September 23, 2020

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STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS 1×05 “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” review

Neil reviews the latest episode of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS, "Cupid's Errant Arrow." The episode is available to stream now in North America via CBS All Access.

Star Trek: Lower Decks airs new episodes weekly on CBS All Access in North America. International air dates are yet to be confirmed.

Synopsis

Mariner is suspicious of Boimler’s new girlfriend. Tendi and Rutherford grow jealous of a bigger starship’s gear.

Review

Last week’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks (reviewed here) left me feeling rather cold towards the young series. It seemed that only four episodes in to the debut season Lower Decks had plateaued and had become stagnant.

This week I’m doing a 180 on the show and I’m back on the Lower Decks fan train. After feeling like certain story beats were only going to be repeated each week, “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” instead brought so much Trek to the table that I felt compelled to enjoy it.

I spoke last week about how the series was toeing a fine line between its reverence for classic Trek franchises and its need to tell a contemporary, comedic story. “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” toes that line perfectly by using parts of the old to influence the new.

Writer Ben Joseph brings a huge number of references to the table throughout the episode. Some of them are small such as the plasma fire as Tendi (No’l Wells) and Rutherford (Cordero) are repairing a console. Others are much bigger, punchier references to get the audience laughing. A passing reference to people in jumpsuits wanting to kill you for treading on the grass certainly garnered plenty of laughs in our household.

Both storylines in “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” feel more well rounded this week too. Though, once again, the cast is split in to the pairings of Tendi/Rutherford and Mariner/Boimler, it feels like both stories share equal screen time. I still want to see all four cast members back in a story together. But if they have to be separated like this then at least giving them equal screen time makes Star Trek: Lower Decks feel more like an ensemble piece.

The Tendi/Rutherford story really leans in to the geekier side of Star Trek fandom. Those who enjoy the gadgetry and the design of the ships. It hasn’t occurred to me before but the separate pairings do appeal to different sides of the audience. This week I found myself really wanting to find out why the T88 scanner works so much better than other versions.

Their relationship is written much more innocently than Boimler and Mariner. It’s less complicated overall and makes them an easier target for these more ship-orientated stories. Their childish glee at seeing a more modern ship in the USS Vancouver is hilarious. But their ultimate choice to remain on the Cerritos serves the characters much more and actually gives them some much needed development.

I feel like Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Boimler (Jack Quaid) has a much more complex relationship to unpick. They remain in an awkward place where it’s not a romantic relationship but neither is comfortable with the other having romantic entanglements.

Thus we land on the main plot of “Cupid’s Errant Arrow,” whilst Tendi and Rutherford are falling in love with a new ship, Boimler has fallen in love with Lieutenant Barbara Branson (guest star Gillian Jacobs) of the Vancouver. Whilst he is living on cloud nine, Mariner is convinced that Barb is either a holodeck creation or an alien in disguise.

Mariner’s crazed rantings do enable the episode to deliver what are now two of my favourite moments of the season thus far. Firstly a flashback to her time serving on the USS Quito. During the flashback the Quito just happens to be docked at Deep Space 9. The Quito crew also happen to be wearing uniforms for the TNG movie era. My favourite Trek costume design I might add.

Second highlight of the season so far: Boimler’s accidental nude scene. We glimpsed this moment in the Lower Decks trailer and now get to see it in full. So to speak. The genius use of a small black bar is the Lower Decks cosplay which none of us needs to see at Comic Con. The overall moment is comedic genius. The embarrassment for both characters is so far removed from Trek history. But at the same time it feels so right for the tone of the series.

There’s some wonderfully Trek reasoning to tie up all of the events in the episode. It draws to a satisfying climax which all ties in to the overarching story of an imploding moon. In this way “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” is even able to drawn in the Cerritos’ senior staff to elevate that ensemble aesthetic.

Verdict

“Cupid’s Errant Arrow” is by far the most successful episodes of the series to-date. It’s hilarious in both a contemporary and classically Trek way which is harder to pull off than it looks.

8/10

Star Trek: Lower Decks stars No’l Wells as Ensign Tendi; Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford; Tawny Newsome as Ensign Mariner and Jack Quaid as Ensign Boimler.


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