One of the earliest ongoing gags introduced on Star Trek: Lower Decks is the existence of a higher power known as the Cosmic Koala. First appearing in Lower Decks season 1, the Koala has become a significant recurring character for the series. The Cosmic Koala most recently appeared in last week’s Lower Decks season 4 episode, “In the Cradle of Vexilon.” Furthermore, he has even appeared (albeit briefly) in another Star Trek series (no kidding).

But who (or what) is the Cosmic Koala, and what connection might he have to The Black Mountain? For this week’s Trek Tuesday, Geek Girl Authority investigates.


Tendi (Noel Wells) witnesses O'Connor's ascension attempt in Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1's "Moist Vessel."

The first mention of the Cosmic Koala on Lower Decks occurred in season 1 episode 4, “Moist Vessel.” In this episode, Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) is assigned to observe Lt. O’Connor (Haley Joel Osment) during his ascension. At its core, this parodies a Franchise convention: characters achieving transcendence and transcending this plane of being. For one example, see Star Trek: Voyager‘s Kes (Jennifer Lien), especially season 4’s “The Gift.”

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Initially, Tendi interferes with O’Connor’s ascension. Riddled with guilt, Tendi attempts to help O’Connor ascend using many spiritual methods. But at the climax of the episode, O’Connor does ascend. As he does so, he witnesses the Cosmic Koala. According to dialogue, the “universe is balanced on the back of a giant koala.” O’Connor continues: “Why is he smiling? What does he know?” But before more information can be shared, O’Connor becomes “everything.”

Near-Death Experiences

The next appearances of the Koala are associated with near-death appearances. In Lower Decks season 2’s finale, “First First Contact,” Ensign Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) seems to drown. Fortunately, he is saved by Matt and Kimolu and revived by Tendi. However, shortly after being revived, Boimler states, “I saw a Koala.” Tendi advises him to keep this to himself.

Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner, and Ben Rodgers as Steve Stevens in Star Trek: Lower Decks season 3's "Mining the Mind's Mines."

Photo: PARAMOUNT+ ©2022 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The next mention of the Koala is in Lower Decks season 3’s “Mining the Mind’s Mines.” After being turned to stone during the away mission, Steve Stevens (Ben Rodgers) is subsequently revived. While recovering, he states, “‘[I]f I was brain dead for ten minutes, then how come I saw a koala sitting on a Black Mount-?'” While he doesn’t complete his sentence, he presumably refers to The Black Mountain.

RELATED: Star Trek: 8 Visitors to the Black Mountain

The Cosmic Koala is again mentioned in Lower Decks season 3’s “Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus.” During Boimler’s holodeck “movie,” the computer populates several holographic “extras” into the background of a marketplace scene. As Boimler searches for spiritual meaning after the death of his identical transporter clone, William, these extras offer multiple possible theological options. These include a reference to the Cosmic Koala. This may suggest the computer is attempting to understand the numerous “Koala” references it has observed various crew members make.

The Black Mountain

Meanwhile, the Black Mountain was first introduced to Star Trek in Lower Decks season 2’s “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris.” After being killed in the Lower Decks season 1 finale, “No Small Parts,” Lt. Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) inexplicably returns to the USS Cerritos in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris.” This sends Ensign Samanthan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) into a spiral as he attempts to determine how Shaxs returned from the dead. Eventually, Rutherford corners Shaxs in a turbolift and gets an explanation. While most of Shaxs’s explanation is rendered inaudible by Chris Westlake‘s score, the beginning — which involves “the Black Mountain” — can be heard.

Fred Tatasciore as Lieutenant Shaxs in Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2's "We'll Always Have Tom Paris." He carries a tray in the Cerritos cafeteria.

I’d try spicy kiwi ketchup.

In an interview with series creator Mike McMahan, Geek Girl Authority asked about the Black Mountain directly. McMahan linked the Black Mountain and the Cosmic Koala, saying if you see either after your death, “It means there’s work left to be done.” McMahan continued, “Everything I’ve ever written on, every show I’ve ever written on, when a character is either dead or dying or being brought back to life, they reference the Black Mountain. It’s like my Stephen King‘s Dark Tower.”

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Beyond Star Trek

Indeed, the Black Moutain has been referenced in McMahan’s other work. In Rick and Morty season 4’s “Rattlestar Ricklactica,” as Morty (Justin Roiland) dies of a venomous snakebite, he states he sees the Black Moutain. And interestingly, this entire episode’s plot about time-traveling snakes pays homage to Harlan Ellison‘s original pitch for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This pitch is recounted in King’s Danse Macabre.

And more recently, in the Solar Opposites season 4 premiere “The Ping Pong Table,” Terry (Thomas Middleditch) and Korvo (Dan Stevens) use dark sci-fi to resurrect their boss, Mr. Sarner (Randall Park). According to the resurrected Sarner, he has “traversed the Black Moutain.” And, in an additional connection, Sarner’s actor, Park, appeared in the Lower Decks season 2 premiere, “Strange Energies.”

Theme Song Cosmic Koala Cameos

A blast of red, pink, and white energy on a purple and black cosmic background.

Contemporaneously with Lower Decks season 3, new opening sequences were added to each ongoing Star Trek series. Each depicts the respective show’s hero ship flying in a pattern revealed to be the Starfleet delta. Furthermore, each includes an Easter egg referencing the specific series. And for Lower Decks, the Easter egg takes the form of a subtle cameo appearance by the Cosmic Koala.

RELATED: Read all of our Lower Decks recaps here!


But this isn’t the only opening sequence featuring a Cosmic Koala cameo. Another occurs in the special alternate animated theme song for the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 episode that crossed over with Lower Decks, “Those Old Scientists.” As the final credits are displayed for the episode’s theme song, the Cosmic Koala is clearly visible.

Cosmic Koala Conclusions

But what does it all mean? Perhaps McMahan’s reference in our interview to the Dark Tower offers further insight. In the world of the Dark Tower, the world is balanced on the back of a turtle. According to a rhyme: “See the turtle of enormous girth! / On his shell, he carries the Earth.” The turtle is just one of the multiple animal guardians charged with protecting the beams supporting the Dark Tower. 

The outline of the Cosmic Koala situated behind a planet with the text "Directed by Jonathan Frakes" in white during the opening credits for Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Could the Cosmic Koala be one of multiple higher animal powers in the Trek universe? And could one be inspired by the “Great bird of the galaxy,” Gene Roddenberry? Now is the time to replicate an aluminum foil hat and share your wildest theories in the comment section.

New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursdays.

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Avery Kaplan