Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 Subverts Expectations — By Presenting Starfleet As Good, Actually

This article contains spoilers for season 3, episode 1 of "Star Trek: Lower Decks."

At the end of the second season of "Star Trek: Lower Decks," things were looking a bit bleak for the crew of the USS Cerritos. Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) was arrested in connection to a bombing on the Pakled home planet, though her crew know she was framed. Her daughter, Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), isn't exactly the type to sit idly by while her mother goes to trial, which means a whole bunch of trouble for her comrades of the lower decks. Ensigns Tendi (Noël Wells), Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), and Boimler (Jack Quaid) tend to have more faith in Starfleet, but they're also deeply loyal to the foolhardy Mariner. 

The season premiere sees them going on a rescue mission of sorts for their beloved captain, but eventually discover that they should have trusted in Starfleet all along. This is "Star Trek," after all, even if it's a cartoon comedy version of "Star Trek." Starfleet existing as a powerful force for good is written into the bones of the franchise, and it turns out that there are some things even "Lower Decks" can't be flippant about. 

Starfleet knows best

Though Mariner is the daughter of two Starfleet officers and is an ensign herself, she's also distrustful of any and all authority. It's hard to blame her for not trusting Starfleet, especially when they arrested her mother on charges that she knows aren't accurate. Here's the thing about Starfleet, though: they're usually extremely good at their jobs. You don't survive for very long in Starfleet without being the best of the best, because Starfleet faces off against every imaginable kind of threat in the galaxy. If someone isn't extremely capable, they're probably going to end up as Gorn food or a phaser stain before too long. That means that the people in charge of investigating Captain Freeman are just as deeply skilled as the Captain herself, and they're not about to be tricked by a simple frame job. 

It turns out that while Captain Freeman was on trial, Starfleet led a secret investigation into the Pakled bombing to see if there was more to the story. They discovered that the Pakleds had edited the incriminating footage of Captain Freeman in order to frame her for the bombing. Apparently, the Pakleds wanted to try and get Starfleet to relocate them to a more resource-rich planet as recompense for her crimes, but the whole thing didn't work out because Pakleds are well, Pakleds, and Starfleet are the universe's best and brightest. 

Putting trust in the system... as long as its Starfleet

Are there times throughout the vast "Star Trek" franchise where Starfleet has messed up? Absolutely. But the vast majority of the time, the interstellar pseudo-military has been on the right side of history, boldly going where no one has gone before. Mariner may not have a lot of trust in the institution, but both of her parents do, and for good reason: Starfleet is a force for good, staffed by incredible people. They avoid war whenever possible, go on exploratory and humanitarian missions just as often as diplomatic ones, and are so much more than our current concept of a military. They're an idealist vision straight from the mind of Gene Roddenberry, whose optimism about our potential future is a big part of what makes "Star Trek" so great. 

New episodes of season 3 of "Star Trek: Lower Decks" debut every Thursday on Paramount+.