“We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, Episode 3 – Debuted Thursday, August 26, 2021
Written by M. Willis
Directed by Bob Suarez
Season two settles in with just as much fun and humor as season one, while bringing some added depth and development to our main characters. Oh, and Tom Paris as a plate too. Sorry, minor spoiler.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Back to normal?
After all the excitement in the first two episodes, our four ensigns seem ready to get back into their routine friendships on the USS Cerritos. However, the familiar feeling that starts the episode soon reveals three of our lower deckers having crises that border on the existential variety.
The problems unfolding in the opening scene in the mess hall set up what will be our A, B, and even C storylines. Tendi rushes through her meal as she is rediscovering her ambition and turning her hyperactive gaze to the goal of getting on Dr. T’Ana’s good side. Boimler is having trouble reintegrating on the USS Cerritos as the ship’s new security protocols literally won’t even let him order lunch. And seeing the formerly dead Lt. Shaxs casually ordering a hot dog totally upends Rutherford’s meal—and life—and not just due to Shaxs’ dubious choice of spicy kiwi ketchup.
Despite the title, the main story in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” actually has nothing to do with the former helmsman of the USS Voyager. After getting an assignment from T’Ana, Tendi taps Mariner to join her on a mission to Qualor II to pick up an old family relic of the doctor’s. In a clever meta moment, they remind the audience they’ve never had the chance to work together even though they are nominally part of a core group of four friends.
Their infectious enthusiasm has them imagining their mission as a fun “Girls trip!” However, after arriving on Qualor II and knocking back some alco-slushies, we start to see some tension. Through a series of escalating calamities that would test even Lucy and Ethel, these two realize they don’t really know each other at all. And after accidentally breaking Dr. T’Ana’s ancient Caitian libido scratching post—which Mariner lovingly names Jeremy—this not-really-a-friendship is really put to the test.
A quick trip to a seedy bar at Starbase Earhart to hustle some Nausicaans at Dom-jot is fun for some nostalgia but is no help on the quest to fix the sex scratching post. This all leads to the episode’s very welcome deep dive into Tendi’s Orion past as the pair heads to a real pirate outpost where D’Vana reveals she was more badass than any of Mariner’s holographic fantasy versions of herself, and bears the awesome Orion title of “Mistress of the Winter Constellations.” So. Many. Questions!
Mariner has to go undercover as an Orion, a time-honored Trek tradition of racial disguise, but in a nod to how times have changed, Beckett hopes no one is there to get a photo of her culturally appropriating greenface. And as their girls trip turns into bickering, the distraction exposes Mariner for the enemy human she is, turning this homecoming into a run for their lives.
Brad’s crisis is more personal, and this is the one tied into the titular Tom Paris. The young ensign is excited to meet another one of his personal heroes with the added goal of getting him to sign his collectible plate; Brad is such a Starfleet superfan that he saves time by referring to the USS Voyager as “VOY.” See folks, he’s just like us—except we never actually say “VOY.” (But that just shows how dedicated he is to
Star Trek Starfleet.)
Brad’s problem is that he can’t get from the lower decks hangout to the bridge because no doors on the ship will open for him. The Cerritos itself gets a bit snarky, telling Brad he is “unauthorized personnel.” Poor Brad! Rejected from his dream job on the USS Titan, he finds himself forced to crawl through the Jefferies tubes just to get to the bridge. To make things even worse, Paris is on the bridge showing off at the helm, a process which could result in the ensign getting roasted while taking a shortcut through some plasma conduits. Boimler just can’t catch a break, but amazingly, the Paris collectible plate holds up through all of this. Get yours now for $29.99… seriously, that’s real.
Return of the living Bajoran
How many times have we seen someone on Star Trek come back from the dead? It’s almost a cliché. Now that Shaxs has come back from the dead, Rutherford—who’s had his memory reset—just can’t wrap his head around it, and becomes obsessed with figuring out how the security officer who sacrificed his life is now roaming around the ship without much notice from anyone.
The problem? Apparently, it’s rude to ask the reanimated exactly how they’ve come back, a lesson learned the hard way by Lt. Cody, who was reprimanded and reassigned merely for asking. But Sam can’t let it go, as he is literally haunted by a hilarious montage of various types of resurrected Shaxses.
All of our stories are resolved in the same way: by our characters getting real. Tendi and Mariner open up to each other and admit they each have their own way of keeping others at a distance. With the girls trip bonding finally realized, they can now work together to escape the horde of Orions who seem to really hate humans. Why so angry, guys? The last remaining issue is T’Ana’s now even more damaged and incomplete sex post, so Mariner uses her rule-breaking superpower to harmlessly ram the shuttle into the ship’s shields to account for the damage, so off to the brig she goes, again. Turns out T’Ana didn’t care about the post anyway; she just wanted the box for some serious cat-in-heat purring action.
Brad also got honest, but with himself, and with a little help from that Tom Paris plate, via a fume-induced hallucination. The plate also solves the tube trap when he jams it into a circuit, dropping the poor ensign onto the bridge from the ceiling. Sadly, Paris gets the disheveled ensign confused with one of Star Trek’s biggest mistakes, a Kazon, but it turns out getting a black eye from one of his heroes is actually a high point of Brad’s day. As pointed out by Mariner, “There’s only like a couple of people in the quadrant who say they got beat up by Tom Paris.”
As for Rutherford, he just had to be honest with Shaxs, who felt for his old “Baby Bear.” Aww. Turns out the bridge crew keeps their resurrection secrets for good reason: to spare the sanity of the crew from the truth of the “scientific depravity” that would haunt them. He then tells Sam all about it, leaving him haunted and shaking. We only get a taste… something to do with a Black Mountain.
And that leaves our four pals back together again, once more hanging with Mariner in the brig, her second—possibly first—home. Boimler can even use doors and everything. All is Lower Decks in the world again.
Trying something new
With things settled and all four of our ensigns back together, the show provided a nice change of pace by shaking things up and trying some different character dynamics. Writer M. Willis provided her own commentary on the matchup, with Tendi saying, “Sort of weird we haven’t been paired up until now… Sort of a glaring omission.” Both Tawny Newsome and Noël Wells were up to the challenge, carrying most of the load for this episode on their backs, with their girls trip! misadventure.
This episode also continued this season’s welcome trend of developing the characters, opening up with more personality-based humor. This was especially true for Tendi, who really needed more fleshing out, and we now have some fun and intriguing answers to questions about her background leftover from season one. However, just like the first episode of the season, there was a bit too much going on to really give us a completely satisfying bite from each storyline. Trying to cram three storylines into 23 minutes strains the format.
The return of Shaxs and the talented Fred Tatasciore is quite welcome, although his name appearing in the credits for first two episodes along with the character being spotted in trailers sort of gave away the game. But in a nod to the show’s short time allotment, and in another bit of holding up a mirror to the franchise, Willis found a clever way to resurrect a character without dwelling on the hows and whys of it all. They wanted him back, we wanted him back, and they gave us at least a few episodes to honor his genuine sacrifice. Although since he’s back, does that mean they missed an opportunity to solve Dr. T’Ana’s little personal problem? Rrow.
Much of the excitement around Lower Decks has been its use of callbacks to Star Trek, including bringing back veteran actors to reprise their roles. With Tom Paris, they telegraphed this early on with both the trailer and the episode title. What’s welcome is that Lower Decks is still using these pop-ins sparingly and organically. The episode carried his name, but it wasn’t all about Tom Paris, it was still about our heroes, the lower deckers. Robert Duncan McNeill was great and had a bit of fun with the role —maybe not quite as much fun as Jonathan Frakes has with Jazzy Riker—but he fit right in with the tone of the show.
And this episode also kept the season two trend going of balancing all the various Star Trek references and Easter eggs. Sure, there are plenty of familiar fun things on Qualor II, but they are little bonuses for the invested fans. Lower Decks works best when it allows our characters to drive the humor and doesn’t expect the audience to get its laughs from all the Trek gags.
Another solid season two episode shows that the team behind Lower Decks knows what already works on the show and where they can find some new areas to explore. The series also shows confidence in moving beyond simple Star Trek gags to add a bit of loving commentary on the franchise itself. Like Brad, we know that they love it, even when it punches you in the face.
- This is the 800th episode release in the franchise. (as counted by CBS/Paramount+)
- Boimler asked the replicator to make him a papusa, a Central American griddlecake.
- Boimler hummed part of the theme to Star Trek: Voyager. In season one he did the same with the theme to TNG.
- Tendi is a big fan of Klingon Acid Punk music.
- Mariner was previously posted to station Deep Space Nine at the same time as Worf.
- The Cerritos is Mariner’s 5th ship posting.
- Mariner revealed she has a type: bad boys, bad girls, bad gender nonbinaries, and even bad Bynars.
- Tom Paris has been promoted to full lieutenant after last being seen in the Voyager finale as a Lt. JG (three years prior).
- Qualor II promoted a performance of the Zebulon Sisters, who performed the Chu Chu dance on the USS Cerritos in season one.
- “I can’t rely on people getting syndromes.”
- “Whatup? We doing sci-fi stuff today?”
- “Is he still a salamander?”
- “Nexus, time-ribbon, same thing.”
- “Why even listen to Klingon if it isn’t punky or acidic?”
- “Look at these claw marks, they are like from her horny great-grandma.”
- “Did you get your bowl signed by Chakotay or whatever?”
More to come
Every Friday the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network. On Saturday, we’ll post our weekly analysis of Easter eggs and references for this episode.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It is available on Amazon Prime Video internationally on Fridays. It will debut in Latin America on Paramount+ in September.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.