Review: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 7 “Those Old Scientists”
No, this wasn’t a fever dream. Yes, Strange New Worlds did just have a crossover episode with the excellent animated series Lower Decks, and while we knew about this Jonathan Frakes-directed event for some time, the results are even better than we were expecting.
It was challenging to nail down exactly what we were expecting. While crossovers in the Star Trek franchise are fairly common (check out this great article on Memory Alpha for an inclusive rundown), there has never been a clashing of mediums as what is offered in the perfectly titled “Those Old Scientists.” But, the translation of Lower Decks main characters Brad Boimler and Beckett Mariner into live-action works really well, as both Jack Quaid and Tawney Newsome respectively bring their characters to life in a way we obviously have never seen before.
So, what exactly happens in this landmark episode? It begins in the animated world of Lower Decks, as Boimler, Mariner, Tendi (Noel Wells), and Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) begin a mission to a planet that hosts a portal, a mysterious technology apparently first discovered by Captain Pike and the Enterprise some 120 years earlier – although, according to Tendi, it was a group of Orion scientists, including Tendi’s grandmother, who discovered the portal first.
In any case, upon investigating the portal, which is mysteriously infused with a rare element called veronium, which Boimler asserts was used in the NX-class (and yes, this will be important later), the team accidentally activates its time-traveling properties, and Boimler is sucked into the past. The episode then transitions into live action as Boimler lands at the feet of Spock (Ethan Peck), La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), and Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn), noting how “realistic” they look before passing out.
“Mr. Spock ran an analysis of this delta. It’s not just a badge, it’s also a communicator. Just press right here.”
“But flipping it open is the best part.”
“I like ours better, too.”– Una and Pike after discovering Boimler’s futuristic equipment.
Boimler is shocked to see himself in the company of legends, especially Una, who Boimler seems quite nervous around. Seeing Quaid bring Boimler’s quirks to live action is a delight, as the actor embodies his animated character’s mannerisms in a convincing way. How many people can say they’ve carried the same character from animation to live-action?
Boimler gets the lowdown from La’an on how to not screw up the future. The security officer, after all, has recent experience with this thanks to the events of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” Knowing he is risking screwing up the timeline by being in the past, Boimler enlists the Enterprise crew’s help in reactivating the time portal so he can go home and the Enterprise can continue its mission to the Setlik System to deliver a vital grain shipment. But naturally, the portal doesn’t activate as it should.
While on the Enterprise, Boimler thinks he has caused Spock to exhibit emotions, something he knows the Spock from his time almost never does. You’ll get quite a good laugh out of seeing Spock uncharacteristically smile, laugh, and joke, but the real reason behind Spock’s emotions is his relationship with Chapel. Spock is making the effort to display more emotions so Chapel can feel more connected to him. It’s a sour moment for the nurse, then, when Boimler accidentally reveals the Spock from his time is just as stoic as ever, and haphazardly asserts Chapel doesn’t play as much a part in the Vulcan’s life as the nurse likes to think. We’re curious to see how this revelation impacts the couple’s relationship going forward.
“Oh my god. I’m on the bridge. NCC-1701-dash… nothing!”
“What would come after the dash?”– Boimler and La’an.
To use the portal again, the Enterprise crew must first track down Orion scientists who arrived at the planet and stole the portal. Boimler asserts the captain must find a diplomatic solution to the Orion problem, as his fellow ensign’s great-grandmother is on the Orion ship, and a non-peaceful solution might erase Tendi from history. So, Pike puts on his most diplomatic face and agrees to trade with the scientists: the grain in the Enterprise’s hold in exchange for the portal.
By this point in the episode, you’ll probably note a surprisingly pleasant aspect of Jonathan Frakes’ direction – “Those Old Scientists” indulges in Lower Decks’ style of comedy, complete with quicker editing, faster dialogue, and sight gags that are abnormal for what’s usually a 45-minute drama. Case in point: to avoid contaminating the timeline by offering Pike and crew a way to track the Orions, Boimler opts to do it himself and simply have the bridge crew turn around so they can’t see how he’s tracking the enemy ship. It’s all great fun.
Ultimately, the Enterprise gets the portal back, and now is the chance for Boimler to return home – except just as the portal activates, Mariner shoots through and therefore makes Boimler miss his chance to return to the future. Double the future Starfleet members, double the comedy, and like her co-star, Newsome embodies her animated character in a hilarious way. Boimler and Mariner play off each other in live-action just as well as animated, and Mariner actually gives us a couple of the most memorable Lower Decks-esque banter lines from the episode; if you laugh at Lower Decks, you’ll surely laugh during “Those Old Scientists.”
“Does anybody notice how their references are weirdly specific?”
“Indeed.”– Una and Spock about Boimler and Mariner.
How do Mariner and Boimler get back to their own time without a new supply of veronium? After a disastrous attempt by Spock and Boimler to make some themselves, the crew seems to be out of options. During drinks with Mariner – where Mariner gives her fellow Starfleet officers a new drink, an Orion Hurricane, that is sure to “mess you up” – Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) realize the markings on the portal are actually ancient Nausicaan, of all things, but alas even that doesn’t help the crew get the portal working.
Having failed to replicate more of the element needed to activate the portal, Boimler feels defeated that he can’t get back to his own time, and moreover, his presence prevented the Enterprise from reaching Setlik II with the much-needed grain. After some encouraging words from Lt. Pelia (Carol Kane) about assuming the role of a hero, Boimler, with Mariner’s aid, calls the Orions and tries to steal a shuttlecraft so they can negotiate the grain back from the scientists, but La’an catches them first.
During a conversation with Pike, Boimler realizes there’s a piece of the Enterprise that’s actually from her predecessor, Jonathan Archer’s NX-01, as is tradition for ships continuing to bear the same name. The crew can power the portal using veronium from that piece of the former Enterprise. Thus, Boimler and Mariner depart their new live-action friends, and Captain Pike, exercising the utmost diplomacy, asserts the disgruntled Orion scientists can claim credit for discovering the portal. Looks like Tendi was right after all.
We had a smile plastered on our faces the whole time we were watching “Those Old Scientists.” Writers Kathryn Lyn (who wrote for Lower Decks season two) and Bill Wolkoff (who wrote two SNW season one episodes and two season two episodes) deliver a script that tonally adheres to Lower Decks’ humor, but never loses sight that this is a Strange New Worlds episode. We’re thankful that after 55+ years, Star Trek still has surprises in store for even its most die-hard fans, and indeed it’s those fans who will likely get the most out of this episode – as is the case with Lower Decks, what with its uber-specific Trek references. We’re also thankful we were surprised by how well veteran director Jonathan Frakes handled comedy so adroitly. We could always count on Frakes for a solid directorial effort within dramatic episodes, but this entry really allowed the man to go outside his comfort zone.
That’s not to say “Those Old Scientists” is pure comedy. Besides the aforementioned Chapel-Boimler conversation, Boimler teaches Pike an important lesson: learn to enjoy birthday parties, because you never know how many you have. Boimler accidentally reveals to Pike’s crew that it’s the captain’s birthday soon, and Pike isn’t thrilled that his crew knows this. At first, Pike thinks Boimler is going to assert the captain’s future means he should relax more, but Pike instead shares he is hesitant to celebrate his birthday because he is now as old as his dad was when his dad died. Ultimately, Pike does relax with his crew for a party, and this end-of-episode scene is one of the funniest in “Those Old Scientists,” as the Enterprise crew appear animated in the Lower Decks-style after imbibing Mariner’s life-altering cocktail. It did indeed mess them up.
One final touching dramatic moment we’ll mention is when Una finally learns why Boimler was behaving so strangely around her: the ensign has a Starfleet recruitment poster in his bunk featuring Una and her now-famous motto “ad astra per aspera,” which is a lovely callback to just a few weeks ago when Una so memorably embodied that slogan on the stand in “Ad Astra per Aspera.” Like Lower Decks generally, “Those Old Scientists” know how to bring out the heart in these characters.
“Those Old Scientists” is likely a final light-hearted hurrah before the season must tackle whatever the Gorn are cooking up, and we can only hope Boimler and Mariner (and maybe even Rutherford and Tendi) find their way to their live-action cousins again. We definitely consider this first animated-live action crossover a complete success.
- The title of this episode is taken from a classic line from Commander Ransom in Lower Decks’ “No Small Parts,” when the Cerritos revisits planets from the “TOS era,” which Ransom clarifies as meaning the era of “those old scientists” such as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
- In the opening animated credit sequence, we see the same alien monster attached to the Enterprise’s nacelle as in the Lower Decks intro.
- The Setlik System, which the Enterprise was on its way to before tackling the Boimler problem, was a system mentioned a few times in Star Trek before, mainly as a battleground during the Federation-Cardassian War.
- We learn via Boimler’s slip of the tongue that Captain Pike’s birthday becomes a holiday in the Federation.
- Boimler mentions learning about Spock’s pet Sehlat, which is a Vulcan pet seen in The Animated Series episode “Yesteryear.”
- Shortly after Mariner arrives on the Enterprise, she notes to Boimler she was worried he might have gotten involved with riots in a dystopian San Francisco. This references the excellent Deep Space Nine two-parter “Past Tense,” where Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are sent to 2020’s San Francisco shortly before the Bell Riots, in which Sisko plays the titular part.
- Pelia notes how someone she looked up to said once, “I always pretended to be someone I wanted to be.” This quote is attributed to actor Cary Grant (1904-1986).
- When Boimler shouts “Holy Q!” in surprise when he finds Mariner in the shuttle, Mariner asserts the people in this time “haven’t met him yet,” and instead there’s more of a “Trelane-thing going on.” This references the TOS episode “The Squire of Gothos,” where the Enterprise crew encounters a being who is often theorized as being a Q-like entity.
- Ransom sees Boimler’s Una poster and calls her the “hottest officer in Starfleet history.” The actor who voices Ransom, Jerry O’Connell, is married to Rebecca Romijn.
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