Small alien parasites invading tender human bodies are a classic science fiction trope. From Robert Heinlein's novel The Puppet Masters (1951) to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), the idea of an alien parasite invading a host body and then, well, doing whatever it wants, was a sci-fi staple well before Alien came to theaters in 1979. Yet, the Ridley Scott film's iconic chestbursters are the first thing that comes to mind when most of us think "alien parasite."
In Episode 5 of Star Trek: Lower Decks — "Cupid's Errant Arrow" the trope gets a new twist that deviates from what might happen in the Alien universe. This parasite is still kinda gross, but its intentions are far less horrific. Spoilers ahead.
The pervasiveness of Alien's parasites has been spoofed way before Lower Decks. In Spaceballs, a chestburster pops out at a patron at a space diner and sings a soft shoe number complete with a top hat and cane. In the Doctor Who episode "Last Christmas," one character refers to alien parasites as resembling "Face-huggers" from the movie, to which the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) replies, "You've got a horror movie called Alien? That's really offensive."
Any way you slice it, for a huge portion of the population, when you think alien parasite, you think the aliens from Alien. So, when Lower Decks goes to the alien parasite well, the little critter is a little bit reminiscent of a bug-like version of a chestburster. Attaching itself to the back of Boimler's head, this parasite has the same wiggly aggression as a chestburster, but instead of busting out of anyone's body, it simply says the word "lover."
Unlike most aggressive alien parasites, this critter seems to feed upon romantic relationships and emits pheromones to make that host's body attractive to other people. Throughout the entire episode, Mariner (Tawny Newsome) assumes that Boimler's (Jack Quaid) new girlfriend Barb (Gillian Jacobs) can't possibly love him for who he really is. This assumption turns out to be correct, but not for the reasons she assumed.
In a nifty flashback scene, Marnier watches in horror as one of her friends is devoured by a creature that literally pops out of another guys' body. The analogies aren't necessarily one-for-one, but taken together, it's hard not to think of Alien.
Furthermore, Marnier has more than a little bit in common with the main character of Alien, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. Both are people who are not the Captain of the ship and are in essence, a lower-ranking person, who is desperately warning everyone that alien parasites are super dangerous. The conspiracy and monster horror in this Lower Decks episode isn't high-stakes the way Alien is, but, again, the flashbacks we have good reason to believe that Mariner has a reasonable beef with alien parasites. In a way, this single flashback actually does a lot of work for us understanding the character of Mariner. As she says to Boimler, "I've seen stuff, man." And what she's seen is basically, that she's had an Ellen Ripley backstory.
One of Star Trek's most famous (or infamous) evil alien parasite stories comes from the first-season episode of The Next Generation called "Conspiracy." Riker and Picard have battle aliens that enter people's mouths, eventually resulting in a kind of chestburster payoffs, that mostly exists because Riker and Picard have to blow some guy's head off. Like Marnier's flashback, this scene was a rare moment of Trek gore, and to this day, still scans as a not-so-subtle Alien rip-off.
Then again, if Alien ripped-off The Puppet Masters, and Star Trek: The Next Generation later ripped-off Alien, maybe the real alien parasite doesn't have a true origin. And in the latest Lower Decks, our collective love affair with Alien parasites is made literal. The reason we love alien parasites is that they want us to love them. Right?
Star Trek: Lower Decks airs Thursdays on CBS All Access.