HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Gentle readers, I’m going to apologize, but due to Real Life hitting me like a ton of bricks, I’m going to break with form and skip the plot summary. You can, however, find it here on Memory Alpha, and I do recommend that you give it a once over before we continue. I’ll wait.
Anyway, “Reflections,” which is the fifth episode of the third season, represents a return to a much better story. The preceding two episodes felt more like filler than they should have, but “Reflections” turns it around and gives us an interesting story that still manages to squeeze in some zany antics. Moreover, we’re finally beginning to build on the Rutherford storyline of which we’ve only seen glimmers. We’ve known that there’s something off about Rutherford’s implant for a while, but now we know, definitively, that there’s something nefarious underlying Rutherford’s story. I do suspect that in true Lower Decks fashion, the show will invert the trope, but I am definitely looking forward to following along with our intrepid Lower Deckers.
While laying down some tracks for future plotlines to follow is important, “Reflections” gives us a well-constructed story. Yes, the Rutherfords encountering each other in an actual reflection is a bit on the nose, but the storyline fits nicely within a framework that Lower Decks has been developing for almost its entire run. In addition to themes centering around the sheer weirdness of working in Starfleet, Lower Decks has focused a great deal of screentime portraying characters on their way to developing some emotional maturity. Boimler has been cycling through various exaggerated aspects of his personality, trying to find something that fits. Tendi stumbles onto a new direction with the aid of the unlikeliest of mentors, Dr. T’Ana, and every Mariner storyline tries to get her just that little bit closer to becoming a functional adult.
“Reflections” sees Rutherford given a unique chance to interact with a younger version of himself, and as it happens, younger Rutherford was an angry young man up to youthful shenanigans. By contrast, older Rutherford is almost as unrelentingly cheerful as Tendi. The two personalities share seemingly little beyond their engineering genius; after all, even Angry Teenager Rutherford makes his pocket money by designing his own ships. It’s no accident that the angry Rutherford chooses a race to determine who gets to keep control of Rutherford’s body. Older Rutherford, however, has either grown or been programmed to recognize the importance of community. He doesn’t have to meet every challenge on his own because he has developed a core group of friends whose skillsets complement his own. Trek as a franchise has always emphasized the need for community, and “Reflections” identifies the recognition of that need as a necessary aspect of maturity. Rutherford gains the edge over his younger self by opting not to go it alone; he recreates his friends, secure in the knowledge that their skillsets complement his own.
That spirit of community prompts Rutherford to offer empathy and compassion to his younger self. Rutherford even tries to find a way to save his younger counterpart, but he has no choice but to let that version of himself go because he’s grown up, leaving that rage behind. Trek has also represented a call to be the best version of ourselves, and Rutherford manages to do just that, whether by maturing or by being programmed to be that best self. This storyline exemplifies the best of Lower Decks because it compresses a deeply complex metaphor into fifteen minutes of screen time without losing any of the nuance. It’s just good writing.
Mariner’s experience in the recruiting booth unfolds slightly differently from Rutherford’s experience in his mindscape as she’s presented with Petra who could be an older version of Mariner. Petra started off in Starfleet and determined that it wasn’t a good fit for her, prompting her to seek a career elsewhere. While I do wonder if Petra isn’t a Section 31 plant waiting to recruit Mariner, I think there’s some validity to the question the episode seems to ask about Mariner. She struggles so desperately to stay aboard the Cerritos, but she never asks herself whether Starfleet really is the best fit for her. While I doubt that her parents forced her into the Academy, with two parents in Starfleet, Mariner may have never known anything else, prompting the question of whether she chose Starfleet because it’s what she wanted or because it was an easy option. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mariner will have to make that decision by the season’s end, and I’m absolutely here for it. Having to make that choice would be a huge step in Mariner’s process of becoming, as Anais Nin would say.
We get a new version of Bold Boimler that I’m going to term Feral Boimler in this episode as the comic relief. Jack Quaid really just nails that sequence, and his startlingly competent rage seems to take a page out of Mariner’s book. Again, Boimler somewhat fails to learn from his experience, but it does get him an invitation to drinks with Ransom. I suspect he’ll call that a win.
Four cups of Earl Grey Tea
The Egg Hunt
- Hooboy, I actually think this episode may be the most reference-heavy episode we’ve gotten to date. Nearly everyone Mariner and Boimler encounter at the booth is a reference.
- The butt bugs come to us from “Conspiracy,” not one of TNG’s better moments.
- The Collector’s Guild has appeared before.
- There’s a Horta in the ‘take your picture as Spock and Kirk’ cutout.
- The “Gazer” is likely the Stargazer.
- There’s a Spock helmet on a table.
- And there are so very many more.