Attention on heck! Don’t try to adjust your viewscreens, person-hell and boo-tenants! What you’re seeing isn’t a creepy clone, a hellish hologram, or a strangely specific alternate universe! For the month of October, we’ll be taking a spine-chilling stroll through Trek’s most horror-iffic outings and spooky adventures! Now why don’t you sit back and try not to let that green blood of yours run cold! If things get a little too intense, don’t hesitate to ask Scotty to SCREAM you up! Hehehehehehehehehe!
Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season 1, Episode 7
All of the Spooky Trek entries I’ve covered have been deathly serious affairs. But “deathly serious” isn’t the only flavor of horror, and in fact I don’t really consider myself a huge fan of deadly horror. However, I do love the general idea of horror and all its tropes, I love me some monsters, and I love silly takes on them. Lower Decks, as it has done with the entire Trek property, takes an amusing and light-hearted look at several kinds of misshapen monstrosities.
As with all episodes of Lower Decks, there are so many references and homages (delivered at warp speed) that they’re hard to list out. Additionally, the show crams several plotlines into the half-hour that give it a frenzied pace. The main one is a silly send-up of the oft-used “transporter accident” trope, which befalls Boimler. We also have a weird-ass genetically engineered dog, another entry in Mariner’s “fear of success” storyline, a monstrous threat that has taken over a Starfleet ship, as well as another Starfleet ship full of monsters. It’s just a crazy amount of material for a 30-minute block and I appreciate the show’s gusto, but it’s the entertainment equivalent of trying to drink from a firehose.
As the exhausted Lower Deckers slump into bed one night, Tendi excitedly reveals her creation – a dog that whose genetic structure she created from scratch as a hobby project (and who she has amusingly named “The Dog”). Of course, it’s not a normal dog and immediately begins to shapeshift in horrifying ways and display all sort of kooky abilities throughout the episode. It’s responsible for the biggest laughs I had for the entire first season, most notably when it randomly transforms into a metal cube and rolls by Boimler and Mariner, who watch in horrified silence. Or when its eyes roll back in its head and sprout bat wings to fly away while its mouth opens up its entire head. The juxtaposition of a happy, friendly-looking lab that shapeshifts in terrifying ways (that recall John Carpenter’s The Thing – one of my favorites) is simple but winning comedy.
Captain Freeman, Shaxs, and Ransom have all been temporarily reassigned to a critical seed-related mission (this show sounds so weird when you describe its plots), so the Cerritos is getting a temporary new captain. The three of them are dressed in black jumpsuits just as Picard, Crusher, and Worf did for “Chain of Command,” and Mariner even drops a reference to Jelico. These kinds of winking homages are generally done well even if they’re a little much, and it at least shows that the creators of this show like and have actually watched Star Trek (unlike the people responsible for some of the other current series). Mariner is dreading whoever the temp captain, until it turns out to be one of her best friends from her academy days, Captain Amina Ramsey.
Meanwhile, Rutherford is experimenting on a transporter to increase its efficiency slightly, and the two pads recall the teleportation-gone-wrong aspect of The Fly. Which of course it does, as Boimler ends up slightly out of phase when he is beamed through. Glowing blue and emitting a high-pitched screech, Boimler freaks out even though Rutherford assures him he’s only a millicochrane out of phase with reality. Dr. T’Ana can’t do anything for him, so she contacts Division 14, a Starfleet medical branch that handles such oddities. It’s an amusing notion that also seems like a realistic world-building detail. With all the kooky maladies that seem to afflict crews every week (and are somehow solved soon after), it would stand to reason there would be a department dedicated to dealing with those that aren’t so lucky. It’s reminiscent of the Temporal Investigations agents that grilled Sisko over his wacky time-travelling adventure (Boimler references the “time police”), and there’s inherent wackiness to a procedural bureaucratic division that deals with insane, reality-bending phenomena.
There apparently exists a colony that specializes in helping stricken people like Boimler, known as “The Farm.” The spooky and sinister-looking ship Osler (which is always surrounded by lighting and storm clouds) docks with the Cerritos to ferry Boimler to The Farm, along with Tendi and her dog. An equally spooky and sinister Edosian welcomes them aboard (spookily).
Even more meanwhile, Mariner enjoys catching up with Ramsey, who wants Mariner to be her first officer during her command. She hesitantly agrees. While on an away mission, the divide between Mariner and Ramsey becomes increasingly clear. Over the years, Ramsey has grown up and taken her career seriously to become captain, but Mariner is of course Mariner. She doesn’t seem to jibe with Ramsey’s command staff and endangers the mission with her irresponsibility.
Boimler and Tendi meet their fellow passengers on the Osler, a motley crew of poor souls that have been transformed by their wacky adventures (and provide more references, such as Captain Pike and Tom’s salamander phase). Their ringleader is an ensign who is super young on one side of his body and super old on the other (each of which we’ve seen happen on Star Trek). He seems super bitter about him and his fellow freaks being shuffled out of sight, as they’re evidence of Starfleet’s dangerous line of work. He’s also convinced there is no colony awaiting to help them – that the Osler is “The Farm.”
It’s funny, but also interesting if we take it seriously for a moment. Starfleet is a dangerous line of work where crewmembers are routinely killed in the line of duty in all sorts of weird ways. Not to mention the living death that befalls the poor occasional soul. Deep Space Nine notably revealed the dark underbelly of Starfleet with its shadowy Section 31 group, and the very name of “Division 14” doesn’t sound far off. Is it that crazy an idea that Starfleet would deal with these unsightly victims as Sloan would – as in, “quietly?”
The Cerritos was supposed to rendezvous with the USS Rubidoux, but there’s no sign of the ship. They locate them, but find the Rubidoux adrift and without power. Ramsey, Mariner, and an away team beam aboard to figure out what’s going on. Mariner continues to be a screw-up and Ramsey’s patience starts to wear thin. They bicker about the way each used to be vs. who they are now, and the gulf between Ramsey who takes her career seriously and Mariner who takes nothing seriously seems increasingly immense. They finally locate the Rubidoux’s captain, who is scared shitless and proclaims that there’s a monster afoot aboard the ship. Or rather, that they’re inside it. Uh-oh!
Meanwhile, Ensign Old Kid is planning a mutiny so that him and the others can escape and find their own planet to live on. Boimler of course squeals to the Edosian running the ship, who grabs a phaser and decides to give the passengers a rude awakening. He orders them all to their quarters, and squeals on Boimler in return to the freaks. They eventually put him in an airlock and blow him out into space (attempted murder, all right all right), but as it turns out they’ve finally arrived at the idyllic colony as they had been told (oh, and Boimler’s condition has worn out and he’s back to normal). The Edosian welcomes them all, and it turns out that nothing sinister was actually afoot, it just totally seemed that way because of… well, everything. He admits that maybe he should make an effort to not make the Osler so goddamn evil-looking. LOL, indeed.
Tendi decides to leave her dog at the colony and has a tearful goodbye, at which point the dog responds that she will be much happier here anyway, and proceeds to float off into the sky. Boimler is bowled over that not only can The Dog talk, but that Tendi knew she could the whole time – can’t all dogs talk, fly, and shapeshift into weird forms? Again, it’s pure silliness but it relates to Trek’s theme of studying the text not being the same as reality. Tendi has never seen a real dog before, and is disgusted at the episode’s end when she finally does.
Ramsey’s crew works to restore power to the Rubidoux, but their captain reveals that the thing that invaded their ship feeds off energy, which is why they turned everything off in the first place. This is revealed too late as all the lights get turned back on and the Rubidoux starts getting torn apart by some glowing entity from within. Ramsey and Mariner scramble to save everyone and they proceed to have one of those heart-to-heart arguments/reveals during a frenzied action scene that Lower Decks seems to love. Despite her competence and skill as a Starfleet officer, Mariner has been self-sabotaging on purpose because she doesn’t want the responsibilities and limited options of command. Her and Ramsey finally reach an understanding, though. I find Mariner’s character pretty grating overall and her antics in this episode are irritating. The idea of someone who is innately gifted at something but refuses to go through with it is not compelling to me at all for whatever personal reasons I have. From the first episode the show has telegraphed that Mariner is highly and effortlessly competent but chooses to be a goof-off instead. Unfortunately, something about it just rubs me the wrong way.
The entity continues tearing the ship apart and they need to be beamed off, but their only hope is Rutherford and his jury-rigged transporter that caused Boimler’s condition. He’s able to “Boim them up” off of the Rubidoux before it gets torn apart. They all end up with the same temporary glowing condition Boimler had, but are just happy to be alive.
The entity bursts out of the crumbling hull of the Rubidoux and is turns out to be one of the same ship-sized lifeforms encountered by Picard and crew in The Next Generation’s pilot “Encounter at Farpoint.” Just as in that episode, the initially antagonistic being is revealed to be just another being trying to live its life, and the crew simply watches as it drifts away to do so.
Star Trek is fond of the “not a monster, just a life form” trope (and so am I!). There have been many instances in which threatening and bizarre-looking creatures have turned out to be life forms that are ultimately similar to our heroes on the inside. It’s a hopeful and noble message to not judge others on their appearances, to try and recognize what you have in common, and be respectful of their rights.
Rampaging monsters are fun and all, but there’s something a little lazy and expected about them. “Much Ado About Boimler” is a silly but ultimately very on-brand Trek adventure because of the several bait-and-switches it performs about its monsters. The Edosian, the Osler’s passengers, and the entity inside the Rubidoux are all initially depicted as horrific creatures, but each is revealed to be not sinister at all, just misunderstood. Horror has its own extensive tropes and expected motifs, so it’s fun to seem them turned on their head in silly ways. What’s considered a monster is highly subjective and it depends on the context; a change of scenery and perspective does wonders for all here. A little sunshine and openness can indeed make all the difference.
- I’m a little hung-up on the fact that Ramsey and Mariner were classmates at the academy, but one is captain now and the other still an ensign. Ramsey seems too young to be captain and Mariner seems too old to be an ensign; the age math seems wrong. Perhaps Ramsey is yet another youngest captain.
- I don’t think it’s explained how the Farpoint creature got aboard the Rubidoux. They are gigantic shapeshifters, so it would have been interesting if it was taking the form of a Starfleet ship, but that’s not the direction they went in.
- I love these silly axolotl-looking aliens.