Domo arigato, Mister Mugato: Star Trek: Lower Decks “Mugato, Gumato”

The cold open occurs in the gym, a part of the ship so rarely seen in the Next Generation era that I had lowkey assumed that ships had gotten rid of them entirely in favor of holodecks. (I guess Starfleet wants its officers to be able to get their swole on even in the event of a power failure or a Moriarty.) Boimler and Rutherford, with feigned casualness, ask Mariner to join in on their ambo-jytsu match. The last time they all sparred, Mariner beat Boimler and Rutherford so badly, they began a series of midnight training sessions on the holodeck just to get back at her.

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With the benefit of three months’ worth of practice, Boimler succeeds in scoring a hit in Mariner’s face, knocking a tooth out. She’s elated, as their enhanced skills mean she can finally get a “real” workout in. A crazed look creeps onto Mariner’s face, she surrenders to her bloodlust, and without further ado, beats her two friends until they’re bloody and begging her to relent.

She kicks Boimler in the face while he’s puking, and then breaks her American Gladiators staff in half and spears Rutherford through the hand with the broken end. Ha! Ha! Ha! The joke is she’s a danger to herself and others! Yes, I know, there was a running joke on The Next Generation, and later Deep Space Nine, about Worf gravely injuring people while sparring, but that always happened offscreen, for the same reason you don’t actually see the Addams Family pour boiling oil on Christmas carolers. What a difference a little bit of discretion makes!

I think I’m beginning to understand why the “peaceful” Federation gets into a new war every couple of years.

When the episode proper starts, the Cerritos is being dispatched to the planet “Frylon IV” on an “animal control” call—i.e., clearing out a Mugato, the gorrilla-corn seen in “A Private Little War”, from a planet where it’s not native. Captain Freeman grumbles at the piddly errands she’s being asked to run.

Meanwhile in the bar, Rutherford and Boilmer are convalescing from their injuries over a board game that Mariner makes fun of. The bartender, an unnamed older man with an overdone New England accent, talks conspiratorially with them over a secret he’s heard about her: she’s a specially trained Section 31 agent, with hypnopedic knowledge of every fighting style, and the perfect cover. No one would suspect a perpetual screw-up kept afloat by nepotism, who’s friends with the biggest dorkloads on the whole ship, of being a killing machine.

Oh, you can make any conspiracy sound plausible if you light your face from underneath to look all spooky while you say it.

In sickbay, Tendi, who’s a doctor again in this episode, has a patient poached from her because, as Dr. T’Ana notes, she needs to assert herself more in the workplace. To this end, T’Ana gives her a special mission: find all the crew members who haven’t reported for their annual physical, and hit them from afar with a Diagnosis Beam.

“I get to violate people’s rights? Count me in!”

In the shuttlebay, Rutherford brings Boimler up to speed about Mariner’s record, which he’s been studying ever since that bartender talked to him. Mariner has indeed moved from ship to ship a lot—supposedly, because she’s a problem officer—but when she served on the Atlantis, she got transferred the same day that over 100 crew members disappeared. Mariner bursts in wanting to know what they’re doing, and Boimler throws a tricorder at her, which she catches with perfect reflexes.

Gasp! You caught a thing thrown at you by a weak guy! This is surely indicative of extraordinary abilities!

The away team beams down to Frylon and begins the search for the mugato, or the gumato, or the mogutu, as the animal’s name has been variously recorded. Isn’t it so funny that a show’s canon isn’t perfectly consistent? Let’s bring that up a lot! Shaxs goes into tracking mode, crawling around on the ground like a beast, sniffing (and tasting) the piles of bluish dung to gauge how close by the animal is… and within quite a short time, they come to a clearing and witness an animal atrocity in progress.

In the arms of the angel… Fly away from here…

A group of Ferengi have several mugatos (mugatoes?) in cages. They rip one infant mugato away from its mother. There’s a crate full of mugato horns nearby, and a Ferengi wearing a mugato skin conducts a transaction with another alien looking to buy a dozen horns. Boimler tries to inform the ship, but the signal’s being jammed.

In twenty minutes or so, a storm is rolling in which will make it impossible to beam back up. Faced with the choice of retreating and regrouping, or charging blindly in (and likely engaging in the kind of lopsided, desperate confrontation sure to activate Mariner’s hypothetical Jason Bourne hypnocoding) Shaxs of course chooses the latter. And it turns out as badly as you would expect it to! Shaxs orders the Ferengis to submit to search and seizure.  The lead Ferengi tries to hit him with an electro-whip, but he misses, causing the mechanism controlling all the cages to short out and open.

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Now they’re in the middle of a mugato stampede, but none of them have any phasers because the mugatos are endangered. The Ferengi’s customer makes it to his shuttle and escapes, and the Ferengi scatter, minus one who gets gored…

“I don’t like the custard ones! Anyone want to trade?”

…and when Boimler and Rutherford try to look to Shaxs for orders, they see Mariner stabbing him with a dagger she brought for some reason, and sucking his blood.

“Yeah, I got cherry over here!”

Her Section-31 kill-switch has assuredly been flipped, and the two men decide to run into the jungle and take their chances with the mugatos.

The Cerritos catches the shuttle leaving orbit and the Ferengi customer virulently denies having any horns. Freeman smells a rat and orders the ship held in a tractor beam, but the ship is so junky the lowest tractor setting causes it to disintegrate and the alien only just manages to beam over.

Meanwhile, Boimler and Rutherford are being chased by a mugato with its horn cut off and half-regrown, but they’re rescued by Patingi, a Tellarite biologist who’s out here studying the mugato. He’s so expertly skilled and casually self-assured that you know he’s going to get killed in about 30 seconds. Which he does.

“Mmm! Grape jelly! Best of all!”

Back on the ship, Tendi is scanning the recalcitrant crew members in a series of underwritten gags, until she finally gets to one simply named “Patient 08.019”.

After riding out the day in a hollow log that two mugatos are mating on top of (plus a third nearby, who’s watching and stroking his horn suggestively), Boimler and Rutherford finally escape and run right into Mariner. She gets her foot caught in a mugato trap and the two refuse to rescue her because of the black ops thing. Mariner explains that when it looked like she was stabbing and eating Shaxs, she was merely widening his mugato bite wound so she could suck the venom out. As for the Section-31 rumor, she tells them she started that rumor herself to seem cooler. As far as the Atlantis goes, Starfleet was too embarrassed to admit that it lost 100 crewmembers to alien lice infestations.

At that moment, the Ferengi pull up, no doubt eager to add ransom to their portfolio, and it’s up to Boimler and Rutherford to be the ass-kickers.

“Our board games are lame, are they? Well, now who’s stuck in the Molasses Swamp!”

Tendi discovers that the mysterious serial number on her PADD corresponds to the Chief Medical Officer. She confronts Dr. T’Ana about this, who yowls and runs away, hissing and batting at Tendi whenever she’s cornered. Around the same time, Freeman and Ransom are offering the man whose shuttle they pulled apart one of their own, much nicer, shuttles to replace it. The alien recognizes a sucker when he sees one and asks to take some of the captain’s personal mementos to replace those he “lost”.

Rutherford and Boimler approach the Ferengi camp where they’ve just finished recapturing all their loose mugatos. Mariner and Shaxs are in a mugato cage. Hey, remember when Rutherford found out he could use his cyborg implant to compute a combat strategy and let it direct his movements, effortlessly becoming a close-combat badass? Well, that must’ve been one of the memories that got pulled out of his head, because now he’s moaning that he’s never going to find a way to break Mariner and Shaxs out.

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But don’t worry, they come up with one! They burst into the compound with Rutherford carrying what looks like a jury-rigged rocket launcher over his shoulder. But it’s not a rocket launcher: it’s a projector! A projector they’ve built from a bamboo tube and some salvaged materials!  And somehow programmed it with holographic visual aids. They give a presentation about how the Ferengi could increase their profits by keeping the mugatos alive and turning their compound into a private mugato preserve, cleaning up on admission, concessions, and plush mugato dolls.

“Surprise! We turned off the hologram safeties and now we’re gonna drop this big chart on you!”

Back on the Cerritos, Tendi is chasing a mewling T’Ana through the Jeffries tubes. She falls and calls out to T’Ana that she broke her arm. T’Ana’s avows she won’t fall for that. But it turns out the injury is very real. Not only that, Tendi broke her arm on purpose just to get T’Ana close enough to scan her, which she does, then faints.

That’s the fourth blood color I’ve seen today…

At the wrap-up, Freeman’s admiral husband notifies her of a scam being pulled in this quadrant, where a guy driving a junky spaceship that breaks down on purpose will wheedle soft-hearted Starfleet dupes out of all their stuff. Luckily, Freeman is able to catch him before he leaves with all her gewgaws, and sentences him to clean up dung in the new mugato preserve.

It’s the future, and we’ve made huge strides in shovel technology! Look how angular and future-y it is!

T’Ana congratulates Tendi on her newfound confidence. Mariner proudly informs Boimler and Rutherford that they kick just as much ass as she does, just in a different way. To make up for her earlier rumormongering, she uses her rumormongering powers for good, telling the bartender that the two guys in the booth defeated a dozen mugatos and then ingested their horns to gain their powers.

Next episode: The Ferengi send a team of observers, including two mugato specialists, a lawyer, and a mathematician specializing in chaos theory, to evaluate the safety of the mugato park, and things go quite cinematically wrong. Meanwhile, Mariner starts a rumor that she only started a rumor about her being a black ops agent so she could later admit it was a rumor and tamp down suspicion about her real identity as black ops agent. Then she admits that the rumor rumor was nothing but a rumor, but of course that’s what a black ops agent would say.

TV Show: Star Trek: Lower Decks

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