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Star Trek: Lower Decks “In the Cradle of Vexilon” Review: Rings, relays, and rookie revelations

Star Trek: Lower Decks “In the Cradle of Vexilon” Review: Rings, relays, and rookie revelations
Paramount+

Review: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 3 “In the Cradle of Vexilon”

This week sees the Cerritos aid a civilization that exists on a Halo ring spaceborne megastructure, and Brad Boimler witnesses how a bad commander can sabotage a mission.

Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) are meeting an alien race on the ringworld Corazonia when the need arises for the Starfleet officers to fix the ring’s computer caretaker, Vexilon, which is responsible for the society’s idyllic environment. We’ve seen computer overlords in Star Trek before – and Lower Decks has poked fun at such machines in the past – but this computer is perfectly friendly and morally upright. It just has one problem: its systems are outdated – six million years of missed software updates would do that to any machine – so Freeman asserts she can return Vexilon to operating order and get the ring’s weather back under control.

L-R Lieutenant Commander Andy Billups, Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol and Jerry O’Connell as Commander Jack Ransom appearing in episode 3, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Freeman bites off more than she can chew, however, and actually ends up breaking Vexilon, which leads to apocalyptic scenes around the ring. This disaster doesn’t bode well for newly minted Lieutenant Junior Grade Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), who is on the ring leading his first-ever away mission. With some ensigns, including T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz), Boimler’s team is tasked with replacing power relays vital to the ring’s operation.

“We’re sure we want to turn it back on? It’s not, like, crushing the will of the locals or anything?”

– Lt. Billups (Paul Scheer) when asked to repair Vexilon.

Boimler makes a rookie mistake and insists on doing the job correctly, which means, in his eyes, he must do the work himself; he doesn’t trust his team to properly remove the volatile power relay canisters. When Freeman accidentally triggers the apocalypse, T’Lyn steps in and advises Boimler his team’s mission – which now includes helping Freeman save the planet – will only succeed if he allows them to thrive without his micromanagement. Moreover, Boimler’s self-doubts about his ability to command people are assuaged by T’Lyn’s reassuring words; thus, the ensigns help Boimler complete their mission, which in turn helps Freeman regain control of Vexilon.

L-R Gabrielle Ruiz as T’Lyn and Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler appearing in episode 3, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

As you might guess, this plot ends up being an important one for Boimler, as the stresses of command are now real to him. As a lower decker, Boimler has had good and bad commanding officers, and he good-naturedly wanted to avoid being a bad one; thanks to the mission on Corazonia, he now knows how to be an effective team leader. Kudos to T’Lyn, too, for helping Boimler understand the impact of his micromanagement before his command style was their downfall.

In a dramatic finish, Boimler risks his life to ensure the work he and his team completed does indeed allow Freeman to fix Vexilon, and in an explosion that results from the power relays overheating means Boimler is actually dead for a few minutes. It’s in one quick scene that Lower Decks continues a seasons-long mystery: what is the Koala, and what does it represent?

In Boimler’s brief inter-existential experience, he finds himself in a room with the Koala, and, in a great callback to Shaxs’ description of the afterlife in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” an ominous black mountain lurks outside this room. Of course, Lower Decks doesn’t answer our lingering questions about the Koala, as Boimler is revived thanks to Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman), so we’ll have to wait for an answer to this existential mystery. Did the Koala ensure Boimler could be revived? Does the Koala have plans for the lower decker? These questions must be answered!

L-R Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford. Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner and Noel Wells as Ensign Tendi appearing in episode 3, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

While havoc is reigning on the superstructure below, Beckett Mariner (Tawney Newsome), Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), and D’Vana Tendi (Noel Wells) find themselves the victims of hazing, or so they think. A more senior officer, Dirk, assigns the trio a tedious and seemingly impossible task of scanning isolinear chips, so the newly promoted lieutenants junior grade vow to haze Dirk in return. The lower deckers utilize the collection of odds and ends that populate the Cerritos’ Anomaly Storage Room, and die-hard Trekkies will likely enjoy some of the references in this room, such as Chula, a game introduced in the wonky DS9 episode “Move Along Home,” and the Betazoid gift box, the likes of which we saw in TNG’s “Haven.”

Before the trio can exact their revenge on Dirk (Phil LaMarr), they realize they’ve read the Dirk all wrong. The man tells them he wasn’t being vindictive when he assigned the lower deckers to isolinear chip duty; he was simply trying to get the important task done because scanning isolinear chip is actually vital, and Dirk has suffered from a kind of PTSD from being trapped in the Wadi’s game when he was younger; being around isolinear chips reminded him of the game. With their trap already set, our heroes rush to prevent Dirk from stumbling into their haze.

“Oh, I could go on about slop jazz forever. You know, everybody thinks the slops is about how much spit you can get to drip out of the nozzle, but it’s really about the brizzles flarps.”

– Dirk, as Mariner tries to distract him by talking about music.
Jack Quaid as Lt Brad Boimler appearing in episode 3, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

A comedy of errors leads Rutherford to get trapped in a Chula game, so that’ll surely be a treat for any fans of the aforementioned DS9 episode. Tendi, meanwhile, tries to quickly finish the isolinear job now that the lower deckers realize how important the task is. And Mariner tries to distract Dirk by getting him to talk about his unorthodox taste in music. Ultimately, the lower deckers do avoid damaging Dirk’s PTSD further, and learn a lesson about being vindictive themselves, a quality no Starfleet officer should have. But… we learn at the end of the episode Dirk was indeed hazing our protagonists, so it seems not every Starfleet officer is as noble as the lower deckers like to think.

Taken together, “In the Cradle of Vexilon” offers viewers an engaging tale of leadership, trust, and the inherent flaws even in the best of institutions. This episode presents an important learning opportunity for Boimler, as his experience commanding people here will likely color his service in the future. We also thought this episode does a great job of characterizing T’Lyn as a clear-headed and wise leader, even though she is still early in her Starfleet career. Moreover, we appreciated this episode’s B-plot, not only for its deep-cut Star Trek references but for subverting our expectations about how upright and moral Starfleet officers are. Like in any crew, there’s bound to be morally questionable behavior, and Starfleet ships are no exception. We’re curious if the lower deckers will ever learn of the joke being played at their expense.

One more important note: “In the Cradle of Vexilon” did not include any reference to the mysterious and destructive alien ship we saw in the first two episodes, so perhaps we should keep our eyes peeled for that next week.

L-R Noel Wells as Lt Tendi, Eugene Cordero as Lt Rutherford, Tawny Newsome as Lt Beckett Mariner and Jerry O’Connell as Commander Jack Ransom appearing in episode 3, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Stray Thoughts:

  • Even though she took a class in antique machines at the academy, why wouldn’t Freeman opt to have her engineers look at Vexilon first? As we see, Billups beams down within a couple of seconds of her calling him later in the episode, so it’s not like there would be a wait for an engineer to arrive. As it is, Freeman’s actions seem brash and foolhardy.

  • The Anomaly Storage Room contains, among other things, a bat’leth and a Nomad-esque vehicle. Does it seem like a bat’leth should be in this room? It’s a fairly common weapon.

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Written By

Kyle Hadyniak has been a lifelong Star Trek fan, and isn't ashamed to admit that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis are his favorite Star Trek movies. You can follow Kyle on Twitter @khady93.

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