‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Needs to Break Up the Band
With the cast of Star Trek: Lower Decks now all lieutenants junior grade, it’s time for one of them to leave the Cerritos.
Modern Star Trek frequently straddles the chasm between serial and episodic storytelling. For the first three seasons, the one constant on Lower Decks is the rank of our heroes–ensign. But just as everything else around the Lower Deckers changes, so, too, must they. And with the two-episode season 4 debut, all that change finally manifested in an across-the-board promotion.
But how far are the creators behind Lower Decks willing to go with that change? There’s an argument to be made that it is time for one of the Lower Deckers to leave the Cerritos. And in fact, I’m making that argument now.
Let’s look at where we are in the show’s trajectory. How are the characters different? And where can the show go next?
The Difference With the Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode “Twovix”
This season of Star Trek: Lower Decks begins with the unexpected sequel to “Tuvix”. If you don’t know, “Tuvix” is a Star Trek: Voyager episode where Tuvok and Neelix have a transporter incident that causes them to combine into one, new sentient being: Tuvix. Captain Janeway’s resolution for this is to ignore Tuvix’s begging for life and restore Tuvok and Neelix back to their separate forms.
The in-universe explanation for Janeway’s decision is that she needs both Neelix and Tuvok. Also, two lives outweigh one. And that is kind of fair. And as Captain Freeman points out in “Twovix,” Janeway was in the Delta Quadrant. There are no good choices in Janeway’s situation.
However, in the real world, the actual reason Tuvix does not stick around boils down to one reason: the executives wanted Voyager to be largely episodic, not serialized. Simply put: replacing two established characters (and actors) with a new one did not fit with the plan.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is different. In “Twovix” Freeman says things on the Cerritos are different. Textually that means they are in the Alpha Quadrant, but subtextually, that also means that Lower Decks is allowed to change. That change starts with the Lower Deckers getting promotions.
But it should not end there.
Characters get written out of Star Trek all the time. The problem is that it usually happens in a way that isn’t very good. Tasha Yar suffers what TNG itself labels “an empty death” in “Skin of Evil”. Jadzia Dax dies in the DS9 episode “Tears of the Prophets” over a dispute between actor Terry Farrell and the show’s producers. And “Trip” Tucker dies at the end of Enterprise because… actually, I have no idea why. But his death served neither show nor character.
Recently we even wrote about the departure of Yeoman Rand on TOS and how much she needs to return on SNW. Long story short: there are very few occasions where a character leaves a show on Star Trek.
However, the three clear occasions where Trek gets a character departure right all have one thing in common: promotion. Miles O’Brien transfers to Deep Space Nine in “Emissary”–great episode. Wesley Crusher goes to Starfleet Academy in the TNG episode “Final Mission”–a quality episode. And Tilly takes a gig at Starfleet Academy in the DISCO episode “All is Possible”–a perfectly serviceable episode with good character beats.
These departures serve the characters by letting them grow and they serve their shows. TNG gets Ro Laren. DS9 gets Miles O’Brien. And, in theory, DISCO gets to flesh out the rest of its bridge crew.
And if one of the Lower Deckers leaves the Cerritos, we’ll see the same result.
Which Member of Star Trek: Lower Decks Leaves?
The million bars of gold-pressed latinum question is–if someone leaves Star Trek: Lower Decks who shall it be? And in the grand tradition of sci-fi classic series Blake’s 7, let us assume that all main characters are possible. Yes, the show centers Boimler and Mariner more than the others, but they can still move on.
Boimlet technically has already left the Cerritos once before. And while he does not want to cause a rift between himself and Mariner, Boimler does have a desire to move up the ladder. His transporter twin is already in Section 31!
Mariner has grown a lot in the last four seasons. She finally seems to believe that promotion is not inherently a bad thing. Mariner even gets along with both Commander Ransom and her mother Captain Freeman.
But, that being said, Mariner and Boimler feel like a package deal. You lose one, you probably lose both. And just like Voyager, losing two crewmembers feels like too big a leap for Lower Decks.
Rutherford is an incredible engineer. He’s able to improve virtually every part of the ship, oftentimes in the span of an afternoon. Rutherford creates A.I. (granted it’s killer A.I.) and his superiors all love him. However, Rutherford doesn’t even accept promotion until he realizes he’s being left behind.
With all that, let’s talk about who it’s time for Star Trek: Lower Decks to say goodbye to.
In many ways, Tendi is the heart of Star Trek: Lower Decks. After all, she desperately wants to be BFFs with everyone–and she kind of is! Whatever conflicts arise between the Lower Deckers, everyone always loves Tendi.
But the truth is, they don’t need her. Or, more to the point, Starfleet needs Tendi more.
Tendi is an Orion. And like Worf and Nog before her, Tendi represents how inclusive Starfleet is. She also shows how much Starfleet needs people from different cultures and different points of view. Tendi does not belong in the lower decks forever. She even admits to herself and her friends that she wants to be a captain. Moreso than Boimler, Tendi’s ability to connect with others and help them be their best makes her a strong candidate for command.
Plus, Tendi is currently training her replacement–T’Lyn. They are both science officers, after all. And the exciting thing is that T’Lyn is the emotional opposite of Tendi. T’Lyn will help the people around her grow in ways totally different from how Tendi does. She won’t make Star Trek: Lower Decks better, but she will refresh it.
Eventually every Lower Decker either dies or moves up and moves on. It’s time for the show to acknowledge that. And saying goodbye to Tendi is the best way to acknowledge the inevitable with grace and heart.