We’re now five episodes into Season Two of Lower Decks and have already been on so many wild adventures with our crew members. The first three episodes of the season were full to the brim with overt references and homages to past-Trek, which has been a real treat. I personally really appreciate how this show handles these moments. Lower Decks knows it’s a Star Trek show taking place in the same era as the height of 90’s Star Trek, and while it has tethers linking it to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, it never relies entirely on nostalgia goggles to keep the audience interested. These references are mostly contextual for the time period the story takes place in, but have a very, “imagine being some random person living in New York when Loki attacked the Avengers” vibe to it.
The charm of Lower Decks is they are truly just Nobodies in a world with huge, famous, legendary space explorers. While Boimler specifically has dreams of Starfleet grandeur, Tendi and Rutherford in particular seem to be content with their current assignment and find the Cerritos a perfectly fine ship to leave their mark on. On the other hand, Beckett Mariner’s past is only referenced in passing or vague one-off quips, she seems to have lived out many of the Starfleet dreams that occupy Boimler’s every waking thought. This is the start of the main thread running through both Episodes Four and Five; trust, confidence, and how it affects not only your relationship with yourself, but your relationships with others as well.
The last three episodes in particular have been about character work, which I think was a very good decision for the writers to make this early in the season. They’re already established, we already love them, but we don’t actually know that much about them! Episode Three gave us a deep dive into ensign D’vana Tendi’s past and relationship to her Orion upbringing, while also giving us a quick peek into the ever-unfolding mystery that is Beckett Mariner. Episode Four was a boys episode that paired up Boimler and Rutherford and their intensely geeky bond over the seemingly tedious and mundane aspects of Starfleet life. Episode Five was both about Tendi and Rutherford’s friendship post-Rutherford’s reboot, and Boimler and Mariner’s friendship post-Boimler coming back to the Cerritos after leaving for Captain William Riker’s ship, the Titan at the end of Season One. Overall, I think it was actually a pretty good route to go, so as to not bloat the beginning of the new season with too many references and callbacks, and also slow down the pace a bit and really start letting the audiences know more about this ragtag group of Starfleet underdogs.
SPOILERS FOR LOWER DECKS SEASON TWO EPISODES FOUR AND FIVE
The central story for Episode Four revolves around Boimler, Rutherford, and a rumor about Beckett Mariner being a Starfleet Black Ops agent. Mariner absolutely destroys Rutherford and Boimler in anbo-jyutsu and bruises not only their bodies, but their egos as well. The two men get caught up in a story from the mess hall bartender about Mariner being a Black Ops agent, and they immediately start anxiously overanalyzing everything they’ve ever seen or known about their friend. They spend time contemplating and arguing over whether or not Mariner could actually be this secret special agent, and even go so far as to look up her personal file in the ship’s database.
Meanwhile, Tendi is tasked with a job from Dr. T’ana to ensure every crew member aboard the Cerritos that has been dodging their annual physicals is tracked down and had their check-up. This leaves Tendi feeling like maybe T’ana is starting to notice all of the hard work she’s been putting into her tasks in sickbay and a much-desired promotion could be in her future.
Rutherford and Boimler having A Real One trying to figure out if the rumor about Mariner is true leads them to become paranoid and genuinely afraid of the woman they once considered one of their closest friends. This, of course, leaves Mariner very confused because they of course do not at any point in time confront her directly or even imply they might know her big secret, for fear of falling victim to her potentially deadly alter-ego. The insecurities on both halves of the situation lead to a sense of distrust and anxiety, but is ultimately resolved with Mariner revealing that she is in fact the source of this rumor and they have nothing to worry about.
Dr. T’ana and Tendi have a heart-to-heart about her needing to be more assertive, which then leads Tendi to all-but-bullying Dr. T’ana into getting her physical, which she has been regularly dodging out of a very illogical and misplaced fear. Every story conveyed in this episode is based on trust: trust in yourself and trust in your relationships. This ended up really nicely leading into Episode Five, where these themes are further explored with our lower decks crew.
Episode Five, when seen as a sort of continuation of episode four, ends up being quite touching. We are back to a familiar formula of Tendi and Rutherford being paired up and Mariner and Boimler being paired up. Tendi and Rutherford’s story revolves around something that was explored a bit in the first episode: their friendship and how it has changed since Rutherford essentially came back from the dead.
Unsurprisingly, Tendi and Rutherford are Star Trek universe gunpla nerds: they are laser-focused on trying to complete a buildable scale model of the Cerritos. When Rutherford finds several incoherent notes left by himself from before, he gets immensely frustrated and spirals because he feels like he’s constantly in competition with himself. Tendi inevitably resolves the situation by helping Rutherford realize this, and that he isn’t fighting with his past self over trying to finish the model and losing, but in reality, they never finished it in the first place and used it entirely as an avoidance tactic so they could hang out uninterrupted.
While Tendi and Rutherford are hashing out their issues and growth on the Cerritos, Mariner and Boimler are off-world to find a reportedly legendary Starfleet party that they were pointedly not invited to. After convincing Boimler to utilize the identity of his clone that is still aboard the Titan, Mariner jets them off to try and hunt down this elusive shindig in a very fun use of the Black Tie Infiltration trope.
When Mariner’s usual chaos hijinks reveal that Boimler is not alone in how he feels like Mariner’s patsy, it culminates in them almost being arrested. This brings Boimler to a breaking point and we finally address the elephant in the room: Mariner feels like Boimler abandoned her when he transferred to the Titan. Mariner and Boimler tackle their insecurities within their friendship, their power dynamics, and the trust (and lack thereof) between the two of them. While they don’t quite attend the rager they were expecting, the pair find themselves at a local bar where they resolve their very deep trust issues with one another only to find out that the bar they’re in is a genuine piece of Starfleet history, much to Boimler’s delight.
So far, Season Two has been really charming and I’m glad we’re finally getting some more background on each of the characters. This show has a lot of heart and it clearly loves its source material as much as any Trekkie possibly could. In writing this, I went to try and remember the name for anbo-jyustu only to realize that despite being a Star Trek lifer, for every reference and easter egg I notice, there are three or more I don’t! Lower Decks has been an unexpected delight and is potentially one of the all-time best Trek shows ever put to the screen. I have a lot of hope for this series and I genuinely look forward to a new episode every week. At the rate Season Two is going, we are sure to have a whole new rich lore to cut our teeth on for quite some time.
Footnote: shoutout to Lower Decks for utilizing the wonderful character actor Richard Kind in an absolutely perfect role for him. Recognized his voice immediately and could not have been more delighted at this reveal.