SPOILER WARNING: Discussion for Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season 3, Episode 9 “Trusted Sources” to follow!
How are we already at the penultimate episode of the third season of Star Trek: Lower Decks? It seems like yesterday that we were first meeting Beckett Mariner just as she was slicing Brad Boimler’s leg with a Klingon bat’leth. Good times, amirite?
In this latest episode, Captain Freeman and her crew are undertaking “Project Swing By,” a new initiative that dispatches vessels to planets initially visited by Starfleet years earlier in order to follow up on that first contact, or even well after the regular “second contact” usually performed by ships like the Cerritos. If this first visit is successful, Starfleet will begin assigning “Swing By” missions to the other California-class starships. Because it’s something of a noteworthy occasion, a journalist from the Federation News Network (FNN) is accompanying the Cerritos to report on the mission. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s Lower Decks, friends. You should already know how this is going to go.
The first participant for “Project Swing By” is the planet Ornara. Captain Freeman knows things didn’t go all that well when the Enterprise-D visited the Ornarans over 15 years earlier when they appeared to be in the grips of a global plague and addiction withdrawal.
For the newer fans among us, this incident occurred in the first season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Symbiosis.” After Captain Picard and the Enterprise crew rescue an Ornaran freighter in distress, they learn the Ornarans aren’t actually suffering from the very real plague which once ravaged their world. Indeed, the cure, manufactured from a rare plant found not on Ornara but instead on its sister planet, Brekka, helped wipe out the plague long ago. However, the Ornarans became addicted to felicium, the medicine used to combat it, and the Brekkians just…kept supplying it to them for profit.
(This is normally the part where I’d make jokes about this week’s interesting Star Trek Easter egg, but given the subject matter, I decided that was quite definitely the wrong approach. The wisecracking returns next week.)
Indeed, Brekka was a virtual paradise, with all their population’s needs met thanks to a trade agreement with Ornara, the lone client for the only product they exported — felicium, on which the Ornarans remained dependent. The Enterprise’s encounter with both worlds occurred at a time when the situation was coming to a head, with the Ornarans nearly unable to hold up their end of the trade agreement, and the Brekkians desperate to keep their only customers.
The Prime Directive gave Picard little room to maneuver with respect to assisting either planet, but fifteen years later, the Cerritos learns the Ornarans are doing awesome! Having freed themselves from the addictive cycle all on their own, they’ve gone on to rebuild their civilization. They neither need nor want anything from the Federation. “Thanks for dropping by, Starfleet, but we’re totally cool!”
As for Brekka? No longer benefiting from their “symbiotic” relationship with Ornara, the Brekkians have fallen on hard times. The planet’s all but deserted, and now enduring a previously unreported Breen incursion, which Freeman and her crew have exposed on FNN. After a brief firefight, with the Cerritos almost outmatched, a new Starfleet vessel, the totally badass Texas-class Aledo, arrives to even the odds.
While Project Swing By had unexpected results on its first outing, it did reveal the merits of the Federation checking in on previously visited civilizations. There’s a long list of such planets in Star Trek lore, and who knows what they’ve been up to since those initial encounters? Maybe we’ll see the Cerritos visiting more of these worlds. Meanwhile, can the Brekkians be helped? I suppose we’ll have to wait to see, but hopefully not fifteen more years.
Dayton Ward (he/him) is a New York Times bestselling author or co-author of numerous novels and short stories including a whole bunch of stuff set in the Star Trek universe, and often collaborating with friend and co-writer Kevin Dilmore. As he’s still a big ol' geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Star Trek topics over on his own blog, The Fog of Ward.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States and Latin America on Paramount+, and is distributed concurrently by Paramount Group Content Distribution on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more, and in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.