Star Trek: Lower Decks gives us a great look at what it’s like to not be important, to be instead the rank-and-file junior officer that doesn’t engage in universe-ending drama. However, season four seems to be asking a tougher question than the series has faced in previous seasons. That question being, what does one do when one gets promoted? In “Twovix,” we see all of our lower deckers get promoted except Rutherford, but he quickly follows in “I Have No Bones Yet I Must Flee.”
This week’s column is going to be a bit different given that I have a few of the episodes from season four to cover, so I want to talk about how Lower Decks forces its characters to grow. Some of our most loved animated series intentionally prevent character growth. In The Simpsons, the reset was a major part of the show’s format. There’s another franchise, The Venture Bros., that literally kept its main characters at a certain age by killing them off and then replacing them with artificially aged clones. Then, the cloning facility gets destroyed, as these things do, forcing the characters to a) grow up and b) take a bit more care with their lives. In both of these shows, that stasis is part of the gag. The team behind Lower Decks could very easily have made the same choice, but they don’t. Instead, we get to see Boimler, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford take the next step.
It’s a big deal and not just because they get to move out of their communal barracks and into larger, more private living spaces, though still not their own rooms but also because their duties change. “In the Cradle of Vexilon” sees Boimler struggling with his first real command role as he’s put in charge of an away mission that quickly turns dangerous. Boimler struggles to allow the lower-ranking ensigns to place themselves in danger, thereby jeopardizing the lives of many more people when Captain Freeman’s tech support takes a turn for the weird. T’Lyn has to remind Boimler that this is what life in Starfleet is like; this is what they all agreed to do. More importantly, though, she reminds Boimler that he has to move into this new responsibility of not only trusting his colleagues to do their jobs but also understand that some of them might not come home. That’s an important lesson for a new lieutenant, and he should perhaps be grateful that he didn’t learn it as late as Troi did in “Thine Own Self.”
Mariner, too, has to accept that not only is she capable, which she’s always sort of known, but that it’s time for her to accept it on a deeper level. She tries to sabotage herself in “I Have No Bones Yet I Must Flee,” but Ransom remains steadfast in his belief in her. Mariner comes so, so close to acknowledging that she fears responsibility and the failure that could come along with it, but she’s not quite there. I do hope we’ll see some resolution to that in the coming episodes. We’ve watched Mariner grow for three seasons, so this feels like a bit of a re-tread.
We also finally get some background on Tendi and the Orion family from which she hails in the episode “Something Borrowed, Something Green.” Tendi has been overdue for some character development, and given who she is as a person, the promotion doesn’t cause her the same existential crisis it did Boimler and Mariner. However, she does straddle two radically different cultures. The Mistress of the Winter Constellations cannot be more different from Lt. j.g. D’Vana Tendi, but they’re both the same person. Going back to Orion lets her make a peace with both sides of who she is.
Rutherford remains, as always, a bit of a wild card. Like Tendi, the promotion hits Rutherford differently. He doesn’t worry about his capabilities or the additional responsibilities, but he does now have to navigate living with Bradward Boimler as a roommate. Watching them navigate conflict is hilarious but also tells us important things about who they are as characters. I’m not sure yet what those important things are, but I’m sure they’re there.
Season four has definitely continued with all the gags we saw in previous seasons of Lower Decks, and it brings just as much heart to the table. I continue to love watching the Cerritos navigate its ever-increasingly ridiculous adventures.