Star Trek: Lower Decks

“Trusted Sources”

2.5 stars.

Air date: 10/20/2022
Written by Ben M. Waller
Directed by Fill Marc Sagadraca

Review Text

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

    I absolutely loved that — revisiting TOS or TNG era pla­nets is always fun, and any men­tion of a Py­­ri­thi­­an bat brings back fond me­mo­ries of “A Night in Sick­bay”, the fun­niest Trek epis­ode since “Spock’s Brain” (no joke, I really have that kind of humor).

    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”.

    When this episode first started I was pretty confused, because it seemed like a pretty low-stakes plot, strangely placed in the series following up on arguably three "very special" episodes in a row (the return to DS9, Peanut Hamper, and Crisis Point 2). However, once it really got rolling midway through the episode, I was strapped in, and it was a great continuation of Mariner's character arc.

    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.

    Three stars?

    The big scoop this week is an FNN journalist who has been OK’d by Starfleet to accompany The Cerritos on its “Operation Swing-by” mission to follow up on a problem the Enterprise-D already solved. This causes what seems to be a classic Lower Decks setup where the perfectionist Captain Freeman tries her best to tie up any loose ends left by her crew. Here the episode cleverly gives Mariner all the appearances of a clown when she’s The Real Deal, grade A Starfleet material.

    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.

    3 stars.

    Another strong episode. Overall a good season so far. T’Lyn watch in full effect now to take over from Marina. And hopefully last episode everyone together.

    Easy 3... Possibly 3.5.

    I love Starbase 80 and would like to serve there. Who doesn’t love a good sandwich and bat brooming? They seem to be “Space New Jersey” and full of stoners (Which the Federation would have a lot of), working class New Joisery types, gluttons,. and substandard equipment but very happy to do their job. It also appears to be a waste management facility.

    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.

    Good stuff, but it was immediately obvious Mariner was going to be the singular voice of praise. Even figured she'd resign instead of staying at Starbase 80 and pop the number of the archeologist chick out of her Rolodex.

    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.

    Eh, I disagree with your take on the subject, @Jammer.

    "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.

    I'm not sure I agree on it being manipulative so much as essentially seeing tthe situation the way Freeman would. Despite all the actual good faith steps Mariner has made the past couple seasons, Freeman still doesn't trust Mariner enough to think twice about accusing her of torpedoing the crew. She can't see how much Mariner has grown to value the ship and her crewmates, and can't see past Mariner's history. The pain Mariner feels realizing her mom hasn't appreciated her growth at all was a bit heartbreaking to me.

    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.

    I liked the episode. It was entertaining. Had a few twists.

    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.

    @Jammer, The Breen sub-plot & the Texas sub-sub-plot, is on par with the Cerritos/California Class theme, they are off the center stage of everything. Things happen to them, they don't control the narrative, they are the "cleaning crew" of the "movie" that is Star Trek, they provide background. If there were a new Dominion War, they will be the ones ferrying supplies to the front and wounded to the rear.
    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...

    I would have sworn the little ship rescuing the Cerritos would have Mariner aboard, and that there was more going on on Starbase 80 than its reputation.

    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.


    "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.

    "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.

    Perhaps they should have called it the Rhode Island class.

    @C.T Phipps

    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.

    I think this is the best episode of season 3 so far, and as is par for the course for this show, it’s coming right at the back end of the season. I think by this point in the show, you can nail down what makes a great LD episode (as opposed to an average one) to these two main ingredients:

    * 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.

    Pretty enjoyable. If only Mariner wasn't so god damn annoying and of course she'd have to end up being right. She's the Michael Burnham of LD - although that's perhaps a little harsh to Mariner.

    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.

    I enjoyed this one quite a bit, perhaps in part because I thought there were clues throughout the episode (Mariner's attitude early on, and the fact that her interview wasn't shown) that all was not as it seemed.

    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.

    So is it safe to predict that Mariner and Petra get into a relationship and Mariner recruits Petra back into Starfleet? Or is that ripping off Discovery too much?

    Nah, the "tip of the iceberg" presentation of the Texas plot was fine, and anybody with a minor familiarity with the concept of ongoing story arcs would realize that the next episode, the season finale no less, would be following up on it, especially given the other major plot thread extending out of the episode. The contrivance of said plot thread, however, is definitely a somewhat minor negative point.

    Most of the time I like Mariner. On some level at least. That said, she has been an all-consuming force on the show. I have not seen the season 3 finale at this time but at this point I can predict how it will go because I know in my bones that the show would never give up on its Mariner-centrism too long. That deflating dynamic between the show, Mariner, and me the viewer, is basically the mechanic by which a character can bring the show down. Sometimes the character is not even that bad, it's just a... personality-scape thing? Sometimes the character itself is awful and the execution on an otherwise tolerable idea is bungled.

    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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