Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1 & 2. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
With only one real caveat, I had a good time with We’ll Always Have Tom Paris this week. The episode’s title was a play on We’ll Always Have Paris – a first season episode of The Next Generation, itself a quotation from the film Casablanca. There were three storylines this week, all of which worked pretty well.
Having mentioned a caveat, let’s get that out of the way first. Tom Paris’ role was very minor; I think he only had four or five lines. As happened with Q last season, I just felt that more could’ve been made of the return of a major character from Star Trek’s past. As it is, there was nothing “Tom Paris” about this character’s appearance. The story wouldn’t have been changed in the slightest had the character been named Dennis or Engelbert Humperdinck, and that kind of very minor cameo, in which a character takes on a role totally disconnected from anything they’ve done in the past, can feel a bit wasteful. If we compare Paris’ appearance to Riker’s in the previous episode, for example, there’s a huge difference in terms of what the characters brought to the story and how well their appearances landed. In addition I’d add that the design of Tom Paris likewise felt very generic, and it was only because of the voice that he was even recognisable.
It feels as though Paris had been jammed into an unrelated script simply to give the episode a punny title, and I guess after his return was teased in the second trailer earlier in the year, I’d been hoping for something more. Small cameo appearances can work, and Lower Decks has succeeded in the past by giving folks from Star Trek’s past a mere line or two. But because Tom Paris didn’t seem to be doing anything we’d associate with his character (touring the bridge and being a motivating voice in Boimler’s imagination) it just felt a bit too bland. All in all, this cameo turned out to be a bit of a non-event.
The rest of the episode was pretty good, though, and the Tom Paris stuff did serve as the foundation for an interesting Boimler story, so it wasn’t a total misfire!
As the characters themselves noted in one particularly meta scene, we haven’t really had Mariner and Tendi teamed up for an adventure of their own before. They did have some time together in last season’s Crisis Point, but there was a lot going on in that particular episode so they weren’t really the focus. It was neat to see them paired up on this occasion, and it was particularly interesting to see them realise how little they really knew about one another despite having served together for a year.
This episode is perhaps my favourite Tendi story so far. As I’ve mentioned more than once, Tendi felt rudderless as a character across the first season, and unlike the other three main characters never really found a niche on the series. We’ll Always Have Tom Paris has done more to solidify her character than all of her other appearances to date, and we’ve come away from the episode knowing more about her as an individual. There were elements of her past portrayals: her desire to be liked – as she went along with Mariner’s “let’s go and have fun” agenda – that we’d seen in Moist Vessel, her difficult relationship with her Orion heritage that we’d seen in Crisis Point, and her role as an assistant in Sickbay that we’d seen best in Much Ado About Boimler. All of those elements have now come together to give us a solid idea of who Tendi is, and I think we’re now in a place where we can say that her character feels settled.
Lower Decks has previously paired up Boimler with Mariner and Rutherford with Tendi on several occasions, as well as putting Boimler with Tendi for one story and giving Mariner a handful of moments with Rutherford. It would be great to continue this theme of different character pairings, and now that we’ve had a “girls trip” perhaps the next thing to do is to put Boimler and Rutherford together!
We’ve all been in Tendi’s shoes at one point or another: having broken something and being desperate to fix it. The feeling of having messed something up, regret mixed with anxiety about what might happen, is something very relatable. As Tendi and Mariner broke Dr T’Ana’s family heirloom, I think it gave their storyline a youthful edge as well. Though it could equally be seen as a work-related screw-up, I think most of us can vividly remember being a child and breaking or damaging something and not wanting the grown-ups to find out!
That sense of desperately trying to fix something or cover it up escalated as Mariner and Tendi visited a few different locations during their “girls’ trip.” Qualor II had been mentioned in The Next Generation, but a closer look at its surface in this episode gave the world a distinct vibe of Freecloud – the planet Picard took his new crew to in search of Bruce Maddox in Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. Their next destination, Starbase Earhart, likewise had a Picard connection, as it was the site of his first assignment after graduating from Starfleet Academy. Finally, they visited an Orion pirate den that was reminiscent of an Orion-run scrapyard seen in Discovery Season 3 just last year.
Each of these locations was distinctive, and it’s great that animation allows us to see such a variety of different worlds and locales in the course of a single episode. This is one advantage that animation can have over live-action! Each location also served a purpose for the duo, as they got progressively more desperate to fix Dr T’Ana’s heirloom.
There was a danger that this storyline would’ve come across making Mariner out to be “the bad guy” again, since it was a direct result of her nosiness and pressuring Tendi to open the box that the heirloom got damaged in the first place. But I think the rest of the story, and Mariner’s willingness to help put things right, made up for that. I didn’t come away from the episode feeling that Mariner had been horrible to Tendi; curiosity is normal, after all.
The way the story was ultimately resolved was fun, too. Firstly, the shuttle bouncing off the Cerritos’ shields, and the damage report being “none” was one of the funniest moments in the season so far. Mariner’s line about how “there was a bee!” was also incredibly funny, as was Dr T’Ana tending to Tendi’s scraped knee. The whole sequence was hilarious. But beyond that, Dr T’Ana not caring at all about the heirloom and just wanting to play in the box was amazingly funny – as anyone who has a pet cat can attest!
Lower Decks has gone out of its way on several occasions to play up the cat-like tendencies of Dr T’Ana, and every time I find myself laughing out loud. As I’ve said before, Dr T’Ana is one of my favourite secondary characters on the show, and moments like this are exactly why. She’s proven to be an excellent comedic character.
Mariner and Tendi learned a lot about each other over the course of their adventure, including challenging some of their preconceptions about one another. Though I never got the sense that they weren’t on friendly terms, their relationship should be stronger than ever from this point onwards, and any future Mariner-Tendi story can use this episode as a foundation to build upon. All of that is positive for the series.
Now we come to the biggest surprise of the episode – and of the season so far – the return of Shaxs! The Bajoran security chief’s death was a poignant moment in the Season 1 finale, as he was killed in action saving Rutherford’s life. As a moment of pure shock value, seeing him back aboard the Cerritos was a complete success, and I wonder if we’ll get to learn more about his journey back from the grave. Whatever it was certainly seemed to have an effect on Rutherford!
We got to see Rutherford out of his comfort zone this week, and it was great to see him outside his usual role as he chased down Shaxs and tried to figure out what might’ve happened. As I said last time, Rutherford’s memory loss storyline that had been set up in the Season 1 finale ended up going nowhere – and this week he even said that he had some of his memories back (somehow) – so giving him a storyline involving the return of Shaxs set him up to do something a little different.
Though we didn’t spend a great deal of time with him last year, Shaxs was a fun character and I was sad when he lost his life. His return is certainly welcome, but I hope that Lower Decks plans to do more with the “back from the dead” storyline than just explaining something to Rutherford off screen. Mariner and others mentioned a number of ways Shaxs could have returned, and in Rutherford’s mind we saw a few more – all of which referenced events in past iterations of Star Trek. But as Trekkies, I think we have a natural curiosity about these things. All we really need is some kind of technobabble explanation and that would suffice – so I hope we get it before the season ends!
Shaxs’ relationship with Rutherford is sweet, and the almost fatherly way he talks to his “baby bear” is something that the show can absolutely do more with. We haven’t really seen Shaxs interact with the other three ensigns yet, but Rutherford spent a short amount of time on his security team early in Season 1, and ever since they’ve been on good terms. It would also be great to see more of the teased relationship between Shaxs and Dr T’Ana – maybe that’s something that’ll come in a future episode too!
At first I thought that Boimler’s storyline – in which the Cerritos’ computer, replicator, and doors didn’t recognise him – was going to connect in some way to last week’s “transporter clone” storyline. After all, it wasn’t 100% clear which was the original Boimler and which was the clone! That didn’t happen, and by the end of the episode he’d got his security clearance set up and was back to normal again.
Seeing him crawling through the Jeffries tubes was neat, but as mentioned the stuff with Tom Paris – which connected to Boimler’s story – felt like a bit of a dud. It was all in-character for Boimler, though, whose anxieties and neuroses have been well-established in previous episodes and stories.
After being unsure of Boimler’s ultimate fate following his promotion and transfer, it was nice to see him back aboard the Cerritos with his friends – even if he didn’t get much of an opportunity to interact with them this time. I’m sure we’ll get more of that in future, though.
So I think that’s about all I have to say on this occasion. This was the first truly outstanding Tendi episode; the first in which she was the real star. Mariner played a great supporting role, and we got to see their friendship really come to the fore. Tendi’s characterisation feels a lot more settled than it had in the past, which is great.
The return of Shaxs was unexpected, but it was accompanied by about a dozen callbacks to similar “back from the dead” storylines in past iterations of Star Trek, which was fun. I’m glad to have Shaxs back – and I wonder if his return is going to either have a lasting impact on Rutherford or perhaps become the subject of a new storyline later in the season. Maybe Shaxs being killed off every few episodes then returning without explanation will become a running joke!
In an episode with his name literally in the title, I felt that Tom Paris’ role wasn’t all it could’ve been. Further, the design of his animated character was incredibly bland; a rare miss in Lower Decks’ usually-good animated style. He did play a role in Boimler’s story, but as cameo appearances go his certainly wasn’t one of the best.
Despite that, I had fun this week. There were plenty of jokes and laugh-out-loud moments, and it was nice to see the four main characters reunited at last. In fact, this might’ve been the funniest episode of the season so far.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.