Boimler and Mariner run afoul of a drunken Klingon, and Rutherford has a Starfleet identity crisis.
So far, Star Trek: Lower Decks has seemed to suffer from a major structural problem: it’s more a workplace sitcom with Trek trappings than an irreverent take on Trek itself. The idea of exploring one of Starfleet’s least important ships, and the least-important crew members on that ship, is interesting. Like I mentioned last week, I’d love to learn more about the kind of people Starfleet doesn’t elevate to flagships like the Enterprise. In “Envoys,” we get a little of that, but overall it keeps its course focused on Trekkie name drops and some frustrating wheel-spinning for our cast of Starfleet scrubs.
This week, our will-they-won’t-they duo of Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) are tasked to play envoy to a Klingon ambassador, one whom Mariner is acquainted. They carouse and trade jokes much to Boimler’s exclusion while traveling to the pleasure planet of Risa, before the drunken ambassador takes off with their shuttlecraft and they’re stranded in the unsecured Klingon district.
Here, we get what is surely going to be their dynamic for the course of the show: Mariner is the exuberant, rebellious fun-seeker who keeps getting the bookish fraidy-cat Boimler in trouble. It repeats itself in a number of redundant, rinse-repeat scenarios: Boimler gets comfortable with a human-looking creature, only to learn that it’s hostile as the world-weary Mariner chases it off. They’re oil and water, and while that makes for an intriguing sitcom dynamic, it’s also pretty damn familiar, and one hopes they get some more shades as the show goes on.
Granted, this dynamic could be at the heart of Lower Decks‘ primary ethos — the desire to belong to a team. Mariner needs to not feel like the coolest person in the room, and Boimler needs to loosen up and stop following the rulebook. In that respect, these two characters have a lot to learn from each other and have more than a little pride to swallow.
After enough of these encounters, Mariner tries to reassure him, “Badass people like me need book-smart people like you!” But it’s clear Lower Decks is content, for now, to use him as a punching bag. Even when he gets a chance to show his stuff (citing Starfleet knowledge when dealing with an unscrupulous Ferengi) the end reveals Mariner just set him up to give him some confidence back. When the scenarios play out this repetitively, it’s hard to invest in our new characters, especially if we don’t learn anything new about them.
Meanwhile, back on the Cerritos, Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) becomes disillusioned with his engineering gig. Seeking his bliss, he decides to train in other disciplines to see which department he might thrive in. This B-plot, while slight, is the more interesting one, given Rutherford’s gung-ho attitude paired with his obvious failings. He’s too brutally honest for Medical, and too indecisive for command. (His training scenario, where he accidentally and specifically gets the ship’s children killed, is easily the best moment this week).
[W]hen the scenarios play out this repetitively, it’s hard to really invest in our new characters.
His brief stint in Security proves he’s shockingly good at combat (complete with a reference to the tracking-camera shot from Leigh Whannel’s Upgrade). But he’s too squeamish to make that a career, no matter how much his cybernetic eye helps him. Eventually, he settles for Engineering, to the delight of Tendi (Noël Wells), who we remember is also here. It’s slight as subplots go, but at least I care more about the well-being of these two. Rutherford is adorably Starfleet in his bushy-tailed awkwardness, Tendi the optimist that can bring him out of his shell. Let’s just hope that some of these characters show signs of growth before the season’s out.
If these two subplots are any indicator of Lower Decks‘ quality moving forward, we’re in for a long season, folks. Say what you will about Discovery and Picard, but they’re at least attempting to be earnest if shakily-handled Star Trek. As is, Lower Decks is playing it too safe, settling for reference-heavy fanfic with no stakes or sense of wonder. We’re boldly going where every office sitcom has gone before, exploring strange new meetings and new human resources violations. It’s harmless and safe, to be sure; nothing about this screams this is a bad show. But given Trek’s promise, and the intriguing possibilities of a comedic take on the franchise, one hopes they branch out. Let’s see some strange new takes on the material.
- Yes, this is the episode with the “blast shield” gag. No, it doesn’t get funny this time.
- Okay, fine, the cold open with the godlike energy being (who grants mundane wishes to Mariner) was cute. He poops out a li’l tricorder!
- Some Easter eggs: the jamaharon idols from Risa (which are basically big DTF idols); gagh; the Ferengi Boimler and Mariner meet still has the goofy furs from their first-season TNG appearance; a Vendorian from The Animated Series crops up; etc.
- Insert sci-fi joke about how all alien names “have an apostrophe for some reason.”
- That said: I love the Lower Decks version of the Starfleet uniform. The booties alone, with their little Starfleet logos on the bottom, are a joy to look at every time.