“We’ll Always Have Tom Paris:” A Jeffries Tube Odyssey

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Lower Decks continues this week with “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” which is already a pun in itself on a series of levels. The title plays off of both the line from Casablanca and the TNG episode titled after the aforementioned line of dialogue and inserts a reference to Voyager by referencing that ship’s famous pilot. I mention that here because the title gives us a taste of how layered “Tom Paris” will be as an episode. Think onions or ogres. Arguably, layered storytelling typifies Lower Decks, usually in the form of nods back to previous Trek content, but “Tom Paris,” out of all the episodes yet, seems to take this approach to a new level. Don’t get me wrong, “Tom Paris” remains a fun episode even if you miss a few things, but the story is startlingly rich, even beyond the Easter Eggs. However, it comes off as uneven because a number of gags fall a bit flat as they rely too heavily on stereotypes. Fortunately, the episode makes up for some of those flaws by leaning into the fun.

Plot Ahoy!

This week’s A story involves a bonding trip for Beckett Mariner and D’Vana Tendi who realize that they’ve never been paired together. Tendi, smarting at having been passed over for a promotion, asks Mariner to accompany her on a trip to Qualor II to retrieve a family heirloom for Dr. T’Ana during which she hopes to prove herself worthy of the grouchy Caitian’s trust. Predictably, things go a bit sideways when Mariner encourages them to take a peek inside the ancient box. They find what amounts to a traditional Caitian sex toy inside, and while they’re giggling like schoolgirls, the statue gets broken. Mariner then hauls them off to see her friend at Starbase Earhart who apparently can fix anything. He agrees to repair the statue for 50 bars of gold-pressed latinum, which Mariner intends to swindle out of some Nausicaans by playing dom-jot. The Nausicaans suspect her of cheating and start a brawl, forcing Mariner and Tendi to flee, and the statue becomes further damaged in their escape.

Tendi suggests traveling to see her cousin D’onni who happens to be an art forger working in an Orion pirate facility. Because Mariner is human, Tendi turns her green in order to sneak her aboard. Obviously, Mariner’s green wears off at the most inopportune moment, and for the second time in the episode, Mariner and Tendi must flee for their lives, carrying the Caitian sex-scratching-post. Tendi eventually sacrifices the bottom half to save Mariner’s life, and they retreat to the shuttlecraft. Having squabbled throughout most of the trip because neither woman seems to know the other as well as friends should, Mariner and Tendi bond, prompting Mariner to declare Tendi a friend. Tendi plans to accept fault for the destruction of T’Ana’s ancient Libido Post, but Mariner is having none of it. She orchestrates a collision between the shuttlecraft and the shields as they approach the Cerritos, blaming the post’s destruction on the collision caused by a bee. Fortunately for everyone involved, T’Ana cares less about the post and more about the box because she’s a cat.

This week’s B story features Boimler attempting to resume his place on the Cerritos, but the computer clearly has other plans. It refuses to recognize Boimler, meaning that he cannot order food, pass through doors, or really much of anything. This problem would remain just an inconvenience but for the fact that Boimler wants to meet Tom Paris, who will be a guest on the Cerritos. Because he’s Boimler, he has a full collection of Voyager commemorative plates, and the only one not signed is Tom Paris. Boimler goes on an odyssey to reach the bridge, thwarted at each point by the computer’s refusal to recognize him. He crawls through Jeffries tubes and dangerous catwalks, trying to access the bridge, and though he nearly dies in the attempt, he falls through the bridge ceiling just in time for Paris to attack him because over the course of his journey, he comes to resemble a Kazon. Paris apparently apologizes and offers to get drinks with Boimler, but an enthusiastic Boimler once again finds himself obstructed by the computer.

Rutherford also gets his own plot, albeit a shorter one. While working, Rutherford encounters Shaxs, who just happened to die last season. Understandably, Rutherford reels in shock, but he is the only one. Every other crew member just accepts it. Rutherford, however, wants to find out how Shaxs came back and pursues him. He corners Shaxs in a turbolift and admits that he wants to know because he feels guilty that Shaxs died to save him. Shaxs explains that he’s trying to spare Rutherford knowledge of some dark secrets, so of course, Rutherford is all in. However, later, when everyone sits outside Mariner’s brig cell, he seems terrified of his knowledge, but the show once again returns to the status quo.

Analysis

There’s a lot to unpack in this episode. The A-plot largely depends on Mariner just being awful, and her predictable awfulness underscores just how little Tendi actually knows about Mariner. Because had Tendi realized, I doubt she would have risked a mission she considers so important by involving Mariner in any capacity whatsoever, which is the driving character arc in this part of the story. Mariner and Tendi both realize that despite having lived and worked in such proximity for over a year, they really know very little about each other. Mariner doesn’t know that Tendi loves Klingon acid punk (which is a thing, apparently) or that she has a first name. Tendi knows nothing about Mariner’s previous career, including her stint on DS9, or about Mariner’s love for bad boys.

This is a fantastic tension to explore because the situation in which they find themselves is familiar to many of us. Just how well do we know the coworker in the cubicle next to us, even though we share meals and office gossip? How much do we know about the people behind the user tags with whom we interact on Discord? In reality, we do not know as much as we think. The episode doesn’t leave the matter there but goes on to remind us that the lack of knowledge may have two causes—one being that we conceal these details to protect ourselves from possible censure (Tendi) or because we don’t want to invest emotional effort in another person who may just turn around and leave (Mariner).

Friendship and sharing ourselves requires a certain profound courage, a truth which the episode does not make explicit. What it does do is situate most of this arc at Starbase Earhart, which should be familiar to TNG fans as the location where Picard gets stabbed by Nausicaans in “Tapestry.” The TNG episode concerns the power of choices and the necessity of risk-taking. When Picard changes the sequence of events in order to avoid being stabbed, he secures a future in which he never excelled or became the Picard we all know and love. He begs Q to allow him to return and undo the damage to his own timeline. Picard learns that he has to take a risk and learn how important each moment really is in order to be the Picard he is. While Mariner and Tendi avoid being stabbed, they both learn that they must face their own emotional baggage and take the risk on being known. That’s a pretty subtle point for an animated comedy to make.

The Boimler and Rutherford arcs also nod at this theme. Boimler wrestles with not being known by the ship. That status is an obvious metaphor for where he stands on the Cerritos after shipping off to the Titan. For Rutherford, he must confront his guilt and risk admitting it to Shaxs, the man who died to protect Rutherford’s life.

I also like that this season continues to develop Tendi and Rutherford, as the first season left them underdeveloped. I am, unfortunately, finding that I dislike how obvious the gags are, this season. While last week’s central gag was fine because everything else around it was interesting, this episode offers nearly no surprises, the mysterious resurrection of Shaxs aside. We immediately know the Mariner/Tendi “girls trip” will fall into increasingly ridiculous situations. Moreover, we know immediately that the end result of all of their efforts will be for naught. Even if you didn’t guess that T’Ana wanted the box, there was no way that the Libido Post was going to survive. Plus, T’Ana’s easy excuse renders Mariner’s sacrifice meaningless. After all, she engineered a collision ensuring both that there was a reason for the Libido Post’s destruction and that it would be her fault. Mariner doesn’t even get to enjoy that much redemption. I have to admit that I’m not keen on that brand of nihilism bleeding into Trek.

Using various doors to force Boimler into increasingly ridiculous and dangerous situations likely also qualified as a gag, but honestly, it’s starting to feel less like Boimler is a character so much as a walking punch line. This episode threw him into almost Chief O’Brien-levels of torture with very little pay off. Furthermore, his demotion, while again likely a gag, rubs me the wrong way. Boimler rescued the Away Team. Why did he get demoted? Is this some law in the series bible? Why go to the effort to get him promoted in the first place if we’re only going to return to the status quo?

“We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” is certainly a fun episode, but it focuses all too much on hitting a reset button while trying to create new character dynamics at the same time. No matter how good the writing, juggling both of those outcomes is impossible, and “Tom Paris” certainly doesn’t manage it. Still, I’m liking what we’re seeing of Tendi and Rutherford, so I remain excited for the rest of the series.

Rating:

Two and a half Tom Paris commemorative plates

The Egg Hunt

  1. It’s nice to see that Quark’s Bar is a franchise.
  2. Boimler refers to Voyager as “Voy,” which is the fan abbreviation for Voyager.
  3. They brought back Robert Duncan McNeill to voice Tom Paris! They also reference some of his greatest hits including Captain Proton, Fairhaven, and the unfortunate lizard transformation from “Threshold.”
  4. Boimler bonks into a door, and no, this does not make sense. It could however reference Scotty’s similar bonk in Star Trek V.
  5. The mention of a Dyson Sphere comes to us from “Relics.”
  6. Rutherford actually hears Shaxs say “Mirror, Mirror,” which is a significant episode title. If you didn’t get it, Shaxs actually wears the Terran Uniform Kirk did.
  7. The Bynars show up in a single TNG episode.
  8. Starbase Earhart and Bonestell aren’t the only references to “Tapestry.” Mariner has them play dom-jot, the game that caused Nausicaans to stab Picard.
  9. All the ways in which crew have returned to life is a laundry list of actual plot points in previous series. The transporter pattern-buffer references events that happened to Picard in “Lonely Among Us.” If you don’t remember, that’s the episode in which Picard gets stuck in the computer and has the computer spell out a “P.” It could also be another reference to “Relics” as Scotty stored himself in the transporter pattern buffer in order to survive the ship crash, which I think is the better reference. Both the katra thing and Genesis device resurrection happened to Spock in The Search for Spock. Surak’s katra also gets retrieved in “The Forge.” The bit about the Mirror Universe could refer to Captain Georgiou from Discovery who comes back in the form of erstwhile Emperor Georgiou. Notably, this could also refer to the mirror universe Jennifer Sisko from DS9. Seven uses her Borg nanites to heal Neelix in “Mortal Coil,” and the future offspring likely refers to “Redemption I and II,” which brought back Denise Crosby again as the Romulan Sela based on her appearance as Tasha Yar in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” “The Visitor” also employs an alternate timeline offspring. Lastly, the Nexus is certainly a reference to Kirk and the events of Generations. I’m sure there are other Easter Eggs, but I don’t remember them.
  10. Of course T’Ana wants the box. She’s a cat. Get it? Yuk, yuk. I’m sure someone thought they were very clever when they came up with that one.
  11. What is Shaxs even doing on the ship? Kayshon is still there, so we have a security chief. Is Shaxs just chilling down there with Billups now?
  12. I really, really want to know more about the Mistress of the Winter Constellations. That title is just great.
  13. Also, “D’Onni?” Really? That’s what we’re calling Tendi’s mafioso cousin? Do better, Lower Decks.
  14. Once again, we get yet another Trek sex toy. This time it’s a Libido Post instead of a Fornication Helmet, but c’mon, guys. How old are we here?
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