They manage to eat their cake and have it too by having Shaxs return in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” but his method of coming back from the dead is shrouded in secrecy. This is exactly the sort of gag that Lower Decks does particularly well, taking a cliché from Trek and shining a funny light on it. Boimler and Mariner are both very blasé about Shaxs’ resurrection, because it’s just something that always happens to the bridge crew. (Witness McCoy in “Shore Leave,” Scotty in “The Changeling,” Spock in The Search for Spock, Picard in “Tapestry,” O’Brien in “Visionary,” Kim in “Deadlock,” Lorca in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” etc., etc., etc.) And it means we get to keep Shaxs, whom I adore.
However, my favorite part of this episode is when they go to Cetacean Ops. Established as part of the Enterprise-D in, among other places, the Enterprise-D blueprints by Rick Sternbach, it was never seen on screen mainly for budgetary reasons. It’s staffed a couple of dolphins, who help with navigation. After decades of wishing we could see it, Lower Decks (which already mentioned Cetacean Ops twice) finally shows it to us, and also gives me my two new favorite Starfleet characters, the dolphins Kimolu and Matt. These two are hilarious (they keep wanting everyone to join them for a swim, especially Rutherford and his broad shoulders, and they provided most of the funniest lines in the episode).
Speaking of T’Ana, she has the single funniest line in a episode chock full of funny lines. When Boimler’s gravity boots fail, and he plummets groundward, Tendi says she’s glad the safety protocols are engaged—and then she looks nervously at T’Ana. “They are on, right?” T’Ana just stares at her and says, “I don’t know. Sure.” Then keeps climbing. I so love T’Ana.
The first half of the episode is dedicated to showing how bad almost everyone is at the other side’s jobs. Freeman, Ransom, Shaxs, and T’Ana are assigned to a ship under attack by a Klingon boarding party. Their job: Stack the crates in the cargo bay that have fallen over during the attack. The crates are hexagonal, too, so they’re very hard to stack and they very easily fall down. At no point are they ever told the specifics of what’s going on—including one point where they find out, in passing, that Q is on board. (Their CO is now dressed like Robin Hood, a reference to TNG‘s “Qpid.”)
“Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” is a veritable treasure trove of Trek clichés and it’s delightful.
We’ve got the aforementioned world-running computer (“Return of the Archons,” “The Apple”), named Agimus and voiced by Combs, who keeps trying to inveigle the organics into plugging him into some system or other. Combs, a veteran voiceover actor, is absolutely brilliant here.
We’ve got the visit to a character’s homeworld and get introduced to its weird customs (“Amok Time,” “Sins of the Father,” “Family Business”), complete with an overbearing mother who visits the ship regularly (allofTNG’sLwaxanaTroiepisodes). In this case, it’s Billups, the chief engineer, who comes from the human colony of Hysperia, a world filled with dragons, and which is populated by Renaissance Faire types. This, by the way, is my favorite part of the episode—I adore the Ren Faire planet where all the citizens dress up in “period” clothes and refer to all science in magic-y terms and shout “Huzzah!” a lot.
This is the sort of thing that’s most fun about Lower Decks. Things like this and second contact show the parts we never get to see on the mainline shows: what happens next. The drudge work, the cleanup, the paperwork, and all that stuff that is too mundane for a one-hour show about people having adventures. (It’s also why cop shows rarely show them doing paperwork, which is actually about 85% of their job.)
On the one hand, there’s a level of elitism here that’s totally at odds with the Trek ethos, but I’m willing to forgive it on this occasion when I haven’t in the past for two reasons: 1) it’s funny (not always a given on this show that’s supposed to be a comedy), and 2) it provides some truly excellent character moments for Freeman, Mariner, and Boimler.
The B-plot with Tendi amuses the heck out of me, because one of the hoariest clichés in the book is the people who refuse to go for their physical. This is especially ridiculous in the world of Star Trek, where the physical mostly consists of a medical professional non-invasively examining you with a tricorder for a few seconds. And yet, lots of incredibly lazy writers use the character-refuses-to-go-for-a-physical as a spectacularly lame plot device. (Astute readers might be aware that your humble reviewer used this very same plot device in his 2007 TNG novel Q & A, wherein the Enterprise-E’s new chief of security keeps putting off his physical. Guilty as charged.)
And then the ship refuses to give Boimler his food, and the doors don’t respond to his approach because of “new security measures” because of all the Pakled attacks. There is no level on which this makes anything like sense. Look, for 55 years, quite possibly the most consistent thing we’ve seen on Star Trek has been that when you approach the doors, they slide apart, no matter who you are. And the replicators have never had any kind of security on them, at least not for food. Any random schmuck who wandered onto the Enterprise or Voyager or the Defiant or even one of the runabouts or the Delta Flyer was always able to get food and have the doors slide apart when they approached them.
On top of that, the episode takes him out of action almost instantly, as the away team mission he leads sees him turned into a cute Tamarian stuffie. Now, for the record, I totally want a Lieutenant Kayshon stuffie please and thank you, but watching the episode I was mostly thinking, “Ah, so that’s how they’re avoiding the issue of him talking.”
If you’re not up to the challenge of having an abstruse security chief who’s hard to understand, don’t put him in in the first place.
His introduction also annoyed my inner fan-dweeb, as Kayshon said that the Universal Translator doesn’t always catch it when he goes metaphorical, and that is a swing and a miss. The whole point of “Darmok” was that the UT didn’t help—they were hearing Dathon and the other Tamarians in English. The translator was doing its job. The problem was their mode of communicating, not the words. So the UT doesn’t enter into it, it’s Kayshon himself who has to learn, in essence, a new language.