Star Trek: Lower Decks
Air date: 9/22/2022
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Michael Mullen
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Not long after Rutherford has a nightmare about an explosion that happened in his pre-implant days, his implant goes on the fritz and an alternate personality with a bad attitude emerges (let's call him Dark Rutherford). Imprisoned within his own mind is the OkeeDokee Rutherford we all know and love, who manifests to his dark alter-ego as a reflection in glass surfaces and tries to battle back control of his consciousness.
Dark Rutherford tries to thwart security and escape the ship, but is phasered by Shaxs, which overloads Rutherford's implant and puts him in a coma. Inside his mind, OkeeDokee Rutherford and Dark Rutherford compete for mental dominion by agreeing to a race — the winner gets to stay and the loser gets erased. There can be only one victor, because the implant does not have room for both personalities and sets of memories.
"Reflections" is a much more involving and entertaining episode than some of the ultra-low-stakes episodes we've had recently. The writers finally confront the question teased in last season's finale of why Rutherford actually got his implant, which was revealed to be for reasons beyond his knowledge or control. Dark Rutherford actually turns out to be Rutherford's personality from 10 years ago. He wasn't always the happy-go-lucky guy he is now, and was considerably edgier and more reckless (as evidenced by the leather jacket and bad-boy attitude).
The two take their unique approaches to the race and each builds his own customized racer. The ship designs are telling: OkeeDokee Rutherford builds a Delta Flyer, while Dark Rutherford builds something that looks more like it belongs in Star Wars. The buried implication here: Star Wars is for the cool rebel kids and Star Trek is for boring, straight-arrow nerds.
The race culminates in a sequence reminiscent of Voyager's "Drive," and it turns out OkeeDokee Rutherford's secret weapon isn't a piece of technology but his other Lower Decker friends. It's a sweet sentiment, and one in keeping with the overarching thematic statement that friendship is this series' backbone. The race results in Dark Rutherford being gravely injured, which shouldn't really matter since this is all imaginary, but because this works like The Matrix, he fades away and dies, but not before giving Rutherford a missing piece of information about his past and the implant — which was installed to cover up the injury caused by an explosion during an experimental project by an unknown silhouette of a Starfleet officer. More on this presumably to come.
There's also a B-story here, which is in the vein of Zero-Stakes Lower Decks, in which Mariner and Boimler are assigned to run the Starfleet recruitment booth at a career fair on this week's planet surface. This is basically one joke, which is that no one wants to sign up for Starfleet because of the danger and unpleasantness involved in all the interstellar conflicts. Mariner is drawn into a feud with a former Starfleet officer named Petra Aberdeen (Georgia King), who is in a neighboring booth for the Independent Archeologists Guild and sabotages the Starfleet booth at every opportunity.
But it's Boimler, not Mariner, who finally loses his cool and snaps for being so disrespected, and goes on a rampage at the career fair that turns a bunch of heads and gets everyone interested in Starfleet because of the amazing "confidence" it apparently builds. It's classic cartoon logic and a bit too typical of this series. You can file this squarely into "sure/fine/why not."
Still, though, there's some unexpected character value here, as Aberdeen reaches out to Mariner after the career fair. (I love how Mariner answers the call, sees who it is, and dryly states, "Wow, no thank you." Perfect line delivery and timing.) Aberdeen attempts to recruit Mariner into the archeologists guild, which Mariner doesn't dismiss out of hand, seemingly setting up the idea that maybe Mariner isn't getting what she wants out of Starfleet and might consider an exit strategy.
"Reflections" is more on the right track for this show, where it keeps things light enough without being a complete featherweight. There's some good substance here and the episode benefits from trying to move some character beats forward.
Previous episode: Room for Growth
Next episode: Hear All, Trust Nothing
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18 comments on this post
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 4:48am (UTC -5)
3.5 for me I think.
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 6:38am (UTC -5)
I also enjoyed the Tulgana IV plotline. First, I expected a retread of the bar quarter adventures in “Envoys” (an episode which I liked a lot), but it became much better and something new. The show made really good fun of conspiracy theorists and overcritical fans coming up with edgy nonsense interpretations of some episodes, while at the same time also giving legitimate criticism to the setting (“Oh, right, you guys totally aren't a pseudo navy at all” — sure they are, even if they claim otherwise). And Bold Boimler™ took the challenge, which earned him among others a drink with Ransom. I was much reminded to Galaxy Quest, which is never a bad thing
This is worthy of 3 stars. It did not reach the heights of the very best episodes, but it was very solid and enjoyable.
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 7:04am (UTC -5)
Rutherford up until this point had been the shallowest of the four main characters, and was in desperate need of a focus episode. Not to mention the Section 31 (?) tease from the Season 2 finale needed to be elaborated upon. I loved the twist here. We were all expecting that the hostile personality was some sort of sleeper agent they put inside of Rutherford, but no, it turns out that's the real Rutherford, who isn't evil, just an immature dick. I wasn't quite as keen on the total return to status quo - I wish some sort of merging would happen to give his arc forward movement, but we still don't know the secret information which led them to wipe him, so there's more here for later in the season (or next season).
The planetside plotline with Mariner and Boimler was clearly a B story, but it also worked well. Both characters showed tremendous growth from where they were in the first season. It's hard to imagine "early Mariner" defending Starfleet so calmly (the Archeologist woman was clearly set up to be everything she was attracted to). Seeing Boimler hulk out was also amusing, though it honestly reminded me of Beavis doing Cornholio more than anything else. Mariner saving the contact at the end was I suppose meant to show some character flaws remain in her, but it could easily just be seen as her wanting a backup plan in case Ransom does find an excuse to boot her out.
Lots of jokes about Star Trek in a general sense, but relatively few "remember X" and no completely unneeded guest stars! I still didn't find it particularly funny, but I don't think it was trying very hard to be funny this week.
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 10:58am (UTC -5)
Origin-Rutherfords' voice was different enough to nail the arrogance of an angry youth who thinks he knows it all and is indestructible, evidence before his very eyes to the contrary. Nu-Rutherford might be a younger personality, but he's a more psychologically well rounded one.
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 11:13am (UTC -5)
Galadriel already mentioned the pseudo-navy joke that I got a chuckle out of. Also, it was funny how Rutherford's imaginary versions of his crew had Mariner saying things like "Okie-dokie!"
But yeah, it's a great entry and my German friend above covered most it. I still liked "Mining the Mind's Mines" best so far for being such a typical TOS story. This is a 3.25 for me.
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 11:25am (UTC -5)
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 5:43pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 11:32pm (UTC -5)
That said there was still a few moments that made me laugh here, particularly Boims finally snapping and (as Jammer noted) Mariner’s “Wow, no thanks” when she answered the call 😂
Fri, Sep 23, 2022, 9:10am (UTC -5)
Fri, Sep 23, 2022, 5:23pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Sep 23, 2022, 7:00pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Sep 24, 2022, 8:33am (UTC -5)
@Karl Zimmerman - I suppose it depends on which sitcoms you're watching! I have two high watermarks for sitcoms: Newsradio and Arrested Development (OG first three seasons). Both of them had a very high delivery rate of jokes, but two very different approaches in their characters. The cast of Newsradio are all very competent professionals with the comedy coming from their clashes of personality and bizarre workplace situations, rather than laughing at their ineptness.
In Arrested Development, we have a family of *horrible* people who are mostly getting what they deserve, where the comedy often comes from our satisfaction at justice being served.
They couldn't be more different, and in a way I think they highlight the problem Lower Decks faces in delivering satisfying comedy. They're trying to take the Newsradio approach, where we can mostly root for the characters' goals and the comedy comes from the interpersonal conflict - at least, the Lower Deckers. But at the upper level we have more of an Arrested Development thing going on. How many times have Captain Freeman or Ransom's personality defects created the problems in the story, and we want to see them proven wrong? They course-corrected this somewhat in season 2, but even now in season 3 they're still occasionally being written as incompetent for comedic purpose.
Since they're also trying to make a Star Trek show, I think they need to ditch the latter and lean harder into the former.
Animated sci-fi comedy has been done incredibly well in the past (think Futurama at its peak) and also in the present (Rick and Morty uses sci-fi nihilism to devastating effect). I still think Lower Decks has the potential to get there, they've just got to nail the right formula.
Sat, Sep 24, 2022, 9:53am (UTC -5)
Humor is perhaps the most subjective genre of fiction. To your point about sitcoms, I would argue that the show Seinfeld is superior to his standup routine because the show is broader and can handle a world of jokes that Jerry Seinfeld on his own can't.
I agree with you completely about The Orville. Of the material I watched, my main complaint is that it feels like an episode of TNG with some random MacFarlane jokes in it. If I were a big MacFarlane fan that probably wouldn't bother me so much, but I find his jokes repetitive and graining at times. Perhaps it has gotten better over time and I'm missing out on something, though.
Sat, Sep 24, 2022, 10:33am (UTC -5)
Now I’d like to explore Mariners past, which has been hinted at that she was previously a bad ass rising up in the hierarchy covert ops type officer before something happened to make her disillusioned and almost get kicked out of Starfleet. Seems she may also be dealing with past trauma which is why she tries to antagonize the officers and get demoted and get kicked out, seems that after this episode she maybe having thoughts again about leaving.
Mon, Sep 26, 2022, 9:00am (UTC -5)
Thoroughly enjoyable from all angles. Loved learning more about Rutherford but not everything. More to come I hope. I'm glad his former self is now gone.
Totally "Lower Decks" that Rutherford builds the Delta Flyer AND includes his shipmates/friends.
Mariner and Boimler at the fair was hilarious, especially when Boimler lost it. :-)
...and of course Tendi tearing up and giving Rutherford a big hug.
Nothing I would say was "epic", but, again, more character development in this 30 minute episode than we've got in 4 years of Discovery. They don't seem to have to "work at it" to make it happen.
Solid 3 stars from me.
Mon, Sep 26, 2022, 6:02pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 11:09am (UTC -5)
The B-plot, on the other hand, represents what I hate most about this series: "professional" Starfleet officers acting like preteens. As Jammer said, it was one joke, and not a very funny one at that.
Wed, Oct 12, 2022, 10:07am (UTC -5)
The various reflections (pun intended) around the theme of personality have quite some depth.
How someone can drastically change over time, how your older self would view your current self, how external events shape your personality and transform you over time, how one’s personality can also be defined by belonging to a family, etc.
Interesting that the writers decided that the two personalities cannot co-exisist. Definitely quite philosophical, tragic and somewhat morbid as the older self willingly lets himself die in order for the new/current self to be able to exist…
There would be much more to say and ponder just on that topic alone.
3.5 star for me. Would have been 4 if it wasn’t for the very meh B plot.
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