“Mugato, Gumato” is many things. 2×04 of Lower Decks doesn’t just pay homage to other iterations of Star Trek–it does something that I’ve not seen other iterations of Trek do very often–paying blatant visual homage to other genre films. Star Trek has always made reference other works, like Moby Dick in Star Trek: First Contact, or having holodeck simulations with real historical figures, such as Captain Janeway’s interactions with Leonardo da Vinci (played by John Rhys-Davies) in Star Trek: Voyager. However, this is the first time I’ve seen an episode of Trek do it in quite the way that Lower Decks has done. For my review of “Mugato, Gumato,” I want to highlight a few of these instances, and also chat a bit about the affirmation of Tendi, Boimler, and Rutherford.
Subtle Star Trek Nods
It’s always nice to see nods to other things in the Star Trek universe. A cold open with anbo-jyutsu is a nice nod to Star Trek: The Next Generation, a favorite sport of Will Riker. Shaxs is dressed in 80s workout gear, kind of like Brand from The Goonies, but perhaps also a wink to the 80s workout gear that Troi and Dr. Crusher wore in TNG. Apparently, 1980s workout clothes will be en vogue in the future, so maybe start sporting these threads at the gym. You’ll be avant-garde.
I also got quite excited about the Denobulan scientists! I’m quite the fan of Dr. Phlox in Star Trek: Enterprise, and to my recollection, this is the first time we’ve seen Denobulans since Enterprise. It filled me with delight to see their fear reaction too. It’s always enjoyable to see the little tiny details like that in Lower Decks. I love how much fun the showrunners are clearly having while working in these little touches.
Finally, when Captain Freeman informs Shaxs that his team has “less than 22 minutes” I busted out laughing. Lower Decks while meta, doesn’t always break the fourth wall. Remarking on the show’s runtime within the story is a nice touch.
As a cinephile, it always delights my little intertextual heart to see how film and television borrow from each other. Star Trek does this occasionally too. My favorite iteration of this is Star Trek: Voyager 3×12, “Macrocosm,” which is a visual homage to my all-time favorite film, Alien. However, this is the first time in recent memory that I’ve seen Star Trek do it in a very blatant manner.
First up, we have Mariner playing Bishop’s knife game in Aliens.
This not only adds a little bit of intimidation from Mariner, but it also leans into the suspicion that Mariner is more than she seems. It’s an effective reference, not just for a little fun with the audience, but it lends itself to the story as well.
Later, we have Patingi pulling Boimler and Rutherford under the tree roots to escape the mugato. The mugato sniffing around the tree is an homage to The Fellowship of the Ring.
Again, while the visual homage is funny in its own right, it also further drives home the line mentioned earlier in the episode where bartender Honus describes Boimler and Rutherford as the two “softest guys on the ship.” They’re soft alright, kind of like some innocent hobbits, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own strengths. More on that in a bit.
Affirmation of Tendi, Rutherford, and Boimler
Something that Lower Decks is doing really well this season is building up their more sensitive and less aggressive characters. The fact that Boimler and Rutherford are able to successfully solve the problem and rescue their friends without having to run in phasers a-blazin’ is very Trek, and also hearkens back to Boimler’s speech in 2×02 where he says that he’s in Starfleet because he loves exploring and working out peaceful diplomatic solutions. That’s exactly what he and Rutherford do here and it’s wonderful.
I also love the little nod to my girl, Sylvia Tilly in Star Trek: Discovery when she says, “It’s the power of math!”
Sometimes, the solution to a problem is to simply do the math.
Finally, I love how Dr. T’Ana keeps giving Tendi these special assignments, even if she thinks she won’t succeed. As a cat owner, I have had to spend many hours chasing down my cat for a trip to the vet. When Dr. T’Ana takes off down the hall, jumping on everything, knocking things over, spitting, hissing, and then when she hides under the shuttle and takes a swipe at Tendi, I have flashbacks to my cat hiding under the bed. Yes, she’s a Caitian. Yes, she’s humanoid, but at the end of the day, Dr. T’Ana is totally a CAT.
Tendi’s success in getting Dr. T’Ana’s physical (a mere scan of the tricorder!) is quite an impressive feat. Tendi’s confidence soars and I’m also filled with pride on her behalf, watching her character grow. Give the woman 20 cc’s of space! She’s got this.
Lower Decks keeps impressing me with every episode this season. Sure, it’s easy to watch, the comedy is good, and it’s easy just to interpret it as a bit of light-hearted Trek fun. However, I’m finding that as I dig deeper into the show, there’s a lot of heart and deep love for the world of Star Trek. It’s been such a treat each week. I’m eager to see where we end up at the end of the season!
The next episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks will air on September 9, 2021 on Paramount+.