The third episode of the second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” was released for streaming today, Thursday, August 26th, 2021. The episode was written by M. Willis and directed by Bob Suarez… and it’s the 800th episode of Trek!
— Jack Quaid (@JackQuaid92) August 26, 2021
If you’d like to catch up on previous Lower Decks recaps, you can do so here.
Spicy Kiwi Ketchup
We open on the Cerritos, and cut to Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) welcoming Ensign Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) back to the ship. As they enter the cafeteria, Ransom is explaining security protocols have been tightened in his absence, and to go to Billups with any issues.
However, as Bradward is about to learn, Mariner isn’t the only one who isn’t ready to forgive him for jumping ship. He approaches the replicator and orders a pupusa (makes sense – unlike the Califorina-class vessels, Luna-class ships don’t have the good Mexican food in their replicator programming). But he only gets an “user not recognized” error message, repeatedly. Soon Jen (Lauren Lupkis) and the other crewmembers behind him in line are getting annoyed at the wait…
Elsewhere in the cafeteria, Ensign Samanthan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) asks Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) why she’s rushing through her breakfast when they don’t have to report until 0800. Tendi says that she has too much to do before the start of her shift. Rutherford asks if this is a reaction to Ensign Escher, who apparently got promoted over Tendi recently. Rutherford says that Escher got lucky, happening to have the right hypospray on hand to cure the Captain’s Terellial Death Syndrome, but Tendi says she can’t rely on people getting sick and leaves to get a leg up on medical stuff just as Mariner arrives.
That’s when Commander Shax (Fred Tatasciore) approaches the replicator and orders spicy kiwi ketchup for his hot dog. The music takes on an uncanny tone as Rutherford freaks out about the dead man walking his food tray to the table.
Mariner (Tandy Newsome) looks up from her burrito but doesn’t react to Shax’s resurrection, only to his condiment choice. Rutherford is perplexed about his return, but Mariner is blasé: bridge crew always comes back. Rutherford asks if he’ll find out what happened, given that Shax died saving his life, and Mariner says probably not: lower decks never get to learn the truth about these things.
Meanwhile, Boimler finally gets the replicator to react… but it only delivers a bonsai tree before we head into the theme song.
“We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”
In the medical bay, Tendi is cleaning equipment until it shines (and taking full advantage of the second season’s increased animation budget with her reflection). Dr. T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) calls Tendi into her office and Tendi eagerly responds. T’Ana tells Tendi she’s sending her on a mission to Quallor II, where she’s to retrieve a family heirloom. Tendi says she’s honored but T’Ana tells her she’s just the lowest ranking officer who will ask the fewest questions… and T’Ana seems to be in some degree of distress.
Down in the Lower Decker shuttle bay, Mariner and Rutherford are working when Boimler arrives, nearly being clipped by the door as he does. But even the saltiness of the Cerritos can’t dampen his joy at getting to meet Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), citing several of his holodeck capers (naturally, Mariner brings up that time he turned into a salamander).
That’s when Boimler reveals that he collects all sorts of plates, and even has the full set of VOY’s bridge crew, organized by rank and with signatures from everyone but Paris (no word on whether Kim has been promoted yet – but no confirmation that he hasn’t, either).
But when Boimler casually mentions Shax in conjunction with Paris’s morale-boosting handshake tour, Rutherford gets agitated. Rutherford asks again if his resurrection doesn’t bother either of them, but all he gets is a clear demonstration of why Mariner and Boimler are such close friends: they quickly fall into a lively conversation that recounts a few of the many ways Starfleet bridge crew has come back from the dead over the years, from Genesis Devices to Mirror Universe switcheroos.
Mariner concludes by noting that this stuff is always happening, even on VOY – but the Lower Deckers never find out why. However, Rutherford resolves to uncover the truth. After fighting with the door (which still won’t recognize his commands), Boimler leaves to find Paris, and Tendi arrives and asks Mariner to join her on a mission – which, they quickly realize, will constitute some long-overdue one-on-one time for the duo.
Elsewhere in the Cerritos, Boimler is still dealing with unresponsive doors. Ensign Jet Manhaver (Marcus Henderson) arrives and offers to carry Boimler across the threshold like a bride, but Boimler rejects the offer. As the door closes behind Jet, Boimler turns to the Jefferies Tubes, his Tom Paris plate tucked under his arm…
Meanwhile, Tendi and Mariner have taken Shuttlecraft Four (the Yosemite) and are arriving on Quallor, which Mariner states is awesome – “you can get any drink in the form of a slushie,” she notes. As they leave the Yosemite, they take in the neon splendor of Quallor, which includes billboards advertising Vic Fontaine and the Zebulon Sisters, plus a sign for a Quark’s franchise location.
Soon, Tendi and Mariner are sipping on slushies as Tendi speaks with the Caitian clerk at the storage facility. He’s unhelpful at first, but soon, Tendi has bonded with him over their shared passion for Klingon Acid Punk after she recognizes “Gre’Thor Paradise,” a song by Gik’Tal, playing (the wails of the dishonored are a dead giveaway).
The clerk goes back to find the heirloom as Mariner says she’s surprised that Tendi likes Klingon Acid Punk. Tendi notes that that’s strange, as she talks about it all the time. Soon, the pair begins to realize that even though they’ve been working together for a year at this point, they have never actually gotten to know each other very well. But before they can get further in getting to know one another, the large crate carrying the heirloom is returned.
Back at the Yosemite, Mariner convinces Tendi to peek inside the crate. Mariner doesn’t understand why the wooden statue inside is important, but Tendi immediately does: it’s a Caitian Libido Post. Sort of like the Vulcan Pon Farr, it seems that Caitians have a need to have sex once a year or their hormones will make them crazy – but the Caitian Libido Post can serve as a kind of sex toy substitute.
But that’s when they accidentally break the sex toy. Tendi panics, but Mariner assures her that it’s fixable – she shares an anecdote about running over Worf’s mek’leth and repairing it before he found out. While this helps Tendi learn another detail about Mariner’s past (she served on Deep Space 9!), it highlights the fact that Tendi and Mariner really don’t seem to know one another all that well, especially considering Mariner talks about her past assignments so regularly.
Nevertheless, Mariner says she knows a fixer on Bonestell (cool planet name) who can repair the sex toy… and the pair heads off together, albeit with a slightly dampened attitude.
Having Flashbacks Right Now
Back on the Cerritos, Rutherford is working in Engineering when Shax enters and approaches Lt. Commander Andy Billups (Paul Scheer), suggesting a game of racquetball (classic bridge crew recreation choice). Rutherford eavesdrops as the pair share some hushed discussion that dances around the details of what transpired with Shax.
Rutherford is about to ask what happened when Lt. Junior Grade Cody approaches Shax and asks how he came back. Everyone in Engineering is horribly offended, Shax covers his mouth and his eyes well with tears, and Billups leaps to the Security Officer’s defense, ordering Cody to report to his supervisor for reassignment.
Cody leaves Engineering, dejected and confused… but honesty, major faux pas by Cody – and did he even have part of his brain ripped out? What’s his excuse?
Shax turns to Rutherford and asks what he wanted to ask, but Rutherford deflects with a question about racquetball. Still, as Rutherford walks away, it’s clear that his curiosity remains unsatisfied…
Meanwhile, at Starbase Earhart on Bonestell, Mariner and Tendi are consulting Mariner’s contact at a familiar looking bar… but Mariner’s contact doubles the cost, seeing as it’s her. Tendi laments that they can’t afford it, but Mariner says they can just win the latinum off some of the other bar customers, and then challenges a group of Nausicaans to a game of dom-jot.
After Mariner is accused of being a ringer, Tendi is brought in as a substitute, but one of the Nausicaans asserts that, as an Orion, she’ll use her pheromones to cheat them. Mariner acts offended, but then suggests Tendi do just that – evoking Tendi’s ire and further calling into question how well they know one another.
Tendi wins the game, but the Nausiccans accuse them of cheating, and further destroy the Caitian sex toy. Mariner begins to talk a big game, but as the Nausicaans advance, she throws the latinum in their face and the two Starfleet officers flee.
In the bowels of the Cerritos, Boimler and his Tom Paris plate are still making their way towards the bridge… But that’s when the real Tom Paris arrives on the bridge. He’s greeted by Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and the rest of bridge crew, who exchange some pleasantries with him before letting him sit down in the pilot’s chair.
Unfortunately, this means that the static will be purged. Bradward dives out of the way, leaving the plate to the flames, and initiates an emergency shutdown – an effective strategy, but one that isn’t accomplished without further lip from the Cerritos computer. The Tom Paris plate remains intact (if a little superheated, as Boimler learns when he kisses it).
All About Orions
On the Yosemite, Mariner and Tendi receive a transmission from Dr. T’Ana emphasizing the urgency of the mission. Tendi laments that, unlike Mariner, whose mother is the captain, Tendi doesn’t get to make mistakes. She explains that it was difficult to get into Starfleet Academy because of the stigma that continues to exist around Orions – many humans think they’re all pirates.
The Orion were first mentioned (and seen) back in the original pilot for Star Trek: Those Old Scientists (TOS), “The Cage.” Orions subsequently appeared in many other corners of the Trek universe, with episodes like Enterprise’s “Bound” (season four, episode fifteen) having the crew discover the species is a matriarchy (although one that allows outsiders to believe the males are in command).
Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan seems to have a soft spot for the Orions: not only is Tendi the first Orion main character on a Trek series, but in the Short Trek written by McMahan, “The Escape Artist,” we see an Orion pirate queen who seems to embody the prejudiced presumptions Mariner made about Tendi in last season’s holodeck bonanza, “Crisis Point.”
But while Tendi may be outraged that many humans assume all Orion are thieves and pirates, she suddenly recalls that her cousin works in a thieves’ den at a pirate outpost in the sector. Mariner says it works for her in spite of the optics (if they don’t bother Tendi), but Tendi points out that they must disguise Mariner in order to infiltrate the outpost: she’ll have to go undercover as an Orion.
On the Cerritos, Boimler is worming his way through the Jefferies Tubes as Rutherford is scanning something with his T-88 tricorder. That’s when he’s besieged by a vision of an almost infinite number of Shaxes!
Each individual Shax (many of whom have cool alternate costumes, like a Borg Shax and an Enterprise Shax) begins offering his own explanation for the character’s resurrection. PROTIP: turn on your subtitles for this scene. My favorite inclusion: “What was the deal with T’Pol’s hair for that one year?”
Rutherford finally snaps and runs out of Engineering, shouting that he has to know!
Mistress of the Winter Constellations
The Yosemite arrives at the Orion Pirate Outpost and Mariner and Tendi take to the streets, both wearing pirate disguises (with Mariner in False Green, which will only last so long). Fortunately, Mariner is able to pass by claiming her speech patterns are the result of the pheromones, which an Orion guard agrees are very bad this time of year.
That’s when they locate D’Onni, Tendi’s cousin. Mariner marvels at how hot he is, then admits to Tendi that she has a type – the bad ones! “I’m always dating bad boys, bad girls, bad gender nonbinary babes, ruthless alien masterminds, bad Bynars,” she confirms. But Tendi says she just seems to spend all her time with Boimler.
Mariner’s offended, but is soon distracted by D’Onni’s biceps. D’Onni tells Tendi that she shouldn’t be here but Tendi literally slaps him down. Mariner is impressed but Tendi says it’s an Orion thing that makes her really uncomfortable – but she does command him to fix the sex toy.
D’Onni address Tendi as “Mistress of the Winter Constellations,” but Tendi says that’s a name she left behind long ago. However, that’s when Mariner’s False Green begins to wear off. It seems like they’ll maintain control of the situation anyway, but it soon becomes clear that Mariner doesn’t actually know Tendi’s first name… and that’s when the Orion pirates realize she’s actually human.
The pair flees the angry mob. Mariner asks why Tendi doesn’t just command them to stop and Tendi snaps that it doesn’t work on angry mobs, which Mariner would know if she wasn’t so ignorant of Orions. They decide that they aren’t friends, they’re just coworkers, then continue to flee.
On the Cerritos, Bradward is still crawling through the Jefferies tubes when a door closes in front of him. He talks back to the ship, which earns him a closed door behind him, too. Boimler laments that, between the Titan and the Cerritos, he doesn’t seem to belong anywhere. But that’s when the Tom Paris plate addresses him directly.
“This is your home! You’re right where you belong,” the Tom Paris plate says. At first Bradward protests, but soon the Tom Paris plate wins him over, and he opens a panel and gets to work (in spite of a face full of gas).
Back at the Orion Pirate Outpost, Tendi and Mariner are scaling the building where the Yosemite is parked, but they’re soon spotted by the Orion pirates. Tendi and Mariner are able to make it inside the building… but at the cost of half of the fertility post. The Yosemite takes to the sky as the building explodes behind it…
The Black Mountain
And on the Cerritos, Rutherford throws himself into the turbolift after Shax. Addressing him as Baby Bear (the pet name Shax gave Rutherford in season one), Shax asks Rutherford what’s wrong. Shax assures Rutherford it wasn’t his fault that Shax died, and explains that the only reason they don’t share the way they come back is to spare their fellow crewmembers the horrible truth.
Shax emphasizes that once you know the truth, you will become a changed person – but Rutherford quickly agrees to the consequences and says he has to know.
“Okay, so death is the first thing that happens,” Shax begins. “And then – oh, wait. You do know about the Black Mountain, right? The Black Mountain is a spiritual battleground your soul goes where you have to fight three faceless apparitions of your father… The surviving father makes you eat your heart…”
The music grows more unsettling still as Shax’s voice becomes muffled and we see Rutherford’s facial reaction to the depraved scientific truths being imparted, from which we are mercifully spared…
Delta Quadrant Dropouts
In the Jefferies tube, Boimler has seemingly given up on escaping. His hair is disheveled and his uniform is in tatters. In desperation, he smashes the gilded Tom Paris plate into the panel…
Which causes an electric reaction that dumps Boimler through the ceiling of the bridge and onto the floor behind Captain Freeman.
Bradward immediately begins excitedly jabbering at the real Tom Paris, who (not unreasonably) mistakes Boimler for a Kazon! Paris tackles Boimler before we cut back to the Yosemite.
Mariner admits to Tendi that she keeps the details of her backstory vague on purpose to avoid getting hurt when her peers are promoted up and away. In response, Tendi admits that she never gets to share much about herself because she’s always too occupied making sure everyone else is happy.
Tendi tells Mariner that she’s just going to be honest with T’Ana and accept responsibility for the damaged sex toy. Mariner says she’s a good person, but that’s not what they’re going to do. She tells Tendi to buckle up before instructing the computer to achieve ramming speed. As the Yosemite accellerates toward the Cerritos, Mariner declares, “Friendship!”
On the bridge, Paris is kicking Boimler’s ass (Delta Quadrant style) as the bridge crew looks on surprise. They notice the approaching shuttlecraft, which doesn’t slow down… but just sort of bounces off the shields of the Cerritos, with no damage to the California-class vessel done.
In the shuttle bay, Ransom lectures Mariner, who maintains that a bee got in the shuttle and caused the accident. Meanwhile, Tendi attempts to explain what happened to Dr. T’Ana, but Mariner takes responsibility, earning another trip to the brig.
However, T’Ana is indifferent to the smashed fertility post: it turns out she didn’t want the sex toy, she wanted the box it came in – she is a Caitian, after all. This leads to one of the funniest visual gags we’ve seen on the show yet.
Later, in the brig (which has wall graffiti by Mariner that has advanced since we saw the cell in the season premiere), Tendi shares her favorite Klingon Acid Punk records with Rutherford and Mariner. Boimler arrives and brags that the glitch has been fixed and he is now once again authorized to access most areas of the Cerritos.
Although he hasn’t yet had his Tom Paris plate signed, he’s meant to get drinks with the designer of the Delta Flyer later that night (when he’ll be able to secure the signature). One Boimler leaves, Tendi asks Rutherford if he found out how Shax came back… and Rutherford, panicked, lies and says he never discovered the truth.
As the episode concludes on an exterior shot of the Cerritos, Tendi begins playing an Acid Punk song about a Klingon who ate his own hand.
New episodes of Lower Decks are available for streaming each Thursday on Paramount+.