On Star Trek: Lower Decks, Literal Dirty Work Isn’t Quite Its Own Reward

On Star Trek: Lower Decks, Literal Dirty Work Isn’t Quite Its Own Reward
What is it with Starfleet officers and random crystals, anyway? (Photo: Paramount+)

The animated Star Trek: Lower Decks has always put the divide between the big, important jobs of being bridge crew in stark relief to the actual nitty-gritty work of being the entry-level employees of a ship — especially a ship that features in a show as weird as Star Trek in the first place. But this week’s episode takes an alternate spin, rather than asking our ensign heroes to grin and bear it.

Episode six of the Paramount+ series, “The Spy Humongous,” has a lot going on. However, it all feeds into this narrative about the pretty, “clean” work of life as a Starfleet officer, and the dirty work — more often than not very literal — of the juniors beneath them. While Captain Freeman is given what is her most serious and Star Trek-y Captain’s plot yet, negotiating peace with the Pakleds on their homeworld (and a hilariously inept faction war that breaks out among the beings that have become a thorn in the Federation’s side), Boimler, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford find themselves dealing with “Anomaly Collection Duty.”

Essentially, it’s trash day aboard the Cerritos. It’s a fun riff on the idea that more often than not we see bridge crew in other Star Trek shows conducting all sorts of wild and probably highly dangerous research experiments in their personal quarters, or just yanking things from away missions that should probably be safely archived. But you don’t have to worry about the safety concerns when a group of ensigns can just dispose of it for you, right?

Tendi is highly excited over poking at dangerous plants, electrified statues, and slime-spewing vases in the bridge staff’s quarters. But her joy begins to grate on an exhausted Rutherford and Mariner, who hate having to essentially be cleaning staff to their superiors even without Tendi’s overt exuberance getting on their nerves. Meanwhile, Boimler, who you’d think would be right next to her in over-excitement, is nowhere to be found. Instead, he finds himself pulled into a clique of eager go-getter command division ensigns who want to be known as, distressingly, “The Redshirts.”

They see Boimler’s previous history on the Titan as a sign that he, like them, is someone dedicated to career advancement in Starfleet above all else. As Boimler decides to cut and run on ACD to hang out with the cool crowd, what follows is a typical, almost high-school-teen movie format. His old friends — the nerds — are having a miserable time, while Boimler is quickly enamoured by this effortlessly by-the-book squad of cool kids who… apparently spend way too much time practicing speeches at each other, in the hopes they’ll get a duty shift as “acting captain” someday. There’s even a cool kid makeover involved!

Photo: Paramount+ Photo: Paramount+

While it’s a typical Lower Decks riff on a classic premise, it’s an interesting one to position immediately after last week’s episode, one that had Mariner and Boimler properly air out their discomfort over the latter abandoning his friends for the Titan at the end of season one. To have Brad immediately run back off and chase promotion chances, especially while ditching his friends and making their crappy job even crappier, is a choice that “The Spy Humongous” doesn’t really have time to tackle.

The episode is already a bit tight between Boimler’s arc, the rest of the Lower Deckers, and Captain Freeman’s plot with the Pakleds pulling together strings from across the whole season. But it reflects an interesting, ongoing texture to the ups and downs of the relationships between these friends. It’s something we also see as Mariner gets increasingly and openly angry at Tendi’s exuberance at being treated like garbage — especially after she and Rutherford learn they were not assigned ACD, but put up for it by Tendi for fun.

These friends are not always going to be on the same page, disputes are not always going to be resolved and dealt with forever. It creates conflict in the moment but also strengthens the bond between characters whenever it’s overcome, even if it is only temporary. It also builds on something Lower Decks has been doing a great job of this season, which is actually showing why this quartet are friends, instead of simply telling us.

All this brilliantly comes to a head when a mysterious cube Tendi is trying to archive — amid an explosive rant at Mariner and Rutherford — transforms her into an enraged scorpion (because, well, what else is a mysterious cube on a Star Trek show gonna do?), bringing together the multiple threads of the episode together in a true, Lower Decks chaotic fashion.

Photo: Paramount+ Photo: Paramount+

While the rest of Boimler’s “Redshirt” groupies stand in the chaos shouting speeches over each other (as that’s what they think leaders should do), Boimler realises that actual good commanders, and good friends, get down in the muck of Starfleet’s nerdy weirdness to save the day. In his case, it’s literal: the Tendi-Scorpion crashes through the mess hall, requiring Boimler to debase himself via the replicator in order to get her to laugh, undoing the transformation… but leaving them both slimy messes in the process.

His muscular new look and slick hairdo might be caked in 17 layers of protein molecules, but he helps a friend out and avoids a ship-wide disaster, even if it costs him his new, not-really-friends friendship circle in the Redshirts. Interestingly enough, the event and Boimler’s quick thinking makes most of them realise that constantly chasing command and drilling speeches into each other is a waste of time. They could just be nerds having fun on a Starship too! If they’re going to be treated like lessers by the bridge crew whether they’re self-serious or easygoing anyway, why not at least have fun and make friends along the way?

And really, that’s what life in Starfleet is like, even if Lower Decks gives us a more comically tinged lens on it. Sure sometimes it’s the big days and you get to try and negotiate peace with some very, very dumb rivals. Somedays you have to take out the space trash and celebrate the weirdness of boldly going. But whatever day it is aboard a Starfleet vessel, it’s better to spend it alongside people who understand all that and you.