Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for The Original Series and The Next Generation.
Mugato, Gumato was a fun episode with some good jokes and perhaps more meta-humour than any other episode so far this season. It consisted of a main A-story and two much smaller B-plots, which in turn focused on Tendi, Dr T’Ana, and Captain Freeman. This week, however, the stars were Boimler and Rutherford, with Mariner playing a significant but smaller role.
Though we’ve seen them interact on a number of occasions already, it was a pleasant surprise how well the central Rutherford-Boimler pairing worked. Season 2 of Lower Decks has shaken things up from the usual first-season story pairings of putting Boimler with Mariner and Tendi with Rutherford, and the result overall has been that the four ensigns feel more like a group of friends who all like one another and work well together than ever before. There was less of a commentary on Rutherford and Boimler’s friendship than there had been with Mariner and Tendi in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris last week, but the duo arguably had a stronger foundation to build on as they’d been seen working together on several prior occasions. There’s also far less of a personality clash than with Tendi and Mariner!
I’m not much of a “shipper,” but is it too late to start shipping Boimler and Rutherford as a couple? Some of their scenes together in Mugato, Gumato were just too cute, and though Rutherford and Tendi also make a great pair, I felt there was real chemistry between the two – and between actors Eugene Cordero and Jack Quaid. Maybe that’s one I’ll just have to settle for fantasising about… but if you ask me, it could work exceptionally well!
The episode’s opening scene didn’t feel great at first; I didn’t really like seeing the ensigns fighting one another to the point of drawing blood. There was a “girl power” vibe to it as Mariner was able to easily defeat Rutherford and Boimler – despite the fact that we’d seen that Rutherford has great martial skills in Season 1’s Envoys, but perhaps we can overlook that little inconsistency! As the title sequence kicked in I felt that the anbo-jyutsu match was going to be a let-down, but it actually set up the main thrust of the episode’s story well, and on reflection it was a solid way to open the story. It established that Rutherford and Boimler have been on the receiving end of Mariner’s fighting skills, so when they were confronted with the notion that she might be a super-spy it didn’t come from nowhere. While I didn’t like it in the moment – though seeing Shaxs calmly sit down and wait his turn was funny – overall I have to give it credit for setting up the plot quite well.
I believe that Mugato, Gumato marks the first time that we’ve seen Denobulans outside of Star Trek: Enterprise – where main character Dr Phlox belonged to that race. It’s interesting to note that they seem to be Federation allies – or perhaps even Federation members – as of the late 24th Century, and perhaps that’s an indication that we might see more Denobulans in future. One of the anachronisms created by Enterprise being a prequel was that some races – like the Denobulans, but also including the Suliban and the Xindi – appear to have been known to the Federation in the mid-22nd Century but made no appearances in the 23rd or 24th Centuries. The question of why that might be (from an in-universe point of view, of course) is potentially interesting, and I wonder if we’ll see more from the Denobulans or other Enterprise races and factions in future.
The Denobulan couple were only on screen for a few seconds, but set up the main story. They encountered a mugato – an ape-like creature originally seen in The Original Series second season episode A Private Little War – and because the mugato are not native to that world the USS Cerritos was called in to investigate. This setup was neat, and combined elements from different eras of Star Trek, which was great to see.
The name of the mugato – or “mugatu,” as Captain Kirk repeatedly called it – has long been confused, and this episode’s title made note of that. “Gumato” was the name of the animal in the script for A Private Little War, but this was changed during filming. Officially the animal is called the mugato, but as noted it has been pronounced several different ways on screen. Boimler voicing aloud that this is “inconsistent” was just one of several meta-jokes he made this time, including using the title of The Next Generation first season episode The Last Outpost to refer to the band of Ferengi that the away team encountered.
The use of the Ferengi as this week’s antagonists worked surprisingly well. The Ferengi were originally created for The Next Generation with a view to having them fill a role vacated by the newly-friendly Klingons as a recurring antagonist for Picard and the crew, but their appearance in The Last Outpost – in which future Quark actor Armin Shimerman played one of the Ferengi leaders – didn’t work as well as any of the writers and producers had hoped. The Ferengi would return in this capacity in episodes like The Battle, but the general feeling was that they didn’t work as well as intended in the antagonist role, and were subsequently shaken up to be more money-oriented, capitalistic, and arguably comedic by the time of Deep Space Nine. Lower Decks, however, very deliberately chose to play up the early depictions of the Ferengi on this occasion – and I have to say that I feel it worked exceptionally well.
The Ferengi’s lightning-whip weapons made a return for the first time since Season 1 of The Next Generation, and while the special effects of 1980s live-action struggled to have them work as intended, in animation they actually come across as genuinely threatening weapons. The Ferengi’s motivation, while arguably basic, was very much in line with all of their prior depictions: their desire to capture and slaughter the mugato (or should that be mugatoes?) was entirely driven by a lust for gold-pressed latinum. Even the likes of Quark wouldn’t be above a scheme like this – though if this were a Deep Space Nine episode we’d have seen the Ferengi take on a more bumbling, slapstick look rather than the over-the-top villains ultimately portrayed!
There was also an ecological message buried in this side of the story, as the Ferengi’s treatment of the mugato was very much comparable to modern-day poachers hunting for rhino horn in Africa. At one point the Ferengi leader even made reference to mugato horn potentially being an aphrodisiac, which is one of the key factors encouraging real-world poaching. This was perhaps more of a minor point than it could’ve been; background to establish a related plot rather than being the driving force. But it came back into play at the story’s resolution, which was nice.
Speaking of which, unfortunately I felt that the way in which Boimler and Rutherford were able to convince the Ferengi to shut down their poaching operation in favour of a mugato conservation area was rushed. This is a consequence of the episode trying to jam three stories into its short runtime, and the result was that the resolution to the main story came and went in what felt like the blink of an eye. Nothing was wrong with the concept itself, and I like the idea of this eco-friendly solution, as well as Boimler and Rutherford using their brains and their mathematical and diplomatic skills rather than trying to attack the Ferengi head-on or use brute force. But it would’ve benefitted greatly from just an extra couple of minutes to play out.
If I had to choose one of the B-plots to cut it would’ve been the one involving Captain Freeman. Not for the first time this season Lower Decks has wanted to spend time with the captain and the bridge crew, but has simply lacked the runtime to successfully include everything needed to make much of their stories. Captain Freeman being the victim of a scammer was kind of funny – it definitely had its moments – but overall it feels more like a sub-plot that took away from the others without really giving much back. In an episode that already had Tendi and Dr T’Ana, Shaxs leading an away team, the Mariner super-spy story, Boimler’s team-up with Rutherford, and the Ferengi poaching mugato (or mugatoes?) there just wasn’t time for this bit with the Captain. It didn’t accomplish much of anything, and as much as I enjoy Captain Freeman as a character – and the performance by Dawnn Lewis – not for the first time in Season 2 I’m left feeling that perhaps Lower Decks needs to be a little less ambitious when it comes to the number of stories and the number of characters it tries to cram into a twenty-minute episode.
Though Ensign Mariner took a back seat for much of the story, her wonderful character arc was furthered in a big way by a significant moment in Mugato, Gumato. The revelation that she started a rumour about herself basically because she’s lonely and isn’t used to having friends really tugged at the heartstrings. As someone who’s also experienced loneliness and has few friends, I can empathise with Mariner. Likewise, Boimler and Rutherford’s willingness to believe the rumour because they’re not used to having a cool friend like Mariner is something that’s also very relatable.
What we seem to have learned here is that Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi may be the first real friends that Mariner has made in a long time. In Season 1 we saw that she’s drifted far apart from some of her Starfleet Academy friends – like Captain Ramsey – and it seems as though Mariner’s desire to avoid certain types of people has caused her to feel quite isolated and lonely at times. She felt genuinely hurt at the notion that Boimler and Rutherford would believe the rumour she started – and I have to credit both the animators and a beautifully emotional voice performance by Tawny Newsome here for bringing that across in a pitch-perfect manner. As I’ve said before, Mariner’s character arc across Season 1 was wonderful to watch, and this moment follows on from her team-up with Tendi to continue that arc through Season 2 as well.
Mariner set up Boimler and Rutherford for their big moment, saving the day by convincing the Ferengi to give up poaching. Though I felt this moment was rushed, as mentioned, the fact that Rutherford and Boimler came up with a solution on their terms was great to see. After a story that had been partly about fighting and that started with an intro where the duo had tried to go toe-to-toe with Mariner in the anbo-jyutsu ring, the ultimate resolution was peaceful. This kind of story tells us that there are different ways to win – and not all of them have to involve violence. It’s okay not to be the strongest, because everyone has their own skills. I like that kind of message.
The mugato (or mugatoes) themselves were portrayed in basically the same way as they had been in The Original Series. Lower Decks kept the same design, and while it perhaps played up some of their more monkey- or ape-like qualities, for the most part I think what we got was a portrayal of the critters that was very much in line with their first appearance. They were present to serve as the background for a character-centric story rather than being the focal point, so that makes sense.
The only story left to talk about is the B-plot which featured Tendi and Dr T’Ana. After her big outing last week it was fair enough for Tendi to drop back this time, but despite having a smaller story it was great to see that her characterisation is becoming more settled. This time we saw her go from being timid to assertive, not only with her colleagues and patients but also with Dr T’Ana herself. Though I don’t necessarily think we’re going to see her become the dominant force in her friend group any time soon, the lesson she learned this week about asserting herself may yet come into play in a future story.
Was it silly for Dr T’Ana to be so reluctant to have a basic medical scan? Absolutely. Do I care? Absolutely not, because it set up a truly hilarious sequence in which Dr T’Ana – already one of my favourite characters on the show – got to show off her most cat-like tendencies, which is a joke I swear I will never get tired of! Seeing her meowing and hissing as she ran through the Jeffries tubes was so funny, and poor Ensign Tendi struggled to keep up. Tendi’s broken arm was perhaps as close as Lower Decks has come to out-and-out goriness this season, but it worked well and allowed her to complete her mission. Tendi is nothing if not dedicated!
Dr T’Ana also seems to be on the verge of renewing her relationship with Shaxs following his unexpected return, and their dynamic actually works really well. As the two gruff, short-tempered characters on the Cerritos, they work so well together. I hope a future episode can pair them up for more than just a few moments at a time – even if they don’t progress their relationship in a romantic way, I think they’d play off one another exceptionally well in any story.
There were plenty of fun moments in Mugato, Gumato, and two out of three stories worked really well. Other smaller things I liked seeing were the bartender with a strong New England accent – he seemed like a character right out of a Stephen King novel! The character of Patingi seemed like a less competent Steve Irwin, and that was fun too. Tendi’s montage of scanning different characters was clever, and saw her use a wide range of skills, including on the holodeck. But what I’ll remember the episode for most of all is how it progressed Ensign Mariner’s characterisation in such a relatable and downright emotional way. That, to me, is the real success of this week’s outing.
So I think that’s about all I have to say about Mugato, Gumato. As we approach the halfway point, Lower Decks’ second season has delivered plenty of entertainment and enjoyment. There’s a lot to love about the series, and I hope that Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike are finding their way to Lower Decks by now. I’m certainly encouraging everyone I know to give it a try!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is 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.