“Those Old Scientists” is More Than a ‘Strange New Worlds’ ‘Lower Decks’ Crossover
It’s here. The crossover episode. And it is, as expected, an Easter Eggapolooza. But “Those Old Scientists” is a lot more than that, too.
There are a lot of reasons to look forward to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds week-to-week. But obviously one of the biggest episodes this season is “Those Old Scientists a.k.a. the one where Boimler and Mariner from Lower Decks wind up on the Enterprise.
As you might expect, the entire affair involves Boimler and Mariner namedropping throughout the episode run time. Yes, Boimler does his silly walk. Yes, Mariner’s solution to a problem involves drinking. And, yes, a lot of the humor stems from how frustrating that is for the Enterprise crew.
But “Those Old Scientists” is great for reasons other than how humorously the two casts play together. It’s a good story: Enterprise finds an ancient time machine. Boimler (and later Mariner) fly through. And then Orions steal the time machine. The proper timeline unravels.. or does it?
Plot-wise, this is a very paint-by-numbers time travel episode. But barely underneath the surface, we find the deeper meaning that makes the whole thing worthwhile.
An Unexpected Reference
The most important Easter egg has nothing directly to do with Star Trek. As Boimler bemoans his failures and his being trapped in the past, he has a conversation with Pelia. And Pelia paraphrases a famous quote from Cary Grant. “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me.”
Cary Grant and Gregory Peck were close friends. Gregory’s son Ethan is the actor currently playing Spock on Strange New Worlds. And, in fact, DISCO actor Jason Isaacs is set to play Grant in the upcoming biopic Archie.
Grant also stars in the movie Charade which is the namesake for an episode of SNW. But that’s not what the reference is there for.
Before Cary Grant became one of the most important actors of all time he was dirt poor. Grant emigrated to the United States from Bristol in 1920 at the age of 16 and proceeded to transform what it means to be an actor.
There are lots of rumors about Grant, the biggest being that he was gay or bisexual. By all personal accounts from those who knew Grant, regardless of his own attractions, he was accepting of people as they were.
Grant was the sort of man who was cared for and who, in turn, took care of people around him. He was known to protect animals from harm. And he wanted people to live joyously and let that be the path toward becoming who they wanted to be.
That is what “Those Old Scientists” is about.
To Boldly Review “Those Old Scientists”
Last week, Uhura accepts that she has to work on her grief. This week, Mariner reminds her she has to work on her joy, too. “Those Old Scientists” is, at its heart, a story about how to live in complex times. Pike and Enterprise are, in many ways, part of the golden age of exploration. But they are also the generation who fought in the Klingon War. And there’s more war with the Gorn on the horizon.
Mariner tells Uhura that, in the future, she’s seen as this badass who balances fun and duty in perfect measure. But in reality, a 22-year-old Uhura has no idea how to do that. No one knows how to do that at 22. Or 32. Or 42 for that matter. Uhura will never look in the mirror and see the person Mariner describes.
But the expectation will always be there. So what do you do with that? Something I like about SNW this season is how it adapts the old TNG morality play formula. A lot of those classic Trek episodes are about right and wrong for the world. This is the second week in a row where SNW is less interested in the macro and more interested in the micro.
Boimler and Mariner get home because Boimler accepts that Spock is allowed to smile even if the history books don’t record it. Because why would they? Smiles are not historical, they’re for the individual. And Mariner helps Uhura take a break and the break is where the solution happens. Not joy over work. But joy and work in equal measure.
Speaking of which…
Striking the Balance
Anson Mount says he was not sure about this crossover episode at first. And that makes sense. As silly as Strange New Worlds is, it’s never as silly by half as Lower Decks is on average. And there are a lot of ways “Those Old Scientists” could’ve failed.
Instead, there are all these laugh-out-loud moments. Boimler’s funny walk. The sound of Mariner’s hands awkwardly screeching along the table. The entire episode is like a piece of music. Boimler and Mariner are this new motif. At first, they stand out and the newness of their movements is exciting. But what makes the overall composition and performance great is how those motifs seamlessly become part of the existing soundscape.
Boimler saying “Worf’s honor” and Mariner talking about how hot Spock is are the beats you expect this episode to hit. They are delightful. But the stuff that makes it great are the moments where Boimler reminds Pike that his birthday party, his life, really, is as much for the people around him as it is for him.
There’s even some great drama in Boimler’s inability to keep the future a secret. Chapel’s insecurity over where she fits in Spock’s life plays out beautifully. And the slow build on Una’s future as the poster person for Starfleet is somehow funny, sweet, and powerful all at the same time.
In short, the Strange New Worlds/Lower Decks crossover is everything it needs to be and more. Also, it wouldn’t happen without the writers and actors who support the WGA and SAG strikes.