This Star Trek: Lower Decks review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 2
If you didn’t like the first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, the second episode is not here to walk anything back. Structurally and tonally, “Envoys,” is actually so similar to “Second Contact,” that there’s an argument to be made that it should have either aired third or as part of a two-episode debut night for the season premiere. Lower Decks is poised to tell several different types of Trek stories. That said, “Envoys” mostly settles on familiar territory: The concept that some aliens are not exactly what they seem.
Anyone who is watching very closely will notice that the shapeshifter that Boimler and Mariner briefly encounter actually derives from The Animated Series episode, “The Survivor.” Just in case you missed it, it’s the many-tentacled creature who is impersonating an Andorian, and then turns into little kid Andorian, then an orange squid-looking thing. As it floats away, Boimler says “Ah, shapeshifter, boo.” The furious Andorians point out, “That Vendorian was a thief, and you let him get away!” Again, it’s literally been since 1973 since we’ve seen a Vendorian, a shapeshifter not only can turn into other people but in TAS, also briefly turned into one of the Enterprise’s deflector screens.
This may seem like a weird detail to linger on, but the Vendorian shapeshifter from TAS is kind of the whole point of the episode, at least, thematically. At the very start of the episode, Tendi and Mariner encounter a very familiar type of Star Trek alien; creature of pure energy making grandiose demands. TOS fans will be reminded of the hate-creature from “Day of the Dove,” or the fear creature from “Wolf in the Fold.” In any case, Mariner isn’t really putting up with its nonsense, which telegraphs out her whole attitude later. While Boimler falls pretty to various familiar Trek plot devices — a seductress that is really a monster, the aforementioned tentacled shapeshifter — Mariner breezes through everything like all of this is old hat.
This is the uber-joke of not only this episode of Lower Decks, but the entire show. When random alien energy creatures and thieving shapeshifters are the norms, it would probably be hard to be impressed on a day-to-day basis by all the weird things you encounter. And so, the mission of Boimler and Mariner in this episode feels bizarrely more realistic than other Trek episodes with a similar premise. Each of the challenges Mariner and Boimler face have been entire episodes of previous Treks, but here, they’re just things they’re checking off their to-do list. This means, the real conflict in the episode is actually about whether or not Boimler is going to start feeling sorry for himself and whether Mariner is going to give him a break.
Lower Decks isn’t a dark show. This is Star Trek, so of course, the answer to both of those questions is yes. But, instead of using a science fiction twist to make those points, the changes we see happening with Mariner and Boimler are coming from them, not from the Final Frontier. Lower Decks is having too much fun to drive these points home for much longer than a well-placed joke at the very end of the episode, but if you watch this one a second time, you’ll notice that all the jokes seem to work together to make the same point. As one Trekkie named John Lennon pointed out, “There’s nowhere you can be except for where you’re meant to be.” In Lower Decks, that’s true every single time.