Star Trek: Lower Decks
The world is in a bad place right now. Things are dire, and it feels like the news is trending worse rather than better. Countless people seem to have a blatant distrust of science (science! It’s real whether you believe in it or not!) and refuse to accept what experts are saying on myriad issues from climate change to the pandemic. And guess what, the bad news gets even worse: We’re not going to get over this science skepticism anytime soon. If “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” is any indication, the 24th century will face the exact same problems we are having now.
In this week’s episode, the USS Cerritos rendezvouses with the USS Vancouver to provide support in the destruction of an unstable moon. Unfortunately, though, despite the fact that the celestial body is about to slam into the planet, killing everyone and igniting the planet’s atmosphere, the denizens aren’t exactly welcoming to Starfleet intervention. It’s a great frame for an episode, and it allows us to see Captain Freeman being extremely competent and good at her job, keeping her cool while dealing with an incredibly frustrating situation. This plotline is actually tertiary, though: The central conceit of the plot is that Boimler’s new girlfriend, Lieutenant Barbara Brinson, is serving aboard the Vancouver.
The joke here is that Barb is just way too self-assured and accomplished to be interested in Boimler, and the gag does have its hilarious moments — especially with the banter about Boimler’s previous holodeck girlfriend. Mariner surveys the situation after seeing the two together and decides that Barb is some kind of shapeshifter (the Suliban reference was especially good) or parasite and becomes determined to save her naive friend from whatever his new girlfriend might be. It’s classic Mariner — she’s seen a lot, after all. She gets so invested in this idea that she even creates her own serial killer hunter board, complete with yarn connecting her different theories. We learn that when her former ship was visiting Deep Space Nine, Mariner’s colleague’s seemingly perfect boyfriend was actually a shapeshifter, leading Mariner to believe that Boimler is in a similar situation.
But after a while, this joke crosses the line from funny to mean. It’s admirable that Beckett wants to save her friend, and she clearly believes that there’s something bad going on here, but the fundamental reason behind her thought process is that there’s no way Boimler could attract someone like Barb on his own. That’s not having faith in or believing in your friend, and the joke gets old. It’s especially bad because while Boimler doesn’t buy into Mariner’s narrative that Barb is some sort of alien intent on doing him harm, he does internalize her message. Boimler starts to increasingly act out in a desperate attempt to be cool enough for Barb, and the results are cringeworthy, to say the least.
In the end, it turns out there is something going on, but not with Barb — it’s with Boimler himself. After Mariner and Barb bond, they discover that Boimler is harboring a parasite that makes his pheromones more attractive to others. I’ll be honest, I was kind of hoping there was nothing going on here — we know Boimler doesn’t exactly have a lot of faith himself, and this felt like kicking him when he was down. Barb ends up breaking up with him, but it seems like Mariner and she are fast friends for life.
The episode’s secondary plot is a lot more fun: Tendi and Rutherford are incredibly impressed by how advanced the Vancouver is, after working on the Cerritos, which is falling apart. Aboard the Vancouver, they help out the moon mission by running diagnostics using shiny new T-88s, thanks to Lieutenant Commander Ron Docent. They decide to have a friendly competition to see who is the most efficient; the winner will get to take one of these new toys back to the Cerritos.
Only, that’s not actually what they’re competing over. It turns out they both are incredibly proficient and competent (no surprise here), and Docent rewards them both with transfer paperwork from the Cerritos to the Vancouver, which neither of them wants. After a scuffle in which the Commander tries to file the paperwork against their will, Docent admits that life aboard the Vancouver comes with too much pressure and stress. He was hoping to transfer Tendi and Rutherford to make space for himself aboard the Cerritos. It’s certainly an interesting perspective that we’re hearing again and again from this show: sometimes it’s not a bad thing to not be a part of the most important ship or mission.
In The Next Generation episode “Lower Decks,” from which this show takes its inspiration, we see four ensigns grappling with life-or-death decisions, trying to figure out where they belong on a ship as important as the Enterprise. Coming up through the Cerritos is a very different experience. It’s not that the ship isn’t doing good work; but on a smaller vessel, the junior crew perhaps gets to experience more than they would on a bigger ship, with less stress and need to impress the higher ups. I’m really curious as to how the show will explore this dynamic going forward; Tendi and Rutherford might prefer to be aboard the Cerritos with their friends, but would Boimler make the same decision if he were offered the opportunity to move to a bigger, more important ship?
Obviously he probably wouldn’t because that would ruin the conceit of the show, but I really like hearing about stress and anxiety in the future. Normalizing these emotions, especially in the context of a future that was originally conceived as a sort of utopia, is incredibly validating and important, and I’m glad Lower Decks is doing that work.
• I like that Captain Picard Day is a thing celebrated across Starfleet, not just on the Enterprise. It seems right and fitting.
• The Tendi/Rutherford friendship is quickly becoming one of my favorite things about this show.
• Boimler’s “cool” outfit in a boys’ size small had me laughing out loud. Which was funnier, the outfit or Barb thinking it was sexy?
• The rich alien and his civilization of two was the perfect way to end the overarching storyline.