Star Trek: Lower Decks


3 stars

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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17 comments on this post

Latex Zebra
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 4:48am (UTC -5)
Good episode. Might be my favourite of the season so far. Nice to get some more on Rutherford's implant. Boimler's meltdown actually made me lol.

3.5 for me I think.
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 6:38am (UTC -5)
Wow, that was a pretty good one. I like that the stakes are back, and that Ru­ther­ford gets some time in the spot­light. I just com­plain­ed yester­week that the story­line around his im­plant has been left dang­ling for quite some time, and now it’s back with an update. I really loved Ru­ther­ford’s growth from is first-year self, his ap­pre­cia­tion of team­work and his em­pathy with his not-so-evil copy.

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.
Karl Zimmerman
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 7:04am (UTC -5)
Not a perfect episode, but pretty clearly the best of the season to date. Finally feels like they're doing something new and not just doing mediocre riffs on what they've already done.

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)
I'd like to take this opportunity to praise Eugene Corderos' voice work in this episode.

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)
It’s mind-blowing what happened to Rutherford. It seems like he was involved in a Starfleet experiment that went sideways and they needed to delete his younger memories to cover up the accident. This show rarely takes serious turns but blowing half an ensign's body away is a whopper.

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.
Andy G
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 5:43pm (UTC -5)
Yes. Actual character work and even some plot and hence a much better episode. Only negatives are yet another hallucination joke and the cartoonishness of the B-Plot on the planet. This is probably the best episode this season so far.
Tim C
Thu, Sep 22, 2022, 11:32pm (UTC -5)
Isn’t it strange how the best episodes of this ostensible comedy are the ones that make the least attempts at humour? No disrespect to the writers - they are definitely making a show I enjoy watching - but maybe they need to bring onboard a couple of, well, *funnier* people to juice the comedy a bit.

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)
Agree with everybody and Jammer that this was a good episode. Lots of humor, with character development and some plot going on. (On a personal note, I watched this just after leaving the hospital where my best friend is dying of pancreatic cancer. It was just what I needed to make me feel more relaxed and lighten my mood. Probably should go back and watch the puppy room in the previous episode, too. Thank you, Lower Decks!)
Andy G
Fri, Sep 23, 2022, 5:23pm (UTC -5)
@TImC -- Totally agree. Same thing as with the Orville. When they tone the humor, it's a damn good show. If they go all in on the gags, many fall flat ruining the episode.
Karl Zimmerman
Fri, Sep 23, 2022, 7:00pm (UTC -5)
To be fair, the world is full of unfunny comedies. I'd argue that most of the jokes even on well-regarded sitcoms don't stand up to the average standup routine in terms of genuine laughs per hour.
Tim C
Sat, Sep 24, 2022, 8:33am (UTC -5)
@Andy G - agreed on The Orville. I've always thought the issue there was that Macfarlane's homage to TNG was just a little bit *too* faithful to the source material. Making good comedy requires clowns, but making a good drama requires competent characters you can root for, and these opposing forces are very difficult to balance. I think in part that's the issue with Lower Decks as well.

@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)
Good discussion about sitcoms here. Regarding the silliness of the show, I think it depends on age they're going for. I mean my oldest is six, and the reason why I can't show him Lower Decks is because it's *not silly enough* for his tastes. Maybe I can in a few years, and if so, I'd wager he'd get more out of "Room for Growth" than this episode.

@Karl Zimmerman

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.

@Tim C

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)
Fiinallly back to character arcs and development, which was always one of my favorite parts of all previous Star Trek series. I’m betting on Section 31 taking rebellious angry Rutherford and channeling that into one of their nefarious projects.

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)
I believe this is the best episode of the season to date!

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)
3 stars from me, and I echo the sentiment that this is the best of the season so far. Hopefully Lower Decks maintains its proud tradition of starting slow and finishing strong. It’s been the exact opposite of Picard where everything starts off with so much promise and then is a burning bag of dog poo in the finales. So far so good Lower Decks!
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 11:09am (UTC -5)
Not sure whether to give this one 2.5 or 3. The Rutherford story was top-notch (for this series, anyway), mixing character work with good sci-fi.

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)
Best episode so far imo. Felt very Trek.
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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