All the News That Doesn’t Fit — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “Trusted Sources”

Waaaaaay back in TNG’s first season, the episode “Symbiosis” served as a “message episode,” with the planet Brekka providing felicium, a medicine, to the planet Ornara—but over the course of the episode it soon becomes clear that the “plague” that affected Ornara was long gone, and the Ornarans were now addicted to felicium. The episode had its moments—including a hilarious opening when the Enterprise rescues stoner Ornarans who have no clue how their ship actually runs—but was torpedoed by a pathetically obvious “drugs are bad, m’kay?” message, particularly in a speech from Yar to Wes and a rant by Crusher to Picard.

I must confess to not giving that episode a single shred of thought since I did my rewatch of “Symbiosis” for this site eleven years ago—until this week’s Lower Decks.


One of the unfortunate tendencies in recent fiction has been embracing the surprise! twist! that no one saw coming! Except far too often, either you do see it coming, or you don’t see it coming because it’s incredibly contrived and stupid and makes no sense.

I’ve called that tendency out a lot in my various scribblings about pop culture for this site and elsewhere over the decades, so I think it’s important to point out when such a twist works.

And the twist in “Trusted Sources” works magnificently.

Admiral Buenamigo has approved Freeman’s long-made request for the California-class to do follow-up visits to worlds. Dubbed “Project: Flyby,” the Cerritos is doing the first of these, which is to look in on Ornara and Brekka. And to commemorate this first swing-by mission, Buenamigo has worked out a deal with FNN to have a reporter, Victoria Nuzé, embedded on the Cerritos for this mission.

This sends Freeman into a tizzy. She cancels the pie-eating contest (this particularly devastates Rutherford, as he’s been starving himself in preparation for it), she makes everyone clean up their acts, she makes the lounge officers-only, and generally goes completely batshit in a way she hasn’t since “Temporal Edict.”

In particular, she wants to keep Mariner the hell away from Nuzé, and you can see where she’s coming from. To emphasize the point, we see Mariner covered in blueberry goop from her pie-eating contest practice as well as doing her usual trash-talking of her opponents in said contest. Freeman wants to present the Cerritos as a top-notch Starfleet ship, and Mariner being her usual goofball self is antithetical to that. To that end, Freeman makes a list of who can and can’t talk to Nuzé and Mariner is not on the list.

Image: CBS

Mariner being Mariner, she gets in to talk to Nuzé anyhow, and Freeman is so pissed, she finally takes the step no one thought she’d take: she transfers her daughter to Starbase 80.

Long described as a hellhole, we finally get to see Starbase 80, which is one of those things in LD that you have to turn your brain off to. It’s a dump, with substandard equipment—my favorite is that they look up personnel on a card rolodex from the mid-to-late twentieth century—as well as infestation by bats and not-particularly-competent personnel. It’s where Starfleet sends their fuckups, from the looks of things, and they even have long-out-of-date uniforms. But the notion that Starfleet would have a base in such horrible shape strains credulity well past the breaking point. This is one case where showing the reality spoils the joke, because Starbase 80 worked much better as a place everyone talked about being a horrible place, but we never saw it. The imagination can be a much better source of humor (and horror) than explaining it. And explaining it just makes you wonder how the hell such a place can even exist in the Trek future.

And then Nuzé’s story airs, and the twist is that Mariner was the only one who didn’t portray the Cerritos in a negative light. Barnes talks trash about engineering needing a spa day and Freeman going batshit during it (“Room for Growth”), Shaxs giggles over how Quark screamed when the Karemma took him away (“Hear All, Trust Nothing”), and Kayshon talks about being turned into a puppet (“Kayshon, His Eyes Open”). Meanwhile, all Mariner did was talk about how great the community on the Cerritos is—and Nuzé is sure to point out that, for the horrible sin of saying nice things about the ship to a reporter, Mariner was transferred.

(Having said that, Nuzé leaves out other footage of people saying nice things, like Barnes waxing rhapsodic about the cool scientific missions she’s gone on, and also that she’s taken up aerial silks, and Kimolu and Matt talking about getting unlimited fish for the first time in their lives, and also partying…)

Unfortunately for Freeman, by the time the news story comes out and she realizes how badly she’s screwed things up with her daughter, Mariner has already resigned and taken Petra Aberdeen up on the offer she made at the end of “Reflections” to join her as an Indiana Jones/Lara Croft/Vash-style freelance archaeologist.

Ransom tries to cheer Freeman up by pointing out the good thing that came out of this mission. While the Ornarans did eventually kick the felicium habit (though the detox phase was nasty), and are now all health nuts (which makes Ransom very happy), the Brekkians have been conquered by the Breen. The Cerritos is badly damaged when the Breen attack, but they’re rescued by the U.S.S. Aledo, one of three prototypes for the Texas class, completely automated ships. (Seems to me Starfleet already tried this a while back and it ended badly.) Buenamigo declassifies the Texas-class ships so he can tell Nuzé all about it, thus bigfooting Freeman’s accomplishments even more.

A lot of this episode feels like setting up for next week’s finale, which is fine. But I would’ve liked it better if Nuzé wasn’t set up to be the stereotypical ditzy reporter with an agenda. From jump, they portrayed her as an idiot. First she talks about how she feels a closeness to the California class because she has family in Flagstaff (prompting Freeman to awkwardly say that, yes, Arizona is near California), then later Nuzé misunderstands Kayshon’s describing the Cerritos as akin to a cave from home, and she says, “Oh, poor thing, they make you live in a cave?” (as if a starship would even have a cave—though I suppose they could create one for him to sleep in on the holodeck…). And then she cherry-picks the interviews to put the Cerritos in the worst possible light. Although, those interview choices weren’t all that bad, and I’m surprised she didn’t include Ransom creepily hitting on her (which he did several times). Indeed, just in general, this part of the plot would’ve worked better if the reporter was portrayed as competent and clever and actually reporting what she was told. As it is, by making her into a ditz and showing how she slanted the interview footage, it takes the wind out of the sails of Freeman’s mistake in benching Mariner.

So we’ve got Freeman’s swing-by missions possibly in jeopardy, we’ve got a new class of drone ships, and we’ve got Mariner off playing archaeologist. Seems like everything’s set up for a big season finale…

Image: CBS

Random thoughts

  • This is the first appearance of the Breen since DS9’s finale “What You Leave Behind.” The species was first mentioned in TNG’s “The Loss,” finally appearing in DS9’s “Indiscretion,” where they bore a startling resemblance to the bounty hunter disguise Leia used in Return of the Jedi. They continued to appear on DS9, joining the Dominion in the middle of the Dominion War (DS9’s “’‘Til Death Do Us Part”), and being responsible for an attack on Earth that badly damaged the Golden Gate Bridge (DS9’s “The Changing Face of Evil”).
  • Not only did Rutherford starve himself to prep for the pie-eating contest, but Tendi also dislocated her jaw to make eating easier. When the lower-decks gang comes across security vaporizing the pies for the contest on Freeman’s orders, Rutherford begs the security guard to let him have one pie, and when the guard reluctantly refuses, Rutherford falls to his knees, rips shirt open, and cries out, “Then stun me!” It’s absolutely hilarious.
  • In an amusing touch, Nuzé has a symbol on her outfit that matches the CBS “eye” logo. In a less amusing touch, her last name is almost pronounced the same as “news,” but there’s an acute accent on the E to make it “noo-zay.” Whatever.
  • Ransom repeatedly hitting on Nuzé feels off, mainly because this season has done a good job of making Ransom into a more sympathetic character, so having him channel the sleazier aspects of the archetype (Kirk, Riker, Bashir, Paris, Tucker) doesn’t work as well as it might have in the first season. Worse, it never goes anywhere, even though it’s the perfect weapon for Nuzé to use in her hatchet job.
  • One of the fun elements of “Symbiosis” was that it brought two actors back from The Wrath of Khan, Judson Scott (Joachim, Khan’s right hand) as a Brekkian and Merritt Butrick (David Marcus, Kirk’s son) as an Ornaran. I was hoping they would continue the trend of this season of LD in bringing back old Trek guests and regulars to do voices, but alas. We didn’t see any Brekkians in this episode, so bringing Scott or Kimberly Farr back wouldn’t have worked in any case, and Butrick died in 1989, but Richard Lineback and Kenneth Tigar both played Ornarans (among other roles on Trek over the years), and they totally could’ve come back to do a voice. Sigh.
  • The title of the episode is a not-very-veiled reference to a trend that has been often seen (and made fun of) since Discovery debuted in 2017, as people have claimed online (mostly in YouTube videos) that they have “trusted sources” that tell them that Alex Kurtzman is about to get fired for ruining Star Trek. Five years on, with Kurtzman’s job as secure as that of anyone in Hollywood not named Kevin Feige, those videos are less prolific than they used to be, though they still show up every once in a while.

Keith R.A. DeCandido created several reporter characters in his Star Trek fiction, primarily ones who were part of the press corps that covered the Federation government in his novels A Singular Destiny, Articles of the Federation, and A Time for War, a Time for Peace.


Back to the top of the page


This post is closed for comments.

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.