Kirk and Spock. Burnham and Georgiou. Janeway and Tuvok. The list of Star Trek duos whose relationships define so much of the emotional cores of their series goes on, and on, and on. In a pairing like Boimler and Mariner, Lower Decks is no exception. But this season has seen the pair shift and shuffle around enough that it has come time to finally address the elephant in the holodeck: where do they stand with each other after season one?
The past few episodes of Lower Decks’ second season have focused on splitting up what had become the traditional pairings of Boimler/Mariner and Tendi/Rutherford. Episode five, “An Embarrassment of Dooplers,” brings us back to the series’ most beloved duo. With the Bridge Team on the way to Starbase 25 as they escort an emissary from a stress-induced duplicating race called the Dooplers, Boimler and Mariner find themselves trying to crash a Starfleet Command conference afterparty aboard the station.
They do so by leveraging the unused invite of Boimler’s clone William aboard the Titan to slip in and rub shoulders with Starfleet elite. It falls back enough into those usual beats from the duo’s relationship in season one that it’s almost a little too familiar: Boimler sees the party as a chance to connect with Starfleet’s upper echelons and find his path to ranking up, Mariner just wants to party and crash a space she’s been kept out of thanks to her volatile relationship with authority.
With the Cerritos suddenly barred from docking when the Doopler ambassador’s abilities go haywire in a moment of embarrassment (and Tendi and Rutherford are off building a scale model of the ship for fun, because they’re nerds, more on that later), Boimler and Mariner sneakily beam off in the hopes of making it into the party, which… goes about as well as you’d expect.
Turns out, in just another undisclosed detail Boimler never knew about his friend, Mariner used to live on the Starbase as an unruly youth, and her old “accomplices” quickly catch up with her. The pair are quickly roped into smuggling disruptors under the disguise of a crate of Data-themed bubble bath statuettes (although some of them might be Lores, who can say).
Once again, it’s classic Boimler and Mariner: Boimler just anxiously gets roped along as everything gets further and further out of hand, from buggy chases through the promenade to close encounters with avians, while Mariner takes it all in stride.
But there’s an undercurrent of simmering tension between them that still exists ever since Boimler left for the Titan at the end of season one, as the two end up quietly sniping at each other until it all comes out on the steps of Ballroom Alpha, and Boimler is allowed in while Mariner isn’t. They’ve not spoken about how each other actually feels since Boimler returned from the Titan, and how careless it was of him to leave his friends without a word to chase a promotion in the first place. From his side of things, Boimler feels undervalued by Mariner for not being honest enough with him to let him know her upset sooner.
There’s a similar frustration aboard the Cerritos too, as Rutherford and Tendi find themselves surrounded by a sea of rapidly duplicating Dooplers, and Rutherford, unable to follow his pre-memory-wiped self’s instructions on how to finish their ship model, admits his own problem to his friend. He feels out of place and behind on the ship, and with Tendi, because he’s lost part of a year in his recovery process, and it’s stressing him out. He can’t finish the model, which he thinks makes him a bad engineer, which in turn makes him a bad friend with Tendi because he’s holding her back from finishing it too.
It’s nice that Lower Decks is actually finally taking the time to address some of the lingering feelings from last season’s finale. As enjoyable as it has been so far, season two has felt more like it was going about reverting some of those bigger consequences from season one to slide back into its comfortable hijinks-of-the-week format.
And making the relative lack of addressing that tension an actual point — that these duos haven’t been communicating with each other properly in the first place, settling into the same old instead of addressing their frustrations — makes the actual emotional climax between them hit much better than if Lower Decks had already gotten this conversation out of the way.
Of course Rutherford is too unsure of himself to be honest about his feelings with Tendi. Of course Mariner is too used to being distant with people to let Boimler know how upset she was that he left her behind. But with it out in the open, each respective pairing can actually take a moment to sit down and talk to each other. Tendi reveals to Rutherford that the reason he can’t understand his old notes to build their model is because he isn’t meant to — they purposefully obfuscated the way to finish it so they could keep having an excuse to hang out and keep other people away from them in the process.
On Starbase 25, Boimler and Mariner realise how lonely they are when separated, and end up skipping the party to drown their sorrows at a rickety promenade bar. Hell, it’s even how the Cerritos stops the Doopler crisis. They realise that if the crew stops trying to be delicate and dance around the subject and instead be (very bluntly) direct with them, they’ll focus enough to un-duplicate.
The day is saved, the party is blown, and everyone eventually ends up hanging at the bar with Boimler and Mariner — where, it turns out, Kirk and Spock once ditched the Command party to hang out instead. Now, as it was then, it’s the people closest to you in the boldly going that matter the most, not access or the privilege of Starfleet’s upper echelons. Now that our Lower Decks heroes have realised that again after some distance from the events of season one, maybe the rest of their adventures this time around can shake things up a little.