“Envoys” runs through Star Trek tropes to prove just how on-brand it really is in a lightweight, funny follow-up chapter.
This recap of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, episode 2, “Envoys”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The first response I got to my review of Star Trek: Lower Decks and my rhetorical question of where it fits in the larger Trek universe was that it didn’t fit at all – it simply isn’t Star Trek, I was told, long-time fans apparently unable to see the irony of being so besotted with famously uplifting and open-minded science-fiction while also being incredibly precious about what can and cannot be included in its canon. Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 2 raises a middle finger to those people by spinning a funny little yarn about first impressions and hasty judgment, almost as if it’s challenging the whiners to not treat the show in the same presumptuous way that Ensign Boimler treats a Ferengi.
This theme in “Envoys” is mostly displayed through a Vendorian shapeshifter – an obscure cephalopod that hasn’t been seen since Star Trek: The Animated Series, so there’s something for fans right there – which shows up time and time again, consistently baffling Boimler, whose experience comes only from textbooks, and irritating Mariner, who thinks all of this is pretty par for the course and consistently has to get them out of sticky situations that Boimler’s try-hard by-the-book attitude keeps getting them into. The implication is clear: You can’t understand something by reading about it, and first-hand, lived experiences are always more valuable than second-hand, anecdotal reports. In other words, judging a show – say, this one – without giving it a chance yourself will likely make you look like an idiot.
That isn’t to say that it isn’t possible to dislike Star Trek: Lower Decks – I make a career out of disliking almost everything, so I understand the impulse. But it is to say that a lot of the reasons people have reflexively cited for disliking the show are a bit fraudulent; most particularly, the idea that it somehow “isn’t Star Trek”, despite a) that not being a decision that fans are capable of making for a whole slew of reasons and b) it being built from the ground up with really obvious knowledge of and affection for Star Trek esoterica and tropes. “Envoys” deliberately structures itself so that Boimler walks into a series of played-out plot devices that have, in the past, formed the basis for entire episodes of Star Trek in all its various iterations.
The gag here is rooted in character; it’s using typical Star Trek stuff to have Boimler realize that hands-on experience is better than swotting, and to convince Mariner to give him a sympathetic break, up to and including getting a Ferengi she knows to act all sinister so she can pretend to fall for his ploy and give Boimler his moment to shine after having his dreams crushed all episode. This being Star Trek, both learn the right lessons, even if Boimler can’t help but brag about his single moment of victory at Mariner’s expense.
Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 2 does the same thing with its B-plot, which finds Ensign Rutherford trying out various different positions aboard the USS Cerritos in order to impress Tendi, and every time he thinks he’s going to get chewed out for asking to be transferred he’s enthusiastically told it’s a great idea and he should be true to himself. Again, the gag here is that he’s expecting a response that isn’t the quintessentially Trekky one, and he’s surprised when he gets the opposite. Lower Decks is explicitly poking fun at just how Star Trek it really is.
Sure, some people aren’t going to like this, but you can’t please everyone, and Lower Decks isn’t trying to. “Envoys” felt, at least to me, like a really smart and on-brand way of saying that it doesn’t much care what you think of it, but without being provocative about the matter. The show is following the advice it gives to Rutherford about doing and being what’s best for it, and it’s hard to argue with that.