Star Trek Changes What 'Red Shirts' Means (But It's Still A Joke)

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2, episode 6, "The Spy Humongous".

Star Trek's infamous Red Shirts have been a franchise joke for decades, and Star Trek: Lower Decks not only acknowledged it in canon, but the animated series changed what 'Red Shirts' means, although it's still a joke. In Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2, episode 6, "The Spy Humongous," Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), who also has a transporter clone like Captain Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), is recruited by the Red Shirts, a club of Ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos focused on career advancement.

'Red Shirts' is derived from the crimson uniforms worn by security officers on Star Trek: The Original Series and they're traditionally the show's sacrificial lambs to whatever alien menace Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Starship Enterprise faced each week. In numerous TOS episodes, Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the main characters would beam onto a planet accompanied by a contingent of red shirt-wearing security personnel. The Red Shirts would typically get killed off. It happened so often that it became a classic Star Trek trope. However, this ended with the advent of the Star Trek movies and Star Trek: The Next Generation because the colors of Star Trek uniforms changed and red became the signature of Starfleet Officers on the Command track. This meant that Kirk and Spock in the Star Trek movies and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Commander Riker in TNG were now the 'red shirts' and, as main characters, they were unlikely to randomly die at alien hands.

Related: Star Trek Remade A Classic TOS Tribbles Episode (But Even Weirder)

Star Trek: Lower Decks slyly winked at the legacy of the Red Shirts when Boimler, an expert in Starfleet history, was surprised that the ambitious club of Ensigns who approached him to join called themselves 'Red Shirts,' apparently oblivious to the legacy of that nickname. Regardless, Bradward briefly joined the Cerritos' Red Shirts since he also dreams of one day becoming Captain Boimler. But Brad soon learned the Red Shirts only wanted to emulate great leaders like Captains Riker and Picard without actually making their hard choices and performing heroic deeds. As such, the Cerritos' Red Shirts are a different kind of joke; they may not get killed off randomly like the original TOS Red Shirts, but they're every bit the ineffectual laughingstocks who are useless in a real crisis.

Even though from TNG onward, Red Shirts are now the Starfleet heroes like Picard, Riker, and Captains Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), there have been variations of Red Shirts still being problematic in Star Trek, especially within Starfleet Academy. In TNG, Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) got involved with an ambitious group of cadets called Nova Squadron who caused the death of one of their classmates and covered it up. Then, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) and Nog (Aron Eisenberg) encountered Red Squad, another elite club of cadets who had their own Defiant-class starship and fought in the Dominion War. But in an effort to prove themselves, Red Squad got nearly everyone killed, which made them worthy of the legacy of the 'Red Shirts.'

Star Trek: Lower Decks also subtly wove in a reference to how TNG's Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) continued the legacy of Red Shirts as sacrificial lambs by including Armus in a cameo. The oily alien monster killed Tasha in TNG season 1; even though Lt. Yar now wore a gold uniform as the USS Enterprise-D's Security Chief, she died unceremoniously like a TOS Red Shirt. Amusingly, Star Trek: Lower Decks' Ensigns Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), D'Vana Tendi (Noel Wells), Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), and Boimler pranked Armus and scored a form of revenge for the 'Skin of Evil' killing Tasha Yar about 15 years prior in the Star Trek timeline.

Next: Star Trek Reveals The Fate Of Riker's TNG Rival

Star Trek: Lower Decks streams Thursdays on Paramount+.

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