Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Lower Decks Turns a TNG Joke Into a Threat

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 10, "Small Parts," now streaming on CBS All Access.

It's no secret that out of all the Star Trek series, Lower Decks pays the most mind to The Next Generation. Not only does the animated series take place in the same era as the time of Picard, Riker and Data, but many notable characters and plots have made the transition from the live action to the animation as well. In some cases, as with the finale, the most innocuous TNG references that can turn into the most deadly.

The Season 1 finale brings back an old foe as the most dangerous enemy that the Cerritos has ever faced. Early in the episode, the Solvang ship gets absolutely obliterated by a giant menacing craft, as it's packing firepower and even several grabbing arms to snag its prey. When the Cerritos goes to eventually check out the distress call sent out by the now-destroyed ship, they get ambushed and find out a surprising species is behind the deed: The Pakleds.

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The Pakleds were a part of TheNext Generation Season 2, Episode 17 titled "Samaritan Snare." When they encountered the Enterprise, they came across as extremely dim-witted, with drooping eyes and simplistic vocabulary. Seeing this as a lay-up mission, they loaned their Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge to assist them. But it was soon discovered that the Pakleds were more than meets the eye, showing some surprising coercion when they kidnapped Geordi. Luckily for our heroes, they got the last laugh when they tricked the Pakleds into giving him back, threatening them with a harmless pyrotechnics display.

Evidently, after being defeated by the Enterprise, they're back with a vengeance. Since that time, they've outfitted their ships with technology from over 30 species, producing the behemoths we see in Lower Decks. Their firepower coupled with their tendency to confuse every ship as the Enterprise puts the Lower Decks crew in danger.

Luckily, despite the Pakleds having the ammo, they're still slow to the trigger. That allows the Cerritos crew to fend them off hand-to-hand, while Rutherford brings down a ship with a simple virus, though it still ends with a bridge crew casualty. Despite the victory, the Pakleds turn out to have multiple modded vessels and are only driven away from annihilating the Cerritos by a "Deus Ex Riker," warping away for fear of reprisal from more Enterprises.

Despite showing some surprising smarts in their Trek premiere, Lower Decks significantly ups the danger of the Pakleds between their first and second appearances. The show even lampshades as much, as the crew says the species was previously considered a joke, but the punchline is far from over. The surprise of the Pakleds becoming the biggest enemy the crew has faced so far also creates exciting prospects of other TNG references to come to the spotlight in the future, whether it's a return appearance from them or another deep cut.

The moment also serves as a great meta storyline for the young Trek series. It's the first in the franchise to distinctly brand itself as a comedy, and opinions have been mixed as to the show's satirical and humor-filled take on Starfleet. But through ten episodes, Lower Decks has provided moments of genuine pathos and splendorous action, as well as heaps of laughs. Much like the Pakleds, Trekkies may write off Lower Decks as the "joke Star Trek," but by ignoring them altogether, they'll miss out on an authentic Star Trek experience.

Star Trek: Lower Decks stars Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner, Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford, Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler, Noël Wells as Ensign Tendi, Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman, Jerry O'Connell as Commander Jack Ransom, Gillian Vigman as Doctor T'Ana and Fred Tatasciore as Lieutenant Shaxs. The show premiered on CBS All Access on Aug. 6.