Lower Decks Reminds Us The Star Trek's Sexiest Mavericks Are Archaeologists

This post contains spoilers for "Star Trek: Lower Decks" season 3, episode 5.

In the latest episode of "Star Trek: Lower Decks," called "Reflections," Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome) is given the unenviable task of working a Starfleet recruitment booth at what is essentially a sci-fi jobs bazaar. It's hard enough to make Starfleet seem appealing to passersby who only want sit on the bridge of a starship, but Mariner's job is made all the more frustrating by the person in the booth next door to hers. Whenever Mariner makes a sales pitch, the roguish and dazzling Petra Aberdeen (Georgia King) points out that Starfleet vessels are typically full of boring, windowless rooms and mundane technical jobs. The only thing that breaks up the monotony, she indicates, is when you're assimilated by the Borg. She, meanwhile, offers passersby a job in the Independent Archaeologists Guild, an organization devoted to tomb raiding and spelunking and looking cool. 

Aberdeen, she later reveals, was once a Starfleet officer herself, before leaving the service and becoming a free agent. Why did she leave? "Why leave a fancy big ship," Aberdeen asks sarcastically, "just for life of freedom and nonviolence?" Mariner bristles at the implication that Starfleet is a violent organization, leading Aberdeen to immediately imply that Starfleet is essentially a militaristic naval fleet. And you know what? She kind of has a point. 

Petra Aberdeen is the latest archaeologist in "Star Trek" that reinforces an old Trek rule about the profession: archaeologists are just plain cool. While Starfleet may be devoted to research and exploration, archaeologists get the same job done in half the time and with none of the stuffed-shirt devotion to protocol. Even in "Star Trek," everyone wants to be an archetypal adventure hero like Indiana Jones.


Petra Aberdeen is, of course, a direct reference to an archaeologist character named Vash (Jennifer Hetrick) who appeared in two episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and one episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." Vash, stepping straight out of an airport adventure novel, was every bit the "dazzling archaeologist" archetype, sweeping the ordinarily staid and stuffy Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) into a cave-exploring adventure, and living a life on the edge of the law. 

In "Captain's Holiday" (April 2, 1990), Vash approaches Picard while he is vacationing on a resort planet called Risa. She grabs Picard and kisses him to avoid detection from a pursuing Ferengi. Vash explains that she, the Ferengi, as well as a pair of time-traveling Vorgon cops, are all in hot pursuit of an MacGuffin called the Tox Uthat. She'll need Picard's help to decipher a computer disc that will tell her the location of the Tox Uthat on Risa. Picard and Vash do develop something approaching a romance during the ensuing adventure, but he ends up returning to the Enterprise, perhaps threatened by the life of wild excitement Vash tends to lead. 

Vash returned in "QPid" (April 22, 1991) as a traveling archeologist — this time working in a more official capacity — hitching a ride on the Enterprise. She is miffed to learn that Picard didn't tell his co-workers about their fling on Risa, but won't have much time to be mad, as she and the Enterprise crew are transformed into characters from Robin Hood by the trickster god Q (John de Lancie). Given Q's penchant for theatrics, Vash leaves the Enterprise and explore the galaxy with him. 

So many archaeologists!

Because of the nature of "Star Trek," audiences rarely see what 24th century life is like outside of Starfleet. Occasionally, crew members will visit restaurants or merchants in San Francisco — maybe they'll even visit their pastoral, Earthbound homes — but "Star Trek" civilians typically remain comfortably off-camera. As such, career opportunities beyond Starfleet are rarely presented as viable options. What can one do apart from join Starfleet? 

As "Lower Decks" points out, archaeologists seem to lead exciting lives. Indeed, there have been numerous references throughout Trek indicating that a team of Federation archaeologists had uncovered an ancient dolmen or plinth or menhir prior to Starfleet stepping in to muck around with its inevitable magical powers. Clearly, freelance archaeologists are out there all the time, delving into caves and retrieving unusual, impossibly ancient artifacts. And, with countless worlds to explore, the career of an archeologist in the 24th century is even broader and more illuminating than here on Earth. 

Picard was even poised to be an archaeologist as a young man, but chose a career in Starfleet instead. Picard once nearly fainted when presented with a 5,000-year-old Kurlan naiskos, and was very keen, one time, to explore a 1,000-year-old battle vessel. "Star Trek" is, after all, a world populated entirely by nerds. And of all the variety of nerds, none are more dazzlingly sexy than archaeologists. 

Petra Aberdeen, by the way, eventually reveals she was working on stealing an artifact back from a colonialist museum who came by it dishonestly. So archaeologists are on the side of right, too. Perhaps being an archaeologist is a more interesting profession than serving in a windowless transporter room on a starship.