Star Trek: Lower Decks – thoughts on season 2 (episodes 6-10)

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One of the great delights of watching a show in its second season is witnessing how it matures and grows into something that very much keeps the soul of its season one iteration alive and kicking, which is important since that’s why stuck with the show in the first place, while also pushing the storytelling envelope to new and exciting places.

The second half of season two of Lower Decks is very much a case in point.

These five episodes, which pack in plenty of humourously delivered Star Trek references and hilariously cynical quips about the differences between the lives enjoyed by the Bridge crew and those who have yet to ascend to those dizzying heights, also manage to take the show to some very serious places indeed.

We see for instance, how Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) finally begins to put aside her barbed and snarky defensive mechanisms in favour of meaningfully and sincerely connecting with people such as her mother, Captain of the U.S.S. Cerritos, Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and hew fellow Lower Decks peeps, Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) and cyborg-implanted Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero).

Mariner is still very much the wisecracking rebellious character of old but she is also growing into the kind of person who takes people seriously, who values their relationships and who is beginning to appreciate that approaching life with maturity and sanguinity is not the worst possible thing.

This character growth can be clearly seen in the other three characters too.

Boimler for instance still very much wants to rise up the ranks and become the captain he feels he was always meant to be but as we see in episode 6, “The Spy Humungous” where Boimler goes and joins the dreadfully-named Red Shirts (oops!) whose sole aim is becoming part of the Bridge crew come what may until he has a change of heart, he is beginning to realise that ambition without connection and friendship means nothing.

In fact, without diving into spoiler territory, it’s in this episode where we see him put aside a possible fast track to the upper decks in favour of being there for a friend; the old Boimler would not necessarily have done that quite so quickly and it’s exciting to see this character grow and develop and begin to appreciate that getting what you want in life isn’t worth nearly so much if you don’t have people with which to share it.

Someone who has always understood the importance of friendship is T’Vana Tendi, an insecure, garrulous Orion who expends exceptional effort proving that she is not a criminal like her people and can be trusted to care for people (she works in sick day with T’Ana, the doctor in charge whom T’Vana believes doesn’t like her) and be there for her friends.

T’Vana is in many ways the glue that holds the Lower Decks foursome together, the emotional centre of everything and the one who, though she has ambition like everyone else, is determined to make the most of where she is now, even enjoying the clean-up duty of anomaly consolidation day while enthusiastically embracing opportunities that come her way such as her time with T’Ana in episode nine, “wej Duj”.

The final member of the group is Sam, a tech-loving nerd who can think of nothing better than working in engineering and finding out how things work.

In these five episodes, he comes across, in glancing fashion anyway, a secret that could wholly change his life – though that looks like something that will be explored in season 3, which has already been approved and which is due next year – and gets to show to his commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Andarithio “Andy” Billups (Paul Scheer) what he can relied upon to do. (BIllups has his hands quite full confronting an old adversary in episode 7 “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” and it is Rutherford who proves key to him triumphing over overwhelming odds.)

It is these four characters who are the very heart and soul of the show, and this is increasingly in evidence in the final five episodes of season 2, which lead us to a brilliant Packled-triggered cliffhanger, where they begin to understand more and more that whatever success and achievement may come their way, it will mean nothing if they don’t stick together and continue to have each other’s backs.

All this seriousness aside, and it sits beautifully alongside the series’ more fancifully silly moments which includes references to the Borg, the Klingons, Vulcans and characters as Armus with whom they have a great deal of fun, what makes Lower Decks hum along nicely is the way it humanises the franchise.

That’s not to say we haven’t seen extraordinary depth and breadth of humanity in Star Trek to date; the franchise is known, of course, for its blisteringly incisive gift for going deep into the very heart of what it means to be human (or alien as the case may be) and laying all our flaws and positive attributes out for the world to see.

But in Lower Decks, it is likely more obvious because you are expecting it to be all jokes, all the time, and it quite simply is not, happy to jest with a giddy mayhem sure, but willing too to demonstrate how real people cope with some very unreal situations.

“First First Contact”, the final episode for the season, beautifully explores a number of key laudable human traits such as the willing to sacrifice almost everything to help a friend or colleagues, the camaraderie of teamwork and the sense of belonging that comes from being part of a crew dedicated to one critical purpose.

In and of itself, it’s a wonderful episode, though shocking in its ending, but it stands too as an exemplar of what makes the back half of Lower Decks works so very well – it is deadly serious and inspiring in that classic race against time way that Star Trek is justifiably lauded for, exhibiting the very best of what people are capable of while still having some fun with what Starfleet means.

It’s a damn near perfect episode, finishing off a season that sets the show up brilliantly to be both court jester and sage storyteller, witty surrealist and sober observer, a happy melding of the very best of the franchise with a wacky, very 21st century postmodern sense of humour which could conceivably see the show become, if it’s not already, one of the best entries in the franchise’s glowingly good canon.

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