This article contains Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale spoilers.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 10
“There are over 800 episodes of Star Trek that we can use when we need something,” Star Trek: Lower Decks showrunner Mike McMahan tells us, when asked about his process of formulating the show’s countless Trek Easter eggs. “We can’t use anything of the Discovery era because that ship was unrecorded in history, and we can’t really use anything from Picard, but other than that, all of these years, watching and reading and doing all of the Star Trek stuff that I love, we have the opportunity to use it in different ways all of the time.”
The success of Star Trek: Lower Decks hinges on its light-hearted treatment of Star Trek lore and pointing out canonical humor that fans will recognize and appreciate. When originally pitched, it was only supposed to run for two seasons, but its humor, talented cast, and attention to detail has earned itself a welcomed place in the hearts of die-hard Star Trek fans.
“Everyone on staff has read The 50 Year Mission,” Star Trek: Lower Decks showrunner Mike McMahan tells us, referring to the stunning oral history of the Trek franchise by Mark Altman and Ed Gross. “There were things in there that I didn’t know, and we’re always finding out new stuff and stuff that makes me laugh and I’m like, we should put that in the show.”
He specifically praises the efforts of the artists on the show whose attention to detail also provides those easter eggs.
“I challenge our artists to constantly make scenes look exactly like this episode, and they’ll work hard to recreate the set – like they work in a museum,” he says. “This is all so special to me and they make it happen by doing such a great job.”
And the big Star Trek: Lower Decks season finale is especially packed with Trek lore, callbacks, and references to other beloved franchises.
THE ORNARANS AND THE FNN LOGO
In Episode 309, “A Trusted Source”, we see a big call-back to the Ornarans, who fans will remember from Star Trek: The Next Generation “Symbiosis”. The crew of the Cerritos host a journalist who is covering “Operation Swing-By,” a series of second-contact missions, for the news channel, FNN. With the recap that Captain Picard had left the planet in a state of addiction withdrawal, the Cerritos was to check on their progress and make sure that the Ornarans were developing well after the last encounter with the Federation. Of course, the planet has long since moved on – after 14 or 15 years of “cold turkey” leaving the Cerritos with nothing to do.
By the way, the emblem on the FNN journalist’s jacket is not the CBS eye, as some fans might think.
“That’s actually based on a real Star Trek thing,” McMahan says. “[We were] Just us messing with it.” If fans think back to the reporters in Star Trek: Generations, they’ll remember them wearing similar emblems.
The return of the Breen was also a welcome call-back. A villainous and mysterious race, the Breen got a lot of love when they first showed up in the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but they are a race that really needs to be used more and it was great to see them in action. In fact, in episode 9, we see how the Breen board enemy vessels – totally new information about them.
RETURN OF THE ARCHONS
We also hear mention of investigating if kids or the devil are secretly running the government on Ornara. Mike said that this was a usual staple of every sci-fi comedy script he writes! But the mention of Landru – who fans will remember from classic Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” – in this context is also good for a chuckle.
Of course, in Episode 310, the Cerritos presumably visits the planet Meridian, in one of the second contact missions.
“If you remember, they also visit the Brigadoon planet,” McMahan says, referring to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Meridian”. As Meridian only shifts into the regular universe from a plane of energy every sixty years, the race to make second contact with the Aledo has an extra degree of humor added to it.
“It’s mostly worldbuilding, with materials that are already there that can be used,” McMahan says. “That’s the fun of putting this show together. It’s fun to use that stuff again. We just love Star Trek – that’s pretty obvious. But where we’re allowed to pull the deep cuts from is interesting to me.”
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Of course, non-Star Trek films also provide inspiration. The Indiana Jones sequence is a hilarious inclusion, including a familiar looking idol recovered by Mariner.
“It’s the same idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark – but we added Klingon ridges to the nose,” McMahan says.
STAND BY ME
“That was inspired by the story of the pie-eating contest from Stand By Me,” he says. “Which Jerry O’Connell and Wil Wheaton, were both in. Also, it was partly from Breaking Bad when one of the characters pitches his Star Trek episode – and it’s about a pie-eating contest.”
The Texas-class automated cruiser (the USS Aledo) is inspired by a character from one of McMahan’s favorite films as well.
“That was inspired by ED-209 from RoboCop. Because, as we know, when computers turn red, that’s when they become independent and the bad stuff happens!” he says.
THE ULTIMATE COMPUTER
Speaking of computers, the computer tie-in console to the Aledo is the same one fans saw with the M-5 Computer in another classic Star Trek episode, “The Ultimate Computer”.
“Yup.” Mike confirmed. “And don’t forget when Rutherford calls the Aledo a dunsel,” referring to the moment in “The Ultimate Computer” when Captain Kirk gets referred to a “useless part of a ship” by one of his fellow captains.
THE USS VAN CITTERS
One of the really fun moments was the appearance of a Sovereign-class cruiser that defends the Cerritos from the Aledo: the USS Van Citters. John Van Citters is the Vice-President of Star Trek Brand Development, and this is a tribute to him.
“John Van Citters is the best,” McMahan says. “I met John when I was writing my book, Warped. He opened up the entire CBS archives for me so I could pull photos for the book. He’s such a great resource and he loves Star Trek. I said that if I’m going to be kicking the shit out of a big, fancy starship, it’s going to be called the Van Citters.”
McMahan also credits other experts like Dayton Ward and Dr. Erin Macdonald as great sources of information who lend their knowledge, expertise, and experience to the accuracy of the show.
“Star Trek is so much bigger than me,” he says. “When I started Lower Decks, I loved ships with all these technical details – there was so much to learn, like all the different sizes and classes of ships. It’s kind of like I’m making the show, but I’m consuming it at the same time. So, I’m learning more about this thing that I really love.”
STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS SEASON 4
“We wanted season three to end on a happy note,” he says. “It’s a homecoming. Everyone’s in the bar, there’s a real happy feeling. Mariner has a better relationship with her Mom, with Ransom and T’Lyn enters. Oh, and there’s a lot of T’Lyn coming in season four. Then, there’s the bit we add after the end of the credits – which tells you that we are cooking up some really fun stuff for season four.”
That “fun stuff” involves a post-credits scene depicting a scavenger vessel returning to Peanut Hamper’s debris field and recovering Rutherford’s old implant. On the eye screen? We see an image of … Badgey!
“In season four, we tread all new character ground, but in a nice way,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that it’s bleak at all. I think part of Lower Decks is that we go dark for higher stakes sometimes, but most of it is that feeling that TNG used to give me: it’s playing racquetball or eating sundaes in the bar. It’s always been the downbeats. I love that feeling that Star Trek gives you. Like, go away Q – we’re researching a nebula! That’s season four. It’s really fun; it’s really funny and we don’t re-tread old character ground that we’ve already covered.”
So, what’s McMahan most proud of this season?
“I think people understand Lower Decks now. We’ve got thirty episodes done and we’re going into a season four! Isn’t that crazy? I’m so happy that we get to make it. We have so much support from the fans, from Paramount Plus, Secret Hideout. This is the one time this show could have existed … and I’m so lucky.”
Star Trek: Lower Decks is available on Paramount Plus.