HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
If you enjoyed last week’s “Second Contact,” you’ll find a lot to love in this week’s “Envoys.” The show begins to dig into the brother/sister mentee/cha’DIch relationship developing between Ensigns Boimler and Mariner as well as the burgeoning friendship-maybe-relationship between Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford. We don’t see quite as much of the bridge crew, but what we do see reflects more of the Starfleet spirit than we got in the first episode. “Envoys” gives off the impression of being much more grounded in the Starfleet we know, which is a sign of good things to come.
In the teaser, a mysterious entity floats aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos and threatens Ensigns Tendi and Mariner with doom. Mariner grabs the glowing ball and tries to stuff it in one of the empty containers she and Tendi are delivering somewhere while Tendi protests that she doesn’t think Mariner is allowed to stuff a sentient being into the space equivalent of a jar. The ball offers to create whatever she desires, and she asks for a special tricorder—the one with the purple stripe. Mariner accepts and leaves the now minuscule dot floating in the corridor where it gets absorbed by her mother.
Ensign Boimler proudly announced to Ensigns Mariner and Tendi that he’s landed a choice assignment—escorting highly decorated General Ko’rin to a Federation outpost where Ko’rin will take part in peace negotiations of some form. Mariner despite being unimpressed, decides to “pull some strings” and gets herself appointed primary pilot on the mission, much to Boimler’s disappointment. When Ko’rin boards the Yosemite, Boimler discovers that the “highly decorated general” is not only a bit of a drunkard but also Mariner’s good friend, and the two of them take to the rear of the shuttle to drink and reminisce while Boimler pilots the shuttle. Ko’rin demands that they land in “Little Qo’noS,” and once the two ensigns disembark, he steals the shuttle for a joyride. Boimler and Mariner set to exploring the seedier side of the planet in order to find Ko’rin. Along the way, Mariner saves Boimler from his own stupidity in angering a Taxor, the clutches of an Anabaj, and from an angry Andorian mob when he wrongly frees a Vendorian from justice. Dismayed at his perceived failures, Boimler throws a tantrum and promises to resign his commission upon returning to the Cerritos because he’s nowhere near the officer Mariner, who never studies or makes an effort, is. Mariner catches up with him and tries to convince him to rethink his decision, and in so doing, they encounter a Ferengi. Mariner misidentifies the Ferengi as a Bolian, and Boimler rescues them from the clutches of the Ferengi mugger.
Back on the Cerritos, Ensign Rutherford delightedly crawls out of a Jeffries tube and meets up with Ensign Tendi. Tendi reminds him that he promised to watch a stellar phenomenon with her, and Rutherford shamefacedly admits that he has to spend the next several days recalibrating various things. Tendi mentions that she’s disappointed and jokes that he could transfer divisions to avoid having to crawl around in the tubes and miss the phenomenon. Rutherford laughs awkwardly and then proceeds to do just that. He attempts Command, with Commander Ransom, but his results in the holographic assessments are disastrous. Next, he tries Medical with Dr. T’Ana, but Rutherford’s bedside manner is lacking, to say the least. Lastly, he joins up with Shaxs in Security, and despite using his cyborg implant to defeat the “SmorgasBorg” simulation, Rutherford’s deep love of Jeffries tubes prompts him to return to Engineering. He apologizes to Tendi who says she’ll watch the phenomenon on a PADD with him in the tubes because she just wanted company.
Having returned to the ship, Boimler regales the crew in the ship’s bar about Mariner’s failure with the Ferengi, and a visibly upset Mariner opts to leave rather than endure the ridicule. Back in her bunk, she contacts the Ferengi to thank him for pretending to mug them and then offers advice to him on where to take his wife on vacation.
“Envoys” builds on the themes established in “Second Contact,” particularly with respect to the general weirdness of space and how inured space travelers must become to that strangeness. Over the course of the episode, the crew encounters a mysterious energy creature, angry aliens, a wicked alien seductress, a shapeshifting Vendorian, and a perfidious Ferengi. Each one of these misadventures could be and indeed has been the subject its own Star Trek episode from the Dikironium Cloud Creature in “Obsession” to Riker’s girlfriend in “The Game.” The Vendorian is itself a reference to a Star Trek: The Animated Series episode, “The Survivor.” The gag in Lower Decks is clearly that these events do not warrant an entire episode but are rather inconveniences that Mariner surmounts because she’s seen and done it all before. That’s a great set-up for Boimler’s distress because he feels that he should be better at doing Starfleet things than Mariner is, but despite his hours of study, his theoretical knowledge doesn’t match up against Mariner’s practical experience. The episode cleverly situates us as viewers as both recognizing the dangers by virtue of our familiarity with the universe but also experiencing Boimler’s confusion as our own as there’s nothing about either the Anabaj or the Vendorian to signal to Boimler or the viewer that something is off about those characters. To be fair, however, the giant horga’hn statue should have been a dead giveaway that something was not going to go according to plan.
We also get a glimpse into who Mariner is beyond the self-styled “screw up” persona she projects. We learn that she participated in “gray ops” with Klingon generals and that she can identify dangerous aliens on sight, which plays into the overarching theme of exceptionalism with respect to Starfleet officers. Mariner is clearly talented enough to serve on the Enterprise, and the implication here is that she chooses not to do so. Moreover, Mariner demonstrates as remarkable level of emotional intelligence. She recognizes not only that Boimler needs validation that his efforts are worth something but that the validation he needs is to make a success out of her failure. She makes that happen for him, regardless of how much mockery she endures as a result.
The Rutherford B-story is loosely thematically linked to the A-story, in that Rutherford, like Boimler, fails to look for the meaning underlying Tendi’s offhand remark. He doesn’t understand that what she wants is to spend time with him rather than holding him to a promise at the expense of his own happiness. That Rutherford takes her seriously speaks volumes about who Rutherford is. Some of his confusion may be due to his implant, which we know he acquired on Vulcan, but some of it likely stems from his own general awkwardness. Still, Rutherford’s odyssey through uniform colors gives a solid look at the various department heads, and what I loved about the episode is just how supportive everyone, from Ransom to Shaxs, is of Rutherford’s quest to find his place on the ship. Of everything, that felt the most like Star Trek that we’ve seen out of Lower Decks to date.
Visually, “Envoys” showcases what animation can do in a sci-fi context. The creature and city designs are visually interesting and different enough that you get a real feel for the planet, and I like that most of the animation did not appear to be computer generated. Credit where credit is due, the animators did a fantastic job with the “SmorgasBorg” sequence. They manage to create a woodenness in Rutherford’s movements that indicates where the implant takes over and moves his body for him, which is fairly subtle for a show that takes pride in grabbing at low hanging fruit when it comes to gags.
The humor still doesn’t quite land for me. At one point, Boimler accuses Mariner of failing to read the mission brief, and it’s a very Orville moment, as is the blatantly sexual reference Ransom makes to control sticks. Frankly, the humor remains puerile, and it detracts from what could be a really solid franchise entry. Still, “Envoys” is the second episode, so we’ve got a lot of animation left in which the series can find its comedic feet.
Three cups of Earl Grey Tea, temperature as yet to be determined.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- The name of the shuttle used for the escort mission is a reference to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as Kirk, Spock, and Bones spend their shore leave in Yosemite National (Global?) Park.
- Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize a few Lurians, who are the first to be seen since Morn.
- The Vendorian in “The Survivor” spent some time as a deflector shield, so I wonder if the blast shield gag is an Easter Egg dressed up as a joke.
- The insular Kaylons may be a sideways reference to the Orville as Isaac is a member of the Kaylon species.
- I do wonder if we’re going to see any fall out from the tiny energy monster merging with Captain Freeman. It could have been a gag or could be a thread that will unravel as the series progresses.
- Does anyone else wonder if the Taxor is a reference to the horned alien on Rura Penthe from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country?