‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Season 4 Perfects the Formula
Star Trek: Lower Decks is a Matryoshka doll of references to Trek’s past. This season is that, too, but it hits differently this time.
Star Trek: Lower Decks has a simple, first layer: it’s a cartoon where Starfleet ensigns poke fun at Star Trek. As formulas go, it requires a very simple buy-in: you have to know Star Trek. And if that was all there was to Lower Decks, it would be a fun diversion for a little while.
But at coming up on four seasons, Lower Decks is more than a fun diversion. And while, yes, there will always be more references to Spock helmets and alien ghost candles, the series continues to evolve. And the result is a Matryoshka doll where each layer of self-reference is an opportunity to reexamine where Star Trek has already boldly gone before but with fresh eyes.
We’ve seen the first eight episodes of season four. They represent the biggest push towards taking Star Trek to new places via second contact yet.
The Vibe of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4
Lower Decks season one had a particular bend. The font, the references, almost everything screamed Star Trek: The Next Generation. Since then, not every season has targeted a specific show from Trek’s past. Last season had a little Deep Space Nine vibe. This season’s vibe thought? It’s definitely Star Trek: Voyager.
Voyager is kind of like TNG in that it often takes a more episodic approach to its storytelling. However, whereas TNG nestles itself largely in comfortable morality plays where good prevails over evil, Voyager has no such luxury. Trapped in the Delta Quadrant with no Starfleet to fall back on, Captain Janeway and her crew of half-terrorists don’t have much in the way of moral certainty–even when they’re supposed to.
But more than that Voyager is wacky. It’s a show where people turn into warp-speed salamanders, where holographic doctors sing opera and the captain deletes wives willy-nilly. For a show that can be extremely serious, it is also incredibly silly.
Lower Decks season 4 goes full Voyager this season and that means both literal references to the classic series as well as embracing its cosmic weirdness. All that weirdness is fun and adds needed narrative complexity, but that means Lower Decks needs something new, something it’s never quite had before.
The Straight Woman
Star Trek: Lower Decks has four leads: Boimler, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford. So many kinds of goofballs but not a single one who really plays it straight. Season 4 remedies this by formally adding Vulcan Lower Decker T’Lyn into the mix. And despite her being on the Cerritos because of her un-Vulcan behavior, she is decidedly the most even-keeled member of the crew.
The danger of introducing a character like T’Lyn is that it affords the option to make our season regulars even more zany. Thankfully, she has the opposite effect, often helping center the rest of the crew. And the exchange is very much a two-way street. Just as much as T’Lyn helps the Lower Deckers mature this season, they each find unique ways of pushing T’Lyn out of her comfort zone.
In fact, the best thing about T’Lyn is how well she works off of every, single other character. T’Lyn has surprisingly compelling chemistry with Boimler, Tendi, Rutherford, and Mariner. She’s the piece we didn’t know was missing.
Self Reference is Best Reference
Over the last three years, Star Trek: Lower Decks has introduced a lot of pieces, and with season 4 it feels like they are all coming together. This is a season where A LOT of disparate story arcs start coming together. And the most exciting part of that isn’t the continuity, but how it shows the evolution of the Lower Deckers. Despite the best attempts to the contrary, all of them have matured in profound ways.
So, yes, like all previous seasons of Lower Decks, there are loads of obscure references to Trek’s past. There will be names, faces, and, yes, voices, you will recognize. But what makes season 4 the best season of Lower Decks isn’t the self-awareness, it’s that it’s finally and completely become a show about its own characters.
Last season saw the Cerritos defeat bureaucracy, automation, and their own self-doubt. Season 4 sees the Cerritos crew unshackled and able to evolve in ways they couldn’t before. Way back in the pilot episode, we met Boimler as he pretends to be captain. This season marks the first time you really see how Boimler, and all of the Lower Deckers, can be a captain someday.
And a lot of that is thanks to the show’s writers, who continue their fight for appropriate pay and work conditions. Consider supporting both the WGA and SAG as they fight an evil greater than any Borg, Romulan, or evil twin–the AMPTP.
Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4 premieres September 7, 2023.