Reel Thoughts: ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ offers nerdy jokes and heartfelt stories


Illustration by Ziye Wang

“Lower Decks” pulls off strong character growth in its third season.

Aviva Bechky, Development and Recruitment Editor

“Star Trek” has been running off and on since 1966. That means one of its newest shows, an animated comedy, has more than enough past material to make fun of.

“Star Trek: Lower Decks” combines nerdy Easter eggs and jokes with heartfelt character arcs in its third and latest season. Though its goofy tone and cartoon style appear distinct from previous Trek series, the show’s earnest spirit makes it feel fundamentally “Star Trek.”

While most “Star Trek” shows center a ship’s bridge crew, “Lower Decks” follows the exploits of a friend group in the starship Cerritos’ lower ranks. It stars four main characters: the brash, outgoing Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), rule-stickler Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), engineering nerd Samanthan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and perpetually optimistic D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells).

For Trek fans, it’s more than worth the watch. Let’s just say, if you know what ketracel-white, Edward Jellico or an exocomp are, you’ll have more fun watching. But even if you don’t, the “Lower Decks” characters are so full of life that the show might be worth watching anyway.

This season, Mariner puts more trust in her coworkers and commanding officers. Boimler learns to loosen up. Tendi shows off her ambitious side, and Rutherford explores a secretive past.

The season also includes more explorations of side characters — not in the least Peanut Hamper (Kether Donohue), a sentient robot who beamed herself off into space back in season one.

In its strangest episode of the season, “Lower Decks” follows Peanut Hamper’s life on a planet full of bird-people, with very minimal screen time for the main cast. Though the plot was ludicrous, “A Mathematically Perfect Redemption” captures the show’s try-anything ethos.

But “Lower Decks” shone brightest when it combined existing canon with the character arcs of its four heroes. I’m speaking, of course, about episode six: “Hear All, Trust Nothing.” 

In this episode, the Cerritos crew visits space station Deep Space Nine — the namesake and setting of the show “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” which ran for seven seasons in the 1990s. 

I was guaranteed to love this episode. DS9, with its darker plotlines and long character arcs, is a standout but underrated and under-referenced show from the Trek canon. Even better, the title “Hear All, Trust Nothing” is a quote from “Call to Arms,” my favorite DS9 episode.

With two wonderful guest appearances from DS9 stars — Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys and Armin Shimerman as Quark — episode six certainly didn’t skimp on sentimentality. The references to DS9, from a slow orbit of the space station to a glimpse of a tailor shop on the Promenade, felt like a love letter to the older show. But to its credit, this episode still centered the narratives of “Lower Decks” characters.

“Star Trek” didn’t include a canonical queer character until 2017, but DS9 had paved the way by showing the franchise’s first same-sex kiss in 1995. It felt like the perfect homage for “Hear All, Trust Nothing” to dive into Mariner’s relationship with her girlfriend Jennifer Sh’reyan (Lauren Lapkus). 

Mariner’s increasing frustration as she meets Sh’reyan’s pretentious friends is both comical and relatable. Sh’reyan’s reaction — that she wanted Mariner to kick her friends down a few notches — helps demonstrate how the two actually make a good pair.

The finale, “The Stars at Night,” was also a season highlight. Every ship in the California class comes together to fight against automated ships gone rogue. Afterward, the crews come together to celebrate.

Their camaraderie through the entire show, and especially in the last scene, speak to the vision of a united future that’s endured in “Star Trek” for 56 years and counting. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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