Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first two episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
If you stopped by last week, you might’ve felt that I was a little hard on Lower Decks’ premiere. I certainly thought so on re-reading what I wrote last time, so just for the sake of clarity, although not all of the jokes landed and despite my misgivings about Ensign Mariner, I did enjoy Second Contact. This new series is all at once very different from past iterations of Star Trek, yet also familiar. That familiarity comes from the show’s creators, writers, and producers being big Trekkies who put a lot of love into what they’ve made. Discovery could feel, on occasion, that it was made by a team of people who weren’t necessarily all that familiar with Star Trek, but there’s no way the same accusation could be made against Lower Decks.
If I had been in charge of making the series and broadcasting it, one change I’d have made would’ve been to put Envoys first. The opening scene from Second Contact definitely made a good introduction, so perhaps I’d have rejigged the first two episodes so that scene was still the first scene of the series, but the episode that followed had the plot of Envoys, which is a stronger story and one which gave all four main characters more to do.
I’m sure you’re getting tired of me saying this by now, but Lower Decks still has no international release planned. This continues to be a source of profound disappointment, and it’s something which will unfortunately harm the series going forward. While I think it’s fair to say that Lower Decks has hardly taken the world by storm, the moderate level of hype and buzz that it did manage to generate has been tarnished by the fact that a huge portion of its potential audience is missing out and unable to participate. Because Lower Decks is such a unique offering in the Star Trek lineup, and with the general popularity of animated comedy backing it up, it’s a show which should have the potential to bring in legions of new fans. The decision to broadcast it in North America only, with no plans for an international release, damages this. It means potential new fans miss out on the show when it’s new, killing a large portion of the hype, and it means that anyone who is very interested to watch will simply pirate the show, as doing so is incredibly easy.
Not me, though. Heavens no. As you’ll recall from last week, I’ve temporarily moved to my second home in the USA so I can watch the show. I really am enjoying my time in the beautiful state of Maine. The desert, the cacti, the dry heat… it’s perfect! And I’m only a half hour’s drive from the neighbouring state of Alabama, where I can sit on the beach and gaze out over the Pacific ocean. Bliss.
So let’s jump into Envoys, shall we? By the way: how do you pronounce it? Is it “ON-voys”? Or “EN-voys”? I’ve heard it said both ways, and I don’t think either is strictly right or wrong, it’s just a matter of dialect. But we’re off topic already. The opening scene before the title sequence was the weakest in Envoys, and reinforced everything I’d been thinking about Ensign Mariner from last time. In fact, this scene was her at her arrogant and most un-Starfleet worst as she tries to kidnap a sentient energy-lifeform and forces it to grant her a wish.
There’s so much wrong here that I felt like switching off the episode and saying, “well I guess Lower Decks just isn’t my thing.” But let’s break it down – Starfleet is all about seeking out new life, learning about them, and coexisting in a peaceful, friendly manner. Mariner kidnapped a sentient lifeform for… what? Because it would be funny? And she let it go only when it could provide her a minor material benefit at great cost to itself. As I said last week, it feels like Lower Decks wants to have its own Rick Sanchez (from Rick & Morty) – an “I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-anything-except-myself” mega-genius – but that kind of character doesn’t work in a Starfleet setting, and definitely not as an ensign.
After re-reading my criticisms from last time I wondered if I’d been unfair on Mariner, but this scene riled me up and convinced me that I hadn’t been. When I wrote earlier that if I’d been in charge I’d have reworked the first two episodes, I’d also have cut this scene entirely. For me, Mariner is not a good source of humour when she behaves selfishly and in an un-Starfleet manner. If the show was not set on a Federation starship, with Mariner taking on a Chris Rios-type role (the captain of La Sirena in Star Trek: Picard) maybe it would work better. While she did improve significantly as we got further into the story, she remains the show’s weak link for me, and this scene at the beginning of the story was Mariner at her absolute worst.
The title sequence was up next, and I’m really enjoying the music. Lower Decks’ theme is easily one of my favourite Star Trek themes now, and certainly the best one since the 1990s. I didn’t mention this last week, but at one point in the title sequence, the USS Ceritos stumbles on a battle between Romulan vessels and Borg cubes – given that we know the Romulans captured the Artifact (a derelict Borg cube) prior to the events of Star Trek: Picard, I wonder if this is meant to depict that event. Even if not, it was a cute little wink to fans of Picard simply by putting Borg and Romulans together.
After the titles, Boimler is boasting to Tendi and Mariner about his new assignment – he’s to pilot a shuttle and escort a high-ranking Klingon general to peace negotiations. This scene went a long way to making up for Mariner’s earlier conduct, as we see her more relaxed while presumably off-duty. She doesn’t really do anything too offensive here, which by her standards is a win. I liked Boimler practising his Klingon pronunciation; it was suitably silly and funny!
Ensign Rutherford – who we didn’t get to spend much time with last week – crawls out of a jeffries tube where he’s been working to realign the EPS conduits. He and Tendi share a cute moment as she asks him if they can get together to watch a pulsar. The show is clearly setting the two of them up as a pair alongside Boimler and Mariner, though whether they’ll ever end up as anything more than platonic is unclear. In order to get enough time off work to watch the pulsar with Tendi, Rutherford decides to transfer out of engineering, which is the second plot of the episode along with the shuttle mission.
Rutherford provides an even stronger contrast to Mariner than Boimler does. Where Boimler is neurotic, anxious, and horribly concerned with making a good impression, Rutherford just gets on with his job and seems to revel in the menial tasks he undertakes as an engineer. Boimler doesn’t seem to enjoy being a Starfleet officer, despite being well-read, but Rutherford has taken to his role naturally and with a positive attitude. Of the four main characters, only Rutherford truly feels like someone who could’ve been a Starfleet officer in a past Star Trek series.
In the shuttlebay, Boimler has arrived to get ready for his mission escorting the Klingon general. And wouldn’t you know it, Mariner has managed to “pull a few strings” and get herself assigned to the mission with him. At first it seemed as though she’d used her connection to the captain (if you missed it last time, Captain Freeman is her mother), but later it’s revealed that she knew the Klingon general, so that may have been how she was able to land the role.
In typical Mariner fashion, she’s messed up the shuttle. Boots on the control panel, she’s eating her lunch and has spilled it. Once again I’m getting a distinct Rick & Morty vibe – Mariner seems to treat the shuttle the way Rick Sanchez treats his flying car/spacecraft, and the comparable visuals of empty food containers and general mess wasn’t lost on me.
For once, though, we got to see a genuine moment of excitement from Mariner, who is fascinated by the shuttle’s blast shield. She even sang a little song (which was very catchy and got stuck in my head) about it, which was sweet. Perhaps there may be an appreciation for some of what Starfleet has to offer underneath the uncaring exterior after all? This moment had been briefly seen in the trailer, and I liked it there as well.
I didn’t really like that Mariner had managed to not only elbow her way onto Boimler’s mission, but that she’d been placed in charge with him relegated to the role of co-pilot. While Mariner herself may act in an un-Starfleet manner, the rest of the crew shouldn’t, and this change of role for Boimler – who didn’t even know until he reached the shuttle – seems very unprofessional.
I know that I need to try to distance myself from what I already know about Starfleet when watching Lower Decks and not take it so seriously. And I am making a genuine attempt to do so, but as I wrote last time, the franchise has fifty years of history and lore that has been built up, and speaking personally, I have over a quarter of a century as a Trekkie under my belt. Discarding parts of that is hard, and trying to see Lower Decks as an animated comedy first and a Star Trek project second isn’t always easy.
Up next, Rutherford is in main engineering and is working up the courage to follow through with what he promised Tendi and ask for reassignment. I liked this scene, as Rutherford clearly has the respect of the chief engineer and his crewmates. Though it seemed as if the chief engineer may have been angry, everyone was thrilled for Rutherford as he moved on.
It was great to see the Cerritos’ engineering deck in more detail too. The warp core strikes me as some combination of those seen in The Motion Picture, The Next Generation and Voyager, and the whole of main engineering has a distinct Star Trek aesthetic that couldn’t possibly be from any other franchise. I liked the Enterprise-D-style main engineering table; we’d often see Geordi La Forge, Data, and others standing there in The Next Generation. There’s no question that, when it comes to the design of the ship, Lower Decks is doing a great job of staying consistent with what’s come before.
Up next came the shuttle mission. Mariner is reunited with her Klingon friend, someone she met on a past assignment. Boimler confirms for the audience that he and Mariner are roughly the same age, something that I wasn’t sure of given her past history of promotions, demotions, and reassignments. While Boimler pilots the shuttle, Mariner and the Klingon get drunk on bloodwine.
Compared to the Klingons seen in Discovery, whose aesthetic had been very different to what we’d seen before, the Klingon general here was a return to form. Sporting an eyepatch similar to General Chang’s from The Undiscovered Country, he looked exactly like I’d have expected an animated Klingon from The Next Generation era to. The typical Klingon forehead, the long flowing hair, the beard with the distinctive moustache-gap, and of course the armour and batleth were all present, and I liked the way this character looked.
Despite being ordered to transport the general to a Federation outpost on what seems to be a non-aligned planet, the Klingon – backed up by a drunk Mariner – insists on being taken to a Klingon district so he can get gagh. Gagh is a Klingon food well-known to Trekkies, as it’s appeared numerous times in the Star Trek franchise. Unable to resist their demands, Boimler lands the shuttle in the Klingon district.
We’ve already spent too long focusing on Mariner and her un-Starfleet conduct, so I’ll skip over that to avoid this review being too repetitive. After landing the shuttle, Mariner and Boimler disembark, and it’s promptly commandeered by the drunk Klingon, who shakily flies it away, stranding Mariner and Boimler who now need to recover the shuttle and the wayward Klingon.
This sets up what would be the main focus of the episode’s story – Mariner and Boimler working together on the planet. While I like this story and I felt it finally gave Mariner a few brief moments of actually seeming like a nice character for a change, it was very similar to what we got last week. When I mentioned at the beginning that Envoys would have made a better premiere, this is what I mean. The whole concept of a by-the-book officer and a rebellious officer working together, using their differences to complete an assignment that’s gone wrong works remarkably well, and this could have been a great way to set up the series. Its thunder feels at least a little stolen by being very similar to the Mariner and Boimler story from last week, though.
The two can have a fun dynamic when they’re alone and when Mariner isn’t being too unkind. If we use our Rick & Morty comparison, Boimler is definitely the Morty to Mariner’s Rick, and the way she treats him will clearly be very funny to people who like that kind of humour. Those moments in Rick & Morty are seldom my favourite, though, and as mentioned I don’t think it translates well to Star Trek.
While they’re left to explore the settlement, which features a variety of Klingons and other aliens, back aboard the Cerritos Rutherford has transferred to the command division. He’s been taken under the wing of the ship’s first officer, Commander Ransom, and on the holodeck Rutherford is put through his paces. This sequence left me in stitches and was perhaps the best in the episode in terms of pure comedy, as poor Rutherford simply can’t get the hang of starship command!
In the first training simulation, Rutherford gets the ship destroyed. Ransom then gives him a simpler assignment – the ship is directly in the path of a small asteroid. This should be super easy to avoid, but Rutherford again messes up and gets the ship’s school and kindergarten destroyed. If you haven’t seen it you’ll just have to watch it, because the way the scene unfolds is absolutely hilarious, and everything from the way the holo-characters deliver their lines to Rutherford and Ransom’s reactions to his mistakes were just pitch-perfect.
On the planet’s surface, Mariner and Boimler are still on the tail of the Klingon general. While Mariner stops to go to the bathroom, Boimler gets hit on by an attractive woman. Of course it turns out to be a creepy alien who wanted to use Boimler to incubate her eggs, and Mariner is able to save the day. Were she not such an insufferable character by this point, I’d have been more impressed with her knowledge of different kinds of alien races and her “street smarts” – for want of a better term.
Rutherford’s next assignment is in sickbay, where he gets to work alongside Tendi for a brief moment. The ship’s Catian doctor, Dr T’Ana, is impressed with his anatomical work – he compares it to working on a starship. She then gives him a relatively simple task, to keep a wounded officer calm. But of course he manages to mess this up, causing the man to panic and make things worse! This was another very funny scene, and Rutherford has provided much of the episode’s comedy so far.
After being kicked out of sickbay by the grouchy Dr T’Ana, Rutherford tries his hand at security. He’s thrown into a simulated battle against a number of Borg drones, and is able to defeat them all thanks to his cybernetic implant. This greatly impresses the security chief, the Bajoran Lieutenant Shaxs. This scene wasn’t as funny as the others, but Rutherford’s genial nature contrasted with Shaxs’ description of him as a natural born killer did win a chuckle.
Boimler and Mariner have reached an Andorian settlement or district back on the planet’s surface, and are getting closer to locating the Klingon and shuttle. During their time here, we get to see a slightly different side to Mariner, which I think has started to show her in a better light. It’s not that she doesn’t care about anything, just that she’s very selfish, arrogant, and puts herself first. Which is an improvement. I guess.
Tendi is the character who got the short straw this week, I think. Rutherford got his very funny B-story about trying out the various departments, and Mariner and Boimler got their mission to the planet, but Tendi really hasn’t had much to do at all, besides being excited to see the pulsar. Though after she spent last week basically just saying “wow” to everything, even that was an improvement. However, I’d like to see her have a proper story of her own – and I’m sure she will in an upcoming episode.
In the Andorian settlement, Boimler starts a bar fight by being too quick to step in with his phaser when he sees a group of Andorians hassling someone. It turns out that they were trying to stop a changeling – presumably not a Founder, as other shapeshifters exist – and upsets them. Mariner steps in and saves the day, leaving Boimler dejected at how bad his mission is going.
This moment was perhaps the first time in the series that the “book smart vs. street smarts” dynamic between Boimler and Mariner genuinely seemed to work. Boilmer thought he was doing the right thing, upholding Starfleet values. But he learned a valuable lesson – that he can’t learn everything there is to know about being a good officer from textbooks. Mariner’s experience proved invaluable to completing this part of his assignment (even though her lack of care put him in the position to begin with).
We also get to see Mariner properly take on the role of mentor that she promised at the end of Second Contact, trying to provide some degree of comfort and reassurance to Boimler when he’s at his lowest ebb. And I liked that – I wish we’d seen this side of her character earlier, as she’s far nicer and more enjoyable to watch when she’s not being rude or unkind for the sake of it. Boilmer had thrown down his combadge in a threat to quit Starfleet, but Mariner definitely stepped up to help him here.
Lieutenant Shaxs was thrilled with Rutherford’s performance as a security trainee and inaugurates him into the “bears” – the nickname for the Cerritos’ security team. However, in a cute and funny moment, Rutherford sees his beloved jeffries tube and declines the offer. The security chief, who seemed like he would’ve been angry, instead compliments Rutherford on his decision to be true to himself, and Rutherford returns to engineering.
I enjoyed Rutherford’s story this time. He’s a fun character who loves his job, but was also willing to go above and beyond for his friend just so they could spend more time hanging out. Where Tendi seems to perhaps have some kind of feelings for him, I got the sense that Rutherford’s interest in her is – at least at this stage – platonic. But I could be wrong; the show could easily make them a couple at some stage.
Boimler and Mariner finally have a lead on the Klingon general and the missing shuttle, and are on their way. There should be just enough time to sort everything out before the Klingon is missed at his scheduled peace conference. They’re stopped by a Ferengi en route, and he seems to be trying to mug them.
In what was a clear setup, Mariner pretends to naïvely go along with his demands, allowing Boimler to step in and “save” her from the devious Ferengi. I think – and I could be wrong – that this is the first Ferengi we’ve seen in Star Trek since their sole appearance in Enterprise in the early 2000s. There was a Ferengi emblem glimpsed briefly in Star Trek: Picard, but I think this is the first Ferengi character to make a proper appearance since then. Given that we got to know a lot about them from their appearances in Deep Space Nine in particular, it was nice to see a Ferengi back.
After “escaping” from the Ferengi, Boimler and Mariner find the Klingon general passed out in the shuttle – which had accrued several parking tickets in what felt like an homage to The Simpsons episode where Homer’s car gets lots of tickets in New York! I liked that silly little visual gag; it was very funny even if it wasn’t a reference to The Simpsons.
Boimler got a much-needed win from their encounter with the Ferengi – though he’s a very sore winner, which is not an attractive character trait – and there was just enough time to deliver the general to his peace conference and get the shuttle back to the ship. Despite the mission going off the rails, the pair managed to salvage things right at the end!
Back aboard the Cerritos, Boimler brags about his “win” against the Ferengi at Mariner’s expense, which I didn’t really like. It was clear, of course, that she was just going along with it to boost his confidence; moments later, after leaving the bar, she speaks to the Ferengi confirming that the two of them are friends and the whole thing was a setup. What I liked about it was that it was a very “Mariner” way to help out. She stayed true to her character, but was able to use her skills to help Boimler for a change.
The episode ends with Tendi and Rutherford in the jeffries tube. Tendi got her wish of watching the pulsar with Rutherford – albeit on a padd screen – and Rutherford got his wish of being back in the engineering department, crawling through the tubes. All in all, a happy ending.
So that was Envoys. An episode which started very weakly ended up being better than last week’s offering. We got to see some heart underneath Mariner’s carefree exterior, which will be important if she’s to become a protagonist worth rooting for. I felt that her conduct in the opening scene was perhaps the low point out of her two appearances so far, but the way she helped out Boimler when they were together on the planet went a long way to making up for it.
The breakout star of Envoys for me, though, was Rutherford. He has such a positive attitude to his work and to his friends, and he just seems like an all-round nice guy. Not to mention that his story provided much of the humour in the episode – or at least, much of the humour that worked best for me. Lower Decks still has a very distinct style and sense of humour that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I’d encourage anyone disappointed or put off by last week’s offering to give it a second chance.
I don’t think there’s much more to say. Lower Decks remains a very interesting project in the Star Trek franchise, and I’m curious to see how well it’s performing with viewers. So far I haven’t heard anything about that. I always want Star Trek projects to be successful, and of all of the projects in recent years, Lower Decks has the most potential to bring in a new and different kind of fan. Hopefully that’s starting to happen, because the greater success the franchise enjoys, the more Star Trek we’ll get to see in future.
After feeling a little trepidation in the run-up to this week’s episode after having mixed feelings last time, I can now say with confidence that I’m genuinely looking forward to next week. Roll on episode 3: Temporal Edict!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on CBS All Access if you’re fortunate enough to live in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: 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.