“Cupid’s Errant Arrow”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 5 – Debuted Thursday, September 3rd, 2020
Written by Ben Joseph
Directed by Kim Arndt
The fifth episode of Lower Decks brings a near-perfect balance of earned character humor and Star Trek gags. Changing up the structure with series of parallel stories, writer Ben Joseph deftly takes on a twist-filled action-film ride with the heart of a romantic comedy. Guest star Gillian Jacobs holds her own as the regular cast show off delightfully paired chemistries.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Brad Boimler’s Diary
In “Cupid’s Errant Arrow,” our two main characters Boimler and Mariner have teamed up once again for some fun adventures, but this time they’re not up for the same mission. The Cerritos is hooking up with the USS Vancouver to assist in the demolition of a moon threatening Mixtus III, and on board is Brad’s new girlfriend, Barbara Brinson. He is determined to hold on to this totally-out-of-his-league lieutenant, even faced with her reuniting with her ex-boyfriend, Jet, the “second coolest” guy on the Cerritos. And Mariner makes it her mission to get to the bottom of why a beautiful babe on one of the cooler ships in the fleet has an insatiable desire for Brad Boimler. Yeah, I know, right?
Beckett’s first move is something we all have probably tried in 2020: “Computer, end program.” When that fails, the Barb investigation begins. Her
crazed conspiracy theory thoughtful analysis examines possibilities that are a veritable “who’s who” of evil Star Trek infiltrators, including a Romulan spy, a salt succubus, a surgically altered Cardassian spy, and a Sulliban. Mariner is driven by a bad (yet very fun flashback!) memory of her time on the USS Quito when her friend’s seemingly perfect boyfriend Niko turned out to be a Harvonian shape-changer that traumatized her when it ate Angie’s face off. Yuck.
Both Brad and Beckett slowly and hilariously spin out of control on their respective missions. In an attempt to compete with Jet, Brad orders up a whole new look by asking the computer to “analyze the coolest people in Earth history.” Even though such a nuanced and complex task should have resulted in a power surge greater than the one needed to create a mystery to confound Data, the Cerritos computer quickly delivered an outfit that was an unholy style mashup of The Fonz, Tim Riggins, and Will Smith, with a touch of Doc Brown. But it worked as Barb found it “sexy as hell,” which Mariner saw as yet another red flag. Beckett’s spiral downward involved getting a hair sample from the blonde lieutenant, leading to a new theory: “99.8% sure she is a reptoid.”
After Mariner actually finds some real evidence in the form of a parasite husk, the episode’s excellent pacing ramps up to action movie level as she risks a spacewalk to save Brad, now on one of the implosion control platforms. There she sees something that truly horrifies her… Brad, naked, talking all sexy. After he uses the word “lover” way too much, he is knocked out due to a conveniently timed platform emergency, leaving Mariner and Brinson to a full-on physical fight. Turns out Barb is convinced Mariner is way too much of a “badass space adventurer” to be real friends with Brad, so it is she who must be some kind of parasite. Twist!
Sleepless in Vancouver
As for our other two ensigns, Tendi and Rutherford’s nerdiness rises to a level only measurable by one of Vancouver’s new T88 diagnostic tools that they both covet. After bonding over the Cerritos’ need for regular maintenance, they’re drawn by the siren song of the Vancouver’s superior technology. I mean it has double-latticed thermal meshes and fluidic processors that self-replicate their own silica, so what’s not to love, right?
And Vancouver engineer Lt. Cmdr. Ron Docent is all too eager to entice them with the promise of a T88, pitting the pair against each other in an all-out geek match for who can run more mainframe diagnostics, putting their friendship to the ultimate test. Their frantic, fun competition ends up in a tie, so it turns out they both get T88s and transfers to the Vancouver. Wait, what? Another twist?
How Carol Got Her Groove Back
Our third story pair for this episode—yes, this time we get three—has Captain Freeman and Commander Ransom giving an assist to the condescending captain of the Vancouver, who can’t seem to get the locals of the Mixtus system on board with the plan to implode the unstable moon. Freeman has to use all her second contact skills to navigate the diplomatic crisis just to get the various factions to agree to let the Federation save Mixtus III from certain destruction.
Gone is the uncertainty and doubt of some previous episodes, as Carol nicely channels Starfleet’s greatest captains by quickly coming up with a plan to satisfy everyone, even down to moving three tons of moon dust for a religious sect to worship. But as the plunging lunar crisis culminates, in comes the representative from Mixtus II, revealing the moon destruction plan may save the third planet but will end up destroying the second. Twisterino numero tres.
Forgetting Barbara Brinson
As the moon crisis rises to red alert, all of our separate but interlinked stories are balanced on the edge, and each comes to a nice satisfying conclusion.
The Barb/Mariner smackdown gets bloody but turns on some honesty and bonding over war stories of Brad’s adorkable bumbling. Oh, and there WAS a parasite, but it was stuck to Brad, making him “chemically irresistible.” Barb insists she’s above being swayed by some pheromones, despite that moment earlier when she was deeply sniffing Brad. And yeah, she dumps him, ironically to study the surprisingly talkative parasite. But she and Mariner are now the best of friends.
After debating leaving the Cerritos, Tendi, and Rutherford decide they want to stay with the old girl, but Docent presses the point. Turns out he wants off the Vancouver. He can’t handle all that pressure to be “epic,” so our ensigns have to work together to stop the forced crew swap, and they are not above using a little cyborg-enhanced blackmail to do it. Ever resourceful, they both stole a pile of T88s on their way out the airlock as a present for each other.
As for Captain Freeman, she doesn’t waver when faced with an impossible problem, because that is what Starfleet captains do. But it turns out that Mixtus II is only populated by two rich d-bags, mostly concerned about ruining their latest home improvement renovations. Giving off a sardonic version of a “Mr. Worf, fire” vibe, a steely-eyed Freeman gives the order: “Implode the moon.”
Just five episodes in and it feels like Lower Decks is already risking some experimentation with its own format, and that’s a good thing. Eschewing the opening teaser/cold open altogether, “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” tells a series of parallel stories, with different pairs of our characters each facing their own little challenges. This Robert Altman-like narrative style—also used to good effect in movies like Pulp Fiction and Love Actually—was a lot of fun to watch, punctuated by moments when the character storylines would literally run past each other in the corridors.
The plot involving the imploding moon wasn’t the only thing holding all of this together; there were also some recurring themes. Each of these three narratives was its own little love story. As Mariner investigated Boimler’s girlfriend her true (platonic) love for Bradford was revealed. (“He is a dork, but he is my dork.”) While Tendi and Rutherford flirted with the sexy USS Vancouver, they discovered their true love for the tried and true USS Cerritos, even down to “that smoky smell.” As for Captain Freeman, she recaptured a love of her role in Starfleet, after showing some doubts in some recent episodes. As her trusty companion on this journey Commander Ransom noted, “She’s doing great!”
There’s Something About Cerritos
In every Star Trek show, one of the most important characters is the ship. This episode held a mirror up to the USS Cerritos via reflection by the USS Vancouver, which felt like its Sovereign-like upgrade at first. But in another theme of learning to accept yourself, we get to see the isolinear chips are not always greener when you actually get there.
Sure the Cerritos “shakes and creaks and moans at warp 7,” and the mission of second contact isn’t the most glamorous, but the pressure to be “epic” on a hero ship appears to have the risk of stressing the crew out to the point of extremes. With a meta wink we hear the bemoaning about how on ships like the USS Enterprise “it’s something new every week with those guys.” Maybe there is something to the quieter life on board one of the least important ships in the fleet. The USS Cerritos may be falling apart, but it has character.
When Brad Met Mariner
As we move into mid-season, Lower Decks continues to feel like it is hitting its stride with another funny and heartwarming episode. What’s best about “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” is how the humor works because we are getting to know these characters, and can laugh both at and with them. And while the meta Star Trek winking also ramped up, it was still (mostly) organic and fun, fitting into a Goldilocks Neutral Zone where you see it, laugh with it, and yet aren’t yanked out of the story by an excess of it.
The pacing on the show continues to improve with an excellent effort this week by director Kim Arndt, who knew when to dial it down for family comedy and when to dial it up for action comedy. This was greatly helped by composer Chris Westlake, who is also showing how the music can help with the laughs, like in the rock and roll “cool Boimler” scene. Community’s Gillian Jacobs brought one of the best guest roles of the show so far, keeping us guessing all the way with her curious girlfriend Barb.
Once again, Star Trek: Lower Decks gives us a great half-hour to forget all our troubles and spend some time with our new friends in the 24th century. Can’t want to see them again next week.
Today we learned
- The stardate was 57601.3.
- USS Vancouver is a Parliament-class ship, registration NCC-70492.
- Boimler’s full first name is Bradward.
- Brad wears a boy’s size small.
- Brad used to have a holodeck girlfriend.
- Mariner still has the tricorder with a purple stripe she forced an energy creature to make for her in episode 2 (“Envoys”).
- A Phylosian serves in tactical on the Cerritos, and Mariner is willing to set Brad up with her.
- Mariner visited Deep Space Nine when on serving on the USS Quito.
- Rutherford thinks the Cerritos smells like toasting marshmallows on a cool night, even when it is actually a plasma fire.
- “She’s as real as a hopped-up Q on Captain Picard Day.”
- “That guy’s a Kirk sundae, with Trip Tucker sprinkles.”
- “Whatever. It was no big deal. I managed to reverse the polarity and reboot the timestream. Good thing too. 1920s Chicago, nobody’s washing their hands.”
- “You need to stop spinning out and accept people for who they are. Now be quiet, I have to change everything about me to trick her into thinking I’m something I’m not.”
- “It’s so stressful. It’s so epic. It’s all, tow this space station, and calibrate the Dyson sphere. Go back in time and kill the guy that was worse than Hitler!”
- “You maniacs! We just redid the floors!”
UPDATE: All Access Star Trek podcast discusses “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” and more
Every Friday the new TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe, including a discussion on the latest episode of Star Trek. This week we cover “Cupid’s Errant Arrow.” The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.
On Saturday we will post our weekly analysis of Easter eggs and references for this episode.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It has not yet been announced where and when Lower Decks will be available outside of the USA and Canada.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.