Spoilers for the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode “Mining the Mind’s Mines” below!
In “Mining the Mind’s Mines,” the latest episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, the Cerritos and her sister California-class support ship the Carlsbad have been assigned to planet Jengus IV, where Starfleet recently made first contact with a silicate life form called the Scrubble. Captain Freeman and Captain Maier (guest voice Baron Vaughn) are hosting representatives from the Scrubble and the human scientists who encountered them so the two groups can sign a treaty.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Stevens leads Beckett, Boimler, and Rutherford to the surface to collect the Scrubble’s “psychic mines.” These stones reveal their beholders’ deepest fantasies and, when broken, their nightmares—before turning their victims to stone. But the stones also actively mine people’s minds for information. It turns out the Scrubble and the scientists were in cahoots, hoping to profit by the illegal sale of stolen Starfleet intel.
“Mining the Mind’s Mines” comes surprisingly close to feeling like a conventional Star Trek episode. Not only do its “A” and “B” plots mesh by the show’s end, but so does its “C” plot, in which Ensign Tendi begins her science officer training. Because everything hangs together so well and doesn’t push Star Trek: Lower Decks’ style of “shenanigans” to an extreme level, it reveals how several classic, widely accepted Star Trek tropes are just a hair’s breadth away from comedy all the time.
The latest episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks “Mining the Mind’s Mines” mines familiar Trek tropes for comedy gold
Consider those psychic mines, for instance. Given all the times we’ve seen Star Trek characters’ secret wishes and wildest fantasies laid bare—starting way back in “The Cage” and continuing through such adventures as “Shore Leave” (TOS), “Where No One Has Gone Before” (TNG), and “If Wishes Were Horses” (DS9)—it’s a little surprising we haven’t seen more embarrassing daydreams than we have.
The scientist who meets his doom in this episode’s funny but impressively gripping teaser sees the seventh grade geology teacher on whom he had a crush inexplicably dressed in a “revealing toga.” Rutherford has beguiling visions of Dr. Leah Brahms (a welcome vocal cameo from Susan Gibney), who coos, “We could increase gravimetric power limits all night long!” And Beckett resists amorous and amusing overtures from her “hot Andorian girlfriend” Jennifer.
Another Trek trope that yields some fun in this episode is the honored status accorded the U.S.S. Enterprise—even though Starfleet’s flagship is nowhere to be seen. When the Carlsbad junior officers confess their admiration for their Cerritos counterparts, they tell them, “The Cerritos is like the Enterprise of the support ships!” This analogy arguably moves Lower Decks away from its original premise—the adventures of an underappreciated crew of “lovable losers”—but it’s amusing and, frankly, plausible to think each type of vessel in Starfleet has its own “best-in-class.”
It’s also fun to wonder what Starfleet gossip gets wrong about the various starships Enterprise, given what the grapevine gets wrong about Boimler: “in stories [he’s] described as a tiny comedic robot that is always getting into trouble.” (If Lower Decks doesn’t give us this robot Boimler at some point, it will be missing a huge comedic opportunity.)
Star Trek has also seen its share of gruff starship doctors, from Dr. McCoy to Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram, but none gruffer than Dr. T’Ana. The Caitian CMO gets the funniest sequence in this episode, begrudgingly giving Tendi a pep talk about her science officer training while displaying some astoundingly bad bedside manner to a patient: “This guy’s not even crying, and his toes are getting digested!” His astonished yelps as he takes in this information—and when T’Ana comes after his foot with a chainsaw at the scene’s end—made me laugh out loud.
The genius of Lower Decks at its best is its ability to laugh at Star Trek without losing any love for it. Each of the aspects it plays for fun in “Mining the Mind’s Eyes”—thoughts made real, inter-fleet comparisons and competition, and brusque doctors—are familiar to Star Trek fans. But while other series have occasionally played them for chuckles, Star Trek: Lower Decks, in this episode, mines them for comedy gold.