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.
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