Mariner worries about Boimler’s new girlfriend in “Cupid’s Errant Arrow”, but at what point does concern become insulting?
This recap of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, episode 5, “Cupid’s Errant Arrow”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 5, “Cupid’s Errant Arrow”, feels fitting enough in our current times of deep mistrust, shattered hopes, and judging people at face value, since its central conceit is that Mariner can’t believe that Boimler’s hyper-competent new girlfriend would be interested in him for any genuine reason. Thus, she must be a shapeshifting alien or something. We’ve all been there.
Have we, though? It’s an episode-long gag that begins from a position of genuine concern but at some point bleeds into outright meanness at Boimler’s expense; the transition isn’t entirely clear to us or indeed Mariner, but it’s an interesting line to cross. At what point do you stop looking out for someone you consider vulnerable and start insulting a genuine friend? And whose fault is it when that happens? Are you just being presumptive and judgmental, or have you seen enough and been conditioned by life’s unpleasantness to the extent that your cynicism is just reflexive? That might be a question work asking at the moment.
The framing for “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” is a rendezvous mission between the USS Cerritos and the USS Vancouver, who are working together to destroy an unstable moon that’s threatening to crash into a nearby (in space terms) planet and ignite its atmosphere. Lieutenant Barbara Brinson, Boimler’s missus, is serving aboard the Vancouver, and she’s switched-on enough that it’s hard for us to believe she’d be interested in Boimler, so you can see where Mariner’s coming from. To Mariner, accomplished space explorer and adventurer, the question is what, exactly, Barbara is; she’s seen so much that she could be virtually anything, but a shapeshifter seems likeliest, and naturally she begins to obsess over the idea.
This suspicion is obviously rooted in the idea that Boimler couldn’t be attractive to an accomplished woman on his own terms, which is something that the perennially insecure ensign picks up on and begins to internalize. A lot of the gags in Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 5 are his lame attempts at being cool, virtually all of which backfire, only further proving Mariner’s point. The eventual reveal, which is that Boimler’s harboring a parasite which makes him more attractive, proves her point also, to an extent. You have to wonder why Lower Decks went that route for its explanation.
Part of the answer is obviously that it’s funny, and that might be enough since I don’t know how much we really want to interrogate an animated show that is quite clearly having a laugh at the expense of a longstanding Trek trope. Lower Decks does this all the time and it’s always funny when it does, but it’s much more interesting when it messes with them a bit, which is what we find in the episode’s B-plot. There, Tendi and Rutherford, both impressed by the Vancouver, compete over its toys and attract the attention of Lieutenant Commander Ron Docent, who eventually offers them both transfers to the ship and even tries to force it when they refuse. As it turns out, he’s stressed out from being on the ship that’s constantly in the midst of all the action and wanted to make room for himself aboard the ramshackle Cerritos – that’s very on-brand for this show, which is constantly reinforcing the idea that it’s better not to be the all-action Captain, not to be aboard the most important ship in the galaxy, not to be the hero. All that stuff is a lot like hard work. And who wants that?
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