Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.
For the second week running, Lower Decks managed to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters. The Spy Humongous spent time with the bridge crew, gave Boimler his own story, and gave Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford something to do as well. Crucially, the episode managed to make each of these three components feel significant; none felt under-developed.
Most importantly, all three storylines were fun! The bridge crew split up for this episode, with Captain Freeman and Shaxs on an away mission to the Pakled homeworld on a peace initiative, while Ransom and Kayshon played host to a Pakled “guest” aboard the ship. These two halves comprised a single story, while Boimler separated from the other three ensigns for his own character journey.
Tendi, Mariner, and particularly Rutherford took smaller roles this time in a story which put Boimler at the centre, but their paths crossed in a significant way toward the end. I’ve spoken numerous times about how amazing Mariner’s character arc across both seasons has been, and how enjoyable it has been to watch her grow. The Spy Humongous gave us some comparable character development for Boimler, as he came to realise that chasing a promotion isn’t everything – and that imitating great captains of the past isn’t any use in a crisis.
Several Lower Decks stories have felt like they could’ve been set in a school had the characters been different. I’m thinking of Mariner making up rumours about herself in Mugato, Gumato, as well as the “love triangle” in Cupid’s Errant Arrow last season. This time, the story of Boimler ditching his friends after being poached by a group of “cooler kids” likewise felt like it could’ve been about schoolkids. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way, if anything it’s a commentary on how the series takes familiar situations and gives them its own Star Trek-themed twist.
Having only just settled his conflict with Mariner regarding his decision to prioritise promotion over their friendship in last week’s episode, as well as seemingly learning a lesson in the process, it was a little jarring for that moment to immediately be followed up by Boimler again ditching Mariner (and the others) in order to hang out with a new group who he feels – at least in the moment – are more likely to be useful to his ambition. This is a consequence of scheduling more than story; I said last week that both pairs of ensigns got stories that resolved lingering conflicts from Season 1, and that those stories might’ve been better-served by coming earlier in the season. Boimler’s plotline this time only reinforces that; at the very least this episode shouldn’t have immediately followed on from last week as it makes it seem that Boimler learned nothing – or very quickly forgot the important lesson he’d learned about friendship.
Scheduling aside, The Spy Humongous gave Boimler a satisfying arc. He began the episode enticed by the “cool kids” to ditch his friends and follow only his ambition, and for a time went along with their shenanigans. But when Tendi was in danger, Boimler knew what to do, and while the other wannabes tripped over one another to try to give “inspiring” speeches copied from past captains that they admired, Boimler recognised the problem and took the necessary steps to solve it. Even though doing so meant abandoning the new group of “cool kids” and by extension his aim of getting promoted again, Boimler prioritised problem-solving and friendship. His reward was a compliment from Commander Ransom, something which clearly meant a lot more to him than any “acting captain” role.
This was, unquestionably, a deeply satisfying character arc for Boimler to go through. Had it not come immediately following a similar moment last week it would’ve worked better, but that’s the scheduling issue again. The way that the episode tied this arc into the B-plot following Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi as they collected “anomalies” that the senior staff had been working on was neat as well.
Tendi actually got one of the more emotional moments this week. I think we’ve all had an experience, at some point in our lives, of either feeling genuine excitement for something or trying to show excitement for the benefit of others, only to have someone else shoot it down. That feeling of being crestfallen or deflated is exactly what Mariner and Rutherford inflicted on Tendi after shouting at her for being too enthusiastic and eager during one of their most-hated assignments aboard the ship.
This moment set up the remainder of Tendi’s story – as she was transformed into a scorpion-like monster by a strange artefact – as well as led to the crossover with Boimler. But as a purely emotional moment that I think a lot of us can relate to, it was one of the highlights of the episode for me.
I created this website in part to share my love of Star Trek with a wider audience. But I can remember many occasions where being a Trekkie or even simply mentioning Star Trek was enough to have someone react with derision or dismissiveness. Even within the Star Trek fan community and among friends, I can remember moments where expressing passion for the “wrong” part of the franchise became an issue. When talking to a Trekkie friend excitedly about 2009’s Star Trek shortly after the film premiered I was hit with that feeling when they reacted angrily having pledged to never watch the reboot. So in a very meta Star Trek way, I can relate to what Tendi must’ve been feeling! That sense of showing someone you care about something you’re excited for only to have that excitement ripped away is a very real feeling.
Mariner didn’t get very much to do this week. The episode put her through a montage of unpleasantries to emphasise how bad this particular assignment was and build up to her shouting at Tendi. Aside from that she was relegated to a background role alongside Rutherford, whose characteristic love for all things Starfleet apparently doesn’t extend to Anomaly Collection Day either!
On first viewing I felt that Tendi’s loud and rather rude laugh at Boimler’s mess hall mishap at the beginning of the episode was a little out-of-character, but on reflection I can see that this was an attempt to set up the conclusion to her and Boimler’s stories. It’s not the first time that we’ve had an out-of-place moment like this which has become important later; Lower Decks isn’t always subtle in that regard!
The mysterious artefact that transformed Tendi was just a macguffin at the end of the day, but it was one that didn’t feel out of place in Lower Decks. The first episode of the season set up how “strange energies” were something Starfleet regularly has to put up with, and across the season we’ve also seen Lieutenant Kayshon turned into a puppet and met a self-duplicating species, so it definitely doesn’t come from nowhere! Star Trek has, in the past, leaned into this kind of weirder, inexplicable macguffin for many different episodes across basically every series, so again it’s right in keeping with the way the franchise has always operated.
As mentioned, Boimler was the hero of the day. He figured out that the macguffin was feeding off or amplifying Tendi’s emotions (though exactly why she became a giant scorpion is still not crystal clear!) and that the best way to save her – and everyone else – was to make her laugh. Looping back to what made her laugh uncontrollably at the beginning of the episode, Boimler used the mess hall’s replicators to cover himself in food, much to Tendi’s amusement and the disgust of the “cool kids” he’d been hanging out with all day.
Though much of Boimler’s time with the other ensigns followed a familiar trope, one moment which stood out was his inspirational speech. This sequence was also incredibly well-animated, as the empty stage faded into a truly outstanding recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise-D. Boimler gave a great speech, one which could’ve been given by any of Star Trek’s past captains. Though he may suffer from anxiety and be more than a little neurotic, Boimler can make a difference when it counts. We saw that not only with the speech, of course, but also with the way he saved Tendi.
I was reminded of Boimler’s speech in the episode Veritas from last season. The joke in that episode (which I felt fell flat, sadly) was that he and his shipmates were never in danger, and on this occasion he similarly gives an inspiring speech when there are no real stakes. But his ability to speak well and to give that kind of rousing address is in keeping with where we saw him last season, and I felt it was worth making note of that.
I really thought that the Pakled spy was going to turn out to be something different, perhaps something that challenged the notion that the Pakleds were all as stupid as they appear to be. For the entire time the spy was on the ship, and especially when he snuck away, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for some kind of revelation. Was Shaxs – recently and inexplicably back from the dead – going to turn out to be the real spy? Was the spy actually better at his job than he let on? It was a hilarious double-bluff that, in reality, the Pakleds truly are as dumb as they seem to be.
There’s somewhat of an old-school cartoonish charm to the way Lower Decks presents the Pakleds. An alien race who all seem stupid in comparison to the rest of the galaxy could easily fall into the trap of stereotyping folks with learning difficulties, but because of the overly-exaggerated way the Pakleds’ stupidity is presented, it doesn’t come across as offensive. It manages to just be funny – and even though there’s surely more to come from this Pakled conflict before the season is over, I can’t predict where it’ll go or how it’ll end. There was a mention this week of a Pakled bomb being sent to Earth, but it seems as though Captain Freeman will be able to alert Starfleet in time to prevent anything bad from happening.
Lower Decks has usually been great when it comes to depicting different-looking, aesthetically interesting planets. Pakled Planet was a little disappointing in that regard, as it felt rather generic. The action that took place there was fun and exciting, of course, but the background could’ve used a little spicing-up in my opinion. It could still have been kept simple – in keeping with the show’s depiction of the Pakleds – but a different colour palette (Pakled Planet was very heavy on yellow and brown tones) or some item or landmark of visual interest would’ve improved these sequences.
It was funny to see the various Pakled “leaders.” A queen, a king, and an emperor all seem to be parts of an overall hierarchy, one determined solely by the size of their helmets. I can’t help but wonder what consequences – if any – there will be for the Pakled revolution and overthrow of the previous leadership. Perhaps that’s something routine on Pakled Planet that won’t make any difference – but if so, why show that on screen? I can’t help but feel it’s setting up something that may be of importance later!
It was particularly funny how the group of “cool kids” referring to themselves as “The Redshirts” – a Star Trek fandom expression dating back to the days of The Original Series. Redshirts were disposable minor characters who often ended up dead on away missions! Seeing the Pakled spy drifting through space after accidentally shooting himself out of an airlock was also a really funny moment.
So I think that’s about all I have to say this week. There was a great story for Boimler – albeit one that might’ve benefitted from taking place at a different point in the season – as well as some advancement of the Federation-Pakled conflict. There were some hilarious moments for all of the main characters, and particularly the Pakleds. Ensign Mariner took a backseat for the first time this season, but giving her an occasional break is no bad thing.
All in all, a great episode.
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.