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Star Trek: Lower Decks’ biggest twist is a personal one, even in an episode full of big turns 

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 9 (Paramount+)

Mariner reckons with her place in Starfleet and her family as a special mission and visit from a reporter keep the Cerritos on its toes.

Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) believes in the Cerritos. That is, perhaps, the biggest twist Lower Decks could offer in season 3’s penultimate episode. 

“Trusted Sources” unveils developments that are theoretically bigger and more momentous. Captain Freeman’s (Dawnn Lewis) plan to earn California class ships more chances to follow up on old missions (and gain a bit of prestige in the process) reaches exciting heights but just as quickly becomes a disappointing afterthought. An incursion from the Breen threatens to again put the Federation at odds with a powerful alien foe. And the new Texas class vessels, the first set of fully automated Starfleet flagships since the days of Richard Daystrom, seem poised to throw things into chaos for Starfleet’s middle class. 

But the thrust of the episode comes in the grand misappraisal of Mariner’s love for her ship, crew, and mom and how their mistrust impacts her future. When an embedded reporter’s approach turns from fawning to muckraking, everyone blames Beckett for the change in attitude. Captain Freeman already feared the heat of the spotlight and so swept the Lower Deckers, her daughter very much included, under the rug in the hopes of making a good impression. Only her handpicked officers were permitted to sit for interviews. This curated look at the Cerritos was meant to put the captain, her ship, and all California class operators in the best light possible. 

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 9 (Paramount+)
(Paramount+)

So, of course, when Mariner talks a big game about telling their intrepid visiting journalist the truth about what goes on the ship, Beckett faces the blame when the reporter turns salty and skeptical afterward. Captain Freeman is furious. Mariner’s girlfriend, Jen, turns her back as well, a betrayal that stings extra since it took a lot of growth from Beckett to open herself up to this kind of relationship. Even Boimler (Jack Quaid), Tendi (Noël Wells), and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) are supportive of their friend but still believe she said something to spoil the milk. 

Savvy viewers could reasonably suspect something was up when Lower Decks chose to show the aftermath of Mariner’s talk with the reporter but not the conversation itself. Even so, the feint works, given Beckett’s well-established propensity to talk trash about Starfleet protocols and the other parts of life on the ship that don’t meet her approval. The rest of the crew isn’t wrong to suspect she went off script and potentially ruined their chance to take a big step forward in front of a major galactic audience. 

[F]or the moment, Lower Decks earns its twist.

That opportunity arose from Admiral Buenamigo (Carlos Alazraqui) tasking the Cerritos to clean up after Picard’s Enterprise. The first stop on “Project Swing By” is to visit Ornara, one of the planets at issue in “Symbiosis,” the After School Special-style episode about drug use from The Next Generation’s first season. The alien world is ripe for a second look, especially since when Starfleet last left it, Jean-Luc effectively sentenced an entire society to simultaneously go through substance withdrawal without any palliative care. (And gave an oddly haughty speech about the Prime Directive to Dr. Crusher while he was at it.) The chance to see how the world fared after Picard’s principled but potentially destructive decision makes it a prime candidate for Captain Freeman’s pilot program, designed to take a second look at old adventures. 

Only, the chance to step into center stage reveals a people who are…surprisingly well adjusted! The amusingly sunny-yet-macabre mural in the Ornarans’ town square shows it wasn’t necessarily a primrose path for the locals. But what seemed like a prime mess for Captain Freeman’s team to clean up reveals a community that righted itself without needing help from Starfleet. 

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 9 (Paramount+)
(Paramount+)

The discovery renders Carol’s first big mission utterly superfluous. But, more than that, the revelation connects with the episode’s themes, where Captain Freeman’s self-conscious efforts to put her best foot forward in front of the cameras result in missteps and mishaps. Even worse, they contrast with the usual Cerritos standard — Carol simply trusts her crew, and her family, to do what they do best under normal circumstances. 

Granted, the circumstances turn less-than-normal very quickly. A visit to Brekka, Ornara’s sister planet full of snooty dealers, turns into an unexpected showdown with the menacing Breen. The ensuing escape, dogfight, and thwarted boarding attempt make for some of the tensest and most thrilling combat Lower Decks has featured. And the excitement of a rescue is only punctured when the aforementioned unmanned Texas class vessel arrives to save the day and threatens to render the Cerritos and her crew obsolete, all while the admiral who assigned them the mission steals their thunder. 

“Trusted Sources” unveils developments that are theoretically bigger and more momentous.

There’s pathos in how Carol’s big swing not only fails to achieve the success and renown she was hoping for but may very well be part of a Trojan horse to make her and her crew seem like one big outmoded albatross instead of an asset to the fleet. 

Maybe it’s karma. Before this big reveal, Captain Freeman acts on her belief that it was Mariner’s comments that turned the reporter against them. As Carol threatened at the beginning of the season, she transfers her daughter to the comically dingy and dolt-filled Starbase 80, her promised punishment for any further insubordination. The move is huge. Separating Beckett from the Cerritos, forcing her to hear her mother doesn’t want her on her crew, and maybe not even as a part of her family, is low-key devastating. 

Star Trek Lower Decks Season 3 Episode 9 (Paramount+)
(Paramount+)

Especially when it turns out — as Mariner protested to anyone who would listen — that she didn’t do anything wrong. The individuals carefully selected to put the best face on the Cerritos inadvertently gave the reporter all the fuel she needed to paint the crew as an inept, in-fighting, and [gasp] silly set of officers who are Starfleet’s “shame” rather than its new shining light. On the other hand, Mariner gave her ship, her crewmates, and, most importantly, her mom a glowing review. The irony of Captain Freeman excommunicating her daughter when Beckett had become a true believer and was the only one who put the Cerritos in the light her mom hoped for is sharp and even painful. 

The betrayal is enough for Mariner to resign her commission and take fellow lapsed officer Petra Aberdeen (of the Independent Archeologists Guild) up on her offer to join in the fun from a prior outing. With one episode to go, chances are Mariner will find her way back to her friends. And like Kirk before her, Captain Freeman will probably prove that it takes a devoted crew, not just a brilliant A.I., to run a starship. But for the moment, Lower Decks earns its twist. The fact that after everything, Mariner really did come to love her ship and always loved her mom, but that her reputation meant that slow-burning affection still wasn’t enough to keep her in Starfleet or earn her the faith of the parent she risked everything to protect.

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