For longtime fans of Star Trek, the newest Starfleet First Officer, Commander Jack Ransom, is a mash-up of a few familiar masculine archetypes from the history of the Final Frontier. Ransom flirts like Riker and fights like Kirk. His braggadocious demeanor threatens to define his entire character, but, because Star Trek: Lower Decks is a comedy, that’s kind of the point. In the third episode of the show — “Temporal Edict” — Ransom takes off his entire shirt to fight a green space monster.
And yet. The voice behind Ransom, actor Jerry O’Connell, wants you to know that even though Ransom may be the butt of some jokes, O’Connell’s goal wasn’t to make Jack Ransom the worst Number One in the Star Trek mythos. Instead, O’Connell insists that Ransom is actually the best.
“I don’t care what my wife [Rebecca Romijn] or [Jonathan] Frakes will say about this,” O’Connell says over a video chat while standing like a true Hemingway-esque outdoorsman, at the mouth of Lake Bass in Yosemite. “But Ransom is actually the most dedicated Number One in all of Starfleet.” O’Connell is chatting with SYFY WIRE a few weeks before Lower Decks hits the air. And, now that we’ve all seen Jack Ransom in action for three episodes, it feels right to say that the character certainly thinks he’s the best First Officer in all of Starfleet. But for O’Connell, taking on the part didn’t mean playing an egomaniac spoof of Kirk or Riker. Becoming a “Number One” — the nickname given to First Officers in Starfleet — is something he took very seriously.
“When the call came in that I was going to be on Lower Decks, it felt great to be part of the family. Because, I’d been a family member of Star Trek, but only as an inlaw,” O’Connell explains.“My wife, Rebecca Romijn, plays another Number One, Una. So, I’d been married into the Trek family since she started on Discovery, but now we joke about the amazing amount of authority in our house because we are both Number Ones. The next time we’re both allowed at a convention to walk around, we’re going to be in matching Starfleet uniforms. And not the cheap kind.”
Although Rebecca Romijn looks like Number One because she plays her in live-action in Discovery and Short Treks (and post-2020, Strange New Worlds), Jack Ransom on Lower Decks does not look exactly like Jerry O’Connell. Sure, both are handsome, but O’Connell is the kind of guy you feel like you’ve been going to summer camp with your entire life, while Jack Ransom looks more like a version of Will Riker who hasn’t gotten as much sleep. Both have their charm, but O’Connell’s enthusiasm for playing Ransom is infectious. O’Connell is 46 years old, but in some ways, he doesn’t look or act any older than when he starred in Stand By Me (1986) with famous Trek alumna Wil Wheaton. You get the sense from talking to O’Connell that he feels like he’s been orbiting Star Trek for years, and now he’s finally beamed down.
“It gives me chills telling you this. But the first person who texted me when I got the job was Jonathan Frakes,” O’Connell says. “He said: ‘From one Number One to another, welcome to the family.’ That was amazing. And it’s still amazing because honestly, I’m really just a guest of Star Trek. It belongs to all of you. Everyone watching the show. Everyone reading this. Everyone on Twitter and Reddit.”
In “Temporal Edict,” for the first time in Season 1 of Lower Decks, Jack Ransom gets to actually be the hero just as much as he seems to act like one. Because the point-of-view characters of Lower Decks are not the senior officers, our sympathies are with the scrappy ensigns. So, if Mariner thinks Jack Ransom is lame, we kind of think that, too. But, for a moment, Episode 3 flips our assumptions on Ransom because he actually turns out to be exactly the kind of badass he pretends he can be. Ransom isn’t as slick as Kirk and he’s not as polished as Riker. If anything, he has more of their faults than their strengths. But he’s not a bad person. For O’Connell, playing the comedy of Ransom’s over-the-top egotist persona first required him to decide that Ransom was basically a good person.
“Any fine line between drama and comedy begins with me imagining that it’s all real. This is going to make me sound psycho, but I imagine I am Ransom. And I am Number One on the USS Cerritos, and that I’m gonna have to fight these aliens,” O’Connell explains. “I’m gonna have a couple of ensigns whose lives are in my hands, and I’m gonna have to protect them. And I’m going to live that for real.”
Considering that Ransom and Mariner flew the shuttle Yosemite from the Cerritos and that O’Connell is taking his Zoom calls from the real Yosemite National Park, it’s easy to believe that for now, he has gotten very deep into character. “I felt like I should really get my explorer on, you know?”
O’Connell knows how sci-fi fandom works, to an extent. He was the star of My Secret Identity, in the '90s. And then, as all lovers of alternate universes know, he was the star of Sliders. O’Connell knows that with Star Trek, there’s a huge fandom, and with that comes a lot of pressure.
“Look. I’m a nerd. I read the comments. It’s like a compulsion. I’m not sure it’s good, but it’s how I am. I want people to like this,” he says. “I know this is a little bit of a departure from the Trek universe, I don’t want to offend any fans out there. I don’t want it to totally depart. I don’t want anyone calling me out. I don’t want smoke with anybody. With Lower Decks, we try to be as funny as possible while being respectful. I mean, our showrunner, Mike McMahan — I don’t know anyone who is a bigger Star Trek fan. OK, maybe Wil Wheaton.”
At first glance, Ransom’s presence on the series might seem like a subtle diss at the Rikers and Kirks of Trek’s past, but O’Connell insists that he plays the character with more nuance than that. “I play Ransom, so I’m going to defend him,” he says. “He’s an amazing officer. He puts Starfleet first. Everyone’s gonna say that Ransom is going to put himself first, but Ransom puts Starfleet first. That’s what’s so fun about playing him. While he is offensive, sure, I mean, I’m not sure Ransom is very woke. But, everything he does, he does for Starfleet. So, right now, what he does is for the USS Cerritos. And that’s how I play the character and what I truly believe.”
Star Trek: Lower Decks airs on Thursdays on CBS All Access.