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Lower Decks has had a tall order given to it. Not only has it had to reestablish and fix a lot of what made Star Trek so beloved, but it has also had to stand on its own two legs. It has done an extremely good job of that, but the latest episode has also pointed out exactly how the animated series feels about the franchise’s turn towards making Starfleet an insidious organization.
SPOILERS for episode 7 of Star Trek: Lower Decks!
In the Lower Decks episode titled “Much Ado About Boimler”, ensign Brad Boimler falls victim to a transporter accident that leaves him intangible. He is sent to Division 14, a part of Starfleet that handles officers that have been disfigured for whatever reason. When Boimler reaches the Division 14 ship, he is met by a creepy head scientist on board a dark and dreary ship. Boimler is told that he and the other Division 14 “freaks” will be taken to a spa planet where they can relax while they recover.
However, the other officers on the ship have been there for months and believe that Starfleet is simply tucking them away in order to hide their failures. Considering all of the sinister surroundings and how everything is being presented, there is no reason not to believe them. Star Trek: Lower Decks seems like it is going to explore a dark corner of Starfleet. Even the name Division 14 seems like a clear riff on the infamous Section 31, the black ops outfit of Starfleet.
But, this is Lower Decks and the show has made it clear that it wants to remind people how awesome Starfleet could actually be. The misshapen officers of Division 14 decide to mutiny but Boimler rats them out. This causes the “freaks” to turn against him and throw him out an airlock. As soon as that happens, it is revealed that the Division 14 ship has reached the spa planet and everything was okay. The misconception is pointed out by the Division 14 scientist who agrees that maybe they should paint the ship brighter colors and turn on more lights so it’s not as scary.
Lower Decks took what seemed to be a duplicitous facet of Starfleet and revealed to be exactly what it said it was: supportive, peaceful, and not at all the evil secret that the episode wanted you to believe. If this was an episode of Star Trek: Discovery or Star Trek: Picard, Division 14 would have been as evil as it appeared.
And that is why Star Trek: Lower Decks is the best project the franchise has had in a long time. So much of the new era of Star Trek has been about making Starfleet into this secretly awful organization, or even evolving into an openly bad organization. Lower Decks clearly does not subscribe to that line of thinking and “Much Ado About Boimler” – the title even is a winking nod to say that Boimler’s worries amount to nothing – is a pointed refusal of this recent trend in the series.
The episode even doubles down on this feeling with one of its side plots. The bridge crew of the Cerritos is sent on a super covert mission that has the appearance of some dark black op, but the actual mission centers around the possibility that they will have to plant a seed. The show is making a subtle mockery of Star Trek taking itself way too seriously over the last decade. It is clear that Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan is not interested in adding more overly dark elements into the Star Trek universe.
Instead, Lower Decks wants to reaffirm that Starfleet has all the potential to be the ideal organization that it originally was in the franchise. That does not mean everyone in Starfleet is infallible, but the establishment itself is one McMahan loves and wants to see be a positive entity once again. After so many Star Trek movies and new shows that have been so laser-focused on making Starfleet a villainous institution, it is so refreshing to see a Star Trek project that loves Starfleet.
If you aren’t watching Star Trek: Lower Decks and consider yourself a dyed-in-the-wool Star trek fan, you are missing out on the first Star Trek property that truly feels like classic Star Trek. The animated series is saving the franchise and Starfleet from becoming nothing more than a grimdark extravaganza. Here’s hoping we can hear news about a renewal sooner than later. We definitely need way more Star Trek: Lower Decks more than we need any more fare like Star Trek Into Darkness.