Never go full Pakled: Star Trek: Lower Decks “The Spy Humongous”
Since the writers keep insisting on some semblance of a recurring plot arc, the Pakleds, the underwhelming villains from “No Small Parts”, are back again. Freeman has landed on Pakled Planet, and that’s really what the Pakleds call their planet, because they’re slow, get it? Hell yeah, another episode full of “slow” jokes that self-consciously tiptoe around the small area in which it’s still acceptable to make fun of the mentally subnormal in 2021. Just what I wanted: a parade of voice actors who’ve all been told “can you do another take, but less… you know?”
Freeman’s anxious to do some “Picard-style peace brokering”, in hopes of maybe getting an Enterprise out of it. The Pakleds keep calling her Janeway because she’s a woman captain and they’re slow.
What follows is a TNG-style diplomatic snag where one of the Pakleds escapes to the Cerritos, requests asylum (well, what he actually says is, “I can live here now!” Because he’s slow!), and the Pakled soldiers take “Janeway” hostage until he’s returned. Intrigue!
At breakfast, everyone except Boimler is groaning at the assignment they’ve Received, “Anomaly Consolidation Duty”. They’re going around collecting research material from senior officers’ away missions that’s too dangerous or sciencey to just get tossed into the magic molecule-breaker-downer. Basically, they’re garbage collectors today. “Doesn’t this ship have any enlisted people on it to do all these manual labor jobs?” I ask myself for the thirty-eighth time. “Or possibly even some robots, like the ones that fix the ship on Discovery?”
Everyone makes fun of Boimler for thinking this is at all a serious duty, and laughs at him when he slips and spills oatmeal all over himself.
While carrying his tray to the breaker-downer, Boimler gets called over by a group of junior command officers who have an informal little club to help each other snag promotions. Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry got a new friend group who were all the opposite of his friends? That’s basically what’s going on here. Being command officers, they call themselves “Redshirts”, and Boimler starts to explain why that’s funny, before remembering that he’s real and not part of a television franchise, and thus a term originating in the fan culture of said franchise has no meaning to anyone here.
The leader of the redshirts is Ensign Casey. He’s interested in Boimler since he was a bridge officer under the legendary Captain Riker, and he says they’re willing to help him score a night shift manning the captain’s chair.
Meanwhile, the Pakled asylum-seeker, Rumdar, seems to want to know about how the ship’s shields work. By which I mean he says, “I want to know how the shields work.” Because he’s slow. Freeman and Kayshon secretly radio in to the captain while the Pakled is attempting to take clandestine pictures of the warp nacelle, but taking a picture of his own foot instead because he’s slow. The writers seem to have forgotten that Freeman is being held prisoner by the Pakleds, because she still has her combadge on and can talk freely. Freeman says to string him along and not let him know they know he’s a spy, because they could get some intel from him.
Meanwhile, the miasma from an unlabeled alien critter skull in Commander Ransom’s quarters makes Rutherford swell up like a balloon. Tendi only just manages to smear some stuff under his nose to make him deflate. This also makes Rutherford vomit. They sure do like their vomit jokes on this show. This is more like Lower Yaks.
This precipiates a short montage of Anomaly Collection where the Boimler-less trio go into one lab after another to collect brightly colored space refuse. Tendi, being the second most enthusiastic character after Boimler, is all over her duties, squealing about the cool artifacts they get to handle like a schoolgirl with a popstar’s fast food wrappers. But since she’s a shortsighted klutz again this episode, she keeps causing humorous accidents to happen to Mariner, like poisonous quills being shot in her face, or her getting electrocuted with a purple beam.
They keep collecting all the dangerous stuff by hand, instead of just beaming it onto the garbage scow, in the grand Star Trek tradition of ignoring their canonical technology so that they’ll still have a plot left to do. After a final accident with some nanobots, Mariner’s frustration spills over and she yells at Tendi to stop acting like this is a marvelous adventure.
Rumdar is still acting unbelievably stupid, taking copious pictures of the “top secret” Cerritos gift shop, and Cmdr. Ransom is confident that he and Kayshon can trick him into revealing some stuff about his ship. But just then, Rumdar unexpectedly disappears. Wow, what a surprising development, provided you never watched “Samaritan Snare” which established the Pakleds were only pretending to be stupid so they could steal stuff! To complicate matters, the Pakleds are now threatening Freeman, and demanding to speak to Rumdar in person.
The Redshirt Club fits Boimler out with a brand new leadership persona—a shoulder-padded uniform, mature-looking silver streaks in his hair, the works—which he excitedly runs off to show to his lower decks pals. Next up, the Redshirts have invented a fictional command crisis to test Boimler’s ability to give an off-the-cuff inspirational speech. He struggles at first, but by cutting and pasting together some of Captain Riker’s pet phrases, and aping Riker’s speech cadence and affect, he manages to speechify magnificently to his hypothetical crew.
After a bizarre encounter in Dr. Migleemo’s quarters that leaves Tendi eaten and pooped out by a giant slug that also screams, Tendi begins to share Rutherford and Mariner’s disdain for Anomaly Collection. Meanwhile, down on Pakled Planet, Freeman has finally succeeded in meeting with the King and Emperor of the Pakleds (they have one of each, because they’re slow). Just then, the royal palace is overrun by Pakled paramilitaries announcing a “rebellution” (they can’t word good cause they are slow), and the Emperor is killed and usurped. This doesn’t affect the plot or do anything except eat up the runtime.
While out on a stroll with the Redshirts, Boimler happens by the lower deckies hard at work scooping up anomaly slime. Ensign Casey tells him he has to quit associating with those guys, because they’ll only drag him down.
As they pass, Tendi launches into a diatribe about how disillusioned she is about Anomaly Collection. Her anger seems to be amplified by a glowing pink cube she’s holding, and as she yells louder and louder, her voice takes on distorted evil undertones, and the cube transforms her into a huge green scorpion.
The Tendi-scorpion goes on a rampage and starts throwing tables in the galley. The Redshirts note the opportunity for them to step up and save the ship. Three of the Redshirts start delivering overlapping inspirational speeches to the crew. Boimler is exasperated that none of them are actually doing anything. Using his repository of space knowledge, he identifies the mood-enhancing artifact that made Tendi all weird and knows just how to counteract it. He orders various sloppy foods from the replicator and spills them on himself, causing Tendi to laugh and devolve back into her former self. The Redshirts, rather than being proud of him, scorn his willingness to look so undignified.
Rumdar, meanwhile, turns out to not be spying anywhere. Instead, he accidentally flushed himself out of the airlock after confusing it for the bathroom. Because he’s slow. The journey into the vacuum of space has left him cold, but otherwise fine; he’s too slow to know how to suffocate.
Down on the planet, things are looking grim for Freeman and Shaxs, but the circle of spears around them are all lifted once Rumdar beams back down to the planet. He proudly announces he was a spy, and he found out that Cerritos has the biggest bathrooms of any ship in Starfleet. Such an effective spy was he, he boasts, that Starfleet didn’t get any counterintelligence, particularly not regarding the Veruvian bomb the Pakleds are planning to use to attack Earth.
Freeman and Shaxs beam up. “Wait a minute!” shouts the new emperor suspiciously. “You just beat Captain Janeway!” he finishes. (They’re slow!)
Casey meets Boimler in the hallway for one last spot of popular-kid-in-a-teen-drama stuck-up-ery. Boimler chides him for thinking he can simply be a leader by copying other leaders. “Great speech,” Casey says, “I’m sure it’ll play well on the… lower decks.”
Just then, Ransom walks by and Casey begs him for the acting captain’s seat. “Oh, I don’t care. Sure,” Ransom says distractedly. Then he congratulates Boimler on his heroics in the galley, saying he showed real leadership. Casey turns out to only get the conn for a few seconds before Shaxs shows up and angrily orders him to clean the results of Rumdar’s bathroom visit out of Airlock 17.
The gang apologizes to Tendi for trying to stomp on her enthusiasm, and to make things up to her, they decide to use a piece of space garbage they secretly held onto—a “sub manifold casting stone”, or shiny black rock—to make prank calls. Who do they call? Armus, the evil tar-man who killed Tasha Yar. Isn’t that wacky and left-field? They call him a big pile of crap. Ha ha!
Next week: Boimler, happy with the way his shoulder pads turned out, decides to pad some other… areas.