This article contains minor spoilers for season two, episode three of ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’.
This week’s episode of Lower Decks, “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” manages to put two references in its title: an episode from the first season of The Next Generation called “We’ll Always Have Paris” and the name of one Main cast member of Star Trek: Voyager, Lieutenant Tom Eugene Paris. But apart from that clever play on words, the title also has a deeper meaning: as much as we want to forget about the more embarrassing moments of the Star Trek franchise, they happened anyway, and they weren’t all bad. Even, and most importantly, Voyager.
Audience reactions to Voyager have been quite polarized in the 26 years since it premiered. In the 90s, many fans were looking forward to seeing a “real” Star Trek show again, which took place on a constantly exploring ship, in contrast to the comparatively stationary political drama of Deep Space Nine. But chunky writing spoiled many people’s opinions of Voyager, and towards the end of its life the show was more known for the skin-tight outfits from Seven of Nine and the list of guest stars of the week, including Jason Alexander and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
After the show aired, the franchise stopped moving forward in its timeline, decided to explore the founding of Starfleet in Enterprise, and completely restart the entire universe with the 2009 Star Trek film. While fans were thrown a bone with a brief cameo from Admiral Kathryn Janeway in the final TNG-era film, Nemesis, Voyager essentially disappeared from the Star Trek canon until the appearance of Seven of Nine in episode four of Picard .
Picard had its advantages for fans of The Next Generation: We were allowed to see Troi and Riker as a family and Data got a better farewell to the afterlife. But it was anything but positive for fans of Voyager, with the death of a minor character and a rather gloomy existence for fan favorite Seven of Nine.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is turning back the clock a bit as it takes place a year after the events of Nemesis, making it our first real look at the immediate future of the Star Trek universe after TNG, DS9, and Voyager. The Dominion War is over, Romulus is under a new regime, and the crew of the USS Voyager are basically celebrities after seven years in the Delta Quadrant; Picard is set almost twenty years later when the glitz would have gone.
Everything here is just shiny and new and deserves plaques – a bit strange to exist in a post-scarcity culture, but this is a comedy series after all. And in this week’s B-Plot, Brad Boimler wants one of his records to be signed by a special guest on the USS Cerritos: Tom Paris. Or, as Brad refers to the former Voyager crew member, “Creator of Fairhaven, Captain Proton himself,” and the first human to break the transwarp barrier. That is a straight reference to three of the silliest, weirdest, and some say the worst episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. And just in case you forgot what was so bad the last one, Mariner asks “Is he still a salamander?” Because that’s one thing that happened in the episode “Threshold”.
Unimpressed (and perhaps even encouraged) by the madness, Boimler is very excited to meet his hero. Even after the ship’s system doesn’t recognize him and won’t let him through any doors, he takes the Jefferies tubes to make his way to the bridge to meet Lt. To meet Paris.
In a way, it feels like a metaphor for how the fandom thinks about Star Trek: Voyager now. While everyone admits there were a lot of stupid moments, these actually made it more lovable. The famous line “There’s coffee in that nebula” inspired astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to bring a replica uniform and wear it on a mission in 2015:
And who can forget the infamous “Tuvix” episode, in which crew members Tuvok and Neelix were merged into one being in a van accident? Although the resulting person was healthy and happy, the decision was made to force him to split back into his individual characters, which inspired the recent internet rally scream “Janeway murdered Tuvix”. Even Janeway actress Kate Mulgrew entered the debate, responding to a tweet from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When politicians are involved, this is no longer a fandom joke.
Maybe it’s time to give Voyager a little more credit. It’s not as good as TNG or DS9, but it still has its fair share of fans. I remember a time when it looked like it was constantly running on Spike TV (now the Paramount Network) as opposed to Deep Space Nine, which is seldom repeated due to its serialized nature. Last year I sat down and re-watched the entire Star Trek franchise, including Voyager, and watched some episodes that I missed the first time around. I found myself enjoying some of it, flinching just as often, and finally remembering why I hadn’t seen the show when it first aired some time ago. In general, I feel that the show’s biggest problem was its missed potential, like the way the conflict between Starfleet and Maquis crew members was quickly resolved, how many of their cast members were underutilized, and why Harry Kim was never promoted.
However, it is not the job of Lower Decks to declare or redeem Voyager. Boimler and Tom Paris are just the B-plot here, with the episode’s main drive being Tendi and Mariner’s mission to get a package for Doctor T’Ana, as well as Rutherford’s quest to find out how a certain dead officer was brought back to life is . The episode just prompts us to think about what it would be like to be a Starfleet officer and hear about all of Voyager’s adventures in the Delta Quadrant. Strange and Silly? Yes sir. But honestly, they’re pretty cool too.
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