Outside of a few strong highs, Lower Decks’ third season has largely felt like a bit of a regression, with characters re-treading familiar arcs with little rhyme or reason. It’s perhaps fitting then, that as the season draws to a close, it sets the stage for a conflict the show already covered—except this time there might be a few more consequences, if we’re lucky.
The catalyst for character chaos in “Trusted Sources” comes in the form of an arriving journalist, Victoria Nuzé from the Federation News Network, aboard the Cerritos. She’s intending to cover a program that Captain Carol Freeman and Admiral Buenamigo have been hoping to get off the ground at Starfleet: “Operation Swingby,” a flyby initiative in which California-class ships perform long-term check-ins on previously contacted civilizations to see if any Starfleet-initiated aid or impact on their society needs extra support. Freeman, however, turns the opportunity for free, easy press into a nightmare when a state of paranoia sees her believe Nuzé is going to realize that her ship runs in a state of perpetual calamity.
Pie-eating contests are cancelled, regulations are tightened up, and only interviewees specifically selected by Freeman are allowed to speak to Nuzé, to avoid anyone who could potentially dish on the Cerritos’ usual dosage of shenanigans. Topping Freeman’s no-go list, almost seemingly out of nowhere considering she has spent much of her time recently trying to prove that she’s a good officer, is her own daughter Beckett Mariner. It feels like a weird sea change in their relationship for the worse—even if Carol was frustrated enough at the start of the season to threaten Mariner with being assigned off the Cerritos if she didn’t fall in line, over the course of the season Mariner has begun to prove she’s capable of being her creative, occasionally defiant self while also doing her job efficiently.
And yet, suddenly, Mariner is enemy number one on the ship as far as access to Nuzé goes... which naturally means she’s going to want that access come hell or high water. While Freeman and the bridge officers deal with their flyby check-ins on the planets Ornara and Brekka going wrong—in so much as the Ornara’s don’t need any help after Picard “helped” them way back in the TNG episode “Symbiosis,” and Brekka finds itself having been decimated by an invading faction of Breen—Mariner manages to get in some alone time with Nuzé, much to her mother’s fury. In a fit of rage, Freeman makes this her last straw, and forcibly transfers her own daughter to the nightmarish-sounding Starbase 80, effective immediately—no ifs, no buts, not even talking it out with her daughter to ask what she even said to Nuzé, just blind fury.
The seemingly backwards regression of their relationship aside, this uncharacteristic harshness—which also turns most of the Cerritos crew against Mariner in the fallout—is also just the set up for the well-worn comedic trope of things getting much worse when people just don’t actually talk to each other like people. After the Breen attack leads to the Cerritos being rescued from destruction by a new Texas-class remote Starfleet escort, it’s revealed that Nuzé’s report is indeed a damning investigation into the chaos aboard Freeman’s ship, but not because of any truths Beckett told her: all the officers Freeman approved for interviews ended up dishing on the crazy stuff that happens in life on the Cerritos. Mariner was the only one that said anything good, reflecting on the growth she’s had in this season and seasons before it, and touching on how her mother has given her crew a home and family that lets them actually be really good at what they do in the face of the aforementioned chaos.
Alas, it’s too late, and Freeman’s attempts to contact Starbase 80 and apologize to her daughter reveal that Beckett has resigned from Starfleet in anger entirely, hooking up with the archaeologist from a few episodes ago, Petra, to live an independent life of adventure. Will she get back in Starfleet? What are the ramifications of Nuzé’s report for the Cerritos? Why does Admiral Buenamigo have a secret A.I. controlled warship? We’re left to find out the answers to that in next week’s finale, but for all those big questions, there’s one that stands out: after a season of middling retreads, will the climax be able to make this unnecessary divide between mother and daughter feel like it was earned, even if it’s only going to get us back to the status quo we had coming into this third season? Time will tell.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.