A few years back, I reviewed what I considered were the best and worst episodes of the original Star Trek. While I was writing those posts, I had started rewatching the 80’s version, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now that I’m on the final season, I’ve decided to do a retrospective for this series as well (And DS9 fans, your day is coming. I’m in season 5 of that now.
In my opinion, the best place to start with this list is “Lower Decks”. At its core, Star Trek, no matter which of the shows you watch, is an ensemble. Normally, you are following the intertwined stories of the elite. “Lower Decks” is so different, it has a trope named after it. Now any time an episode focuses on a supporting cast member, it’s referred to as a “Lower Deck episode”. This episode focuses on low-tier officers. We do still see Riker, Picard, Data, and everyone else we know and love. But they are not the main focus.
This was not the first time the show had done this. Miles O’Brien, the transporter chief, got a couple episodes. Reginald Barclay was introduced as an introverted, but imaginative engineer. Ensign Ro Laren was a Bajoran refugee who being given a chance to prove herself as someone better than the Cardassians, who had oppressed her race for eons. And we had wise Guinan, the bartender who had a seemingly infinite supply of sage advice. So what makes “Lower Decks” different?
Our focus isn’t on any of those characters. Instead you have a helmsman named Sam Lavelle, Bajoran Sito Jaxa, Vulcan engineer Taurik, and Nurse Ogawa. Ogawa is somewhat familiar to us because we’ve seen her working alongside Dr. Crusher. Sito Jaxa was last seen in “The First Duty”, but the rest are strangers.
And that’s what makes the episode great. Even though we’ve never seen most of these people, they matter. When Sito Jaxa makes her sacrifice, it’s moving. That is why I love this episode. The show is so well-written, they can make even the background characters compelling.