Star Trek: Lower Decks DS9 Flashback Raises Canon Questions

Ensign Mariner's brief dip into the (relatively) recent past of Trek canon makes us wonder about Starfleet uniforms, and what exactly the rest of the fleet knows about the crew of the Enterprise.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 5 - DS9 Uniform Flashback
Photo: CBS

Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 5, “Cupid’s Errant Arrow.” 

In Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 5, “Cupid’s Errant Arrow,” we get our first flashback of this series. This flashback takes us back to very familiar territory, specifically some uniform styles we’ve seen before, and a very familiar space station. But, beyond the novelty factor, what did this scene tell us about Star Trek canon relative to Lower Decks? Here’s what this brief flashback reveals, and what it might mean for a new way to think about Trek canon as a whole.

When the Star Trek: Lower Decks uniforms were first revealed at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, longtime Trekkies had a few questions. If this show takes place in 2380 — one year after Star Trek: Nemesiswhat’s up with these new uniforms?

This debate got even more heated when, during Star Trek: Picard, we saw Starfleet uniforms in use in 2385, that didn’t look like the First Contact/Deep Space Nine era uniforms OR the Lower Decks uniforms. Right now, it seems like Starfleet had three different uniform styles in the span of less than 6 years. There’s been a lot of changes to Trek uniform canon, and some very quick pivots to new uniform styles before, but this variety in a relatively short period of time kind of takes the cake.

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That said, Star Trek: Lower Decks isn’t contradicting this fact at all, and when we flashback to Marnier’s time serving on the USS Quito, she and her fellow officers are all wearing the grey-shouldered Starfleet uniforms seen in the Next Generation films from First Contact onward, and in the last three seasons of Deep Space Nine (seasons 5, 6 and 7, starting with the season 5 episode “Rapture”; which aired shortly after First Contact’s theatrical release).

Canonically, this means that Starfleet used the grey-shouldered First Contact uniform from roughly 2373 to at least 2379. We know Mariner has been on the Cerritos for about a year, but that she was serving on the Quito in roughly 2379 when that ship made first contact with Galardonians.

But, how long did Marnier serve on the Quito? Maybe for longer than we think.

In the new flashback scene, Mariner is rocking a totally different hairstyle, and of course, the grey-shouldered Starfleet uniforms of the 2370s. Depending on how long Mariner has been a perpetual Lower Decker, this scene could take place almost anywhere from 2373 to 2379. We know it (probably) takes place during or after 2373 (because of the uniforms) but also because Mariner’s buddies are talking about Data’s brother (Lore) teaming up with the Borg, which happened in the TNG episode “Descent” in the year 2370.

Assuming this scene happens post-2373, relatively speaking, the crew of the Quito gossiping about Data having an evil brother who teamed-up with the Borg is kind of old news. This scene is made stranger by the fact that they say “Did you hear what happened on the Enterprise?” If everyone is wearing the 2373 uniforms, and gossiping about the Enterprise, the answer to that question should be “Yes, I heard it crashed into a planet. And then, they built a new one that saved us all from a Borg invasion.”

So, when does this scene really take place? Here are the options.

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Option 1: The scene takes place any time between 2373 and 2379

Notably, the USS Quito is docked at Deep Space Nine, but it looks like the crew is actually having drinks on their ship, not DS9. Still, that doesn’t really tell us anything. The simple answer to the flashback is that it probably takes place a little closer to 2379 than it doesn’t and the gossip about Data’s brother teaming up with the Borg is just old gossip.

Maybe certain things in Starfleet don’t actually get around until several years have passed. It’s also possible that this person conflated the truth about Lore teaming up with Rogue Borg with the fact that Data himself briefly seemed to team-up with the regular Borg in First Contact. Either way, gossip is gossip, and if the Quito is a ship that does first contacts, it seems reasonable that they could be out of the loop for long periods of time.

Options 2: This scene takes place after 2375

Okay, so let’s talk about the USS Quito for a second. It’s an Olympic-class ship, which is kind of weird because this is actually the only Olympic-class ship we’ve seen in the Prime Universe canon. I know. I know, you’re thinking that you saw this class of ship in the TNG finale “All Good Things…” and you totally did. Beverly Picard’s ship the USS Pastuer was an Olympic-class ship. However, that version of 2395 never happened because that was the anti-time future. So, the only in-canon Prime universe ships of this class are ones that have been retroactively designated as such. According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia, the USS Nobel (mentioned offscreen in TNG and DS9) was an Olympic-class ship. So, the Quito is the first “real” version of this kind of starship we’ve seen in canon.

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Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t really. But, these kinds of ships were generally used for science missions or medical missions. If the USS Quito was docked at DS9 prior after 2373 but prior to 2375, that would be in the thick of the Dominion War. A science/medical ship could have visited DS9 during the Dominion War, of course, but it seems unlikely. Plus, it doesn’t seem like Mariner and the gang are worried about the Dominion in this scene.

Option 3: This scene takes place before 2373

Okay. So, everything we’ve just said establishes that the grey-shouldered uniforms don’t happen until 2373, the year of Star Trek: First Contact. But, what if some ships got the new uniforms before other ships? And maybe, some of those ships had those new uniforms for years. In Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Pike jokes about how “we got the new uniforms,” which is interesting because his Enterprise was out of contact with Starfleet for like a year. This creates a precedent where Starfleet rolls out one kind of uniform for ships that are out in deep space, but keeps the uniform style the same for everyone else. 

So, fast forward from Discovery to the year 2371, the year of Star Trek: Generations. At this time, the mostly-black DS9 jumpsuit and the TNG era uniform are integrated side-by-side. However, considering another radical change is only two years away at this point (the grey shoulders) it’s possible that some ships got this uniform style “early” and the Quito was one of those ships.

Because this ship specialized in first contact (maybe?) it seems possible they could have had a different uniform style. Also, because this scene takes place on the Quito and not Deep Space Nine itself, there’s no reason to believe that everyone on DS9 isn’t still wearing the more colorful uniforms.

If this scene takes place in say, 2371, before the events of Generations, but after the introduction of the new com badges, then, suddenly, the comment about “Did you hear what happened on the Enterprise?” makes sense. In 2371-ish, Data teaming up with the Borg would have been recent news! This would then mean that Mariner has been bouncing around as an ensign for like eight years before Lower Decks begins, but, hey that might work, too.

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Granted, this last explanation might be a little far-fetched, but, in terms of dating this scene, the comment about Lore and the Borg could be a more relevant clue than the uniforms. In other words, Lower Decks might be using the grey-shouldered uniforms as a red herring, and what we should really be paying attention to is the gossip about Lore. Then again, maybe Mariner is an unreliable narrator, and we shouldn’t pay attention to gossip she remembered right before one of her friends got eaten.

Either way, with five more episodes left to go, it seems like we haven’t seen the last of Lower Decks‘ great Starfleet uniform conundrum. And only half-joking here, but, could Mariner be a time traveler?