Clean Slate Comedy: Star Trek Lower Decks, Season Three

Having surpassed the season count of the first animated Star Trek show, Lower Decks continues to score victories.


Image by Star Trek Lower Decks

The new season of Lower Decks has not let us down– far from it.

Lower Decks, the second ever animated Star Trek series and first ever Trek comedy, is now on its third season. With an 84% critical score and 71% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, the show has received high praise for its niche references, heartfelt character arcs, breathtaking animation, and clever jokes. Last season’s cliffhanger of Captain Freeman’s arrest left viewers on the edge of their seats as to who was behind the plot to frame her, who had attacked Pakled Planet, and what would become of her next season. This season answers all of those questions– in the first episode. Captain Freeman wins her trial, the true culprit behind the bombing is unmasked, and business continues as usual– for the most part. This is a style of clean-slate comedy, which, in the landscape of New Trek, is sorely needed to balance out the unrelenting action of Discovery and the somber, grimdark world of Picard. Even Strange New Worlds, a relatively light-hearted show, boasts a plot revolving around man-eating monsters and mass death. In this environment, Lower Decks’ willingness to keep multi-season-long plots light and put comedy first is a dearly needed attitude.

I love how Lower Decks makes references to all the different Trek shows and films, it really makes the show what it is.

— Seanagh Palmer

Lower Decks has always been well-known in Star Trek circles for its usage of obscure Trek references, mentioning little-known characters, specific quotes, one-off episodes, and even non-canon Trek lore like Cetacean Ops. These are often used for one-off jokes, in contrast to the media properties which are being referenced, in which said referential elements were used for serious plot lines. This sets it apart from the rest of Trek canon– it is Star Trek’s first comedy, after all. Its unique-to-Trek blend of jovial misadventures, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gags, and heartfelt drama are topped off by its refusal to embrace massive plot arcs, making it truly something special.

While this positive reception of Lower Decks is by no means unanimous among trekkies, many agree that Lower Decks’ third season has been entertaining and well-made— Star Trek fan Seanagh Palmer says: “I have LOVED S3 of Lower Decks so far, it’s really quickly becoming one of my favourite Trek shows! The show is just so much fun and I’ve really loved seeing the characters every week. I utterly adored the episode where they went to Deep Space Nine, as that’s another one of my favourite Treks, and getting to hear Nana Visitor reprise her role as Kira Nerys meant so much since she’s one of my all time favourite Star Trek characters. The sequel episode to the Series 1 episode ‘Crisis Point’ was just so much fun, I love how Lower Decks makes references to all the different Trek shows and films, it really makes the show what it is.”

Lower Decks’ third season starts off strong with a pilot that answers all of the audience’s questions, wraps up the plot of season two, and manages to fit in character-building and comedic moments amongst the chaos. Stand-out moments include the characters hijacking a Zephram Cochrane-themed park ride in order to steal a Starfleet vessel, Boimler rejecting multiple flirtatious women at his family’s vineyard, and Mariner breaking every fragile item in her father’s apartment.

Stand-out episodes so far include “Hear All, Trust Nothing” and “Reflections”. “Hear All” stands out for its setting on Deep Space Nine, a location no other post-90’s Trek show has mentioned, as well as its inclusion of veteran Trek actors Nana Visitor and Armin Shimerman. Its B-plot of Tendi revealing her past as a pirate and hijacking a hostile ship deserves commendation as well. The best jokes in this episode: the C-plot of Boimler winning millions at the Dabo table, the ongoing self-sacrificial rivalry between Kira and Shaxs, and the reveal of Ensign Barnes as being an adoptee from Ohio.

“Reflections” stands out for its metaphorical exploration of personal growth, its philosophical quandaries, its heartrending scenes, its acknowledgement of the critiques of Starfleet as a quasi-military organization, and of course, its feature of Berserk Boimler. The best jokes in this episode: Cadet Rutherford’s love of pears, Berserk Boimler, and Cadet Rutherford’s reference to the Deep Space Nine episode “Meridian” with “Do the spots go all the way down?”.

While there are many plot threads from last season which continue in this season, the focus seems to be on ‘clean-slate comedy’, forfeiting what could be in-depth, multi-season-spanning plot arcs in favor of lighthearted humor. The best example of this is Captain Freeman’s trial being resolved within the first episode, allowing for the rest of the season to proceed as normal. This is a preservation of the status quo which is often seen in comedies, as any drastic change would upset the dynamics and interrupt the jokes. However, Lower Decks rejects only plot arcs– character arcs are embraced, preventing the series from feeling stagnant as other comedies tend to become. Boimler, Tendi, Mariner, and Rutherford have all changed since season one, and they are on track to continue to do so. The mystery of Rutherford’s implant and the project it was a coverup for; Tendi’s journey to command; Mariner’s struggles with authority; Boimler’s determination to become captain material, and Lieutenant Junior Grade William’s turn to Section 31 all await their continuations in the next two episodes of season three, and hopefully in season four as well.

With the season finale only an episode away, and several marvelous episodes under its belt, season three is shaping up to be a worthy addition to the Trek canon.