Review: ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Takes A Long Look At Itself In “Reflections”

“Reflections”

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3, Episode 5 – Debuted Thursday, September 22, 2022
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Michael Mullen

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

A focus on Rutherford’s backstory brings the laughs and allows Eugene Cordero a chance to shine in a hilarious episode that ramps up the references without forgetting the characters.

Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford

WARNING: Spoilers below!

RECAP

“You really bought into that whole okie dokie bulls##t didn’t you?”

Cerritos is back at Tulgana IV to upgrade the Federation Consulate power system, leaving time to fill in some quotas which include a bit of Starfleet recruiting, with the assignment going to Boimler and a grumbling Mariner. Meanwhile, Rutherford is having a recurring nightmare of an explosive engineering incident, so Tendi fixes his problem by purging his implant’s cache of some “stuck” long-term memory. After another sleep, Rutherford wakes up a whole new man—literally. This Rutherford is not happy to find himself assigned to a California class “junker” with “ugly” nacelles. Snarky Rutherford also is surprised to find he has an implant, and that his reflection (the real Rutherford) is screaming at him to give back control over the body.

The imposter wants off the ship but when he presses Tendi for info on ship security shifts she quickly spots something is off and calls for help. Fakerford is eventually tracked down and stunned by Shaxs, irritated the imposter mocked his “Baby Bear” nickname. Now unconscious, Dr. T’Ana figures out an alien hasn’t possessed Sam; it’s a version of Rutherford from a decade ago. The two personalities find themselves stuck together in the subconscious. Our Rutherford doesn’t remember this younger space hot rod-making version, apparently erased with the installation of his implant. All those times it glitched over the years was this repressed pear-lover trying to assert himself. Rutherford learns he used to earn space money doing risky races and so he agrees to a challenge from Young Sam: whoever builds the winning racer wins the brain. No pressure.

Eugene Cordero as the Rutherfords

“We got new worlds, they’re strange and they need seeking out. ”

Mariner’s loud complaints about recruiting duty fall on deaf ears with Ransom, who lays down the stakes… leave the booth, get a transfer to the dreaded Starbase 80. Boimler is impressed by how much this motivates Beckett to get into the job. But her anger returns as she gets trolled by the “independent space archaeologist” from the neighboring booth, who warns prospective signups that Starfleet crews get assimilated by the Borg “all the time.” This too-cool Petra Aberdeen used to be in Starfleet and she really knows how to goad Mariner with cracks about Starfleet, making it harder and harder for Mariner to stick to the booth and avoid Ransom’s wrath.

Soon enough, other recruiters notice this limitation, leading to drive-by mockery that from conspiracy theorists demanding the truth about Sisko. They also know all about those creepy bugs from, well… “Conspiracy.” Through it all, Boimler keeps his cool while Mariner steams, but then the (just the worst) outpost scientists show up and start mocking Starfleet uniforms. That is the breaking point as Boimler goes Bold all over the other booths, running around to lay down the law on how the other recruiters all owe their lives to Starfleet, who just wants to “explore and study f—king quasars!”  In a reversal of their usual roles, Mariner stays put, watching Boimler break the rules as she frets over Ransom’s Starbase 80 threat.

Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler and Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner

“If you see any Romulans, run. They don’t f—k around.”

Back inside Rutherford’s mind garage, he recreates Tom Paris’ Delta Flyer, which his younger self dismisses as a “shuttle with a paint job.” Youngeford thinks he has it “easy” with his ship, mostly a collection of big engines strapped to a little cockpit. And it looks like the kid is right, taking an early lead in the race—at least until a giant Romulan ship shows up to fire at them both. But this allows our Rutherford to deploy a secret weapon… his friends. Rutherford’s versions of Boimler, Tendi, and Mariner as the crew of the Delta Flyer deal with the Warbird and even rescue his younger self, who now sees that with age has come wisdom. As the youngster fades away so does his anger, welcoming the grown-up Sam now in control, and leaving him with a gift: He unlocks another memory of getting the implant, revealed to be part of a coverup, with the question of which Starfleet higher-up was responsible to sort out later.

Down on Tulgana IV, it turns out that Boimler’s Starfleet evangelizing rampage was the best recruitment driver they could ask for, giving Mariner a line of possible recruits and impressing Ransom. The commander spares Brad from the threatened transfer, but in another Mariner reversal, Boimler gets a night in the brig. His first! Ransom is actually proud of the ensign for standing up for Starfleet, especially for giving it to those outpost scientist losers. Things wrap up season 1 style but with Boims on the inside of the brig forcefield and Mariner left to do the mission log.  She gets interrupted by a call from Petra, who admits her booth was just a ruse so she could sneak off and “emancipate” a staff stolen from the Grand Nagus from a crooked museum. She thanks Mariner for the distraction and offers the opportunity to join in on her adventures if she ever gets bored of Starfleet… leaving Beckett with a lot to think about.

Noel Wells as Ensign Tendi, Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford, Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner and Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler

ANALYSIS

The new yous

Lower Decks ramps up the humor in a densely packed episode that raises character stakes established at the beginning of the season. “Reflections” brings in some welcome character development for Rutherford that was teased at the end of season 2 but has been lacking so far this season. Having two competing versions of a character is of course a Star Trek tradition, but Lower Decks found a new spin by having “Red Rutherford” be a repressed younger, angrier version of the happy-go-lucky version we have known to love over three seasons. This gave Eugene Cordero an opportunity to step up and shine, playing both the broad comedy of the conflict and the heartbreaking pathos of losing this younger self and the mysterious trauma that he is only now starting to understand they endured. And the resolution to this storyline also couldn’t be more on brand with Star Trek, as “Blue Rutherford” showed his true strength came from his crew, his family, working together. But there was still something to admire from his brash young self, so it will be interesting to see if the character of Rutherford evolves to bring a little bit of the bad boy edge from his past.

Jessica McKenna as Ensign Barnes and Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford

Even with all that going on, it was actually the B-story that delivered the big laughs while still adding new layers to the season 3 focus on developing and maturing these characters. The Trek references big and small in both storylines were fun, but the show continues to build on its own canon and characters for some of the best gags. The Mariner under Ransom’s scrutiny storyline allowed for a fun reversal of positions with Boimler, as he was the one who caused all the troublemaking—another way the show is changing up some of the dynamics for this season. It was not all nods and gags as the recruitment storyline was also a “reflection” for Mariner, who is faced with the fundamental question: does she really want to be in Starfleet? with Petra demonstrating what a real space rebel lifestyle can offer. Jack Quaid truly indulged himself as Bold—and now extra profane—Boimler let the world have it, with the show itself indulging in a bit of meta-commentary on the franchise, such as the debate over whether or not Starfleet is a military organization. And all of this paid off, so maybe Mariner’s concern that Boimler’s new Bold thing is going to get him killed wasn’t foreshadowing… or perhaps this is the calm before the storm of consequences.

Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler and Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner

Eye on mystery

Lower Decks likes to keep things tight and episodic, and this week did that for the most part, but it did pick up on a thread that has been dangling all series, which is the story behind Rutherford’s implant. The show is now pushing this as a big unresolved mystery and may even indicate a possible Starfleet coverup and conspiracy. Some project younger Rutherford got involved in went bad, losing him an eye and his memory of the whole thing. The series instinct to avoid heavy plot serialization has made this a very slow-burn story, but hopefully, they don’t leave it for another season to resolve.

Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford

Final thoughts

As we hit the halfway mark, the third season is really starting to come together with a close-to-perfect balance of character development, humor, and sci-fi plot, which is demonstrated in “Reflections.” After a lot of setup, it feels like things are really going to take off for the second half of season 3, and the anticipation can’t be greater.

Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler and Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner

MORE BITS

Random stuff

  • Stardate 58354.2
  • The USS Cerritos first visited Tulgana IV in the season one episode “Envoys.”
  • The “hellhole” Starbase 80 was previously mentioned as an undesired posting in the season one episode “Terminal Provocations.”
  • Tendi signed up for Starfleet at a recruitment booth.
  • Mariner has a degree in xeno-history.
  • The red and blue implant differentiator for the two Rutherfords could be a reference to the red pill/blue pill choice from The Matrix.
  • Petra Aberdeen’s name could be a mashup inspired by Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.
  • When Petra was in Starfleet she was assigned to the USS Victory, which was seen and mentioned in TNG and DS9, and served in the Dominion War.
  • Rutherford transferred to the Cerritos from Douglas Station on Stardate 56329.4. The station was first featured in the series premiere “Second Contact” set on Stardate 57436.2.
  • Rutherford has been on four dates with Ensign Barnes.
  • When Blue Rutherford manifests a scanner, it is the cool new T-88 diagnostic tool, like those he “borrowed” from the USS Vancouver.
  • Young Rutherford named his racing ship Sampaguita, after a flower found in the Philippines. Eugene Cordero is Filipino-American.
  • Boimler failed the Kobayashi Maru scenario 17 times.
  • Boimler added his own graffiti to the brig with “Boimler’s Guesthouse” with one check, next to “Mariner’s HQ” which has four marks.

The Rutherford’s ships

Laugh lines

  • You’re an anaphasic alien! / Nuh-uh, you are!
  • Hey pal, you are signing up for seven years in a windowless room.
  • Prepare yourself for warp 10 excitement. Discover the undiscovered country.
  • Starfleet crews get assimilated all the time. Hope you like being covered in black rubber tubing.
  • Yep, now we are both stuck in a blank white void.
  • Do you ever get to touch mummies?
  • How do we know you two don’t have butt bugs?
  • Stop trapping people inside of games!
  • The Doctor didn’t spend seven years in the Delta Quadrant for you f—ks to question his agency! He’s got rights!

Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler

More to come

Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket CastsStitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network. On Saturday, we’ll post our weekly analysis of Easter eggs and references for this episode.


New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It is available on Amazon Prime Video internationally on Fridays. It debuted in Latin America on Paramount+ in September.

Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.

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A pretty good episode and imo that this episode is a return to proper Lower Decks quality after 4 weak episodes.

I loved seeing more about how Rutherford got his implant and i hope we find out more about what went on this season. I liked seeing Mariner and Boimler at the recruitment booth and was surprised that it was Boimler who lost his cool rather then Mariner.

I kinda hope we see Mariner eventually leave Starfleet (even just for a few episodes) and join up with Petra as i have always felt she didn’t really want to be in Starfleet.

I thought the first episode was pretty good, but I totally I agree that the past 3 episodes have been “meh” at best. This episode felt like it was really doing something different which, in my opinion, is lower decks at its best!

Tastes vary.

I actually thought the premiere was one of the weaker episodes, but still solid even so.

My spouse and I have really enjoyed every episode this season. It’s a measure of enthusiasm that my spouse is actually caught up and I’m not rewatching with them weeks later. And their still laughing out loud many times per episode which is rare.

Red and Blue Fringe

Sorry, Trekmovie, but it’s a bit weird crediting the voice actors in each of the above pictures. Independent of the actual voice, those images aren’t the actor, they are…doodles. If anything the visual artist should be credited in the captions!

Yawn

Oh, for crying out loud. I’m sure you are the only person who finds it weird.

LOL, I agree

Nah, it’s always struck me as odd too.

The past two and a half seasons have been 75% Mariner & Boimler, 25% Tendi and Rutherford. I was so very glad to get to spend more time with Rutherford this week and to get some back story on him!

I just hope whatever the plot is about him doesn’t involve Section 31.

I really think it’s Section 31.

It is 100% S-31 and I hope they have a real good time with it.

Boimler’s freak out at the Starfleet booth is probably the best scene in all of STLD. Loved it!

LOL this one was great! Loved every minute of it. The stuff with Rutherford was classic deep dive character stuff in a great creative way and pushes the mystery that’s going on with him. But I thought the B story on Tulgana IV was soooo much fun! Boimler losing it and defending Starfleet was great to see. And I just loved all the references in this episode.People really do know about the exploits of Starfleet in all the worst ways possible lol. But hey who else protecting the alpha quadrant against the Borg, Domion, Romulans and butt bugs?

SEVEN SEASONS AND A MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am incredibly grateful to Lower Decks for giving me a lovely distraction from my weekly immunotherapy treatments on Thursdays.

After a few weaker episodes, this one hits it out of the park. I’m in too much pain to write out a whole review, so let me simply say this: Lower Decks’ strength is in how wholesome it is. Rutherford beats his asshole younger self through the power of friendship, and that’s just one example.

This show is hilarious, but it’s kind, wholesome, and not cynical. That matters.

Hang in there, and feel better.

I’m pulling for you, dude!

One other little Easter egg was that the starship model in the recruiting booth was the USS Victory that was mentioned in the episode.

Red & Blue Rutherford is more likely a reference to the classic Superman Red/Superman Blue story and the Petra Aberdeen is an archeology joke, Petra is Greek for Rock and Aberdeen is the site of numerous areological discoveries. Nothing to do with The Matrix or Hunger Games.

Reading a lot of what people are saying about this episode on Reddit, it really proves how great this show is. One of the things that is still VERY confusing for people is the whole military vibe Starfleet portrays. We know its NOT the military but they basically do treat it as such, the biggest being actual combat! I been watching Trek since the 70s and even for me, I still have a hard time with it.

It’s like if NASA armed their space vehicles and all the astronauts had to go through boot camp before being shot up into space. But it doesn’t stop there, if an unknown alien force in our universe, not Star Trek’s, did show up one day, then NASA would be the one to fight them too. I get in Star Trek when you’re exploring some isolated sector and you’re the only starfleet ship in the entire region and you come across some major dicks (Romulans, let’s just all say it, the Romulans) yeah you have to defend yourself. But when the Borg shows up to assimilate Earth there should be other people for that kind of thing too, like say, a military. Incidents like Wolf 359, Battle of the Binary Stars or fighting an entire war against the Dominion shouldn’t just be the explorers showing up for this stuff. There should be a specialized organization who fights solely to defend the Federation in my opinion. Call it a different name if you have to, but it should be there.

But it’s just great someone FINALLY just called it out on the show. This is why I love McMahan and this show. It really hits on all the things we both love about Star Trek but also the things that is questionable about it as well.

Walks like a duck, talks like a duck…

So, putting aside all the Roddenberrian hippy-dippy stuff, it is the military.

I just don’t understand if Roddenberry was so against Starfleet looking like the military, then why not create something else similar to it then? It really makes no sense to me at all. Of course, I understand you need to have excuses for Kirk, Picard or Sisko to fire on a ship or have a shoot out on a planet but you can still have military units too.

That’s why I loved the idea of the MACOs. That was a great addition to Trek and frankly just a realistic one. And I loved the conflict they added too because it created another layer of Starfleet officers seeing themselves as peaceful explorers but the MACOS was a reminder that space was really really dangerous and like it or not they were a necessary component; especially once they went to confront the Xindi. Of course once the Federation was created, that ended that so we can have a former MACO soldier turn into another uber-villain wanting to destroy the Federation over it, but I digress. ;)

Frankly the MACOs should’ve stayed and just became a self defense force to protect Earth or called upon when the Borg, Klingons or Breen showed up looking for trouble. Let the explorers keep exploring.

We can only guess what was in Roddenberry’s mind, but I think a large part of him never left the 60s. In this case, it was the lingering reaction to Vietnam and American ‘might makes right.’ Which is understandable. But still. If you have an organization of people who defend borders, have a rank structure like the US Navy, and have ships armed with torpedoes, along with a hero ship named after a WW2 aircraft carrier, well, I’m sorry but you got yourself a military there.

The best way I heard it put is like this: The Federation would like nothing more than to give the universe a big hug. Turns out, though, the universe isn’t a hugger, so that’s why Starfleet exists.

Yeah, can’t really argue with that! And that’s why I believe Starfleet had to be a huge organization after the Romulan war (even if TOS didn’t have the money or technology to really show it on screen) if you are both exploring the galaxy but also defending your territory in an area where there isn’t one but two neutral zones to patrol.

Although funny now I guess by the 25th century neither neutral zones exist anymore, so progress! :)

Yeah this confuses me too. Glad Boimler set those idiots at the booth straight but it does come off like a military outfit at times.

In the first JJ Verse movie Pike said Starfleet was an armada or something like that but no one should ever take the JJ verse movies seriously. 🙄

It was worse than that. If I’m remembering right, the writers were even more confused and called the ‘Federation’ a peacekeeping armada.

LOL, you are saying that like the JJ verse writers are the problem here. Ah, the irony. :-))

What? I’m not sure I know what you mean. I was pointing out that the writers of the 2009 movie got the Federation and Starfleet mixed up and it ended up in the final movie. It’s a bit of trivia.

What’s the ironic part?

My comment is not really directed at you specifically. It’s more that I find is ironically hilarious that many of the same Star Trek fans who apply critiques of the canon issues, mistakes and brain-farts in JJ Trek, give Lower Decks a complete free pass — and to me, Lower Decks insults my love and understanding of Star Trek at a much higher level than the Kelvin movies ever did.

Personally I can see and admit the issues on both shows though, but many of the fans who are buying everything they see as “real Star Trek” on LDS I think have lost all perspective given the sorts of brain-dead stuff for laughs on that show — WHICH IS CANON — far exceeds stuff like Budgeneering or a “Starfleet Peacekeeping Armada” mistep line in Trek 2009. So I find the ironically humerous!

PS: People also forget that lines like that “Starfleet is a peacekeeping armada” were in a script that was “locked” during filming due to the writers strike at that point in time, so rewrites to fix stuff like that was not possible. LDS doesn’t have excused for stuff that we see like them making snarky comments on Star Trek production stuff that is outside of canon and should never be said, or stuff we see like the entire starship physically shaking in space due to some music in the crew lounge.

Well, I don’t buy any of that “this is canon” stuff from the creators of LDS. I think it’s all just corporate talk so they can have their marketing opportunities for a “shared universe” and whatever multi-series crossovers they can advertise for Paramount+ and so forth. That’s simply the business model now in popular culture.

Me, I just try to take LDS as the standalone satire of Trek that it should have been all along and leave it at that. Saying this stuff is canon might be the biggest joke of them all.

Good point!

This is a great point actually. I’ll be honest I don’t care what’s canon or not canon I only care that I like it. I am a Star Trek fan but never obsessed about it either. Basically the only Star Trek I liked for a long time was TNG and VOY. I didn’t even really call myself a Star Trek fan until years later because I wasn’t into the other shows including TOS. It felt weird to say I was a fan of the franchise if I never watched the original show. At least to me at the time.

But my point is I never watched something because it was ‘canon’. I think LDS should be canon but it doesn’t have to be either. I don’t like JJ verse at all but I don’t care it’s canon either. Never had an issue with that or any of it. But like you said I think it’s become a corporate mindset to just make it all canon because it gives all of it weight I guess.

Look at Star Wars, when Disney took it over they went even further with it and made EVERY piece of media canon. That doesn’t just include the comics and novels which wasn’t under Lucas but now even the video games are canon. THE VIDEO GAMES BRO!!! They gone crazy with it. 🙄

So if people think LDS shouldn’t be canon because it’s bonkers I totally get where they are coming from. I don’t have an issue at all but I’m biased because I love it! 😁👍

But I would still love it if it wasn’t. I think most fans would feel the same. But it could be worse at least the new Lower Decks video game isn’t canon…yet. 🤣

One day though, Paramount may go Disney on it all if they think they will get more $$$ out of it.

Ok thanks! I couldn’t remember the exact wording. I’ve only seen it twice back in 2009 at the theater. Never had the urge to watch it ever again.

WHY THE EFF’ is this show so good?

IT’S A CARTOOOON it’s not SUPPOSED to be this gooood.

Ugh…

Two great character-driven episodes in a row, with deep cuts that don’t feel like force-fed fan service.

The show is zany and silly, but I love how ultimately warm-hearted it is. The moment that the entire gang showed up in the Delta Flyer, I actually cheered.

The last two episodes have been brilliant, I still think the Rutherford implant memory was originally for a story arc relating to Captain Freeman’s arrest at the end of season 2

Lower Decks just keep on bringing it!! Another fantastic episode!

Show is on top of its game. As a hardcore 24th century Trek fan if I had only TNG, DS9, VOY, PRO and LDS as the only Trek I get to watch for the rest of my life I wouldn’t complain! 😎

I can’t get over how well written this entire episode is, it’s so deep in the weeds of the TNG universe that I take for granted that I’m watching a NEW Star Trek series and not a rerun. As always, another episode that proves Mike McMahon was raised on the same Trek I was, no detail spared.

Damn, that’s the second ep in a row that’s reverted to the middle-school level BS that it was seeming like they have moved past this season. I had been enjoying the first couple eps until last week’s, now we get this crapfest. Like Starfleet would ever need to have recruiting booths set up with these immature bozos trying to get people singed up — give me an effing break.

It’s just pathetic to see Star Trek reduced to this nonsensical BS. I’ll keep watching thought given I’m told by CBS that everything I see on this series actually happens in Star Trek’s future history.

Come on, let’s have more eps like the first two eps on this season. Those actually made sense and were not insulting to my intelligence and love for Star Trek.

This was a fantastic episode, my favourite of the season so far.

This we agree on! :)

Now that’s more like it. After a mixed bag in the first four episodes this one was excellent.

“Ooh, the one where you’re in a new timeline with Kirk and Spock where they have cinematic chemistry?”

How did I miss this line?!? I missed it in my first watch but someone mentioned it on YouTube and I had no idea what they were talking about. I watched the episode again when I got home and it’s hilarious! This is why I love this show so much. And it’s always nice when somebody remembers the Kelvin movies and don’t treat them like they have a disease.

See, McMahan cares! ;D

lol I am glad I am not the only one that thought Kelvin timeline.

“…don’t treat them like they have a disease.”

They are danger and disease, wrapped in darkness and silence. See, I remember ’em… -)

Seriously, I like them, at least 1 and 3… STID was horrible…

Probably one of the best episodes of the series so far. It felt like they balanced the humor with the drama/mystery well. On a side note, did anyone notice that the electronic headgear attached to Rutherford in Sickbay looked sort of like the helmet scanner thing Dr. Crusher wore in “Lonely Among Us”…

Absolutely delightful! I actually find myself caring about these characters, in this case Rutherford. That’s not unusual for a cartoon or Trek, but I’ve not seen NuTrek pull those strings with me in ages.

I really loved the ships designs in this one. The Rom warbird was especially great looking and full of nice reflections. It looked better then TNG. Delta flyer was also nice.

I hope we get another season of LD.

Well season 4 was green lit a year ago, so we’re good for that. I’m hoping we get SEVEN seasons…and then a MOVIE! ;D

Ha ha that would be so cool! Let’s hope so! 👍👍

I think “seven years in a windowless room” is a bit of an oblique reference to Jon Adams’ “Chief O’Brien At Work” webcomic. https://chiefobrienatwork.com/post/106684455801/episode-1-résumé-builder-read-the-next-episode

lol I have never seen this. Sounds very likely this is a reference.

I really enjoyed this one. Rutherford’s implant back story is intriguing and I loved the callback to Voyager. By far, Boimler’s meltdown was the best! I was in tears laughing so hard.