Where Pleasant Fountains Lie: Sex, Comfort Zones, and Evil Super Computers

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

Content Warnings

Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” takes last week’s break from the sex jokes as the opportunity to bring them back with a vengeance. As a result, the discussion of this episode will deal with some explicit themes. Younger readers and parents should take that into consideration both in reading this review and in watching the episode. Folks on the ace spectrum should also be warned that the plot nearly forces an ace-coded character to engage in unwanted if slightly consensual sexual conduct.

While that would be fine, I suppose, the episode shamelessly uses a Lwaxana Troi stand-in to do it and falls back into some of TNG’s uglier tropes to do it. The episode’s other story also represents a significant step backward even in the character arc established by this sequence. “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” seems like it would have been a story that fit better toward the beginning of the season rather than coming up on the end as it does. I frankly don’t understand why the show-runners put it at episode seven, but it does remind us that when Lower Decks fails, the show does so spectacularly.

Plot Ahoy!

After rescuing a civilization from a century-long war caused by a mad supercomputer, the Cerritos gets tasked with transporting said computer, Agimus, to the Daystrom Institute where it will languish in perpetuity. Ensign Mariner lands the babysitting gig while Ensign Boimler polishes his phaser rifle to take centipede wrangling on Dansk. However, Boimler gets suddenly reassigned, so he accompanies Mariner on her mission.

Meanwhile, a distress call from the Hysperian ship Monaveen drags Billups and Rutherford away from the Cerritos to repair their “dragonsbreath engine” at the request of the Hysperian queen, Paolana, who just happens to be the chief engineer’s mother. He warns his colleagues not to fall for his mother’s deceptions and explains that she’s just trying to get him to lose his virginity. Apparently, he abdicated as prince in order to join Starfleet, but in the event that he loses his virginity, Billups will automatically take the throne as king under somewhat perplexing Hysperian law. His mother has engaged in incredibly intricate plots in order to cause him to do just that, and he warns his colleagues not to be swayed by her attempts to do so. He enlists Rutherford’s aid, and while Rutherford initially does not want to go aboard the Monaveen, Tendi convinces him to take the chance to go work on a new engine.

Mariner and Boimler fly away toward the Daystrom Institute but are caught in a gravimetric shear that forces them to crash onto a desert planet, doing irreparable harm to the shuttlecraft and breaking Mariner’s arm. Agimus spends the entire time trying to convince them to allow him near a functioning computer, but they decline. While Mariner and Boimler take stock of their situation, Agimus executes some sort of download onto Mariner’s PADD that Mariner neither notices nor succeeds in stopping in time. The replicator only produces licorice, so Mariner and Boimler must rely on the included rations that they lose to a strange, alien beast the night following the crash.

Due to the nature of their mission, no one will notice their absence for a week, so help will not be forthcoming anytime soon. The loss of their rations and water is therefore devastating. Now desperate for water, they take Agimus to explore the other ruined ships to acertain whether they have any resources that might allow the ensigns and their evil charge to contact Starfleet for help. Boimler and Mariner disagree on whether they should take Agimus with them, but Boimler wins. Agimus then shows Boimler how Mariner requested that he not be sent on the Dansk mission with the centipedes because she doesn’t believe he’s ready for big time assignments. Boimler rages at Mariner, and they quarrel. Mariner takes Agimus and storms off.

Aboard the Monaveen, Billups bravely endures the fawning from his fellow Hysperians and directs his attention to the engine. Rutherford notices some strange errors that should have shown up on their initial scans, but they repair the engine. Freeman calls Billups to her ready room, and he leaves Rutherford to complete the repairs. Billups and Freeman watch an explosion rip through the Monaveen in horror, and Billups rushes back to the ship where distraught Hysperians tell him that his mother has perished in the explosion. Dr. T’Ana informs Tendi that Rutherford is also a casualty, and she’s devastated. Weeping, she asks the computer to locate Rutherford, and she discovers that his implant continues to transmit from a different location on the Monaveen. Determined to save whatever is left of her friend, she beams over and discovers a living, unharmed Rutherford chowing down on a haunch of mutton while Paolana exults in the success of her latest scheme.

Billups, believing his mother dead, has resigned his commission and returned to his quarters with the intent of having sex with his mother’s two guards in order to ascend the throne as king. Rutherford, having realized Paolana’s plan, rushes back to stop Billups from engaging in coitus. He crashes into the engineer’s quarters only to find Billups in the bathroom attempting to talk himself into the act. Rutherford explains to a relieved Billups that his sacrifice is no longer required, and Billups returns to the job he loves, thwarting his mother once again.

Back on the desert island, things between Mariner and Boimler have continued to deteriorate though Agimus has identified a ship with intact engines. Boimler seems to side with Agimus that they need Agimus to access the ship’s systems, and when Mariner tries to stop him, he stuns her. Boimler hooks Agimus into what Agimus believes to be the ship’s navigational systems just as Mariner regains consciousness. She demands to know what Boimler has done just as Agimus reveals his plans to recreate his death drones using materials aboard the ship. Boimler just laughs and explains that he’s been using the battery sustaining Agimus to power a distress signal and had only connected the evil supercomputer to the dimmer switch. He and Mariner reconcile, and Starfleet ultimately rescues them. Agimus gets locked in the Daystrom Institute’s evil computer warehouse.

Billups returns to duty. Tendi nervously frets over Rutherford’s seeming death, and Rutherford shrugs off her concerns. Tendi does not seem entirely reassured. The episode ends with the predictable return to a very Cerritos brand of normalcy.

Analysis

I really don’t like anything about this episode, so let me be honest about that up front. If you did, this might not be the review for you.

Season two has spent a great deal of air time and script exploring Mariner’s vulnerabilities and fear of abandonment, and up until this episode, some progress seemed to occur despite Mariner’s own efforts. “Where the Pleasant Fountains Lie” takes all of that progress and chucks it out of the airlock. Mariner does not deny that she went to Ransom because she felt Boimler wasn’t ready, which is an inappropriate act on so, so many levels. She violates her friendship with Boimler and undermines him in front of his commanding officer, possibly permanently damaging his career. Mariner downplays the value of Boimler’s experience on the Titan and mocks him almost at every turn even though he does manage to get the fruit that may have saved their lives.

I do not understand why the show has Boimler remain friends with Mariner because all season two has done is serve to remind us what a terrible person she is. The show has attempted to trade on sympathy for Mariner, but by the end of this episode, I can’t see how anyone could possibly feel sympathy for her any longer. Her intense fear that she will lose Boimler again has driven her to become the kind of toxic friend none of us need. Boimler does rightly criticize her for her actions, but by the end of the episode, he seems to have forgiven her completely. That’s a solid no from me, and it should be a solid no from Boimler. Unless and until Mariner can demonstrate that she respects him and will never pull this kind of stunt again, Boimler should just walk away, no matter what the show wants him to do. This isn’t a healthy relationship, and it’s not one that should be played for laughs because doing so grants Mariner’s actions a veneer of acceptability that’s downright disgusting.

That of course brings us to Paolana. Now, Paolana is clearly modeled on one of TNG’s more infamously divisive characters, Lwaxana Troi. Like Troi, Paolana is royalty, has an over the top personality, and possesses a similar dress sense, if one more skewed to the Maryland Renaissance Faire than Lwaxana’s. She doesn’t understand her son’s interest in Starfleet, which is a bit of a running theme in Trek (Sarek, I’m looking at you), so she does what she can to bring Billups back to Hysperia and the royal succession. Lwaxana, too, attempted to see her daughter happily paired off, but what Lower Decks either misses or dismisses outright is that Lwaxana’s most fundamental desire comes from a place of love. She wants Deanna to be happy, and for Lwaxana, that means not alone, which is a whole different essay. Lwaxana misunderstands her daughter for the longest time, but she does accept Deanna’s path in life and tries to reach an understanding with her. Lwaxana Troi is neither a perfect character nor a perfect mother, but she does act out of a deep love for her daughter. Paolana, however, does not and could not care less about her son’s happiness. She dismisses his aspirations and accomplishments while attempting to force him into the life she has chosen for him.

Most emblematic of this difference between Lwaxana and Paolana is that Paolana simply wants her son to have sex. She doesn’t care if there’s a meaningful, emotional connection for him, and neither does she particularly care if it’s even good sex. Please note, she proudly proclaims that her personal guard has been trained from birth to skip foreplay. Billups has shown exactly zero interest in pursuing sex. He even says that his only love is the warp core, and when confronted with having to engage in sexual activity, his first question is whether it will hurt. The show even relies on his erectile dysfunction for its happy ending, and considering that his coding as ace is impossible to miss, this entire plot stops being funny and slips into gross.

If I’m being charitable, I can sort of see that this plot seeks to subvert virginity tropes by placing a male-identifying character in the position of safeguarding his virginity rather than a female character. I guess the show wants to make a statement about how ridiculous the construct of state fascination with virginity really is. If so, y’all, this is not the way to do that. Frankly, this kind of juvenile humor is more reminiscent of the Orville than of Lower Decks. While “Where the Pleasant Fountains Lie” is no “Cupid’s Dagger,” it’s still not a good look.

Last and least, there’s also a throwaway line from Agimus when Mariner and Boimler bury him that presents a problem. He shouts that he has rights, which is something Trek has explored repeatedly from Data’s rights in “Measure of a Man” and “The Offspring” to the Doctor’s in “Author, Author.” Data gets awarded some rights, and the Doctor gets awarded some rights but not all. Trek can’t seem to make up its mind as a franchise how it wants to treat sentient synthetics. Synthetic life even becomes illegal in Picard, which may or may not be a metaphor for the American immigration/citizenship debate. “Where the Pleasant Fountains Lie” adds nothing to the franchise-wide discussion as Agimus ends up in a Raiders of the Lost Ark”-style mysterious warehouse with no evidence of a trial or appeals or any sort of legal process at all. It’s clearly a gag, but as with the Paolana plot, this isn’t a good look either.

Rating:

One cup of cold, rancid Earl Grey Tea

The Egg Hunt:

  1. You may have noticed that I provided no hyperlink to “Cupid’s Dagger.” I refuse to direct traffic to anything involving that episode because it’s possibly the worst hour of television I’ve seen since “Code of Honor.”
  2. Close listeners to Agimus will recognize his voice as belonging to Jeffery Combs, who at this point is a Trek Easter Egg all on his own.
  3. A war controlled by a computer recalls “A Taste of Armaggedon.” Worshipping a computer like a god may be a reference to “The Return of the Archons.” Fred Tatasciore even voices the computer from that episode, Landru, later in this episode.
  4. Data loses his head in “Time’s Arrow,” which is admittedly not one of TNG’s better two-parters.
  5. Gravimetric shear, as a phenomenon, shows up a lot in Star Trek.
  6. The dead pilot on the desert planet recalls one of my favorite Voyager episodes: “One Small Step.”
  7. Agimus uses death drones, which reminds me a bit of “The Arsenal of Freedom.”
  8. The Daystrom Institute is very familiar and is in Okinawa, which is why Mariner wants Okinawan ramen.
  9. Agimus refers to Seven of Nine which could either be a reference to the character or to the Motion Picture, which was released in 1979. Possibly both.
  10. ”Where the Pleasant Fountains Lie” takes its title from William Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis,” which is a poem about, you guessed it, sex. More specifically, the poem recounts the story of Venus attempting to seduce Adonis, who spurns her advances and ultimately dies via wild boar. The “pleasant fountains” are likely boobs. There, my degree in English literature proves itself useful.
  11. Oh no! Mariner’s infected PADD and Tendi’s terror won’t possibly come back to haunt us in later episodes! No way, no how.
  12. Andarithio is a terrible name for that character. I’d go by “Andy,” too.
Share this GiN Article on your favorite social media network:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *