Ah, Star Trek aliens. So easily defined by a single by a single trait. Logical Vulcans, warring Klingons, profiteering Ferengi, ruthless Orions… Diversity was only for humans, it seemed.
Except the franchise has also made a point of examining and rebutting their own stereotyped aliens from time to time. Lower Decks has notably done so with our favorite Orion officer, D’Vana Tendi. Over the course of the show — and even its crossover with Strange New Worlds — Tendi has repeatedly insisted that not all Orions are pirates while also demonstrating some impressive pirate-y skills. In Episode 404, “Something Borrowed, Something Green,” we finally find out why.
The episode kicks off with what has become a bit of a rote teaser at this point: a glimpse at life on board an alien starship (Orion this time), an encounter with a small vessel that doesn’t respond to hails, and the starship’s sudden and mysterious destruction. None of which connects to the episode itself, but is setting up some kind of dramatic arc for the season. It’s also been an excuse for the writers to come up with amusing but plot-irrelevant slice-of-life scenes poking fun at the various aliens, each embodying their stereotypes to the point of ridiculousness before being annihilated. As far as season arc teasers go, these scenes don’t build up much tension (mysterious thing mysteriously destroying ships doesn’t give enough info to create a sense of curiosity), but the comedy-sketch aspect of the doomed crews make them entertaining nonetheless. In fact, the entire point might be to do comedy sketches of various aliens.
Anyway, the primary story of “Something Borrowed, Something Green” concerns Tendi, who has been invited to her sister’s wedding on Orion. While she’s hesitant to go, Captain Freeman insists that Tendi’s attendance would be good for Starfleet’s relationship with Orion. T’Lyn and Mariner insist on coming as well — T’Lyn to write up a report for the Vulcans on a world they know little about, and Mariner to… be Mariner. I mean, it would be very un-Mariner to pass up an opportunity to visit the infamous pirating world, wouldn’t it?
The three ladies’ arrival on Orion leads to a now-familiar routine: circumstances indicating that Tendi is a person of significant importance to the Orions (in this case, Orion servants bowing), and Tendi uncomfortably trying to shy away from it. It’s been obvious for some time now that Tendi is some kind of bad-ass Orion royalty or the like, but that she’s a science nerd at heart and left it all behind to start anew with Starfleet and would rather no one find about about her past.
All this is confirmed as the ladies visit Tendi’s palatial home, where her parents inform her that her sister, D’Erika, has been kidnapped on the eve of the wedding. Tendi essentially rolls her eyes at this — bridal kidnappings are part of Orion culture. But the timing has the parents worried, and Tendi sets off, with Mariner and T’Lyn in tow, to investigate.
At this point, Lower Decks has telegraphed its attitude toward the Orions and Tendi enough times that what follows is pretty predictable: Orions treating Tendi with reverence, Tendi trying to act like she’s nothing special in front of her Starfleet cohorts, then pulling out some skill that proves she’s the Orion-iest of Orions (e.g. beating an old friend at a murder-bug drinking game). It’s clear she’s been fighting the “ruthless Orion pirate” stereotype for years, to the point of denying her past, heritage, and even skills. And it’s an attitude that will ring true to a lot of minorities who’ve found themselves faced with such biases. (To every fellow Asian kid who’s pretended not to like math because we were sick of the “nerd” stereotype, I salute you).
Mariner and T’Lyn, to their credit, listen to their friend and colleague and let her take the lead. As the three continue their journey to find D’Erika, we get a broad view of what life on Orion is like. Much of it tracks with the established canon — seedy locations, knife fights, femme fatale-types wielding pheromones. Notably, there was a lack of Orion slave girls, which were, from a contemporary point of view, more than a little sexist. While the episode does much to explore and provide nuance to Tendi as a character, it doesn’t quite do so for Orion as a whole — ultimately, it’s still the violent, pirate-y world of the stereotype, with Tendi as a single outlier. But given the short runtime, perhaps it just didn’t have the space to, and this leaves the door open for further exploration.
Back on the Cerritos, Boimler and Rutherford butt heads as new roommates, but discover a solution: When both dress as Mark Twain for a holodeck program, they get along and find a compromise. Star Trek has had a long-running fondness for figures, real and fictional, from cultural history — Leonardo Da Vinci, Sherlock Holmes — and Mark Twain is among them, having appeared in the Next Generation two-part episode “Time’s Arrow.” The holodeck program good-naturedly pokes fun at this… then takes things to the next level of absurdity when Boimler and Rutherford (Brutherford!) insist that Freeman and a fearsome alien captain try the Twain thing to find a resolution to their conflict over who gets to scan a nebula. It’s classic Lower Decks fare — low-stakes silliness with a healthy dash of absurdity — and it works well as a B-plot to Tendi’s storyline.
All in all, “Something Borrowed, Something Green” was another strong addition to the series, and in giving Tendi the chance to take center stage, added further nuance to the character we know and love.