This post contains light spoilers for season two, episode six of ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks.’
In last week’s episode, Lower Decks wrapped up the first half of its second season by addressing some leftover plot threads from season one, namely Rutherford’s memory loss and the fallout between Mariner and Boimler. With those issues out of the way the series is free to move forward. But first, this week’s “The Spy Humongous” takes some time to look at an average day onboard the USS Cerritos. It’s not quite the TNG classic “Data's Day,” but it’s close enough for fans of smaller, more intimate Trek stories.
There’s no strict division between A-plot and B-plot this time, with both upper and lower decks crew starring in four loosely connected stories. The bridge crew is attempting to negotiate a ceasefire with the Pakleds, while the ensigns have been assigned to “anomaly consolidation duty,” which is a fancy way of saying “clearing out weird space junk.” Boimler is thrilled, but he gets pulled away by a group of career-driven “redshirts” who think his time on the USS Titan makes him prime command material. And Ransom ends up babysitting a Pakled defector/tourist/spy. It’s a grab bag of jokes and Star Trek lore, sure to please any long-time Trekkie.
However, it’s still remarkably newcomer friendly, in that it doesn’t require too much background to understand the basic plot, while also illustrating the show’s core concept as a show about the nuts and bolts of Starfleet. If this were a live-action show it would be what’s called a “bottle episode,” one shot on a limited budget using pre-built sets and the regular cast. Even on the one exotic locale we’re shown — Pakled Planet — we never actually go inside any buildings. It’s an interesting contrast to last week’s expansive tour of Starbase 25.
In live action programming, bottle episodes exist because a show blew through its guest star or special effects budget on a big important story, and “An Embarrassment of Dooplers” would fit that bill. But as I pointed out last week, Lower Decks is not limited by what a set designer can build or how much makeup an actor will wear or how long would it take to render a sentient gaseous anomaly on a green screen. The animators can draw whatever needs to be drawn. So there’s no reason to follow the trope of a bottle episode except that… they want to.
Lower Decks has made no secret that it’s essentially a giant love letter to Star Trek. What was initially predicted to be “Family Guy in space,” ended up treating the franchise with a lot of respect, and was packed full of jokes for the fandom to discuss and catalog in places like Reddit and Trek wiki Memory Alpha. But this week’s adventure illustrates that attention to Star Trek tropes and backstory can go beyond showcasing little-seen alien species or getting justice for murdered characters.
It’s also about the love of how Star Trek tells its stories, with a strong emphasis on the personal aspect. Here we get to see Freeman, Mariner and the others simply do their jobs. We know they’re not going to die, especially not mid-season, so it’s really about seeing how they handle adversity and ultimately, what made them Starfleet material in the first place.