Recap/Review: ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Reboots The Chaos With “In the Cradle of Vexilon”

“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.

Freeman is getting some Landru vibes

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.

Did you try turning it on and off again?

“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.”

Still happy about that promotion, Brad?

“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.

This group isn’t too excited about promotions either.

“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.

Dr. T’Ana has no time for talk about katras.

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.

Drinking lieutenant tears


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.

Brad is having one of those days

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.

They didn’t teach this in Archaic Technology 101 at Starfleet Academy.

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.

Please no, stop talking about Tellarite jazz.

Final thoughts

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.

Let’s see what happens when I push this button, what could go wrong?


Random stuff

  • 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.

No, I haven’t seen Laura Palmer.

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 All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket CastsStitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.

You were nicer when you were Armin Shimerman

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

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Honestly I can’t believe they fell for it. First contact with the Wadi was about a decade prior. Which means he was one of these things: a very old looking 20s at the oldest, from the gamma quadrant, or lying. It was obviously the last one but if one of them has considered it for a few seconds they would have figured it out. I know it was not remembering that for the sake of the episode so I’ll get over it, right now it’s bothering me.

Also petty but that’s not how ketracel white works!

That said, I actually enjoyed the stuff with Vexilon more. Vexilon reminds me of myself when I’m having a bad day during a depressive spell. Also the Brad character development was nice. Although I don’t remember him not letting others do tasks being a problem he had before? I guess for the sake of the episode.

😔😔😔 no more dying Brad stop doing this to me.

The wait for agimus continues!

Technically we’ve never seen what ketracel white does to a non-Jem’Hadar, so who knows what the effects could be.

Still amazed how good is Lower Decks. Like Prodigy, I was not very excited to watch this show. So wrong, such a big surprise. Like Prodigy, every new episode is a special treat. Lower Decks is the only new show which truly captures the Berman era heart and spirit. Its not a different era. They just updated the speed and the humor. Its exactly what me as fan sometimes wished for when I was watching STNG in the 90s.

I can’t stop laughing with Dr. T’Ana’s mean attitude. Whatever she is saying, I’m on the floor laughing. Can you imagine how crazy having her as your colleague, or worse, as your Doctor!? The whole character, voice, cat jokes, bad a$$ attitude, brilliant!

Freeman having an ego is in character, but going so far as to tackle the problem herself without delegating is a stretch compared to why Boimler does it.

Otherwise, another fun episode, one that pushes characters forward.

And the episode has both a Kzinti and a Ringworld.

I hope the lack of discourse is down to the message board not working properly…

Great Episode! And a strange new world!
Loved it!

“Allamaraine lemon meringue” is an iconic line though. There needs to be a Trek themed restaurant that serves a lemon meringue pie with that name.

The first three episodes have been great, especially the second time around! Thanks for another insightful review. Looking forward to the podcast review!!

Enjoyed this episode. I really feel like they are pulling back on the obvious comedy. We had maybe three outright in-your-face jokes, Ransom on artwork, the eat a bag of borg d***s m**********r, and dead-pan T’lin a couple times, But that’s about it. I really wish there were a few more obvious jokes. I don’t consider the crew running around like their heads are chopped off trying to fix something funny anymore. season 1, yes. But now, it’s just how this crew operates. I wish there was some more laugh-out-loud, spit-my-water comedy. Obviously, comedy is art. And art is subjective. But for me its getting more dramatic than comedic, which is not what the show was sold as to me.

Please tell me they cut Larry Niven at least a small paycheck for this?

Probably not, but I doubt the likes of Halo, Elysium or Star Wars did either, and they all had variations on a ringworld setting.

Yeah, but to have a Ringworld and Kzinti’s both in the same ep? That’s pushing it.

The TAS episode “The Slaver Weapon” was based on Niven’s “The Soft Weapon” and had Kzinti. Niven agreed back then to have Paramount use elements of his Known Space Universe. Perhaps this agreement was far reaching and also included other elements, aka the Ringworld…

When played backwards, what The Koala said was “It’s not your time, Bradward Boimler”

I liked the Boimler/T’Lyn plotline. It was nice to see Boimler grow, and I thought they used the Vulcan character appropriately and not just for laughs.

But hazing! Hazing is a nasty thing to do to anybody, and I hate it that both SNW and LD have now had someone hazing their subordinates. This is supposed to be STAR TREK, damn it! Where’s the “the human race has mostly grown out of being total jerks, though we do still have flaws” ideal?

I’m glad T’Lyn is working out so far. I was so pleased to see a straight man character get introduced, and she was the highlight of wej Duj.

Yes, she’s a delightful addition to the show!

But then, I pretty much always want a Vulcan character. :-)

At least this was pretty minor hazing. They just had to do an unpleasant job. Its not like they were in danger or anything like that, like you hear about with recent incidents of hazing.

I have the distinct feeling that someone pulled that crap on Ransom. Said someone isn’t as good at playing trombone as he likes to think he is.