Star Trek Just Turned The Clock Back To TNG and Wrath of Khan In One Episode

Star Trek: Lower Decks just made a callback to a callback -- a reference to the TNG episode, which itself was part callback to The Wrath of Khan.

By Michileen Martin | Published

Star Trek: Lower Decks is well known for its callbacks, but the most recent episode they go a step beyond. In “Trusted Sources,” the penultimate episode of Season 3, the series makes a callback to a callback. The show returns to the worlds of Ornara and Brekka from the TNG episode “Symbiosis” which itself was a callback to 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

“Symbiosis,” as Memory Alpha remembers it, was part of the long Star Trek tradition of recasting actors from the franchise in new roles, and any invested fan at the time of the episode’s airing (1988) would be sure to recognize those stars. Playing the Ornaran Captain T’Jon was Merritt Butrick, and Judson Scott played the Brekkian drug merchant Sobi. Both actors played prominent roles 6 years earlier in The Wrath of Khan.

Judson Scott in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Merritt Butrick in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Scott was Joachim in The Wrath of Khan–Khan’s (Ricardo Montalban) righthand man, and the only one among Khan’s followers we see rouse the courage to question his orders. Buttrick played David Marcus, the son of James Kirk (William Shatner) and Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), who Kirk meets for the first time in the film.

Buttrick reprised the role of David Marcus in the 1984 follow-up Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, when he ultimately dies protecting the Vulcan Saavik (Robin Curtis). Tragically, Buttrick himself died the year after he appeared on TNG of AIDS.

Judson Scott in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Merritt Butrick in Star Trek: The Next Generation

In “Symbiosis” the Enterprise crew makes first contact with the people of both worlds after rescuing a freighter. After the Ornarans and Brekkians come aboard, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the crew soon discover that the Brekkians have kept the Ornarans chemically dependent for years. At first the Brekkians gave the Ornarans a drug necessary to fight off a deadly plague, but ultimately the latter populace became addicted to it.

By the end of the Star Trek: TNG episode the Ornarans are left to go cold turkey without the drug, so when Captain Freeman visits their home in “Trusted Sources” she expects to find some kind of catastrophe. Instead she learns the planet’s populace has turned to fitness and wellness, though it’s clear that in the years between TNG and the Lower Decks episode there were some dark times. The Oranarans show Captain Freeman a number of murals celebrating their journey, and one of them looks like something out of a nightmare.

star trek
The more concerning Ornaran mural in “Trusted Sources”

Embarrassed because she has a journalist following her around, Captain Freeman then orders the Cerritos to the nearby Brekka, hoping there will be a problem she can solve to make a good story. It’s a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” when she discovers most of the planet’s population has either been murdered by the Breen or is in hiding from them, and the aliens are there to “greet” the heroes. The Breen hadn’t been seen in the franchise since a 2000 episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and only as a hologram at that.

No doubt we’ll have more epic callbacks in store for us this week. The Season 3 finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks streams on Paramount+ this Thursday.