Cupid’s Errant Arrow: Love in the Time of Brain Parasites

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

Cupid’s Errant Arrow” is a story about expectations and how they tend to lead us astray, and uniquely (thus far) out of the Lower Decks episodes, it’s the first installment that leaves me wanting more.

Plot Ahoy!

From Ensign Boimler’s introductory log entry, we learn that the Cerritos has joined the Vancouver in orbit around Mixtus III because one of the planet’s moons has become unstable, necessitating drastic action to prevent the moon from plunging into the planet below. Boimler notes that Lieutenant Barbara Brinson serves aboard the Vancouver and is, more importantly, Boimler’s girlfriend. Mariner interrupts the log entry and refuses to believe that Barbara exists and manages to join Boimler as he takes the shuttle over to the Vancouver, apparently to enjoy Boimler’s humiliation. Brinson meets Boimler, establishing that she not only exists but does consider herself to be in a relationship with Boimler. Mariner is immediately suspicious that Brinson might be a nefarious shapeshifter with designs on Boimler and resolves to protect him from Brinson.

On the Vancouver’s bridge, her captain greets Captain Freeman with disdain and drops the thorny issue of whether the Mixtusians will allow the moon’s implosion into Freeman’s lap. The Mixtusians present in the conference room comprise roughly three factions: those who worship the moon in question, those whose crops the moon’s orbit affects, and those who live on the moon’s surface. Freeman shouts down the various protests and proposes a solution. The Starfleet ships will save some of the dust after the implosion for the worshippers, will install gravity generators for the farmers to mimic the pull of the moon on their oceans, and will relocate the ancestral habitations to the next adjacent moon. All of the Mixtusians seem pleased by this proposal except one, who claims to be a representative from Mixtus II. He argues that destroying the moon will expose Mixtus II to the pollution from Mixtus III, guaranteeing the destruction of the society inhabiting Mixtus II. Captain Freeman agrees to ponder the issue while he wails.

Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford have been sent aboard the Vancouver as additional hands to help with the preparations for the implosions, and they’re both thrilled to be aboard such an advanced (and newer) ship. They report to Lieutenant Commander Ron Docent for assignments, and he promises whichever one of them finishes their diagnostics first his or her own T-88 scanner. The two technophiles throw themselves into their work in order to be the one to bring one of the much valued scanners back to their respective departments on the Cerritos and ultimately finish simultaneously. Docent, pleased, proceeds to prepare transfer requests for both Tendi and Rutherford to the Vancouver, but upon returning to their bunks aboard the Cerritos, they conclude that neither Tendi nor Rutherford wishes to transfer. They return to the Vancouver where they steal Docent’s PADD and discover that Docent wished to transfer to the Cerritos because serving aboard the Vancouver is too stressful. Tendi and Rutherford threaten Docent into agreeing to give them T-88s.

As the moon’s orbit worsens, Captain Freeman prepares to order its implosions while the Mixtusian protests that doing so will murder both of the inhabitants of Mixtus II. Freeman rounds on him, and he confesses that he and his wife are extremely wealthy and are the only two inhabitants of Mixtus II. Disgusted, Freeman orders the moon’s implosion while the Mixtusian bemoans the loss of his freshly redone floors.

Meanwhile, both Boimler and Mariner have been following Brinson. Boimler having seen her with the attractive, capable, and cool Lieutenant Jet worries that Brinson will leave him for her fellow lieutenant, and Mariner remains staunchly convinced that Brinson is too good to be true. After Boimler interrupts her work and generally acts like a jerk, Brinson brings him aside and explains that she likes Boimler for who he is, uncool awkwardness and all, and the couple reconciles. They take a shuttle out to engage in couple activities, and Mariner panics after she finds a discarded shell from a brain parasite. Assuming that Brinson hosts the parasite, she space-jumps over to the shuttle to save Boimler and finds him naked. Boimler protests, but something rocks the shuttle, flinging Boimler against a panel and rendering him unconscious. Brinson enters the cockpit and proceeds to attack Mariner also in order to protect Boimler.

During the battle, the two women discover that they had made the assumptions about each other and both wanted to protect Boimler. They scan Boimler and discover a parasite lodged in his skull that apparently produced pheromones making Boimler irresistible to potential mates. Boimler regains consciousness and hopes that Brinson liked him for more than pheromones. She agrees that she did but breaks up with him anyway in order to devote her time to studying the parasite. Boimler and Mariner return to the Cerritos, though Brinson and Mariner make plans to see each other in the future. Tendi and Rutherford also return to the Cerritos where they reveal that they both have stolen a sizeable number of T-88s. Secure in the knowledge that Docent will not report them because Rutherford used his implant to record Docent’s assault on his person, they revel in their friendship.

Analysis

“Cupid’s Errant Arrow” is possibly the show’s best episode to date. Certainly, the sequences involving Boimler’s sad attempts to establish himself as being “cool” are as painfully awkward as you imagine them to be, and the descriptive phrase “Kirk sundae with Trip Tucker sprinkles” will stay with me forever. However, the way each thread of the plot turns on mistaken assumptions is beautifully done. When Captain Freeman hears “society,” she assumes an actual, thriving society, not just a couple of rich people uninterested in cohabitating with the hoi polloi. She never questions that assumption until the Mixtusian’s slip hands her a solution on a silver platter. True to form, she refuses to put up with the Mixtusian, and satisfyingly, she gets to implode an actual moon.

Tendi and Rutherford reasonably assume that Docent will give them equipment to take back to the Cerritos, and while I have real questions about how Lower Decks believes equipment transfers work in a post-scarcity environment, their assumption is reasonable. Docent actively deceives them, but even once he threatens them with a forced transfer, neither Tendi nor Rutherford imagines that Docent would want to leave the Vancouver for their ancient, falling apart Cerritos. Admittedly, if Docent were as powerfully connected as he claims, he could request his own transfer without bringing over Tendi and Rutherford, but the entire exchange gets back to a central theme in Lower Decks, that serving aboard ships like the Enterprise would be a profoundly weird experience. Taken in that light, Docent’s desperation makes sense in the overall context of the Lower Decks universe.

Boimler and Mariner both assume that Brinson is out of Boimler’s league, which does not say great things about how they perceive Boimler. For Boimler, he must work through his own insecurities, but for Mariner, the issue seems to be something else. Taken at face value, Mariner worries for Boimler’s safety precisely because the idea that Brinson could want Boimler is so ridiculous. Both Boimler and Mariner are, of course, wrong. Brinson does care for Boimler as he is. Unfortunately, the show undercuts this revelation a bit with the added wrinkle of the brain parasite. The gag here is that Mariner worried so much that Brinson was infected that she never scanned Boimler, but underlying the gag is just the hint that the parasite made Boimler attractive, which detracts from an otherwise solid episode.

From a character perspective, it’s difficult not to see Mariner’s activities as being somewhat possessive; she even describes him to Brinson as being her idiot. She clearly worries that this relationship will take Boimler from her, and the show seems to hint that Mariner’s interest in Boimler could be more than friendly. The introduction of the brain parasite leaves the writers an out, of course, and frankly, having Mariner become romantically entangled with Boimler would not be the greatest move. Allowing them to remain friends, without a romantic undertone, would still be unusual enough to set Lower Decks apart from general fare. However, the implication at the end of the episode is that the relationship between Tendi and Rutherford may trend more toward friendship than previously assumed. We’ll have to see.

Rating:

Four cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts from the Couch:

  1. This episode is just stuffed to the brim with references from the Geordi LaForge teddy bear (I want one) to references to Enterprise’s Suliban. Even Mariner’s conspiracy board features the M-113 creature from “The Man Trap” as well as the Talosians. Also, I love the phrase “hopped up Q on Captain Picard Day.” You may notice that Mariner’s flashback takes place in Quark’s on Deep Space Nine, and I’m fairly sure the mention of a genetically altered Cardassian is a direct reference to Voyager‘s Seska. However, unlike previous episodes, none of these references overshadowed the story the show wanted to tell, which is fantastic.
  2. I’m not entirely certain that the show has invested enough time in Rutherford and Tendi to establish their connections aboard the Cerritos. Sure, we get the feeling that Rutherford is well liked in “Envoys,” but the only character he pairs off with is Tendi. Tendi did have a brief fling with O’Connor last week, but he’s off communing with the Great Koala. I don’t really know that he’s a draw, especially in light of the Vancouver’s shiny tech.
  3. I love the flashback to the older uniforms even though I know that Lower Decks is running closer to Picard-era designs.
  4. Having one of the Mixtusians claim that the moon’s decaying orbit was a government conspiracy was entirely on the nose and hilarious.

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