Published Nov 1, 2022
WARP FIVE: Lower Decks’ Dawnn Lewis on Role Reversals, Cali Respect and More
The U.S.S. Cerritos captain reflects on her Season 3 growth and finale!
By Christine Dinh
SPOILER WARNING: Discussion for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 finale “The Stars at Night” to follow!
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
It’s a wrap on the latest season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, concluding with the most explosive finale to date. No one has been put through the ringer as much as Captain Carol Freeman and her daughter, Ensign Beckett Mariner this season.
Season 3 opened with Freeman court-martialed and the U.S.S.Cerritos drydocked following the destruction of the Pakled Planet. Throughout the season, the Cerritos found themselves on Deep Space 9, Ornara, Brekka, and more. The finale ultimately revealed that family friend and command officer Vice Admiral Les Buenamigo had been manipulating and sabotaging Freeman and her crew all season-long in an attempt to discredit California-class ships in order to make way for his fully-automated Texas-class starships.
StarTrek.com had the opportunity to speak with actress Dawnn Lewis, who voices the steadfast captain of the Cerritos about everything the epic finale revealed.
On the Current State of Freeman and Mariner's Relationship
What struck out the most to Lewis was how relatable the dynamic between the Cerritos' mother and daughter duo was to her own life. “Honestly, it reminded me of when I was a teenager with my mom,” noted Lewis. “My mom and I, we butted heads. We had this ‘I love you, but you’re really annoying me’ kind of relationship when I was growing up.”
From her personal experiences, Lewis understood why Mariner needed to quit Starfleet at the end of the penultimate episode. “I went away to college; I left New York and putting that distance between us was the best thing that could have ever happened to us. My mom, to this day, from the moment I started college, she saw me differently; I saw her differently. That bit of distance changed our relationship completely. My mom became and remained one of my dearest friends.
Connecting it to Lower Decks, Lewis reflected on Mariner rejoining the Cerritos and being under First Officer Jack Ransom’s command, “There’s a part of Carol that senses — even if we have to be on the same ship, this little bit of distance is going to do us both some good. We get to see each other and take that bit of pressure off of us to actually get to know and care about each other just a bit differently. Carol is handling it just fine. She's a lot less stressed when it comes to Mariner. But what it does, if you notice, it causes her to be more stressed with everybody else.”
"Now that she's not focused on Mariner as much, she realizes, 'Wait a minute. There's a number of you guys who could use some whipping into shape,'" quipped Lewis. "Let her get busy. She's been so focused on Mariner. Forgive her for neglecting the rest of them."
On Freeman and Mariner's Role Reversal from Season Opener to Closer
The irony of Mariner going to extreme lengths to clear her mother from the false accusation of destroying the Pakled Planet at the head of the season to now being unjustly kicked off the Cerritos by Freeman in the penultimate episode "Trusted Sources" was not lost on Lewis.
"It was really, really tough to read and hard to perform because, as human beings, sometimes no matter how much we say we forgive, we forget, we've gotten over something, sometimes just the slightest thing can trigger," shared Lewis about her discovery of the last two episodes of the third season.
"You feel the original pain all over again as though it just happened; that's what Captain Freeman is experiencing," continued Lewis, on what Freeman was feeling following the FNN exposé. "She's experienced the 'I thought we came so far, I thought we invested so much. I thought there was so much growth, and now this feels like almost a bigger betrayal than when it happened before we had done all this work. It feels like now we've done all this work and yet it was so easy for you to just undo it all. You just undid it all.' Then, the heartbreaking realization is that, no, she didn't do it. You did it."
"That's even harder to accept, that I was so ready to blame her when the reality is that I'm the one. I'm the one who missed the growth," reflected Lewis. "I'm the one who now has to take responsibility for the damage that has now and is being done. And how do I possibly fix it? Because if I know how upset I was at feeling betrayed, how upset must she be?"
As for the forgiveness and Mariner's eventual return to Starfleet and the Cerritos, Lewis commented, "It's beautiful. It's one of those things where you can see that your sacrifice, you can see that all the frustration, you can see that all the hurdles and speed bumps along the way, that there's light at the end of the tunnel and possibly more smoother roads than rough roads. That's the hope of any parent that has had a troubling relationship with their child. It's to see light at the end of the tunnel, that yes things can and hopefully will get better."
On Buenamigo's Betrayal
Not only did Freeman had to deal with Mariner's decision to quit Starfleet, but the discovery that she was played by Buenamigo the entire time.
"It was very interesting because you learned that your friends are not always your friends, or your friends are your friends up until opportunity knocks," stated Lewis.
"That was a bit distressing to know that someone who you thought was your champion is actually just continuing to position themselves to ultimately secure what they think is important for them," added Lewis. "You now are relegated to trying to decipher whether we really were comrades or was I just a stepping stone?"
Buenamigo's actions harm not only Freeman and her crew, but the rest of the California-class fleet and potentially beyond...
On Man vs Machine
Buenamigo's attempt to replace human Starfleet starships with fully-automated ones had Lewis thinking.
"Why is everyone so ready to assume that we are so easily replaced," questioned Lewis, before connecting it to our present future. "Humanity is going through the same thing where we create all kinds of technology to make our lives easier or less complicated or have things be more accessible. But at what point do we stop doing that to the extent where we don't have to walk anymore because everything is brought to us?"
"We don't have to exercise anymore because you can just take a pill or have somebody roll a scanner over your body and you're instantly thinner," Lewis exclaimed. "When you look at more and more advertisements for different products, it may fix one thing, but it damages 18 others. What are we really doing and saying to ourselves? Episodes like this plant seeds for us to really be introspective of about whether all progress is good progress or even necessary? How far are we going to go to remove ourselves and our input and our intellect and our sense of community and socialization and just genuine care from one human being to another? How far are we willing to go to remove the humanity out of every equation?"
On Giving California-Class Ships the Respect They Deserve
Speaking on the rivalry and Buenamigo's plan to replace Cali-class starships with the crew-less Texas ones, Lewis joked, “I have to ask Mike McMahan how do we decided what state garners what kind of level of status or respect within Starfleet. It’s like East Coast, West Coast; it’s the Sharks and Jets.”
Going deeper, Lewis explained, “If you listen to their arguments, everybody wants the same thing. Is anyone really good and is anyone really bad? The California-class, for what we have to do, we’re basically the cleanup crew for everyone else. We should get some respect, if not definitely more than what we are receiving, because the only reason we're coming in is because you didn't finish the job the first time.”
“We now have to come and connect the dots, clean up messes, make sure you did enough,” added Lewis. “You know what I mean? What we do is vital for progress to continue, so put some respect on our name.”