The basic story of the latest episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks had a chance to be any number of things. It could’ve been a fun episode about a genetically engineered dog that is secretly a monster from a horror movie. It could’ve been a fun episode about Boimler being affected by a transporter accident and trying to figure out how to manage. It could’ve been a fun look at Mariner through the eyes of her old Academy-mate.
It winds up being none of those things, which is incredibly frustrating.
There are a ton of things going on in “Much Ado About Boimler”—an odd title, as there’s very little ado about Boimler in the episode, honestly—starting with a spoof of “Chain of Command.” Freeman, Ransom, and Shaxs are sent off on a covert mission just as Picard, Worf, and Crusher were in the famous Next Generation episode, down to the same all-black outfits, apparently to plant some seeds.
Filling in for those three on the Cerritos are Captain Amina Ramsey of the U.S.S. Oakland and her team, which includes a Vulcan woman named Dirga, as well as two other aliens named Warren and Pratchett. Sure. Anyhow, Ramsey is also Mariner’s best friend from the Academy, and Mariner goes from dreading the substitute captain to being thrilled at the reunion.
On top of that, Tendi has created a genetically engineered dog, which she has named “The Dog.” The Dog seems like a happy playful dog, but whenever Tendi isn’t looking right at her, The Dog will change shape and act very strange and seem to be some kind of monster.
On top of that, Rutherford has been tinkering with the transporter to make it faster. He needs to test it, and Boimler volunteers—but the transport puts him out of phase and also there’s a loud noise accompanying him wherever he goes. Rutherford figures out how to get rid of the noise, but Dr. T’Ana can’t cure him.
So Boimler and The Dog are both sent to Division 14, which solves weird science problems that happen to people. They go off on a ship, where they’re surrounded by “freaks” who lament the horrible things that happen to them. Plus the ship is dark and the captain cackles diabolically.
The ringleader of the passengers is an officer who was bitten by an alien horse and now half his body is aging while the other half is de-aging. He tells Boimler that, contrary to what T’Ana told him, they’re not going to “the farm,” they’re just being fobbed off on this ship to stay away from everyone else.
This entire part of the plot rings a hundred percent false. The entire point of Star Trek pretty much from jump has been that there are no “freaks,” that everyone deserves a chance to live their lives, no matter what they look like. That’s why the original series gave us a crew from a united Earth, to show that we can, and should, look past our silly prejudices.
But aside from Tendi saying that the setup of Division 14 as described by the passengers—who mutiny, their attempted takeover stymied by Boimler tattling to the captain—isn’t very Starfleet, we’re presented this ship full of people who have been transformed or injured or some such who are convinced that they’ve been shunted aside by the admiralty to avoid embarrassment.
And then, of course, the big “twist” at the end is that T’Ana was right in the first place. “The farm” really is a medical facility where you’re treated well. Except that’s not a twist at all, it’s what it should’ve been all along, and the notion that anyone thought otherwise makes no sense.
Oh, and the captain cackles diabolically just because that’s how he laughs. Which is one of a several anticlimaxes. Boimler stops being in phase because—uhm, the effect wears off. And The Dog is the way she is, not because Tendi has screwed up her genetic engineering or because it’s a creature here to kill us in our sleep, but because Tendi genuinely thought that dogs could shape-change and talk and stuff. (She later encounters a real dog and is grossed out when it licks her.) And because he’s back in phase, Boimler’s “normal” now, so he can’t stay on the Farm even though it’s a paradise.
And then there’s the Mariner-Ramsey plot. At first, it’s a happy reunion, but it soon becomes clear that Mariner hasn’t changed (or, perhaps, has changed back) from what she was like in the Academy. Her catching up with Ramsey mostly involves pranks being pulled and the like. Ramsey has grown up and become a captain, and Mariner has done no such thing (as we’ve seen ad nauseam through this series). Ramsey is growing frustrated, especially when Mariner proves unable to perform even the simplest of tasks (properly operating an EVA suit, remembering to pack the tricorders for away team duty).
But when they answer a distress call from the U.S.S. Rubidoux, and they soon discover that there’s an alien creature on board that is taking it over, Mariner antes up and kicks in and becomes the hugely competent officer that Ramsey remembers from the Academy. It’s been mentioned before that Mariner was a great officer and her reversion to a callow ensign is entirely by her choice, and we get it spelled out in this episode. When there’s a crisis, Mariner is better than anyone, as we’ve already seen several times, and we see it again here. But once the crisis is passed, she goes back to self-sabotage.
Any one of these stories could’ve been promising, but cramming them all into the half-hour time frame doesn’t do them any favors, and they all feel incomplete. I had high hopes for seeing more of The Dog and maybe getting more insights into Mariner. But all the episode did was confirm the subtext that had already been there, it didn’t move forward at all. In fact, it was the exact same character arc that we already got in “Moist Vessel.”
Oh, and the climax was dumb, too. For some reason, Mariner thinks Rutherford’s souped-up transporter—which only works faster—is better to beam the crew of the Rubidoux and the away team off the latter ship. But speed isn’t the issue, it’s being able to beam that many people out at once. So why use Rutherford’s transporter (which puts everyone out of phase and making the awful noise)?
Also, why is no one concerned about the fact that the Rubidoux was destroyed by a malevolent alien entity?
This could’ve been a great episode, and it can’t even manage to be a good one.
- The captain of the Division 14 ship is of the same species as Lieutenant Arex from the animated series—either an Edoan or a Triexian or an Edosian, depending on which tie-in material you read. In any case, he’s got the elongated head, three arms, and three legs. I am, for the record, all for bringing back as many aliens from the animated series as possible, please and thank you! We’ve already gotten a Caitian (T’Ana) and a Vendorian (in “Envoys“). I’d especially love to see the Nasats (the name we gave to M3 Green’s species from “The Jihad” in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series) and the Skorr (also from “The Jihad”) and the Pandronians (from “Bem“).
- There’s also a reference to the original series episode “The Menagerie,” as several of the passengers on the Division 14 ship were hit with delta rays, and they are stuck in wheelchairs that can only communicate via beeps, just like Pike in that two-part episode.
- In case we didn’t get the reference to TNG’s “Chain of Command” with a new captain taking over while three of the senior staff went on a secret mission while wearing all black, Mariner refers to the impending substitute as “some babysitter Jellico type,” referring to the captain who took over from Picard in that two-part episode.
- The alien creature that takes over and transforms the Rubidoux looks a lot like the creatures we saw at the climax of TNG’s premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint.”
- I hope The Dog comes back. I want to see more of her.