Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first five episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Despite an underwhelming start, Lower Decks has gone from strength to strength in the last few weeks, with each episode being progressively better than the last. In terms of laugh-out-loud moments of comedy, I think there were more in Cupid’s Errant Arrow than there had been last time, though some of the humour was not to my taste. But a sense of humour and jokes are always subjective things, and taken as a whole I greatly enjoyed what the episode had to offer.
The cringe comedy that I disliked wasn’t something I downright hated, it’s just something I’ve known for decades isn’t “my thing”. Shows like Friends relied on this style of comedy a lot, where jokes are built around embarrassing and cringeworthy situations, and it’s clearly something that a lot of people find amusing. I hope that at least some of those comedy fans have found their way to Lower Decks by now – if they have, I bet they’ll have enjoyed what Cupid’s Errant Arrow had to offer.
Of course, only American and Canadian fans would be able to get that enjoyment; Lower Decks remains unavailable anywhere else in the world. Even series creator Mike McMahan, who had rather clumsily talked about the situation a few weeks ago, has gone radio-silent. A search for “Star Trek: Lower Decks international” on Google now only yields results more than a month old; ViacomCBS has simply refused to even acknowledge the problem. This is despite the fact that the lack of an international broadcast has killed the hype and excitement that the show needed to build, and that the widespread piracy across the world continues to reduce the value of Lower Decks from a financial perspective. From the point of view of Netflix or Amazon, why should they pay a lot of money for a show with little international attention and whose hardcore fans have already seen it? The answer is they shouldn’t – and they won’t.
But of course I’d never indulge in such skulduggery as piracy. When ViacomCBS refused to broadcast the show internationally, I – a disabled man with hardly any money – had no choice but to move to America so I could watch it. I’m comfortably settled in my second home – a beautiful log cabin in the state of Alaska, a mere half hour’s drive from downtown New Orleans. I went into town just this morning to sample one of its signature dishes – the Philly cheesesteak. Delicious.
Cupid’s Errant Arrow is the first episode not to have a teaser before the opening titles, which is uncommon across any Star Trek series. I’m not really sure why that was the case – at first I wondered if the copy I was watching had a missing piece – because although after the titles we did jump right into the story there was still scope to move the titles to structure the episode more traditionally. This isn’t a complaint, though I do consider it worth noting.
The story begins with Ensign Boimler recording a log. The Cerritos has been tasked with supporting the USS Vancouver – a Parliament-class ship that seems to be superior to the Cerritos in almost every way. The design of the Vancouver was very clever; it managed to look bigger, tougher, and more “heroic” for want of a better word, emphasising its importance over the lowly Cerritos, but while retaining a similar enough aesthetic that it was clearly part of the same fleet.
Star Trek has often used logs to set up stories, and it worked well here. The Vancouver and Cerritos are tasked with saving the planet Mixtus III and its people from a moon that has become unstable. When I first saw this moon in one of the promo images or trailers released before the series I thought it might’ve been the Klingon moon Praxis, as seen in The Undiscovered Country. Though the damage to this moon is less extensive, it still felt like a little callback.
Though we don’t spend too much time with them this week, the bridge crew (or at least, the captain and first officer) have to first negotiate with the native aliens, as there seem to be competing factions who are all squabbling. Though Lower Decks was in production well before the current pandemic, this sequence – with the bickering factions unable to agree on anything in the face of a looming problem – feels rather timely!
The arguing delegates checked all of the boxes when comparing them to the problem-deniers of today: the conspiracy theorists, the ultra-religious, the not-in-my-backyard types. Though perhaps intended as an analogy for something like climate change, it works surprisingly well considering the response to the pandemic has faced hurdles from the same types of people!
Boimler concludes his log by saying that he’s very excited to get to work side-by-side with his girlfriend for the first time. They’ve been dating via subspace, as she serves on the Vancouver. Of course Mariner is sceptical, questioning the existence of Barbara, Boimler’s girlfriend. Apparently he’s been recording lots of personal logs about her too, which is kind of cute. This conversation dropped a couple of references: Q and Captain Picard Day, and the concept of holo-addiction, that we saw Barclay struggle with in The Next Generation. Mariner’s teasing of Boimler felt more good-natured than mean-spirited here, and it was a scene that furthered their friendship.
Up next were Tendi and Rutherford, paired up for the B-plot of Cupid’s Errant Arrow. Tendi has felt a little rudderless since the show began, and I don’t think has properly found her feet yet as a character. Last time she seemed to be mimicking Mariner at one point, and here, as she demonstrates excitement for the mundane aspects of the Cerritos and Vancouver, it feels like she’s a second copy of Rutherford. The new ensign wowed by everything has, perhaps, been a difficult character to write for.
Tendi and Rutherford visit the USS Vancouver with Mariner and Boimler, and rush off excitedly to see the ship. I think Tendi’s line about the Vancouver being the “best ship [she’s] ever seen” was word-for-word what she said about the Cerritos in the premiere; if not it was still similar enough to be funny. Boimler waits for Barbara while Mariner continues to say she doesn’t believe she’s real. There was a reference to the Phylosians – a race of sentient plants seen in The Animated Series, which was a neat callback. It was around this point that Mariner crossed over from gently teasing her friend to something more sinister as she continues to insist Barbara isn’t real or must have some nefarious reason for dating Boimler.
Because of how I’ve felt about Mariner in past episodes, I was at least slightly concerned that she’d turn out to be right and Barbara wouldn’t be real, or would immediately turn out to be some kind of fake or monster. That would have felt a little too obvious, and perhaps would have given Mariner another excuse to see herself as better and smarter than everyone around her. Luckily it didn’t pan out that way!
Barbara is, of course, real. And human (as far as we can tell). She and Boimler are perhaps a little over-the-top in their kissing and cuddling – but that’s all part of the humour. Mariner, after getting over her initial shock, continues to probe her about why she’d date Boimler, but the trio is interrupted by one of Barbara’s colleagues – they’ll be working together, to Boimler’s dismay.
One very minor point of criticism that I’d have about some of the shipboard scenes this week is that it wasn’t always obvious which of the two vessels the characters were on. The rooms and corridors aboard the Vancouver look very similar to those aboard the Cerritos – even the bridge design is identical – and I wasn’t always sure which ship scenes were set on. In past Star Trek shows, redressing sets or simply reusing sets has created this issue numerous times, but in animation it should be much easier to make some tweaks and changes to give each ship distinguishing features. Otherwise, there’s almost no reason to have two different classes of ship!
It was pretty obvious that the lieutenant Barbara met was, in fact, an ex. The way Boimler reacted, and the way the pair showed such familiarity, telegraphed that story point. This set up the next part of the story: while Mariner will be scrambling around trying to figure out what kind of nefarious imposter Barbara is, Boimler will be scrambling around trying to win her back from what he perceives to be the threat of her ex.
The latter of these stories – Boimler trying different tactics to win over Barbara – is where the cringe humour that I mentioned at the beginning really kicks in. It makes sense in a way; it’s a style often seen in romantic comedies, and Cupid’s Errant Arrow is perhaps as close as Star Trek has come to truly having a romantic comedy storyline… except for Picard and Lwaxana Troi in The Next Generation!
By this point, Cupid’s Errant Arrow had established its storylines. Unlike last week, where I felt Boimler’s C-plot went nowhere, there seemed to be enough time for all three stories to play out effectively. We have Captain Freeman’s struggle with the planet’s natives, Tendi and Rutherford aboard the Vancouver, and the Boimler-Mariner-Barbara-Barbara’s ex quadrangle. All three would play out with enough time dedicated to them to feel fully-rounded.
Lower Decks is always picking on Boimler – in a fun way, of course – and this time we learn his full first name: Bradward. This greatly amuses Mariner, and it is kind of a silly name. Sorry to all the Bradwards out there! I suppose we could say it’s surprising that Mariner seems to have known Boimler a while without learning his actual name, but firstly it’s a comedy show so not every point has to be 100% serious, and secondly… I’ve been there. There are people I worked with or knew for years whose names I never learned/remembered! So it’s not actually that unusual a situation.
Aboard the Vancouver, Tendi and Rutherford meet with a senior officer who has some kind of new scanner – the T88. Since the episode aired I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what this is a reference to! At first I thought it might’ve been something from Star Wars, then I wondered if it was a reference to The Terminator… in any case it was repeated so often in the episode that I assume it’s a reference to something, but as with Rutherford’s pudding joke last time I’m just not sure what!
Regardless, the pair are very excited about the scanners, and the senior officer promises whoever completes a scanning task first will get to keep a T88. As mentioned, I feel this works way better for Rutherford’s character than Tendi – who is still kind of an unknown quantity even several episodes in.
Back aboard the Cerritos, Boimler is trying to find ways to impress Barbara. At first he tries working out – doing push-ups. Mariner continues to espouse her theory that Barbara is some kind of intruder, alien, or spy and that Boimler is in danger. At first this seemed like “typical Mariner” – assuming she must be right because she knows best – but I was pleasantly surprised when the episode informed us why she’s so paranoid about the prospect of someone she cares about – and she does clearly care about Boimler – being the target of some kind of evil alien.
By the way: in the image above, which takes place in the ensigns’ dormitory, does that look like a forcefield behind Mariner? Or is it supposed to be a window? It seems odd to me that the Cerritos would be flying around with a giant hole in its crew quarters – a loss of power would blow them all out into space! But we’re off-topic.
In a flashback sequence we see Mariner a few years previously. Wearing the uniform design used in First Contact and the back half of Deep Space Nine, she and a friend are visiting Quark’s. Mariner appears to still be an ensign at this time, though whether that’s because she’s new to Starfleet or had been promoted and demoted wasn’t clear. Her friend has a new boyfriend, but he turns out to be an evil alien shapeshifter and eats her! So now we know her concern about Barbara doesn’t just come from nowhere for the sake of setting up a funny story – she’s motivated by past trauma. And while we can definitely say she needs to work through that trauma instead of taking it out on Boimler, this moment humanised her in a way few moments in Lower Decks have managed to so far.
It was nice to see Quark’s – albeit very briefly – as well as the uniforms of the Deep Space Nine era. We could do a whole series of articles on which uniforms are the “best”, and there will always be differing opinions on that, but I certainly like the grey-and-black variant seen here, and just like when they were included in Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, it was a nostalgic treat to see them back here too.
Mariner’s determination to help Boimler was sweet, if a little misguided, and the fact that it was basically derived from seeing him as someone unlikely to get a girlfriend was a very “Mariner” way of looking at the situation. In that sense it stayed true to her character, while allowing her to help out. The flashback provided her ample motivation, and this storyline worked well.
Up next we had another scene with the captain and the arguing natives. Despite limited screen time, I enjoyed this aspect of the story. The aliens (presumably Mixtusians?) follow on from several others we’ve seen in Lower Decks as being at least slightly more “alien” in appearance than some Star Trek races. Animation as a format allows for this much more easily than live-action, and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve seen Lower Decks take advantage of this as much as possible.
The captain manages to resolve most of their problems – moving homes, installing gravity generators, etc. – but one robed alien still is unsatisfied. He claims that imploding the moon will send debris to his people on Mixtus II, so it looks like there’s still a problem to be overcome after all!
In his first attempt to win over Barbara (despite the fact he doesn’t need to) Boimler interrupts a meeting she’s giving about the mission. This scene was by far the worst in terms of cringe humour, and while that really isn’t my thing for fans of that style of comedy I have no doubt it worked.
While Boimler interrupts to try to stake his claim to Barbara in front of her ex (and several of her colleagues) Mariner is trying to prove she’s an impostor. At first she believes Barbara to be an android, programming her tricorder to disable any androids present. The two are eventually forced to leave the meeting and this scene (thankfully) came to an end.
Tendi and Rutherford bicker over who has the best claim to the T88 scanner – there seems to be only one available and they both want to take it back to the Cerritos for their various departments. It was never really explained why the T88 is so good – or even really what it does – so I didn’t feel this storyline had particularly high stakes. For the most part it followed a fairly common trope: two friends end up competing against each other, only to realise that their friendship matters more than the prize on offer.
Mariner has a number of theories about Barbara, and these checked off a number of creatures and characters from past iterations of Star Trek. She mentioned the “salt vampire” from The Original Series Season 1 episode The Man Trap, a transporter duplicate from The Next Generation Season 6 episode Second Chances, the Suliban from Enterprise, and a “surgically-altered Cardassian spy”, which is of course a reference to Seska from Voyager. The pinboard she has with lots of pictures and string was funny, and I liked seeing her get deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole. I’m also pretty sure this marks the first reference to the Suliban outside of Enterprise.
Boimler has a funny line here; while criticising Mariner for not accepting Barbara, he plans to change everything about himself to trick her. The comedy built and built on this, as Boimler confidently asks the replicator for an outfit combining the coolest people in history – in “boys size small”.
The outfit was suitably ridiculous: unmatched boots, two halves of a jacket, an (American) football, and pink sunglasses. I’m sure each piece represents a classic film or television series; I struggled to name them all. But the overall look was so over-the-top and stupid that I had to pause the episode from laughing so hard. This entire sequence was great – but it built up to another cringe moment as Boimler interrupts Barbara in the mess hall.
After Boimler ruins things with Barbara (and spills beer on her) she storms off with her ex. Mariner is increasingly convinced she’s some kind of reptile in disguise, using Barbara calling Boimler “sexy” as evidence.
A misunderstanding in the shuttle bay eventually leads to Boimler and Barbara reconciling; there was never anything between her and her ex as of course we knew. Mariner hasn’t given up, though, and pulls Barbara’s pants down in an effort to expose her as an alien infiltrator. As I mentioned I’m glad Mariner was wrong on this point, as making her someone who’s always right about everything doesn’t tend to make for a fun and relatable character.
Just when it seemed sure that Barbara was human, she and Boimler leave to complete the next part of the mission. As they leave, Mariner finds something on the ground: a husk. After scanning it she’s sure that Barbara is a parasite (or is being controlled by one). She rushes off to tell Boimler.
Tendi and Rutherford complete their task together, but the officer on the Vancouver who gave them the assignment tells them they’re going to be transferred to his ship. Despite loving the Vancouver for its fancy systems and technology, both would prefer to stay on the Cerritos, and a slapstick chase ensues after they steal the officer’s padd – preventing him from submitting the transfer order. This scene was okay, and led to a funny payoff at the end that we’ll come to, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Slapstick comedy like this can be fine, but something about it didn’t feel right here.
Meanwhile, Mariner is racing to get to Boimler before the Barbara-parasite can harm him. She puts on a spacesuit and jumps out of the airlock, racing to an orbital platform near the moon. She comes aboard only to find Boimler naked and waiting for Barbara – in another incredibly cringeworthy moment of comedy!
Mariner remains convinced that Barbara is the parasite, but Boimler – clearly fed up with her antics – isn’t buying it. He tries to get Mariner to leave, but because of the delay in destroying the moon thanks to the intransigence of the Mixtus II alien, the platform shakes and Boimler is knocked out.
Commander Ransom alerts the captain to the problem on the bridge, while Barbara and Mariner fight over Boimler on the orbital platform. Apparently Barbara has been feeling the same way about Mariner, wondering if she’s an impostor and what her interest is in Boimler, which was kind of funny. This set the stage for the two to reconcile, realising that each other had Boimler’s best interests at heart.
With the moon about to cause devastation on Mixtus III, Captain Freeman feels she has no choice but to act. And in a very funny moment – that also served as a commentary on wealth inequality – the Mixtus II alien admits it’s just him and his wife on the planet; they’re very rich. The captain gives the order to implode the moon, saving Mixtus III from harm despite the rich alien protesting.
After ending their fight, Mariner and Barbara bond over stories about Boimler. Though these tales almost all put him in a negative light, it was a funny sequence that was perhaps even a little sweet. They both realised that neither was a threat, and that their fighting was borne from a misunderstanding. I liked this resolution to a story that could have made Barbara an alien menace; I think it worked far better.
While Boimler lay unconscious, the two gossiped about him and some of his silly moments – messing up, touching aliens in an inappropriate way, etc. Mariner had a cute line where she said that Boimler is a dork, but he’s her dork. After seeing her being unkind and even bullying him in earlier episodes, this moment (and others earlier on) really hit home the fact that they’re friends, and I liked that.
Meanwhile Tendi and Rutherford have managed to uncover the Vancouver officer’s horrible secret – while transferring them to his ship, he plans to transfer himself to the Cerritos! I loved this moment, as the officer pleads to return to a less exciting ship. He can’t handle the pressure of being on such a cool ship and wants a quieter life. We’ve never really seen that idea explored in Star Trek – that an officer might not want that kind of life. Though it was a brief moment in a secondary plot, acknowledging the idea that some in Starfleet may prefer life in the slow lane was nice, and I appreciated its inclusion.
On the orbital platform, Mariner and Barbara finally uncover the source of the husk Mariner found – Boimler is the one who’s picked up a parasite! The green louse-like creature had affixed itself to his head, but Barbara was able to remove it. It turns out this was the reason why she liked him – the parasite gave off pheromones that made him much more attractive! This was another twist, but a fun resolution to the plot. Mariner was half-right after all – there was a parasite involved. Just not in the way she expected. Though the timeframe of Lower Decks is not at all clear, Boimler was supposed to have picked up the parasite more than a month ago – does that mean he’s had it in every episode so far? Or is it something he picked up between last week’s episode and Cupid’s Errant Arrow? If it’s the former, perhaps we can expect to see some changes in him going forward now that it’s been removed.
In keeping with Lower Decks’ style of returning to episodic storytelling, all of the storylines are wrapped up by the end of the episode. Barbara breaks up with Boimler, removing her from the picture. Tendi and Rutherford return to the Cerritos – with armfuls of T88 scanners! And the ship and crew have completed their moon mission, ready for another adventure next time.
Cupid’s Errant Arrow was fun, and despite the cringe humour that it made use of at points, there were some laugh-out-loud moments. I had a lot of fun with the episode, and I’m enjoying spending time with the characters. Tendi still feels underdeveloped, as if the writers don’t really know what to make of her. But the other three are finding the niches. Mariner’s turn away from being self-centred has been to the series’ benefit in a huge way, and I’m having fun with her, laughing along at her shenanigans rather than rolling my eyes.
This was an episode which really took the action away from what would have been the “main” story in another Star Trek series – saving Mixtus III from the crashing moon. This was always what Lower Decks promised to do: focusing on the unimportant characters rather than the main bridge crew. Several previous episodes had the ensigns participate in the main story in more of a major way, but this time they really didn’t, and thus Cupid’s Errant Arrow is an episode to point to as one that encapsulates the Lower Decks concept.
The teaser for next week’s episode looks like a lot of fun – and while I won’t spoil anything, I’ll say that I’m definitely looking forward to the crew’s next adventure. I hope you’ll come back after you’ve seen it for another review!
The first five 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.