41 Years Later, Star Trek Just Rebooted Its Most Infamous Sci-Fi Technology
Give me Genesis!
As all good sci-fi fans know, the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of Genesis. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the concept of a doomsday weapon was flipped on its head with the introduction of the Genesis Device, a gizmo that could not only wipe out all existing life on a planet, but also create life on a planet that had none.
As far as overpowered sci-fi plot devices go, Genesis might beat the Death Star, simply because of the dual nature of its power. Because of this, mentions of the Genesis Device in Trek canon have been sparse over the last four decades. Even an Easter egg for a new version was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in Picard Season 3. But now, in the Season 4 finale of Lower Decks, the Genesis Device is back in a brilliantly subversive way. This version is a bootleg! And yet despite being a literal knock-off of the original, Lower Decks manages to understand the deeper meaning of this old-school idea. Spoilers ahead.
In “Old Friends, New Planets,” after discovering that former Starfleet bad boy Nick Locarno has assembled an ad-hoc fleet of disaffected lower officers from a variety of powers and planets, Mariner learns that Locarno’s biggest bargaining chip is a knock-off Genesis Device. But this one has a quirk the original didn’t have: if you want to press the cancel button, you have to pay money! By the end of the episode this Genesis Device detonates, and just like in The Wrath of Khan, a new planet is created.
Lower Decks previously recreated other elements of The Wrath of Khan, as Mariner stole a Steamrunner-class Starfleet ship and played cat-and-mouse with Locarno in the rings of a nearby planet. But other than a brief Easter egg in Picard Season 3, the only other time the Genesis Device has been referenced outside the classic movies is in one episode of Voyager, “The Omega Directive,” when Janeway compares her predicament to that of Genesis’ creator, Dr. Carol Marcus. Although Khan accidentally created the Genesis Planet at the end of Wrath, the subsequent film, The Search for Spock, established the technology was unstable, allowing it to be written out.
Lower Decks smartly references the classic Trek films by pairing Locarno with the Genesis Device. You might think of Khan and Search for Spock’s Kruge as being in a totally different league than a pipsqueak villain like Locarno, but there is one commonality: they’re all unaffiliated and making it up as they go along. Khan stole a ship and flew by the seat of his pants. Kruge acted against the orders of the Klingon state and risked his tiny crew to get the secret of Genesis from Kirk, who was also going rogue.
So when Kirk fights Kruge on the Genesis Planet, they both have a lot in common with the lower deckers. Kirk is a washed-up has-been, and Kruge can’t follow orders. The Genesis Device, metaphorically, exists on the edge of what we’ll accept in Star Trek canon, which is why it’s almost never been touched since. But what the Lower Decks Season 4 finale clarifies is that the way to make a Genesis story work is to push the heroes and villains to the edge of respectability.
The Genesis Device is an invention of desperation, so it makes sense that Mariner’s catharsis is wrapped up in a bootleg version. Similarly, Nick Locarno is thematically aligned with everything a reset button for life represents: a shortcut to a new beginning. But the storytelling of Lower Decks in 2023 works the same way it did with Wrath and Search in the ‘80s. Even when the Genesis Device works, it doesn’t work correctly, because even in sci-fi narratives, you can’t really reboot life. And in the face of annihilation you have to pull a Kirk (or a Mariner) and give everyone a fighting chance to live, no cheat codes allowed.