“Guys, this is basically a resort compared to what the Klingons do to you.”
Ok, but…it’s pretty much exactly what the Klingons do to you.
This is the fanservice-iest episode of the season, by far. Mostly for The Undiscovered Country, my favorite of the TOS-era movies (that’s right, I said it, Khan’s got nothing on Chang). Our Ensigns Four find themselves in an alien prison (an alien dungeon?) before being lifted ceremoniously into a tall, starkly-lit silo of a room.
It’s not just “suspiciously similar to” the Kirk and McCoy trial in Star Trek VI (like the opening of Star Trek Beyond might be called), it’s a straight up rip-off; right down to the spherical gavel used to bring the proceedings to order, and Kurtwood Smith (who was also in The Undiscovered Country) doing his best Christopher Plummer impression as Clar. Even the super-harsh, top-down lighting is spot on.
Even though the references fly fast and furious to the sixth film, this is the episode that hews closest to Lower Decks’ namesake, episode 15 of The Next Generation’s seventh season (Lower Decks doing “Lower Decks”). Unfortunately, the original pulled the story off quite a bit better; in the end, it’s a strong setup to a mediocre finale, packed full of references and “hey-remember-this” nostalgia for shows gone by. Which, don’t get me wrong, is still quite clever and fun; still, it’s one of the weaker episodes in an all-around strong first season.
And, like all good Trek, it’s about the truth. Okay, it’s in the title. In Latin, even. You shouldn’t be surprised.
Spoiler warning: plot and ending details for “Veritas” follow.
“Your Honor, the courtroom is a crucible. In it we burn away irrelevancies until we are left with a pure product: the truth, for all time.”
—Jean-Luc Picard, TNG S2E09 “The Measure of a Man”
It’s no accident that so much of Star Trek ends up in a courtroom of one kind or another: by getting opposing parties into a room to debate a topic, sci-fi writers can overtly disassemble an idea, point to various pieces of it, render judgment on it, and put it back together again without the episode feeling like a sermon.
The Original Series indulged in the trope with “Court Martial” and “The Menagerie,” Enterprise put Archer in on the stand in “Judgment,” Deep Space Nine kicked around ideas with “Tribunal” and “Dax,” and even Voyager approached the bench in “Death Wish.” But The Next Generation took the form to the level of art with such classics as “The Measure of a Man” and “The Drumhead” (which also gets a namecheck by Boimler in this episode), to say nothing of the bookends of the entire show: a court in which an omnipotent being decides the fate of humanity based upon a single representative.
Incidentally, I have a theory: Q is the only character who knows he’s in a TV show, which is why he only ever visits the ships (or stations) featured in Star Trek shows. He also knows who the main characters are, which is why he bothers the Ensigns during his visit to the Cerritos despite only focusing on the captains and bridge crew in TNG, DS9, and Voyager. Like the characters in John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Q knows that there’s a “narrative;” but he follows it around the galaxy instead of running from it.
Anyway, Q’s presence in “Veritas” ties the episode together neatly: even though he’s only presented in-person (voiced, of course, by the inimitable John de Lancie) for a couple of nostalgia gags, his return here is very pointed. The stakes of the episode are unclear, the motivations and machinations are twisted, and all the humanoids involved are befuddled; but at the end the reset button has been pressed hard because of a rousing speech by one of the leads. Perhaps most importantly, though, it felt like a Q trial because the truth is wrapped in misunderstanding.
From Mariner misunderstanding Captain Freeman’s command on the Bridge (I have to say, that’s on you, Carol. “Send them a message” said in a menacing tone about an enemy? That definitely means “phasers.”) to Tendi’s misunderstanding of Ransom’s question about her codename, not her job (again, that’s probably your deal, Jack. You could’ve asked a couple more questions.) to the final misunderstanding of the nature of the trial—I mean, the party—all of the problems in this episode come down to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Nobody is maliciously lying, but the truth is still obscured.
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
—Luke 10:21 ESV
I’ve had trouble with what Jesus says in Luke 10 for a long time. Surely Jesus wants everyone to come to Him, even the wise and understanding? I think of myself as wise, does that mean that God is intentionally clouding my mind?
But I think we get some clarity in this passage when we apply it to an episode of a Star Trek comedy cartoon. Believe it or not. See, God’s mission is to make His name great by saving people; if He saved people by using the wisest, smartest, most thoughtful people he could, then those people could say “I came up with this myself,” and it would build pride (and maybe even a cult) around the person who “came up with” the truth of God’s salvation.
It’s not malicious or lying; God just obscures the truth from the wise so that it’s clear who He is and what His goal is.
“I need you to tell me that your senior officers are infallible heroes!”
“Well they’re not, and that’s okay. We all joined Starfleet to dive first into the unknown. We’re explorers, of course we don’t always know what’s going on. […] You clearly want us to say that the captain and her crew messed up, but we simply don’t have the full story, and that’s the truth! Whatever they did, I guarantee you it was all for good.”
—Clar and Boimler
Knowledge is power, and we do not get power over God. We don’t find God, He finds us. Like all explorers, we don’t always know what’s going on. That’s good! He finds us where we are, and brings us up to where He is. This is good news; because if it were up to us, we’d be as lost as the Cerritos bridge crew on Q’s soccer-chess-poker-hockey-football board-field-pitch.
So God makes it clear where that knowledge comes from: from Him, and Him alone. We can’t do it ourselves, so we can’t fail. Instead of being Lower-Deckers, we’re His adopted family; and He welcomes us in with rejoicing. Despite the misunderstandings, the exploration of who God is is the real point of the Christian faith; and that exploration will always lead to the truth.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord…”
—Jeremiah 29:13-14a, ESV