Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for Short Treks.
This week’s episode perhaps wasn’t the funniest of the season – though there were some good jokes and moments of humour – but you know what? It was by far the most character-driven and emotional episode we’ve seen probably since Season 1’s Crisis Point. The two main character pairings each got to talk out emotional issues that had been lingering since the end of Season 1, and perhaps my only criticism would be that this episode would’ve worked better slightly earlier in the season!
For the first time in at least a couple of weeks, I felt that Lower Decks wasn’t trying to cram too much into a single episode. There was time for Boimler and Mariner to have their story, Rutherford and Tendi to have theirs, and the bridge crew to also be involved in a way that ultimately connected to both other storylines and didn’t feel forced or rushed.
Having blitzed through the Rutherford memory loss story at the beginning of the season and effectively “reset” him to where he had been in Season 1, this week’s Rutherford and Tendi team-up – in which he comes to terms with his memory loss and realises he doesn’t need to compete against his former self – would have worked better had it come earlier in the season. There was still a considerable emotional payoff in what was, as mentioned, an episode brimming with emotion, but had we seen more of Rutherford struggling with his lost memories in any of the first four episodes, this week’s conclusion would’ve felt more natural and more earned.
Considering that An Embarrassment of Dooplers had to set up Rutherford’s struggles, elaborate on them, and reach a satisfying conclusion in what was a B-plot, I have to give the episode plenty of credit. Rutherford and Tendi’s story was compact, but it revolved around a single item – their starship model kit – and placing this simple macguffin in the story kept it laser-focused. Had the writers tried to bring in too many different ways that Rutherford’s memory loss was affecting him, the story could’ve become unwieldy and lost its emotional core. In this case less was more – and the episode delivered.
As someone who used to build scale models (yes, I was that weird nerdy kid you’d see in model shops and toyshops) I adore that the writers brought in this element to Rutherford and Tendi’s friendship. It seems like the perfect hobby for the pair of them, as they both adore the ship and seemingly everything else about serving in Starfleet. I can absolutely buy into the idea that they’d want to spend their downtime working on a starship model.
I also absolutely love Tendi’s explanation for why the model was unfinishable. The idea that they would use the model as an excuse to not hang out or to prevent people from bothering them while they shared their time off together is simultaneously something I can relate to (as someone who is neurodivergent and has a very low tolerance for interacting with people) and, in a narrative context, a very cute romantic gesture. For all of my talk last week about “shipping” Boimler and Rutherford – which I still think would be adorable, by the way – the idea that either Tendi or Rutherford came up with this way of keeping people away so that they could enjoy time together without any distractions is incredibly sweet. It’s a kind of nerdy sweet, which is even better!
Star Trek has always proudly shown off alien races that seem to be illogical or with traits that make very little sense. The Yridians always spring to mind during such conversations; would an entire race really be involved in information trading? How did they ever develop as a species if all of them are information dealers? The Bynars are another example: half-cyborgs who can only work in pairs. And don’t even get me started on the Q Continuum or Trelane (maybe Trelane is a Q?!), so when the Dooplers with their ability to self-duplicate were introduced in this episode, I barely batted an eyelid.
For some folks, though, I can predict that the Dooplers’ silliness might be a point of attack. There’s something kind of Rick and Morty-esque about this new race of aliens, and for some on the anti-Trek side of things perhaps they might latch onto that to criticise Lower Decks. But as I said above, there are myriad aliens and stories from past iterations of Star Trek that are equally silly or unbelievable – remember that episode of The Animated Series where the Enterprise ended up in a parallel universe where magic is real? Where do you think shows like Rick and Morty got their ideas from, anyway? Star Trek has always had aliens like the Dooplers – and if you want to get scientific about it, cell division (mitosis) is a thing, and a form of reproduction for many organisms. Perhaps the Dooplers simply reproduce in this asexual form – no, not that kind of asexual!
Captain Freeman had her hands full with the exponentially-reproducing Dooplers, though! I was reminded more than a little of the Short Treks episode The Trouble With Edward, in which tribbles quickly overrun the USS Cabot. That was a very funny episode – well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. I don’t think I really spoiled it too badly there, so definitely track down a copy!
There’s a fine line between a trope and a stereotype, though, and the exaggerated Jewish-American accent used for the Dooplers, combined with their social awkwardness and ease of embarrassment, felt like it strayed very close at times. It was a little uncomfortable for that reason, kind of like watching the depiction of recurring Family Guy character Mort Goldman (and other Jewish-American stereotypes that that series seems to love for some reason). Maybe you can accuse me of being overly-sensitive, saying it was just a joke, etc. But it wasn’t a comfortable portrayal for me, it was one which leaned into stereotyping in a way that Star Trek should really be above.
The Dooplers themselves were one-dimensional. There isn’t much more to say; complaints of falling into stereotyping aside, the Doopler ambassador was a character who basically had one trait: he was prone to embarrassment. That embarrassment was something Captain Freeman and her senior staff had been trying to avoid for the entire mission – until an ill-timed rant about how awkward the mission was led to the duplication process starting anyway. The whole “he was behind you and overheard you say things about him” trope was put to good use here!
Captain Freeman ultimately had the same motivation as Ensign Mariner in this episode, but mother and daughter approached their shared goal in fundamentally different ways. They also both experienced rejection, yet at the end found comfort in spending time together. Though the Mariner-Freeman family aspect wasn’t the main focus of the story, this smaller element didn’t pass by unnoticed. We got to see Mariner and Freeman wanting the same thing – to attend the fancy Starfleet party – and we got to see them go about it in very different ways, highlighting that they have both similarities as mother and daughter, but still some pretty significant differences.
The main thrust of the story focused on Mariner and Boimler, and this was their first major outing as a duo since the season began. Again, as with the Rutherford and Tendi story, I might’ve moved this episode to an earlier point in the season, as some of their emotional moments felt like they could’ve arisen upon Boimler’s return to the ship – not several weeks later. But despite that, we got a story that was both funny and emotional.
After arriving on the starbase, Mariner decides that they need to speak to a shady character to get information about the fancy Starfleet party – as its location was supposedly a secret. The payoff to this joke, of course, was that the party was being held in what seemed to be the main ballroom on the station, and all the running away from security was ultimately unnecessary! This aspect of the story was the comedic part, as Mariner and Boimler raced away in a dune buggy/kart to escape security.
The sequence that took Mariner and Boimler in their kart through a variety of different shops and locations on the station was pretty funny, and reminded me of something you might see in a romantic comedy film – and I mean that in a good way! The sense that they were on an out-of-control ride, complete with some pretty slapstick humour, was a much-needed lighthearted sequence in an episode that was quite heavy on emotion later on. The parade of different shops was also reminiscent of the promenade, which was a major location in Deep Space Nine.
After taking his promotion and transferring to the USS Titan in the Season 1 finale, one thing we saw was that Boimler was ignoring messages from Mariner. Though he almost certainly was doing so due to his anxiety (answering the phone can be very difficult for people with anxieties, especially if the expected conversation is something negative), she felt abandoned by him. Just last week we learned that Mariner has experienced this rejection and abandonment before – in that case, her defence mechanism became telling elaborate stories about herself and crafting rumours that would lead to a sense of dark mystery. She chooses to avoid many people because of her fear of being rejected as they move on and move up the career ladder. She’d considered Boimler to be different, so his “betrayal” hit her very hard.
Finally getting all of these emotions out and laying them on the table was cathartic. Not only that, but it continued Mariner’s wonderful character arc going back to Season 1, as her characterisation as someone who is lonely and struggles to maintain friendships despite her “cool” persona was again laid bare. The only part I found a tad unbelievable was Boimler’s response, telling Mariner that he “didn’t know [she] had emotions.” He’d been her friend long enough to know that she can be emotional, and just last week he saw firsthand how much his friendship meant to her when she was so dejected that he’d believe the silly rumour she started. But that aside, this moment was beautiful and well-executed.
Boimler choosing to ditch the fancy party packed with Admirals and Captains to be with her was a wrench for him and a sacrifice, but it was one that worked perfectly for the story. Just like Mariner has grown over the past dozen episodes, so too has Boimler. Friendship matters to him, and Mariner matters to him in this moment – more so than just some fancy party. He could’ve schmoozed with senior officers and perhaps tried to score another promotion, but it seems that he was willing to give up on that – at least for now – to be with her. It was an incredibly sweet moment.
So I think that’s about all I have to say this time. Both main character pairs got cathartic, emotional stories that reinforced their friendships, and we even got a moment between Mariner and the Captain to round things off. For the first time in three weeks, Lower Decks managed to get the balance right in terms of the number of characters and stories it tried to include. Every character felt necessary to the episode’s plotlines, no story felt rushed, and the slower pace of the closing moments worked exceptionally well. There was still time for humour and to make jokes, but the success of An Embarrassment of Dooplers was its emotional edge.
It was sweet to see Mariner and Boimler enjoying one another’s company as friends, and likewise with Tendi and Rutherford. Each pair dealt with issues left over from Season 1 in a way that worked, and though I would argue the episode could’ve been bumped up the schedule so it came earlier in the season, overall I had a fun time this week. There were some neat references to past iterations of Star Trek, too – obviously the Kirk and Spock callback in the bar was cute, as well as something that firmly established the extent of Boimler and Mariner’s relationship. By comparing them to Kirk and Spock I’d argue the episode went out of its way to stamp out any ideas of a romantic bond between them, despite the semi-romantic nature of its storyline. There was also a callback to Okona – a character from The Next Generation who appears to have started a new career as a DJ. We’d heard a while back that Okona actor Billy Campbell was making a return to Star Trek – supposedly in Prodigy – but his voice wasn’t heard in this episode despite Okona’s appearance.
Overall, a great episode that was thoroughly enjoyable. An Embarrassment of Dooplers slowed down just long enough to allow its four main characters to shine. Oh, and hearing Dr T’Ana swear four times in a single sentence will never not be funny!
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.