HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
The overarching theme for this season as we begin to close the first half of the season’s ten episodes seems to be continuing to work on deepening the characters’ friendships by forcing them, mostly Mariner, to expose their emotional vulnerabilities. “Mugato, Gumato” continues in this vein by exploring both the stories we tell about ourselves and how they impact other people and how they impact our own vision of who we are. Sometimes, we need a reminder that we’re stronger than we realize, and this episode is thirty minutes of just that.
The episode opens with a very familiar silhouette attacking two Denobulans and then flashes back to the Cerritos where Boimler and Rutherford, clad in protective gear, head toward the holodeck to practice Anbo-jyutsu. Mariner asks to join them and then handily wipes the mat with them. Later, in the ship’s bar, Boimler and Rutherford lick their wounds by drinking and playing Diplomath. Mariner wanders in and greets them before leaving them to their game. Boimler and Rutherford finish their game and head to the bar for refills. There, the incredibly gossipy Honus warns them that their friend Mariner is a secret super spy for Starfleet Black Ops, trained to assure her own survival at all costs. The two men dismiss the rumors, but Honus insists that her being the captain’s daughter and friends with the two softest men on the ship is the best cover. That statement gives Boimler and Rutherford pause, especially when they later stumble onto her service record with a reference to mysterious disappearances on the Atlantis.
Starfleet sends the Cerritos to planet Frylon where non-native Mugato have been sighted. Irritated by being sent on yet another animal control mission, Captain Freeman sends Shaxs, Mariner, Rutherford, Boimler, and other, unnamed characters on the Away Team to the planet to investigate. Boimler and Rutherford dismiss the secret spy rumors until the Away Team stumbles on an illegal Ferengi Mugato poaching camp where they see Mariner stab Shaxs with her D’k tahg and appear to bite him. They flee the camp into the woods, hiding less from the Ferengi and more from Mariner.
They hide from some amorous Mugato in a hollowed out log, meet a self-styled naturalist, and watch a Mugato behead him, only for Mariner to find them. The two ensigns turn tail and run, and Mariner gives pursuit only to be caught in a Mugato trap. She confronts Boimler and Rutherford about whether they’ve been listening to the super spy rumors, and when they admit to it, she explains that she’s the source of the rumor. Mariner started the rumor to keep “jerks” away from her, but ultimately, it has kept her alone. Boimler and Rutherford admit that they believed the rumor because they see using them as cover as being more plausible than actually being their friend.
Mariner sees the Ferengi approaching and tells them they’ll have to be the super spies and save the entire Away Team. The Ferengi capture her and toss her in the camp’s poacher cells, but Boimler and Rutherford burst into the room holding what looks like a makeshift weapon but is actually a projector. Using this projector to show a profit/loss graph, the two of them proceed to give a presentation on using Frylon as a Mugato preserve to maximize revenue over the long term. The Ferengi agree.
Aboard the Cerritos, T’Ana assigns Tendi to track down and scan the crewmembers who have failed to appear for their physicals, and Tendi applies herself to this task with her usual devotion. She scans people while they’re in the bar, in the holodeck, practicing martial arts with Kayshon, and wherever else she can find them. Tendi completes her list but for the last entry, which rather than containing a name only contains a number. She discovers that the patient in question happens to be T’Ana, and she pursues T’Ana through the ship and into the Jeffries Tubes where Tendi breaks her arm in a fall. T’Ana comes back to treat her only to be scanned before Tendi passes out from the pain.
Captain Freeman has her own adventure. While Shaxs confronts the Ferengi, the horn buyer escapes in a ship. The Cerritos encounters the ship, and when they place a tractor beam on his ship, it explodes. Having beamed him away, Freeman offers him a shuttlecraft, and he accepts, after asking for all of Freeman’s collected items visible in her office. At the very end of the episode, she gets a call from her husband about a grifter who’s been scamming ships by destroying his own. Freeman tracks him down and both retrieves her collection and sends him to Frylon where the Ferengi put him to work shoveling Mugato dung. Back in the bar, Mariner plays Diplomath with Boimler and Rutherford; she heads up to speak with Honus and proceeds to start a rumor about Boimler and Rutherford as the Mugato Twins, starting the rumor cycle anew.
Once again, we’ve got a pun in the episode title. “Mugato, Gumato” riffs not only off of the line “tomato, tomahto” but also off of Deforest Kelley’s inability to pronounce the creature’s name in “A Private Little War.” The ape’s name, once the writers gave it one, ended up being “Gumato,” but Kelley kept using Mugato. Shatner, in turn, pronounced it “Mugatu” throughout the entirety of the episode, leading several writers to use the “Mugatu” spelling. The confusion has persisted, and this Lower Decks episode makes the confusion canon. There’s a bit of early Trek trivia for you.
Pun aside, “Mugato, Gumato” provides us yet another look not only at Mariner’s attempts to protect herself emotionally but also of a deep-seated concern in both Boimler and Rutherford. The show has gone to great lengths to show us just how good at literally everything Mariner is; she very nearly reaches Mary Sue levels of “good.” It’s no surprise, therefore, that she wipes the floor with both Boimler and Rutherford who have been practicing their Anbo-jyutsu. Boimler spent most of last season making his peace with her competence, so while it is hardly shocking that we see some of his insecurity emerge, this move feels a little like a step backward, especially since it clearly exists as a way to force Mariner to confront, yet again, the extent of her protective walls.
Rutherford’s insecurity makes for a much more interesting story choice. Unlike Boimler, Rutherford follows a completely different career track, so he has never competed with Mariner. Moreover, he has always seemed comfortable with himself and his own strengths. If anything, Tendi has worried that he would find her unworthy to continue their friendship. Seeing the tables turned in favor of Mariner of all characters seems very odd and a bit out of character. His ability to admit his insecurity is in character, as Rutherford is both straightforward and generally more self-aware, but that focus on Mariner seems odd. Her strengths fall well outside of Rutherford’s self-identified wheelhouse, so lumping himself in with Boimler in wondering why she would be friends with him represents an odd move. It is, however, a move that fits with this episode’s themes. Rutherford and Boimler both tell themselves that they aren’t on Mariner’s level, and they have to eschew this self-developed narrative in order to save the day.
While Tendi gets relegated back to the B-story, I do like that she gets to flex her newly developing confidence. It’s all the more satisfying when she has to confront the mentor figure that she spent so much of last episode trying to impress. Tendi’s story, unlike the one presented by any of her friends, is that she is competent. She can track T’Ana down, and she does, reaping the benefit of the new narrative that she’s decided to tell herself. Tendi’s B-story, therefore, complements the A-story nicely by providing a counter-example of how a self-devised narrative can have a positive effect.
Even Freeman gets a chance to interact with story-telling. She gets conned, largely because she’s still trying to create a narrative of herself and her command that fits in with what she believes Starfleet wants her to be. That effort facilitates the grifter’s con, but as soon as she sheds that narrative, she becomes the captain we know she can be. She tracks him down, gets her stuff back, and dumps him on Frylon.
As neatly as the story fits together, I find that I’m becoming tired of watching Mariner wrestle with her fears of abandonment. Okay, show, we get it. It is entirely possible to expand your thematic framework to focus on other characters upon occasion. Even though Boimler and Rutherford go through their own arc in this episode, that arc remains about Mariner. The amount of screen time devoted to that arc so outweighs both the Tendi and Freeman plots that they very narrowly escape falling by the wayside. We’ve got six episodes left in the season; I’m hoping at least some of them tread new emotional ground.
Three cups of Earl Grey Tea
The Egg Hunt
- Anbo-jyutsu appears in “The Icarus Factor” as the ultimate evolution of martial arts…which it isn’t, unless you count American Gladiators as a valid martial arts demonstration. That said, we already know Boimler and Rutherford will lose to Mariner, even aside from the show’s requirement that Mariner be good at nearly everything, because they’re wearing the outfits Riker’s father did in that episode. Mariner wears Riker’s red to defeat them just as Riker defeated his father.
- Denobulans come to us from Enterprise.
- Raktajino we’ve covered before but is Klingon coffee.
- Of course Mariner has a D’k tahg. Why would she not have a Klingon dagger?
- Before the events of “Caretaker,” Tuvok had infiltrated the Maqui as a double agent. During the Dominion War, Miles O’Brien ends up infiltrating an Orion smuggling operation to spy for the Federation in “Honor Among Thieves.” There were other Starfleet Intelligence agents, but those, like Glinn Lasaran, were more traditional agents in that they weren’t inserted into the groups as Tuvok and O’Brien were.
- I remain entertained that the fonts on the bridge view screen resemble those from Star Trek: 2009.
- Eagle eyed viewers will notice a Kzinti officer, which is a species distinct from the Caitians, and comes to us from TAS.
- The Ferengi in this episode most closely resemble those from “The Last Outpost,” complete with power whips. Mariner calls them dumb, and frankly, the original conception of the Ferengi was pretty dumb.
- Section 31 is a DS9 creation and may be getting its own show at some point in the future.
- Patingi seems to be a Tellarite Steve Irwin, and y’all…this joke wasn’t in good taste.
- The shuttle lost in a black hole line could refer to Star Trek: 2009, when both the Narada and Spock’s ship were pulled into a black hole, kicking off the whole mess.
- The makeshift projector looks like the bazooka Kirk threw together to defeat the Gorn in “Arena.”
- Wait, people disappeared on the lost ship Atlantis? You don’t say. That naming is a bit on the nose.
- This week’s sex reference is, if possible, even more blatant. Not only do we get amorous Mugatos, we get one who likes to watch. McMahan is definitely pushing the envelope, but also, that humor is a touch juvenile. Plus, whose genitals aren’t sensitive to phaser fire?
- Why is Shaxs eating dung? He has a tricorder. Just, why?
- Speaking of why, we get a second episode in a row of just how much T’Ana resembles a cat. This joke was old when it first appeared last week, and it’s even older now. What should we expect next week? A cat carrier?