Star Trek Guide

Star Trek Reveals A Huge Starfleet Problem In TOS & TNG

Star Trek: Lower Decks proves that Starfleet were guilty of extra-terrestrial negligence during the classic eras of The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bravely going where no Star Trek series has gone before, Star Trek: Lower Decks fuses comedy and sci-fi drama into an animated adventure that serves as both a loving homage and a hilarious parody of Gene Roddenberry's iconic franchise. Following the U.S.S. Cerritos, Star Trek: Lower Decks shines a light on the menial, not-so-glamorous side of Starfleet that James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard were sheltered from.

The likes of Mariner, Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford are tasked with cleaning conference rooms, phasing grime off the walls and, most exciting of all, routine maintenance. Over the course of its debut season, however, Star Trek: Lower Decks has shown that the revered bridge crew of the Cerritos simply couldn't function without their lesser-known colleagues furiously working below... when they're not indulging in some well-earned buffer time, at least. They might not always receive the credit they deserve, but Star Trek: Lower Decks refreshingly paints Starfleet's lesser-known recruits as the unsung heroes, while the bridge crew mostly come across as egotistical glory-hunters who don't appreciate the bigger picture.

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But just as the Cerritos couldn't survive without the lower decks gang, it seems Starfleet can't survive without the Cerritos, despite the ship's reputation as the runt of the fleet. Star Trek: Lower Decks' season 1 finale highlights an ever-present problem with the classic eras, and proves Starfleet aren't as heroic as they might like to believe.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Reveals Starfleet's Fatal Flaw

The very first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks introduced the concept of "second contact." After a famous ship like the Enterprise makes first contact with a new alien species and attracts headlines, a lesser vessel such as the Cerritos is assigned to follow-up and carry out the necessary admin duties no one ever talks about. The episode's incident with the Galardonians proved that while their efforts might be unheralded, the Cerritos' second contact missions are vital in keeping the Starfleet machine running (relatively) smoothly. This theme is taken to its natural conclusion in Star Trek: Lower Decks' season 1 finale, the appropriately titled "No Small Parts."

Beckett Mariner sums up Starfleet's major shortfall when describing the intergalactic organization as being "good at observing, bad at maintaining" and Star Trek: Lower Decks directly relates this criticism back to The Original Series and The Next Generation. In the finale's opening sequence, the Cerritos finds itself on Beta III, the setting of "The Return of the Archons" from 1967. This adventure saw Kirk and the original Enterprise team encounter a race of oppressed citizens serving under the unchallenged, mysterious god known as Landru. Kirk exposed Landru as an advanced computer, and the Enterprise sets off believing they heroically freed the people of Beta III from servitude, but Star Trek: Lower Decks reveals that the planet have since taken to worshiping the Landru computer itself, falling back into old habits under Starfleet's radar.

The episode then turns to the Next Generation era with the return of the Pakled race. During their time in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, the Pakleds were far from a serious threat to Starfleet, but in Star Trek: Lower Decks, the Pakleds have cannibalized enough alien tech to turn their humble transports into fearsome scrapper warships, capable of tearing a Starfleet vessel apart with ease. Once again, it's noted that Starfleet's decision to ignore the Pakleds instead of maintaining vigilance caused them to become a threat further down the line, costing an entire crew their lives. Starfleet's negligence is a parody of classic Star Trek's episodic structure, where the crew would face a new adventure every week. No time to check in on old friends when there are new worlds to explore (and new females for Kirk to seduce).

Elsewhere in the finale, Captain Freeman is uncharacteristically open in criticizing Starfleet's "some interference" policy, noting that captains are only ordered to intervene when it suits Starfleet's purposes and schedule, reacting to problems as they arise, rather than keeping constant maintenance and preventing the likes of Landru and the Pakleds becoming problematic in the first place. Under the current Starfleet model, the heroes will always be big-name ships like the Enterprise and Titan - swooping in to save the day at the last second, as Riker did against the Pakleds. Freeman's withering assessment of Starfleet proves that instead of glorifying Starfleet's celebrity captains, more attention should be paid to lesser ships like the Cerritos, who nip potential problems in the bud before they bloom into something nasty.

Mariner and Freeman's Solution Is To Bend The Rules

The Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1 finale doesn't just point out Starfleet's glaring flaw - it also offers a solution. Since Mike McMahon's animated adventure began, the thin line between right and wrong has been a key theme, usually represented through the pairing of Boimler and Mariner. As the self-styled "Robin Hood" of Starfleet, Mariner has openly flouted the rules to make up for Starfleet's shortcomings, smuggling vital supplies to the Galardonians and handing out crayons to children on Beta III to stop them blindly following a giant sentient computer. Boimler is the exact opposite - a career minded ensign who follows the rule book so closely, even a Vulcan would suggest he loosen up a little. Throughout Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1, it becomes clear that Mariner's swashbuckling rule-breaking can sometimes put her friends in danger, while Boimler's unerring dedication to code can also have a detrimental effect, proven by Freeman's removal of "buffer time" from the Cerritos' schedule.

By the end of "No Small Parts," Freeman and Mariner have buried the mother-daughter hatchet and bonded during their near-death experience fighting the Pakleds. Finding some common ground, Freeman admits that she envies her daughter's freedom to break the rules, and accepts that deviating from Starfleet's orders is sometimes necessary to honor the overarching mission of helping alien civilizations. If the Star Trek: Lower Decks story continues into season 2, it'll be fascinating to see how this new dynamic works.

Bending the rules is nothing new in the Star Trek franchise. Captain Kirk has a long-standing reputation as a maverick, although this derives more from his later adventures on the big screen than The Original Series. Despite a few rebellious moments, Picard was a more obedient Enterprise captain - clashing with Wesley Crusher after the young prodigy stood up for the citizens of Dorvan, for example. However, Star Trek: Lower Decks is a rare instance where breaking the rules is acknowledged as part of some cosmic balance within Starfleet - a necessary trait that keeps the Federation on the right side of history.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Makes Starfleet Realistic, Not Villainous

Modern Star Trek has undeniably painted Starfleet in a more villainous light compared to the older shows. In Star Trek: Discovery season 2, Section 31's reliance on the Control AI program threatened to destroy the entire galaxy, leading to a civil war within Starfleet. Star Trek: Picard went further, with Patrick Stewart's retired captain accusing Starfleet of betraying their cause, abandoning their principles and becoming everything they should stand against. Where Gene Roddenberry once envisioned the Federation as a near-Utopian civilization free from inner conflict, the moral fabric of Starfleet has gradually decayed over the years, as audience tastes gravitated more towards stories where the authority was the enemy.

Despite being both a comedy series and an animation, Star Trek: Lower Decks arguably handles the morality of Starfleet far better than any other current Star Trek series. Although Mariner and Freeman are critical of their employers, Starfleet are never presented as villains, but rather a far from perfect organization, which makes the Star Trek world infinitely more realistic. It's a sad fact of life that within any large organization, workers on the ground will notice problems before the suits in the boardroom, and it doesn't get any more "on the ground" than the Cerritos. Starfleet are bound by red tape, needless bureaucracy, and a sprinkling of egotism, but they aren't evil. Star Trek: Lower Decks intelligently compares Starfleet to a modern public body or corporation, where the low-level rule-breaking of workers helps keep the entire operation afloat.

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