Eight out of ten episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 3 were (repeatedly) watched for this review.

With the third season of Lower Decks on Paramount+, the animated comedy has found a new degree of confidence, both in itself and in its role in the franchise as a whole. While the friendship between Ensigns Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) continues to occupy the center stage, this season sees the crew of the Cerritos and the California Class at large further explored. Looking for copious Star Trek allusions, alien sex, and unexpected twists of perspective? Lower Decks season 3 has them all!

Lower Deckers stick together! Sometimes literally. Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Character Foils in Lower Decks: Season 3

It’s no secret that Lower Decks series creator Mike McMahan loves character foils. In Solar Opposites, the “non-Space Trek” show he co-created with Justin Roiland, it’s foils all the way down (for just one example, consider how the character arc of Alfred Molina‘s The Duke compares with that of Andy Daly‘s Tim, especially after their role reversal over the course of the second and third seasons).

From the very start of Lower Decks, the friendship between Mariner and Boimler serves as the driving concern of the series. However, Lower Decks approaches the nature of the dynamic between these primary character foils somewhat differently in the third season than it did in either seasons one or two. This keeps the relationship between Beckett and Bradward fresh and interesting. Plus, it’s a testament to how well these characters have been developed that the circumstances between them can be altered pretty seriously without either character feeling like they have been pushed past the limits of their personality.

Bradward’s face can take a lot of abuse… that’s good to know. Image Credit: Star Trek Official Twitter.

Meanwhile, as hinted by the second season finale “First First Contact,” both Ensigns Samathan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) each get their own subplots this season. Furthermore, there is an obvious effort to ensure different sets of characters are combined with one another from one episode to the next, leading to the exploration of the various entertaining dynamics. 

Building Out the Cali Class

In addition to learning more about our four lead Lower Deckers, this season also continues the tradition begun in the second season of making second contact with previously introduced characters or species. Sometimes, these appearances are only a cameo. Other times, the characters return to play major supporting roles in an episode. In either instance, it serves to help create a sense that the world in which the Cerritos operates is a living one, where people each have their own stories (and the degree to which those stories overlap with the stories of the Lower Deckers may vary).

Lower Decks Season 3
Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

In some cases, this means the return of alien species we were introduced to in the first or second seasons of Lower Decks. While the third season of Lower Decks is filled with fresh Trek references, some of those references are to earlier episodes of Lower Decks. This ensures that this go-round, even if you are only a fan of Lower Decks and not other Trek stories, you can get in on the “I know X from Y episode” fun.

And if you are a fan of the other Trek stories? Then buckle up. You won’t believe some of the references they got into this one. In episode [REDACTED], they even got [REDACTED] to [REDACTED] a [REDACTED], replete with [REDACTED].

Meanwhile, we continue to learn tantalizing details about the rest of the crew of the Cerritos. This includes the command crew of Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), featuring Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell), Andy Billups (Paul Scheer), Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman), Shax (Fred Tatasciore), and even Doctor Migleemo (Paul F. Tompkins). And we also get a bit more of Admiral Freeman (Phil LaMarr).

Another Angle on Trek

Just like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which sought to explore other perspectives on the Federation, Lower Decks continues to examine less glamorous but still very necessary corners of Starfleet operations. In addition to allowing us to see more of how the support ships of the fleet function in the third season, it’s clear that this perspective is also having an effect on the other ongoing shows in the franchise. 

In the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, for example, a subplot in the episode “Spock Amok” revealed that the Lower Deckers on Pike’s Enterprise take part in a game called “Enterprise Bingo.” And this isn’t the only instance of SNW going out of its way to acknowledge and include the hitherto-often-overlooked Ensigns. 

While this is partially a function of the overflowing and equally distributed empathy of Captain Christopher “Horse Girl” Pike (Anson Mount), it’s hard not to see the influence of Lower Decks. In fact, when you consider Mariner and Boimler will be appearing in a LD x SNW crossover episode during the latter show’s upcoming sophomore season, it becomes almost impossible to deny that the implicit point of LD is having an effect on the franchise as a whole. Every member of Starfleet has their own compelling story, not just those on the command crew.

Streaming Thursday

Back when I mid-season reviewed the first season of Lower Decks, I noted that the show had “yet to have a single, exceptionally mind-blowing episode.”

“wej Duj” Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

With season 2’s “wej Duj,” that box has been checked. Yet with nothing to prove, the show reaches new heights. Lower Decks has been (and likely always will be) top-tier Trek. If you aren’t watching, you’re missing out.

Now keep it moving, Lower Decks!

The first episode of Lower Decks season 3, “Grounded,” will be released for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursday, August 25th, 2022.