Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3, Episode 5 – Debuted Thursday, September 22, 2022
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Michael Mullen
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.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
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 Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher 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.