Lower Decks‘ “Reflections” in Review
This week, a pair of very distinct and different storylines combine into the best episode of the season so far, which opens with Rutherford having a nightmare about some kind of engine exploding in his face…
While the USS Cerritos is updating systems on a quiet Federation planet – which has a marketplace fair that needs a Starfleet recuitment booth – Mariner and Boimler are tasked with manning the booth, much to Mariner’s frustration. Thinking his cerebral implant is malfunctioning, Rutherford seeks help from Tendi, who checks it out and then clears its cache. Commander Ransom insists that Mariner and Boimler not only man the recruitment booth but also sign up a gaggle of people there. Ransom warns that, if they don’t, he’ll send them to the worst starbase in Starfleet – the equivalent of characters in military comedies being threatened with a transfer to an Arctic weather station. This does not go down well with Mariner or Boimler, who grit their teeth and get on with it.
Clearing the cache on his implant has the side effect of replacing our Rutherford with a more rebellious and misogynistic version, who sounds a lot more like Kevin Hart than Rutherford. Our Rutherford, meanwhile, is visible to this new version as a reflection in shiny surfaces, and is convinced his body has been taken over by an alien. It’s a little more complicated than that, as Shaxs and T’Ana discover after Shaxs recognises this isn’t his “Baby Bear” and stuns him before he can desert.
Rutherford and a younger, Kevin Hart-ier version of himself appear in a white void like the one in which Picard met Q back in TNG’s “Tapestry”, but this time with a brain surface for a sky above them. The body-hijacker is Rutherford’s pre-accident younger self, freed by wiping the implant’s cache, and he’s not happy that his older self is a pro-Starfleet do-gooder instead of a space hot-rod-building racing rebel. The two Rutherfords realise that only one of them controls the body and it needs to wake from the coma that being stunned put them in. To determine who it should be, they agree on a challenge to build a ship each and race each other.
Down on the planet, Boimler and Mariner are increasingly frustrated by the various aliens and organisations sending them up, and especially by the Vash-like “freelance archaeologist” on the neighbouring booth. Mariner in particular is annoyed and increasingly angered by suggestions that Starfleet is a navy, that members of it get assimilated by the Borg all the time, and that admirals are controlled by brain-controlling “butt-bugs.”
In the mindscape, the contest begins. Older Rutherford builds the Delta Flyer, whereas Younger Rutherford produces a soapbox racer type of thing with a Colonial Viper (from Battlestar Galactica) style nose and TOS-style nacelles bolted to the cockpit.
Despite Mariner being the one whose stresses are more visibly built up, it’s Boimler who goes nuclear when a female outpost scientist malevolently grabs his single ensign’s rank pip off his uniform and carelessly tosses it away. All hell breaks loose as Boimler yells at everyone and beats up many.
Back in the mindscape, the pair of Rutherfords start racing each other through the (imaginary) Romulan Neutral Zone. Young Rutherford at first leads the race. Suddenly, a Romulan Warbird (which is awesome as a CG model, less so in the 2D version) decloaks and starts attacking their ships. As it turns out, Older Rutherford has crewed the Delta Flyer with imaginary versions of Tendi, Mariner, and Boimler.
On the planet, Boimler’s outburst amazingly means Mariner is surrounded by new recruits. All of them think that, if being in Starfleet gives someone like Boimler the confidence he’s been demonstrating, they all want some of that!
When Young Rutherford’s ship is destroyed by the Romulan Warbird, the team aboard the Delta Flyer manage to rescue him. Young Rutherford gives his older self a last gift – and a solid bit of story arc building for us. He recalls that the accident that got him his cybernetic implant was being overseen by someone high up in Starfleet, who wiped Rutherford’s memories and programmed him to forget that he was an illegal racer building an experimental engine for some reason… Rutherford wakes up as our Rutherford, having won the imaginary race.
Ultimately, even though Ransom has to put Boimler in the Brig overnight, standing up for Starfleet at the marketplace fair has gotten Boimler some respect from Ransom. Rutherford reveals to his friends what he learned in the mindscape, and Mariner is contacted by the archeologist she met at the fair, dismissing her but saving her contact details nonetheless.
This is the sweariest or at least most bleeped episode for a while, and somebody maybe needs to look at knowing when to keep the bleeps for comedic effect and when to leave the swearing unbleeped. In particular, the line about “telling the Ferengi to <entire sentence is one long bleep>” is hilarious but would have been even more hilarious if some other, briefer swears remained unbleeped. The episode is also filled with easter eggs, some more obvious – for example, lots of familiar alien species, such as Collectors, Ferengi, etc. – than others. There’s also a very nice music score for the race, which carries an air of Star Wars pod-racing about it.
As well as giving us good character development for Rutherford and a story-arc advance, one of the most amusing and impressive things about the episode is its addressing many audience and fan debates, such as whether Starfleet is military or not. Even various showrunners and producers in the franchise have had different viewpoints on that, over the years. That’s a far more interesting and balanced element to provoke thought and debate among the viewers than, say, the new Vash/Lara Croft/Bernice Summerfield “independent archeologist” trope, though it’s no bad thing that the door is left open for more of her.
Overall, then, great Trek vibes, new spins on familiar elements, and hilarious – what’s not to love? The highlight of the season so far.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.