Star Trek: Lower Decks

"Mugato, Gumato"

2.5 stars

Air date: 9/2/2021
Written by Ben Rodgers
Directed by Jason Zurek

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Mugato, Gumato" continues this season's trend of being generally more laid-back (aside from the season premiere) and less anarchic than much of season one. That's in its favor. Unfortunately, I didn't laugh very much, and the low-stakes nature of the episode somehow ultimately works against it. There's a fine line between "laid-back" and "who cares." I'm not sure exactly what I'm expecting out of this series, but these shoestring plots are too low a bar to give this show a pass.

The Cerritos is assigned to "animal control" to investigate the presence of a mugato, which is basically a giant white gorilla with a horn, on a planet it's not indigenous to. Upon beaming down, the away team learns the mugatos are being harvested by the Ferengi, who appear with their electrified whips for the first time since their initial appearance in "The Last Outpost." Lower Decks enjoys reminding us of all the Trek mistakes previous producers would've preferred to retcon from the franchise through our collective agreement to forget. Another example: the anbo-jyutsu combat in the cold open, not seen since Riker worked out his daddy issues in "The Icarus Factor," which I somehow gave three stars. Yet another example: the titular creature's oft-mispronunciation and the title of the episode, which require a deep dive into the truly esoteric to appreciate.

All this is well and good, but I happen to believe a story needs to survive on the textual level as well as the metatextual one — something I'm not sure this series fully buys into. The Ferengi stuff and the planet-bound adventure feel like bareboned off-the-shelf plot parts. The entire away team, minus Boimler and Rutherford, gets captured. So it's up to B&R to save the day. (First they're helped by a renowned biologist named Patingi, an expert on the mugatos, whose head is bitten off by a mugato immediately after he's introduced. This is mildly amusing as a joke, but narratively cul-de-sac-y. I suppose it's a very short cul-de-sac.) Your mileage may vary on the mugato sex-and-watching romp; this feels like the biggest go-for-it joke in the episode, but my reaction was ... shrug.

More valuable here is the exploration of the bartender telling B&R that Mariner is actually an undercover Starfleet black ops officer, which would explain why she's so good at ass-kicking, among other things, like why she has bounced around so many assignments for so many years. (For that matter, why does she have a different last name than her parents? I don't believe this question has been asked before, and nor is it here.) Unfortunately, what could've provided some interesting backstory is instead mostly (over)played at the sitcom level, where Boimler and Rutherford become terrified of Mariner, what with her stabbing and biting Shaxs in a transparently contrived misunderstanding to be cleared up later. This resolves as "Mariner made up the rumor herself for convoluted friendship reasons," which is a disappointment. I was genuinely hoping for some sort of useful revelation to fill in some gaps in Mariner's past and maybe shake up the status quo, but we don't get them.

In the B-plot, Tendi tries to develop her assertiveness, and is assigned by T'Ana to track down officers who have been avoiding their routine physical exams. She does this in a montage that proves if there's one thing about not getting a physical in Starfleet, claiming it's because you don't have time is beyond ridiculous. One mysterious officer on the list is identified only as a serial number. I was hoping it might be Mariner and connect to her alleged black-ops past in some way, but, no — it's actually T'Ana. ("You want me to see a doctor? I am the doctor!") Tendi has to chase T'Ana around the ship, with T'Ana frequently going into cat mode. This is okay sitcom fodder, nothing more.

In the C-plot, Freeman gets conned by a captain who stages the destruction of his own ship to make it look like the Cerritos is responsible so he can extort Freeman into giving him a shuttle and a bunch of other crap. This okay sitcom fodder, nothing more. (Noticing a trend?)

I did appreciate that the solution to the main plot has Boimler and Rutherford playing to their strengths as negotiators rather than action heroes, and convincing the Ferengi to turn their poaching operation into a conservation mission as an avenue to long-term profit. That's not a bad use of characters, ideas, and the setup material from the negotiation game earlier in the episode. So, not too shabby there. Much better than the obvious alternative of a stupid jail-break action sequence.

Bottom line: This is fine, but I can't quite recommend it. Lower Decks seems to put an awful lot of work into mining the Trekkian library in order to insert every Easter egg it logically can into a storyline. That's not an awful aspiration at the nerdy meta level, and I appreciate the effort. But I wish this show would put more effort into the more important task of keeping our interest at the basic story level.

Previous episode: We'll Always Have Tom Paris
Next episode: An Embarrassment of Dooplers

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20 comments on this post

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Barristan
Thu, Sep 2, 2021, 2:20am (UTC -5)
So far the cold opens this season are the best part of the episodes. Anbo-jitsu (not how it's spelled, apparently, but oh well!) was a great deep cut, and Shax politely waiting till their time was up while Mariner beat the tar out of them was hilarious.

Rest of the episode was... meh? "Last Outpost"-style Ferengi indeed. The meta joke doesn't make it less lazy or weird to use them as such simplistic villains at this point. And the Mariner "black ops" mystery was unconvincing and ignored the characters' friendships. Even Boimler and Rutherford aren't that gullible.

I hope they find more of a way to milk humour and suspense out of actual character development, like they did with Mariner's secret parentage back in season 1.

Still entertaining, but hopefully the season will get stronger as it goes on!
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Tim C
Thu, Sep 2, 2021, 6:35am (UTC -5)
So, look. When it comes to comedy, I appreciate a well-delivered subtle joke just as much as the next person who likes to think they're above your lowest-common-denominator dick and fart jokes. But the Mugato mating scene, replete with ecstatic monster faces, different positions, and then a third who just wanted to watch and jack his horn...

...well, dammit, Lower Decks, you made me laugh the hardest you ever have. I genuinely lost my shit. For that I award you four stars and bless you.

The rest of the episode continued season two's trend of being a far more relaxed show than season one. Less flop sweat and more genuine situational comedy. I was particularly fond of the running gag of mispronouncing Mugato and also got a big kick out of Shaxs constantly tasting the dung.

No duds this season yet, show! Keep it up.
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Jeffery's Tube
Thu, Sep 2, 2021, 9:59am (UTC -5)
Can I just say how much I appreciate that, right as I've been driving myself crazy trying to figure out what the Mariner character's backstory is, the show recognizes that a lot of its viewers would be doing exactly that at this point, and does a whole episode about it? Haha.

Listen, I think she actually does have a black ops past. Her denials weren't very convincing, were they? Boimler and Rutherford are gullible, but her dialogue delivery really came off like she was lying through her teeth to me. It's exactly--and I mean exactly--how an ex-Black Ops agent who can't talk about her past would play it if she came under such suspicion from a Boimler and a Rutherford as she did in this episode.

But I don't think she's lying about who she is now. I don't think she's faking her behavior and personality as a cover and still doing Black Ops stuff. I think she's exactly what I thought she was last week--a Wesley Crusher (daughter of two flag officers, grew up on starships, started piloting the ship at 12 and joined up at 16 or whatever, super-achiever, etc) who did Black Ops stuff during the Dominion War, lost her rosy-colored view of Starfleet and now just wants to coast and float through her service with the least amount of responsibility she can have.

Really enjoyed the Mugato pronunciation jokes throughout the episode. If I'm remembering right, that's because Kelley said Gumato in one of his lines in that episode and no one caught it, haha. That's a real deep cut right there. And it's funny even if you don't know that little tidbit of Star Trek history. I really appreciate what big fans the writers of the show must be to constantly be throwing in such obscure and esoteric references--while also not lazily relying on them to make the jokes work.
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Tim C
Thu, Sep 2, 2021, 5:52pm (UTC -5)
Jeffrey's Tube - even more amusingly, DeForest Kelley was pronouncing the name *correctly* in the take where he says "gumato"! It's how it was originally written in the script, but he kept saying it as "mugato" so they just changed it. It's still listed in the end credits of the ep as "gumato".
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Jeffery's Tube
Thu, Sep 2, 2021, 8:17pm (UTC -5)
@ Tim C

Ha! I didn't know THAT! Pretty funny. "Mugato" sounds way better than "gumato" anyway--or at least it sounds more like a dangerous animal rather than a garnish for your soup, haha.
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Yanks
Fri, Sep 3, 2021, 8:56am (UTC -5)
Well, the pronunciation story is that the creature was named "Gumato" originally, and Kelly couldn't pronounce it so they changed it to "Mugato", then Shatner and Kelly both pronounced it "Mugatu" and it stuck.

This is the worst episode of LD yet for me. I guess humor is relative. I thought the whole Mugatu making out with one watching and jerking off his horn was "too far", certainly not needed, and not funny.

I don't think Mariner is or was black ops. I think she was just feeding the rumor mill as we saw at the end of the episode. I could be wrong of course.

The Tendi "B" plot was OK, but nothing special. The "A" plot was about the same. Nice to see Rutherford and Boimler team-up.

Keeping up with the easter eggs was easier this time as they've slowed down the pace a bit.

1.5 stars from me. No need to go down 'The Orville' route for comedy. I never thought I'd end up going below 2 stars while watching this.
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Jammer
Fri, Sep 3, 2021, 9:25am (UTC -5)
Review now posted.
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Bok R'Mor
Fri, Sep 3, 2021, 10:23am (UTC -5)
Didn't enjoy this as much as the previous two episodes, and didn't find it particularly funny (although the hamming up of T'Ana's feline qualities continues to entertain), but decent enough.

Nice to see anbo-jyutsu again, Ferengi using whips (although the *actual mention* by Mariner of 'Last Outpost' was excessive), and the usual parade of other references. For instance, I noticed what looked like a TOS-era retro imagining of the California class as a model on Freeman's ready room shelf. The attention to detail on LD is astounding. Top marks.
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KiddMarine
Fri, Sep 3, 2021, 10:47am (UTC -5)
Just FYI Jammer, we saw the Ferengi energy whip in ENT: Acquisition. How could you forget such a great episode! /jk

This has been your daily nerdy correction.
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Keith R.A. DeCandido
Fri, Sep 3, 2021, 10:30pm (UTC -5)
Just FYI, the doctor is named T'Ana, not D'Ana.

---KRAD
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Q
Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 7:16am (UTC -5)
I watched this episode on a day I took my cat to the vet, so the Tendi plot was soooooo relatable.
Otherwise an average episode.
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SC
Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 9:08am (UTC -5)
RE: your review Jammer. This is supposed to be an animated sitcom version of Trek! I don't think you're gonna get more than that. This isn't the show to do complex plots with morality issues, big though-provoking stuff. We'll leave that to, ah I was gonna say Discovery but we all know that would be a lie!
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Chrome
Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 10:13am (UTC -5)
This was the weakest of the season so far for me as well. The A plot is your typical sitcom farce: What if everyone thought Mariner was a covert assassin? This idea had potential if it were played for some light-hearted comedy, but the idea that Mariner’s own friends would suddenly turn on her on real mission with little evidence to back the farce seemed really ridiculous.

I did like the ending which involved a non-violent solution that drew on the strengths of Rutherford and Boimler. It’s often fun to see people beating the Ferengi at their own bargaining game, though the effort to get to that point was plodding at times. I enjoyed the B plot with Tendi as it continued the arc from last episode of her striving in her medical career.

“This is supposed to be an animated sitcom version of Trek! I don't think you're gonna get more than that.”

Sure, but there are different levels of quality even among sitcoms. Should we accept “Full House” from these writers or could we hope for an episode of “Frasier”? In the end this is Star Trek, so it’s fair to have high expectations.
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Jammer
Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 3:46pm (UTC -5)
@KRAD: Oops. Fixed. Thanks.
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DataMat
Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 8:46pm (UTC -5)
Just seems stupid this series, the hyper humour does turn me off. Kind of seems strange that Star Wars does Trek better in animation than actual Trek does.

Prodigy might hopefully be my cup of tea so hope ring's eternal I guess.
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Tim C
Sat, Sep 4, 2021, 10:11pm (UTC -5)
SC, I don't think the fact that Lower Decks is a half-hour sitcom necessarily precludes it from giving us interesting plots with dramatic weight. There were a number of interesting plot ideas in the first season that could have easily been spun into full length episodes of the live-action shows.

Barebones plot structures like in this particular episode are fine, but if they're going to go that route then the episode needs to be *hilarious*, not just gently amusing, in order to justify its existence. Personally I think this was the funniest episode of the show since "Crisis Point", but as evidenced by Jammer's review and the comments here, humour is wildly subjective.

Overall, I'm finding myself enjoying season 2 more than I did season 1 but still don't think the show is "appointment television". Hopefully the writers will swing for the fences a little more in the back half of the season.
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Shasarak
Sun, Sep 5, 2021, 4:12am (UTC -5)
This show still suffers from the basic problem of being a comedy which simply isn't funny enough. It is possible for a show to survive on pure insanity - Rick and Morty being an archetypal example - but even there the gags have their own internal logic and flow reasonably from the characters and the situation. LD has calmed down a little from season 1, but it still too often presents us with something that has the recognisable structure of a joke, and is delivered like a joke, but somehow doesn't actually raise a laugh.

I also have to wonder if there are really enough hard-core Star Trek nerds in the world to make it advisable to pitch a TV show primarily at them. Even people familiar enough with TOS to know what a mugato is won't necessarily be nerdy enough to understand the running gag about multiple pronunciations.

That said, there was one visual gag here that I enjoyed. When Boimler and Rutherford come bursting into the Ferengi compound, the audience is obviously being led to believe that they're there to fight, with the pay-off being that they're actually there to negotiate - a good gag, because it is both unexpected, and completely in character, both for the heroes and for the Ferengi. The initial mislead is backed up by Rutherford carrying something that is clearly inspired by Kirk's improvised bamboo cannon in TOS:Arena, but which turns out actually to be an improvised *projector* for giving a futuristic PowerPoint presentation.

We need more of that kind of thing and fewer masturbating mugatos.
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Yanks
Sun, Sep 5, 2021, 10:11am (UTC -5)
@Shasarak

"We need more of that kind of thing and fewer masturbating mugatos."

Seconded.
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Bok R'Mor
Sun, Sep 5, 2021, 10:23am (UTC -5)
@Shasarak, @Yanks

Agreed. The latter scene was glaringly and uncomfortably peurile.
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Chris Lopes
Tue, Sep 7, 2021, 11:17pm (UTC -5)
"We need more of that kind of thing and fewer masturbating mugatos."

That's not a phase I ever thought would have to be uttered.

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