Star Trek: Lower Decks
"A Mathematically Perfect Redemption"
Air date: 10/6/2022
Written by Ann Kim
Directed by Jason Zurek
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" is the best episode of Lower Decks so far this season because it manages to execute a nearly mathematically perfect formula for comedy. That formula is to ask the question: What happens if we follow a disgraced Starfleet officer who is a completely selfish a-hole and resists every opportunity to overcome her self-centered me-first nature?
The result is a consistently funny off-format episode that works so well because the material finds amusement by simply satirizing well-trodden tropes, which are more or less played with a straight face but with an elevated sense of aggrandizement that plays as a knowing wink. The selfish Starfleet officer in question is Peanut Hamper, the exocomp who abandoned her shipmates in "No Small Parts" and has been floating in space ever since.
She has been trying to find a way out of her predicament for months, if not years, and has managed to slowly piece together a warp engine out of space junk, with only a decorated rock named Sophia to keep her company. The rock plays exactly the role of Wilson the volleyball from Cast Away, except with the key difference being that Peanut Hamper willingly discards Sophia at the first opportunity where it's remotely convenient for her. From that moment, we know this character is not going to be redeemed easily, and for my money, the longer the path to redemption, the better the episode.
Peanut Hamper is voiced by Kether Donohue in a pitch-perfect comic performance that seems like it should be annoying but somehow isn't. We quickly realize how awful Peanut Hamper is and how that's the point. Donohue walks a fine line where it seems like Peanut Hamper could turn sweet and sincere and learn her lesson at any moment ... but simply doesn't. So it instead plays for what it is: shameless self-servingness.
Peanut Hamper crashes and becomes marooned on Areolus, a primitive world of avian creatures and sentient bird people. Here, the episode goes through all the tropes of the stranded officer trapped in a strange land. In addition to the earlier Cast Away references, we also get a healthy dose of Avatar (this non-technological tree-dwelling tribal culture is one with its lands of vast beauty, which of course was itself a take on Dances with Wolves), and Moana (the Areore have forbidden starships buried deep under their village, which their forebears forsook; upon learning this, Peanut Hamper observes, "I guess I haven't been breaking the Prime Directive this whole time!")
We get the scene where Peanut Hamper uses technology to heal the villager who has been bitten by the poisonous creature. ("Science!" she exclaims.) And then we get a "going native" romance between Peanut Hamper and the local hunk, which is funny because it commits to just playing the whole thing basically straight, with earnest dialogue that's self-aware in all its cornball glory, culminating in a hilariously absurd bird/robot love scene. The key to the satire here is the fake sincerity that almost plays as real, but not quite.
The turning point comes when Drookmani scavengers (J.G. Hertzler voices the captain) come looking to salvage the derelict ships beneath the village, which they believe is their right since it is unclaimed abandoned technology. The Cerritos comes in to assist, but the Drookmani attack the ship as well, and we have a big battle on our hands. This works pretty well as action. Will Peanut Hamper save the day, having learned the lesson of stepping up to serve the greater good? That would seem to be the arc here.
Nope. Turns out Peanut Hamper engineered the whole thing, having called the Drookmani to the planet so she could set up her own falsified redemption for her former shipmates, regardless of the actual consequences. Peanut Hamper is selfish even in her big moment of supposed selflessness. And she's not even contrite when her whole plan goes sideways and the jig is up.
By making Peanut Hamper so awful right up through the very end, the episode shows its commitment to the comic bit, and I admire that. This series is usually too nice and sincere to really go for the jugular, and I wouldn't want it to be this every week, but "A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" finds a one-off guest character in Peanut Hamper that it can use to play out a sharper satiric edge. It does this not so much with "jokes," but with a series of events fed through its terrible central character, who clearly took some cues from Eric Cartman. The final shot where Peanut Hamper is put in the AI prison right next to Agimus (Jeffrey Combs, in a callback to "Where Pleasant Fountains Lie") is gold, revealing the episode's title as a mathematically perfect calculated lie.
Previous episode: Hear All, Trust Nothing
Next episode: Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus
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44 comments on this post
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 2:45am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 3:01am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 5:52am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 6:03am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 6:51am (UTC -5)
OTOH I do like the episode conceptually: A piece of sentient Starfleet hardware ends up in the hands of a technologically inferior species, and these people have to deal with meeting a Near-God in terms of power. It's not unlike TNG's "Thine Own Self" except Peanut Hamper is a real jerk and the Aerisolans are very interesting and live on a fine planet that I'm actually interested in.
Besides the Aerisolans themselves, this didn't do much for me. I'm not sure what the message was supposed to be except something vague about how technology influences culture. But there's nothing profound here.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 6:51am (UTC -5)
We see that early on in her relationship to Sophia (a kind of doll, I suppose), who was reduced to hardware value at the first signs of danger. On Areolus, she behaved like ALF in that 90s sitcom, if anyone can remember that one. Like ALF, she is completely tactless and self-absorbed, but even more sinister and destructive, and there are clear signs of contempt, ill will and a tendency towards manipulating her hosts and saviors.
This sounds like a good recipe for a character study, but such a thing would be hard to achieve in a 22 min format. The bird people got little focus, for Peanut Hamper always stood in the spotlight. And since she was written so unlikable, her scenes felt unengaging and borderline boring. The climax was confusing (how often did Peanut Hamper switch sides?) and couldn’t save the episode, either.
I respect the writers’ bold choice to do something different, that is, write an episode with very little of the Cerritos crew and full focus on a guest character. But it didn’t work out this time, yet I hope the next attempt will bear less insipid fruit (and have a more interesting guest character to focus on). If experience with previous seasons holds any water, the best episodes of this season are still ahead (and where is my girl T’Lyn?).
This one would end up in the 1 to 1½ star region, equivalent to “mostly bad, but at least not actively offending”.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 6:56am (UTC -5)
I find myself agreeing with Colin Lindsly - season 3 feels like a dip compared to season 2. We're seven episodes in and it feels like we've wasted quite a few episodes by this point.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 7:01am (UTC -5)
Remember ALF? He's back, in Star Trek form! :-)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 7:20am (UTC -5)
Season 3 has been a huge letdown so far and it feels like we've wasted so many episodes.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 7:21am (UTC -5)
For the first time since wej Duj, we get an episode which is primarily from the POV of someone other than the lower deckers. Actually, it's far moreso than that episode, where they were still involved in the C plot. Here we're all in with Peanut Hamper for the first 16 minutes, and the Cerritos was only brought in at all in the final nine. Even then, it's really the bridge crew who are the main interface with Peanut Hamper. Tendi gets a few lines, befitting her "close" relationship with Peanut Hamper when we last saw them. Mariner and Boimler get a line or two, but I don't think Rutherford even speaks. This was a bold choice.
And it pays off in spades. This episode is a very different sort of comedy than most of Lower Decks. There's very little humor here based upon Trek references at all. Instead it's basically "What if we speedrun Avatar, but with a piece of shit for a protagonist?" There's many other references mixed in as well (like the obvious Castaway joke in the opener), but for the most part this is a deconstruction of the Heroes Journey arc, with a completely unlikable protagonist who almost fools you (and the other characters) that she's actually grown into a hero, only to have it quickly subverted. This is not an episode of a workplace sitcom, this is satire.
It was also a smart choice to use Peanut Hamper for this, because this episode is mean-spirited in such a way that it simply could not be done with the main cast of lower deckers. She was the perfect protagonist for this dark, depressing, yet amusing story.
Also, they found a way to get J.G. Hertzler and Jeffrey Combs back, which is enough to add a full star in my book .
I personally think it's a four-star episode, because it did exactly what it set out to do. Asking for a different ending to this is like asking for a different ending to Blazing Saddles. The humor here arguably could have been done a little better, but I think goofy laugh-out-loud humor would have taken away from the satiric elements too much.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 8:59am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 10:24am (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 10:35am (UTC -5)
Kinda ruined the whole episode for me.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 12:52pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 3:38pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 5:13pm (UTC -5)
I actually look forward to watching this again. Hope they keep up this level of quality for the remainder.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 5:33pm (UTC -5)
I actually love Star Trek, and have generally enjoyed Lower Decks. This episode simply did nothing for me, and there seems to be an honest divergence of opinion. Case in point, the following perspective in the review: "Peanut Hamper is voiced by Kether Donohue in a pitch-perfect comic performance that seems like it should be annoying but somehow isn't." For me, the voice and character were very annoying. My vitriol is also likely the product of a loathing for selfishness and an air of superiority, traits central to the character of Peanut Hamper. I suppose if part of the goal of the story was to provide further foundation for a detestable villain then the episode was a success, but Peanut Hamper is a character I could do without seeing ever again.
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 5:50pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 7:03pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 9:22pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2022, 10:02pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Oct 7, 2022, 5:52pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 8, 2022, 7:43am (UTC -5)
I didn't care for Peanut Hamper the first time around and even less this time.
Probably my least favorite LD's episode.
1.5 stars from me.
Sat, Oct 8, 2022, 7:40pm (UTC -5)
Nice deep Simpsons reference! I use that one quite a bit.
Sat, Oct 8, 2022, 8:26pm (UTC -5)
Despite it's short run time I don't really get that caught up or find it particularly funny (maybe the odd smile).
I do like the use of actors from previous series or using the music from First Contact etc though it still seems worth it for a 20 odd minute show.
Personally I thought this was one of the better ones 3 out of 4 for me. I'm not sure what it could ever really do to BE a 4 out of 4 though tbh. This is probably it at it's best (limited Mariner is always a good thing - too annoying in large doses).
Sun, Oct 9, 2022, 4:38am (UTC -5)
They had three ways they could've gone about it.
1) Play the scenario straight and let us emotionally buy into it (which isn't what they wanted to do)
2) Have the twist and put in more blatant hints that Peanut Hamper is being disingenuous, so we could emotionally distance ourselves. (What I would have done)
3) Go in between and accept that going for the emotional gut punch and middle finger is going to alienate some of the audience.
They did option 3. I can understand why they did it, but it falls out of what I'd want from Trek and it gives the episode a bitter taste for me and a certain subset of the people who watched.
But again, rest of it is good and I respect them for doing something interesting.
Sun, Oct 9, 2022, 4:45am (UTC -5)
I am finding it a bit weird to see people saying this season is a step down from Season 2. I liked every single episode of this season up until this one, and even then there were a lot of positive things to it.
But that's Trek for you. There is no one single reason to watch it, but multiple things people can gravitate to. For me, its the characters; the main 4 are as lovable as ever and I'm always going to be happy when Dr. T'ana is on screen (especially with Shax).
Sun, Oct 9, 2022, 9:28am (UTC -5)
This will eventually been seen as one of the best Lower Decks episodes ever. I love the black comedy of a narcissistic sociopath character representing Starfleet on a rustic planet and taking on a bunch of Trek cliches in the process. This might be the first actually funny episode of Lower Decks.
Sun, Oct 9, 2022, 10:21am (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 9, 2022, 10:38am (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 9, 2022, 9:34pm (UTC -5)
This episode whipsawed between Peanut Hamper learning an important life lesson back to selfish and anti- starfleet in the space of one act! The Gerkuman 1 nailed it above. The writers made a poor choice (disappointing as Ann Kim wrote some of the best episodes prior to this).
I’ve liked most of LD and I’d agree with people that this show may be best of the newer Trek content during the past few years. I think the show is a fun tweak of the nose to a franchise that gets a bit too serious at times - and I say that as a 40 year fan of ST. Rewatched many episodes of LD just for the subtle in jokes, but stuck around for the good character development and good action.
But this just seem to be trying hard to be as cynical as possible with a character with no appealing qualities.
First review to the site…
Sun, Oct 9, 2022, 10:25pm (UTC -5)
Peanut Hamper was annoying, but she was supposed to be, as others have said.
Best episode of the season so far.
Tue, Oct 11, 2022, 3:17pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Oct 11, 2022, 9:55pm (UTC -5)
Peanut Hamper is a great example of the “sociopathic robot” trope popularized by Bender in Futurama. Naturally, a creature born 5 minutes ago with no life experiences would be evil. Life is how you learn morals; they don’t just magically appear inside of you.
Tue, Oct 11, 2022, 10:07pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Oct 11, 2022, 10:21pm (UTC -5)
Yeah, I've always suspected that babies are evil. But seriously, I'd argue it's the opposite. We develop morals when we split life into good and evil, and the more we resist and judge our "evil" side with moral norms and codes the more it grows.
Would Peanut Hamper be as she is without Starfleet's code of ethics saying she should be a certain way? It seems to me her behavior is a response to that ethos and a desire to go against it and her coding and the perceived constraint on her freedom.
I wasn't a huge fan of the episode but have to admit there's something in her a lot of us can identify with.
Wed, Oct 12, 2022, 11:15am (UTC -5)
This is of course a question philosophers have wrestled with for millennia. Does culture make people more or less moral. I subscribe to the former, with my primary point of evidence being how kids act in Middle School (as it’s called in the US).
Wed, Oct 12, 2022, 11:25am (UTC -5)
It’s not that they’re “evil”, it’s that they haven’t yet developed the part of their brains which tells them to view the world through something other than a prism of all-consuming selfishness.
Wed, Oct 12, 2022, 4:57pm (UTC -5)
"This is of course a question philosophers have wrestled with for millennia. Does culture make people more or less moral. I subscribe to the former, with my primary point of evidence being how kids act in Middle School (as it’s called in the US). "
Yes, school can make people more moral. But gang culture (also a thing in the US) is also culture, and can quickly turn an innocent and fun-loving child into a criminal.
Sat, Oct 15, 2022, 4:55am (UTC -5)
In case it wasn't obvious, I think this was one of the best episodes in the series. It fully commits to every single bit and doesn't try to sand the edge off anything.
Lower Decks is consistently at its best when it shows that kind of commitment to its bits (c.f. "wej Duj," "Much ado about Boimler," etc.) and at its worst when it just gets glib (c.f. "Temporal Edict," "Strange Energies," etc.). I've enjoyed the series overall, but this episode's definitely a standout.
I find I have about a 50/50 agree/disagree rate with Jammer's ratings, which is why I enjoy reading them (longtime reader, but I think this is the first time I've commented?), but with all the back-and-forth in the comments thread, I wanted to hop in and say this review was spot-on.
Wed, Oct 19, 2022, 9:54am (UTC -5)
The Bad: I found the character of Peanut Hamper and Kether Donohue’s performance VERY annoying. There were many scenes where I wasn’t sure if they were meant to be taken seriously, or if it was supposed to be funny (either way, it didn’t work for me).
The Good: The ending redeems it a little, in that I didn’t see it coming and it turned a Trek cliché on its head. It's cynical, sure, but cynical can be fun sometimes, even if we Trekkers wish everyone could be redeemed.
Perhaps I would enjoy this one more the 2nd time, but for the moment I don't feel like watching it again.
Wed, Nov 2, 2022, 8:09am (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 9, 2022, 12:41pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Feb 21, 2023, 9:42pm (UTC -5)
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