Star Trek: Lower Decks
Air date: 10/20/2022
Written by Ben M. Waller
Directed by Fill Marc Sagadraca
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
A news reporter comes aboard the Cerritos to document a long-delayed second contact between the Federation and the Ornarans (the drug-addicted people for whom Picard mediated in "Symbiosis" 17 years earlier), amusingly aptly dubbed "Project Swing-By." With the reporter aboard, Freeman orders everyone to be on their best behavior — and orders Mariner, always the maverick, not to talk to the reporter at all — so the Cerritos can be seen as important rather than trivial.
"Trusted Sources" is ironically named, because it goes out of its way to conceal the truth while building its case, only to reveal the entire foundation of the case to be secretly fraudulent. The deception somewhat undercuts a character story that ends up being the most significant of the entire season, but which is revealed here through trickery rather than honesty. That this character core is still interesting is significant, but this feels like something of a missed opportunity because of the shameless layer of manipulation.
The episode basically comes down to the fact Mariner, out of frustration, decides to be interviewed so she can "tell the truth" while everyone else is out there putting as much positive spin on things as they possibly can. The episode appears to be another one of those times where Mariner plays the part of the malcontent who throws everyone under the bus in an effort to keep it real. (This is foreshadowed by the overstated gag involving the pie-eating contest, where Mariner literally tracks puddles of blueberry pie filling all over the ship just so the episode can depict her as sloppy and hopelessly insouciant regarding the ship's reputation.)
When the news story comes out, it's an exposé of the Cerritos crew's dysfunction. Naturally, everyone blames Mariner. If I were them, based on what this episode showed me, so would I. Freeman is so furious — and at the time, seemingly justifiably so — that she transfers Mariner to Starbase 80, an outpost specializing in garbage and losers.
But wait! It turns out all the facts revealing the dysfunction aboard the crew came from other people who didn't even realize they were revealing things that could be spun as negative. All Mariner had to say was nice things about her shipmates! Freeman attempts to undo the terrible things said to her daughter and reverse the transfer, but it's too late, because Mariner has already resigned from Starfleet and taken up Petra Aberdeen's offer from "Reflections" to join her in the archeologists guild.
Shoehorned in here is a subplot involving a Breen attack, which prompts a surprisingly involving action sequence, and a sub-subplot, where the Cerritos is rescued by the first in a secret new line of autonomous drone starships having no crew. Both elements feel like major happenings that could or at least should be followed up on, but the whole business is so hastily inserted and weirdly concocted that it comes across as a real head-scratcher.
Having Mariner quit Starfleet is a really interesting character idea that should be valuable as we head into the season finale. This feels like something with real stakes. But this could've been a lot better if it had been more straightforward and dealt with Mariner's career questions in a way that felt honest rather than so blatantly and deceptively manufactured.
Previous episode: Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus
Next episode: The Stars at Night
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21 comments on this post
Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 3:10am (UTC -5)
But more importantly, the status quo gets finally really shaken up, really for the first time since Boimler’s transfer to the Titan. Starbase 80 has been first teased in season 1 (“Terminal Provocations”), and again just a few episodes back. Now we see a glimpse of it, proving again that this show understands the principle of setup and payoff. In the same vein, we meet Petra again, but still no T’Lyn as I have to complain every week.
I wonder how long it will take Mariner to realize that she is Starfleet to the core and can not exist permanently without service in a starship. At the same time, I also look forward to her future Indiana Jones style adventures. Also, Petra might be a better match for her than Jennifer, who proved disappointingly disloyal in the Hour of Need™.
While i really liked this episode as a drama, the humour didn’t work for me most of the time, except for some of the dialogue on Ornara and of course the Pyrithian bat. If it was considered the joke that Mariner got kicked off the ship in the only episode where she did not cause havoc, then I find that deeply unfunny. The balance between humour and drama has over the seasons shifted to the advantage of the former, paralleling the development of “The Orville”.
Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 8:51am (UTC -5)
The crux of the episode emotionally - what we don't see until the final act - is that Mariner has changed considerably over the course of Season 1 to become a more responsible ensign - something her mother/captain is totally blind to. She is not the same person as Season 1, and takes her job seriously now. The episode smartly hides this from us until the end of the final act, and most of the crew seem to be blind to it as well (they laid it on a bit thick when she was transferred off IMHO). Not everyone was blind to it however. Pretty notably Ransom has a bug-eyed look on his face when Freeman transfers her to Starbase 80. He knows that she does not deserve this treatment, as he's been personally overseeing her work. There was also smart payoff of the thread dropped earlier in the season with the woman from the Archeologists Guild offering Mariner a job.
The focus on Mariner here is so relentless we really don't see much of the rest of the Lower Deckers at all. They are entirely superfluous here, and aside from some jokes near the opening regarding pie, they're pretty much absent. Indeed, we (in a rarity) focus mostly on the main bridge crew and the guest star (who for once is not a memberberry) while Mariner's story is percolating in the background.
I have a feeling that there's something deeper going on regarding the sudden appearance of the automated Starfleet vessel as well. I think Admiral Buenamigo set the Cerritos up - whether it was just to have an excuse to get them attacked or that he actively wanted to make them look bad to help boost the program.
Since this is the penultimate episode, and not the season finale, I suspect it will be semi-resolved next week, but maybe I'll be surprised and Mariner will stay off the Cerritos into Season 4 at least.
Regardless, good, but not great. The humor not being all that amusing was fine, since this was meant as a dramatic episode. But I feel like there was too much setup even though the payoff was excellent. Since the story was really about Freeman's lack of faith in her daughter, they should have centered a bit more of the episode there rather than the second-contact scenarios (the first of which was purposefully constructed to be boring). Still, the episode had flawed characters make bad decisions and suffer from real consequences which is exactly what you want to see in dramatic fiction.
Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 1:46pm (UTC -5)
I’m all for productive continuity, so I liked that the mission-within-the-episode was a follow up and facial lift to “Symbiosis”, a ho-hum episode from TNG’s first season. On route, Freeman nails Picard for “just leaving the planets alone” after coming up with a solution, indicating there must be trouble ahead. But, in a subversion of the post-TNG era of doubting Picard, it turns out his decision was correct – at least for the Brekka. As the overly successful past mission stimies Freeman, she decides quickly to check out the Ornarans who surely had the worst lot. Jackpot! But not in the way Freeman expected as the Breen are operating on Ornara and in full force.
In the heat of this mission, Freeman (somewhat understandably) determines she’s had the last straw with Mariner and makes good on her threat to transfer her. The Cerritos suddenly turns oddly cold on Mariner, including her new love, Jennifer. It’s a bit hard to swallow that everyone would turn on the plucky star ensign, but the episode sells the idea that she torpedoed them.
Mostly, I enjoyed the dramatic turn for Mariner, and it was great to have real consequences. I was half expecting Mariner to somehow save The Cerritos and redeem herself in the final act, but instead she ended up playing her last card: resigning from Starfleet. This ties in with the offer given by Petra Aberdeen (an adventurer-archaeologist introduced a few episodes back), who’s option now seems sweeter than ever to Mariner.
Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 4:22pm (UTC -5)
Easy 3... Possibly 3.5.
Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 5:08pm (UTC -5)
Carol Freeman really is a TERRIBLE captain and should have taken Kirk’s advice: never let them promote you past Commander where you are being a hardass and jerk won’t get you into trouble. Really, I find her continued status as a captain more baffling than Starbase 80.
Jennifer is an awful girlfriend and I believe this sets up the endgame Boimler/Mariner romance! Maybe Jennifer can be a better girlfriend to Ensign Barnes (they hooked up in the simulation after all). Still, a candle-based romance never lasts in Star Trek–see Doctor Crusher.
The news services in the 24th century is awful. I agree, it’d be nice if they were competent but its annoying that they had this treatment after Picard’s handling of them in Season One. What happened to the Fourth Estate in the future? Also, is it too much to wonder if she’s not just a generic news reporter but FNN is actually a descendant/company of CBS/Paramount in the 24th century?
So it’s 17 years after Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which means that it’s been at least a dozen years since Sisko disappeared. That sucks. Apparently, Sisko really was an absentee father despite Avery Brooks efforts.
I liked how passive aggressive the Onarans are to the Federation. It’s pretty clear they want nothing to do with the Federation and rightly so. Speaking of which, WHY do they blame Picard? It’s kind of weird because all he did was absolutely nothing. I also give kudos to how Freeman and Ransom both reacted to Picard’s action with, “What the HELL?” Which makes sense because even by the standards of the Prime Directive, that was an insane choice. I’ve always argued for “Symbiosis” that it wasn’t a Prime Directive violation since it was one warp capable species exploiting another. It’d be like saying that interfering in the Cardassians messing with the Bajorans.
It does strain credibility that these planets haven’t warranted a second visit in decades. Then again, it finally does remind us space is REALLY REALLY big.
I think “Project: Flyby:” has a lot of potential because I’ve really wondered about how various one shot planets have been doing over the past 30 years, including these particular two.
Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 5:25pm (UTC -5)
That said, even a predictable plot can be fun if it's done well, and this was definitely that.
Giving it a 3/5, but a positive one.
Thu, Oct 20, 2022, 6:41pm (UTC -5)
"But this could've been a lot better if it had been more straightforward and dealt with Mariner's career questions in a way that felt honest rather than so blatantly and deceptively manufactured."
I feel it does because the point is that Mariner has matured over the past three seasons due to Boimler, Ransom, and Tendi's influence as well as possibly her softening relationship with her mother. She's become an excellent Starfleet officer who actually cares for the Cerritos crew.
And no one believes her. Which is a consequence of her past behavior.
I'm surprised you didn't have more opinions on revisiting "Symbiosis" as well and the questioning of Picard and the Prime Directive.
Fri, Oct 21, 2022, 12:11am (UTC -5)
I think it helps that I never expected her to trash the crew in the first place, so I never felt manipulated. Instead I sympathized with Mariner and the pain of having a parent not trust you when you're telling the truth. I thought this episode was good, if a bit of a downer. 3/4.
Fri, Oct 21, 2022, 10:43am (UTC -5)
What I didn't like was how bad it was for Freeman's character. Granted, she's not what the show is about, but it took her too far down.
I also don't like the introduction of crew-less ships. A Star Trek universe where the ships don't have crews is a boring one.
Fri, Oct 21, 2022, 11:16am (UTC -5)
That to say, the Breen & Texas plots are on theme.
And, doesn't feel like they are setting something up with W. Boimler on S-31 & Beckett going somewhere? and the Badass Tendi & Hidden Rutherford?
Of course, that could be also a red herring misdirection...
Fri, Oct 21, 2022, 11:24am (UTC -5)
I was genuinely surprised to learn that it was an unmanned drone ship.
You'd think the Texas-class would be a little bigger though ;)
The blueberry pie thing took me back to one of the first episodes of the series (maybe the first) when Mariner inexplicably had like five or six bowls of ramen on the control panel of the shuttle. Seemed more like "Old Mariner".
I am glad they followed up with Petra, AKA Mariner's Vash, and how she not only has a potential new calling in the offing, but a new romantic interest (though IMO not enough was done with Jennifer to make their breakup hit that hard.)
While there are certainly instances where crew-less ships are necessary, it's contrary to Starfleet's credo of exploring strange new worlds if there aren't actual people on board the ships.
That said, the Cytherians just sat back and stayed home while their unmanned probes made Barclay smart enough to bring the Enterprise to them, so there's certainly precedent in the galaxy!
Looking forward to the finale.
Fri, Oct 21, 2022, 1:45pm (UTC -5)
"I am glad they followed up with Petra, AKA Mariner's Vash, and how she not only has a potential new calling in the offing, but a new romantic interest (though IMO not enough was done with Jennifer to make their breakup hit that hard.)"
I think the producers have stated:
1. They don't like doing romance to begin with.
2. They only did this because Jennifer was so popular.
It tracks that they broke up the relationship because so many people were complaining about not enough Jennifer. So they realized they could only do Mariner/Jennifer if she was a main character and they didn't want that.
So out Jennifer goes.
Sat, Oct 22, 2022, 1:59am (UTC -5)
"You'd think the Texas-class would be a little bigger though ;)"
The Texas class being small actually makes a lot of sense to me. If you think about it, most of the volume of a federation starship is dedicated to the work and living spaces for the crew, remove the crew and suddenly you have a lot of empty space you can get rid of.
Sat, Oct 22, 2022, 2:02am (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 22, 2022, 6:11pm (UTC -5)
Ahh, I did not know that, but it tracks, since this is mostly a show about four platonic friends. I personally wouldn’t mind Tendi/Ruthy and Becki/Boims pairups, but perhaps that’s my soap opera upbringing showing! I don’t mind if Petra ends up another just-friend.
Sat, Oct 22, 2022, 6:51pm (UTC -5)
* A strong thread for a specific character
* That character plays “straight man” in the comedy, with the supporting cast providing the jokes. If this means the comedy gets dialled back in the mix, so be it
The show always loses a bit of punch when it spreads its energy too thinly amongst too many competing characters and plot lines (see the lost opportunity that was the DS9 episode), and the jokes don’t land as well when *everyone* is manically reacting to or inciting incidents around them.
This one had quite a few moments that made me laugh, particularly the Ornarans glossing over “the demons in their head”, and Ransom’s gym-bro mindset seeing him completely incapable of *not* telling someone how much he benches. The Starbase 80 crew being portrayed as backwater hicks was also pretty amusing.
Mon, Oct 24, 2022, 8:40pm (UTC -5)
I really good story though with some nice TNG callbacks. Picard was kinda harsh on those drug addicts now I think about it.
2.5 and a half stars from me also.
Tue, Oct 25, 2022, 8:20am (UTC -5)
So I wasn't at all bothered by the "manufactured deception", and was glad to see Mariner has grown since season one.
The biggest problem with the episode, in my opinion, is the "journalist is only looking for the sensationalist angle and will take any means to get to the story she wants to tell" cliché, which is overused and not at all representative of what most journalists are like.
Wed, Oct 26, 2022, 9:46am (UTC -5)
Wed, Nov 2, 2022, 8:54am (UTC -5)
Wed, Apr 5, 2023, 6:54pm (UTC -5)
Wesley boy genius jumps to mind as an example of that last part, since it's not like the boy genius trope itself is universally contemptible. In fact, I'd wager Wesley may have done generational damage to that trope and pull down boy genius characters in the process of functioning as the focus-object of ritualistic hatred all over the world. Like a lab bred prince of fan-atacism darkness meant to test how effectively the viewer's emotional investment in a fictional universe can be applied to the production of actual real life hatred outside of the fiction.
Sorry, didn't mean to delve into a rant about Wesley. It happens. My point was supposed to be that I see some of this in Mariner. The scope of the landscape of entertainment has grown exponentially over the decades since Wesley Crusher was conceived- even then a rather hallow trope and rip-off of boy geniuses before him. Mariner falls into a different category of trope that is worn out in the modern landscape (Princess Peach saves Luigi these days you see), but she is a drop in the ocean, whereas Wesley was a drop in a much smaller puddle. She will not contribute to the crash of her own trope, and unlike TNG giving Wesley the boot for spaces of time, Lower Decks will not give up Mariner for even 2 consecutive episodes, ever.
Back in the day there was a sense on the part of actors, writers, producers, etc that if something was poorly received by a notable portion of viewers, that was perceived by those workers and artists as an ungood thing. Bad. Not desirable. That seems really redundant to put into words.... but, social structure has become stratified to an extreme since those days, to the point of busting that dynamic. Now negative reception can even be good, unbad, and desirable. It's attention. It's that group of Others who are Bad in real life, it's dramatic. "Gosh they hate Mariner for such terrible real-life reasons because, deep down, they are evil people!" Now instead of being perceived as a poor actor, a hack writer, or a dumb producer, they get to ride a wave of psychocultural nonsense that frankly has nothing to do with the quality of the art.
In short, Lower Decks would really get a chance to "breath" and grow in a serious way if Mariner's character were to take a hiatus from the show in Season 4, but it will never happen because it would represent an L or a loss in a petty narrative of social skirmish between fake heroes and fake boogeymen whose foremost mutually shared trait may be a disinterest in helping this random consumer franchise spinoff-cartoon be the best art it can be.
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