Star Trek: Lower Decks
"Where Pleasant Fountains Lie"
Air date: 9/23/2021
Written by Garrick Bernard
Directed by Jason Zurek
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Where Pleasant Fountains Lie," the best episode of the (overall disappointing, so far) second season, is proof that less is more when it comes to the things most typically associated with Lower Decks. Less freneticism, fewer Trek references, less obviousness. Instead, this is a story that has a solid couple of stories and runs with them. The episode mostly plays it straight, but the humor and fun are baked into the situations rather than glopped on top like a distracting frosting. The reference that stood out for me was the joke about phaser rifles: "How are those different from regular phasers?" "Uh, they take two hands?" Yes. Nailed it. Fun-poking, subtle, and short. The trifecta, if you're going to do a joke like that. And it works because it's one of a few, rather than one of so many.
Similarly, the idea of this week's alien society, the Hysperians — a world that views all the sci-fi elements of Star Trek as magical fantasy elements — is an intriguing idea/joke that works all the better because it isn't insistent about itself. The Hysperian's Queen Paolana is the mother of the Cerritos' Chief Engineer Andarithio "Andy" Billups (Paul Scheer), who, we learn, renounced his status as prince and heir to the throne so he could follow his true passion of engineering in Starfleet. Furthermore, he's not allowed to lose his virginity or he automatically becomes the king under Hysperian law. His mother knows trying to coax him back home is futile, but has rather come to ask for his help as an engineer to repair a problem with her ship. (Or has she actually come here in a very elaborate plot to trick him into sex...?)
This plot works as a comedy because it simply plays out as a character problem that happens to be funny instead of a bunch of lame or broad jokes. The story ups the ante by having Billups' repair job result in an explosion and the apparent deaths of Rutherford and Billups' mother, leading Billups to realize he has no choice but to take his rightful place on the throne. Naturally, it's all an elaborate con by his mother, but as these things go, it finds the right tonal balance between jokey and sincere.
Meanwhile, Mariner and Boimler end up in a Shuttle Crash™ while transporting an AI named Agimus (Jeffrey Combs) to the Daystrom Institute to answer for his crimes of exploiting an alien society that fought a hundred-year war as a result of his god-like influence. This is, of course, a reference to classic Trek's penchant for frequently using this plot device, but the story takes the Mariner/Boimler survival scenario seriously and plays it through, and it's effective as a mostly straight adventure/drama. Jeffrey Combs as the guest voice is perfect as a nod to Weyoun — an unctuous manipulator constantly trying to trick our characters into plugging him into a computer that he can use to escape.
Agimus does everything he can to get access to a computer. Trickery. Flattery. Pleading. Then finally turning Boimler and Mariner against each other by using something true — accessing Mariner's logs and showing Boimler that she's the one that got him reassigned from a better mission onto this mission in the first place. There's a fight, and Boimler decides to take matters into his own hands and plug Agimus into the computer as a desperate survival tactic. But it's all a long con by Boimler, which pays off with a funny moment where the only power Agimus has is blinking some lights menacingly. (One missed opportunity here: a post-crisis acknowledgement that Mariner's betrayal of Boimler actually was pretty significant. Yes, Boimler used the betrayal to deceive Agimus, but there still should've been some sort of scene at the end with Boimler telling Mariner this is not okay. It might've made a decent character core stronger.)
The last shot is a pullback of Agimus on a shelf at the Daystrom Institute with a bunch of other computers who have tried to take over various worlds. It's a warehouse where these rogue AIs will surely be worked on by ... top … men. Turns out the episode's best reference is one that's not from Trek at all.
Previous episode: The Spy Humongous
Next episode: I, Excretus
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20 comments on this post
Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 6:32am (UTC -5)
Aside from that, though, it was more smiles and laid-back silliness. This episode was actually far less reliant on meta-references and inside Star Trek jokes than the show's usual fare, but it still couldn't cross the line into outright hilarity for me.
Mariner is now actively starting to annoy me in a way she hasn't so far. Her constant needling at, and sabotaging of, Boimler just feels juvenile now. I suspect it's a cover for deeper feelings she has for him, but whatever the true motivation, I'm ready for the show to hurry up and get to it.
Season two so far still hasn't produced any outright duds, as far as my rankings go. But it also has yet to hit any "Crisis Point" or "No Small Parts" highs (although "Mugato, Gumato" came close for me.).
Jeffrey Combs was the evil computer! I didn't pick it until the credits. I did enjoy the idea that the Federation has a building full of these things, though. A terrible, terrible idea that's perfect for both Star Trek and this show.
Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 8:13am (UTC -5)
I liked the phaser rifle joke (this one takes TWO hands!) and I found the concept of where Billups comes from to be really funny, but the jokes they made from it were only mildly funny.
Not bad; not great.
Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 10:00am (UTC -5)
The A plot with Mariner, Boimler, and the evil computer voiced by Jeffrey Combs was fantastic. The scope somehow felt epic in a way that Lower Decks seldom manages, there was a nice, somewhat unpredictable twist at the end, and the character interaction was awesome.
The B plot involving Billups being royalty was kinda silly, but I was happy to see a secondary character get a good deal of focus. It provided us with some nice contrasts between Tendi and Rutherford at the end as well - two characters I had issues distinguishing in the first season sometimes.
I especially loved that this episode was basically a straight up drama. Jokes were limited, and memberberries from earlier Trek were almost absent. The show is finally confident enough to stand on its own.
Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 1:03pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 7:54pm (UTC -5)
I REALLY enjoyed this episode. Mariner and Boimler teamed up again and suck-up Billups of all characters getting his time on screen.
I can't believe there are Trekkies out there that don't immediately recognize Jeffrey Combs' voice. lol It's such a huge part of Trek lore and behind 2 of Trek's more memorable secondary characters. As soon as I heard it my excitement level for this episode doubled.
We start off with Boimler getting reassigned from a task he was really excited about to the blah assignment of delivering an evil computer (Agimus) to the Daystrom Institute for study. I suspected Mariner would have something to do with it.
Then we meet Queen Palana (Billups). A missed opportunity here IMO. Suzie Plakson's voice and inflections would have been just perfect for the queen. We learn that suck-up Billups is heir to a thrown?!?? haha... leave it to LD to come up with something like this. Of course, it gets even whackier when we find out all he has to do to become king is to lose his virginity and his mother is hell-bent that her son will inherit the throne. She reports her engines have failed and her folks can't fix them. An obvious ploy to require the services of her favorite engineer. It appears most everyone on Cerritos knows what's going on.
Nice to see we haven't forgotten some classic trek tropes... shuttle mission gone awry, crash landing on a planet without seat belts, the planet just happens to have a breathable atmosphere... and just like in regular trek, it doesn't matter. lol
Mariner pops her shoulder back in and of course, Boimler can't watch, again.
My scan indicates you could lose a couple of pounds anyway... lol Nice reference to TNG's Times Arrow by mentioning Data's head.
Boimler finds out that Mariner got him reassigned and he's furious.
Billups and Rutherford figure out what's wrong with the engines and the Queen seems to respect her son for his engineering prowess. Capt Freeman summons Billups back to Cerritos trying to help her engineer out figuring his mother would have been up to her old tricks and BOOM! A huge explosion on the Monadean(?)
Billups can't figure out why the engine exploded and the Queen is dead. Dr. T'Ana informs Tendi that Rutherford was a casualty of the explosion. While I knew this was going to be a ruse to get Billups on the throne, I actually felt for Tendi here.
Billups resigns his commission to tend to his royal copulation duties. Tendi searches for a weak Rutherford signal and ends up finding him having a feast with the Queen. He rushes to warn Billups that this is all a trick and prevents the ascension to the throne. "Did his kingdom come?" lol
Back on the planet, Boimler gets in a scuffle with Mariner and actually stuns her all to get Agimus from her so he can get them off the planet. Boimler gives in and plugs Agimus into the console and we are treated to Jeffrey Combs hamming it up and getting all-powerful only to learn that he's been "Boimed" haha... he was only plugged into the lighting panel and wasn't able to take over anything all while Boimler was able to send out a distress signal. Mariner is impressed with Boimler's plan and how he executed it.
Tons of funny lines in this one.
Tendi/Rutherford, Mariner/Boimler... back to the old combos that have worked so well. Combs was perfect. The pace was nice and we got a couple of stories that did some character building along the way. As always, all in good fun.
Suzie Plakson I'm tellin ya... 3.5 stars from me.
Did we see the MK5 stored away at the Daystome Institute at the end?
Fri, Sep 24, 2021, 8:24am (UTC -5)
I think last week was the worst episode of season 2 for me, though that was a 2.5. This week we had a lot more great character work.
Fri, Sep 24, 2021, 10:45am (UTC -5)
Nevertheless, the Boimler/Mariner and Tendi/Rutherford team-ups continue to be interesting (though not so fresh or earnest this week), and it was obviously great to have Jeffrey Combs on board as a guest voice.
Laugh out loud line this week: 'You're the closest ship in the quadrant.' Well played. Also liked the idea of science terminology being renamed to sound more magic. Could have done more with that.
Hoping next week is much better.
Fri, Sep 24, 2021, 11:30am (UTC -5)
Like that show, and like The Orville, it all comes down to TONE. Like the Gold Standard TNG (and DS9 too despite the war arc), Lower Decks is a future and a world I actually want to live in. It feels like home in a way the Ent-D and Deep Space Nine felt like home, especially now that I'm familiar with the Cerritos' various locations.
It also has that positive outlook those older series never fully abandoned even when SIsko was breaking interstellar law to get the Romulans into the war (because he knows what he's doing is wrong and will have to carry it).
Finally, the characters are simply likeable. I was annoyed by Mariner at first, but now that I have a better idea of who she is and where she comes from (thanks to a funny thing called "character development" sorely lacking from the newer Trek series), I've really warmed to her.
Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford are all great to watch, their friendships feel real, and the supporting crew are also entertaining and feel like real people you wouldn't mind interacting with. I especially like the added alien diversity afforded by the show's lack of budgetary constraints vis-a-vis makeup and production design.
As an avid watcher of The Simpsons' first eleven or so seasons and more recently a fan of anime (but oddly enough only since college, when it first clicked for me) I've been open to more animated series doing what live action series can do as good or better.
Lower Decks is showing me every week that it's got that certain Trekky something that all the flashy CGi in the world can't replicate in Discovery or Picard. Here's hoping for a third season...and a lot more!
Fri, Sep 24, 2021, 12:32pm (UTC -5)
It was a pretty good episode and truly it was nice to see an A and B plot that didn't revolve around established Trek Lore or trivia. The stories feel mostly irreverent though, and I agree with Jammer that resolving *why* Mariner would sabotage Boimler's chances to advance would have made this episode great. Maybe they're saving that conflict and resolution for the finale. We'll see.
Oh and among others, I recognized Control making a cameo in the ending.
Fri, Sep 24, 2021, 7:53pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Sep 24, 2021, 12:32pm (UTC -5)
"Oh and among others, I recognized Control making a cameo in the ending."
It did? Please elaborate!
Sat, Sep 25, 2021, 6:26am (UTC -5)
Sat, Sep 25, 2021, 1:25pm (UTC -5)
But I don’t think the 25 minutes format is adequate to develop a story especially multiple ones and it feels to me that the writers have to rush everything. I rather have nonsense/absurd humor like last week than drama with jokes but I guess it’s a matter of taste.
PM is right about the state of contemporary sci-fi and LD being a breeze of fresh air. The Expense being the exception for me, I wonder if Jammer has expressed an opinion about it or even better a plan to review it
Sat, Sep 25, 2021, 3:11pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 26, 2021, 6:34pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 26, 2021, 7:48pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Sep 25, 2021, 3:11pm (UTC -5)
Couple times through... I don't see it. I saw the CBS logo though.
Mon, Sep 27, 2021, 1:31pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 14, 2021, 10:07pm (UTC -5)
This episode, on the other hand, starts off with hilarious concepts for the A and B stories and develops them through character work instead of zany plot or Trek references.
It also reminded me that I actually like these people, which is always a plus.
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 7:04pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 7, 2022, 2:42am (UTC -5)
Wed, Feb 15, 2023, 10:12pm (UTC -5)
I liked this episode quite a lot, liked both the A and B plots equally well. I loved the character development for Billups. I was pretty sure Boimler was tricking Agimus, but he (Agimus) did such a great job ranting that I began to lose faith. I absolutely loved the pullback shot at the end showing all the raving computers locked side by side, loathing each other.
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