Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4, Episode 8 – Debuted Thursday, October 19, 2023
Written by Ben Rodgers
Directed by Megan Lloyd
A very sweet episode brings it all together with classic Trek themes that gives some closure to key character arcs for the season.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
“Stupid cave mission!”
The Cerritos is visiting the Grottonus system, and all four of the main lower deckers are excited to be going on the same away mission in a “Beta shift reunion.” Mariner loses interest when she learns where they are headed and gets meta upon beam-in, declaring “stupid cave mission. I feel like I have been in this cave like a hundred times.” The rest of the team is excited to study this cave’s unusual moss as Mariner continues to bemoan cave missions—and soon enough, there is some rumbling and a cave-in and communications are cut off, prompting the inevitable sarcastic reply, “What a surprise.” Beckett’s frustrated (but “not a tantrum”) kicking of a rock triggers that moss to start glowing… and encroaching on the team. The moss grabs Tendi, who escapes as her boot gets devoured. With phasers seeming to have little or no effect, the episode gets a ticking clock courtesy of the scary moss growth rate, giving them just a couple of hours to find a way out. Tendi has an idea, inspired by a memory of when they were all stuck in a turbolift together, but Mariner insists a turbolift experience doesn’t count and one of them must have an idea after so many stuck-in-cave missions. Boimler starts to recall this one time as the music grows and a new establishing shot fades in. Hey, we are getting a clip show! But this time the clips will be lower decker adventures we haven’t seen before. Cue the flashback!
“That would play right into their tentacles.”
Boimler’s story happened when he was stuck in a cave on Kyron 4 with Lt. Levy, that guy who thinks Wolf 359 was an inside job. An ion storm had them sheltering in a cave with no way to communicate, where the jittery Levy randomly theorizes that shape-shifting Vendorians are behind all of it. Boimler is naturally dismissive and soon elated to find a small vehicle they can use go get help, but Levy shocks him by vaporizing it: Finding a dream vehicle only one of them could use was obviously part of a “classic Vendorian morality test.” Brad’s had enough, calling Steve “insufferable” as he ticks off reasonable explanations for some of his crazy conspiracies. With a tear, Levy says he was just trying to help, then the pair is shocked when stalagmites shimmer and transform into… yep, Vendorians, who are displeased with Boimler’s cruelty and say the Starfleet pair has failed their morality test. Even Steve is a bit surprised to have been right, but when he predicts the Vendorian’s detailed gruesome punishment, the tentacle creatures change their tone, impressed he knows their customs. Brad eggs Steve on, saying he is a “huge Vendorian fan,” and soon enough the whole laying of brood pods in their necks thing is forgotten as they all sit down for a nice meal of giant crickets, where Levy espouses even more of his theories—which their captors find “artfully mixed with hyperbole and fiction.” Boimler acquiesces: He has learned to be nicer to Levy, even though Levy is still a “crackpot.” The Vendorians rejoice over the success of their morality gambit. Back in the current cave mission, Brad reports the Vendorians showed him how Gammanite can boost coms, which can help them now. Mariner is annoyed Boimler and Levy bonded, but her attention turns to the ticking clock that just got louder as the carnivorous moss advances, spitting out a skeleton. Gross.
“The only thing I hate more than engineers are babies.”
Tendi finds Brad’s story interesting, noting how being stuck together can result in surprising conversations, but Mariner again cuts off her non-cave story. Boimler and Rutherford quickly start working to get the trigammanite, which Sam reveals he learned to gather using a phaser filtered through a pair of pants from his own cave adventure with Dr. T’Ana… and their kid. Uh, their what now? Flashback to a couple of weeks ago when Billups got swamp rash and he and the doctor searched a cave on Balkus 9 for a special medicinal fern. They were being guided by Thusa, a very helpful local alien who assured them not to worry about any Grafflax as the brain-eating monsters were probably just a myth… right before a Grafflax emerges to chomp Thusa and spit her across the cave. As she lies dying, she reaches out to Rutherford, saying something about transferring to a new body before she crumbles to dust. Soon enough Sam isn’t feeling well, which fits, as the doctor informs him he is pregnant. The Balkus aliens “procreate by dermal contact” and a baby version of Thusa is growing inside of him “in seconds.” She cuts it out and now they’re stuck in a cave with a newborn. The always acerbic doctor isn’t a fan of babies, but Rutherford is a natural. After a montage of their attempts to find a way out, the Caitian eventually bonds with the little alien and declares the little clone cutey their “co-adventurer.” When the growling Grafflax shows up again, Rutherford snaps into action, converting his tricorder into a translator so they can communicate. The monster didn’t want to eat them, it was just protecting its own baby inside that cave pond. It thinks T’Ana and Rutherford are good parents, so it agrees to help them. Back in the current cave (which of course looks exactly the same), the lower deckers are stunned (and kind of pissed) this is the first they are hearing about the baby adventure. Mariner also snaps at Tendi when she tries to talk about that time stuck on the turbolift again as she is losing patience due to being surrounded by flesh-eating moss. “That is not a cave story!” Jeez, chill out Beckett.
“I’m done being old.”
When Sam notices Mariner doing uncharacteristic combadge microcircuitry filtering trigammanite, she sheepishly reveals she learned the trick on a recent cave adventure with the dreaded Delta Shift. Flashback to (familiar-looking) planet Gish and a shuttle crashing into a cave, where a disheveled Mariner stumbles out followed by Delta Shift’s Karavitus, who isn’t impressed with the landing, and nor is the angry Asif, who has a bone sticking out of his leg. Mariner takes charge of the situation and gets briefed by Amadou, who reveals shuttle coms can be fixed if they can just find some pergium. Mariner conveniently sees some of the element across the cave, but as she heads towards it, she loses energy and starts visibly aging. The closer they get to the pergium, the older they get. An impatient Karavitus is sure she will be a “spry old lady” and heads across, and soon enough, the pair gets bogged down and fights like (well, actually as) bickering old ladies. Mariner calls her rival an a-hole and Karavitus says they resent Beta Shift because Delta works when the ship is asleep so they get no respect and don’t get seen by senior staff—so no chance at a promotion like the one Mariner just got. Old Beckett agrees that sucks, and they both vow to be more civil if they can get out of the chroniton-infused cave… which just broke Karavitus’ hip. They look to “child prodigy” Asif to make an attempt, assuring him the time dilation will heal his leg, but the horrendous snapping sounds as he struggles across results in the limb falling off, which makes it clear they were very, very wrong. Thankfully, Amadou (now a child) found a reverse-aging area and he has the pergium, so they drag Asif back to youth as he protests leaving his his leg behind. Coms are fixed and Mariner’s story ends, revealing she joined in on a “Delta shift” chant. This is too much for Boimler and Rutherford, as chanting should only be for the core four, and they descend into another argument, ignoring Tendi’s calls for calm. With the trigammanite finally sorted, they are ready to get away from each other, but when they call the ship, the moss engulfs them, ominously declaring “you cannot leave.” WTF, the moss can talk?
“I didn’t love peeing in the corner…”
The moss tells the confused lower deckers it wants to hear “the green one’s story,” even though it isn’t about a cave. Flashback to Tendi’s first day aboard the Cerritos after that whole rage virus thing, when the four bonded in the bar with a lot of drinking, which Mariner secretly ensured was “the real thing” and not synthehol. They all stumble into a turbolift, which promptly gets stuck as the ship is a still a mess. They’re left in there for hours, which they spend playing games that include something involving spelling things with their clothes, 20 Questions, and building a pyramid with their boots. Even with the zombie outbreak and hours stuck in the lift (where nature calls), this is one of the best days of Tendi’s life. She has found fast friends, allaying her worries about being the only Orion (who have a certain reputation) on the ship. The nice moment is shattered when the lift door bursts open and a looming Shaxs leaps in with, “I’m here to save you!” which causes some more involuntary peeing. Back in the moss cave, the encased foursome laughs and re-bonds over the shared memory. The moss is moved too, asking if they will be its friend. Released from their gooey bond to do more scans, they fulfill their promise to the moss and begin to tell even more fun cave adventure stories. We zoom out on the lively chatter to reveal two stalagmites shimmering into observing Vendorians, pleased “the junior officers have rekindled their friendship.” Unseen by the four lower deckers below, the tentacle creatures decide to wait to unblock the Starfleeters’ communications, so they can enjoy the moment a little longer. Aww.
As season 4 approaches the final episodes, “Caves” feels like a calm before the storm. The season’s galactic stakes mystery takes a break to focus on our four core characters, who get an episode to reconnect after their new promotions in the first episode of the season has upended their lives and their friendship. For this bottle show, they leaned into—or possibly grasped tightly onto—the classic cost-saving comfort of reusing those old cave sets on other Trek shows. Here, it is cleverly used as a conceit for this clip show-like format with flashbacks for each character’s story, all tied together nicely into their arcs of having new responsibilities. Most importantly, each of their tales was funny. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but Boimler’s time with Levy did have a lot of fun with Trek lore, and Rutherford’s team-up with Dr. T’Ana gave Gillian Vigman a chance to remind us why we love her vulgar cat, who has been mostly missing this season. Throughout, all four of the main cast members performed at their best, switching between the broad comedy and heartfelt moments demanded by the episode.
The recurring season theme of problems arising from miscommunication was on full display in each of the stories. Tendi’s non-cave story tied everything together, nicely bringing their stories full circle. After three cave tales of their independent post-promotion lives got the foursome at odds over how they had drifted apart, Tendi brought them literally back to the beginning and reminded them (and the audience) why regardless of rank, their lower decker bond is eternal. While they needed this reminder on the importance of communication, each of the stories also exemplified the growth of all of these characters since that series premiere, with each showing confidence and competence proving they are worthy of being lieutenants (albeit junior grades). Their stories also served the purpose of putting the pieces together to solve the dilemma of getting out of this latest cave, yet another tie into the theme of teamwork inherent in Trek and this show. Also, a nice little moment in the turbolift (noted by a look between Mariner and Boimler) also showed the beginnings of the Tendi/Rutherford will they/won’t they symbiosis that has also been commented on this season.
Like most of the season—with the exceptions of the Voyager-heavy season premiere and the DS9-tinged visit to Ferenginar—this episode was mostly about celebrating the continuity of Lower Decks itself, bringing back Levy the conspiracy theorist and the dreaded Delta Shift. Like with Peanut Hamper, AGIMUS, and Badgey last week, these mini-villains were given redemption arcs themselves. For fans of Trek lore, there was plenty of fun to be had. The cave set premise brought meta-commentary about how they “all look the same” down to the oddly “flat floors” and even the trope about how, with centuries of technological progress behind them, a “bunch of rocks” seems to be the bane of Starfleet. Each of the individual stories also had hints of classic Star Trek stories: Boimler and Levy’s reminded us of alien tests like the time the Dominion put members of the DS9 crew into a simulation (“The Search”), Mariner’s was akin to the many times crews dealt with rapid aging (as in TOS “The Deadly Years”), and Rutherford’s weird alien biology situation, a bit on the nose with its reference to Spock transferring his katra to Dr. McCoy in the movies. This show may be building out its own lore, but it never forgets to find the humor in the established canon, and always with love. Plus Vendorians from TAS! That was a seriously great deep cut, with a great surprise callback at the end of the episode.
Plot-focused fans may feel this episode was about nothing, but an argument can be made that for Lower Decks, this bit of cave story time was about everything. And for those hoping for season plot stuff after last week’s big reveal, showrunner Mike McMahan promises the final two episodes will pick up on the mystery and things are going to get “ultimate Star Trek.” And for those missing T’Lyn, who does make episodes 10% funnier, he promises she will be back too.
Episode 8 tied up season 4’s big character story in a perfect way. These core four characters have earned this focus and earned their promotions. Now onto the “big swing” promised for the final two episodes!
- This episode had an early debut for the audience at the Star Trek Universe panel at New York Comic Con on Saturday, October 14.
- This is the second appearance of Vendorians on Lower Decks; one appeared in the second episode “Envoys.”
- When Boimler dismisses Levy’s various conspiracy theories, he asserts: “Wolf 359 was a tragedy, Q exists, Picard isn’t some hologram and Voyager’s EMH is!” Mariner also said that he thought they were all in the Mirror Universe.
- The Vendorians denied Levy’s claims they’d faked data showing warp speed damages subspace (from the TNG episode “Force of Nature”) or were behind the Klingon Civil War (seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation).
- When Mariner ages rapidly, she initially looks like her mother, Captain Freeman, with the same lines around her eyes and mouth and the same grey stripe in her hair.
- The Cerritos Type 6A shuttle Kings Canyon, first seen in the second episode of the series, appears to have been destroyed, although Amadou did say it was “salvageable.”
- Amadou appeared in a previous episode featuring Delta Shift’s Karavitus and Asif but didn’t have any dialogue or a name. Memory Alpha had listed him as unnamed operations human ensign #13.
- Amadou was voiced by Zach Cherry, who plays Dylan on Apple TV’s Severance.
- Tendi’s story picked up right at the end of the series premiere “Second Contact” in the final bar scene after Mariner vowed to be Boimler’s cha’DIch.
- Rutherford’s eyepiece has a built-in flashlight.
More to come
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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.
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