The latest episode of "Star Trek: Lower Decks," entitled "Reflections," features — quite amusingly — a Starfleet recruitment tent. Ensigns Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Boimler (Jack Quaid) have been ordered to "work the booth" a jobs fair. They have to stand at a folding table and dispassionately call over passbersby, then explain to them that a life in Starfleet is romantic and exciting. This, when their current job is the least romantic or exciting task imaginable. Making matters worse, Mariner and Boimler are stationed right next to an archeology tent. Archeologists, as all Trekkies now, is the sexiest possible profession. All archeologists are gorgeous, tomb-raiding rogues that make Indiana Jones look like Ben Stein. In a fun Easter egg, the archeologist leans on a plinth resembling those seen in the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Masks" (February 21, 1994).
On the other side of Mariner's and Boimler's recruitment tent is collector's booth very akin to something one might see at a "Star Trek" convention. They have a glass case full of communicator badges (a common sight at cons), as well as an unusual helmet with a red light on top. That helmet, deep-cut Trekkie might recognize, is a reference to the single weirdest piece of Trek merch ever produced: The Official Star Trek Space Fun Helmet. Look it up. One of the collectors appears to be Toff, a character played by Nehemiah Persoff in the NextGen episode "The Most Toys" (May 5, 1990).
Most notably, though, is the plywood standee that the Starfleet tent has on display. It's a carnival cutout display of Kirk and Spock, their fasces missing, inviting passersby to take a picture. Look closely, and one will see the carnival cutout is painted in the style of "Star Trek: The Animated Series."
Star Trek: The Animated Series
"Lower Decks" creator Mike McMahan clearly feels a deep affection for the 1973 "Star Trek" — now called "Star Trek: The Animated Series" — and not just because "Lower Decks" shares its medium. Ask any Trekkie, and they'll tell you that TAS is merely "semi-canonical." Certain "Trek" elements from TAS are accepted as actual lore — Kirk's middle name was established as Tiberius on the show — while other plotlines are entirely ignored. The nost notorious example is the TAS episode "The Magicks of Megas-tu" (October 27, 1973). That episode established that the center of the galaxy was home to a powerful being claiming to be Satan. Kirk eventually finds himself having to defend Satan in a court of law. All these events are directly contradicted by "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989). Oops. It's one of the most glaring continuity errors in the franchise. If this were "Star Wars," an entire movie would have already been made to explain the error.
TAS is relatively obscure, which is a pity, as the animated medium allowed some of Trek's wilder ideas to be more practically realized. Aliens could be far more unusual. Episodes could take place underwater. Spock could be transformed into a 50-foot clone. Ancient snake gods could fly through the skies. Additionally, the show's kid-friendly 30-minute format forced writers to cut out some of the original show's tiresome banter and obvious padding. Also missing was Roddenberry's signature horniness, which was, one might suppose, a blessing and a curse.
McMahan clearly loves TAS, perhaps because of its obscurity. Any reference to TAS is going to be a wink for even the most deep cut Trekkies.
The 50-Foot Spock Skeleton
While one doesn't need to have deep-cut knowledge of obscure Trek ephemera to enjoy "Lower Decks," it can certainly facilitate the experience. A shot of a 50-foot skeleton wearing the tattered remains of a blue Starfleet uniform may seem like an absurd joke to the neophyte, but Trekkies will peg that skeleton as once belonging to the aforementioned Spock clone from "The Infinite Vulcan" (October 20, 1973). This in addition to other species only ever seen in TAS; a visiting Starfleet corporate team-builder, for instance, is a colony being, the same species as Bem in the TAS episode "Bem" (September 14, 1974). McMahan is clearly a hardcore Trekkie, and seems especially keen on dropping in elements of Trek lore that make certain viewers lunge, pointed finger first, toward their TV screen like the Leonardo DiCaprio/"Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood" meme.
The constant TAS-related winks in "Lower Decks" may strike a viewer as McMahan's desire to legitimize the series. As stated, TAS is in something of a canonical limbo among Trekkies, leaving it eternally in "footnote" territory. For many, TAS will always be a tertiary series at best (even if it's arguably, at least in stretches, better than the original series). McMahan seemingly wants to change that. In including so many references in "Lower Decks," McMahan is deliberately lending TAS more and more legitimacy. After enough time, Trekkies will have to accept the events of TAS as having happened.
One can only wait, however, for McMahan to make a throw-off reference to the "Star Trek V" gaffe, and how both that and "Magicks" can be true. Then the timeline will be repaired and Trekkies can finally, after many years, breathe easy.
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