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SYFY WIRE Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks' creator and star on big reveals, 'nonsense,' and The Next Generation references

By Brian Silliman
Star Trek: Lower Decks

A whole lot of mayhem has come calling on the Star Trek universe with the premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks on CBS All Access. The new animated series is able to embrace all kinds of beloved Trek clichés in ways that we’d never thought possible. 

Is there more madness in store? Does the wild and carefree Ensign Mariner truly have no ambition, or does she have ambition of another kind? Might that be related to the big reveal about her character in the series premiere? What else lies in store? 

SYFY WIRE caught up with series creator Mike McMahan (a veteran of Rick & Morty and Solar Opposites) and Ensign Mariner herself, Tawny Newsome (Space Force), to get some answers. 

**WARNING: From this point on, there will be spoilers for the Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere episode “Second Contact.” All crew to spoiler stations, and red alert.**

The series is like a warm blanket of Trek comfort without the ethical torture.

Mike McMahan: Definitely the highlight of the show is that the bridge crew are going to be dealing with some ethical torture, and then our lower decks crew will be hanging out, having a good time, cleaning up the bridge crew's messes. It's sort of exploring different storylines that you haven't gotten on other Star Trek shows.

And that's interesting for a character like Mariner, who seemingly has no ambition.

Tawny Newsome: A clarification I'd make is that it's not that she has no ambition, but she has no ambition for rank. Her ambitions lie in helping people, in providing assistance to alien races and to people in Starfleet, around the kind of red tape of Starfleet bureaucracy.

So I think she wears a mask of like, "I don't care. No ambition." But really it's because she's found a way to be more effective in doing her job well is to kind of rebel against the rules of the job. I don't think we've seen a character that uses blatant insubordination so much as a tool for good, which I like.  

The USS Cerritos isn’t exactly the Starfleet flagship, is it? It is, in some ways, a lower deck ship.

McMahan: Captain Freeman [Dawnn Lewis] is an amazing captain, but she's not Captain Picard. And Starfleet has a lot of captains, it has a lot of admirals. The Enterprise is the best of the best, but sometimes you just need the best, not the best of the best. And that's what the Cerritos is kind of populated by. We had to be really careful that they feel flawed, but still Starfleet.

We just found out in Episode 1 that Mariner and the Captain have a deeper relationship than we thought they did. 

McMahan: Mariner is secretly the captain's daughter, and nobody on the ship knows. What will happen if it ever comes out, and what about Mariner's existence in Starfleet is changed by being on a ship with her mom? You also find out in the pilot that there's an admiral who is Mariner's father, and that Mariner is kind of coming from Starfleet royalty.

We wanted to expand on the Wesley Crusher/Beverly Crusher dynamic, that sometimes you're going to work on a ship with your parent... but what happens if you make Mariner the lowest officer on the ship and you make her mom the highest and nobody knows? What kind of friction does that add? It was an exciting thing to explore that felt Starfleet and Star Trek, but I'm not sure if we had really explored that beyond the good relationship that Sisko had with his son and the good relationship that Beverly had with her son.

Newsome: While the audience is aware after seeing the pilot, no one on the crew is. I think she trusts that the captain is just as invested as she is in keeping it quiet, so I don't think she has too much fear about it coming out. The way she speaks to the captain sometimes, you know there's a history there. You know there's something going on. So I feel like it allows her to be a little more insubordinate.

McMahan: Sometimes we put Dawnn and Tawny in the booth together, which we don't usually do, and have them sort of perform the scene alone and then perform it together where they're talking over each other and they have this kind of familiarity between the two of them... it really doesn't come to life until she's adding that kind of like, "Ooh, this is going to piss my mom off," kind of vibe to it. 

I was wondering if any of it was improvised.

Newsome: We get in there to record and it's like a two and a half-hour thing, where I just drink a lot of the free coffee that's available and just shout. Mike's kind of like, "As long as you say everything that I wrote three times," I usually say every line three times in a row, then it's just a free-for-all of absolute nonsense. And I'm so surprised at how much of it was used... there’s a lot of my nonsense [that's] made it in and I'm very proud to contribute to the Star Trek canon. 

You really celebrate every Trek cliché there is. Do you have favorites?  

McMahan: I mean, Tawny, if you can carefully talk about Episode 8, just don't give away the...

Newsome: OK. Episode 8 is my favorite episode. But what can I even say, Mike? I can't say anything.

McMahan: You can say that it's our take on a classic Star Trek trial.

Newsome: That. Yep. It's our take on a classic Star Trek trial. I didn't know I can say the word trial.

McMahan: I think you can say trial.

Newsome: I love that episode because just that premise of the trial is so familiar for Trek fans and the turn at the end, and you get so many flashbacks... See, now I'm censoring myself and I can't talk.

McMahan: All right, don't say anything else. Don't say anything else.

Newsome: My brain has short-circuited. This is what you've done to me. I will say I had a quick improvised line, I think in Episode 5. And this isn't really a spoiler, but I just mentioned the sexy people in the rompers that kill you when you go on the grass from [Star Trek: The Next Generation]. I forgot what those people are called, but...

McMahan: “Justice” where Wesley falls with the ball? He's catching the ball? 

The Edo?

McMahan: It is the Edo! They run everywhere.

Newsome: Yeah, but this was literally me in the booth, I couldn't remember what they were called, so I just went, "Uh, the sexy people in the rompers that kill you when you go on the grass." And they put that in exactly like that.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is available exclusively on CBS All Access.