“That is messed up!” — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “Cupid’s Errant Arrow”

When I reviewed “Envoys,” I mentioned my fear going into Lower Decks was that its humor would depend on being mean-spirited, based on the tone taken by Rick and Morty, in which much of the humor derives from Rick’s misanthropic snottiness. Star Trek is pretty much the antithesis of misanthropy.

Lower Decks had been thankfully free of such meanness—until this week.

[SPOILERS AHOY!]

The entire A-plot depends on Mariner being incredibly awful, even by her already-low standards. We learn that Boimler has a girlfriend, Lieutenant Barbara Brinson, a science officer on the U.S.S. Vancouver, whom he met a few months earlier. Initially, Mariner assumes that Boimler made her up, and suspects that their “date” will be on the holodeck, but Boimler insists that she’s real.

When they meet in the Vancouver shuttlebay, the first thing Mariner says is, “Computer, end program,” and after that, she devotes a ridiculous amount of energy to proving that Brinson is some kind of shapechanger or alien creature in disguise or something, anything other than a woman who is interested in Boimler as a boyfriend. Because she doesn’t believe that Boimler could have a girlfriend.

That is, frankly, disgusting. There’s a sop to making it derive in part from a bad past experience Mariner had on a previous posting, where a shipmate’s seemingly perfect boyfriend turned out to be an alien in disguise who then ate the friend alive. But ultimately, it boils down to Mariner thinking that Boimler is a sad loser who could never possibly attract a smart, intelligent woman, so the woman must be something evil.

And, of course, she winds up being right, because the show is constructed in a way that Mariner is always right and Boimler is always wrong, though her specifics are off: It isn’t Brinson who’s been altered, it’s Boimler. He’s got a parasite on him that makes him incredibly attractive to the first person he sees after it infests him. (This was, somehow, missed by all the sensors and biofilters and such on the Cerritos and the Vancouver.)

It’s cute that Brinson is equally convinced that Mariner is some kind of spy/shapechanger/alien/whatever because of how crazy she’s being, and amusing that the two of them bond after Brinson breaks up with Boimler, but it’s not enough to mitigate the awfulness of the premise.

The B-plot with Rutherford and Tendi is less compelling also. The Vancouver‘s chief engineer, Ron Docent, assigns the two of them to run some diagnostics, using the fresh-off-the-line new diagnostic tool, the T-88. I love how the two of them nerd out over getting to use the spiffy new tech. But Docent tells them that whoever completes their task fastest will get a T-88, leading the two of them to compete nastily against each other.

Credit: CBS

This makes no sense in a replicator-based system like Starfleet. No mention is made of the T-88 being impossible to replicate, and it makes no sense for them to use such a tool if it can’t be. It’s possible that the Vancouver is testing the new tech, which is why it hasn’t been issued throughout Starfleet yet, but that’s only a matter of time—and anyhow, it’s not stated that it’s being tested, just that it’s new, and the Vancouver got it first. But again, that doesn’t track when you have replicators on your ship.

On top of that, Docent actually meant that the winner would be transferred to the Vancouver, which is eventually revealed to be a deception to get himself transferred to the Cerritos because the pressure on the Vancouver is too much.

The Docent subplot could’ve been fun. It’s a nifty idea, truthfully, someone who is stressed out by the types of missions that Starfleet ships tend to go on. (“It’s all, tow this space station, recalibrate the Dyson Sphere, go back in time and kill the guy that was worse than Hitler!”) But to get there, we have to go through the stupid competition, and then a childish monkey-in-the-middle game followed by a chase through the Vancouver corridors as Rutherford and Tendi steal Docent’s padd before he can put through the transfer order.

And then in the end, Tendi and Rutherford both stole some T-88s from the Vancouver and brought them back to the Cerritos. Which is revolting.

The best part of this episode—by far—is the C-plot, which is the most traditionally Star Trek plot, and one that actually manages the balance between comedy and telling a Trek tale. The Cerritos and Vancouver are teaming up to implode a moon that is endangering the planet. Unfortunately, there are diplomatic issues, as some people worship the moon, some people live on it, plus they rely on it to manage tides and things. Captain Freeman is at her most captainly here, as she works to find a solution that will please everyone, and she almost manages it—except there’s one civilization on one of the other moons, which will be destroyed by Freeman’s solution. So they keep working to find another way—up until the representative from that moon reveals that his “civilization” is two people, him and his wife. They own the moon, as they’re incredibly rich, and live there by themselves.

Upon realizing that, Freeman goes back to Plan A, and everyone’s happy. Except for the rich asshole, but that’s okay…

The formula of Mariner is always right and Boimler always gets screwed is growing tiresome, mostly because Mariner is such an awful person. I also don’t like the episode leaning into the notion that Boimler is so gormless that he could only have a good relationship with a nifty person if he was possessed by a parasite. Overall, this gives us an episode of exactly what I was most concerned about when I found out that a Rick and Morty executive producer would be in charge: It’s Star Trek if they were all jerks.

Credit: CBS

Random thoughts:

  • There is no teaser this week: We dive right into the opening credits, and then the episode. Normally, I would assume that the episode ran long, so they cut it, but this is streaming, not commercial television where you’re locked into a specific running time that you can’t go over or under. Maybe they just didn’t do one this week. Whatever.
  • In the flashback to Mariner’s time on the U.S.S. Quito, where her best friend was eaten by her boyfriend-who-was-really-an-alien-in-disguise, the uniforms they wear are the First Contact ones that debuted in 2373 (seven years prior to this episode), but the characters are discussing the events of the “Descenttwo-parter as if they were current, which was 2370 (a full decade prior to this episode). This is at odds with Boimler’s comment in “Envoys” that he and Mariner are the same age, but Boimler simply could have been mistaken about that.
  • Among the possible things Mariner thinks Brinson can be, besides an alien in disguise who will eat him: a Romulan spy, a salt succubus, an android, a changeling, “one of those sexy people in rompers who murder you for going on the grass,” a Dauphin, a surgically altered Cardassian spy, a transporter duplicate, a Suliban, a reptoid, or possessed by a parasite. Her bulletin board also includes pictures of two Klingons, a humpback whale, a bald humanoid (maybe a Talosian?), and two Bynars.
  • Lots of other references: Docent’s padd’s password is “Riker,” Boimler insists that Brinson is “as real as a hopped-up Q on Captain Picard Day,” Boimler brings Brinson a teddy bear that looks a lot like Geordi La Forge, and Boimler refers to Brinson’s good-looking ex as a “Kirk sundae with Trip Tucker sprinkles.”

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be doing programming for the virtual version of Dragon Con this weekend, including panels, readings, and more. Click here for his schedule.

 

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