The folks behind Star Trek: Lower Decks faced a tough challenge. They had to tell a traditionally Star Trek story while adhering to the outlandish conventions of adult animation. Humor is subjective, of course. So, while more than a few scenarios in this series didn’t work for me, there were plenty that did. The holodeck episode and the episode about the Starfleet medical colony were two particularly standout episodes. They were able to leverage the idea of Starfleet as something less-than a force for good into some great comedy. However, the Star Trek: Lower Decks finale episode is the pinnacle of the season, perhaps intentionally so.
We will be getting into Spoilers, so if you’ve not seen the episode, bookmark this review and come back when you have.
The first the Star Trek: Lower Decks finale does is reestablish how Tawney Newsome’s Ensign Beckett Mariner breaks the regulations in Starfleet in the “good” way. She and Jack Quaid’s Ensign Boimler are passing out art supplies to the children of one of the weird planets in the Star Trek canon. The first thing the episode does right is finally lay bare the “secret” Mariner kept this whole season, that her mother is Dawnn Lewis’ Captain Freeman. Hinted at in the premiere episodes, it never really drove any tension in the story. Though, in fairness, Star Trel: Lower Decks is more interested in screwball, slapstick comedy with a Starfleet satire fare.
The other major happening in the finale is that the Pakleds, a somewhat silly enemy from The Next Generation proved to be a serious threat. The episode starts with the complete destruction of a Starfleet ship and its crew. The USS Cerritos must face off against this enemy and are almost all defeated. (There is even a character death!) Finally, the day is saved when a pair of The Next Generation stars join the fray and save the day.
Ultimately, despite all the jokes and comedic situations, this was the episode that most felt like a traditional Star Trek episode to me. Also, the ending leaves some interesting questions about what a season 2 would look like.
The Star Trek: Lower Decks Season Finale Was Its Most Exciting and Funniest Episode
Image via CBS All Access
As we noted when the series premiered, Star Trek: Lower Decks faced a tough challenge to tell funny and exciting stories, but the season finale definitely delivered. Many of the jokes were less about how all of the Lower Decks crew are a-holes, and more focused on Star Trek lore. They ran the gamut from Landru, the computer-god Kirk defeated in the Original Series, to Riker referencing Risian fertility statues from the “Captain’s Holiday” The Next Generation episode, to many references of previous Lower Decks episodes. (See the Easter Egg video below for more!)
Yet, the jokes in the Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale did not take away from the threat of the Pakleds. In fact, losing Fred Tatasciore’s Lt. Shaxs finally gave the show some real stakes. While there is plenty for the storytellers to be proud of in this first season, this episode truly showed what this series can achieve. They have to strike a tough balance, and they did it expertly in this episode.
The Inclusion of Will Riker and Deanna Troi Was a Nice Touch
Image via CBS All Access
One of the things in Star Trek: Lower Decks that can interfere with suspension of disbelief is how many references the crew makes to other Star Trek episodes. Even when John DeLancie guest-starred as Q (for all of twenty seconds), the show felt disconnected from the “real” Star Trek universe. Yet, seeing Frakes and Sirtis back in action (on the deck of the USS Titan, no less), made this episode really feel like a part of the Star Trek universe. The characters of Troi and Riker were on the silly side, like the rest of the Lower Decks characters, which actually gives fans a baseline for how this “canon” compares to the real canon of Star Trek. We are seeing an exaggerated version of that world, and it helps the rest of the series make some retroactive sense.
On a more meta level, seeing two of the most beloved characters from The Next Generation interacting with the Cerritos crew helps. One common criticism of the show is that people in Starfleet wouldn’t behave the way they do. Yet, seeing them next two characters we are very familiar with helps us square that particular circle. In fact, the show would do well to include more legacy characters in the next season, which will help this series stand on its own. Just as the inclusion of Spock and Captain Pike in Discovery helped that show, more legacy characters in Lower Decks makes it feel more like Star Trek comedy and less like fanfiction.
What Star Trek: Lower Decks Needs to Be Truly Great
One of my favorite moments from the Star Trek: Lower Decks finale came at the very end. Boimler earns a promotion and leaves the Cerritos for the Titan. This follows a moment where he and Mariner do some real bonding. Thus, we see Mariner alone in her bunk leaving angry messages for Boimler. This probably marks the first time in the show we’ve not seen Mariner in total control. Her lack of any real flaws (other than her “secret”) has been the biggest downside to the show.
Flaws are what makes characters feel both real and relatable to the audience. Hopefully, we get to see more of an uncertain Mariner next season. It won’t make her any less awesome or badass, but it will make her feel more authentic and give her some room to grow and develop. Her and Boimler’s relationship will also be more interesting, with her feeling betrayed by her friend. I suspect he will screw-up and be demoted back to the Cerritos to maintain the series status quo. That’s fine, so long as the characters are both able to grow and improve. This is a tricky thing in animation, but modern audiences are better equipped for serial as opposed to episodic (thus, never-changing) TV.
The other interesting dynamic is Eugene Cordero’s Rutherford losing his cybernetic enhancements and thus his memory. Noel Wells’ Tendi is relentlessly positive about it, but it will create an interesting dynamic for the next season.
What did you think of the Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale episode? Share your thoughts, reviews, and hopes for next season in the comments below.
Featured image via CBS All Access
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.