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29 years later, Star Trek just resolved a huge Commander Riker mystery

One of Commander Riker's most forgotten Star Trek storylines has just been continued, putting an end to almost three decades of speculation.

Jonathan Frakes as William Riker in Star Trek TNG

Jonathan Frakes got to have a lot of fun as Commander William T. Riker during his time on Star Trek The Next Generation and the subsequent movies, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Arguably, one of his most impressive feats was when he had to take a leaf of out Brent Spiner’s book by acting opposite himself in the TNG episode ‘Second Chances’.

In the episode, found at the back-end of Star Trek The Next Generation’s penultimate season, Riker discovers he was cloned during a transporter accident in 2361 and comes face-to-face with that clone: Thomas. Double the Frakes, and double the fun. Now, Lower Decks has finally revealed the fate of Thomas after we last saw him 29 years ago in the Star Trek series DS9, in the 1994 episode ‘Defiant’.

‘Defiant’ marked the end of the Star Trek character‘s story, leaving him in a Cardassian prison. The latest episode of Lower Decks, ‘The Inner Fight’, changes that. The USS Cerritos and a number of other ships are tasked with finding and securing a group of four ex-Starfleet officers who are believed the be the target of imminent attacks. The names on the list are Seven of Nine, Beverly Crusher, Nick Locarno, and Thomas Riker.

The mention of Thomas Riker in this context resolves one of the biggest Riker-related mysteries: did Thomas Riker survive the Dominion War, and if he did, did he ever get out of incarceration?

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The answer to both is ‘yes’. Lower Decks shows that Thomas Riker had left the Cardassian prison, and had clearly resumed civilian life, meaning we now know the status of the character during the 2380s. Arguably though, this raises even more questions than it answers.

You’d imagine that for William Riker, having a jaded and resentful clone of yourself active once again around the galaxy would cause some issues. It certainly leaves the door open for future storytelling opportunities in and around Lower Decks, with Thomas Riker once again having the potential to become a thorny issue for William Riker to solve.

Jonathan Frakes as William and Thomas Riker in Star Trek TNG

That being said, if you’re desperate for another confrontation between William and Thomas Riker, you should probably lower your expectations. The truth is, part of the reason why we haven’t seen Thomas Riker again since ‘Defiant’ is because the concept of a semi-evil clone is just a bit silly. While ‘Second Chances’ is a strong episode, if we’d continued to watch the adventures of Thomas Riker, it could quite easily have ended up feeling like a caricature.

Still, if there’s any series that’s proven it can balance the silly and the serious, it’s Lower Decks. While the show leaned too far in the direction of comedy at the start, it’s since cemented itself as one of the best TV series in the franchise’s modern era.

It’s still funny, but in the tradition of Star Trek, it now tells thoughtful sci-fi stories led by a collection of complex characters. It’s enormously underrated, and we’re immensely sad to be so close to the season finale as the wait for season 5 draws closer.

For more on the franchise, see our ranking of the Star Trek captains and read our guide on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order. Or, for more Frakes, learn about why he wants one TNG episode banned, before checking out what else is new on Paramount Plus this month.