A personal journey for T’Lyn, the newest lower decker, and a fun romp with some Betazoid diplomats prove the ship is the best place to be for a young officer.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the work being covered here wouldn’t exist.
T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz) has been a great addition to the Lower Decks faithful. Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Boimler (Jack Quaid), Tendi (Noël Wells), and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) are all still outstanding characters, and their new promotions to lieutenant (junior grade) have created plenty of interesting new challenges for them. But the truth is that our favorite foursome have made a great deal of progress over the past three seasons. They still have more room to run, but we’ve seen each of them grow and mature a lot since the show began, so it’s harder for them to truly surprise the audience at this point.
T’Lyn, on the other hand, is the right mix of familiar sensibilities and new possibilities. Her debut in season 2’s “wej Duj” established her Vulcan lower decker bona fides. She was someone at the bottom of the chain of command, full of potential, and just a hint rebellious. But by the time she actually transfers to the Cerritos, though, we don’t know much more about her than the fact that she’s still smarting from being exiled. So she has the right profile to fit in with Mariner and the gang, but still has plenty of new places to go as a character.
If that weren’t enough to validate her as a new addition, T’Lyn fits a classic Star Trek archetype: the outsider who feels they don’t quite belong. So when a trio of Betazoid diplomats (voiced with flair by Rachel Dratch, Janelle James, and Wendie Malick) pop up on the Cerritos, bringing a party vibe that invigorates the whole ship, a comparatively staid Vulcan like T’Lyn feels that much more out of place in her temporary home.
So in a deft narrative choice, rather than joining the festivities, she tries to send a message to her former commanding officer saying she’s been punished enough and wants to come home. Much to her barely-repressed frustration, she finds the message stymied by a communications blackout. Her constant refreshing and futile button-pushing is relatable, as is that nagging feeling of waiting for a change that might or might not ever come.
T’Lyn’s trajectory isn’t hard to guess. Surely, she’ll eventually find herself feeling at home and among friends on the Cerritos. But her yearning to return to the type of community she thinks of as comfortable and right is sympathetic, and gives him somewhere to go.
As strong and personal as that concept is, “Empathological Fallacy” is mainly a dose of madcap fun. The three Betazoid diplomats are a total blast and worthy inheritors of the archetype that Majel Barrett made famous as Lwaxana Troi. Their party-hearty attitude, telepathic digs, and flirtatious bent make them fun agents of chaos aboard an ostensibly regimented Starfleet vessel, and the actors play it to the hilt.
“Empathological Fallacy” also makes the most of the diplomats’ effect on others. A whole host of officers aboard the Cerritos suddenly begin acting wild in their emotions. The smart money is on a case of Zanthi fever, a malady that leads Betazoids to provoke emotional outbursts from those around them (and which once afflicted Ms. Troi herself on Deep Space Nine). Seeing Dr. Migleemow (Paul F. Tompkins) freak out at a replicator, or Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) weep over a rejection, or the rest of this collection of knuckleheads make a nude human pyramid is all great fun.
There’s just one problem: the Betazoid visitors don’t have Zanthi fever. Instead, in a nice feint, their emotions are being amplified by the same confounding external cause everyone else is dealing with. That sets up a solid mystery as to what’s really causing the issue if it’s not the Cerritos’ empathic guests, and makes room for one more twist.
In an amusing-yet-cool choice, it turns out the diplomats are only feigning their party girl attitudes. In fact, they’re actually members of the Betazoid intelligence agency who resolve to take over the ship in their brain-scrambled fury. Seeing them go from “woo girl” to “John Woo girl” — neutralizing the Starfleet officer with balletic badassery and batons — makes for an entertaining shift at the episode’s midpoint.
While all this chaos is going on, Rutherford sends an overstressed Boimler to something cryptically referred to only as “the program” with Shax and the other security officers. There’s some good laughs to be had when Boimler is expecting to receive some secret badass training of his own, only to find that the ship’s security officers spend their time doing slam poetry, charades (which Kayshon is amusingly less-than-great-at), jigsaw puzzles, and tarot cards. The episode gets great comic mileage out of Boimler’s impatience to try his hand at grueling psychological tests and physical challenges, only to receive group bonding and mental relaxation instead.
But there’s a point to this subversion of expectations for Boimler and the audience: the security team is all about a healthy mind in a healthy body. The choice dovetails with how “Empathological Fallacy” is, in many ways, a tribute to the Troi family. Despite some snickering from fans, one of the reasons Counselor Troi was such a presence in The Next Generation was Gene Roddenberry’s belief that, in the future, mental health would be treated as seriously as physical health. The reveal that the security team not only goes to great lengths to keep themselves mentally fit, but tries to protect the minds of their crewmates like Boimler as much as their bodies, is a nice realization of that idea all these years later.
Plus, Shax and company show how well it works when they’re able to spring into action to take down the interlopers from Betazed. But Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) deserves a big assist in the effort. She uses the lure of secret info to get one of the diplomats to probe her mind, in a ploy to reveal the catty barbs the telepaths lob at one another when they think the others aren’t listening. The discord it causes is just enough of a distraction to let the Captain signal a red alert, and it’s nice to see her get the win through cleverness and guile.
But stopping the invaders still doesn’t solve the underlying problem of what’s causing these emotional disturbances. That takes her daughter. Mariner discovers it’s not their Betazoid guests who are causing the problem — it’s T’Lyn. It turns out the newest lower decker has Bendii syndrome, a Vulcan condition that similarly prompts an alien with psychic abilities to radiate their emotional instability to unsuspecting passersby.
The twist is a great one, suckering longtime fans in with a seemingly obvious explanation to the crisis of the week, while shifting to another one just as plausible and rooted in Star Trek history, but more personal to our protagonist.
Because T’Lyn’s affliction is the product of her unhappiness aboard the Cerritos and insecurity that she is “not Vulcan enough.” Most commendably, the cure isn’t some sickbay injection or rerouting her mental energy through the main deflector dish; it’s talking things out with a friend.
Mariner becomes T’Lyn’s sounding board, someone who not only hears her out, but reassures that she is good enough for whatever she wants to do, tells her she’s valid for who she is, and points out that the fact she has the same condition as none other than the legendary Sarek means she’s “Vulcan as a motherfucker.” Beckett’s comfort and compassion not only stops the psychic disruption, it helps a friend in need to feel better at the same time.
It’s enough to convince T’Lyn to cancel her message home and decide to stick around on the Cerritos. There is, after all, more of a journey worth taking here: with friends who listen to you, colleagues who care about your friendship, and plenty of room to grow with these nutty humans. Who wouldn’t want to try it out for just a little bit longer?
Adding a new lower decker to the core cast could have been a dicey proposition. You never know how plopping a new ingredient into the soup is going to affect a winning recipe. But in the right hands, T’Lyn’s arrival has become a great way to validate the supportive environment Mariner and company have forged on the Cerritos. And it’s also been a heartening means to help another young officer who doesn’t feel like she’s where she’s supposed to be, steadily realize she’s right where she belongs.