Not Quite Lower Decks Anymore
Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 4
I have lamented in the past that, for all the great things Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. has done, it has a tendency to leave its character stuck in limbo, never really growing or changing or evolving. We're talking the characters on the TV shows since those are, generally, meant to be watched episodically. If you tuned in to an episode of Those Old Sci-, I mean The Original Series, or an episode of The Next Generation, it was assumed, then you'd want to see familiar characters in familiar situations, without major changes to who they were or their status on the ship. Thats why characters are rarely promoted and never leave their familiar stations and surroundings.
Now, the shows have changed this up sometimes. Deep Space Nine was more serialized, both in its overarching story of the Dominion War as well as with its characters, letting they grow, change, evolve, fall in love, and more. It helped the series to feel more fresh, and more real, than what had come before. And, of course, as Paramount+ has brought on new shows with far more serialized content, the chance for characters to come on, evolve, swap around, and leave the franchise has also grown. And that's great... so long as the shows aren't crap (looking at you, Picard).
What's surprising, in a good way, is that Lower Decks has actually decided to let its characters evolve as well. As the most episodic, and least serialized, of all the Trek shows running right now, it would be easy to trap the characters in amber, keeping them where they are, the way they are, for the entire run of the series. Instead, though, this fourth season kicks off with the ensign characters -- Beckett Mariner, Brad Boimler, D'Vana Tendi, and Sam Rutherford, along with new provisional crew member T’Lyn -- are all promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade (getting the classic half-pip added to their uniforms). This does, in effect, make them no longer lower deckers, as they get to move up and have real quarters now. But at the same time, they are still the lower officers of the ship and their adventures are still generally removed from the big activities of the bridge crew... except when they get to serve on the bridge.
Before we get into the actual story of this season (as there is a lightly serialized story) I want to actually commend the creators for this move, promoting the characters and giving them more responsibilities and different duties. The last season (season three) felt like it was stuck in the mud a bit as the characters really needed to grow and evolve but the series wasn't letting them. Clearly the creators listened to feedback (or just knew this was what was needed all along) and worked to push their characters forward this time around. It opened up new story ideas and the chance for the characters to really grow as people.
That's most evident in the main storyline of this season wherein a series of ships are seemingly destroyed by a mysterious vessel, always under similar circumstances. The crew spots a weird ship, they go in to attack, and then suddenly all the weapons and shields on their vessel stop working and the ship is easy pickings for this mysterious attacker. As this is Lower Decks, the actual person behind this mysterious set of attacks is a deep-cut reference to classic Trek lore, and their big, evil plan ties into even more references and in-jokes. Its the way this show works and I love it.
But what's really important is that this storyline forced Beckett to confront some of her own personal demons. She was already struggling when she was promoted, always preferring the easy path of an ensign over the responsibilities (and disappointments) of being a higher-ranked officer. She has real moments of growth that illustrate why she's this way, what caused it, and how she's finally able to push forward (without, of course, losing her own personal natural and style). I won't spoil this, as these are good character moments for the newly promoted Lt. JG, but this is the kind of evolution I've been waiting for.
Similarly we have a bit of growth and story for Tendi. We learned that her family were Orion pirates, and that she was a high ranking member of Orion society... at least before she bailed out and went to Starfleet. Her past, as the current Mistress of the Winter Constellations, keeps coming for her, and it causes her to have to choose between her people and her past, or her future in Starfleet. Again, these are great character moments for her when, most of the time, she could just be a background science character on any other series in the franchise.
T’Lyn, too, as the newest member of this foursome (now fivesome, at least for a time) gets a couple of good episodes to grow as a person. She was shown to be a Vulcan officer who was willing to think differently and take risks for the good of her crew. Those are bad traits in the Vulcan Science Fleet, but exactly the kinds of traits that Starfleet prizes in their officers. Her learning that she's a good Vulcan, despite what her old crew said, and a great officer, while also making friends with the rest of our Lower Deckers, leads to some solid and enjoyable storylines.
With that said, there are two characters that don't get as much growth, even if they get plenty of screen time: Boimler and Rutherford. While these guys get to spend time as friends and roommates, sharing quarters higher up on the ship, it's hard to say we really learn anything new about them. Sure, they each had larger storylines in past seasons that fleshed out their characters, so they aren't lacking for character development in general, but they were clearly not the focus on this season. They get to chill, and act as support and comedic relief, while the girls go off and have more personal adventures.
Whether or not that's a big deal, I guess, depends on who your favorite characters are and how much focus you want on them. I like the whole crew, so getting time with any of them, and watching them grow, was satisfying for me. It helps to make this show more than just a collection of references and in-jokes. I love the references, and the jokes, and I think this is a funny, and fantastic, Star Trek series. But adding more to the characters makes it even better in the long run.
Overall this season of the show was an improvement. It had an interesting mystery running in the background, great characters continuing to be fun, and a chance for everyone to grow and evolve. It's still the same show at its core, so if you haven't liked Star Trek: Lower Decks up until now (and I know there are Trek fans out there that absolutely hate it) then this season won't change your mind. But for everyone else, this was a solid, much improved season for a show that is only hitting its stride.