Behold the Mistress of the Winter Constellations! — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”

It’s all status-quo-restoration all the time! I had been afraid that the second season would twist itself into a pretzel to restore the status quo, and while they did to an extent, they did at least some of it in a way that is hilarious and perfect for Lower Decks. Unfortunately, there are other elements of the story that make for a good sitcom plot, but don’t actually work in any kind of Star Trek context.

So about like usual for LD, truly…

SPOILERS AHOY!

Okay, let’s start with the good stuff. In the mess hall, Rutherford is shocked to see that Shaxs, who sacrificed his life to save Rutherford (and the ship), is back from the dead! Rutherford is stunned, but Mariner and Boimler are much more blasé about it. “Bridge officers are always coming back from the dead.” And apparently, it’s very much a faux pas to ask formerly deceased bridge officers how they came back from the dead. Rutherford wants very much to find out how it happened, but when Lieutenant Cody does so, Billups angrily kicks him out of engineering for reassignment.

However, Rutherford is a big ol’ nerd, and is also carrying around a ton of guilt over the circumstances of Shaxs’ death, so he finally asks—still wanting to know even after Shaxs gives him a warning. You see, the bridge crew don’t share that sort of thing with lower decks folk, not because they’re jerks (Mariner’s theory), but to protect them from horrible knowledge they might not be able to handle. Sure enough, Rutherford is pretty stunned by what Shaxs tells him. (Off camera, of course.)

This is the sort of thing that LD does really well: take one of Trek’s many lazy-writing, realities-of-television-induced clichés and hang a lantern on it and make fun of it. The fact that so many characters have come back from the dead is a particularly tired Trek cliché, but since it’s a reality of the universe, I love the way this episode just casually has Shaxs back on board.

Best of all: MORE SHAXS! I love Shaxs…

In addition, we get a pairing that we’ve never actually seen on the show before: Mariner and Tendi. And the story is about how it’s a pairing we’ve never actually seen before, which is, again, the perfect meta commentary. T’Ana is cranky and irritable and her fur is a mess, and she assigns Tendi to go to Qualor II to fetch a family heirloom from a storage unit there.

Star Trek: Lower Decks "We'll Always Have Tom Paris"

Image: CBS

This plot works nicely, though it once again proves that Mariner is an awful person. Mariner and Tendi get into all kinds of trouble, and every single bit of it is Mariner’s fault. If Tendi had asked Rutherford to go with her, it all would’ve gone smoothly.

From a character perspective, this plotline is beautiful. Even though they’ve served together for over a year and been hanging out in the mess hall together and so on, they don’t really know each other. Mariner had no idea that Tendi even has a first name (it’s D’Vana) or that she’s into Klingon acid punk music, while Tendi had no idea that Mariner had a lengthy career in Starfleet before serving on the Cerritos, nor that she has a thing for bad boys. (Tendi assumed Mariner was interested in Boimler, to which Mariner responds with a lengthy “ooh ick” tirade.)

The actual story progression is a tired sitcom plot of cascading disasters, but my main issue is how it starts: Mariner being awful. She insists on opening the large box, which has a Caitian Libido Post inside it. And of course, they break it when trying to put it back.

Mariner being Mariner, she has a friend at the Bonestell Recreation Facility who can fix it, but to pay him, they have to hustle some Nausicaans at dom-jot. Said Nausicaans accuse them of cheating, and run them off the planet. So they go to one of Tendi’s cousins in a pirate enclave, where we find out that Tendi has a past. She assumes a very dominant affect with the cousin, insulting him, kicking him, and ordering him around. He gleefully does so, referring to her as the Mistress of the Winter Constellations, an appellation Tendi is horribly embarrassed by and is only using because she doesn’t want to screw up her mission for T’Ana. This leads to a running firefight when it’s discovered that Mariner (who’s been spray-painted green) isn’t a real Orion. Amid shouts of “FALSE GREEN!” they chase both of them offworld.

Defeated, they head back to the Cerritos, where Mariner rams the ship with the shuttle (it bounces off the shields, doing no damage), saying there was a bee in her eye, which gives Tendi cover to say why the Libido Post was broken. Except, of course, T’Ana doesn’t care about the Post. Like any good cat, she cares more about the box it came in, and climbing into it makes her feel so much better. So Mariner winds up in the brig for ramming the ship, which she did for nothing. But hey, she and Tendi got to bond!

And then we have the titular plotline involving Boimler and a visiting Tom Paris (voiced, of course, by Robert Duncan McNeill), which is pretty much a disaster.

Star Trek: Lower Decks "We'll Always Have Tom Paris"

Image: CBS

We start with Ensign Boimler back on the Cerritos and right there we have our first problem: Boimler’s a lieutenant junior-grade. Yes, he was transporter-duplicated on Titan, but his promotion came ages before that. There is no reason, none, for him to be demoted. In fact, there’s every reason for him to be promoted, what with having saved the away team’s lives and all.

Even if you keep him at lieutenant, there are fun story possibilities here, which are ignored, because the status quo is being hammered back into place, and not to humorous effect (like Shaxs being back from the dead), but just because they want to restore the old dynamic. If that’s the case, you never should’ve promoted Boimler in the first place…

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.

This is yet another example of taking a 21st-century office plot—the transfer hasn’t made its way through the computer system yet, an issue that truly most of the people watching the show can empathize with—and crowbarring it unconvincingly into Star Trek. I just didn’t buy that any Starfleet vessel would behave like that short of a major malfunction.

Which is too bad because the other aspect of Boimler’s plot—he has a full set of Voyager commemorative plates, and Paris’ is the only one that isn’t autographed—is hilarious. Because the doors won’t let him in, he’s reduced to crawling through the Jefferies Tubes to get to the bridge, but he has all sorts of issues getting there, including hallucinating the plate talking to him at one point. That bit is funny as all get out (indeed, was my favorite part of the season two trailer a few months back), it’s just getting there that doesn’t work.

This show still has the same problem it had last season: when it’s a Star Trek comedy, it works. When it’s a 21st-century office sitcom transplanted onto a starship, it doesn’t. I was hoping season two would fix that issue. Sigh.

Star Trek: Lower Decks "We'll Always Have Tom Paris"

Image: CBS

Random thoughts:

  • T’Ana is established as being a Caitian, a word that has never been spoken on screen before. While the character of M’Ress from the animated series has always been assumed to be a Caitian (based on the Lincoln Enterprises-published biography of her in 1974), that word was never used in the series, nor have any of the other felinoids we’ve seen (The Final Frontier, the 2009 Star Trek) been identified onscreen as Caitians—until now, anyhow. Now if we can just establish whether or not Arex was an Edoan, an Edosian, or a Triexian…
  • Boimler and Mariner provide an impressive laundry list of ways Shaxs could’ve come back from the dead: a “transporter pattern-buffer thing” (Picard in “Lonely Among Us“), a restored katra (Spock in The Search for Spock), revived by the Genesis device (ditto), a “Mirror Universe switcheroo” (Georgiou in “What’s Past is Prologue“), rebuilt by the Borg (Neelix in “Mortal Coil“), a future offspring from an alternate timeline (Yar/Sela in the “Redemptiontwo-parter), and trapped in the Nexus (Kirk in Generations).
  • There’s a Quark’s Bar on Qualor II, which continues the Secret Hideout shows’ establishing that, post-DS9, Quark’s has become a franchise. (There’s also a Quark’s in Stardust City.) In addition, Vic Fontaine is advertised as performing on Qualor II.
  • Qualor II was established in TNG‘s “Unificationtwo-parter as, among other things, the home of a supply depot.
  • Interestingly enough, despite the apparent resurrection of Shaxs, Kayshon’s still on the bridge. He doesn’t have any dialogue—which is disappointing, it would’ve been amusing to have him converse with Paris in Tamarian metaphor—but I’m glad he’s still around. Let’s hope they do more with him after his disappointing intro last week.
  • When Tendi mentions that T’Ana’s probably in some manner of heat, she likens it to Vulcan pon farr, with this show making the mistake that lots of tie-in writers have made over the years, acting like the pon farr is common knowledge.
  • The Bonestell Recreation Facility on Starbase Earhart is where Picard, Batanides, and Zweller went to hang out after graduating the Academy waiting for their first deep-space assignments, as established in TNG’s “Tapestry.” Mariner and Tendi playing dom-jot against cranky Nausicaans was a tribute to that episode, where Zweller hustled the Nausicaans and accused him of cheating. The ensuing fight resulted in Picard being stabbed through the heart, which is why he had an artificial one.
  • The Orions were established in the original series as pirates in “The Cage,” and seen thusly in “Journey to Babel” on the original series. That first pilot also established that Orion women are sexy as hell, seen again in “Whom Gods Destroy.” The Enterprise episode “Bound” turned it on its ear, showing that Orion women actually control things with their nasty pheromones. Tendi has fought back against the Orion stereotypes, but this episode shows that she has a more complicated background than expected.
  • In an obvious dig at Discovery and their “DISCO” T-shirts, Boimler refers to Paris’ former ship as “Voy.” I laughed my ass off at that one, and I say that as someone who is the proud owner of my own DISCO T-shirt…
  • FALSE GREEN!
  • Apparently, Mariner served on Deep Space 9 at one point, and broke Worf’s mek’leth. But she fixed it without his knowing about it, supposedly.
  • Okay, they’re releasing a Tom Paris commemorative dish, which will go nicely with all those TNG commemorative dishes they did in the 1990s, nostalgia for which reportedly motivated Boimler’s plotline. But the piece of merchandising I really want to see from this episode is an album of Klingon acid punk, please and thank you.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is also writing about Tom Paris a lot in his rewatch of Star Trek: Voyager, which appears on this site every Monday and Thursday.

citation

Back to the top of the page

35 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.