The Inverse Interview

Why bad Star Trek movies are secretly good

Ben Rodgers, the writer of the Lower Decks episode “Crisis Point II: Paradoxus,” digs into how to love “bad” Star Trek.

Not all Star Trek movies are created equal. And some episodes of the various shows aren’t brilliant either. But in the metafictional comedy of Star Trek: Lower Decks, there’s a new way to find what’s essential and wonderful about lesser-loved Trek adventures.

To unpack why bad Star Trek movies might actually be good, Inverse caught up with Bed Rodgers, Lower Decks story editor and writer of the Season 3 banger, “Crisis Point II: Paradoxus,” to go deep on share our pain on the true underdogs of the canon of Trek.

Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 8.

Stevens (Ben Rodgers) and Ransom (Jerry O'Connell.)Paramount+

In Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 8, we once again head back to the holodeck, for another “holo-movie,” which has been created by one of the characters. In the Season 1 episode “Crisis Point,” this holodeck movie was written and created by Mariner (Tawny Newsome). But this time, Boimler (Jack Quaid) is in charge of the narrative.

The result is a bevy of Easter eggs referencing some of the sillier Trek adventures, as well as friendly digs to other wonky aspects of the canon. But throughout it all, there are also two poignant stories:

  1. Boimler dealing with the sudden death of transporter duplicate, William.
  2. Tendi trying to convince Rutherford to take her seriously as a possible commanding officer.

Ben Rodgers, the writer of this episode, has been working on Lower Decks since Season 1. In addition to working as story editor and writing an episode in each season, he’s also the voice of Stevens, the guy on the Cerritos who is obsessed with being Ransom’s best friend. For “Crisis Point II: Paradoxus,” Rodgers offered insights into how this deep-cut episode was written, the real significance of “bad” Star Trek movies and episodes, and why, in the end, some of them might not be bad at all.

Boimler (Jack Quaid) in “Crisis Point II.”Paramount+

Was this a love letter to "bad" Star Trek movies? And, assuming we acknowledge that some Trek movies are better than others, would you say that sometimes even less-beloved Trek movies create interesting, dare I say it, essential canon?

When it comes to the movies, every Star Trek fan has heard or repeated the “odd ones are bad, even ones are good” adage. We’ve all done it. I was guilty of letting it influence me too… and yeah, for this Lower Decks episode we started with, “maybe Boimler’s movie isn’t very good.” Then I rewatched Star Trek V, a movie everyone has taken a big stinking dump on for decades. Nimoy felt like he needed to make VI just so they wouldn’t end with this dog-shit movie. [Editor’s note: Leonard Nimoy has a partial story credit on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, but the film was directed by Nicholas Meyer.]

So I hadn’t watched V [The Final Frontier] in maybe 10 years, I remembered it as being lousy (odd ones are bad remember!). My expectations were low, I thought maybe I’d get a few joke ideas. Then I hit play, got totally swept up, and had a fucking blast! I love that Shatner went for some big crazy idea but ran out of money. I love taking a big chance, even if it doesn’t pay out, just going for it can be energizing. And you know what? I’ve always kinda liked III, and there are cool visuals in it. There are little moments I love in them all! I think the “even-good, odd-bad” thing is simplistic bullshit. So yeah, Crisis Point II ended up becoming more of a tribute and an ode to the misfits.

There's a joke about an unused plot point for a pitch for Star Trek II, involving the Kennedy assassination. Can you unpack that?

I learned about this in the fantastic book The Fifty-Year Mission by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross. Every Star Trek fan should grab a copy- worth it for the Roddenberry anecdotes alone! Roddenberry did not love the Wrath of Khan story. I believe he leaked a script so fans would rip it apart. Apparently, his original pitch was a time travel story where Spock assassinates President Kennedy! So yes, with this franchise, the behind-the-scenes drama is often as entertaining as the movies.

Boimler learning of the loss of his transporter double while on the Holodeck feels like a direct call-back to Picard's loss in Generations. Do you feel like the emotional beats of that movie are underrated?

Yes, I think Patrick Stewart delivers an amazing performance. I also find some of the circumstances… funny. I mean, how could you not look back on getting the most horrific possible news, while playing adult dress up in an elaborate 19th-century naval costume, and not find it funny?

Picard receives some terrible news while playing “adult dress up.”Paramount

Talk to me about the William Boimler Section 31 reveal. Are we going to see more of William?

Well, I really wanted William to stay dead! My ending was too sardonic for Mike [McMahan], so I lost that one. We were finishing a meeting, going over the script with the animators, and Mike said, “…and we’re going to add a button at the end, we just haven’t settled on it yet.” One of the animators, Meg Lloyd, who loves Trek, jokingly said, “William joins Section 31?” Then a few days later, Mike, Chris Kula, and I met again to talk about the ending. Kula said, “I really liked Meg’s Section 31 pitch.” So, while it wasn’t the ending I had in mind, I do love the true collaboration that took us where we went.

Again, the Section 31 thing feels like a loving joke about Discovery Season 2. Why is Section 31 kind of hilarious? Are they the worst-kept secret in the Alpha Quadrant?

What the hell man, are you trying to get the secret police on me?! I can’t answer this stuff! Eh, you know what? Who cares? Fuck all secret police in all universes. They should be made fun of.

William Boimler joins Section 31. The all-black Starfleet Section 31 badges were introduced in Star Trek: Discovery, making some fans question how efficient they were as a secret organization. Paramount+

I love how Boimler’s movie "doesn't make sense" in the end. Is there a favorite Star Trek episode or movie that you LOVE that also doesn't make sense?

“Conspiracy" is a lovable mess. In that episode, these parasitic aliens take over the bodies of high-ranking members of the Federation. A little like Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. I always thought it was funny how far these aliens go to infiltrate the Federation, but then they openly eat big bowls of worms at a conference table. Or maybe they were just so close to taking over Starfleet at that point and didn’t care who saw? If that were the case, wouldn’t people CONSTANTLY be saying “ Hey remember when parasites took over Starfleet? That was a crazy couple of days!” Nope. Never mentioned again! I always loved when Picard went home in “Family" because it's the first episode to acknowledge how completely fucking insane his life is.

Star Trek: Lower Decks streams on Paramount+.