“Where Pleasant Fountains Lie”: Star Trek Lower Decks S2E7 Review

"Where Pleasant Fountains Lie" Epi#207 -- Paul Scheer as Lt. Commander Andy Billups and Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford in the Paramount+ series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved **Best Possible Screen Grab**
"Where Pleasant Fountains Lie" Epi#207 -- Paul Scheer as Lt. Commander Andy Billups and Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford in the Paramount+ series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved **Best Possible Screen Grab** /

“Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” proves only partly pleasant.

We’re rapidly warping through the back half of Star Trek: Lower Decks’ second season. Not long ago, series creator Mike McMahan promised these latter episodes would outdo even the highest of the first season’s high spots. But he must not have been talking about season 2, episode 7, “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie”.

Queen Paolana of Hysperia contacts the Cerritos for help fixing the engines of her ship, the Monaveen, which is basically a traveling Renaissance fair. Cerritos Chief Engineer Billups is the Hysperian crown prince, and we learn his mother is constantly trying to get him to leave Starfleet and, per Hysperian tradition, lose his virginity to take his rightful place as king.

After Billups and Rutherford fix the Monaveen’s engines, an explosion occurs. It appears the accident claims the lives of not only the queen but also Rutherford. A distraught Tendi goes to the Monaveen to retrieve Rutherford’s transmitter, only to discover her friend with fried turkey leg in hand, merrily feasting with the queen and her court.

Realizing Queen Paolana has been running a scam, Rutherford rushes to stop Billups from having sex with a pair of Hysperian guards, as he believed he was obligated to do. Billups returns to his celibate life as a devoted Starfleet engineer, much to his mother’s dismay.

Meanwhile, Beckett and Boimler are taking AGIMUS, a “self-aware megalomaniacal” and manipulative computer, to the Daystrom Institute. A gravimetric anomaly forces their shuttle, the Yosemite, to crash land on a desert planet. With no working replicator—all the food it produces tastes like black licorice—and no way off-world, the two Cerritos colleagues have no choice but to seek out resources and aid.

The group discovers a large, crashed vessel. AGIMUS claims its engines will still work, and keeps suggesting it be plugged into the craft’s navigational computer. (Think Mo Willems’ pigeon insisting it be allowed to drive the bus, and you’ll get the idea.)

When AGIMUS reveals to Boimler that Beckett requested Ransom take him off a more exciting mission for this computer cargo run, an apparently angry Boimler argues with and stuns Beckett, then plugs AGIMUS into the crashed ship’s systems. But just as AGIMUS is plotting his evil comeback, Beckett learns Boimler’s been running a scam of his own. He was only using AGIMUS’ power cell to transmit a distress signal. AGIMUS actually controls nothing more than the dimmer switch. AGIMUS ends up right where it belongs: Safely stored at the Daystrom Institute, surrounded by scores of other would-be computer overlords, all trash talking each other.

“Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” doesn’t serve all its characters well.

The Queen Paolana plot in “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” rings some slight changes on early Lwaxana Troi storylines from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like Mrs. Troi, Paolana is a flamboyant woman with sex on her mind—though in the queen’s case, it’s sex for her son—who endlessly meddles in the life of her child and of a particular Starfleet vessel.

Later episodes of TNG andStar Trek: Deep Space Nine deepened Lwaxana as a character. Perhaps later episodes of Lower Decks will do the same for Paolana. As things stand, she is unfunny and unwelcome. She, and the Billups plot as a whole, rely on tired TV tropes about hectoring mothers and about asexuality that can get easy laughs but ring hollow given the surprisingly rich emotional lives Lower Decks has built for most of its characters. It seems Lower Decks wants us to accept Billups’ sense of identity and purpose while sniggering at them like barely pubescent middle schoolers.

Fortunately, the AGIMUS plot in “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” is richer. Voiced by the versatile Jeffrey Combs, AGIMUS is also a trope, but an enjoyable one. “Evil computers are so chatty,” says Beckett, and AGIMUS certainly is. “I have rights!” it shouts at one point, knowing and attempting to exploit enlightened Starfleet ethics about sentient life. I hope AGIMUS finds a way to weasel itself out of storage and cause havoc again.

This plot is a fond parody of TNG’s “Final Mission.” The desert world on which the Yosemite crashes looks like Lambda Paz. (It also looks like the starship graveyard on Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In one scene, Beckett and Boimler slide down a sand dune just as Rey does, accompanied by music that delicately suggests Rey’s theme.) And the Lower Decks animators again outdo themselves, crafting gorgeous tracking shots of the group trudging through sand that would be right at home in “Final Mission.”

Most important, the AGIMUS plot shows us how Boimler is developing as a Starfleet officer and as a person. When he proudly tells AGIMUS, “You’ve been Boim’d,” we realize he’s learning valuable lessons through his friendship with Beckett about seizing opportunities, improvising, and doing good. For the second week in a row, Boimler has shown he has what it takes to put the mission and his friends first. His character growth is real and delightful.

I found “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” an uneven, half-baked episode. But it’s fully baked left me feeling very satisfied!

Next. “The Spy Humongous”: Star Trek Lower Decks S2E6 Review. dark