This Star Trek: Lower Decks review contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 3.
The running theme of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is clearly all about how to be your most authentic self, even when the science fictional nature of the 24th century is trying to tear you apart. In “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” the titular Voyager reference is just a microcosm that illuminates this theme, but, hilariously, the funniest thing about the episode has nothing to do with Mr. Paris himself. Instead, this episode shines with the running joke that in space, you never really know everything about someone until they’ve either died, or you’ve gone on an undercover mission together.
In a sense, “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” is kind of a reset button episode for Lower Decks. This is the first regular episode of the new season in which Boimler is just happily back on the Cerritos, and also the first episode to feature an adventure focused on Mariner and Tendi teaming up for a “girls’ trip.” As both characters joke, they each tend to get paired with Boimler and Rutherford respectively, and this episode is a moment to “switch it up.” What happens, of course, is that both Mariner and Tendi realize they know very little about each other, which leads, at first, to resentment, and then, to mutual understanding. Even more than last season, each new episode of Lower Decks Season 2 keeps hammering home the same message: This show is a Next Generation-era Trek series, in which mutual understanding and personal epiphany are more important denouements than anything having to do with phasers or warp drive.
In fact, Lower Decks intentionally avoids answering a huge WTF question when Shaxs randomly just reappears at the beginning of the episode. Although some fans spotted him in an early trailer, the return of Shaxs from the dead is never fully answered, which brilliantly sends Rutherford into an existential spiral. When he finally does get the answers from Shaxs, the audience is then kept in the dark, meaning that the disturbing secret to Shaxs’ return is played for a laugh. In previous Treks, the point-of-view of bridge crew characters would mean the audience is always in on how various resurrections took place. But, in this episode, Lower Decks gestures at a kind of funhouse mirror realism: If this kind of thing actually happened fairly often, the details would be largely unknown to most people.
On the other end of the self-discovery spectrum, Boimler is outright rejected by the USS Cerritos itself. Doors won’t open for him, replicators won’t make food, and he’s forced into a Jefferies Tube, all so he can meet Tom Paris, and get Paris to sign his commemorative Tom Paris plate. The idea that various Starfleet officers are celebrities within the reality of the 24th century has already been established by Lower Decks, but Tom Paris feels particularly perfect for the kind of person that Boimler would admire. For one thing, Paris is much more like Mariner than any other character on Lower Decks, which makes her disinterest in Paris pretty hilarious. On the flipside, the Season 2 Boimler is a little less buttoned up, and has been breaking more rules, which also pushes him closer to the Tom Paris side of things, and perhaps further away from the Will Rikers of the world.
Because Boimler has a transporter duplicate now, it seems possible that Lower Decks could present a counter-point to his current character arc. Clearly “William” Boimler isn’t behaving the way Brad Boimler is at this very moment. “Our” Boimler’s obsession with Tom Paris checks-out with his general fanboy behavior in Season 1, but after getting his ass kicked by his hero in this episode, you have to wonder if Boimler is going to change his ways. Ultimately, Boimler was disappointed by his time with Riker. And now, he has seen Tom Paris as a slightly more fallible and absurd person. Of all of these people, Boimler is perhaps the truest to himself at all times, even if that personality is currently changing. “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” succeedes because it seems to put all of our Lower Deckers back in their familiar spots from Season 1. But, even though it’s very subtle, all of those characters have changed, ever-so-slightly. And, by the end of Lower Decks Season 2 — or Season 3 — we may no longer recognize them.