Recently I splurged on a single month of Paramount+, mostly to check out Star Trek Strange New Worlds, but also to catch up on Lower Decks. I loved the first season quite a lot, instantly judging it the best of the new Star Trek shows by a long shot. I didn’t even mean that ironically; it’s light-years better than dour Discovery or pointless Picard. So what would the second batch of 10 episodes hold for the crew of the USS Cerritos.
For a quick show recap, the Cerritos is a California-class starship that’s relegated to less-important Starfleet duty. The show mostly focuses on a quartet of “lower decks” ensigns and views the adventures and experiences of the bridge crew from their vantage point. Also, one of the ensigns — Mariner — happens to be the rebellious, reckless daughter of the ship’s captain.
Lower Decks straddles a very interesting line between a whole lot of in-jokes (much of derived from poking fun at Star Trek’s history, foibles, and traditions) and presenting actual Star Trek adventures in their own right. The Cerritos and its adventures exist within the canon of Star Trek, so it’s got to hold back from being an out-and-out farce.
After an amazing season 1, I was interested to see how the sophomore effort would hold up. I’ll get this out of the way: It’s not quite as good as the first. Oh, it’s good, just not quite as laugh-out-loud clever as the first batch. Still, I quite enjoyed it, especially some of the continuity that’s being carried over.
For example, cyborg Rutherford had all of his memories of his best friend Tandi deleted at the end of the first season, so he’s struggling to build up and protect new ones. Boimler starts out as a bridge crew on Riker’s USS Titan, but he quickly finds out that it’s far too intense and deadly over there for his liking. And Mariner… well, she seems to re-learn the same lesson about growing up every week, it seems. At least her relationship with her mother is improving.
I thought it was genius that they brought back Bajoran tactical officer Shaxs with no explanation after he was violently killed in the season 1 finale. The whole thing pokes fun at the miracle resurrections of characters in this franchise, and having everyone but Rutherford blandly accept it with no explanation is hilarious (and while he does finally get one, we the audience do not).
This time around, the crew takes on board a security officer who’s of the race that Picard had to communicate through historical phrases, the first officer becomes godlike for a day, Tom Paris from Voyager visits the ship, duplicating insecure aliens start taking over the ship’s space, and the crew tries to wheedle their way into a fashionable Starfleet party. There’s also a running storyline, carried over from the first season, of a growing threat from (of all races) the Pakleds. Also Klingons may be involved.
What I appreciated about this season is that it took more time to explore the various backstories of different characters. For example, the somewhat affable but bland chief engineer is revealed to be a prince on his fantasy LARPing homeworld and is always being tempted by his mother to return. We find out that Tandi was kind of a big deal on Orion — and that she has a very domineering side. Boimler grows from an annoying boot-licking ensign to a rather brave and determined person — just witness how many times he keeps resetting a Borg holodeck challenge to try to get 100% (hint: It involves saving Borg babies and beating the queen at chess). And any episode that gives some focus to the always angry cat doctor is fine with me.
I would love for a DVD or special edition release to come out with little VH1 Behind the Music-style pop-ups to explain all of the obscure references, because it gets tiring going to websites where others have done all of this work.
My only continuing complaint for this show — other than feeling like I don’t quite get all of the Trek in-jokes — is that Lower Decks can turn “adult” on a dime, which keeps me from being able to share this with my daughter, who would probably find it a hoot. And the random bits of adult-ness isn’t ever that necessary, which is unfortunate.
I will say without a shred of mockery that the season finale isn’t just terrific for the show — it’s one of the best episodes of Star Trek, period. The stakes are high as a disabled starship is hours away from cratering into a populated planet, and the Cerritos has to pull all of the stops to save the day. While also dealing with some personal issues. And there are talking beluga whales, which have been talked about but never seen in Star Trek to date. And there’s Sonya Gomez, one of my favorite “lower deckers” from TNG, as a captain. It’s seriously a masterpiece, and it ends on a chilling cliffhanger.
I think Lower Decks is still exploring what it wants to be and not being afraid to experiment, which is exactly what it should do. Season 2 was very good with a lot of that positive Trek energy that’s missing from its sister shows, and I cannot wait for the next season to arrive.