This episode feels like a dangerous portent for the season to come when two of its three predecessors were only marginally less underwhelming.
- 🖖🏻 It's fun to see Boimler and Rutherford hang out.
- 🖖🏻 Though inconsistent, there are enough jokes being flung around that some of them land.
- 🖖🏻 The central gag gets old fast.
- 🖖🏻 The A-plot hinges on information the audience knows is false.
- 🖖🏻 Tendi feels like an afterthought.
This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks. Check out our last review here.
One of the more tedious aspects of Star Trek: Lower Decks can be its reliance on an encyclopedic knowledge of franchise lore as the basis for plot points and gags, which is usually not so pervasive that it overtakes an episode but is often noticeable enough to be a turn-off to more casual viewers. The central gag of “Mugato, Gumato” is probably the most esoteric the show has ever passed off with such prominence, referencing the disparate pronunciations and mispronunciations of the alien species “mugato” in an episode of The Original Series. But even if you understand why every character seems to have a different way of messing up how they’re identifying the alien apes, the joke doesn’t get any funnier through repetition, and, similarly, the episode’s plotting doesn’t quite live up to the show’s standards or potential.
Credit where it’s due, much like last week’s episode, it’s nice to see the writers pair up characters who haven’t otherwise had many opportunities to interact one-on-one. Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and Boimler (Jack Quaid) bonding over a negotiating game based on nerdy number-crunching feels like a no-brainer for how their friendship would manifest, and their eventual ability to use their geekdom to overcome Ferengi poachers by laying out a superior business strategy is both surprising and pretty dang funny. I’d like to see more of this pairing if for no other reason than it giving Rutherford a place in the cast’s group dynamic that isn’t merely supporting.
However, the exploration of Rutherford’s and Boimler’s shared anxieties is somewhat less compelling, if only because it’s based on information the audience clearly knows to be false and carries no convincing tension. The ship’s bartender alludes to the boys that Mariner (Tawny Newsome) might be a black-ops spy in their midst who uses her freewheeling attitude to cover up her missions, which is preposterous because we have now spent a season and a half getting to know Mariner in detail. For that matter, so have Rutherford and Boimler. So when the nervous pair start to seriously entertain the idea that Mariner might have a secret agenda, it stinks of poor characterization for this point in the series, like this was a scrapped plot idea from Season One that was somehow rushed into production for Season Two. The boys’ flailing through the jungle does yield a pretty funny gag about mugato mating, but it’s a short-lived high point in an episode that feels insulting to audience intelligence.
Tendi’s (Noël Wells) B-plot is a bit more interesting, but it’s so truncated that it almost feels like an afterthought. Her routine mission to gather tricorder scan physicals from a resistant crew gives way to some pretty good sight gags and ends on a fun turn, but it doesn’t feel substantial as a character arc, nor does the comedy escalate as much more than a grab bag of amusing goofs.
In fact, “Mugato, Gamato” feels like a grab bag in and of itself, a smattering of undercooked ideas that are flung together in a room-temperature gumbo. Not every episode can be a winner, but this fourth episode feels like a dangerous portent for the season to come when two of its three predecessors were only marginally less underwhelming. One can only hope that exploring new dynamics within the cast doesn’t have to come at the cost of high-concept adventures, surprising and witty jokes, and plot points that do more than pay lip service to Star Trek’s golden era.
Leigh Monson has been a professional film critic and writer for six years, with bylines at Birth.Movies.Death., SlashFilm and Polygon. Attorney by day, cinephile by night and delicious snack by mid-afternoon, Leigh loves queer cinema and deconstructing genre tropes. If you like insights into recent films and love stupid puns, you can follow them on Twitter.
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