Red Alert: don’t read any further unless you’ve seen the season two finale of Lower Decks!
Star Trek: Lower Decks wrapped a stellar second season last week. The finale, “First First Contact,” saw the crew working together to avert disaster and had a twist ending that leaves us counting down the days until season three. StarTrek.com sat down with series creator and executive producer Mike McMahan to talk about the writing process for season two, his favorite Easter eggs, and Mariner’s relationship with Jennifer the Andorian.
StarTrek.com: Following the success of season one, which really showcased how the Cerritos crew is a family, how did you want to further explore that theme throughout this season?
Mike McMahan: In the second season, we start the season with Mariner and her mom working together. It's almost like you want to have a better relationship with your family, but do you really want to be working with your family? Once we solve that, it moves on to how does Mariner feel about the family that abandoned her, and came back? How has Boimler changed by his experience of getting everything he wanted? Across the season, we take the kind of family relationship of the crew a little bit more as something that they're all comfortable with, and, as you get more comfortable with it, the thought of losing it gets a little bit scarier. So, in the first season we were really creating a family, and in the second season we kind of tested them. And in the finale of the second season, we're dealing with the loss, the family breaking up.
Throughout the season, Mariner dropped hints that she's bisexual, and it culminated in her confessing that she likes Jennifer the Andorian. When was the decision made to have Mariner come out? And why was it important to you to include that?
MM: I'm a straight guy. I have never been great at this stuff, but something that I always thought about Star Trek with its infinite diversity, and I think something that Discovery does really amazingly, is that that far in the future, part of everybody in Starfleet being the best of us and being the kind of aspirational version of everybody is that stuff isn't as black and white anymore. And that it's the same thing TOS did when it came to kind of like gender and race that you could expand that into sexuality.
Now, the difficult thing on Lower Decks is it was always a baseline in my head that Mariner could date a guy, Mariner could date a girl, Mariner could date an alien. It just felt right for that to be the tone of Mariner. But just in a way, while we were finding the first season, it didn't feel like there were a lot of opportunities to highlight that. In hindsight, I wish we had pushed it just slightly further, because at the end of the day Mariner's story isn't about her being in romantic relationships. It's about friendship and duty and how she sees herself and Starfleet. So the themes in the second season about Mariner opening herself up and trusting people and not being afraid about abandonment and not pushing people away all the time, that actually fit into us seeing her in a relationship for the first time. Nothing felt more appropriate for Mariner than taking the person that she ostensibly dislikes the most on the Cerritos and finding out that, of course she's attracted to her because anything Mariner likes, she pushes away.
This season has had amazing Easter eggs from all corners of the franchise, from The Original Series and The Animated Series onwards. What was your favorite Easter egg to include the season?
MM: Cetacean Ops. I just love those beluga whales. I've always wanted to see Cetacean Ops. I've always imagined it. I think any other Starfleet ship might have their own Cetacean Ops and they always might be a little bit different, like how every ship is a little bit different. It was just so fun to have them run into Cetacean Ops and get to meet those two, and it was like something I've been waiting to see my entire adult nerd life and then I actually got to do it. So I think that's mine.
On the subject of Easter eggs, Lieutenant Kayshon is the first Tamarian we've seen in a very long time. So what made you want to bring sort of that alien species back into Lower Decks?
MM: I just love Tamarians. One of my best friends is Italian, and whenever I hang out with his family, he's the translator for everything, but everything makes sense. Like in comedy, you can say things and some comedy is universal. We knew that Shaxs was gone and wanted to bring in a kind of new, exciting security officer. And the challenge of how do we bring in a likable Tamarian who speaks broken Federation Standard. The cool thing about Tamarian is that the universal translator is working. The translator can't for a Tamarian translate the backstory to their meme language, right? So it's funny because like he understands everything everybody's saying around him, and then when he breaks into Tamarian, it's just such a funny thing to have to play with comedically.
Plus, "Darmok" is just a classic episode. It's what really defines a certain era of Star Trek to me. Captain Dathon is almost an equal to Picard except he sacrifices himself. He's just such a cool guy and just including that in the DNA of our show and keeping Kayshon on the ship and having him there to tell more stories about in the future felt like a perfect celebration of bringing him on instead of just introducing him as a background character.
What particular challenges did you face coming into the writer's room for season two? What were you excited to explore this season?
MM: The scariest thing about season two is we wrote it before season one aired. I had done this entire season of Star Trek that I knew that I liked, but had not seen an audience reaction for yet to, you know? Which is really scary because I was like, "are people going to like a comedy Star Trek? An animated Star Trek that's not for kids? That's this length? That's in the TNG era? I don't know."
So all I could do is trust my North Stars of “I love working with these actors. I love these characters we've created and let's never let the show get predictable.” Let's let the show be a celebration of all things Star Trek and a celebration of personal exploration as opposed to scientific exploration and lean into all the comedy and do all the things we love but don't go down the same paths.
There's 800 episodes of Star Trek. You read about trying to write Voyager back in the day, that was hard. And they only had 600-something episodes of Star Trek to not re-walk down the same path of. So there's all of that in my head. There's, "how is this funny? How is it true to the characters? How is it true to the show?" And then, "will people even like the stuff we already did, or are we writing a second season that maybe people don't want to see ‘Three Ships’?" I knew I did. And you just have to gamble on yourself and the stuff that you like. And I'm really happy with what we did.
Lower Decks has been embraced by the fandom. With COVID, we haven't had a chance to do as many cons, but what has been your favorite fan interaction so far?
MM: Oh man, that's tough. I can tell you everybody on Lower Decks is going insane that we can't hang out with everybody, that we've missed two San Diego Comic Cons, two New York Comic Cons, multiple Star Trek conventions. I know that Tawny and Jack want to drink with Klingons. We want to hang out, we want to geek out with everybody. We want to talk about the show. We want to screen an episode.
For fan interactions, COVID has been hard for everybody, but seeing people start to embrace the show… because at first people were like, "wait, what is this?" Which is a classic Star Trek fan move. Then as they've grown to love it, seeing people literally cosplay at home and put it online blows me away. The love of the fandom and the fan art and the understanding and the care. People care about these characters so much and we've put out 20 episodes. I care about them so much because I think about these characters so much as we're writing them and getting to see the audience care about them too. It just makes it all worth it. It blows us away.
But nothing will compare... I cannot wait for us to get to hang out with everybody. We got a taste of it at Star Trek Day. That was the first time that we were able to go out and be around people a little bit. But the entire cast and crew cannot wait to hang with everybody and geek out.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States and Latin America on Paramount+, on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more, and in Canada, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.