One of the central elements of Star Trek: Lower Decks is to stuff each episode full of as many Trek easter eggs and in-jokes as possible. The trailer for season three delivers in droves. These references are clues to what you should watch before the series returns to Paramount+ on August 25th.
This article would be ten pages long if I were to point out and explain every callback in the trailer. So instead, I picked ten references that stuck out to me most and presented them below in the order they appear in the trailer.
Note: Episode names in headings are followed by an abbreviation of the series they belong to and their season and episode numbers. TAS=Star Trek: The Animated Series, TNG=Star Trek: The Next Generation, DS9=Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, VOY=Star Trek: Voyager
Spoiler alert: In the course of explaining why I’m recommending specific episodes and movies, I’ll necessarily spoil various aspects of the Star Trek franchise as a whole.
The first thing we hear in the trailer is Mariner carnival-barking at a job fair outside the Federation embassy, luring attendees to the Starfleet tent. “Starfleet! Get your Starfleet! Prepare yourself for warp ten excitement! Discover the undiscovered country,” an apparent reference to the 1991 film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. But that’s not the only reason you should watch the final outing of William Shatner and company. The next bit of the trailer references Captain Freeman being under arrest and going on trial. And the shot of her surrounded, seemingly handcuffed, by Starfleet security officers is reminiscent of Captain Kirk’s and Doctor McCoy’s trial in that movie. If only they could resurrect Christopher Plummer to reprise his role as the Shakesphere-quoting Klingon prosecutor, General Chang.
The Undiscovered Country actually follows a rich tradition of courtroom drama in Star Trek. If that’s the kind of tension you’re into, you may want to check out the episode “Court Martial” in the original series, “The Measure of a Man,” “The Drumhead,” and “A Matter of Perspective,” in The Next Generation, and “Tribunal” in Deep Space Nine.
The next scene shows Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford at Sisko’s Creole Kitchen. This restaurant is owned and operated by Captain Benjamin Sisko’s father, Joseph Sisko. It makes its first appearance in “Homefront,” the first of a two-episode story in the Dominion War arc that depicts Starfleet’s worry that shapeshifting aliens have infiltrated the Federation’s most sensitive institutions and may even be impersonating Starfleet officers. It’s an enemy-among-us tale that evokes high stakes, both personal for Sisko and existential to Federation. This concept had been tried in Trek before, mostly badly. An episode that deals with these themes that you absolutely shouldn’t watch is “Conspiracy” from the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Classic Star Trek fans will instantly recognize that Lower Decks is paying significant homage to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when they see the season three promotional posters, which are heavily influenced by the theatrical posters of the 1984 film. A theme echoed in the trailer when the Lower Decks crew attempt to steal the Cerritos. In The Search for Spock, Captain Kirk and crew commandeer a badly damaged U.S.S. Enterprise when Starfleet command denies their requests to return to the Genesis planet to retrieve the body of their fallen comrade, Spock.
While Lower Decks generally sticks to satirizing classic-era Star Trek, J.J. Abrams’s Kelvin Timeline films aren’t being ignored. In an action montage, we see Mariner skydiving and parachuting in a manner that strikingly resembles a sequence in Star Trek (2009). Chris Pine playing Captain Kirk, executed the same maneuver. In the film, Kirk and Sulu end their orbital jump by landing on a platform drill that’s blasting a hole through the curst of Vulcan. An exciting phaser/sword battle with Romulan baddies bent on destroying the planet ensues. Mariner’s fall ends when she unfurls a parachute featuring the symbol of Maska (more on that later) and smashes face first into a pylon.
Deep Space Nine fans remember General Martok as one of the series’s most important and compelling recurring characters. In the trailer, Martok appears on a viewscreen proclaiming to the Cerritos crew (dressed in Klingon cosplay garb) that they’re “beginning the greatest adventure of your life.” The Lower Decks friends seem to be playing a Klingon-themed board game and eating corn chips while watching the viewscreen. So, they might be watching a recorded message that’s part of the game. Nevertheless, a good Martok episode is always a worthy re-watch. Your best bet is the most pivotal episode of Martok’s arc: “Apocalypse Rising.” Not only does the episode redefine Martok’s role in the show, but it also serves as a turning point in the series narrative.
The Starfleet shuttle is one of the more iconic space vehicles in the Star Trek franchise. Each series has its own take on these miniature starships. Deep Space Nine introduced the runabout to ferry its shipless crew around the Bajoran system and into the Gamma Quadrant. In Voyager, the Delta Quadrant proved a far too dangerous environment for the standard Starfleet shuttle to survive. So, in the fifth season episode “Extreme Risk,” Captain Janeway tasks her crew with building a more robust craft based on Tom Paris’s design: The Delta Flyer, with snazzy new flight suits to boot. In the Lower Decks trailer, there are two blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots of the Delta Flyer piloted by Rutherford wearing the craft’s very handsome uniform.
Of the several repeating elements in the trailer, the one we see most are references to the seventh-season Next Generation story “Masks.” In the episode, the Enterprise crew investigates a rogue comment that turns out to be the last vestige of an ancient civilization. Throughout the episode, small artifacts materialize throughout the ship, and the essence of the race’s sun-goddess, Masaka, manifests herself by possessing Data. The Lower Decks trailer, shows three references to Masaka. First at the Starfleet job fair, then on Mariner’s sky-diving parachute, and finally, Mariner wears the Mask of Masaka while floating around her crewmates with electrified eyes and hands. So, there seems to be an entire episode dedicated to this TNG deep cut.
The last time we saw Lower Deck‘s Exocomp character, Peanut Hamper, she was floating in deep space after refusing to sacrifice herself to save the Cerritos crew. However, close to the end of the trailer, Peanut Hamper shows up trapped and in distress on some sort of spinning contraption, indicating her return to the series. However, if you don’t know what an Exocomp is, you should watch the Next Generation episode “Quality of Life.” In the story, Exocomps were invented as repair bots to help build the new particle fountain mining technology. When the pet-sized robots began exhibiting signs of sentience and self-awareness, Data finds himself forced to intercede on their behalf to keep them from being used against their will in dangerous situations.
One of the trends in the Star Trek franchise these days is to pay more attention to the oft-neglected animated series. In the trailer, we see Cerritos Lt. Steve Stevens fleeing from a snake-dragon-esque creature. The beast is most likely the second appearance of Kukulkan in Star Trek. The first is in the 1974 animated episode “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth.” Kukulkan is based on a Mesoamerican serpent deity worshipped by ancient Mayans and Aztecs. In the episode, Kukulkan traps Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty in a simulation of earth’s ancient cultures, where they must solve the god’s riddle to escape. This episode isn’t the first time the Enterprise crew encountered literal deities. They met the Greek god Apollo in the original series episode “Who Mourns for Adonais.”
The final bit of the Lower Decks trailer shows the Cerritos arriving at Deep Space Nine. Captain Freeman orders Commander Ransom to “buy me some time” and exits the bridge. The first officer suggests the pilot should “circle around and pretend we’re in awe of the pylons,” an obvious jab at the opening credit sequence of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which features non-stop glory shots of the space station set to majestic music. It may be played as a joke now, but when that show aired in the 90s, it was peak TV special effects. And because Deep Space Nine looks to be another recurring theme in Lower Decks season three, you’d be well served to watch as much of that series as you can. Starting with the first time we hear that glorious theme music in the show’s pilot, “Emissary.”