The desire to belong, to be a part of a team, is natural and very human, but it’s not one we’ve seen examined over the long term as a part of the Star Trek franchise. The shows we’ve seen thus far center on the bridge crew, who are generally the “cool kids” of the Star Trek universe. There’s no need to figure out how to fit in because they already do just by virtue of the positions they hold. Even if they don’t want to be there, they belong.
In Star Trek: Lower Decks, that’s not the case. In the second episode of the series, “Envoys,” we follow four different junior crew members, all trying to figure out how and where they belong. Of the main four, Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford, it’s easiest to talk about Tendi’s journey. Her desire to belong makes a lot of sense: She’s new, and she doesn’t have a lot of friends aboard the Cerritos. She’s figuring out the ins and outs of a new crew and a new circle of friends, one of whom is Rutherford. When she casually laments that he might not be able to watch a pulsar with her because of work, his response is unexpected.
Rutherford’s reaction, while funny and over the top, also reveals a lot about his character and how he feels like he fits in (or doesn’t) aboard the Cerritos: He panics about letting Tendi down and requests a transfer out of Engineering in order to get out of his conflict. He’s willing to change his entire career track just to avoid letting her down: First to Command, then Medical, then Tactical, before confirming his heart is in Engineering. There was never really any doubt here; the way Rutherford talked about the Jeffries tubes made clear where his future stood. But the fact that he was willing to explore other options in order to keep a promise to a friend says a lot about him. And, as an aside, while the command officers are often depicted as ridiculous on Lower Decks, I did love how supportive each commanding officer was of Rutherford trying to find his place aboard the ship.
Rutherford clearly likes Tendi (whether romanticly or not is still unclear — I personally prefer not, but I could see them becoming the couple at the heart of the show) and doesn’t want to disappoint her. It seems like part of that is not wanting her to feel left out, but another aspect to it is desperately wanting not to lose her as a friend. The fact that she’ll change her plans to watch the pulsar with him at the end of the episode is a revelation to Rutherford: She wants to spend time with him as much as he wants to hang out with her. That seems to be new for him.
This episode of Lower Decks reveals there’s much more to Rutherford’s character than it first appears, given his entire plotline is supposed to be something of a joke. His insecurity runs deep, and he just wants to please people. It will be interesting to see how that develops over the course of the series, especially as he and Tendi develop more of a friendship and he realizes that he can let his guard down.
The Boimler/Mariner dynamic in “Envoys” is a bit more straightforward, but still interesting to dissect. Boimler’s desire to belong is right in line with wanting to be a Command officer. That earnestness, and tying his own self-worth into his Starfleet career, tells us so much about him.
Their mission is to escort a Klingon general, K’orin, to a Federation outpost, and Boimler is stoked to have such an important assignment. Little does he know, though, that Mariner knows the general personally. While he’s painstakingly going through mental checklists, trying to do everything by the book, Mariner is showing him up left and right (though his attention to detail does pay off when he knows that Tulgana IV has an ion shield, which is why they can’t contact the ship from the surface after General K’orin takes off with their shuttlecraft).
At the end of last week’s premiere, Mariner told Boimler that she’d be his mentor (with an excellently placed cha’DIch joke), and we see that relationship developing over the course of this episode. Mariner is trying to teach Boimler to loosen up, that learning by doing and experiencing is just as important, if not more so, than memorizing Starfleet’s rules and regulations. At every turn, through every interaction, Mariner’s experience comes out ahead of Boimler’s protocols, to the point where he loses faith in himself.
It’s here we see Mariner’s real self: She hires a Ferengi friend of hers (who excellently plays into the terrible stereotypes of the role, and later shows us he’s a perfectly reasonable and normal humanoid) to fake a robbery that allows Boimler to use his Starfleet smarts to emerge victorious. It shows how well Mariner understands both effective teaching and Boimler himself that she recognizes that Boimler doesn’t just need a win in the field; he needs one over her. He needs to feel like his dedicated, by-the-book approach matters. And she swallows her pride and gives that to him. It’s an excellent end to an episode that is very enjoyable overall, and it gives us a sense of the direction the writers are taking the show.
Thus far in Lower Decks, we’ve seen a lot of interaction between Mariner and Boimler and some between Rutherford and Tendi. I’d love to see the writers begin to switch it up now that we’re really establishing these characters. I love the glimpses we’re getting of the friendship forming between Mariner and Tendi, and I hope we see more of that going forward.
The Captain’s Log:
• WHAT IS THE JANEWAY PROTOCOL? THIS EXISTS? I MUST KNOW WHAT IT IS.
• Klingon names do indeed all sound the same, please do not @ me.
• I’m really curious to see what else Rutherford’s new implant can do, besides curbing his emotions and turning him into a tactical whiz.
• The fact that Commander Ransom was still supportive after Rutherford’s abject failure at command was incredibly funny and heartwarming.
• I need to know more about Mariner’s previous experience as SOON as possible.