Every week when I watch an episode of Lower Decks, I often ask myself if Mike McMahan has been stalking my Twitter account or reading my mind? Because surely that’s the only reason that the show keeps giving me things that I could only dream of having in a Star Trek show?
This show effortlessly embraces the absurdity of Star Trek and turns it into an art form in all the best ways. Are dead crew members randomly returning from the dead with no questions asked? Check. Your ship locking you out in possible vengeance as you’re trying to get a commemorative plate signed? Check. Girls’ trip that turns into an action-packed learning and bonding experience that ends with your shuttle bouncing off your ship’s shields that you blame on a bee? Check.
I might have said this already but at this point, I’m just convinced that Lower Decks can do no wrong. Its irreverence and love for Star Trek just make every episode so much fun to watch. If my stomach doesn’t hurt from laughing, did I even watch a Lower Decks episode?
Right off the bat, we are hit with Shaxs just randomly back from the dead. No one else seems to be bothered by this except Rutherford. Was there a brief moment where I thought maybe this undercuts Shaxs’ sacrifice at the end of last season? Sure. But the moment passed quickly and I found myself snorting with laughter because the nonchalant way they did it was just the icing on the cake. Because why not? People come back to life so many random ways on Star Trek that Lower Decks poking fun at it and simply not bothering to explain it is just perfection! And watching Rutherford unable to let it go and simply having to know the truth to be not just a run of the mills’ curiosity situation, but rather it was driven by his guilt that Shaxs “died” saving him is just a good reminder that even with all its fun, Lower Decks still ensures there is heart driving all the characters. And while we never did get to know what happened to Shaxs that was so terrible that they must protect the ensigns from that Rutherford has now been clued in on, much to his horror, I didn’t mind that at all. I am excited to have Shaxs back and I’m curious to see how he and Lt. Kayshon will interact in the future. I could see a dynamic duo situation happening!
While Rutherford was getting himself traumatized by the information of people come back from the dead, Boimler is dealing with his own traumatic experience of the ship seeming to just reject him. His authorization is simply not recognized. He can’t get food. The doors don’t open for him. He’s starting to feel like he doesn’t belong. But this just drives Boimler to want to fight back and take matters into his own hands, because he’s getting his Tom Paris plate signed no matter what. Oh yes, there’s in-universe Tom Paris plates and plates of other Voyager crew members, and honestly, that’s just the best! Mike McMahan taking real-life merchandise and canonizing them in the narrative is just one of the things that hit the Trek sweet spot for me because you can’t tell me in the universe there wouldn’t be Starfleet memorabilia and merchandise!
And speaking of Tom Paris, he actually arrives in person too! When I originally heard about Robert Duncan McNeill’s special appearance, I was sure it was just to be a talking plate for a hallucinating Boimler in the tubes to talk to, but having him be in more of the episode and hearing him scream “A KAZON!” as Boimler triumphantly emerges on the bridge only to be punched in the face by Tom is just the stuff of legends! And Boimler certainly will treasure that black eye! I get him though, if Janeway punched me in the face, I would treasure such a legendary moment too!
And as if Rutherford and Boimler’s respective stories weren’t brilliant enough, this episode gives us even more with Tendi and Mariner’s girls’ trip on a mission to retrieve a special heirloom for Dr. T’Ana! And what is the genius of this plot is not just an excuse for a fun trip and undercover and action but to have a learning experience for the characters and the fans. One of the critiques that last season received was that the four central ensigns were often paired off in expected ways and that Tendi and Mariner didn’t have much time together. Lower Decks uses this episode to rectify the criticism, but as it never does anything by halves, it makes the criticism explicit in the narrative by the characters having to admit that they really don’t know each other much at all and to further analyze why both Tendi and Mariner don’t let people know more about themselves. It is such a clever way to resolve criticism while also informing character growth. I wish more shows would do this. And beyond just character growth, this episode addresses the stigma that still exists for Orions, something that they dropped hints for in Season 1 but in this episode, they confront it head-on.
In many ways, Tendi is a child of two worlds, and in an experience similar to ones that immigrant kids often find themselves in the real world, she has to walk that fine line of interacting with her culture while also fighting against negative stereotypes of her people. And while some may not want to accept that the perfect utopia of the Federation would exhibit any form of bigotry, I would be remiss to not remind those people that even in the classic Trek era, Federation characters have shown to have bigoted thoughts. Growth is not finite, it doesn’t have an endpoint, we should always be learning and changing and re-examining how we see the world, that is the message of the Federation and that is the message of Star Trek.
And yes we did hear correctly, Mariner is explicitly and canonically bisexual! The line is delivered casually and not made a big deal out of within the narrative, which is good to show that this is plenty normal in their society, but it’s still important to note the importance of this kind of representation. Many people last season had hoped to see explicit queer characters in Lower Decks, with some particularly hoping Mariner would be bisexual after some comments given in interviews alluding to that by showrunner Mike McMahan, and it’s great to see the show delivering on that promise. Here’s hoping that Mariner won’t be the only queer character on the show and we get to know more other characters as well!
It’s just wonderful that even in its irreverent fun, Lower Decks never forgets to teach the audience something important that we can carry into life, whether that’s perseverance, understanding and respecting diversity, or all cats love boxes. Even though I saw the joke coming a mile away that T’Ana would be after the box and not the scratching post, it still had me laughing, as did the image and sound effect of Mariner ramming the shuttle against Cerritos’ shields only to cause no effect to the ship.
Lower Decks somehow has mastered the perfect comedic timing and that’s not an easy feat, especially when comedy shows have never been my type of show to watch and enjoy simply due to the comedy never resonating with me. But Lower Decks’ humour is right up my alley and I love it!