A pair of Trek’s most ridiculed creations come back for a further pummelling in Mugato, Gumato. Firstly the Mugato itself – a ridiculous-looking creature introduced in the second season Original Series episode A Private Little War, and a source of amusement to fans ever since. It looks like an unconvincing gorilla costume with a horn stuck on it (for good reason), and the episode couldn’t settle on a name, referring to it as both a Mugato, Mugatu and, in the end credits, a Gumato (its original name, which was changed during production after DeForest Kelley was unable to pronounce it).
And secondly, Anbo-Jyutsu. Introduced in The Next Generation episode The Icarus Factor, it was billed as “the ultimate evolution of the martial arts,” even though it was essentially two people hitting each other with sticks while dressed as Power Rangers, like a particularly crap episode of Gladiators.
Both were lovingly mocked by fans over the years for their inherent crapness, and the franchise conveniently forgot that they existed. Until now.
After receiving a (shockingly violent) defeat at Anbo-Jyutsu by Mariner; Boimler and Rutherford nurse their wounds in whatever the Cerritos’ equivalent of Ten-Forward is. While indulging in a very geeky, diplomacy-based board game (wonder if that’s going to come in handy later?) a gossipy bartender informs them that Mariner is not who they think she is. Apparently, she’s actually a lethal black ops operative masquerading as the captain’s rebellious daughter. Being utter twats, and against a season-and-a-half’s evidence to the contrary, they of course believe him immediately. It’s out of character for them, and to be honest feels a little forced, as they spend the rest of the episode terrified of one of their best friends.
Complicating this is the Cerritos being sent to investigate the sighting of a rare Mugato (by a pair of Denobulans no less). The three of them are assigned to an away team, commanded by Shaxs – who, despite pronouncing the Mugato’s name differently every time he says it (it’s a meta joke, see) tracks the beast down by sampling its dung. Repeatedly.
The trail leads them to discover not only one Mugato, but many, imprisoned by nefarious Ferengi, or ‘throwback Last Outpost-style Ferengi’ as Mariner calls them, referring to their original, ill-advised appearance where the whip-cracking aliens were intended to be menacing. The Ferengi are harvesting them for profit, and a fight breaks out between them and the away team, during which the Mugato are all accidentally released. And of course, high jinks ensue.
And by high jinks we mean Mariner stabbing Shrax (in order to suck out Mugato poison), which of course makes Boimler and Rutherford even more paranoid about her; people being eaten alive; a Mugato mating scene, and a watching Mugato who cracks one out watching the horny couple (in Trek’s most awkward sex scene since Doctor Crusher got it on with a candle). Masturbation is a new one for Trek, and, not that we’re being prudish, but frankly it's something we could live without thank you.
If this all sounds a bit gross and un-Trekish, you’d be right. Between all the awkward sex stuff, shit eating, blood and vomit, it’s a long way from the clever in-jokery we’ve come to expect from the series. Fortunately the finale – where Boimler and Rutherford use their boring diplomatic skills – told you – to convince the Ferengi that turning the planet into a Mugato reserve will be far more profitable, is a more traditional, if unlikely, Trek solution. And bonus points for having their homemade projector resemble Kirk’s makeshift cannon from Arena.
Thank Q then for the B-plot, which sees Tendi tasked by Doctor T’Ana with that old Trek favourite – getting unwilling members of the crew to undertake their annual physicals. Traditionally it’s the captain who’s reluctant, but not this time (Captain Freeman is preoccupied with a duplicitous client of the Ferengi who’s trying to con her out of a shuttle and all her possessions). As she diligently works her way through the list, Tendi reaches the last patient, whose name has been erased from the system. Tendi eventually figures out that it’s T’Ana herself, leading her to chase the medical officer (who’s rapidly becoming our favourite character) around the ship in true feline fashion. It’s only resolved when Tendi breaks her arm and manages to scan the doctor while she’s being treated.
It’s a fun subplot, focusing both on Tendi’s growing confidence (“Maybe the old Tendi was a pushover, but a lot’s changed since slightly earlier today!”) and the well-worn Trek trope of people avoiding medical care because it means the inconvenience of having a little light waved over them for a few seconds. (Completely unrealistic we know. If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that no rational person would put themselves at risk by avoiding perfectly safe medical treatment.)
Mugato, Gumato isn’t a bad episode of Lower Decks, but it is a step backwards. Its tendency towards gross-out humour in a show known for its smart, knowing writing is disappointing. There’s a few good meta jokes, although anyone not familiar with the Mugato’s offscreen history may be baffled by them. Character-wise it also feels like a step backwards for Boimler and Rutherford, who are far more gullible and stupid than usual. It’s balanced by some nice growth for both Tendi and Mariner – who it turns out unsurprisingly isn’t a black-ops killer after all, but started the rumour herself to give herself more of a mystique, and something that we’re definitely going to start doing. Pleasuring ourselves to the sight of a pair of mating Mugato we're going to pass on though if you don't mind.
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