Lower Decks isn’t playing it safe. Set just after Voyager but before Picard, the comedic animated Star Trek series is back for a second season. If you thought Season 1 had some unexpected Trekkie twists, showrunner Mike McMahan says fans should “buckle up” because Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is going to get “bonkers.”
Ahead of the Season 2 premiere episode, Inverse caught up with the four lead cast members — Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero — as well as showrunner and creator Mike McMahan. Here’s what we learned about the ever-expanding Star Trek canon, whether or not Tendi and Rutherford are in love, who considers themself a hero on the Cerritos, and why a reference to tribbles might come out of left field. Very mild spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2.
Although Lower Decks is first and foremost a comedy, the series takes its place in the Star Trek canon pretty seriously. And, if you’re a casual Trek fan, you may find that there are even more Easter eggs and deep-cuts in Season 2 than in Season 1. That said, showrunner Mike McMahan says looking for hidden references is not the point of the series. At all.
“[Easter eggs] are texture and world-building and rules we like to stick to because it gives our characters this kind of really unique feel that no other Star Trek [series] dives into,” McMahan says. “When we break these stories, the first thing we talk about is what is the emotional story we're telling. And then we figure out the comedy and the sci-fi of it all. So, once you get one of those stories, it’s about figuring out how those characters come to a boil.”
In the first episode of the new season, “Strange Energies,” several characters wrangle with left-over conflicts from Season 1. Mariner (Newsome) is dealing with the fact she doesn’t like working for her mom that much, while Tendi (Wells) struggles with Rutherford (Cordero), having lost his memory. Mariner is also still pissed that Boimler (Quaid) went off to have zany adventures on the USS Titan with Riker.
Throughout this episode, the characters of Lower Decks are dealing with many interpersonal conflicts, something that was often absent from The Next Generation era of Trek, mostly because creator Gene Roddenberry didn’t want characters in the 24th century to bicker with each other. Lower Decks flips the script in the very first scene of “Strange Energies,” when Mariner says, “I know we’re not supposed to have interpersonal conflict, but...”
Star Trek characters have never been on a Star Wars-style “Hero’s Journey,” but still, fans might wonder if the characters of Lower Decks are heroes in the Trek tradition.
“Starfleet is the best of the best,” Tawny Newsome says. “But in that, you still have people that are just kind of doing the job. I don't think anyone's really a hero. I think sometimes they can save the day, and they're all very capable, but sometimes it's just about people who do the job.”
Her co-star, however, Jack Quaid, counters, saying, “I'm gonna disagree with you. I think Mariner is a hero because she goes out of her way, despite, you know, Starfleet bureaucracy, to help anyone who's suffering in her own little way. She’s definitely Boimler’s hero!”
In the first new episode, Boimler is still separated from the USS Cerritos, and his return in the subsequent episodes is surprising and hilarious, to say the least. On top of the tension created by Boimler’s absence for most of the first episode, fans might also be surprised with how the relationship between Tendi and Rutherford is shaking out.
“A lot of people are still wondering about the tension between them, like a couple-thing,” Cordero says. “But it gets a lot more complex in Season 2. You get to see the true, deep friendship. Even though Rutherford lost his mind.”
For Noël Wells, Lower Decks Season 2 is a “reset, but a deeper one.” Because Rutherford lost his memory at the end of Season 1, Tendi is obsessed with maintaining his old personality going into Season 2.
“They've already been through it, and now they're getting to do it again,” Wells says. “[Tendi has] this expectation from Rutherford, but somehow it doesn't weigh down the friendship. It actually deepens it. Season 1 was laying the tracks for that. You’d hope you’re getting to know these characters deeper. If it was always superficial, it would be one-note.”
In “Strange Energies,” Rutherford’s path to becoming “himself” again is mostly in the eye of the beholder, a plotline that subtly parallels what Spock must have gone through after he had his memories rebooted in Star Trek III. When I mention deep-cut references like this to Wells and Cordero, their reactions are mixed.
“A lot of things go over my head,” Well admits. “Even without Easter eggs, sometimes, I’m like, is that a joke. OH! That’s a joke!”
Cordero agrees, saying, “In the first season, there was so much I was unaware of because there were so many Easter eggs that I didn’t realize were Easter eggs. I started looking up everything at one time. Suddenly I was like, ‘oh, that’s what that was!’ There are so many that are hidden. Even Riker showing up in Season 1 — I mean, that’s not really an Easter egg, but I think it’s so deeply important that we set that up and that it happened. It’s very cool.”
Lower Decks already has a reputation for taking Trek canon and twisting it in new and hilarious ways. So, will Season 2 remix one of the most famous Star Trek comedy tropes ever: the fuzzy furballs known as tribbles? First introduced in the classic episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” the ever-multiplying furballs remain iconic as one of the silliest Trek alien species. That said, after returning in the comedic Short Treks episode “The Trouble With Edward” in 2019, we’ve only glimpsed a tribble on Lower Decks, briefly. Could that change in Season 2? Is it time for a tribble comeback?
“You will see something that reminds you of a tribble,” Newsome says. “And it will not be in the way you think. You will say to yourself, ‘oh, they are so clever.’”
Quaid adds that this spoiler-y future plot point is “tribble-esque” and that it’s just one of the small ways in which Lower Decks is pushing the Trek canon in new directions while also preserving it too.
“You’ve gotta go with what Star Trek [canon] has given you,” McMahan says. “But part of the fun is trying to make it work. So, when canon throws you for a loop, then Lower Decks is like a Rosetta Stone for all Star Trek.”
McMahan continues, “This show respects and loves all Star Trek. There is no bad Star Trek to this show. And that's why it's the glue that holds all the other Star Treks together.”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 airs new episodes on Paramount+ on Thursdays.