Star Trek: Lower Decks

"The Spy Humongous"

2.5 stars

Air date: 9/16/2021
Written by John Cochran
Directed by Bob Suarez

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Any day now, Captain Freeman is going to get that big break that will earn her a promotion off the Cerritos — but, okay, probably not. With that perpetually confident look of swagger on her face, I feel bad that she's convinced herself she's going to impress bosses that don't care. This week she's assigned to a diplomatic mission to engage the Pakleds on their homeworld (which, appropriately prosaically, is called "Pakled Planet") and finds herself in the middle of a planetary power struggle. Meanwhile, a Pakled beams aboard the Cerritos and requests asylum, but is very clearly actually a spy trying to get information. The crew decides to go along with it to see what happens. If you thought the twist would be the Pakled is smarter than he looks, then you would be wrong, because the twist is that there is no twist.

There's often something dumb at the core of a Lower Decks episode that proves to be its own undoing because of the sheer obviousness of it all, and this week it's the Pakleds, who continue to be too dumb to live and yet are essentially treated as this series' primary nemesis. Their speech patterns remind me of the 1980s Dinobots ("Me Grimlock!"), and they inexplicably keep referring to Freeman as "Janeway," as if they got the meta memo that Janeway was the only other woman captain to lead a Trek series up to this point in the timeline. Okay, we get it. It's not especially funny, but sure, fine.

Meanwhile, the Lower Deckers are on anomaly collection duty, i.e., bizarro trash day, cleaning out all the weird sci-fi stuff that has accumulated on the ship. It's not a bad low-stakes subplot for driving some jokes, and it's well-suited to animation. Tendi tries to put a positive spin on this garbage duty, much to Mariner's and Rutherford's constant annoyance ... until, that is, she gets eaten and excreted by a screaming slime snail, which changes her mind.

The main character core is actually pretty decent, emerging when another set of pompous, ambitious ensigns (who have unwisely named themselves "the Redshirts") try to recruit Boimler into their supposedly elite group because they see untapped potential in him since he briefly served on the Titan. They give him a makeover and try to convince him that his friends are losers who are holding him back from promotion. When Tendi gets rage-induced into turning into a giant scorpion and goes rampaging through the ship, Boimler has to de-Hulk her by publicly embarrassing himself for her amusement in front of his new so-called friends. It's a decent arc about friendship and loyalty that plays to this show's strengths. But is it enough to carry the episode?

I dunno. Humor is subjective, but laughing so rarely at Lower Decks made me again wonder what it is about this show that doesn't work for me as comedy. What does work for me as comedy in this (sort of) genre? Well, South Park, for starters, because it's sharp and savage. Lower Decks is trying to stake out something gentler and more sincere. In that wheelhouse I always cite Parks and Recreation. Lower Decks is just too much into meta-references and Star Trek homage-paying to focus on developing really good character jokes. And as a Star Trek show, it's usually too irreverent to work as pure adventure or philosophy. It occupies a middle ground of compromises that can be difficult to pull off.

"The Spy Humongous" is dumb fun that's more dumb than fun, but it's not a bad way to waste 30 minutes. I did laugh at the idea of "prank-calling Armus," because that's a good concept for a joke; Armus deserves a taunt like that. But then the way the joke itself plays out is just lackluster. The idea of it is better than the actual execution of it. That's Lower Decks in a nutshell.

Previous episode: An Embarrassment of Dooplers
Next episode: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie

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13 comments on this post

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Mac
Thu, Sep 16, 2021, 10:40am (UTC -5)
I thought this was a great episode. I thought the trash collection antics were really fun. The Pakleds were hilarious. I think Boimler got some good character development. And Captain Freeman was used really well in this episode.
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Karl Zimmerman
Thu, Sep 16, 2021, 1:16pm (UTC -5)
Not a bad episode, but not quite as amazing as last week. As per usual with Lower Decks, I simply don't find the jokes to be all that funny, but the character work is pretty great.

This was the first true Boimler episode, insofar as it treated Boimler not as a punching bag for Mariner, but as his own character with independent agency. His experience with the "red shirts" told us something important about him - he might be eager to impress, but even he has his limits, and he's much more concerned with doing the right thing and helping his friends when push comes to shove. I'm not entirely sure if this is supposed to show his character growth across the show, or to reveal who he has been all along, but either way it works quite well here.

The B plot of the episode was basically about Tendi, allowing Rutherford and Mariner to needle her a bit about her perpetually chipper demeanor. Again, this was a step forward, as like Boimler she ultimately is shown to not just be a cartoon character.

The Pakled stuff was basically C-plot fare to keep the bridge crew busy. It was...fine. Jokes didn't land with me, but I was entertained. I think the issue I have with the Lower Decks humor is it tends to be fairly predictable, while gut-busting humor tends to be more absurdist things that come out of nowhere.
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Yanks
Thu, Sep 16, 2021, 6:02pm (UTC -5)
I'm about Pakled'd out. Each time "we" go there I wish we hadn't more. IMO they could have stopped at the end of last season with them.

I did enjoy the pace.

The Boimler plot was OK with the Redshirts. Nice to see him come to his senses at the end, help Tendi and return to his friends.

Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford going around picking up the bridge crew's trash was funny at times. Anything with Tendi is a plus for me.

Captain Janeway from the Enterprise on the planet was kind of blah... I did like how she out-spied the spy.

I enjoyed it and will watch it again tonight. The Armus bit was pretty funny at the end. They tuned down the easter eggs big time this week.

A notch down from last week.

2.5 stars.
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Joseph B
Fri, Sep 17, 2021, 1:40am (UTC -5)
I actually laughed several times during this ep. The Pakleds always crack me up; and Boimler‘s antics with the BEM near the end were easy triggers. Bonus laughs every time “Captain Janeway” was mentioned.

But the highlight of the ep for me was seeing the good ole’ bridge of the Enterprise D again! It looked fantastic! I don’t suppose we could have a show centered on that? Nah …
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Tim C
Fri, Sep 17, 2021, 6:28am (UTC -5)
A mostly inoffensive episode, but it's probably the one that's made me laugh the least since the premiere. As Karl Zimmerman mentioned above, the character work was above-average, which pulls it just out of the two-star midrange for me.

I've been thinking about why it is that I like Lower Decks but don't *love* it the way that some of the fandom has, and this episode highlighted some of the roadblocks for me. I feel like a have a long, boring essay about the show brewing, but I'll save it for a night when I don't have the new UHD remasters of the OG Trek movies waiting for me. For now, I'm gonna go get drunk(er) and enjoy The Motionless Picture in Dolby Vision.

God, I can't wait for this interminable pandemic to end. (Sydney-based Australian here, well into the third month of delta-variant lockdown.)
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Chrome
Fri, Sep 17, 2021, 8:10am (UTC -5)
It's these kind of episodes that I find the hardest to write about. Nothing bad, nothing amazing either. It's also a series codifier, where the cast confirms (for the 20th time this season?) that doing grunt work is special in its own way. That said, I did like the scene where Ransom gave Boimler due credit and deflated the status of an "Acting Captain". And the animation for each of the anomalies was creative and fun enough to keep us watching.

The Pakleds are one-note characters and while Lower Decks could have developed them further here, they chose to maintain their status as the joke villains of a mediocre episode of TNG. I wasn't really expecting much from them, but watching these monotonous dumb jokes makes me wish they'd hurry up and reveal the puppetmaster who's pulling the Pakled's strings.

Karl Zimmerman wrote:
'I think the issue I have with the Lower Decks humor is it tends to be fairly predictable, while gut-busting humor tends to be more absurdist things that come out of nowhere."

Totally. I got way more out of Mariner's line about "feeding Boimler to an Armus" last season than actually seeing Armus get pranked called here.
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Raphael
Fri, Sep 17, 2021, 11:57am (UTC -5)
To be honest, Lower Deck is my favorite Trek of this era. It is childish and without much ambition but the jokes are less vulgar than on the Orville and strangely it feels like genuine trek.
The time space continuum is not threatened every week and saved in the last 5 minutes of the episode or worst after 7 hours of useless (phaser) fights and drama but we get to see something new every week about the federation. Even in a satire, your not far away from the truth and life without the threat of poverty would probably be a bit silly...
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Bok R'Mor
Fri, Sep 17, 2021, 12:57pm (UTC -5)
Slapstick nonsense with some real heart - as usual. The mostly touching friendship and camaraderie between and among Tendi, Mariner, Rutherford and Boimler continues to work successfully amidst the madcap, well, cartoonishness of the rest of the show. The Tendi/Boimler angle this week was nice, and I liked how Tendi is genuinely excited by the (very Trekkian) science and exploration opportunities afforded her on the Cerritos. Tendi is the standout character for me.

As so often with LD, however, the problem is not its Trekkian heart, but its jarring execution. The achingly contemporary language that will age by next year, or the tedious *bleeping* swearing - particularly excessive in this episode - which still seems out of place in Trek, and the constant puerile double entendres that aren't even funny. Then we have simple silliness in the service of an attempt at visual comedy, such as the idea that there's a souvenir shop on a Starfleet ship. Absurd.

Nevertheless, the humour *can* work: I smirked at 'the Redshirts - we're invincible' speech (obvious, but worth it), and the idea of a Pakled spy, who then floats past the viewscreen having mistaken an airlock for (yes, puerile again) a toilet. And Freeman being mistaken for Janeway.

All in all, not bad. I'll watch next week.
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Jeffery's Tube
Sat, Sep 18, 2021, 6:12pm (UTC -5)
I am entertained by most episodes of Lower Decks while finding them mildly or only somewhat amusing. One or two of the jokes per episode might get an actual laugh out of me--and that doesn't mean I don't frequently enjoy and approve of the jokes, just that they don't make me actually laugh out loud. I recognize that I'm kind of a "hard nut to crack" when it comes to comedy, though.

That said, this episode "got" me several times--more than any other episode this season so far. The Pakled homeworld being called "Pakled Planet." The slug that swallowed Tendi screaming for no damn reason. "This is a STARship, not a FRIENDship." And of course, the Pakled spy casually floating by in space in the viewport in the background while Ransom and co. are frantically looking for him.

This one's my favorite of the season so far. Humor's highly individualized, of course, but to me, this one was actually funny. Just sayin'.
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Latex Zebra
Mon, Sep 20, 2021, 3:58am (UTC -5)
Lower Decks continues to entertain. Yes some of the trash antics was a little OTT and silly, but it was also funny. The Pakled spy cracked me up. In fact the Pakled's as a whole were a constant source of amusement.
The Redshirt thing was well done as well.
Solid 3.
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Jammer
Mon, Sep 20, 2021, 5:15pm (UTC -5)
Review now posted.
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Tom
Mon, Sep 20, 2021, 9:13pm (UTC -5)
Jammer's right, Lower Decks has been disappointingly tame. I get the sense the writers have one hand tied behind their back, so most of the stuff that could be said, can't be said. Even the Orville is allowed to be more risqué, though not nearly enough imo. Now, a South Park in space... that is something I would get behind.
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Episodenull
Tue, Sep 21, 2021, 2:54pm (UTC -5)
2.5 stars? Man, Jammer is a tough crowd.

I found this episode delightful. The Pakleds' idiocy never fails to make me laugh, which I think is where the breakdown happens between people who like this stuff and people who don't: if you find this stuff funny, you don't care if it's obvious or not.

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