I had a lot of reservations about Star Trek: Lower Decks when it was first announced. The cast was solid, but the premise felt shaky. It was being helmed by Mike McMahen, who had authored the Twitter account “TNG_S8” way back when, but since became a producer on Rick and Morty. The art style felt similar as well, and the studio they were animated with was Titmouse, attached to many good, middling, and bad Adult Swim series. Was this just going to be a jokey-joke animated Trek to eventually die the way The Animated Series did before? Or would it endure?
Fortunately, it endured, and ended up being some of the best Star Trek made since the 1980s and 1990s gold standard known to Trekkies. It embodied a full-season version of TNG “Lower Decks” and VOY “Good Shepard”. The characters were actually characters, with backstories, motivations, and most importantly, flaws. Discovery had put out season after season of just some of the most uninspiring Mary Sue shlock not unlike the Gary Stu I reviewed years ago in weebdom. Beckett Mariner, by contrast, was a breath of fresh air in that she still tried that last-action-hero bullshit, but was continually gut-checked by it.
At some point I will have to author reviews for the previous three seasons, but concerning season four, we open with an amazing tribute to Star Trek: Voyager when Boimler and Co. are tasked with escorting the USS Voyager to Earth for a museum exhibit, presumably prior to joining the Fleet Museum Commodore LaForge now runs. Not satisfied with such a simple premise, “Twovix” spices it up when Billups and T’Ana accidentally get joined together through the transporter the way Neelix and Tuvok did in VOY “Tuvix”. They set about creating more “tuvixed” crew which results in some interesting pairs. Boimler and Rutherford on the other hand have to deal with all of Voyager’s anomalies attacking them as they transport the ship, including the macrophage, Dr. Chaotica, and several other holograms from the show.
Much of this season focused on individual characters, primarily the “Lower Deckers”, now promoted to Lieutenant Junior-Grade officers. While everyone was promoted at the end of the first episode, Rutherford curiously was not, until he just casually says “Oh yeah, they tried to before and I kept turning them down.” to stay with everyone else in “I Have No Bones Yet I Must Flee”. He does get it at the end, but not before Mariner smashes some of Commander Ransom’s teeth to distract Moopsy, Trek’s newest, cutest, and most deadliest creature since Armus. Boimler is given command of an away team in In the “Cradle of Vexilon” and overthinks everything, nearly cocking himself up in the process. Tendi has to contend with her sister and Orion family in “Something Borrowed, Something Green”. T’Lyn nearly brings down an entire starship including three Betazed operatives just by being upset at her superiors for being assigned to the Cerritos in “Empathalogical Fallacies”. Mariner continues to grapple with her self-destructive tendencies in “Parth Ferengi’s Heart Place”, and Rutherford finally confronts Badgey once more in “A Few Badgeys More” In true anime fashion, “Caves” sort of just ends up being a clip show of flashbacks as each character talks about a cave story. Which brings us to the final two episodes, of which McMahen kept even from early reviewers, which ties into the ongoing C-plot in each episode of a non-Federation ship getting seemingly destroyed.
I admit, the big reveal at the end of this episode, alluded to in the beginning of the episode, was not completely out of left field for me. Nick Lorcano up until now was a one-shot character in one of TNG’s most prolific episodes, “The First Duty” where Captain Picard pressed Ensign Crusher for the truth, and delivered the iconic quote “The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based, and if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform.” Mariner did not quite deliver a soliloquy the same, however she espoused her feelings for why she felt Starfleet had been falling apart post-war, and why she became disillusioned with being there. And man, even in that simple delivery, it did so much better than Picard did as a series, trying to grasp at all these grimdark mcedgy straws of the Federation banning medical treatments that would have saved lives, turning their back on Data as an individual the moment he “died”, and the almost racist-as-fuck manner in how they dealt with the Romulans after their world collapsed. At least in this show, seemingly prior to whatever dark arts began to form prior to PIC, there was still idealistic people in Starfleet trying to do good, and Mariner was one of them, until her best friend from the academy, Sito Jaxa, was killed by Cardassians while serving on the Enterprise.
That episode tie in sort of double-ends this show, since the very concept of “Lower Deck” officers is what formed the basis for McMahen’s show in the first place. But then the guy double-dips and pulls out Sito as someone Mariner knew in the academy, establishing Mariner as being from that same academy era, and raising the emotional bar on her story knowing Sito’s fate at the end of that episode. It was a very clever tie-in. They even got Shannon Fill to reprise her voice to the character for the finale, a first considering she’s long-removed from any kind of acting and is a social worker now. Wil Wheaton also reprises his role as Weasley Crusher for this scene, but we all know he’s still in the Trek game. Robert Duncan McNeill of course plays Lorcano as he did originally. Although he does not act, he directs, and is co-host of The Delta Flyers podcast with Garrett Wang.
So how does this two-part finale end the season and the “Nova Fleet” arc? Well, I am actually going to perhaps disappoint a little bit; This finale felt a little flat to me. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the whole Lorcano-Mariner-Jaxa bit was interesting, and it was definitely a better twist than either having some Superweapon Doomsday Worldender plot. It’s just Lorcano wasn’t quite the choice I envisioned to convince a bunch of different races to follow him into… ??? I wasn’t actually sure what his full motivation was. A band of rebels? Rutherford’s joke about The Maquis was a clever quip at that. I think the problem with this subplot was that it was one-and-done in 1.5 episodes, much like Lorcano’s first run. It would have been more impactful if Lorcano appeared earlier in the show and was the one sewing doubt in Mariner from the start, eventually getting her to go to him after the Starbase 80 debacle. The flaw in Lower Decks has been that they come up with these really great callbacks to previous episodes, but they don’t want to overcommit to them for longer than an episode or two, and it usually ends on some cheese gimmick like a Ferengi-programmed Genesis Device. Which speaking of, does this mean Lorcano is going to somehow reincarnate on the planet? I hope not.
I admit, I really half-expected Sito to somehow come back from the dead and beat Lorcano up, but I am glad they didn’t poison that well and just include her in the flashback. It would have cheapened her death in TNG and not really served anything to this plot. Going through the trouble of getting Wheaton though could have made for a Traveler-Crusher appearance, if only just to be a bit smug at his former squad leader. When you kinda bring yourself down from that fanservice hype, it was a pair of good solid Trek episodes with all the fixin’s, bookending a pretty great season. Can’t ask much more from that.
Easter Eggs and Observations
- Mariner has been shown with a few different hairstyles, such as her Big Poof during her stint on DS9, and of course her live-action debut on SNW. In the finale flashback, she is sporting what Janeway fans might call “The Bun of Steel”.
- Lorcano’s obsession with the Kolvoord Starburst really plays out in all his branding. You got one of your squad mates and friends killed in that, you know?
- Nick Lorcano is played by Robert Duncan McNeil, who would later play Tom Paris in Star Trek: Voyager. In early drafts of VOY’s scripts, they intended McNeil’s Lorcano to play that part outright, but then decided to pivot to a different character, albeit with similar pasts. The two are often thought to be the same, and canonized as such among fan circles. Boimler and Rutherford trade a couple quips back and forth in this vain. Sadly, due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, we won’t get to hear Robbie talk about it on their podcast likely for a few weeks longer.
- The Twin Twain gag is once again used in the finale. It’s pure cheese, but fortunately they don’t draw it out longer than it needs to be.
- Tendi leaving at the end of the season per her agreement with her sister likely sets up for another Orion opener in season five. I can’t imagine she’ll stay away from the ship for long, but I do wonder what they’ll have her doing at home.
Final Score: 7.5 Twin-Twains out of 10-BASE-T Bynars.