Star Trek: Lower Decks

"We'll Always Have Tom Paris"

3 stars

Air date: 8/26/2021
Written by M. Willis
Directed by Bob Suarez

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"We'll Always Have Tom Paris" is a good, solid, entertaining example of what this show might be in its most sustainable and prototypical episodic form. Although this show has been more insanely inventive in the past, this episode represents the straightforward sweet spot, featuring a series of comic adventures and character-based interactions that are breezy, fun, and mostly unannoying. The fact that it spreads things around across all the major characters is also in its favor.

To be sure, there's no shortage of Trek and fandom references. While these are sometimes too frequent and pushy, and I'm not going to list them, a lot of them work and are worth a laugh or at least a smile. Probably my favorite was Boimler constantly referring to Voyager as "VOY." (Why, how, and who, back in 1995, decided that would be the abbreviation for the show, anyway?) VOY's very own Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill extends the list of ‘90s-era Trek actors to guest on this show) is visiting the Cerritos and Boimler is excited. But of course he would be: He owns the limited-edition Tom Paris collectible plate.

The main plot arises from a personal request to Tendi from Dr. T'Ana, looking more feral than usual. I've barely talked about T'Ana in past reviews, but should probably correct that oversight now, and at least call out how she occupies the ever-crusty ship's physician role in the mold of McCoy and Pulaski (and, to a lesser degree, Voyager's Doc) — rather than, say, Crusher or Bashir. (She's the crusty doc amped up to a factor of about 10.) T'Ana needs a "family heirloom" taken discreetly out of storage from a nearby planet, no questions asked. Tendi and Mariner pair up for the task. Much is made of the fact that Mariner and Tendi have never gone on a mission of their own together ("Girls' trip!"), since this is a show where everything must be commented upon to highlight the writers' self-awareness.

Well, of course everything goes wrong. The "heirloom" is actually a life-sized sex toy (or not, given how things ultimately play out), needed to aid in T'Ana's version of Pon Farr. (I would've referenced Pon Farr even if the episode itself hadn't, but this series feels the need to explicitly call out every piece of source material it borrows from.) But Mariner and Tendi break it, so they then embark on a convoluted journey to repair it, which takes them to Tendi's Orion home colony where she has some connections through some unsavory family members. This is surprisingly well executed from the plot, character, and world-building perspectives. It's fun and light, and I like how the show keeps the stakes relatively low. (There's some subtle dialogue about Mariner's uncomfortableness in going undercover as a green Orion that doesn't feel the need to completely spell itself out as in-universe "problematic." I appreciate the subtlety; this show should try it more often.) The action works effectively as punctuation and plot advancement without hijacking the episode like in last week's "Kayshon." Meanwhile, we have a character core in the analysis of Mariner's and Tendi's friendship, where they discover they're maybe not as close as they thought they were. (Mariner doesn't even know Tendi's first name.)

Woven in here are plots for the other characters. Boimler, newly returned from the Titan, finds he's locked out of most of the ship's systems, including routine things like turbolift doors and food replicators. This leads him to crawl through the bowels of the ship in his attempt to get to the bridge, leading him to get trapped in hopelessly Boimler-esque fashion.

Also, Lt. Shaxs has returned from the dead (!) — with no explanation, because it happened outside the POV of the ensign characters, for whom it's merely an accepted mystery — which drives Rutherford crazy because he wants to know how the man who sacrificed his life to save him has now somehow un-died. (Ultimately, Shaxs reluctantly — and with due warning — gives Rutherford the dark and gritty details of death and un-death, which look likely to keep Rutherford up at night.) In citing all the possible ways a bridge officer could return from the apparent dead, Mariner rattles off a list from the Trek library that makes you realize just how many times this card has been played over the years.

This show features some good and unexpected jokes. One comes when Boimler, after spending hours in the Jeffries tubes, falls disheveled onto the bridge and Paris mistakes him for a Kazon. However, this show also doesn't completely avoid its typical problems. It ventures into Lower Decks Manic Excess when Paris continues to beat on Boimler well after his mistake should've become obvious. This series would be well advised to simply deliver a joke and then stop ("Thank you, good night!"), rather than literally beating its characters (and metaphorically us) over the head in a lame attempt to extend it. You can feel when this show jumps the rails and starts straining, and this is a perfect example.

But that's a minor gripe in the scheme of things. "We'll Always Have Tom Paris" is a step in the right direction for Lower Decks' second season and a good example of what this show can do with straightforward plot execution and sincere attention to characters.

Previous episode: Kayshon, His Eyes Open
Next episode: Mugato, Gumato

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18 comments on this post

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Jeffery's Tube
Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 4:26am (UTC -5)
Wait, so Mariner served on DS9 during the Dominion War? That's . . . a bit hard to reconcile. This whole time I've figured her backstory is that she was basically Wesley. Child prodigy, started serving at sixteen or thereabouts, was the Starfleet wunderkind, then over the last ten years or so she lost her taste for it, starts seeing the seams and cracks in Starfleet and in how they do things and realizes they don't have all the answers about how to live your life, and given how young she was she joined up, that kind of rocked her worldview and her sense of herself and now, in reaction, she's being who we see her being on the show. With the expectation being, of course, that eventually she'll grow up and realize it's her responsibility to make Starfleet (and the universe) better if she feels it's lacking. Because that's what being an adult means.

I guess serving under Sisko during the Dominion War might be harrowing enough to break down that Boimler-like unquestioning belief in Starfleet as the perfect ideal and cause that shift in her. I just don't think the Mariner we see on LD could EVER serve under Sisko. He would straighten her out in five minutes flat. And if she was really such a Starfleet wunderkind--heck, Riker is supposed to have mentored her in the time between the loss of the D and the launch of the E, which would mean DS9 was her next assignment directly after that--it seems strange, given the various situations on the station as a result of the war, that we wouldn't have met her. Not impossible and not inconceivable, but strange.

I don't know, I just think the writers should be careful here. They should have a very good idea of who Mariner is and how she got to be that person, the events and the timeline that shaped her. If instead they think they can just "be funny" by throwing out a ton of different conflicting information about her past that couldn't possibly add up, well, I submit that isn't funny. I want characters who feel like real people at the core of the show, not a collection of characteristics and tropes that they can make stuff up about at the drop of a hat for the sake of a throwaway punchline, ya know? Hard to connect or care about them then. And not that this is how it's been so far, just that I hope they indeed recognize this need and that they're careful.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, wasn't it hinted that Mariner was part of some elite black ops team at some point? I'd have to guess that was during the war. Maybe the team was based at DS9 at the time. So she didn't really serve *on* DS9, but that's what she would tell people. And we didn't see her because she wasn't reporting to the senior staff and wasn't part of that personnel pool, she reported to the team leader instead. Hmmm. I think that would fit.
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Tim C
Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 6:26am (UTC -5)
I think I might start rating LD episodes based on how many times they made me actually laugh out loud rather than just have a knowing smile. They got me three times this episode, all towards the end:

1) Tom Paris saying "A KAZON!" and immediately attacking Boimler

2) Doctor T'ana diving into the box in sheer ecstasy, in typical cat fashion. Almost any joke about her being a cat gets me though. It's low-hanging fruit but I'll allow it

3) Rutherford finding out the true existential, bone-chilling horrors of coming back from the dead and not being able to cope. Much like their take on how ascending into a being of pure energy might actually *really* hurt in the first season, I found this darkly hilarious.

As Jammer noted in the review for last week's episode though, Lower Decks has yet to cement itself as appointment television. I'm glad it exists and I'll definitely keep watching, but for now it's more gently amusing comfort food for Star Trek fans than anything else. I want it to be, and I think it can be, a consistently great comedy for all audiences, but they still haven't found the right gear between *too* manic and not manic *enough*.
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Jammer
Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 12:48pm (UTC -5)
Review now posted.
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Episodenull
Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 1:41pm (UTC -5)
Wow, that review went up fast. Probably an indicator of how much Jammer liked it.

Unfortunately for me, this week's episode cemented that I'm just not feeling this season so far. There's nothing wrong with it, exactly, but it isn't engaging me. It has a lot of good parts, but they don't add up to anything. Season 1 surprised me with how much it (eventually) won me over, particularly the excellent season finale where every sub-plot contributed to an overall theme of trusting people over technology. I was really hoping they'd build on those late season 1 strengths going into season 2, but it all feels kind of limp. In isolation, the Boimler stuff is fine, and the Mariner stuff is also fine, but together I'm not feeling it. And the Shaxs reset button straight pissed me off. It undermined one of the most effective moments of season 1 for the sake of a joke that I just didn't find funny. And an unfunny comedy is basically the worst thing.

I'd like to pull my thoughts together into some grand statement about what Lower Decks is (and isn't,) but like the series itself they feel too random and scattershot.
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Chrome
Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 8:39pm (UTC -5)
Excellent review, Jammer. This one also worked the best for me so far. It's a fun pulpy adventure story in the spirit of some of the best TOS episodes. One of the advantages of animation is you don't need to worry about sets, so you get episodes like this taking place on Qualor II, a starbase, and an Orion pirate outpost without straining budgets. It was almost like something out of Indiana Jones, but the sincere character development among the female cast was enough to keep it grounded.

I'm not a big fan of VOY but I found myself chuckling at its pop culture references here. That our ragtag group of ensigns would look up to Tom Paris as a kindred spirit seems strangely believable.

One thing that threw me off was that I thought for sure there would be some sort of time shenanigans (like the TNG episode "We'll Always Have Paris"). I was waiting for such a phenomenon to explain why Shaxs was brought back to life. But — I can see the funny in bringing him back suddenly with the Lower Deckers out of the loop. It drives the point home that this show isn't about the bridge crew. Instead we see it through the lens of an uninformed junior staff.
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Barristan
Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 10:56pm (UTC -5)
Probably the weakest of the season for me so far. Neither the A or B story grabbed me, and I was really disappointed they brought back Bajoran Worf. I know they were satirizing the Spock/Data/etc. "characters never stay dead" trope, but come on! He got the glorious death Worf always wanted, and I was impressed they were willing to kill off characters in the first place. Having him stick around now feels pretty cheap and underwhelming.

The Tom Paris stuff was amusing (especially "VOY!"), and I liked Boimler's jab "all the way down to Kim." Even after making it back to the Alpha Quadrant, poor Kim is probably STILL an ensign. (Still can't believe he never got promoted despite his seven years of bridge duty, but they loved the status quo way too much on that show.)

And Mariner served on DS9? We need some flashbacks or guest stars stat. Always happy to see the best Trek show get some acknowledgment.
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KiminAsia
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 7:40am (UTC -5)
A few amusing bits. I'm done with LD.
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Andrew Taylor-Cairns
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 8:37am (UTC -5)
This was easily the best episode in season two so far.

Paris mistaking Boimer for a Kazon was hilarious, but I'm still on a high from the T'Ana in the box gag at the end.
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Yanks
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 10:31am (UTC -5)
This show just doesn't miss a beat! Mariner set the tone with her first line.

"What up? .. we doing SCI-FI stuff today?"

I can't wait to see how Mariner got to DS9 and what she did on there.

Nice character piece for Tendi and Mariner. I'm glad they decided to mix up the normal pairings.

Was that actually Robert Duncan McNeill voicing Tom Paris here? It didn't sound like him to me.

Boimler having issues with the ship was funny and I love when he finally made it to the bridge and looked like a Kazon! haha... then Tom give him some Delta Quadrant love ... :-) It's good to have him back on the Cerritos.

Shaxs is "alive"?? haha... interesting how he was changing between different Shax's. ... especially the Neelix one! haha Interesting take on the Lower Decks folks when a member of the bridge crew comes back to life. It will be more interesting to learn what Rutherford has learned about it.

It's all good!! Nothing really to complain about! I think I'll catch a couple of episodes of "VOY" :-)

oh, I loved the Cat/Box thing!

I seriously can't keep up with all the easter eggs ... but I love trying!!

3.5 stars from me!

I couldn't get through this episode last night without it freezing. I tried twice. I checked my download bandwidth and it was good. Did anyone else have any issues with Paramount+?
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Yanks
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 11:52am (UTC -5)
Oh, and Tendi's first name is "D'Vana"!! How could I forget that?!?!?!
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Bok R'Mor
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 2:16pm (UTC -5)
Another delightfully silly and thoroughly enjoyable episode, with some actual laugh-out-loud moments (most notably T'Ana when she finally got her wooden box). The Tendi/Mariner pairing worked surprisingly well (I've always liked Tendi, and she was used particularly well here), and the scenes with the Orions were particularly amusing; Boimler's obsession with his Tom Paris plate was actually quite entertaining (specifically when the fumes started getting to him), and I unashamedly found myself swept along by the cameo from Paris himself (in a grey uniform! Wonderful!).

The shuttle doinking off the shields was a brilliant and memorable image as well.

LD is very good at playing to its strengths. It's tightly written at times, the characterisation is robust, and this was definitely the funniest episode of this season so far. The pacing was excellent this episode too. I felt the Shaxs/Rutherford story fell a bit flat in comparison to the other storylines, but even that wasn't a failure by any means, just a bit odd.

Well done!
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EventualZen
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
I'm some one who doesn't care for any 'Trek made after 2005 but I have to say this is the best episode of Lower Decks so far. 6/10 for entertainment value even though it had no central sci-fi theme or philosophical value (which is what I normally look for in 'Trek). I think the references to previous 'Trek shows were a little over the top but I can forgive that.

@Yanks
>Was that actually Robert Duncan McNeill voicing Tom Paris here? It didn't sound like him to me.

It was him according to the credits although I admit he sounded a little off.
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Bok R'Mor
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 6:04pm (UTC -5)
@Yanks, @EventualZen

I too at first doubted it was Robert Duncan McNeill doing the voice, but it was much more clearly McNeill later on when Boimler is hallucinating and the Paris plate is talking (!). McNeill is credited too.

Someone in another thread mentioned that the audio was recorded at actors' homes due to corona restrictions, so I wonder if sound challenges may be relevant here.

(I noticed as well that it didn't sound like Frakes in Riker's first appearance this season at the end of 'Strange Energies', although it was obviously Frakes in 'Kayshon, His Eyes Open'.)
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Jeffery's Tube
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 6:41pm (UTC -5)
Also, people's voices change a bit with time and age. Plus, maybe doing VO work is different for an actor and he hasn't really done any previously? Could be.

I guess it's canon now that Paris stayed in Starfleet after Voyager got home and that he received a promotion to full lieutenant. As an unabashedly huge Voyager fan, it makes me really happy to finally know that.
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Paul C
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 6:52pm (UTC -5)
Having Paris turn up dates LD to an exact year where Picard has left and the Romulans need help... not sure how they’ll tie this together. Also Voy being back means some tasty Borg tech they borrowed from the future. When’s that turning up?
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Randall
Fri, Aug 27, 2021, 8:13pm (UTC -5)
Lowers Decks rarely makes me laugh, but I do still like it, in part because they sometimes "go there" (in a tame, safe, Trek way), and in part due to the fanservice. (By which I mean when they reference nerdy shit fans used to talk about before the internet.) This episode's example was the long list of ways in which Trek characters have come back from the dead. This is an old joke among old fans, and it was cute and amusing to see the acknowledgement.

Anyway, this episode did get a laugh from me, during Tendi's from-sweet-to-brutally-commanding turns when doing the "Orion thing." I honestly didn't see it coming, though I probably should have. Also, I agree with Jammer; Mariner's discomfort at doing "fake green" was a nice bit of subtle humor the show rarely slows down for. I can see how people would feel a little irritated that Lower Decks so often doesn't treat its audience like it trusts us to get it.
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Kuebel
Sun, Aug 29, 2021, 12:22pm (UTC -5)
That Shax return was some missed opportunity. I was really expecting him to be an imposter and because everyone was afraid to ask him, no one found out. Could have been a season long arc.

And him being the resurrected Shax cheapens season one finale ...
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Jordyn
Fri, Sep 3, 2021, 3:28pm (UTC -5)
@Paul C

The stardates given in Lower Decks already date it. Season 1 takes place in 2380 and Season 2 in 2381. The evacuation of Romulus was 2385, so it likely won't show up as a plot point in LD until Season 4 or 5.

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