“In the Cradle of Vexilon”
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4, Episode 3 – Debuted Thursday, September 14, 2023
Written by Ben Waller
Directed by Brandon Williams
Another fun episode explores the implications for the lower deckers’ new positions with some classic Trek themes and motifs.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“He’s not trying to subjugate anyone?”
The Cerritos has been ordered to Corazonia, a ringworld megastructure with an environment run by an ancient computer named Vexilon. The local population (all artists and poets) love their ancient computer and insist it is benevolent, with “no interest in world domination.” Boimler has been assigned to lead an away team to update an old Starfleet power relay while Captain Freeman checks out Vexilon, who is very nice and apologetic about becoming unpredictable. Ignoring Ransom’s suggestion to bring in engineers, Freeman insists she can handle things alone as she minored in archaic technology back at the Academy. The captain discovers the ringworld’s operating system hasn’t been updated in over six million years (after the original ancient alien designers evolved into fifth-dimensional energy beings, naturally). Using the control panel, she triggers an update, and, of course, Vexilon shuts down. Havoc ensues as clouds turn into icebergs and there’s some “crazy day-night stuff.” Freeman finally calls Billups down but still insists on leading the fix to the frozen supercomputer. Before he can stop her, she puts the computer into “safe mode”—which, as Billups worried, triggers a full reboot. Vexilon informs them it will “re-genesis installation to default settings” complete with miasma, primordial ooze, and lots and lots of lava. Needless to say, this ruins several art classes and poetry readings.
“It’s not an errand, it’s a mission.”
At the Starfleet power station, newly minted Lt. J.G. Brad Boimler is psyching himself up to lead his first away team of ensigns (Big Merp, Taylor, and Meredith), with T’Lyn along “in case any science stuff happens.” After the Vulcan notes how ensigns under the command of the recently promoted are statistically “more likely to experience death and/or dismemberment,” Brad freaks out, insisting he uninstall all the dangerous power tubes alone. With nothing to do, his team watches as Brad struggles to go solo on a job that clearly requires multiple people. Freeman’s tinkering with Vexilon escalates the chaos outside as Boimler continues to ignore his team and T’Lyn’s protest that “leading by example has proven to be inefficient.” Just as things get “pretty apocalyptic,” Freeman calls to inform Brad he has to reinstall all the power tubes he removed so she can force a restart using power from the station. Brad still insists on doing all the work himself, frantically telling the team it’s “another learning experience,” just as T’Lyn notes a brand new volcano has popped up just beyond the shuttle. Her reaction to the ticking clock of terror-inducing developments is classic Vulcan: “Fascinating.”
“No more mindless, repetitive tasks for us!”
Oblivious to everything happening on the ringworld, the trio of Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford are assessing life after promotion, not seeing much difference with the big exception of getting access to anomaly storage room, full of all sorts of cool (and dangerous) Easter eggs. But when Lt. Dirk assigns the team the tedious job of sorting through hundreds of isolinear chips to find the single faulty one, the trio starts wondering if they are being hazed. When they find out there is a whole second layer to the scalding hot (and periodically filled with nitrogen gas) chip room, they are sure Dirk is messing with them. Abandoning the chip job, Mariner leads the gang to Dirk’s room for some hazing payback, using stuff from the anomaly room to trap him in a Wadi Chula game along with an annoying Betazoid gift box and “let him marinate in there for a bit.” But after running into Dirk in the corridor and hearing his insistence that chip sorting was critical for the ship and his heartfelt confession that he was afraid to do it due to a past trauma of being trapped in a Wadi game, the gang quickly jumps to some backtracking. Tendi and Sam run off to fix things as Mariner keeps Dirk distracted, forced to listen to a history of Tellarite slop jazz. Apparently, it’s not “how much spit you can get to drip out of the nozzle,” but “it’s really about the brizzles flarps.” Definitely not fascinating.
“Nobody’s exploding today”
On Corazonia, things finally come to a head. Boimler barely dodges raining lava as he tries to run all the power tubes back to the station. T’Lyn insists he allow the team to assist, but he admits he doesn’t feel he has the right to put what were so recently his fellow ensigns into harm’s way. She assures him he earned his promotion and should trust the ensigns just as Ransom trusted him. Finally, he starts issuing orders to his team to get the job done before they all die. “T’Lyn says I got to put you guys in danger, so let’s do this.” With the job complete, the station powers up, but starts to overheat. Freeman still needs more time, so Brad orders everyone out and this time T’Lyn agrees, telling the ensigns to follow his order. At the last minute, the computer is rebooted and the normal environment returns, so Boimler shuts down the power station… and it explodes, with his limp body landing right in front of his away team outside. He finds himself in an odd room with a mountain along with a spectral Koala before being pulled back to life by Dr. T’Ana, who surprised herself—whatever she did worked. Ransom is there, too, with a helpful “You never forget your first death” as Boimler joins the resurrected character club.
On the Cerritos, Rutherford accidentally trips the trap set for Dirk, landing himself in the Wadi game, but he speedruns through, rapidly finishing with ease, even dealing with the annoyance of the “Allamaraine” girl and the foul-mouthed gift box that got pulled in with him. In the chip room, Tendi powers through to find the faulty one and replace it, all without Dirk discovering any of this. In the bar, the trio feels silly for thinking senior officers would mess with them, but it turns out Ransom and Dirk actually were hazing them all along. We see the pair reveling in the fun they have at the expense of new lieutenants. Ensigns no more, but still, lower decks.
One ring to bind them
Three episodes in, and season 4 keeps going strong. “In the Cradle of Vexilon” leans into the character story of the season and mines humor from the ensigns’ promotions. These characters grow and change, but their fundamentals are still there, making all these fun moments organic. Juggling three storylines could have proved cumbersome for the 25-minute runtime, but each was handled well without feeling rushed or short-changed. It helped to leave the mystery ship season arc aside for a week to both reinforce the episodic nature of the show and to allow more time for these three stories. The Boimler storyline benefited from the return of Gabrielle Ruiz as T’Lyn, who helped make him truly accept his promotion and learn to start delegating while adding much of the humor with her deadpan commentary. This is the kind of character-based comedy that the show started to transition to in season 3 and seems to be perfecting in season 4.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but seeing Captain Freeman try to do a bit of ancient IT work was a delight, with Dawnn Lewis delivering a standout performance, especially welcome after she had mostly taken a back seat in the first two episodes. Of course, her storyline has nice echoes with the Boimler story with both the Lt. J.G. and the captain herself struggling to delegate and trust their teams—for different reasons. In Boimler’s case, it is a bit of guilt, and with Freeman, it’s all ego. Freeman’s story also offered a bit of commentary on Star Trek tropes with everyone just assuming the computer controlling the planet is determined to turn evil, even though Vexilon was nothing but sweetness and light when functioning properly. Of course, Freeman has reason to be concerned over AIs as she has dealt with Landru, AGIMUS, Badgey, and the season 3 big bad, Admiral Buenamigo’s murderous Texas-class ships. Again, we get subtle character and canon connections woven into some fun meta-humor. Visiting a ringworld megastructure for the first time in the franchise shows how this show can carry on the legacy of Star Trek: The Next Generation, from which it was inspired. And there was a bit of commentary about reliance on technology with the nice (but hapless) Corazonians, who have evolved to just following their artistic pursuits, along with Ransom’s surprisingly astute observations on sculpture and its “amateur lack of focus and balance.” This may be an animated comedy, but there are layers.
The Mariner/Tendi/Rutherford storyline felt a bit disconnected from the intertwined stories on the ringworld, but it was still connected through the theme of the unexpected consequences of being promoted, with Dirk (and, as we learn later, Ransom) ensuring his new Lt. J.G.s still know their place on the lower decks. And when you are looking for classic Lower Decks references, this story leaned into that core competency of the show with plenty of nods and Easter eggs. Pairing two of Trek’s most goofy (and possibly annoying) things together (the Wadi game and Betazoid gift box) was inspired, with the pathos of the gift box’s lament over its simulated “Inner Light” life moving it up to genius.
Episode 3 keeps the good times rolling. The fourth season of Lower Decks continues to be a delight with consistent humor, character growth, fun callbacks along with new elements being added to the canon.
- This is the first script credit for Ben Waller, who has been a writers’ assistant on Lower Decks since season 1.
- This was the directorial debut of Brandon Williams, who joined Lower Decks in season 2 as a storyboard artist.
- The episode did not include the usual opening teaser ahead of the credits.
- Stardate 58759.1.
- Billups has a ferret named Lancelot.
- Tendi says she has resolved conflicts with blindfolded saber fights on Orion.
- After coming out of the Wadi game, the Betazoid gift box got zapped with a Kataan probe, coming out of it talking about an “entire simulated life” and crying over missing his wife.
- Other items in the anomaly storage room include a Klingon bat’leth, Nomad (both of which were seen in the series premiere), a Vulcan lirpa, a hat that “turned Billups into a church tower,” and a spider that can cause your “head to fall off and skitter away” (possibly a reference to The Thing).
- Betazoid gift boxes are not sentient, but they can pick up phrases. This one learned “eat a bag of Borg d–ks, motherf—ers” from Dr. T’Ana.
- In addition to the callbacks to Shaxs’ death, Boimler’s experience was a nod to the iconic Red Room from Twin Peaks.
Easter egg analysis and more to come
Check back for our full weekly deep dive into the easter eggs and references. And every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays, streaming on Paramount+ in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Europe. It will stream on Paramount+ in S. Korea later in the year. Lower Decks also airs on Thursdays in Canada on CTV Sci-Fi Channel.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.