It’s not easy being green.
In Star Trek: Lower Decks, the show’s optimistic Orion character – D’Vana Tendi – is often hit with in-universe biases informed by early Star Trek canon. (The green-skinned alien race appeared in the very first episode of Trek already: the original pilot, “The Cage”, filmed in 1964.) In 2020, Noël Wells – the voice actress who helps bring Tendi’s character to life – admitted that some of those jokes just went over her head. But not anymore. Now she’s further afield in a performance that breathes new life into one of Star Trek’s worst tropes: the seductive alien slave.
“I get all the jokes now,” says Wells Reverse. “And I get what we’re talking about when we’re talking about all the other versions of the shows. I no longer feel like I’m dragging in the wind.
While Tendi is having its biggest ever season of Lower decks Again, Reverse caught up with Wells to talk about how this kind of comedy works, how Lower decks is unlike any show she’s done before, and whether or not she’ll do the one thing fans ask her to do.
“We don’t always choose our mentors.
Because Lower decks is ostensibly focused on the activities of lower level Starfleet crew members, it stands to reason that the careers of these underdogs can only go so far. And yet, this season is all about training Tendi to become a legitimate science officer in the mold of Jadzia Dax or Spock. In Season 3 Episode 3, “Mining the Mind’s Mines”, Tendi is evaluated by the ship’s bird-like advisor, Dr. Migleemo (Paul F. Tompkins), on her ability to be assertive in situations. high stakes situations.
It’s the kind of story of personal growth that permeates much of Star Trek, with echoes of GNT episodes like “Coming of Age” and “Thine Own Self”. Eventually, Tendi draws his strength not from advice from Migleemo, but from his cantankerous former boss, Dr. T’Ana (Gillian Vigman), who is quite literally a grumpy cat.
“It’s a very funny duo,” says Wells. “Tendi can be really rambunctious and really wants to please. But Dr. T’Ana is fair above. From a comedic point of view, it’s great to play. But in life, we don’t always choose our mentors. Sometimes the person we think we are least likely to learn from is the person teaching us an amazing lesson. For Tendi to admit, it’s hilarious, but it’s also great storytelling.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter trip.”
Although many sitcoms tend to hold back character development, Wells points out that Lower decks Season 3 is unique because it actually pushes all of the characters towards growth.
“I think the easy version of it was like, she was shy and now she’s not shy,” Wells says of Tendi’s evolution in Lower decks Season 3. “But it has a lot more dimension than that. Before she wasn’t shy, necessarily, but maybe by following the rules and thinking that his place was a little smaller. In this season, she gets to experience something bigger than she had dreamed for herself. This is not a cookie-cutter trip. She comes out of its shell, but it appropriates what looks like real power.
Several surprises await Tendi in Lower decks Season 3 and, without being too specific, Wells teases even more criticism of Orion’s stereotypes in future episodes. But, she points out that what’s great about comedy in Lower decksand her character in particular is that it’s kind of a balm for everyone’s personal struggles to feel validated.
“When you’re tested and put in these situations, you have to react to other people’s craziness,” says Wells. “And the comedy is in the space between – the friction between what you think is sane and the craziness of the world that stands against you.”
Speaking of the world that demands things from a person, since her casting as Tendi, Wells has been asked a question time and time again: Would she wear green skin makeup to perform a live-action version of Tendi in a future Star Trek project? In 2020, this question was purely speculative, but now that it Lower decks co-stars Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid will play live-action Mariner and Boimler versions in Strange new worldsthe door was opened to possibility.
“You keep asking me that,” Wells laughs. “If that happens, I will probably say yes. I was resistant before because like me, like Christmas like myself, [the idea of] being covered in makeup like this makes me anxious. But hey, like me, Noël the animator, who wants to make people happy, maybe I would?
Then again, what if there was a way for us to see a live Tendi without having to resort to green makeup? There are hologram disguises in Star Trek, and all sorts of precedents for alien characters undercover as humans. Same Doug Jones – famous for his various roles in intricate makeup – appeared as a human version of Saru in StarTrek: Discovery Season 3. So what if something like this happened with a live Tendi? Maybe she’s undercover as a human?
“Here. That’s it. I’d say yes to that,” Wells said. “Can we plant that in a writers room?”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 airs Thursdays on Paramount+.