Building on the success of the first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks presents a second season that continues with the same style of the first ten episodes, but improves in practically all aspects. It’s funnier, the stories are more solid in general, the references to the previous Star Trek incarnations feel are less gratuitous and are more intertwined with the characters and their adventures… In short, I’m glad I watched it!
The flaws of the first season are still there, including the swearing that’s completely out of the canon, various basic / vulgar jokes (including kicks in the balls and poop jokes), and everybody talking super fast for no reason. But I feel that Mike McMahan managed to show even more all his love for the franchise, as if it were needed. As mentioned, the previous Trek references abound and are more solid than the simple name dropping often used in the first season.
For example, take the opening of the first episode (01. Strange Energies) with the escape from the Cardassian prison. I laughed so much at Boimler (Jack Quaid) who’s desperate because they showed him lights all the time (see Chain of Command, TNG). The main storyline of the episode sees Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) experiencing something similar to Gary Mitchell in the TOS episode Where No Man Has Gone Before or Reginald Barclay in The Nth Degree, to stay on TNG. So once again Lower Decks revisits classic stories with a touch of humor which… works.
The series also introduces some continuity with Boimler on Riker’s Titan (Jonathan Frakes is back) and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) enjoying unthinkable privileges thanks to her mother Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) on the Cerritos. It’s so funny how the latter ship experiences a completely different world than Riker’s ship with Boimler on board! The eighth episode focuses on this type of difference (08. I, Excretus, a real celebration of past films and episodes), which demonstrates the distance between the officers and the lower decks: the first save ships, planets and galaxies on a daily basis, and the latter just do their job unaware of what’s happening above them.
Also on this same line, the Bajoran security officer Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) returns (in 02. Kayshon, His Eyes Open), deliberately without any explanation. Apparently, the return to life of the bridge officers is a taboo subject in Starfleet. This episode also refers to TNG: the title is a clear reference to the splendid episode Darmok (and the collector’s room allows for endless other references to previous Trek). The meta-dimension of the episode is commendable, with the contrast between the adventures of the Enterprise D and the more modern ones all action and no brains of Discovery and Picard. I didn’t like (and I don’t agree with) Boimler’s lines at the end of the episode on the beauty of the New Trek… but I know they had to say something like that. In my opinion, the episode says something completely different, proving that the heart of Lower Decks is on the right side!
Continuing with the rest of the season, it was hilarious to see Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) in the third episode (which marks the return of Boimler on the Cerritos). He also reveals how Voyager made it back to the Alpha Quadrant: fighting! The episode has also a lot of healthy character development, this time highlighting Tendi (Noël Wells) and Mariner, who for once go on a mission together (and the second makes a big mess, as always). And how nerd is Boimler collecting things that trekkies actually collect in our world like characters’ commemorative plates?
It was nice to see the Mugato again (04. Mugato, Gumato), they seemed very sweet to me even in A Private Little War… The episode also gives us the ironic version of a nosy Guinan-like barista! There are various other great moments scattered here and there, such as the social deflector dish to dodge social events (which I wish I had too) of the nerdy Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and Tendi (05. An Embarassment of Dooplers). In 06. The Spy Humongous, there’s a somewhat gratuitous reference to Skin of Evil, the episode of Tasha Yar’s death, but in calling Armus Evil Pile of Shit, Lower Decks gave a voice to thousands of fans who didn’t understand the sense of death of Denise Crosby’s character.
Probably the episode I liked the most is 07. Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. The comment on the uselessness of phaser rifles, which are the same as normal phasers but need two hands to hold them, made me die of laughter! And there’s Jeffrey Combs voicing the evil computer, yet another one in a long list that Kirk knows well! The lifelong virgin chief engineer is clearly a parody of the good Geordi LaForge… Simply amazing!
To conclude, 09. wej Duj has a flash of genius in showing Vulcan and Klingon (and Borg!) lower decks, and a special mention goes to the tenth and final episode of the season (10. First First Contact) which veers towards seriousness and offers a first part of a double episode in perfect TNG style complete with a cliffhanger. Once again, nothing particularly original, but the story is compelling and the characters after two seasons begin to have a certain substance, so it’s pleasant to follow their adventures. I’ll definitely be there for the third season, ciao!