One of my biggest concerns about Lower Decks going in was that it was going to be mean-spirited. This was mostly borne out of Rick and Morty depending a great deal on humor centered around sarcastic abuse and nastiness. Not that that’s a bad thing in and of itself, but it’s not really a good fit for Star Trek.
“Envoys” shows that perhaps I needn’t have worried.
I got to the end of this episode feeling pleased and happy, which I’m pretty sure is what the script was going for. It reminded me favorably of the DS9 episode “In the Cards,” in which Jake and Nog do a series of cascading favors for various crew members in order to obtain a Willie Mays baseball card that Jake wants to give to his father. The end result was that everyone on the station was happier than they were when the episode started.
Now, “Envoys” isn’t anywhere near that, well, high-stakes. “In the Cards,” after all, was the final episode before the Dominion War kicked in, but it worked as a palate-cleanser prior to that, and also a reminder that the future of Star Trek is, at its heart, a place where things are better than they are now.
There are two plots in “Envoys,” and each of them have as their theme support and helping people out.
Boimler has received what he views as a plum assignment: piloting a Klingon general to a meeting on a planet via shuttlecraft. Mariner thinks it’s a crappy assignment, but she gets herself added to the team, claiming it’s because she wants to see what Boimler is making such a fuss about, but truly because she and the Klingon, named K’Rin, are old buddies.
The trip down consists of Mariner and K’Rin getting drunk and singing and reminiscing, leaving Boimler to do all the work. K’Rin insists on landing in the Klingon district of the planet, and then has passed out by the time they land—and then he wakes up and steals the shuttle. Since communications and transporters don’t work through this planet’s atmosphere (that’s why they were using a shuttle in the first place), Boimler and Mariner have to track him down on foot.
The resultant search is a comedy of errors as Boimler almost gets eggs laid in his head by an alien disguised as a beautiful woman, doesn’t realize a person getting beat up in a bar is a shapeshifter, and fails to speak an alien language properly. Meanwhile, Mariner navigates all these problems effortlessly, saving Boimler’s ass repeatedly. Boimler is frustrated that all his studying has been for naught, and—after inadvertently starting a bar fight—pretty much gives up on everything. He tosses away his combadge and says he’s quitting Starfleet.
Shortly after that, they encounter a Ferengi who offers them a ride in his shuttle. Boimler is suspicious, but Mariner insists that that’s not a Ferengi, it’s a Bolian (it’s totally a Ferengi), and Boimler reveals that the Ferengi’s lying by asking for his landing code, which all shuttles need in order to land on the planet. The Ferengi runs away, and Mariner admits that Boimler was right and she was wrong, and she almost got them killed.
Then they find their own shuttle, with K’Rin passed out again inside it. They dump him at the meeting and then head back to the Cerritos, where Boimler proceeds to tell everyone about how Mariner didn’t know a Ferengi when she saw one. Boimler is the hit of the bar, and Mariner slinks off, seemingly annoyed—but it turns out the Ferengi they met was also an old buddy of hers, who set up a situation that would allow Boimler to get his groove back.
Meanwhile, back on the Cerritos, Rutherford is faced with a difficult decision: stay in engineering, where he works long hours crawling around Jefferies Tubes (which he loves), or switch to another division with a less full schedule so he can join Tendi to watch a pulsar the ship is scheduled to study.
The problem here is that Rutherford isn’t really suited to the other divisions. He does well in security, thanks to his bionic implants, but it’s not what he really loves (and the notion of dying doesn’t appeal, which, as we all know, is the fate of most people in security). And he crashes and burns pretty spectacularly at command (he freezes in every situation, causing lots of death and destruction) and medical (his bedside manner is dreadful).
What’s fun about this subplot is that Rutherford is worried constantly about disappointing people, and they never actually are. When he tells the chief engineer—who has just fulsomely sung his praises—that he wants to transfer out, the entire engineering staff cheers him on for following his bliss, as it were. When he tells the chief of security—a grizzled Bajoran, Lieutenant Shaxs—that he wants to go back to engineering (after staring longingly at a Jefferies Tube and being told by Shaxs that he’ll never “have” to crawl in one again), the security staff has the exact same reaction as the engineering staff did.
And it turns out that Tendi is perfectly okay with sitting in the Jefferies Tube while Rutherford works and watching the pulsar with him on a padd. She just wants the company because she’s new and doesn’t have many friends yet.
The episode isn’t perfect. We still have too many instances of trying too hard to be funny, most notably Mariner playing with the shuttle’s blast shield like a five-year-old. And Ransome’s eagerness to see how many people Rutherford can kill on the holodeck is more than a little disturbing. Having said that, I laughed hardest in the whole half-hour when the big, nasty Taksor that Boimler bumps into and tries and fails to apologize to turns out to just be a kid. (“My Dad’s gonna kill me!”)
Still, this episode manages the balance that “Second Contact” didn’t, mixing Trek-ian compassion and optimism with humor.
- It looks like each episode will open with a silly bit that has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. In this case, we have that old Trek standby, a being of pure energy who wants to destroy the ship. Mariner wastes no time in trying to stuff it into a container, and the creature tries to bargain with them to avoid that fate. It’s funnier than last week’s opener, but it still left me pretty cold, though I liked the idea of a being of pure energy who is also really really stupid…
- We get several references to Risa as well as to jamaharon, which is what people on Risa call a sexual liaison. In addition, we see a whole bunch of Andorians and Klingons, and Rutherford’s initial training in security is to face off against a bunch of Borg. (Shaxs calls the combat simulation “Smorgas-Borg.”)
- My favorite, though, is that the shapechanger that Boimler accidentally lets escape is a Vendorian! Seen only in the animated episode “The Survivor,” it’s a lovely little touch that made my nerdy heart squee with glee.
- Speaking of Shaxs, he’s your prototypical drill-sergeant type, complete with a scar over one eye that he inexplicably hasn’t had replaced (do you really want your security chief to have no depth perception?), and I have to admit to getting a giggle out of hearing his gruff voice saying, “By the Prophets!”
- Ransome mentions “the Janeway Protocol” in the holodeck when Rutherford is trying and failing to be in command of the bridge. We never do find out what that is…..
- We get more hints of Mariner’s complicated past, which includes deep friendships with a Klingon general and a Ferengi, and I have to admit to having the same question Boimler does after she says she did some off-the-books gray ops with K’Rin back in the day: “We’re, like, the same age, back in what day?”
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