"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.
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