Recap/Review: ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Searches For Truth In “Trusted Sources”

“Trusted Sources”

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3, Episode 9 – Debuted Thursday, October 20, 2022
Written by Ben M. Waller
Directed by Fill Marc Sagadraca

A mixed penultimate episode puts the brakes on much of season 3’s character development and delivers some (but not enough) laughs along with some introspection on the show and franchise.

Just once, Dr. T’Ana wishes she could pick the movie on movie night

WARNING: Spoilers below!

RECAP

“Now it’s our job to check in on a planet that Picard left cold turkey?

Captain Freeman is excited that her long-fought-for proposal to check in on planets that haven’t seen the Federation in years has been approved by Starfleet, given the lackadaisical name “Project Swing By.” However, she isn’t so happy to learn the first test of this ambitious new program for the California-class fleet will be a world that Captain Picard cut off from crippling drug addiction 17 years prior… with no follow-up. Yikes. To make matters tenser, Starfleet is sending an FNN reporter to chronicle the whole thing and Carol is super nervous the Cerritos is going to come off looking bad, with her own daughter’s shenanigans being concern number one.

Beckett doesn’t disappoint, popping in trailing blueberry stains as she preps for a messy pie-eating contest, ready to get some face time with Victoria Nuzé and her ever-watching floating camera. “Reporters love me!” Beckett’s enthusiasm isn’t fazed even after Freeman rotates shifts and actually orders her to go to bed just to keep her away from the reporter. While her pals are devastated when Freeman cancels the pie-eating contest (with a starved Rutherford particularly crushed), Mariner maintains her chipper attitude, dropping dorky lines like “Let’s go grab some synthehol and synthe-have a great time at the bar.” But her mood finally shifts at the bar, now closed for interviews and limited to only those on the list… and they are not on that list. This isn’t the Cerritos way and Mariner is determined to find that reporter and drop some truth on her. What could possibly go wrong?

Won’t someone think of the pies?

“You Ensign Bucket Mariner?”

Arriving at planet Ornara, the away team finds the Ornarans blissful, and frustratingly, in no need of any help from Starfleet. The local magistrate admits they were in a “bit of a bad place” (more like a nightmare, based on a historical mural) for a decade or so, but now they are thankful for Picard’s tough love and committed to a whole new fitness lifestyle. Ransom, of course, approves, but Freeman is vexed there isn’t a dark hidden secret to uncover. To keep the bored reporter interested in Project Swing By, Carol quickly pivots to the idea of checking out the neighboring “pusher planet” to see how they fared after Picard cut off their only customer. On the way to Brekka, Freeman is confronted by the reporter, now armed with a list of not-so-greatest hits of the Cerritos, including that time the first officer tried to eat the ship, and when the captain dropped Dooplers into a Starfleet party out of spite. Uh oh.

Freeman’s worst fear is realized and, of course, Ransom points the finger at Mariner, who he saw surreptitiously talking to Nuzé. Captain Mom has finally had it and dismisses Mariner’s protestations that she only told the reporter what it was “really like” to be on the Cerritos. She reassigns Mariner to the dreaded Starbase 80, shocking even Ransom, and sending the ensign on a walk of shame through a ship filled with a crew that has shunned her, including girlfriend Jennifer, who returns her candle “since it clearly didn’t mean anything.” Ouch. Her lower decks pals are her only support, but even Boimler thinks she should have apologized. Beckett reverts to her classic jaded mode as this isn’t her first time getting kicked off a ship, and steels herself as she boards a dirty old Starbase 80 shuttle with a couple of crewmen to match, both ominously impressed the Cerritos doesn’t “smell like garbage or sweat.” Yuck.

This seems fine.

“I’m sure we’re about to be extremely useful”

Freeman gives Dr. Migleemo his chance at the big chair as she leads another away team; the ship’s shrink is so excited he has to call his Meema to see “her special boy being the captain.” Things are far less fun on the planet as the captain tries to get a skeptical Nuzé back on her side, disavowing her own daughter as “biased.” As for Brekka, it appears to be deserted… another “dud” for FNN’s report on Project Swing By. Things get far worse as they discover the planet has been occupied by the Breen… yep those cold-suit-wearing, Dominion-loving, garble-talking baddies are back, vaporizing the locals — and nearly the away team too. Back on the ship, Freeman takes over from Migleemo (mid-Meema call) to face down three formidable Breen interceptors which quickly disable the out-gunned California class. The crew prepares for the Cerritos to be boarded. Gulp.

Faster than you can say “deus ex machina,” an unidentified and unusual Starfleet ship arrives and quickly dispatches the Breen with an impressive display of firepower and maneuvering. Freeman wants to thank the hero ship’s captain and is shocked to find out there is none; Admiral Buenamigo calls in to reveal they have been saved by one of Starfleet’s brand-new (and until now) classified autonomous ships. Nuzé goes full distracted boyfriend meme, with eyes only for the new Texas-class. Her subsequent “Starfleet Shame!” report looks really bad for Freeman, but what hits hardest is learning Mariner wasn’t the leaker; she only had the nicest things to say about the ship and its commander, “the best captain in the fleet.” It was the rest of the crew who inadvertently spilled all the Cerritos chaos beans. Carol backtracks faster than GOB Bluth and tries to undo her mistake with Mariner, only to find out her daughter has already bailed on the Pyrithian bat-infested Starbase 80 and resigned from Starfleet. We end with Beckett happily playing number one to that cool space archeologist from a couple of episodes ago, heading off on a fun mummy adventure.

Again with the Breen?

ANALYSIS

Two steps back

There are laughs to be had in “Trusted Sources,” but the episode feels out of place for a season that has had a welcome focus on character development. Plenty of jokes landed, but often felt like they could have come from anyone. And the main thrust of the plot with the misunderstanding of what Mariner had done is a classic and overdone sitcom trope. Many of the characters feel like they have regressed, losing much of the growth seen over the season. The worst example of this is Ransom, who feels beamed in from season 1 with his unwelcome smarmy flirtations plus his discarding of all the goodwill he and Mariner had built this season by accusing her of being the leaker. Getting Mariner off the ship and pairing her up again with Petra Aberdeen is a fun twist, and was nicely set up in a previous episode, but there must have been a better way to get her there.

Sure, it’s fun to see that even the conspiracy theorist Levy doesn’t believe Mariner, but Jennifer’s rejection, and even Beckett’s friends not fully trusting her, just didn’t ring true, feeling like a lot of forced tragedy to set up some potential comedy. Speaking of setups, the show gave up on comedy almost entirely in the third act to set the stakes for what ended up more like the first part of a two-partner than a complete standalone episode. The action and callback to the Breen were good Star Trek to be sure, as was the twist of the new autonomous ship, usually Lower Decks finds ways to keep it fun. Meema wasn’t enough, although Paul F. Tompkins is always a delight and did his best with what he was given. So did Tawny Newsome, who was the one who kept her season arc going — making her truth-telling about her love of the ship, her mom, and the crew all the more painful. This idea of regression eventually hits Mariner as she brings back her “peace out” Vulcan salute in her final goodbye to her friends. As for the threat posed by the Texas-class robo-ships, hopefully, it isn’t as obvious as Star Trek’s long history of AI going bad has already telegraphed.

There must something in Starfleet HR sensitivity training on this kind of thing.

Time to check in

One element of the episode that worked well is the way Lower Decks had some fun taking another hard look at the franchise. Not every episode of Mike McMahan’s beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation is a winner and “Symbiosis” (the origin of Ornara and Brekka) definitely doesn’t age well with its ham-fisted attempt at commentary on the ‘80s drug epidemic, and Picard’s twisting of the Prime Directive in a way to cut off the Onaran’s drug supply was very much worthy of exploration. The mural showing their nightmarish rough patch was spot-on commentary and maybe the funniest element of the episode. (Where can we buy the poster?)

Project Swing By itself was a nice callback to a dangling thread from the Lower Decks season 1 finale when Captain Freeman brought up a plan to address how Starfleet is “good at observing and bad at maintaining,” leading to issues like the Pakleds’ surprisingly dangerous return. And the answer to why previously referenced Starbase 80 was such a terrifying assignment was satisfying and not expected. Finding out it was just home of a combination of gross ineptitude and even grosser smells was a comedy highlight from an episode that needed more levity.

Mariner isn’t going to fall for the pull-my-finger gag.

Final thoughts

A middling episode from what has been a strong season is effective enough at setting up some stakes, and the stage, for what has been promised as a “big” finale. Even if this isn’t a favorite, there was just enough to keep it entertaining, and Lower Decks has certainly built up enough trust to keep the anticipation high for what comes next.

Shaxs isn’t going back to the Mountain today.

MORE BITS

Laugh lines

  • I’m like a mini captain. Like a sweet baby captain.
  • You better be ready to shovel some f—ing pie, Marty.
  • I accidentally got my station stuck in the transporter buffer.
  • I scan when I get nervous.
  • This is the biggest crew night of the year, not including pon farrs.
  • When we’re not stellar mapping, we’re partying!
  • Make them show you their government, just in case it’s secretly run by kids or somebody pretending to be the devil.
  • There’s plenty to do around here that doesn’t end in sugary diarrhea.
  • Is this a “Frame of Mind” thing? Am I gonna wake up with a neural drain on my head?
  • We have medical supplies, engineering know-how, unlimited snacks!
  • We could go back to Beta III. There’s a pretty good chance they’ve fallen for Landru again.
  • Let’s mummy it up!

Mariner is a bit too excited about mummies

Random stuff

  • Stardate 58496.1
  • Kayshon once lived in a cave.
  • Boimler was somehow not aware the Cerritos had an Alpha Shift.
  • The reporter’s hard questions referenced events from prior episodes including “Kayshon, His Eyes Open,” “Strange Energies,” “Room for Growth,” “An Embarrassment Of Dooplers,” “I, Excretus,” “Temporal Edict,” “Hear All, Trust Nothing,” “No Small Parts,” and “Veritas.”
  • Ransom can bench press “250,” which is okay if pounds, but really impressive if he was talking kilos.
  • The Starbase 80 shuttle was a Type 15 which shouldn’t have been able to go to warp.
  • This was the first appearance of the Breen, created for DS9, since the Voyager episode “Flesh and Blood” in 2000.
  • Indicating a possible penchant for gambling, Shaxs uses the sports-betting phrase “covered the spread” to warn the Breen had thwarted a spread of photon torpedoes.
  • The USS Aledo is named for the small town of Aledo, Texas. Presumably, Texas-class ships are all named for smaller towns and cities in the state (like California-class).

Heavily armed autonomous ships – what could possibly go wrong?

More to come

Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket CastsStitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network. On Saturday, we’ll post our weekly analysis of Easter eggs and references for this episode.


New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It is available on Amazon Prime Video internationally on Fridays. It debuted in Latin America on Paramount+ in September.

Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.

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And of course, the whole blasted thing would not have happened had Freeman bothered remembering that her need to look good has a bit of a price: her credibility.

I love when LOWER DECKS gets into some detailed storytelling. Why were the Breen on the planet? What happened to the Brekkans? Are the Breen making a new move in the quadrant? Great stuff. Starbase 80 seems to be using some discarded TMP-era jumpsuits. And man, that last sequence with the interviews stung hard.

And probably the TNG-era combadge as well.

I think you are digging a little too deep into things. But not sure how those interviews stung. It was pretty darn obvious where the stories came from.

I guess I wanted more from each story beat than we got, it feels like we blew through tons of interesting story threads by veering off at each opportunity to quickly resolve them. Still a fun episode. Rutherford had some particularly funny moments. I can’t help but give it to Mike McMahon for always digging up the most unexpected and least obvious callbacks, the Breen showing up certainly made my day and it was legit exciting…but again it was over in a flash. Although this is a comedy and I’m not sure how much weight we should really put on interpersonal relationships on this show, but they did enormous damage to everybody in this episode. I just hope it’s some sort of Tom Paris-like conspiracy to explain it.

I liked this ep. Nothing to complain about for me.

As usual, I enjoyed this one a great deal, and more than most of the episodes in the first half of the season.

I must be reading the episode completely differently from Anthony Pascale; to me, this episode was all about character progression and development.

I actually thought Symbiosis was one of the better season 1 episodes. It was far from perfect, and Wesley’s conversation with Yar was particularly cringey, but the basic conflict was interesting. Picard’s solution was also just following the Prime Directive. If Starfleet had never gotten involved, then the Onaran ships would have eventually broken down and the whole system would have collapsed. All Picard did was ensure that events unfolded as they were “meant to” without any Federation interference. It would have been a good idea to check in sooner though, to see if the Onarans needed any help getting through withdrawal.

OMG, I personally find that one of the lamest eps in the awful TNG S1. And poor Patrick Stewart looks uncertain of what he’s doing in that ep as well — it’s no wonder given Picard negotiates a drug deal…lol

IDIC I guess. :-)

An autonomous starship… Ingenious! What could possibly go wrong?

Trek’s aversion to AI aside, the reality of future space exploration is that 99.9% of it is going to be long range scanning and autonomous probes. Space is just way too big to be sending expensive, crewed ships everywhere.

That would be the case if we ended up with something like warp drive. Without it, 99.999999% will be automated probes. As Sagan noted, the universe was just not made for us, or our limitations.

Yep

It’s odd but Trek both loves and hates AI’s.

Guess Starfleet is finally going with their fleet of probes Janeway worried about.

JPL has been trying to call you, but you are not answering your phone.

Was already tried once. But I guess the failure of the M-5 wasn’t going to stop the concept.

Come on….’they’ve covered the spread’ was pretty funny.

Its “Countered”.

Forced to admit… I did enjoy that line. A very rare gag that kinda sorta landed.

Although I think it might have worked better in a slightly different situation. Where betting was a current subject. But still… I like it.

Cool! I hope next week’s season three finale would open with a “previously on” segment.

Well, damn. I can press 250, and I don’t look anywhere near as fit as Ransom.

Ransom is a fictitious character

The autonomous Texas class should really be the USS Tesla, no?

Only if you have them crash in orange cones.

$20 says one will

This late in the season, you aren’t doing more character development but starting to pay off all those sly set-ups from earlier episodes. And Mariner has hardly regressed; her antics in Seasons 1 & 2 were often cruel and made her difficult to like, but in Season 3 she was making a commendable effort **not** to casually wound innocent friends with a contraband bat’leth. Her character has come a hundred lightyears this season… only to reveal that her crewmates still can’t bring themselves to trust her.

Rather, I think the issue with Lower Decks is that in the process of calling out legacy Star Trek shows on some of their more tired tropes, McMahon & Co. have unwittingly developed too many of their own tropes, trotting them out week after week like story-telling crutches.

For instance, this is the third episode in a row where a ship has come out of nowhere at the last possible minute to save the heroes from annihilation; it happened a couple times on the bird planet, the fictional Wayfarer saved the fictional Cerritos last week, and this week it’s the drone ship. Last year it was the Vulcans in Wej Duj, and in Season 1 it was the Titan. (And yet the Cerritos itself is always turning tail in that ever-growing battle sequence during the opening credits…)

The other trope used almost to the point of cliché in Season 3 is the “misunderstood character.” Today it was everyone jumping to conclusions about Mariner, on DS9 it was Mesk who was deliberately misleading Tendi until he could no longer conceal he was from Ohio, Boimler assumed the worst of Kranch, and in “Grounded” Mariner assumed the entire system was working against her until it was proven otherwise. “Mining the Mind’s Mines” was the worst offender, with the Cerritos lower-deckers mistrusting their counterparts from the Carlsbad… who, in an implausible reveal, confess to being fans of the Cerritos (a narrative device that doesn’t hold water on a second viewing, because the Carlsbad crew are introduced as genuine a-holes).

Otherwise I really enjoyed this episode… as I waited for what I hoped would be an obligatory Judson Scott cameo, and wishing that Merrit Butrick was still alive. And FWIW, while the Breen debuted as a DS9 baddie (looking a little too much like Leia disguised as a bounty hunter for my tastes) they were first mentioned in Generations.

They were first mentioned earlier than that. They were mentioned in a few TNG episodes.

they were first mentioned in Generations

They were previously mentioned in the TNG episodes “The Loss,” “Hero Worship” and “Interface.”

And then on Voyager in “Scorpion,” where Tuvok said they used organic technology. So as cool as their ships ended up being, I was hoping for that little tidbit to be expanded upon in the Dominion War.

Another great episode keep them coming

Agreed. I feel like Anthony and I watched a different episode. This was a strong one.

The reporter looks to be wearing the CBS logo.

It reminded me of the USS Exeter sciences patch.

https://startrekdesignproject.com/symbols/ncc-1672-exeter-crew-command-1/

I personally enjoyed the episode and instead it showing character regression, I think brought to a head the arc of Freeman being a capable captain but is undermined by her own insecurities. As is often said, “culture starts at the top,” and the crew turning on Mariner I saw as a natural result those insecurities embedding themselves in the culture on the Cerritos. Plus, how many times has the crew witnessed Mariner and Freeman openly spare in front of the crew?

I’m hoping this use this as character development opportunity for Freeman.

Agree 100%

Isn’t Starfleet supposed to be a meritocracy where the best and brightest cheerfully serve? What’s with this Starbase 80 crap? Why is there a starbase that’s known to be staffed by stupid and incompetent people? Shouldn’t those folks simply be discharged from Starfleet?

Wow, this is the forth ep this season that I liked! Tons of character progression and development that was not juvenile for a change. This is right up there with Eps 1, 2 and 7, and is so welcome after that cluster-f&#k mess that was last weeks Ep 8 — perhaps the worst ep in the entire run of Lower Decks to date.

This has been by far the best season of Lower Decks. About half of the eps this season are not showing the level of immaturity and awkward canon force fits that nearly all the eps showed in seasons 1 and 2.

I hope that in S4 that we get more eps like 1, 2, 7 and 9 from this season.

To Spoke:

Please pay attention to my above remark so that you can avoid (for a third time) making an incorrect claim that I dislike the entire Lower Decks series. Thanks.

And the last ship looked a bit like the Millennium Falcon. Hm maybe all smuggler ships look like it….

Loved this one so much! Not as great as last week but a lot of fun! And the Breen are back!

Was the pie eating contest a nod to Badger and Breaking Bad? I would like to think so.

Again, I may be the only fan of the show who doesn’t find it funny (like at all) but I felt like this was another good episode of Lower Decks. Captain Freeman not trusting her daughter is pretty in character for her. I just wish Bold Boimler would have had Mariner’s back.

I’m not surprised at all that Mariner left Starfleet to join the rogue space archeologist. After the way she was treated this entire episode, Starfleet had it coming.

As for the Texas class starships, of course they’re going to go evil. The question is will it be in the season finale or next season.

No. There are many out there who do not find the show funny at all. From my explorations lurking around other areas this is one of the most positive places you can find about this show. We are in the minority here but the majority elsewhere.

I do disagree about the show being good. I found it predicable, unimaginative and lacking in any kind of real thought.

For a very brief moment I thought this episode might actually start to poke fun at some Trek stuff. They returned to a TNG planet that I had completely forgotten about (and still don’t even really remember the episode) but it’s something that could have been rife for comedy. Coming back and seeing the unintended consequences of Picard’s initial visit. Sadly, of course, they didn’t poke fun at TNG at all and said what Picard did was “perfect”. Again, that is one of the larger problems the show has. It’s so reverential to Trek that it just doesn’t work as a comedy.

The story, once set up, was pretty darn obvious every single step of the way. I guess there was supposed to be emotion involved when Mariner was shipped out but I had two reactions. 1: Hooray! She’s a completely awful person and the show might be better without her. And 2: She’s going nowhere. She’s the main character.

Another thing I think that needs to be pointed out about the show… The casting is pretty bad. Most of the voice actors don’t work. Granted, they have nothing to work with but I think better cast actors might be able to milk a chuckle or two out of the badly written gags. Maybe.

It’s odd but if seems like this show is actually getting worse. Even the other Secret Hideout shows, as bad as they are, seemed to get a tiny bit better with each ensuing season. But not this one. It is in a neck and neck race with Star Trek Discovery as the worst Trek show ever.