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‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Goes Back to TNG’s Past With “Trusted Sources”

6 Minute Read
Oct 20 2022
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Beckett Mariner spends all of Star Trek: Lower Decks season three being a good officer. Sure would be a shame if that blew up in her face!

The USS Cerritos has one, consistent mission: second contact. No matter what other adventures we see, Captain Freeman’s marching orders are to be second fiddle. And while the Cerritos spends time making first contact as well, it’s usually by accident. Even their most high-profile second contact at Deep Space Nine this year was originally meant for someone else.

Freeman is crafty, though – and she’s leaning in. Rather than fighting for the more first-contact situation, the Cerritos is about to teach Starfleet why second-contact is so important. And that’s the basic plot of “Trusted Sources” – Freeman sets off on the maiden voyage of Project Swing-By: a program all about checking in with races and worlds Starfleet has ignored for a long time.

Of course, it’s never that simple, and Project Swing-By faces more challenges than anyone could’ve imagined.

Courtesy of Paramount Plus

To Boldly Recap

Admiral Buenamigo congratulates Freeman on starting Project Swing-By. He sends the Cerritos on its first mission: to check in with the Ornarans. The Ornarans used to be plagued by, well, by a plague. The Brekkians on their sister planet provide a cure in the form of Felicium, a plant native to Brekka. The good news is that it works, but the bad news is that it’s highly addictive.

Long story short, the Brekkians spend years as drug pushers to the Ornarans – until Captain Picard shows up and cuts off communication between the two worlds. Seventeen years later, Captain Freeman is returning to Ornara to see how they are doing. Buenamigo wishes Freeman well, but there’s a catch – he sends a journalist to the Cerritos to report on the entire event. What can possibly go right?

The reporter, Victoria Nuzé, sets Freeman on edge immediately. The captain cancels the blueberry pie-eating contest and relegates Mariner and her friends off-shift. Freeman doesn’t trust Mariner around a journalist and she’s afraid her Lower Decker friends won’t fare much better. Mariner quickly realizes what’s going on when she sees Jet, another Lower Decker, being interviewed by Nuzé. Mariner vows to make her voice heard.

Courtesy of CBS Television

Meanwhile on Ornara and Brekka

How are the peoples of Ornara doing? It turns out, they’re doing great. Yes, they spend the first ten years without their drugs in constant chaos, but everything is gravy after that. In fact, the only addiction the Ornarans seem to have now is to hit the gym. That’s good news for Ornara, but bad news for Project Swing-By which now seems superfluous.

Buenamiga advises Freeman to check on the Brekkians. Maybe they are in bad shape without the ability to use their favorite drug addicts! And while the Ornarans have nothing to do with it, the Brekkians are in bad shape indeed – because they are being occupied by the Breen. Freeman and her away team discover the Breen shortly after beaming down and quickly beam away when Breen ships start attacking the Cerritos.

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Under heavy fire, the Cerritos is nearly destroyed. But then a mysterious Starfleet ship appears and makes short work of the Breen. The ship is the Aledo, the first of a Texas-class starship that is completely automated. Buenamigo reveals details of the Texas-class ships, completely undercutting Project Swing-By.

Courtesy of Paramount Plus

Mariner and Nuzé

As Project Swing-By struggles, Freeman faces another problem: Nuzé’s reporting. The reporter digs up a ton of dirt on the Cerritos including Ransom’s literal god complex, engineering’s spa trip, and a host of other embarrassing moments that make the Cerritos seem like a joke. Who tells Nuzé all these details? Everyone, Freeman included, assumes it’s Mariner.

Freeman calls Mariner to her ready room, reads Mariner the riot act, and transfers her to the dreaded Starbase 80. Mariner seeks support from Jen and her friends, but no one seems to believe Mariner is innocent. Mariner throws deuces and leaves in disgrace.

However, it turns out Mariner only has good things to say about the Cerritos and her mother. In fact, it’s everyone else on the ship who says terrible things. They don’t realize what they are doing, but Shaxs, Kayshon, and a host of other command-level crewmembers admit to things that make Freeman look like a bad leader. Nuzé releases a report that damns both Freeman and Project Swing-By.

Realizing her mistake, Freeman tries to get Mariner back, but it’s too late. Mariner resigns her commission and joins Petra Aberdeen as part of the Archaeology Guild. Mariner seems happy, Freeman seems screwed, and we end on a cliffhanger.

Courtesy of Paramount Plus

To Boldly Review

“Trusted Sources” is one of those episodes where you can predict every plot twist, but it doesn’t matter. Star Trek: Lower Decks does not need to surprise in order to delight and that’s exactly what they do by paying off the low-key season arc.

Freeman is growing in respect at Starfleet. We know this because, even when she is accused of planetary genocide., she escapes without impact to her career. If anything, Freeman is more powerful than ever. Returning to Deep Space Nine (and how well she handles that) proves how strong a leader Freeman is.

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Also growing in respect is Mariner. Despite still being very cavalier throughout the season, Mariner is repeatedly lauded by Ransom for turning the page. But the moment we meet Petra Aberdeen back in “Reflections” we know the good streak cannot last. Mariner keeps Petra’s contacts and that is Chekov’s gun (or digits) right there.

Freeman’s growing hubris has to blow up in her face. Mariner’s former bad reputation has to catch up to her. And what’s so brilliant is the vehicle that makes that happen – Admiral Buenamigo. He’s been a consistent part of the season pushing the Cerritos forward the whole way. But now he almost seems like an enemy. Fully-automated weapons-heavy ships? That cannot be good.

Courtesy of CBS Television

References: Gotta Spot ‘Em All

Much like with “A Mathematically Perfect Redemption,” “Trusted Sources” is more sparing with its references — but it uses them very effectively. This may be the most perfect ratio of Star Trek: Lower Decks plot to Star Trek‘s past Easter eggs we’ve ever seen.

Obviously, the biggest reference is the Ornarans and the Brekkians. They originally appeared in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Symbiosis”. Also notable is that one of the Onarans from that episode is played by Merritt Butrick who also played Kirk’s son David in the Star Trek movies.

Buenamigo mentions a planet ruled by someone pretending to be the devil which is a shout-out to the TNG episode “Devil’s Due”. Mariner mentions the episode “Frame of Mind”. Nuzé mentions the Dominion War, and one Lower Decker implies that Mariner is involved in “Temporal Cold War shenanigans” which is a reference to the ongoing plot of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Beta III and Landru get a mention again. Mariner says goodbye to her friends with a Vulcan salute. And Dr. Migleemo contacts his mother who he calls “Mee Ma” which is an obvious reference to Quark and Rom’s mother who they call “Moogie”.

All in all, “Trusted Sources” does what it needs to do and opens up the possibility for a big finale and the possibility of lots of other former planets from Trek‘s past returning in the future.

4.5/5 stars

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Lina Morgan
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