Lower Decks starts season 3 with a trip to Historical Bozeman.
Early in “Grounded,” the third-season premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks, Beckett Mariner (voiced by Tawny Newsome), points out the window of her father’s office at Starfleet Headquarters at “that big, dumb red thing.” Admiral Freeman (Phillip LaMarr) tells her, “Beckett, you know that’s the Golden Gate Bridge.” “Nobody drives anymore,” she replies. “Why do you need a bridge? This planet’s wack!”
“Wack” or not, Star Trek doesn’t often show us or even talk about how much of Earth’s past its future population has preserved. San Francisco’s iconic bridge is actually one of the few immediately recognizable, real-world landmarks we’ve seen in the franchise. (As itself, at any rate—I’m not talking about places like Vasquez Rocks, usually called upon to stand-in for a strange alien landscape.)
But “Grounded” makes an exception. In the episode’s most delightful sequence, our friends from the U.S.S. Cerritos, in their quest to get back to their drydocked starship, visit Bozeman, Montana. In Star Trek’s future history, Bozeman is where—just over 40 years from now—Zefram Cochrane makes humanity’s first warp speed flight, which prompts the Vulcans to make first contact with humanity.
In Star Trek: First Contact, Geordi La Forge told Zefram Cochrane that, in Geordi’s time, the entire Bozeman area was a “historical monument” featuring a 20-meter-tall statue of Cochrane “looking up at the sky” and “sort of reaching to the future.” But “Grounded” gives us our first chance to see “Historical Bozeman” for ourselves.
Historical Bozeman is a hilarious send-up of theme parks.
As “Grounded” depicts it, Historical Bozeman is a combination of tourist attractions like Colonial Williamsburg, with authentic sites staffed by historical reenactors, and amusement parks like Walt Disney World, with its several themed “lands.”
Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) gushes about the costumed staff and restored settings—“Ooh, ooh, they’re just like the 21st century! It’s just like post-World War III!” Tendi (Noël Wells) seems more excited by the fun fair-style attractions, asking if she can try out the swings in the Vulcan starship-shaped “First Contact Fun Zone”: “It would be illogical not to!”
The Lower Decks creative team clearly had tons of fun designing Historical Bozeman. They filled this animated environment with loads of details from and ribbing of First Contact. The statue Geordi told Cochrane about is there. So is The Crash ‘n’ Burn Bar, “with its famous one-song jukebox” (props to Roy Orbison and “Ooby Dooby”). And scoring the characters’ arrival at Historical Bozeman with Jerry Goldsmith’s sweeping, romantic First Contact main theme effectively highlights how silly the whole place is.
But best of all was hearing James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane again, for the first time since the pilot episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. It turns out the 24th-century is—at least in Lower Decks—no more above trivializing its heroes from the past than we are in the 21st century.
Cochrane’s voice over the park’s public address system invites visitors to “make a first contact—with fun!” In the queue for the replica Phoenix ride (which evokes the Star Tours queue in Orlando more than a little), Cochrane’s image on video monitors exhorts guests to finish their snacks before the ride starts. (Tendi and Rutherford are chowing down on churros, naturally.) And a holographic Cochrane in the replica Phoenix cockpit urges riders to “prepare for your trek amongst the stars”—a nod to the most forced, absolute worst title drop in franchise history.
I’m an alum of the College of William and Mary who spent a lot of time roaming through Colonial Williamsburg as a student. And I’m a parent who’s been fortunate enough to visit Walt Disney World with my family several times. I greatly enjoyed the ways “Grounded” gently skewered both types of theme parks.
It’s oddly comforting to find out that while the advanced humanity of Star Trek’s future does respectfully preserve much of its past (like the Golden Gate Bridge), it’s still a sucker for safe and sanitized, family-friendly versions of its past, and complete flights of fancy that let you escape reality for a while.