Star Trek: Lower Decks is still blasting at warp 9 in its fourth season, delivering a fast-paced animated series packed with clever Trek humor and surprisingly thoughtful character development. The show is overall carefully crafted, colorful, and fun, with an aesthetic that perfectly complements its tone. Lower Decks is also not afraid to poke fun at tropes and independent fleet-sized elephants in the room from the wider Trek universe.
The fourth season finale of Lower Decks, “Old Friends, New Planets,” not only answers the running question of the mystery ship plaguing the Alpha Quadrant but also satisfyingly and delightfully explains away some canonical hand waving from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Voyager. It’s fast, fun, and a joy to watch.
[Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4.]
Old Friends, New Planets
The previous episode, “The Inner Fight,” with its LCARS display of missing Federation citizens, famous in Trek history, including Thomas Riker, Beverly Crusher, Seven of Nine, and Nick Locarno, did not prepare me for the excitement that awaited me in “Old Friends, New Planets.” Nick Locarno (voiced by Robert Duncan McNeil) popped up in the most fun and villainous way. Mentally, I was prepared for Thomas Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to make an appearance, especially since his clone-sake William T. Riker has already been in Lower Decks. This was so much more fantastic.
If you’re scratching your head at the significance of Nick Locarno, don’t be embarrassed. The character was originally played by Robert Duncan McNeil in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The First Duty” and had a rather disgraceful Nova Squad-sized downfall that killed a Starfleet cadet and had cascading life effects for Wesley Crusher.
In an animated surprise, Wesley Crusher, the cadet prodigy voiced by Wil Wheaton, and Sito Jaxa, voiced by Shannon Fill, make cameo appearances in this episode’s Starfleet Academy flashback. The flashback is set 13 years ago during the Nova Squad events. Boothby is also hidden away on the Academy grounds, which made my heart so happy.
Tom Paris and Nick Locarno look a lot alike
But, back to Locarno. He was dishonorably booted out of Starfleet, and that’s the last we heard of him, sort of. Several years later, Tom Paris, again played by Robert Duncan McNeil, popped up as a regular cast member on Star Trek: Voyager. His backstory had some similarities – hot shot pilot and rocky history with Starfleet. Reportedly, the creatives behind Voyager wanted the character of Locarno, but because of legal wrangling involving fair pay for the writers of “The First Duty,” we instead got Tom Paris.
The Locarno/Paris situation was a very “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” event because it’s the same actor and vibe, so having them address it in Lower Decks is just perfect. There’s a scene on the Cerritos bridge with a viewscreen that’s just a chef’s kiss. I half expect Mike McMahan and co to address why Brunt, Shran, the Weyouns, and the AGIMUS all sound alike at some point in the future. After all, Jeffrey Comb, the actor behind them, has been in Lower Decks.
Addressing the Locarno and Paris situation epitomizes why Lower Decks is so good. On top of all the hallmark Trek character development (hello, Mariner’s heckuva arc this season!), the show is pure fun, a breeze to watch, and not afraid to poke at 800 some episodes of Trek lore. It’s solid on every level.
The future of Star Trek: Lower Decks
This finale also sets up a ton of exciting things for the future. Tendi (Noël Wells), making good on her promise to return to the Orions and be the murderous Mistress of the Winter Constellations, is forced to leave the ship to uphold the end of her deal to save well, everyone.
T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz) gets a call from her Commander Sokel about her presumed return to the Vulcan Fleet. It’s something she’s wanted all season, and she ignores it in favor of becoming a “science bestie.” She’s fought with her emotions and being around the crew all season, so this development has a lot of potential.
Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) is fully realized as a Starfleet hero and will have to deal with the fallout. Not only did she stop Locarno’s Genesis plans, but she also came to terms with why she’s so against getting promoted – and it’s got roots in her Dominion War experience.
And now for the big raisin: Acting Captain Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) gets a taste of the center chair as they throw the ship Vadic… excuse me, the Nova Independent fleet’s impenetrable shield. He’s mastered his captain voice, and we can’t help but wonder if he’ll get a chance to use it again next season. Especially in light of the events of the Strange New Worlds crossover episode, “Those Old Scientists.”
This was such a satisfying end to the fourth season of Lower Decks and full of so much promise for the future that I genuinely can’t wait until the next season is out. According to showrunner Mike McMahan, that’ll be sometime in 2024. For now, I’m just going to sit at my table and chant, “Lower Decks!”
A special callout for the overall animation in Lower Decks
Ten episodes into its fourth season, Star Trek: Lower Decks, long ago firmly established its animation style. But that doesn’t mean the show’s animators don’t deserve praise. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Their work is consistently immersive and serves the story well. Again, it works so well in this finale and through the whole series.
Unlike the explosive organic beauty of the Ghibli-esque Scavengers Reign on MAX, Lower Decks’ animation feels like a live-action Star Trek show with a punch of extra color and brightness. But the animators and artists haven’t sacrificed quality or care for detail. Every frame is packed with intention and storytelling prowess. There’s layer upon layer, and each watch gives me a new appreciation for their efforts. Kudos to Titmouse and everyone behind the art.
How to watch Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4
Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4 is now streaming on Paramount Plus. If you still need to catch up, you can binge all the previous seasons there, too. And make sure to check out our roundtable interview from New York City Comic Con with Star Trek: Lower Decks showrunner Mike McMahan.