Although the Star Trek franchise is often praised for its progressive vision of the future, the very first Trek episode ever filmed, the 1964 pilot “The Cage,” did reference the idea that Orion “slave women” existed in a specific part of the galaxy, through a telepathic simulation where Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) is in a kind of outer space bordello with an “Orion Slave Girl.” This problematic plot detail remained somewhat dormant until the 2005 Enterprise episode, “Bound,” in which we learned that the “enslaved” Orion women were just pretending, and were in fact, controlling the men with their pheromones. This attempt to “fix” the whole Orion thing was arguably, not much better. Instead of one group dominating another, in a sense, Enterprise merely inverted the sexism of TOS in the other direction.
But now, it’s Lower Decks to the rescue! In the first-ever canonical visit to the Orion homeworld, the episode “Something Borrowed, Something Green,” fully explores Orion culture hilariously. But, in addition to the hijinks, this episode successfully retcons all the problematic aspects of Orion culture, without actually changing any of the wonky canon. Spoilers ahead.
The Lower Decks gang are carried by a group of Orion men.
Since the beginning, one mission of Lower Decks has not only been to mock certain silly Star Trek tropes but also unpack those tropes in a way that creates something better. In 2022, Noël Wells explained that she felt that her Orion, Tendi, was bringing new life into one of Star Trek’s broken tropes. From the beginning of the show, we’ve been told that not all Orion women have the infamous pheromones that allow them to control men, like we saw in “Bound.” This was one step toward dismantling the binary ideas of Orion culture. In fact, via Mariner’s perception, Lower Decks briefly floated the idea that perhaps, some of the pheromone stuff was actually just propaganda. In “Something Borrowed, Something Green,” Mariner says, “Tendi’s made it clear that Starfleet made those pheromones up, I mean they had to explain why a captain would get taken out by some Orion showgirls!”
This is a hilarious dig against the 2005 Enterprise Season 4 episode, “Bound,” in which Captain Archer and the crew nearly all were overrun by three Orion women. But, the twist in Lower Decks isn’t that the events of Enterprise were something that Starfleet invented to save face, but instead, 100 percent true — just not representative of all of the Orion people.
When Tendi, Mariner, and T’Lynn enter a club in which men seem to be intoxicated, T’Lynn notes: “The males appear to be under some sort of chemical manipulation, perhaps controlled by pheromones.” At this point, Tendi comes clean saying: “Technically, I said not all Orions control men with pheromones … some of us definitely do … just not me.”
Susan Oliver as the first Orion in “The Cage.”
This moment works on a few levels: First, it’s very funny that Tendi spends a good deal of the episode kind of apologizing for the sexist, and or, more dangerous parts of some aspects of Orion culture. But, the nuance here is she does acknowledge that these things exist. She’s just saying that it’s not biologically true of everyone, which helps to shatter the previous binary depictions of Orions in both “The Cage” and “Bound.”
With this exploration of the Orion culture, Lower Decks has allowed two things to be true: “The Cage,” and “Bound,” still exist, and totally happened in the real Trek timeline. However, what we saw in those episodes was just a small portion of what Orions are like in general. Metafictionally, T’Lynn is documenting all of her findings in this episode, since most members of the Federation have no clue what the Orion homeworld is really like. But, at the end of the episode, because Tendi doesn’t really consent to all of those findings being made public, T’Lynn throws her datapad out the window, literally.
In Lower Decks, the secrets of what Orions are really like were shared with viewers, for the first time. But the rest of the galaxy within Star Trek canon isn’t ready for those secrets. Yet.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams on Paramount+.
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