Ensign Boimler meets Captain Pike in a time-traveling adventure with something profound on its mind.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
“Those Old Scientists” may be the most ambitious crossover Star Trek has ever done. The franchise has seen characters from the 1960s series cross paths with those from its 1990s shows. It’s deposited Captain Sisko and company straight into an episode of The Original Series. It’s seen one-off animated cameos of characters reprising roles they originated a half-century earlier.
But the latest Trek mash-up is a full-fledged combination of two different series, in two different mediums, set in two different time periods, with two different sensibilities. And rather than shying away from the challenge of making Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks mesh over an extended runtime, the creative team spends nearly the entire hour cross-pollinating the two shows with commitment and conviction, with tremendous success.
That’s why “Those Old Scientists” is such an achievement. There’s a remarkable degree of difficulty here. Mixing LD’s motor-mouthed comic stylings with SNW’s more traditional approach could have created too much of a tonal clash. But a handful of confounded reaction shots from the Enterprise faithful and one cheeky exchange between Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) on the difference in patter, is all it takes to make both casts feel right at home together.
In the same vein, translating characters from animation to live-action can go terribly awry. (Star Trek’s interstellar cousins in the Galaxy Far Far Away have had a mixed go of it.) But with Newsome and Quaid themselves making the jump from ink-and-paint to flesh-and-blood, Mariner and Boimler feel pitch-perfect despite the medium shift.
Quaid’s nervous fanboy-in-space isn’t a far cry from the vibe he perfected in live-action on The Boys. Newsome brings the same uber-confident, razzing energy to the set as she does to the recording booth. And the glimpse of the Strange New Worlds intro and cast in animation is no less fun and no less amusing in their goofy acknowledgment of the different aesthetic.
Still, uniting characters from different time periods, while far less novel for the franchise, can be just as disastrous. And yet, “Those Old Scientists” threads the needle brilliantly. The episode makes great comic hay from it. Bradward and Beckett’s shaky efforts to avoid tampering with the past or changing the future result in plenty of fun gags like Boimler persuading the whole bridge crew to look the other way while he uses his future know-how to jury-rig the ship’s sensors.
The temporal hop is plot-relevant too. After Boimler slips through a time portal and ends up on Pike’s Enterprise, with Mariner not far behind, the two shows’ collective brain trusts must figure out how to send the time-displaced Lower Deckers back to the future. A tricky encounter with an antagonistic Orion scout ship is made all the more complicated by Boimler’s knowledge that the great-grandmother of his dear friend Tendi (Noël Wells) is on board.
And, as is customary and right for Star Trek’s jaunts to the past, the time travelers end up having a clever and clockwork role in ensuring the history they know still comes to pass (albeit with a few bumps tastefully swept under the rug). The time hops are central to the narrative, not just a thin excuse to have folks from two different series pal around for a while.
Most importantly, though, “Those Old Scientists” uses the junior officers from the twenty-fourth century meeting their decorated heroes from one hundred and twenty years earlier to say something about both sets of characters and the broader idea of historical nostalgia.
The episode is, in effect, Boimler’s Midnight in Paris. In Bradward’s time period, he yearns for a chance to go back to the “golden age of exploration” and rub elbows with the greats of Starfleet history. Only when he gets there, he feels awkward and out of place. The officers he admires as gods turn out to be capable individuals who are, nonetheless, recognizably human (if you’ll pardon the expression, Spock).
That startles Boimler, forcing him to reevaluate his gauzy view of the past and reconsider the merits of his present. The trip back in time not only shakes him out of his “good old days” hagiography but prompts Bradward to accept the truth of who the crewmembers of the USS Enterprise really are, apart from the deified figures he puts on a pedestal.
And as much as the likes of Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) and Ortegas (Melissa Navia) bust Boimler’s chops for his starry-eyed fanboying, the episode acknowledges how natural, even universal, it is to look back with such fondness. The members of Pike’s crew, even the ones whom Boimler practically worships, admit to their own daydreams about what it’d be like to step onto Archer’s Enterprise NX-01.
True to the bottom-up, workaday spirit of Lower Decks, Ortegas and Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) even pay tribute to helmsman Travis Mayweather and linguist Hoshi Sato, the two most underserved cast members of Star Trek: Enterprise, as forerunners and role models. Their captain, the famed Jonathan Archer, himself idolized warp flight pioneer Zefram Cochrane, in keeping with the episode’s themes that the heroes of the past you’re chasing were chasing legends of their own. That humbling perspective, and a timely Cary Grant quote from Pelia (Carol Kane), help Boimler to find his way.
That bigger idea is the cinch of the episode. It would be so easy for a stunt like mashing together these two disparate shows to settle for being little more than a neat party trick. “Those Old Scientists” could easily get away with coasting on the novelty and thrill of seeing capable, freewheeling Beckett Mariner interact with the bemused-but-distinguished Captain Pike (Anson Mount). Instead, Strange New Worlds uses the crossover as an opportunity to drive at bigger Star Trek themes, and to do something meaningful for the leading lights of both series, that emerges naturally from the mix of personnel.
Mariner geeks out about the chance to meet Uhura. (Mirroring Whoopi Goldberg’s hopes for Guinan in Star Trek Generations.) Nyota has the opposite experience of Boimler, with it feeling strange to have folks like Beckett treat you as a living god when you feel like a normal young adult still trying to figure the job, and yourself, out. The writers smartly dramatize that side of the “meet your heroes” equation too.
But Mariner helps Uhura, practically haranguing her to break from the workaholism the show explored in the last episode, with the breather helping Nyota to piece together the linguistic puzzle she’d been trying to solve. The episode gently implies that Mariner’s advice to cut loose once in a while helped spur Uhura to become the revered officer we know she’ll be, a heartening twist for both characters.
The most comic and heartbreaking subplot sees Boimler aghast that the famously stoic Spock (Ethan Peck) is smiling, and even laughing in an effort to embrace his human side. Bradward’s confused and concerned reactions are a hoot, and pairing him with his idol helps bring about the laughs and the bigger epiphany the young ensign needs. But he confides in none other than Nurse Chapel about his concerns, fretting that his tampering messed up the version of Spock history all but demands.
His misguided confession inadvertently tells Christine that her romance with the Vulcan isn’t meant to last, with understandably devastating emotional consequences. And it stokes preexisting anxieties that she’s the one messing up the storied life Spock is meant to live. Bush nails their scene in the elevator together, and once again, the presence of someone from Lower Decks has a meaningful effect on someone from Strange New Worlds.
Sometimes that type of exchange is wholesome though! Mariner disgusts Number One (Rebecca Romijn) with the implication that Boimler has a pin-up poster of her in his bunk. Instead, it turns out he has her Starfleet recruitment poster, the one that inspired him to join up in the first place. In a lovely coda to Una’s feature episode this season, the poster reads “Ad Astra Per Aspera”, her personal mantra. There is such beauty and poetry in Commander Chin-Riley being nearly drummed out of the service for what she was, and instead becoming Starfleet’s literal poster girl for who she is and what her story represents.
And in the final humorous-turned-touching story thread, Boimler’s knowledge of the future clues the rest of the crew in that Pike’s birthday is coming up. The Captain wants to spend it alone, having imagined conversations with his dad they never had the chance to in life. But Beckett and Bradward convince him to let his friends and confidantes throw him a party to have those conversations with him since they know, and one never knows, how much time you have left.
It’s a simple little story, but it works on so many levels. It ties into the ongoing thread of Pike considering what to do with his remaining days, knowing what lies ahead, that’s been with Strange New Worlds since the beginning. As with Uhura, Spock, Chapel, and Number One, these are not random interactions or generic realizations. Instead, they provoke significant shifts and realizations, good and bad, that connect directly to what the SNW characters have already been grappling with this season.
As with Boimler’s new understanding about his idols having idols of their own, it evokes a similar perspective-broadening realization for Captain Pike. What he once wanted from his father, others might now want from him, with the changing of the guard that represents. And it dovetails with the episode’s wide-ranging reflections on time and legacy, with missed opportunities of the past giving way to new opportunities in the present, an ideal that moves even the mercenary Orions to change their minds.
There is a telescoping brilliance to the combinations and catharsis at play in “Those Old Scientists.” The initial thrill of the crossover gives way to the fun-but-meaningful character beats for all involved, which gives way to more profound ideas about historical perspective and the pitfalls of nostalgia. That wraps back around to heroes from two time periods, two shows, two takes on Star Trek coming together to help one another and save the day in the process.
To call it merely ambitious would damn the episode with faint praise. To call the crossover impressive shortchanges the chutzpah it takes to pull something like this off. Smashing Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks together could easily have been a mere gimmick and gotten by just fine. Instead, the creative teams of two series move the ball forward for each, capitalizing on the ways that the two casts are different to make meaning, and teasing out the places where, despite those distinctions, they fit together perfectly.
It is a blend of what fans love from both shows, a tribute to the Star Trek legacy each is chasing, and an affirmation of their shared project to move the franchise forward in the here and now. With any luck, someday we’ll all be looking back on episodes like this one, and once again remember it as part of Star Trek’s good old days.