Sunday, 10 October 2021

TREK REVIEW: Lower Decks 2-4 & 2-5

2-4) Mugato, Gumato

The Mugato, or Mugatu, or Gumato, or whatever permutation you like, is an iconic monster from the original Trek, one of the visuals that anyone with a passing knowledge of Trek would recognise. But playing with the pronunciation of the name, and even the reversed spelling that was in the original script, that's a deep cut. There are some other lovely little asides this episode, like the two Denobulans on the planet who inflate their faces when threatened (nice to see them back at last) and even a Kzinti on the crew of the Cerritos (more of him later). It's gratifying that Lower Decks embraces all of Trek, from beginning to present.

The episode itself is good fun, giving us some retro-styled Ferengi privateers trading in Mugato, a nice team-up between Boimler and Rutherford, and a funny subplot about rumours of Mariner being a supersoldier. It's a much smuttier episode than we're used to, probably the most like Rick and Morty of all the series so far, and while that's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, I found it pretty funny, because I have a puerile sense of humour. Perhaps more successful across the board is the B-plot about Tendi trying to get Dr. T'ana to take her physical, the classic trope of physicians being the worst patients.

However, I think my favourite of the plotlines is the highly predictable but very funny thread that sees Captain Freeman taken for a chump by an alien conman called Hyde. That it's such an obvious con makes it all the funnier, and you begin to see why the Cerritos has such a rubbish reputation in Starfleet. It's a busy, exciting episode that has a little of every kind of humour, whether you like shaggy dog stories, deep level Easter eggs or alien wank jokes.

Best references this episode: Captain Freeman's collection of space tat includes the obligatory sailing ship, a samurai helmet, a baseball just like Sisko's, a model of the Cerritos and one of the Gorn.

Best line: "Those two beautiful, nerdy men are negotiating us to safety using the power of math."

2-5) An Embarrassment of Dooplers

This episode has a great guest role for Richard Kind as the Doopler Ambassador, who absolutely nails the officious, easilyoffended and tremendously insecure alien. Is it realistic that an alien life form could continually replicate with no energy source, or that a species that can't cope with any embarrassment without reproducing could form a civilisation? No. Is it funny? Hell yes. It's a wonderfully absurd set-up for an episode and really captures the sort of duff assignments the Cerritos gets handed.

The main storyline that links both Captain Freeman and her command crew and the Boimler-Mariner team is the mission to get into the exclusive party on Starbase 25, to which only the crews of the best-regarded starships get invites. It provides a brilliant glimpse into Mariner's storied and sordid past, with her ally-turned-enemy Malvus setting her up. (Fun to see a Mizarian again, and it turns out they're not all capitulating cowards as The Next Generation suggested.) It's a bustling environment with plenty of adventure and sight gags for fans, not least being the entirely unnecessary but highly fan-pleasing cameos by Captain Shelby (promoted since TNG: “The Best of Both Worlds”) and Thadiun Okona (the eponymous guest star of the terrible TNG: “The Outrageous Okona”).

There's a rather lovely ongoing thread this season of Freeman and Mariner bonding in a more natural way since they've given each other some space, and their mutual failure to get into the party, hanging out at the low-rent bar Kirk and Spock used to drink in is a triumphantly heart-warming ending. I also loved the Tendi-Rutherford storyline, bringing some follow-up to the latter's memory erasure while also reaffirming their friendship, far better than in “Strange Energies”.

Altogether, a cracking episode, one of the best this season.

Best references this episode: Of all the many little Easter eggs this week, my favourite has to be Shelby's first officer, whose magnificent, multi-eyed design is the original one for the Kelpiens on Discovery. However, there are tons of recognisable aliens on the station, the most since the trip to Tulgana 4, including Antedeans, Apergosians, Arcadians, Aurelians, Ferengi, Gorn, Lurians, Nasat and Taxors.

Other winners, if you spot them, are the many portraits in Kirk's bar, of characters including Apollo, Lt. Arex, Lt. M'Ress, Balok, Lokai, the salt vampire, the Talosians, and for some reason, Abaddon from the Voyager episode “Alice.”

Continuity query: When did Kirk and Spock actually hang out in that bar? It can't be when they were commanding on the Enterprise, since a captain and first officer of a Constitution-class ship would definitely have gotten into the exclusive party. We don't actually know when they met in canon; it's possible that Kirk joined the Enterprise and befriended Spock before he reached captain.

Best line: An Antedean fish person: “Hey, we're not people!”

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