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In the very first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, Trekkies could probably see themselves as one of two types of fans. Are you like Boimler? Or Mariner? Boimler loves Starfleet, but is far from an expert on its zany history, while Mariner thinks Starfleet can be lame, but kind of knows every facet of its weirdest moments.
The very best joke in the first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks highlights this split. When Mariner rattles off a bunch of references to the larger canon of Trek, she also drops a hilarious Easter egg, which, in a sense, is an Easter egg that works twice. Actually, maybe even three times. Here’s why Mariner’s joke right at the very end of the first episode of Lower Decks is so funny, and why it totally makes sense that Boimler is in the dark on this one.
**Mild spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 1, "Second Contact."**
After Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) become best buds at the very end of the episode, Mariner launches into a list of quirky Star Trek facts, which, for her, are basically just facts from the history books. “Do you know about Spock?” she says, grabbing Boimler by the shirt. “Dude came back from being dead.” After that, she talks about “my man Worf,” and namechecks Kirk, and Deanna Troi, too. But the best joke comes when Mariner asks Boimler if he’s heard of someone else. Here’s how it goes down:
Mariner: Gary Mitchell?
Boimler: I’m sure I could look him up!
OK. This is freakin' great. If you’re a hardcore fan, you know that Gary Mitchell (played by Gary Lockwood) was a member of the USS Enterprise crew in 2265, and that in the episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” he was zapped by the barrier on the outside of the galaxy, developed super-PSI powers, became a jerky space god, and was eventually buried under a rock by Kirk. On top of this, Gary was previously Kirk’s best friend. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was the second pilot of The Original Series, and unlike “The Cage,” it’s the pilot episode that sold the show. Mariner referencing the pilot episode of TOS in “Second Contact” is funny in part because, on some level, this is the only time one Trek pilot episode has referenced “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” like, ever.
It’s also funny because Gary Mitchell is kind of a deep cut, mostly because he only appears in one episode, and despite it being the second pilot for TOS, it’s not generally anyone’s favorite episode. The episode also has some odd canonical quirks, including the implication that Spock’s “ancestors” mated with humans, a different bridge crew of the Enterprise, Sulu wearing blue, and no Uhura or Bones. Basically, a Gary Mitchell reference is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the idea that Star Trek canon is a little bit messy and always has been.
But! That’s not even the best reason why this is funny.
The best reason why this is funny is that when Boimler says, “I could look him up,” it implies that he has not heard of Gary Mitchell. And guess what? In canon, that makes sense. The fact that Mariner knows about Gary Mitchell means she’s really into 23rd-century history because really nobody in Starfleet should really know about Gary Mitchell. And that’s because Kirk low-key falsified his Captain’s log in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” At the end of the episode, Kirk says Dr. Dehner and Gary Mitchell both died in the “line of duty,” but does not mention that they turned into wacky telepathic mutants with Professor X-style powers. Nor does Kirk mention that he actually killed Mitchell.
So, the Starfleet official record reflects the fact that Gary Mitchell died in the line of duty, which means that Mariner is probably unaware that Gary Mitchell turned into an evil space god. This means that Gary Mitchell is not famous to students of Starfleet history, which is why it makes sense Boimler has never heard of him. This joke also means that “Second Contact” begins with a falsified Captain’s Log (the pretend one recorded by Boimler) and then ends with a direct reference to Kirk’s falsified Captain’s Log in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
Basically, the best joke in Lower Decks Episode 1 poked fun at super unreliable Captain’s Logs, and the fact that we probably aren’t being told the whole truth from these logs. Captain Freeman asks Boimler about his logs, and when he says he records five a day, she says “that’s excessive.” Ha! How many did Kirk record in any random episode of TOS? At least five. If not more!
The Gary Mitchell Easter egg is more than a fun reference. It’s an in-canon joke that references Star Trek canon and connects to other jokes throughout the episode, too. Right now, if this indicates the types of multi-layered Trekkie jokes we can expect from Lower Decks, then it seems like we’ve only seen the tip of the Tholian Web.
Star Trek: Lower Decks airs on Thursdays on CBS All Access.