Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 8 Goes Overboard With Flashbacks

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Episode 8, "Veritas," now streaming on CBS All Access.

What's kept Star Trek in the hearts of millions of people for decades are the seemingly endless number of possibilities. With an entire final frontier in front of them, characters have gone on hundreds of adventures that truly run the gamut in terms of tone and creativity. The eighth episode of Lower Decks shows how far that creativity can stretch, putting myriad stories into one bite-sized 22-minute package.

For the first time, we start off with the Cerritos in media res on the planet K'Tuevon Prime. The cold open throws us into the heat of the moment, as Mariner (Tawny Newsome), Boimler (Jack Quaid), Tendi (Noel Wells) and Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) are tossed into an ominous dungeon. As the quartet frets about what they did to necessitate incarceration, the floor begins to rise, bringing them to a new location.

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After the credits, Lower Decks reveals the new location seems as some sort of shadowy tribunal. All around the ensigns are loges shrouded in darkness, with an ominous individual sitting at the highest level. The senior officers are in front of them, hovering in some sort of stasis beam. Clar (Kurtwood Smith), a Prime native, introduces himself, revealing the four of them are there as witnesses to speak about the crew of the Cerritos as honestly as possible.

First up is Mariner, whose testimony serves as the first of many flashbacks this episode. As the Lower Decks crew debates Starfleet's most badass foe (which is definitely Khan, by the way), Rutherford messing with the repair bay speakers means they miss out on a crucial red alert. Frazzled, Mariner and Boimler rush in late to their bridge duty, just in time to see Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) at loggerheads with an insectoid alien from an opposing ship.

Holding a mysterious map of the Neutral Zone, Freeman asks the ensigns for input as to what to do with their strained tensions. Boimler takes Mariner's advice and defers to the captain, but that doesn't get him off the hook. Unfortunately, he only digs his hole deeper as his suggestions of various evasive maneuvers earn an outraged response from the crew. Mariner has her to step in it when she takes "sending a message" to mean shooting a photon beam rather than a lunch invitation. The flashback gets interrupted, though, as Clar gets impatient with the story. Finding her in contempt, she gets placed above a tank of deadly eels, waiting for her punishment to be carried out.

Next up is Rutherford, who tells the tale of how a day rotating capacitors got turned upside down by Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) and Billups (Paul Scheer). The officers ask him to update his Vulcan implant with Romulan flight manuals. Unfortunately this causes the ensign to black out, right as he was getting his mission explained to him. The next thing he knows, he wakes up after having knocked out two Vulcans, seconds from jumping out of a ship to infiltrate a Romulan museum.

Rutherford is the most hapless person aboard this Bond-like mission, having no idea what's going on. Frequent system updates take him in and out of consciousness, throwing him into crazy situations like doing a fan dance to distract a guard from noticing Shaxs stealing a Bird-of-Prey. Though it seems like the theft is successful, Rutherford winds up crashing a Gorn wedding, with the guests retaliating in kind. Clar once again interrupts the story, accusing him of withholding information about the Bird-of-Prey and suspending him above the tank as well.

Tendi is next, but she seems the most withholding and flighty of all. She's finally pried enough to testify, choosing to omit certain details with an occasional censor bar. Cleaning the conference room with her trademark enthusiasm, Tendi runs into Ransom (Jerry O'Connell) and a few buff brutes. A misunderstanding around her role as "the cleaner" brings her into their mission, and she soon finds herself aboard the stolen Bird-of-Prey, phaser rifle in hand.

Despite trying to tell the truth, the urgency of the mission pushes Tendi and the group along, until they arrive on Romulus to retrieve a mysterious package. Assuming her role, she jumps into action, dispatching of several Romulans, even though it's revealed her job was to just beam them out. Regardless, Tendi helps the guys retrieve the package. And though Ransom tells her she can never speak of what transpired, he commends her for her unnecessary badassness.

This again is not what Clar wants. Ordering them to talk about the package, he also puts Tendi in the tank, literally turning up the heat with the extraneous addition of burners. With things building to a crescendo, Boimler blows up on Clar and the courtroom. As Lower Decks, they're never told anything, and don't have the answers he's seeking. Clar is insistent that every rung on the Starfleet ladder, no matter how low, is the best of the best and always in control. But Boimler responds with a bold statement: The senior staff messes up all the time.

We then get a rapid-fire sequence of flashbacks, Family Guy-style, to vignettes that highlight the ineptitude of the crew. Q, played by John de Lancie reprising his famous TNG role, puts them in a confusing puzzle that crosses sentient playing cards with singing soccer balls. Ransom's lack of judgment nearly gets him devoured by a salt vampire. T'Ana (Gillian Vigman) thinks she's experiencing a Beverly Crusher brand of crew amnesia, only to find out she got on the wrong ship. The senior officers aren't infallible heroes, Boimler says. As explorers, they don't always know what's going on, and they shouldn't be put on trial for it.

Except, it turns out, this isn't a trial. Clar brings up the lights to reveal balloons all over the room. He reveals that he was the package, an imperial magistrate kidnapped by the Romulans. The Cerritos rescued him, and in gratitude, he threw a party for them on his home planet to etch their deeds into history. The stasis beam? A "Beam of Celebration." The courtroom? An "event silo." Even the menacing judge is actually a dad setting up for his daughter's birthday party. Clar's reservation time for the silo is up before the etching, and as the Cerritos crew leaves, he frustratingly yells after them for ruining his party.

Back aboard the ship, Freeman commends the ensigns for standing up for Starfleet, even in the face of death. She promises to keep everyone more informed moving forward. They take her up on that offer immediately, launching into a series of questions that poke holes as to the series of events they witnessed. Frustrated, Freeman immediately revokes her candor and leaves. As the ensigns go off, they have a run-in with Q, who is looking for some more humans to pester. But Mariner swiftly denies him, saying she's done with "weird shit" for today.

And "weird shit" this episode was! The structure--a large deviation from previous Lower Decks episodes--keeps the ensigns and audience in the dark until the last minute. But the mysteries are entertaining, held together by the throughline of various misunderstandings. Whether showing things in the past or present, this future-based show proves to be as creative and challenging as one of Q's puzzles.

Star Trek: Lower Decks stars Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner, Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford, Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler, Noël Wells as Ensign Tendi, Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman, Jerry O'Connell as Commander Jack Ransom, Gillian Vigman as Doctor T'Ana and Fred Tatasciore as Lieutenant Shaxs. The show premiered on CBS All Access on Aug. 6.