This post contains spoilers for the Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4 finale
As we all know, “Lower Decks” is about a quartet of ensigns in the shadow of big important Starfleet ships like the USS Enterprise-D. Despite their unenviable position, the four officers remained committed to their mission, even to the point that one of them sacrificed their lives.
What? No, I’m not talking about Beckett Mariner, Brad Boimler, Sam Rutherford, or D’Vana Tendi. No, I’m talking about the original “Lower Decks” crew: Sam Lavelle, Sito Jaxa, Alyssa Ogawa, and Taruk.
One of the standout episodes of the uneven seventh season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Lower Decks” followed Nurse Ogawa, a longtime background character working with Dr. Crusher, to focus on her and her oft-ignored friends. That episode ended with the death of Bajoran Ensign Sito Jaxa (Shannon Fill), redeeming her participation in a dangerous maneuver at Starfleet Academy that resulted in the death of a fellow cadet.
Star Trek: Lower Decks recently brought back the mastermind of that stunt,
Tom Paris Nick Locarno as the big bad of its fourth season. It also revealed a connection between Lower Decks and “Lower Decks.” As an eager young first-year cadet, Mariner admired her upperclassman Sito. In the fourth season’s penultimate episode, Mariner explained that Sito’s death while serving on the Enterprise, as depicted in “Lower Decks,” drives her reluctance to get promoted, the reckless behavior that has been a hallmark of the series.
A flashback in the finale gives even more context. Back at the Academy (complete with a Boothby sighting!), we see Locarno trying to convince Sito, Wesley Crusher, and Joshua Albert to perform the maneuver that will take Josh’s life. Interrupting their grandstanding is the arrival of young Mariner, with an earnest and awkward energy that recalls Boimler.
More than a signature Lower Decks callback, the connection to “Lower Decks” underscores the core themes of the finale. Locarno purports to form an anarchist Federation, a collection of Bajorans, Romulans, Byanars, and Ferengi who eschew the hierarchy of Starfleet.
In Locarno’s estimation, that hierarchy stymies those in less-glamorous positions, like the teachers and Admirals who denied Nova Squadron permission to practice the banned Kolvoord Starburst. According to Locarno, if his teachers only saw his brilliance instead of his status as a cadet, they would have let him practice the maneuver and even promoted him after the accident that cost Joshua Albert’s life.
However, “Lower Decks” shows the opposite. Sito, Ogawa, Lavelle, and Taruk recognize that they play a role in a larger community. Instead of putting their own ego first, the original Lower Deckers committed themselves to Federation principles at the heart of Star Trek, best summarized by Spock in The Wrath of Khan: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
For four seasons, we’ve seen the invaluable contributions made by those without the most glamorous jobs, showing time and again that their work makes the universe a better place. That’s what Lower Decks, and “Lower Decks,” is all about.