‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Reflects in “Reflections” and Soars to New Heights
Star Trek: Lower Decks has several long-standing mysteries. One involves the truth behind Rutherford’s cybernetic implant.
Star Trek: Lower Decks season three is maybe more episodic than people expected. After all, last season ends on Captain Freeman’s incarceration. But instead of the trial taking a long time to resolve, we are so far beyond it that it feels like a lifetime ago. And while last episode continues Boimler’s “bold” season arc, the show is in desperate need of some serialization.
Thankfully, “Reflections” is everything this season of Lower Decks is missing and more. This is the episode where we finally find out more about who Rutherford really is. And more than that we also move a plotline forward which has been with the show since the very beginning.
To Boldly Recap
Every night for a week Rutherford has bad dreams. Tendi offers to purge his cybernetic cache and send him for a nap. But as soon as Rutherford falls asleep, his body is taken over by someone, or something, else. Evil Rutherford manipulates the crew, fights off Shaxs, and beams his way to the captain’s yacht to beat a hasty retreat. But our Rutherford, as seen through any reflective surface, distracts his evil self long enough for Shaxs to stun him with a phaser.
Inside Rutherford’s mind, we discover the truth: the “evil” Rutherford is actually Rutherford’s memories from 10 years ago. This is Rutherford before the cybernetic implants – and he’s mean! Only one of the two Rutherfords can continue to exist. To decide who lives, they agree to race each other. Old Rutherford builds a fast, dirty, and unsafe ship. Our Rutherford builds a copy of Voyager’s Delta Flyer.
The pair race in an imaginary version of the Devron System in the Romulan Neutral Zone. As they race, the pair are both attacked by a Romulan Warbird. Old Rutherford can’t fight back, but Our Rutherford imagines exactly what he needs to win – his friends piloting the Delta Flyer with him.
Our Rutherford tries to save his former self, but it’s too late. In his final moments, old Rutherford shares a key memory: the reason for the cybernetic implants. Old Rutherford was building an experimental engine that explodes, taking nearly half his body with it. He is repaired by a mysterious group called “The program” the leader of which erases all Rutherford’s memories of their existence.
Meanwhile, in the Booth
In the other plot of Star Trek: Lower Decks, Mariner and Boimler are on Tulgana IV recruiting people into Starfleet. It is not going well! And while Mariner usually doesn’t care about this kind of mission, Ransom promises her that if she strays from the booth even for a second he will kick her butt all the way to Starbase 80. The problem is, the more the pair try to recruit, the more obstacles appear in their way.
Mariner beefs with the woman in the booth next to her: Petra Aberdeen. Petra is a former Starfleet officer turned representative for the Independent Archaeologists Guild. Every time Mariner reels in a potential new cadet, Petra tells them why Starfleet is somehow both boring and dangerous.
As time wears on, every group takes potshots at Starfleet: outpost scientists, collectors, and conspiracy theorists all have a turn. Until someone takes Boimler’s ensign pip and crushes it under their boot — and Boimler loses his mind.
As Boimler’s beats up everyone, passersby start thinking that maybe Starfleet might be cool! After all, if Boimler is that confident, maybe they can find power in Starfleet, too.
Petra, it turns out, intentionally set up a distraction so she could sneak into a local museum a steal back the Grand Nagus’s staff. Petra reaches out to Mariner to explain her true intentions and offers Mariner a chance to quit Starfleet. Mariner declines but keeps Petra’s contact info.
To Boldly Review
“Reflections” absolutely rules. Not only is it the best episode of the season so far, but (and keep this under your hat) it marks a real turning point for Star Trek: Lower Decks season three. There’s good stuff on the horizon. But let’s focus on “Reflections” for now.
Rutherford has a very complex relationship with his past. He does not remember who he was. He doesn’t even remember the first season of the show! And yet Rutherford carries on with positivity and an open heart. But with “Reflections” we find out he used to be kind of a jerk! More than that, we discover there is a secret organization within the Federation responsible for much of Rutherford’s hardships. We’ve got new lore and the lore is good.
But mostly what makes the episode great is its message: no matter who we were, there is always hope for who we are and who we may become. Rutherford could fall apart over the lost memories. He could’ve fallen apart in season two when his memories were erased then! Instead, Rutherford remains a friend to Tendi, a hard worker for Billups, and the beating heart of the Cerritos.
Rutherford is hope personified. Watching him find a way to accept these new truths about himself and move forward even more determined than before is profound. “Reflections” is the definition of a feel-good episode, and it delivers.
About the Booth
Obviously, “Reflections” also has a B-plot. And that plot is simple and mostly a depository for Star Trek Easter eggs (more on that later). However, as Boimler and Mariner attempt to enlist people into Starfleet, there are a few sneaky (and good) elements that come through.
The first is the acknowledgment that, for all the talk of exploration, Starfleet does operate like a military force in a lot of ways. Calling out Starfleet’s tendency towards authoritarianism is important not just for Star Trek: Lower Decks but for the world. When Starfleet acts like the intergalactic police, things usually turn out ugly. When we favor policing over more empathic policy in real life, things turn out even uglier.
And on a character level, “Reflections” pushes Mariner’s duality as a dutiful officer and puckish rogue to the forefront. Yes, Mariner is doing what Ransom asks to stay in Starfleet because she believes in its purpose. But Mariner also knows Starfleet can be hypocritical and even dangerous sometimes.
Petra Aberdeen reminds Mariner of all of that – and of how much Mariner likes playing outside the rules. Mariner is following Ransom’s orders right now, but her going rogue again is inevitable. And if Mariner is ejected from Starfleet, we now know exactly who she’ll call first.
Anyway, about those Easter eggs!
References: Gotta Spot ‘Em All
Rutherford dreams of an alternate timeline where Kirk and Spock have “cinematic chemistry,” a reference to the Kelvin timeline. Boimler and Mariner have a cardboard cutout of Kirk and Spock in the Star Trek: The Animated Series style. Rutherford thinks his body is taken over by an anaphasic alien which is a reference to Beverly Crusher’s alien ghost candle in the TNG episode “Sub Rosa”.
All the recruitment booths are filled with references. The Conspiracy Truthers have an alien bug from the TNG episode “Conspiracy”. One of the members of The Collectors Guild dresses like Kivas Fajo from the TNG episode “The Most Toys”. Their booth has a Spock helmet, Geordi’s visor, a portrait of Data’s cat Spot, the boardgame Kadis-Kot, and the Reckoning tablet from the DS9 episode “The Reckoning.” That tablet also appears in the trailer for Star Trek: Picard season 2.
We see the Antedians from the TNG episode “Manhunt” and the Wadi from the DS9 episode “Move Along Home”. The pod plants of Omicron Ceti III from the TOS episode “This Side of Paradise” also appear. Boimler references the Doctor from Voyager and Mariner talks about non-commissioned officers like Miles O’Brien.
The captain’s yacht appears which we first hear about in Star Trek: Insurrection. Rutherford wears the Delta Flyer uniform from the Voyager episode “Drive”. In fact, there’s a joke about how inconsistent Starfleet uniforms are. Evil Rutherford karate chops a transporter chief which is a classic Evil Kirk move.
The Rutherford race is in the Devron System, which appears in the TNG finale “All Good Things”. Finally, Petra calls Mariner “Starfleet” which is exactly what B’Elanna always calls Harry Kim on Voyager.
All in all, “Reflections” is everything we want from Star Trek: Lower Decks. 5/5 stars.