Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Lower Decks: Season Three Overview

With a cliffhanger to resolve, the third season of Lower Decks had a lot to answer when it returned just ten weeks ago.

Filled with the usual array of Easter eggs, knowing nods to fandom and general insanity at times, the first Star Trek animated series since 1973 has taken one big change of direction in comparison to its live action predecessors and so far it still seem to be paying off.

Season three has geographically continued to go where many starships have been before but with a much more expansive take on the crew of the Cerritos.

This season has been marked with mixed reviews. Some fans have suggested it's not hit the comedic mark of the previous two seasons and the wrapping up of the cliffhanger story was, admittedly, pretty sharp and perhaps not as fully realised as it could have been.

But the year has unquestionably delivered even if it did take a few weeks to really get going. Over the first few episodes the plotlines were somehow pedestrian, leaving fans more interested in the background details and those winks to the camera that have packed Lower Decks to the brim each week. 

Opening with Grounded, the show packs in a nod to Picard's vineyards, Sisko's restaurant and a trip to Bozeman all in aid of restoring Captain Freeman to the bridge of the Cerritos. While all those shenanigans are ultimately pointless, it does allow for the return of James Cromwell to voice Zephram Cochrane, a few bars of Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet Ride and the Phoenix. 

Reflections, the halfway point of the season was where everything really kicked into gear. We'd experienced crew fantasies, the quartet facing off against a team of support ensigns from another ship and Mariner facing up to Cmdr Ransom but none of these really offered development of the show beyond it's more comedic remit.

Placing Boimler and Mariner on the recruitment stand for Starfleet was the first real spark of genius with the pair heading off numerous franchise references and quite on-the-mark comments about the organisation, ultimately with Brad Boimler going ape s**t after trying to keep Mariner calm for the whole episode. In fact it's a very strong double-A story as it also manages to ramp up the backstory of Ensign Rutherford and his bionic implant. 

You can't help but scream "FINALLY!" at the TV when it all comes out just what he was doing before receiving the upgrade as well as opening up some more questions for the show to answer as it moves steadily forward. More than a couple of great fan service moments in here that aren't DS9 related but it does feel as though, once again, the station is upstaged by another of its televisual relatives.

The subsequent trip to Deep Space Nine in  Hear All, Trust Nothing was the next step up, bringing back actors Nana Visitor and Armin Shimerman to voice Kira and Quark. This was the first time since the return of the franchise thanks to Discovery that the station had been revisited and it felt like too long. Fans have been clammering for this to happen for a while and they weren't to be disappointed. Returning to several key locations around the station, 

Then A Mathematically Perfect Redemption took the show and spun it right around. Bringing back the wayward Peanut Hamper from season one was not expected yet it worked a treat. Exploring the Exo-Comp's journey following her desertion from Starfleet, it starts to look like she might be on a more straight and narrow path but - well - it's never that clean cut with Lower Decks which means we'll probably see her again in the future along with a new accomplice if the final moments of the episode are to indicate anything.

Equally long awaited is the sequel to Crisis Point, the Cerritos' answer to the movies of the Star Trek franchise. Including some of the season - and the series' most cutting jokes about the whole framework of the fictional universe(s), Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus manages to tap into The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier to take some unrealised concepts and groan-worthy tropes as part of what is an ultimately very satisfying story. Paradoxus is a treat not just for the swooping Sovereign Class shots but for more character development around Boimler and Mariner. With the former's transporter twin apparently killed, Bradward takes up a "spiritual" journey within the movie sphere while Tendi rises to command of the main "film" plotline. Do we even need to mention the Sulu (George Takei) cameo at the end which is "even better" than Captain Kirk? Wow, that line really kicked where it hurt!

While we're here actually, this is Tendi's biggest episode of the season. Her part in most of the season has to be the answer to any of the problems and while Hear All, Trust Nothing delved (again, at last) into her Orion heritage, Crisis Point 2 does more for her than any other instalment this time round. If I recall we were promised that this season would see the character differently paired to open them up. While that's true of Boimler here, Mariner perhaps more in episodes nine and ten and Rutherford in Hear All, Trust Nothing, Tendi is shown progressing onto the Science Officer training programme but seems oddly relegated to a more background role except for this story. 

Episodes nine and ten do work out as a double-header. Starship fans will be going crazy for the AI Texas Class which is introduced here. With a reporter observing the routine of the Cerritos, Captain Freeman finds her crew under intense scrutiny to prove their worth with the results spilling over from Trusted Sources into the season finale The Stars at Night

The latter's "Second Contact Race" is a bit far-fetched but it leads into some decent drama and action that will tick a few boxes for any fan and add some excitement and tension that's been absent for some of the year. In fact it's only when it all kicks off towards the back end of Trusted Sources that you realise how much quieter season three has been compared to one and two.

The Stars at Night does leave the season nicely wrapped and cliff-hanger free with some of the major threads of the show's third outing satisfyingly concluded. Yet there are strands from before the finale which still remain untied. On a rewatch these will become more obvious especially in light of what was closed down in the finale. Lower Decks has a lot more mileage to give and although season three was mixed with a slow start it did hit the mark by the halfway point, truly delivering on its satirical element and action quota by the closing credits of episode ten.

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