Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 2 – Debuted Thursday, August 13th, 2020
Written by Chris Kula
Directed by Kim Arndt
The second episode of this new animated series settles nicely into a rhythm, delivering character and situational comedy, with a more tempered pace than the jam-packed pilot. The humor both draws from and comments on the lore of Star Trek, but casual fans and even non-fans should still be able to enjoy the ride.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Once again Lower Decks kicks off an episode by twisting a classic Trek trope, this time starting with the USS Cerritos being infiltrated by a malicious glowing energy being. But before the transdimensional thing even has a chance to possess or impregnate any members of the crew, Mariner and Tendi wrestle it into a container and force it to do their bidding. For an ensign, Mariner’s quick action again shows an impressive level of cunning and street smarts (corridor smarts?), but having the being make a tricorder for her was a surprise. Sure it had a cool purple stripe, but picking a mundane functional device hints that Boimler’s lack of imagination may be rubbing off on her.
And with half-hour episodes, it appears Tendi questioning the ethics of trapping a sentient being just won’t have time to be explored. And declarations of “Behold and tremble!” and “I will destroy you!” aren’t helping its case. Once dismissed by the ensigns, the weakened energy creature was summarily snuffed out by the captain strolling by, spitballing “It’s warp time!” as a possible bridge catchphrase. We get it. On Lower Decks, no trope is safe.
After just two outings, these fun teasers with character moments that aren’t tied into the stories for the rest of the episode are reminiscent of the cold opens on the popular NBC workplace sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Taking that show analogy a little further, B99 fans may see Lower Decks’ Mariner as a female version of the plays-by-his-own-rules Jake Peralta, with Boimler the male version of the bookish Amy Santiago. This analysis could go much deeper, but that would take all day. And yes, that is the title of a sex tape.
“Envoys” sends our Odd Couple of Boimler and Mariner on what should be a routine escort mission but turns into another adventure full of bonding, self-discovery, and more light phasering. Boimler is excited to put his study of alien cultures and shuttle simulator time to good use to take Klingon General K’orin down to the bustling exotic planet of Tulgana IV. His recently self-minted mentor Mariner gets herself assigned to the same mission—as pilot, no less, making Brad her “co”—, and of course, it turns out she and the General go way back. The old friends spend the trip down singing Klingon drinking songs while Boimler stews and tries to figure out where they got flagons for their bloodwine on a Federation shuttle.
Brad is still trying to ascertain how his contemporary has such a deep history, especially one that includes “blood bonding” with Klingons in “off-the-books grey ops” before joining Starfleet. In just a couple of episodes, the layers of the Mariner onion seem to have no end. Throughout this episode, voice actor Jack Quaid finds whole new ways to whine as Boimler is tested by the planet and his partner.
After landing in Little Qo’noS to get K’orin some gagh, Boimler and Mariner are left behind when K’orin steals the shuttle (and is clearly driving drunk), sending the ensigns on a chase to find him and get him to the Federation embassy before anyone finds out they lost a Klingon dignitary. The search takes the pair from alien neighborhood to alien neighborhood, with each turning more and more dangerous, pitting Boimler’s book-learning against Mariner’s practical experience.
Even though Brad bristles at Beckett Fed-splaining alien cultures to him, it soon becomes clear that he has a lot to learn in ways that will never come from a PADD. But Boimler shows his genuine Starfleet idealism, imploring Mariner with “Don’t hit him, we have a treaty” even while a giant blue Taxor is choking the life out of him.
After almost succumbing to fatal jamaharon with a telepathic lays-eggs-in-your-throat Anabaj and getting injured after starting a brawl in a seedy Andorian bar, Brad is ready to throw in the towel. To be fair, in that last case it was understandable; he was lured into helping an old Andorian who moaned Boimler’s catchphrase “my bones!” as he was being brutalized, but was soon revealed to be a shapeshifting Vendorian thief, in a moment that had fans of Star Trek: The Animated Series reenacting the pointing Rick Dalton meme. While the humor and story should be entertaining to any fan of comedies, Lower Decks keeps rewarding regular viewers and Star Trek superfans with these extra layers.
At this point Boimler has lost all hope: “All that studying and where did it get me?” Tulgana IV has broken the ensign. But things change with their final alien encounter. This time it’s a sketchy Ferengi, and Boimler uses his knowledge of planetary protocol to suss out that he isn’t really offering them a ride.
After Boimler phasers the knife out the conniving Ferengi’s hand and leaves him behind to do “that greedy thing they do with their hands,” the pair finds the shuttle with a passed out Klingon general in the back. With his nerdy mojo back, Boimler starts to see things Mariner’s way: Even though dumping the drunk warrior as-is on the Embassy’s doorstep isn’t the Starfleet way, it’s the best plan they have before returning to the ship.
Think of the children
The B-story for the episode revolved around a planned hang for Rutherfod and Tendi to observe the Trivoli Pulsar. This friendship between Sam and D’Vana picks up on a spark seen in episode one but still remains adorkably platonic, for now. The problem to solve here was that stargazing conflicted with some exciting EPS conduit recalibration on Rutherford’s schedule. No, really! He is genuinely giddy to spend three more days in the Jefferies tubes, adding on to the week he has already devoted to the ship’s conduits. This guy really loves conduits.
His radical solution to resolving the schedule conflict is to explore a career change so he can keep his plans with Tendi. This was a clever way for the show to explore the ship and senior officers with Rutherford as a sort of guide, and Eugene Cordero’s aw-shucks enthusiasm elevates the storyline to a delight.
The now-former engineer’s first stop is command training with Commander Ransom. In what may be the funniest—and simultaneously most tragic—sequence of the episode, Rutherford runs through two command simulations with disastrous results both times. It’s hard to judge which was worse, the first go-through with the loss of 105% (you read that right) of the crew, or the second one, where a frazzled lieutenant gives a play-by-play as more and more of the ship’s children are ejected into space, complete with LCARS graphic showing the horror of it all.
Ransom shows his enthusiasm for bridge duty and a morbid curiosity at just how badly Rutherford can do, and suggests the ensign try another command simulation with a ship that has even more children. This all felt like a bit of a nod to the debatable question of why starships in the TNG era had families with children on board.
Things don’t go any better when Rutherford swaps a red uniform for a blue one. In sickbay, Dr. T’Ana is impressed with Sam’s ability to see the body as just another machine until he displays an abrupt bedside manner than makes her seem like a pussycat. Rutherford appears to find a new home after passing Shaxs’ no-win Borg fighting scenario, which he does win, thanks to his cybernetic implant. The security “bear pack” embraces him, but the lure of the tubes is too much as he declares, “My heart is in engineering.”
An Orion and a Cyborg walk into a bar
Once again the episode wraps up with some bonding in the ship’s bar. Boimler has quickly abandoned his “circle of trust” promise, regaling the patrons with the story of how Mariner thought a Ferengi was a Bolian. And in case it wasn’t obvious enough, we soon get confirmation that the whole thing was actually orchestrated by Beckett, with a little help from her Ferengi actor friend Quimp, who is revealed to speak the Queen’s English. Mariner is making good on her vow to be a mentor to Boimler, giving him just what he needs when he loses faith in his mission to be a Starfleet officer. A Ferengi in a monocle is funny, but the message is still heartwarming.
As for Rutherford, all the worry about not being able to meet up with Tendi for the Pulsar viewing melts away after he confesses he’s sticking with engineering. She literally has his back as they share a final moment in one of Rutherford’s beloved tubes, each engrossed in their own passions, but together. It’s all a bit tidy, and perhaps a bit hokey, but maybe that was the point.
It is said that drama requires conflict, and it can also be true for comedy. Shows from I Love Lucy to The Office have thrived by finding humor in character clashes.
When it came to Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show that is the inspirational core of Lower Decks, there were strict protocols set up by the show’s creator. The so-called “Roddenberry Box” restricted writers from creating significant conflict within the crew, looking for it exclusively from outside adversaries. Some Star Trek writers have decried these limitations and today’s Star Trek dramas have adopted modern techniques of finding dramatic conflict with everyone, everywhere.
But the more we explore Lower Decks, the more it demonstrates an enthusiasm to live within Gene’s TNG constraints. There were many moments within the episode where it seemed there would be character conflict, especially between Rutherford and the various senior officers. That would be the typical thing to do with a workplace comedy, setting up tension between heroic employees and their dumb annoying bosses.
But over and over, “Envoys” made a point, and created a joke out of setting up an ominous moment of strife, only to have everyone find common ground and support. Commander Billups is happy to grant Rutherford’s request for a transfer. And even after welcoming him into the Security “Bear Pack,” Shaxs is willing to let Rutheford return to engineering, with the wholesome message, “You got to be true to yourself.”
Sure Boimler and Mariner bicker like brother and sister, which provides plenty of laughs, but they too find ways to support and help each other, and their bonding arc continues to grow. Lower Decks is able to find the moments of humor and moments of tension without pitting these characters against each other or making them into jokes themselves.
“Envoys” continued the strong showing of the series premiere for Lower Decks, providing a proof of concept that this new format can work with Star Trek. Even with a relaxed pacing, there were still plenty of laughs to be found, with some of the Star Trek gags feeling more organic, and fewer of episode one’s Trek references without a joke attached.
Pointing out how Klingon names all seem to have apostrophes is the kind of thing where even casual fans can find the Star Trek humor without getting too meta, and superfans won’t feel like the show is mocking the franchise (even as they silently list off the Klingons who don’t follow the apostrophe trend). We are laughing with Star Trek, not at it.
While maintaining the episodic format which is natural for a TNG-inspired show, there are hints of character arcs and bonds forming that will hopefully pay off more as the season progress.
For now, Lower Decks continues to provide enough laughs and fun to make 2020 a little bit more bearable, and that’s an accomplishment.
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