"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.
Endings are hard. This we know.
Lost. Battlestar Galactica. Game of Thrones. The Sopranos. The Matrix trilogy. The first Star Wars trilogy. The prequel Star Wars trilogy. The list is endless. The question is always the same: "Can they stick the landing?" Invariably, the reception is mixed, although some receptions are more mixed than others. (Does that even make sense? Who cares?)
The Rise of Skywalker had the pressure to not only resolve a trilogy, but three trilogies. What I’ve learned over the years is when it comes to any long-standing work of pop entertainment, the creators have an almost impossible job, because they can’t please everyone. The reality is that we all find it fun to imagine our version of the final chapter of a movie or TV series. But the creators have the responsibility of having to actually make a choice and do something. They can’t do everything. And their choices will not please everyone.
My long-delayed review of this movie is not likely to please everyone, either. Or maybe anyone. Like my Star Trek Into Darkness review, I feel like I’m alone in the wildnerness by not hating this movie, and actually sort of liking it.
Any day now, Captain Freeman is going to get that big break that will earn her a promotion off the Cerritos — but, okay, probably not. With that perpetually confident look of swagger on her face, I feel bad that she’s convinced herself she’s going to impress bosses that don’t care. This week she’s assigned to a diplomatic mission to engage the Pakleds on their homeworld (which, appropriately prosaically, is called "Pakled Planet") and finds herself in the middle of a planetary power struggle. Meanwhile, a Pakled beams aboard the Cerritos and requests asylum, but is very clearly actually a spy trying to get information. The crew decides to go along with it to see what happens. If you thought the twist would be the Pakled is smarter than he looks, then you would be wrong, because the twist is that there is no twist.
The problem with Lower Decks is that I don’t laugh at it nearly enough, and often not at all. The jokes are way too obvious, the action sequences are maniacally overcompensating, and the franchise-self-referential name-dropping is shamelessly in-your-face.
Take this week’s "An Embarrassment of Dooplers." Please. (Har, har.) It has a high-concept premise that could’ve potentially worked as a sitcom: A Doopler emissary (Richard Kind in a Richard Kind-ian role) is aboard the ship, being escorted to a conference. The Dooplers, you see, involuntarily and spontaneously reproduce when they get embarrassed. So the Cerritos crew has been walking on eggshells so they don’t set off his fragile, insecure personality lest he start splitting in half.
"Mugato, Gumato" continues this season’s trend of being generally more laid-back (aside from the season premiere) and less anarchic than much of season one. That’s in its favor. Unfortunately, I didn’t laugh very much, and the low-stakes nature of the episode somehow ultimately works against it. There’s a fine line between "laid-back" and "who cares." I’m not sure exactly what I’m expecting out of this series, but these shoestring plots are too low a bar to give this show a pass.
The Cerritos is assigned to "animal control" to investigate the presence of a mugato, which is basically a giant white gorilla with a horn, on a planet it’s not indigenous to. Upon beaming down, the away team learns the mugatos are being harvested by the Ferengi, who appear with their electrified whips for the first time since their initial appearance in "The Last Outpost." Lower Decks enjoys reminding us of all the Trek mistakes previous producers would’ve preferred to retcon from the franchise through our collective agreement to forget. Another example: the anbo-jyutsu combat in the cold open, not seen since Riker worked out his daddy issues in "The Icarus Factor," which I somehow gave three stars. Yet another example: the titular creature’s oft-mispronunciation and the title of the episode, which require a deep dive into the truly esoteric to appreciate.