.
For most of the crew, at least. Ensign Boimler, though, is walking the halls with a smug sense of superiority on his face. He’s able to cope. He’s able to take on more work, even as everyone around him is tripping over themselves to accomplish their assigned tasks. He proudly reports in his log that he’s doing great and even tells the Captain that this has been “the best week of my life.” While he can handle it, he’s becoming insufferable.
On the planet below, though, Mariner is the opposite; she tries to convince Commander Ransom that her antagonism to authority and allergy to adjudication are actually an asset. She runs from rules and regulations, and seeks a “seat-of-your-pants” approach to getting things done. But she realizes that ignoring regulations completely isn’t always the best answer, and is forced—at swordpoint—to let him act. It turns out to be a good idea.
Through the best of intentions, we can come up with rules and regulations for ourselves or others, and insist that those around us have to talk the right way, vote the right way, think the right way if they’re going to be a Christian. At our most skillful we can even weave rules that look more like freedom, insisting that you must not trust Jesus if you follow the rules He wrote. But placing new weight on top of God’s rules—a yoke Jesus calls easy and light—turns the Good News of the Gospel into just more heft to lug around. But those who can do it become prideful, and those who can’t are destroyed by their doing.
Thankfully, there is hope: Jesus died, not only for those who break the rules, but for those who follow them, too. Jesus’ sacrifice frees us from the penalty for trying and failing, and from not trying at all. When we miss out on that truth, the Gospel ceases to be Good News and just becomes another sect of pharisaism, albeit with Jesus’ name on it.
“Get back to your station and do whatever you deem right.”
—Freeman, “Temporal Edict”
And He didn’t leave us here with only rules and regulations to help us. He didn’t intend that we face our world and life alone. He didn’t intend for us to be shredded by the blades of legalism or puffed to explosion with the air of pride, so Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit who not only communicates the character of God and moves us to action, but shows us how to follow those guiding stars so that we don’t need to follow man-made rules.
When we listen rightly to the Spirit and act in His power, the things we deem right are the things of God; and that’s how we end up in His rest. No buffer time required.