Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first seven episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Lower Decks continues to be great fun as we get into the second half of Season 1. I wouldn’t say that this week’s episode, titled Much Ado About Boimler, was significantly better than the show’s offerings over the last four or five weeks, but it was solid and a great addition to the season. I wrote last time that Lower Decks has tended to reuse the same character pairings each week: Boimler with Mariner, Rutherford with Tendi. It was great to see a change to that, though it unfortunately came at the expense of Rutherford’s screen time.
Much Ado About Boimler would pair up Tendi and Boimler for one of its storylines, which was great. Anything that changes up the formula to avoid it feeling stale is a good thing, and when there are four main characters it makes sense to use those characters in different ways.
To my continued disappointment, Lower Decks remains unavailable outside of the United States and Canada. This idiotic business decision is surely the worst in Star Trek’s recent history, and has cleaved away a huge potential audience. Animated comedy shows are popular, and this kind of crossover should have allowed the Star Trek franchise to expand its reach beyond its typical niche – something that will have to happen to keep the franchise viable in the longer-term. Practically nobody outside North America cares about Lower Decks any more, which is terribly sad for the team behind the show who put in a lot of hard work. Those who do still care have mostly turned to piracy; the series is among the most heavily-pirated shows of recent weeks.
Of course you know me better than that. With Lower Decks only available in North America I packed a bag and moved there. My new home is in the great state of Texas – the Empire State. There’s such a rich history here, from the first Swedish colonists way back in the 1920s right the way through to more modern times, where Silicon Valley is home to some of the biggest wineries in the country. The Rocky Mountains that span the southern part of the state are breathtaking – but I could do without two feet of snow! I mean, it’s only September… save it for Christmas!
Much Ado About Boimler begins with a teaser, which once again set up one of the storylines of the episode. Last week’s teaser had been a standalone thing, and I think I prefer that style overall; it works better for a comedy series. Open with a funny joke, roll the titles, then jump into the main story. That format seems to work well, but this week’s style of using the teaser to set up the story worked okay too.
Tendi finally got some development and agency over the story this week. Her role aboard the ship hasn’t been all that clear; we knew since the premiere that she works in sickbay, but in what capacity was never really explained. In the teaser we see her scientific mind at work – she has spent a long time sequencing the DNA for a dog and seems to have created or replicated the entire animal from scratch!
Ethical concerns about such an activity aside, the dog is… not quite right. Though Tendi seems not to notice, the dog is able to do things that no dog – or any other lifeform – should be able to!
The monstrous dog – with glowing eyes – runs riot in the ensigns’ dormitory, and Mariner has a funny line in which she’s nonchalant about the unfolding, potentially disastrous situation. Moments like this take advantage of Mariner’s “I’m not bothered” attitude to great effect. After this short sequence, the opening titles roll, and then we’re into the next part of the episode’s setup. Captain Freeman, Ransom, and Shaxs have been given a special assignment – complete with the uniforms Picard, Worf, and Dr Crusher used in The Next Generation sixth season episode Chain of Command, which was a neat callback.
Unlike Picard’s dangerous mission in search of banned weapons, Freeman and co. are looking after some seeds – very much in line with the “unimportant” nature of the Cerritos’ mission. As a result of their absence, the Cerritos is going to receive a temporary captain.
We got a second callback to Chain of Command as Mariner mentions Captain Jellico by name. Jellico was the officer who took over for Picard in that episode, and was a character I had included in one of my Star Trek: Picard theories earlier in the year. That theory didn’t pan out, of course!
En route to greet the new captain, Boimler stops off to visit Rutherford who has been working on a new transporter enhancement. Rutherford has two transporter pads set up in the same room in a style that kind of reminded me of the film The Fly! We take transporting for granted in most Star Trek episodes – at least, until it goes wrong!
And of course that’s exactly what happens to the hapless Boimler, who has agreed to be a guinea pig for Rutherford’s new transporter. After completing the transport sequence, Boimler doesn’t rematerialise intact – instead he appears “phased”, glowing blue and with the familiar transporter noise ringing out!
Being “phased” was something that happened in The Next Generation too, to Ro Laren and Geordi La Forge in the episode The Next Phase. However, this seems to be a different phenomenon as Geordi and Ro were rendered invisible, whereas Boimler is merely glowing and transparent. I don’t think this is an inconsistency, merely a re-use of the term to describe a different – but somewhat related – event.
As the new command crew arrive, Mariner recognises the captain as an old friend of hers. Apparently they were students together at Starfleet Academy, and think very highly of one another. Mariner goes from despising the idea of a temporary captain to loving it. I think this does raise a question about Mariner’s age; we know from events a couple of weeks ago that she’s been in Starfleet for several years, but to have attended the Academy at the same time as someone who has subsequently risen through the ranks to become a captain may well make her significantly older than Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi. I don’t think this matters in a major way – though it does make Mariner’s “teen angst” attitude seem even more immature – but I thought it worth noting. It’s also worth pointing out that the way Starfleet Academy works, particularly in relation to officers who go on to become captains, isn’t clear. In the Kelvin timeline, Kirk appears to have graduated and immediately become a captain, for example, and even in the prime timeline Kirk was young – perhaps in his early 30s – when given command of the Enterprise.
Boimler – still suffering as a result of the transporter accident – arrives on the bridge, but is immediately ordered to sickbay by the new captain. As much as I like the idea of Boimler being so eager to impress that he’d go to the bridge in that state, from what we know of him and his anxieties, I think it makes more sense to think he’d have gone to sickbay or stayed with Rutherford to work on finding a solution. His arrival on the bridge wasn’t funny, and the short scene added nothing to the episode.
In sickbay, Rutherford is able to get Boimler to stop making the transporter noise, to the relief of Dr T’Ana, everyone else present – and me! That noise on loop was getting annoying! However, Rutherford can’t fix the problem, and Dr T’Ana doesn’t know what to do either. As a result, she informs Boimler that he’s to be transferred to a specialist facility for treatment, run by Division 14 – a branch of Starfleet Medical.
From an in-universe perspective, I love the idea that Starfleet has a special hospital for patients who’ve picked up bizarre and seemingly incurable ailments. Given what we see happen in Star Trek on a regular basis, it makes a lot of sense! Space is a dangerous place, and the idea that there are some conditions that Starfleet simply can’t figure out should be easily understood.
Tendi’s dog is also in trouble, with Dr T’Ana having discovered its unconventional nature! He’s to be transferred to the same facility as Boimler, setting up the first Boimler-Tendi story of the series, which is nice. As mentioned at the start, shaking up the character pairings is a good thing for a series like this to do sometimes.
Next we get a scene between Mariner and Captain Ramsey in which Mariner is appointed temporary first officer. Past Star Trek shows have occasionally seen junior officers seemingly bumped up the chain of command; The Best of Both Worlds saw Shelby appointed temporary first officer ahead of Data, and there was an episode (whose title escapes me) where Wesley Crusher was in charge of a mission. Still, it’s hard to see how this is anything other than favouritism and queue-jumping from Ramsey and Mariner, and this ties into a theme I touched on a couple of weeks ago about nepotism and elitism within Starfleet. Looking at that point in more detail is in the pipeline, so stay tuned!
Up next, Tendi and Boimler are transferred to a medical ship for transport to “The Farm” – the specialist hospital/medical facility mentioned earlier. The officer in charge of this ominous-looking vessel is an Edosian! This three-armed, three-legged species was seen in The Animated Series, but had never returned to the franchise since. It was great to see them back, even in this form as a semi-villain. I loved the over-the-top voice performance from Fred Tatasciore, who took on the role of the Edosian as well as his usual role as Shaxs.
While Tendi and Boimler are getting used to their new home on the Division 14 medical ship, Mariner and Captain Ramsey prepare to lead a mission to a bog planet. It’s at this point it started to become apparent that Ramsey has taken a different path since she was with Mariner at the Academy; while Mariner still jokes and messes about, Ramsey is trying to stay calm and cool in front of her senior officers.
A story Mariner tells about how she and Ramsey stole a professor’s car goes over particularly badly, and not wanting to be shown up any more in front of her staff, Ramsey changes topic and presses on with the mission. Mariner is left feeling dejected; her friend has moved on without her. This again ties into how I’d been feeling about Mariner, at least some of the time: she’s childish. And in this moment, if she doesn’t realise it about herself, she certainly realises that someone she had been friends with has matured and moved on without her. I think many of us know someone like Mariner – stuck in her school/college mindset. She strikes me, at least in this moment, as the kind of person you reunite with a decade or two after graduating and are surprised to find them still as silly and immature as when you last saw them. Though I have no doubt this wasn’t what Lower Decks was going for, in this moment I almost pity Mariner. Almost.
Mariner messes up on the mission to the bog planet, and it seemed as though her feelings about the situation with Ramsey was getting to her; we’re not used to seeing Mariner make mistakes. In a way, this storyline – that she was flustered and making mistakes – would have worked better than what we ultimately got! But let’s save that for when we come to that revelation in a moment.
During the away mission, Mariner “forgot” the team’s tricorders. When some water purifying equipment malfunctions the tricorders were needed, and the others scold her for her lack of care and attention. Luckily Captain Ramsey steps in to save the day and prevent a disaster. She’s able to salvage the mission – which seems to have been one designed to bring clean water to the denizens of the bog planet. I liked the design of these aliens; animation as a format allows much greater variety than live-action in some respects, and the only limits are really what the animators and designers can think of! In a live-action setting it is possible to get a wide variety of aliens, but there are additional limitations – either an alien has to be able to be played by a human actor, or the budget for creating prosthetics and/or digital effect needs to be high. Animation gets around those issues, and one consequence has been more “alien-looking” aliens in Lower Decks.
After the away mission, Captain Freeman checks in with Captain Ramsey aboard the Cerritos. Other than underlining the previous point about the relative unimportance of Freeman’s mission, this scene didn’t really add a lot. The next mission for the Cerritos is to rendezvous with the USS Rubidoux, but the Rubidoux is late. We get another “Mariner messes up” moment, as she seems incapable of working the first officer’s console. Again, this could have worked better than it ultimately did.
On the medical vessel, which is dimly lit and very ominous, Tendi and Boimler meet some of the other Starfleet officers who are being transported to the medical facility. They are all suffering strange and comical ailments – like something out of Theme Hospital! One point of note is that one of the officers was wearing the older style of uniforms seen in First Contact and later Deep Space Nine seasons. We saw Mariner in one of these uniforms in a flashback a couple of weeks ago. I had assumed these uniforms were entirely phased out perhaps years before Lower Decks is set, but based on what the Edosian officer would say at the end – that the medical transport had been on its mission for “months” – perhaps those uniforms were only decommissioned within the last few months. A minor point, perhaps, but as someone who likes the different uniform varieties I thought it was worth noting.
Something has felt off – deliberately so – about the ship and its Edosian commander since Tendi and Boimler arrived, and in this scene we find out why: one of the officers tells Boimler that the medical facility is a myth; the ship will be their permanent home, keeping them hidden away from the rest of Starfleet! This setup was interesting, and the episode was leaning heavily into the idea that this ship was some kind of trap. Division 14 sounds superficially similar to Section 31, and the idea that Starfleet might have some kind of off-the-books vessel for this purpose is not wholly far-fetched. I wondered how Tendi and Boimler would escape!
Meanwhile, the USS Rubidoux has been located, adrift in space. Captain Ramsey assumes the accident is self-inflicted, and that it will be easily-resolved. She beams over with Mariner and her senior officers, only to find the ship powered down and seemingly abandoned. Rubidoux, like Cerritos, is a town in California, and continues the trend of California-class vessels (like the Cerritos) being named after these locales.
The away team are assigned roles – Mariner and the captain are to locate the crew, while the others are to restore power. We get another “Mariner messes up” moment, as she struggles with her gravity boots.
On the medical ship, a group of patients led by a man who’s suffering a bizarre ageing condition plot a mutiny. Tendi is out of the room leaving only Boimler to be included in the scheme. Though he initially seems interested to join, he of course immediately rushes to the Edosian commander to tell him everything. The commander, rather than trying to find a peaceful solution, grabs a phaser rifle and plans to put the mutiny down before it can begin – after letting the mutineers know it was Boimler who told on them!
While scouring the Rubidoux in search of her crew, Captain Ramsey and Mariner finally begin to have their conversation – the one we all knew was coming. Ramsey says that she expected to be working with a “Starfleet badass”, and Mariner retorts she expected to be teamed up with her “fun friend.” Both characters are disappointed in each other, but before it can be fully explored they locate the crew, hiding in a cargo bay.
The Rubidoux’s captain warns them not to reactivate power; some kind of energy-eating lifeform is on board the ship. But it’s too late, and the crew rush to escape. En route back to the bridge we finally learn what’s been going on with Mariner – sensing that her friend will offer her a promotion and reassignment, she’s been messing up on purpose.
This was not a great story twist in my opinion. The idea that Mariner can be flawed, that she can make mistakes when she feels under pressure, or that she can be embarrassed by her obviously childish behaviour in front of someone who’s more successful than her humanises her – yet in an instant all of that was taken away. Mariner is still amazing, she hasn’t made a mistake, it was all intentional as part of her as-yet-unexplained desire to avoid promotion and responsibility. It’s in keeping with her character, sure, but not actually a very inspiring or even interesting storyline. We can add Mariner’s lack of consequences for deliberately making mistakes that could have endangered two away missions and her ship to the list of ways in which she receives special treatment because of her connections within Starfleet!
Meanwhile on the Division 14 ship, Boimler has been ratted out by the Edosian commander and left with the defeated mutineers – who of course immediately turn on him and try to run him off the ship! They chase him to an airlock, and just when it seems as though it’s the end of Boimler, the airlock opens to reveal “The Farm” – the medical facility they all thought was a myth. At the same moment, Boimler’s “phasing” wears off and he’s back to normal.
Tendi and her dog have an emotional farewell as Tendi realises that dogs aren’t supposed to be able to talk and fly and do all of the things that she programmed it to do. The Dog will live out its life on the Farm with other medical curiosities – though it doesn’t seem dangerous so perhaps, as it’s sentient, it will be given the opportunity to leave? Starfleet’s mission is to seek out new life… well, Tendi made new life, but Starfleet’s reaction seems to be to incarcerate it. Not sure how well that works!
This next part might just be my favourite in the episode. As the lifeform on the Rubidoux seems close to consuming the ship, Mariner instructs Rutherford to use his newly-modified transporter to get everyone to safety. She gives him the instruction “Boim us out of here!” which was a great line. As Rutherford raced to the transporter controls, I got the sense that the scene was paying homage to Chekov’s role in 2009’s Star Trek. He similarly rushed from his post to the transporter room in that film. I hope that was intentional, and a nice little nod to Chekov actor Anton Yelchin.
Despite the side-effects of the modified transporter, Rutherford is able to beam everyone to safety. And as we now know that the effect is temporary, no harm was done to anyone! The Rubidoux is consumed by the energy-creature, which transforms the remains of the ship and flies off into space in a scene reminiscent of the ending of Encounter at Farpoint.
Mariner makes her peace with Ramsey, happy to remain just an ensign despite her abilities. At the Farm, Boimler is expelled as he’s no longer sick, and is able to return to the Cerritos with Tendi – ready for next week’s adventure! As always, Lower Decks managed to wrap everything up nicely, and the return to episodic storytelling has been a wonderful touch.
So that was Much Ado About Boimler. When the ensigns learned that they’d be getting a “babysitter” captain, I wondered if we might be about to see a returning character, and in a way that could have worked well and been a good excuse for a cameo. However, the Mariner-Ramsey storyline was interesting and perhaps worked better for Ramsey being someone new.
Mariner has improved in leaps and bounds from her first couple of appearances, and I’m now in a position where I would like to know if there’s a reason underpinning her desire to remain an ensign. Her “I-don’t-care” teenage rebel attitude may simply be her personality – but then again, there could be something in her past which means she wants to avoid responsibility and remain on the lower decks.
There were so many references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek that I’m not even sure I spotted all of them. Lower Decks has been wonderful in that regard, and I think Much Ado About Boimler may have had the most references so far.
All in all, a solid episode. It was nice to see Boimler away from Mariner, and to see the typical Lower Decks groupings shaken up for once. The Division 14 story was an interesting one too, and I wonder if there will be other opportunities to learn about this secretive branch of Starfleet Medical.
I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, titled Veritas (the Latin word for “truth”). I’m sure it will be another fun outing. There are only three episodes left this season! Where does the time go, eh?
The first seven episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.