A scene from Star Trek: Lower Decks

The third season of Star Trek: Lower Decks has struggled to find a point for itself and has relied on the charms of its pastiche instead of the growth of its characters. It decided to remind us of why we love this show at the halfway point of the season.

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The show's A and B-plots were so interesting and well executed that I almost wish that both of them had their own episodes to focus on.

Image for article titled At Last, Star Trek: Lower Decks Finally Nailed It This Season

This is due to the fact that "Reflections" delivers on three key fronts that have been severely lacking from Lower Decks' third season, which has been by going back and forth on just exactly it wants to do with its ensign protagonists. The delivery of a brutally funny, scathing, and yet loving indictment of just what the hell Starfleet is in the A-plot is the first thing that comes to mind. An attempt to fix a string of sleepless nights leads to his body being taken over by a vestige of his pre-Starfleet youth in the B-plot. Both of the plots end with the promise of actual growth for our main characters. You should look at that! It only took half the season to get to that point.

Let's take a closer look at the A-Plot. As part of Ransom's ongoing management of her performance, Mariner is consigned to the recruitment booth, and the key struggle here is that she has to balance doing her job, while the nearby Petra, from her own archaeologist guild booth, masterfully skewers her. Lower Decks is at its best with deep Nerdy humor, not necessarily loving pastiche of Star Trek, but the questions we all constantly think about its world. It depends on whether or not the organization is an exploratory scientific organization or a quasi-military one. If most of the time it is about trying not to be assimilated by the Borg, or getting in disputes with the Romulans, or the Cardassians, then can it really be about discovering the undiscovered country. Is a career in Starfleet promising safety, freedom, and scientific curioisity if it dresses like a military? Why do they change things so frequently?

Image for article titled At Last, Star Trek: Lower Decks Finally Nailed It This Season

When a scientist mocks his rank and removes it from his uniform, it is not Mariner who breaks under this needling. As nerdily fan-based as Petra and passers-bys' needling of Starfleet as a recruitment drive are, Boimler's furious defense of why Starfleet matters in spite of all this is equally plucked out of fan debates. This is the first bit of pastiche this season that really feels like Lower Decks at its best: treating its characters as Star Trek fans who just happen to exist in Star Trek.

There are other twists on the idea ofReflections. A pre-implant version of his younger self, who used his engineering prowess not to prepare for a career in space, but build and race illegal ships, is revealed in the B-plot. There are similarities to the needling between Petra and Mariner in the A-plot. The younger Rutherford wondered what happened to himself when he went from an angry, rebel to a nerd. He went from using his abilities as an engineer to following his own passions, and then to fixing other people's problems. What would it take to live that life to his angry young self?

Image for article titled At Last, Star Trek: Lower Decks Finally Nailed It This Season

As the race to control their singular body shows, friendship is the ultimate answer to the question. He is no longer angry at the world around him or himself, and he is no longer alone, because he is channelling his passions healthily. We learn that she was trying to provoke a scene so she could steal an artifact, but she didn't fall for Petra's jibes. "Reflections" allows these revelations to linger. Petra has been told by her mother and her superiors that they don't believe she can mold herself into a life better suited for her, even if it means leaving her friends behind. The accident that caused him to lose his implant was designed to hide his involvement in a secret project.

The plot threads for Lower Decks' third season are tangible and show a level of growth in our characters beyond one-off adventures. Up until now, the third season was struggling to articulate that, as it went back and forth on what these characters should be. The hope is that it can keep up the energy for the rest of the season.

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