California vs. Texas: The battle for outer space

Following the bad press in "Trusted Sources," Captain Freeman is admonished by Starfleet Command and informed the entire California-class starship contingent will be replaced with a line of Texas-class autonomous drones that are the brainchild of Admiral Les Buenamigo (whose cutesy name should be considered an ironic warning).

As an attempt to head off this decision and prove her crew’s value, Freeman challenges Buenamigo to a "second-contact race," where she intends to complete a series of missions with her flesh-and-blood crew before his lead automated starship, the Aledo, can do the same.

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‘Trusted Sources’: Many leather-bound books

A news reporter comes aboard the Cerritos to document a long-delayed second contact between the Federation and the Ornarans (the drug-addicted people for whom Picard mediated in "Symbiosis" 17 years earlier), amusingly aptly dubbed "Project Swing-By." With the reporter aboard, Freeman orders everyone to be on their best behavior — and orders Mariner, always the maverick, not to talk to the reporter at all — so the Cerritos can be seen as important rather than trivial.

"Trusted Sources" is ironically named, because it goes out of its way to conceal the truth while building its case, only to reveal the entire foundation of the case to be secretly fraudulent. The deception somewhat undercuts a character story that ends up being the most significant of the entire season, but which is revealed here through trickery rather than honesty. That this character core is still interesting is significant, but this feels like something of a missed opportunity because of the shameless layer of manipulation.

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Episode II: The First One Was Better

I didn’t expect "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" to be the equal of "Crisis Point," and let me be perfectly clear in saying, no, this is not in the same ballpark. But it’s an enjoyable romp through the holodeck with enough character beats to feel worthwhile as an episode of Lower Decks.

"Crisis Point" still remains the best episode of the series, mainly because it fully confronted its character core (Mariner’s issues with her mother) and the underlying darkness of that particular fantasy thread, alongside its parody/homage of elevated Trek-movie conventions. "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" doesn’t have a thread nearly as worthwhile or as earned, but it does put forth at least something of an effort on the character front while dropping us into the most tried-and-true of all Trek movie plots — the time-travel adventure.

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‘Lower Decks’: Revenge of the redemption arc

"A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" is the best episode of Lower Decks so far this season because it manages to execute a nearly mathematically perfect formula for comedy. That formula is to ask the question: What happens if we follow a disgraced Starfleet officer who is a completely selfish a-hole and resists every opportunity to overcome her self-centered me-first nature?

The result is a consistently funny off-format episode that works so well because the material finds amusement by simply satirizing well-trodden tropes, which are more or less played with a straight face but with an elevated sense of aggrandizement that plays as a knowing wink. The selfish Starfleet officer in question is Peanut Hamper, the exocomp who abandoned her shipmates in "No Small Parts" and has been floating in space ever since.

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‘Lower Decks’ drops by DS9 to circle the pylons

The Cerritos is assigned to oversee post-Dominon-war trade negotiations with the Karemma, the mercantile Dominion member world that was perhaps most memorably represented in DS9‘s "Starship Down" with a guest appearance by James Cromwell. The negotiations take place on Deep Space Nine, providing Lower Decks an opportunity to geek out using the backdrop of the Trek franchise’s middlest of middle children.

And, sure, as an homage to DS9, "Hear All, Trust Nothing" puts forth its fan-service bonafides. We’ve got ops. The promenade. Quark’s bar (the original, not the franchise extensions). Morn. Dabo tables. Shaxs and Kira swapping war stories from the Bajoran Resistance days, with each trying to one-up the other over who owes whom. The cold open gently mocks the profundity of DS9‘s title sequence: "Circle around and pretend we’re in awe of the pylons." Armin Shimerman (Quark) and Nana Visitor (Kira) provide their voices to lend legitimacy to the whole enterprise. The animated sets of the station are flawlessly replicated. If DS9 is your Trek series, then this episode is for you.

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