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Below Deck with Lower Decks: Race Against the Machine

It's one race for all the marbles!

SPOILER WARNING: Discussion for Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season 3, Episode 10 “The Stars at Night” to follow!

Illustrated art of the U.S.S. Aledo in Star Trek: Lower Decks / Rob DeHart

And just like that, the finale of the third season of Star Trek: Lower Decks is upon us!

Oh, sure. A new episode of Star Trek: Prodigy dropped almost at the exact same time, but some of us are still dealing with having to say goodbye to the Cerritos gang so soon! What are we going to do for what will probably be a whole year?

You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’? Cuz I’m thinkin’ “Binge Watch Party.”

Who’s with me? We’ll get T-shirts made and replicate ourselves, and everything! See, look at that guy over there on the couch. He’s got the right idea, with his popcorn and water bottle and even his Star TrekCats sherpa blanket, which is absolutely for sale right now at the online store.

But before we do that? There’s just one more episode to talk about.

After Admiral Buenamigo remote-guided the automated Texas-class U.S.S. Aledo to assist the Cerritos during a fight with Breen vessels in the previous episode (“Trusted Sources”), he’s now questioning the need for the California-class ships. With the Texas-class seemingly ready to go, it’s the admiral’s contention these new vessels, operating without crews and the mistakes living beings tend to make, are better suited to the second contact missions typically assigned to ships like the Cerritos.

The viewscreen of the U.S.S. Cerritos.

Even though Buenamigo offers Freeman command of the Aledo and the entire Texas-class fleet, the captain pushes back against the idea and challenges him to a contest — a race pitting the Cerritos against the Aledo as both ships work to complete a series of timed and judged second contact missions.

A crewed ship against an automated one. It’s meat against the machine, for all the marbles! Where, oh where might I have heard something like this before?

If you were about to say something along the lines of, “Oh! I know! It’s the one with the Enterprise going up against Starfleet in war games, and the supercomputer Captain Kirk talks to death,” then you are absolutely correct! Way back in the original Star Trek series episode “The Ultimate Computer,” Dr. Richard Daystrom, the renowned scientist who designed the computer systems installed aboard Constitution-class and other starships, is ready to test his “next generation” (Sorry.) of computer technology.

Fleet of Starfleet starships in Star Trek: The Original Series

The Enterprise is chosen to host Daystrom’s new M-5 computer system, with Captain Kirk and a skeleton crew tasked with overseeing the almost-fully automated starship during a series of science, exploration, and tactical exercises to test the system’s limits. Things end up going very badly during the trials, resulting in a final confrontation with the Enterprise destroying or heavily damaging four Starfleet vessels.

And now here we are, more than a century removed from that incident. Computer and artificial intelligence systems have come a long way, but are they yet good enough to do anything and everything better than living, thinking, feeling beings? On the plus side, second contact missions aren’t supposed to include combat or other sinister shenanigans, but this is Lower Decks. Besides, we all know the chances for computer-generated chicanery in Star Trek are theoretically low, but never zero.

The Cerritos is chased by the Aledo and two Texas-class ships in Star Trek: Lower Decks

Shall we test the theory? Tune in to this last episode of the season to find out!