This week finds 'Lower Decks' as the best version of itself.
- 🐶The Dog is another amazing side character.
- 🐶Great character development for Mariner.
- 🐶Boimler and Tendi make a great comedic pairing.
- 🐶Rutherford doesn't have much to do.
“Much Ado About Boimler” is pretty close to what I’d consider the platonic ideal of an episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. It tells two equally compelling stories, has moments of extreme comic absurdity, and manages to capture the pacing and dimension of character that an episode of The Next Generation would, all in about 24 minutes. This is the promise of the show at its best, and it’s episodes like these that keep me coming back.
The cold open introduces us to Tendi’s (Noël Wells) newest experiment in cloning, a friendly golden retriever that she has lovingly named “The Dog.” The other ensigns are at first nonplussed by Tendi’s use of cloning technology to make something so banal, only to end up horrified when The Dog becomes a bastion of body horror when Tendi leaves the room. The Dog is the avenue for a lot of this episode’s greatest visual gags, and while it is not exactly the subject of either of the two main plots, it is a perpetually hilarious background element that punctuates beautifully on the realization that Tendi did know about all The Dog’s horrifying transformations, but she just didn’t realize dogs weren’t supposed to do that. Between The Dog and Badgey, Lower Decks is hitting its stride with the kinds of offbeat bit characters that make animated comedies worth returning to.
The plot proper kicks in when the captain and officers go on an away mission, leaving the crew with a substitute captain. Mariner (Tawny Newsome) continues her trend of mocking authority, only for the visiting captain to turn out to be her old Academy friend, Amina Ramsey (Toks Olagundoye). Unlike last week’s Ensign Fletcher, Amina feels more like a fully realized character than a plot device, reminiscing with Mariner about the good ol’ days while asking her to take on greater responsibilities on an away mission to a nearby bog planet.
As Mariner keeps making more and more simple mistakes, it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right with Mariner and Amina’s relationship. It’s actually a clever bit of writing to allow us to forget a core piece of Mariner’s attitude toward the establishment in order to buy into her extreme bouts of clumsiness, but once the crew is called to rescue another vessel from an unknown energy being, Mariner is suddenly the action badass she always has been. It turns out that she anticipated that Amina was going to offer her an officer’s position on Amina’s ship and didn’t want to have to turn her friend down, a sign of Mariner’s continued resistance to the career path expected of her. While the episode culminates in a climactic action setpiece that saves the crew from the lifeform overtaking the ship, it simultaneously juggles dialogue the gives these two women the space to reconcile who they once were together with the people they have become while apart. It’s a touching study of friendship in a show that is singularly focused on the meaning of camaraderie.
Meanwhile, Boimler’s (Jack Quaid) storyline is less emotionally resonant, but also carries the comedy in conjunction with The Dog. After a transporter malfunction – the most classic of Trek tropes – leaves Boimler out of phase, he’s left incapable of impressing the visiting crew as his body blares loud transporter sounds and remains transparent and blue. Though Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) is able to quiet the annoying noise, Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) is unable to cure Boimler and calls upon the mysterious Division 14 to come deliver him, along with Tendi and The Dog, to “The Farm” for treatment.
Now, the clear allusion of sending an incurable animal to a farm upstate (up-space?) should be lost on no one, and the way Division 14 is presented as a dark and creepy vessel filled with, as the Division officer states it, “dark abnormalities and the clinically obscene,” makes it pretty apparent that Boimler, Tendi, and The Dog have been shuffled off to be disposed of. The other aberrations, led by an ensign whose body has half aged into being elderly while the other half has reverted to childhood, stage a revolution that Boimler immediately rats out in his usual deference to authority, and ends up out an airlock for his trouble. Only the airlock reveals that they actually have landed at a real resort known as The Farm, and the horrifying décor and the officer’s ominous mannerism were all just misleading quirks of character. It’s a funny, if not unexpected, twist that perfectly culminates when the effects of the transporter malfunction disappear on their own, leaving Boimler unable to participate in the relaxing spa treatments the planet provides.
Overall, “Much Ado About Boimler” brings a lot to the table. The rare division of Boimler and Mariner into separate narratives is a strong choice, and pairing Boimler with Tendi allows for a different kind of comedic banter, borne more of Tendi’s obliviousness and Boimler’s frustrations. Rutherford doesn’t get all that much to do this episode, but that’s fine. The necessary space to explore a new side of Mariner’s past is much appreciated, and the balance of all these disparate elements make this one of the best episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks to date.
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