Any franchise that has managed to stick around for over five decades is bound to suffer a few rough patches along the way. With a property like "Star Trek," however, even those swings and misses have the potential to find their way into the hearts of at least some dedicated fans. As the irreverent animated series "Star Trek: Lower Decks" emphatically proves, there's truly something for everyone. Need a break from the fast-paced serialization of "Star Trek: Discovery" or even "Strange New Worlds" and its throwback charms? Well, how about taking a more self-deprecating (and oftentimes vulgar) approach to the buttoned-up professionalism of Starfleet that we usually see depicted?
That ability to make fun of itself is exactly why "Lower Decks" has become such an unexpected source of celebrating some of the most obscure, underappreciated, and even widely panned aspects of "Trek." This ongoing season alone has explored the unseen locations of a Starfleet vessel, remained refreshingly honest about the fact that being a Starfleet officer has its ups and downs, and even embraced the goofy, emotionally-charged aspects of the holodeck.
This latest episode carried on that proud tradition by once again paying homage to one of the franchise's lesser appreciated entries, "Star Trek: Voyager." Initially conceived as a sort of course-correction for fans thrown off by the audacity of "Deep Space Nine" to boldly go in its own direction altogether, "Voyager" brought things back to much more familiar territory — a spaceship, a heavily episodic approach, and an emphasis on exploration — to mixed results. Naturally, the "Lower Decks" writers have made room to celebrate this series in the past with a Tom Paris-focused episode and, wouldn't you know it, snuck in even more references in the most recent episode.
The Delta Flyer
Who says "Lower Decks" can't approach serious topics just as well as it does comedy? Episode five, titled "Reflections," does an impressive job of handling the (literally!) fractured headspace of Ensign Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) while still keeping the proceedings light on its feet. While Rutherford contends with the unwelcome intrusion of his younger, more reckless self, the two split identities engage in a race to decide which one will emerge as the dominant personality. Each half of the engineer go about building their own flyer in very different ways — the younger with essentially a space hotrod, and the older by channeling his love of Starfleet.
That passion manifests in a flawless recreation of the Delta Flyer, the same Federation shuttlecraft designed and built by Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) in season 5 of "Voyager." Although his younger self mocks Rutherford for his lack of imagination, it can't help but feel like the Ensign is speaking for the writing team when he waxes poetic about his affection and respect for such a neat, nerdy relic of the prior "Trek" show. Although featured in several episodes after its creation, it's likely that only the biggest fans of "Voyager" would even think of going out of their way to include such a reference here. Endearingly enough, it seems clear that someone on "Lower Decks" remains a staunch defender of one of the more divisive shows in "Trek" canon.
Holograms Have Rights, Too!
Whether it be androids or holograms or former members of the Borg, it's simply part of "Trek" tradition that the show will attempt to tackle the issue of granting basic, fundamental rights to non-traditional humanoid individuals. This futuristic universe may have been envisioned by Gene Roddenberry as a utopia, but there's always room to grow. Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome) learn this the hard way in the latest episode of "Lower Decks," when both are assigned to duties manning the Starfleet recruitment booth — essentially, this show's take on a standard job fair.
Although Mariner is the one under pressure to stay in line or face dire consequences from Commander Ransom (Jerry O'Connell), it's Boimler who ultimately snaps when the Starfleet name and mission statement is disrespected one time too many. What follows is a typically hilarious tirade as the normally straight-laced Ensign melts down in spectacular fashion, angrily setting the record straight on a number of common Starfleet misconceptions.
Amid his epic rant about Starfleet's exploratory (not military!) ideals and putting those conspiracy theorists in their place, Boimler drops an out-of-context rebuttal to anyone daring to question "the Doctor's agency" and his rights. Of course, this is a reference to the Emergency Medical Holographic program on board the starship Voyager, played by Robert Picardo. Initially treated as just another computer program, the holographic doctor eventually became a full-fledged and fully autonomous member of the crew with rights and agency that, apparently, someone at the recruitment fair made the mortal mistake of questioning.
"Lower Decks" has always been a celebration of outcasts and misfits and underappreciated (but necessary!) members of the "Trek" universe, making it all the more fitting that the series has shown so much consistent love for "Voyager."
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