‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ EP Mike McMahan On That TNG Cameo and LGBTQ Characters in Season 2
After 10 disrespectful, often wildly weird episodes, “Star Trek: Lower Decks” ended its opening season as the first animated “Trek” series in 47 years with two distinctive greetings from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
(Warning: the rest of this story contains spoilers.)
First "TNG" recall: The crew of the US Cerritos run counter to the Pakleds, a moronic alien species that has become alarmingly deadly since we last saw them in the second season of "TNG" episode "Samaritan Snare" to have. Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsom) and Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) must team up with Mariner's die-hard mother, Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) to defeat the Pakleds.
The second "TNG" recall: Just as it looks like the Cerritos have escaped, three more Pakled ships arrive and threaten to destroy the ship - until the USA. Titan, led by Captain Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), rushes in to save her.
The arrival of Riker and advisor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirits) marks the strongest connection so far between “Lower Decks” and the fabric of the larger “Trek” universe. Variety spoke to Lower Decks creator, showrunner, and executive producer Mike McMahan about the main effect Riker's appearance will have on the series, the show's relationship to Trek history, and why McMahan says the show is LGBTQ representation will be better in Season 2, premiering in 2021.
Let's start with the end of the season: will the Titan be a prime location for the next season after Boimler switched to this ship?
Yes. We'll see the Titan next season because Boimler is away from the Cerritos, and we'll see Captain Riker again too. Boimler talked about getting bigger and better in season one, and now we'll see what happens when he gets what he wants.
Would that mean Marina Sirtis will be on the show too?
The stories on Titan are really more about Riker and Boimler. I loved Marina and we loved working with her first season. The stories didn't go like that, but I definitely have to bring her back because she was a great time working with.
Will we see more "next generation" cameos too?
That, my friend, I'm not going to tell you, I would say, feels like a pretty good chance.
With Boimler getting promoted and moving to Titan, you really seem to be dealing with a question I've been asking myself this season: how can this be a lower deck show with the main cast getting promoted?
Yeah it's hard The theme of the show is where do the bridge crews come from? What happens when you start ranking? What did you learn as a lower deck officer that you take up there? That's all we do in season two and hopefully beyond.
Aside from Troi and her mother Lwaxana on TNG, I can't think of any other time when we've really seen a mother-daughter relationship that has been explored as much on Trek as it is on Mariner and her mother, Captain Freeman. Why did you want to put that at the center of your show?
Well, I knew I wanted the character of Mariner to be that living, questioning authority. And I wanted the captain of the Cerritos to really act like a "Star Trek" captain. So there had to be a reason Mariner wasn't drumming out of Starfleet every episode. The intrinsic mother-daughter relationship that was built on when my sister was younger and occasionally broke down with my mother is that no one can get under their skin like their child or mother.
Another thing about this relationship is that Boimler is often very baffled by how well connected and knowledgeable Mariner is, but doesn't know it's because Mariner was essentially born into Starfleet, which Mariner doesn't always seem consciously or gratefully for it. Did you want to explore privilege with this dynamic?
Don't you really know I don't think it's a wrong interpretation. But the thing about privilege is that some people have it and some don't. But everyone also has their own story. There is an episode in the first season where you meet Mariner's close friend, confidante and probably academy-time lover who literally says, "You used to be the best of us, you wanted to be a captain, what happened to you ? ? "There is an entirely different show that happened to Mariner before we met her on the Cerritos, that she refers to every now and then, that made her lose faith not in the idealism of the Federation but in the system Seeing it grow out of that event and then slowly figuring out things over time that will expand our understanding of why it is what it is is more important to me than the other aspects, but yes, there are part of having her father an admiral. Her mother is a captain. That means not only that she is some kind of Starfleet royalty, but what that means for her expectations of her and her abilities, and that always brings one Kind of trouble with yourself.
It sounds like you haven't necessarily tried to explicitly undermine the idea of privilege, especially since we've talked about it quite a bit in our world over the past six months.
From my point of view, it was more about experience. Mariner was once like Boimler. She was the big eyed person who didn't get enough experience and at some point when you have a dream about what you want to do for a living and then actually work on it and see how the sausage is made, you decide either of two things: do you fit into the system or do you create a new system? Boimler doesn't know this yet and Mariner does.
You also just mentioned something about Mariner that I didn't really pick up on during the show: was your friend, Captain Amina Ramsey, your lover when you were at the academy?
Yes. We haven't talked about it explicitly as most of the relationships on this show are family or friendly love. It's not physical love. This character that shows up, the story we tell about them, has nothing to do with any previous relationships they had. For me and for the writers, when we did this, we weren't intentionally meaning anyone being strictly heteronormative or straight or cis. Any Starfleet officer is likely to be bisexual in some way. That being said, I'm not the most amazing person to write stories like this. I think we'll get a little better on season two.
You're right that no one on the show is exactly explicitly straight forward, but no one is explicitly LGBTQ either. Sounds like this is something you get into more of in Season 2?
It is. I think we have to get better. When I can say something about inclusivity - whether it's sex or gender or race or anything - I know that I can always learn more and be better at it, and I always try to do that. This is one of the cases where we could better be more explicit about the things the writers always knew about Mariner. It seeps in there in a little way, which irritates me even more than when you start the season with Mariner and say, "Whoa, she's like the hottest girl on the ship, are you nervous?" - that is one of her first lines. It has nothing to do with the floor, which I wish we had made it a little more explicit. It's always a learning experience. We'll try to do better. And we're more explicit about it in season two.
You obviously bring a level of humor and disrespect to Star Trek that wasn't there before, but it also seems like you're using this show to answer some of the questions you have about Star Trek as a fan . Like, what ever happened to the Pakleds, the moronic aliens from "The Next Generation"?
Yes absolutely. We didn't want to specify at the beginning of the show that every episode would look like, "Hey, this is a legacy character, and hey, this is a planet we've been to." But we want that to be included in the show, and part of that was making every episode look like the "Star Trek" episodes we can do? And for the finale, one of the topics that we hadn't touched on in the season was to explicitly say something metaphorically about problems and the world at the moment. We needed a villain who matched the rise of fascism. That thing we thought we nipped in the bud is back! So he wanted to take a character that was some kind of joke from the TNG episodes and say what if people didn't take them seriously enough for being a joke and they got too powerful, and now they are really dangerous and people pay with their lives for not taking them seriously?
As the season started, some fans struggled with how disrespectful the show was about "Star Trek". Was that surprising for you?
No not at all. I mean, fans have had problems with every season of "Star Trek" that has come out since the original series, and they didn't see TOS until it was in syndication. If the fans hadn't questioned everything, I would have been blown away. I'm also a Star Trek fan. What scared me was that you have things that work like Galaxy Quest and The Orville - they're just not Star Trek, which is fine. They are almost "Star Trek". My challenge - this was my chance to do a "Star Trek" that I was proud of. And I really had an honest feeling, listen, I'm going to put on the best show I can do every day that really fills the joy and holiness that Star Trek has for me. This will never please everyone. You may not be a fan of animation. You may not be a fan of adult animation. You may not be a fan of my type of adult animation. I can't really control that.
You can't really be disrespectful if you don't really adore your subject, and "Lower Decks" clearly comes from a place where you are aware of "Star Trek" - it has so many "Trek" references in it.
It almost feels like we're a group of kids out at night and someone left the candy store door open and we all ran in and filled sacks of candy and ran away like thieves at night. Once we knew we had the name "Star Trek" on the show, the type of storytelling you can do changed. Science fiction always takes place in every science fiction show. I've been working on Rick and Morty for so long; You need to fill the show with sci-fi content, and eventually you are looking at a list of made up words. "Oh, it's the Glasnars! What was the Glasnars about?"
For "Lower Decks" there are 700 episodes and 13 or so movies! When we needed these characters to relate to things in their science fiction world, we just pulled our favorite moments, and because so many Star Trek freaks were working on the show, there was never a moment anyone would so was. "Okay, I'd better start browsing guidebooks or Memory Alpha."
Were there references that you were most looking forward to?
For me, my favorite thing is probably the Exocomp [i.e. the sentient robot that was presented in the finale on "TNG". I love the exocomps. I think the actual model of the Exocomp, the physical model, is ridiculous and insanely adorable at the same time. Since you can see in the original episode they are being stopped with the fishing line, I had the artists design the way the Exocomp moves to sway a little when it's on the fishing line. The idea of painting a Starfleet uniform on a little Exocomp really tickled me. I know this is a really nerdy answer and it doesn't carry a lot of weight, but that's kind of a silly thing that gave me a lot of pleasure and that was worth explaining to some producers what an exocomp was! It's a deep cut, but not for me.
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