This Star Trek: Lower Decks article contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 10, “First First Contact.”
In the surprisingly epic, and emotionally affecting Season 2 finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks — “First First Contact” — writer and creator Mike McMahan pulls us back to another era of Trek history and reveals what happened to a character who, in some ways, qualifies as the first The Next Generation Lower Decker, well before the actual TNG episode “Lower Decks” ever aired. At the start of “First First Contact,” Captain Freeman reveals the USS Cerritos will be going on a joint mission with the USS Archimedes commanded by her “old friend” Captain Sonya Gomez.
But who is Sonya Gomez? Here’s why the return of this awesome TNG character is perfect for Lower Decks, and how it proves that in the Trek universe, anyone can, eventually, become a badass.
Who is Sonya Gomez?
In Lower Decks, Captain Soyna Gomez is voiced by Lycia Naff, the same actress who first played Sonya in The Next Generation episode, “Q, Who.” Although this TNG second season episode “Q, Who” is famous for many things — the first appearance of the Borg, Guinan, and Q squaring off in Ten Forward, Riker stumbling across some Borg babies, etc. — everyone tends to forget that it sports a cold-open with a junior officer named Sonya Gomez, chattering nervously at warp speed to Geordi, while gesticulating with a cup of hot chocolate in engineering. Geordi tries to get her to calm down a little bit, and, more importantly, puts her cup of hot chocolate somewhere else. This results in Soyna running directly into Captain Picard, spilling hot chocolate all over his uniform. That was 2365. Lower Decks Season 2 takes place in roughly 238, so, 16 years later, during which time Gomez has risen through the ranks and is now a captain herself. Lower Decks references her awkward hot chocolate collision in this episode in a way that is either very subtle or super on-the-nose, depending on how well you remember “Q, Who.” Early in the episode, an ensign trips and falls on the bridge of the Archimedes. Captain Gomez comforts the younger officer, telling her, “Don’t worry, I’ve done way worse, in front of much more intimidating captains.”
Obviously, Gomez is referring to the hot chocolate incident in TNG, but were there other captains she embarrassed herself in front of?
Why Gomez was one of the first “Lower Deckers”
As hardcore fans already know, the animated comedy series Lower Decks takes its name from the Season 7 TNG episode “Lower Decks,” which shifts the focus away from the bridge crew, and onto the day-to-day lives of four junior officers. While the original “Lower Decks” isn’t a comedy, it was the first time an entire episode of Star Trek was devoted to characters who were not the “heroes” of the story. Of course, the tradition of “Lower Deckers” extends back to The Original Series, in which various redshirts, or possibly even Ensign Chekov himself could all be classified as belonging to the same tradition: Scrappy underdogs who don’t always get all the glory. But, Gomez is unique because she was a junior officer who appeared in just two episodes, spilled chocolate on Picard, helped Geordi with the Pakleds in “Samaritan Snare,” and was never seen in the series ever again. True, some Star Trek novels and comics picked up her story later, but for fans of the shows, she was one of the first scrappy underdogs, who simply disappeared.
In real life, there are, of course, various reasons why guest characters don’t stick around on TV shows. But what Lower Decks embraces, is the idea that “background characters” have lives, too. Just because Gomez didn’t appear in TNG again after “Samaritan Snare,” doesn’t mean she didn’t live a full and interesting life. Someone who was a goofy junior officer spilling hot chocolate on Picard in one episode can be a Starfleet Captain, less than two decades later. This notion is not only cool for canon-obsessed Easter egg hunters but also gently reinforces the themes of Lower Decks; the idea that everybody in Starfleet matters.
What’s up with Captain Gomez’s ship?
The USS Archimedes is also its own kind of Trekkie Easter egg. Although it looks like an Excelsior-class ship, showrunner Mike McMahan tweeted that it’s a larger Obena-class starship, which is “inspired by the Excelsior-class.” Interestingly, elsewhere in the episode, Mariner worries about getting a new captain on the Cerritos who could be “some weirdo with a riding crop.” This almost certainly references Captain Styles (James B. Sikking) from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Styles was the first captain of the USS Excelsior, and indeed, seemed to carry some weird riding crop under his arm. Of course, later, Sulu became the captain of the Excelsior in The Undiscovered Country, proving, again, that supporting characters often become the star of their own story.
Star Trek: Lower Deck Season 2 is streaming now. Season 3 is expected in 2022.