For the first time since this season started, I’m actually excited to see where things go from here.
- Anomaly containment duty is hilarious and a great avenue for contrasting Mariner and Tendi.
- Boimler gets to finally show off some character growth.
- I'm starting to love the Pakleds as the series villain.
- Rutherford is sidelined a little bit.
This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Check out our last review here.
Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. In an animated sci-fi comedy, there really isn’t a better premise to let your animators run wild than having your characters inspect weird alien artifacts with unpredictable outcomes, as it allows for any number of bizarre, high-concept scenarios that are good for a quick laugh and just as quickly moved on from. “The Spy Humongous” would be a pretty good episode of Lower Decks even if it just stuck to the sight-gag shenanigans of Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), and Tendi (Noël Wells) getting gooped, morphed, and blown up, but it really hits the next level by having exploring the evolving dynamics between our leads.
Mariner and Tendi have already recognized a few episodes back that their relationship is not as deep as they’d each assumed, but this personality conflict shines by putting them in a situation where Tendi’s excited exploration of weird science butts heads against Mariner’s reticence to do anything resembling hard work, making their mutual desire for a more foundational friendship more complicated than they anticipate. (Rutherford’s along for the ride too, though surprisingly on Mariner’s side in this, so it’s nice to see him express attitudes independent from his friendship with Tendi. Also, Cordero’s line read of “I think that’s from the planet where everything evolved all weird” is an all-timer.) This places Tendi in a position where her desire to spend time together as a team is continually shot down, pushing her to become a literal scorpion rage monster after merging with a cosmic cube. Because of course that's what happens. Let's get weird!
Meanwhile, Boimler (Jack Quaid) gets whisked away from his friends by other promotion-minded ensigns, a club hilariously self-proclaimed as the Red Shirts. This is easily the least funny of the episode’s three concurrent sub-plots, but it’s also the most character-driven, as Boimler’s makeover and rousing captainly improv speech sessions show the futility of chasing rank for rank’s sake. It’s a nice demonstration of how Boimler’s perspective has shifted since the beginning of the series, how he’s no longer so entirely focused on hero worship that he doesn’t feel the need to emulate captains like Riker anymore. Instead, he’s able to humiliate himself with the food replicator to placate the rampaging Tendi monster, saving the ship and his friend while the Red Shirts posture and preen for the sake of providing ineffective inspiration. If the show itself can start to emulate Boimler’s evolution beyond adoration for the Star Trek brand, perhaps there’s hope yet for Lower Decks.
In fact, another strength of this episode is in how the bridge crew is utilized in a C-plot parody of a standard Star Trek formula episode. As Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) attempts to negotiate peace with the Pakled homeworld, only to be continually foiled by not encountering a dumb alien with a large enough helmet to authorize a treaty, a stowaway makes their way about the Cerritos to request asylum. However, blunt questions about security procedures and technical specs quickly reveal the asylum seeker to be a spy, one so ineffectual that he blows himself out an airlock he believes to be a toilet. It’s a silly, much-appreciated way to further establish the Pakleds as the comedic antagonists of this series, a foe so stupid that only a ship as unimportant as the Cerritos is up to the task of stopping them. Like everything else in this episode, it feels like a step in the right direction toward establishing Lower Decks’ staying power. For the first time since this season started, I’m actually excited to see where things go from here.
Star Trek: Lower Decks releases new episodes every Thursday on Paramount+.
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