This Star Trek: Lower Decks article contains spoilers for Episode 3, “Temporal Edict.”
The far future school is correct: one of the most important people in Starfleet history is Chief Miles O’Brien. From the countless times he beamed people out at the last second, to his ability to talk-down crazy starship captains by singing them old songs, to that time he moved an entire space station, O’Brien is a guy who gets the job done. But, as the joke at the end of Lower Decks episode 3 quietly infers, O’Brien is actually the opposite of Scotty in nearly every way.
In one of Lower Decks’ most impressive Easter egg tricks yet, the majority of the plot of this episode is based on a reference to Scotty, even though Scotty himself is never actually named. When Rutherford talks about the “creative estimating,” that allows everyone to enjoy “buffer time,” what’s really happening is a paraphrase of a great scene from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Here’s how the scene goes down.
SCOTTY: I’m almost done, sir. You’ll be fully automated by the time we dock.
KIRK: Your timing is excellent, Mister Scott. You’ve fixed the barn door after the horse has come home. How much refit time till we can take her out of here?
SCOTTY: Eight weeks, sir. But you don’t have eight weeks so I’ll do it for ya in two.
KIRK: Mister Scott. Have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?
SCOTTY: Certainly, sir. How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?
KIRK: Your reputation is secure, Scotty.
So, in this scene, Scotty outright tells Kirk that there’s a very real chance that Scotty slacks off when he sees fit, or builds in extra time to do a job because he wants to continue to look like he’s the bomb. In “Temporal Edict,” Rutherford puts it like this: “You exaggerate how long it’s going to take and, then, you’re a hero when it’s done early.”
So, the joke is, the Lower Deckers are more like Scotty, but the second joke is that Boimler is actually more like Chief O’Brien, even though the future school was (understandably) confused about the person who encouraged the “Boimler Effect.” Now, I’m not saying O’Brien was a rule-following stickler. He certainly cut-corners when he had to, especially because everything about Starfleet taking over DS9 was shoddy and poorly planned. But, O’Brien was different than Scotty in one big way: You never really got the sense he was bullshitting anyone about how long certain things would take.
This, more than anything else, is why the O’Brien reference at the very end is so funny. Of all the Star Trek characters to choose from, O’Brien is the correct person to select when it comes to work ethic. But, he’s also the perfect Star Trek character to select to represent “scrappy underdogs.” Unlike the vast majority of Star Trek characters, O’Brien is what is called a “noncom” or non-commissioned officer, meaning he enlisted in Starfleet but did not attend the academy. There is one error about this in the episode “Trials and Tribble-lations,” but Ron Moore has publicly said it’s just an error. O’Brien did not go to Starfleet Academy. He is the OG Lower Decker. The writers of both DS9 and TNG thought O’Brien as the representation of the “every person,” the sort of character who is relatable because he’s mostly just working to get by. O’Brien is like the kind of person who did not go to a fancy college, but ends up having an amazing life anyway.
This isn’t to say that he’s better than Scotty, but it’s possible that O’Brien was more honest. In fact, Boimler’s true role model might be Chief Miles O’Brien, even if he doesn’t know it.