Star Trek: Lower Decks visits Voyager, but finds something better than nostalgia in its season 4 premiere

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 1 (Paramount+)

A greatest hits of Voyager’s lesser lights and most infamous moments shows how much our humble lower deckers have grown over the past three years.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.

One of the great things about Lower Decks is that, while the series is absolutely dripping with fanservice, the show’s homages to Star Trek’s past all come with a point and a purpose. In that spirit, “Twovix,” the season premiere for Lower Decks’ fourth season, is a love letter to Star Trek: Voyager, especially the loonier parts of that now-classic series. But the episode also uses its 1990s Trek homages to show how our favorite junior officers can rank up without losing who they are or their friendships with one another and maybe even bring a new wave of recruits into the fold simultaneously. 

Those themes come to the fore when the Cerritos is given a special mission — to pilot a restored USS Voyager back to Earth after a museum-style refurbishment. Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid) is particularly anxious about the mission, after Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) promises him a promotion so long as nothing goes “historically wrong” in the next twenty-four hours or so. 

The sitcom-esque setup is a delightful way to telegraph that, in true Lower Decks style, things are about to go epically, hilariously awry. What follows is a potpourri of Voyager’s more infamous and ridiculous challenges, each piling on top of one another until Bradward’s day goes from bad to worse to monumentally terrible. 

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 1 (Paramount+)
Jerry O’Connell aand Carl Tart are working on it. (Paramount+)

The way the show brings those sillier elements of Captain Janeway’s adventures to life is on-brand for Lower Decks and, not for nothing, a complete riot. It would be easy to lean into hagiography for the 1990s series. And in truth, it’s touching to see the familiar corners of Janeway’s ship brought back to life in slick animated glory, replete with mannequins of our old friends and Jerry Goldsmith’s timeless theme to tug on the heartstrings of longtime fans. 

But it’s that much more fun to use this return engagement for more than hollow nostalgia and instead as a way to mine comedy from Voyager’s lesser lights. It would be one thing for Boimler to be caught in an unexpected crossfire between the Borg, the Hirogen, and Species 8472. It’s quite another for him to be thrown into a messy kerfuffle involving Voyager’s copyright-safe version of Pennywise, a 1950s B-movie villain, Janeway’s holographic boy toy, animatronics of the warp-evolved salamanders, the silly “What if a virus was, like, really big?” viral agents, along with some chunky macro-Borg-nanites to complete the ensemble. There’s charm and delight to Bradward’s problems stemming from a who’s who of Voyager’s “What the hell?” concepts. 

Of course, there may be no Voyager plot more infamous (and widely memed) than “Tuvix,” the episode where a chance transporter accident combined Tuvok and Neelix into a single merged being. Naturally, while Boimler and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) deal with an Avengers team-up’s worth of goofy subplots aboard Voyager, Ensign Tendi (Noël Wells) grapples with an exponential Tuvix problem of her own back on the Cerritos

But it’s that much more fun to use this return engagement for more than hollow nostalgia and instead as a way to mine comedy from Voyager’s lesser lights.

As with the Boimler plot, Lower Decks has plenty of fun playing the “Remember this?” game when conjuring up the same ethical conundrum that Captain Janeway once faced over whether/how to separate the combined being. But “Twovix” also takes the concept to ever more ludicrous and uproariously funny new extremes. 

To wit, when a combined being made of equal parts Dr. T’Ana and Lt. Billups (going by the portmanteau “Lt. Dr. T’illups”) discovers the fate that befell the original Tuvix, he decides to create an army of further hybrids to prevent the same from happening to him. It’s an awesomely absurd escalation. There’s great laughs to be had in seeing the different combinations that the merged being concocts. And if that weren’t enough, seeing them all smushed together into one ultra-hybrid “meatball” is another great instance of “Twovix” taking old inputs to yet more novel and outrageous ends. 

All that said, there’s more going on here than simple (if ludicrous) nostalgic remixes and comic exaggerations. Tendi’s ally in attacking the hybrid problem is none other than T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz), the “rebellious” Vulcan junior officer whom we met in season 2’s “wej Duj” before she joined the Cerritos crew at the end of last season’s finale. As ludicrous as the renewed Tuvix situation is, it leads to some important character development for the newcomer. 

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 1 (Paramount+)

T’Lyn has gentle but potent tension with Tendi. Our favorite Orion science officer wants to be a welcoming friend for this newbie, much like the other lower deckers were for her. Yet, for her part, T’Lyn quietly brushes off the attempts at camaraderie, failing to see the point when her goal is simply to prove herself worthy of being transferred back to a Vulcan vessel. 

That changes when the value of Tendi’s interpersonal relationships emerges from the Tuvix problem. It takes D’Vana, knowing her fellow crew members’ personalities, for her and T’Lyn to be able to untangle them from their uber-hybrid state. 

The way Tendi’s insights into her colleagues not only help solve the problem du jour but gestures toward the beginnings of a change of heart in T’Lyn makes for elegant storytelling. Likewise, seeing Tendi not only make someone who doesn’t actually want to be on the Cerritos nonetheless feel welcome while simultaneously demonstrating the value of her friendly approach to the work helps naturally elevate the character. 

It’s a pleasure to pick up sly references to the characters’ superlative crossover onto Strange New Worlds.

Back on Voyager, Boimler gets some support of his own from his eternal source of friendship and solace. It turns out that all of the goofy “VOY’s gone wrong” shenanigans aboard the old ship aren’t what’s bothering him. Instead, the writers cannily focus his concerns more on the prospect of an impending promotion, something that messed up his relationship with Mariner when he left for the Titan in season 2, and which feels particularly fraught with the young ensign still questioning his personal judgment after doubting Mariner last year. 

The turn from “Oh no, I won’t get promoted!” to “Oh no, I’m not ready for the consequences of a promotion!” demonstrates real growth in Bradward over the course of the series. But it also shows the strength of Mariner, as she recognizes that Boimler is more mature and capable now, and their friendship is all but unshakable now. Her reassurances of those facts gives Boimler the confidence to save the day. It speaks to the evolution of the pair’s partnership, with both ready to embark on a new phase of their lives and careers without fear of losing what they already have. 

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 1 (Paramount+)
Noel Wells and Gabrielle Ruiz check out the latest in tablet computing. (Paramount+)

There are, of course, more diverting Voyager references to be had, especially when Boimler thwarts his enemies by pretending to be the son of Captain Proton and convinces Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) to deploy the same kooky cheese-based solution necessary to stymie the ship’s systems that once perplexed B’Elanna Torres. But the bigger story here is Boimler having the confidence to step up in a big situation, knowing he’ll have the support and faith of his best friend, spurs him to find creative solutions to big problems. 

It’s heartening, then, when Boimler gets his extra pip, Tendi earns a promotion of her own, and T’Lyn gets a bump up as well. But the icing on the cake comes when Mariner receives an unexpected (and unwanted) promotion too, out of recognition for not just how she’s become a talented and capable officer in her own right, but how she makes those around her, like Boimler, better officers in the process. 

Therein lies the beauty of Lower Decks. It’s a blast to have fun and games on familiar ships. It’s a pleasure to pick up sly references to the characters’ superlative crossover onto Strange New Worlds. But what makes the show great, not just entertaining, is the way it uses those silly escapades as more than simply fodder for laughs, but also as a way to show how much our humble lower deckers have grown, and continue to grow, on the cusp of their fourth year on the job. 


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