Review

Star Trek: Lower Decks “Caves” Review: Striking friendship gold

Credit: Paramount+

Review: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 8 “Caves”

If there is one overarching similarity between classic 90s-era Star Trek, it’s caves. Watch any two episodes of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even The Next Generation, and you’ll likely see dark, and dusty caverns. It was a common set on the Paramount lot and thus has become a notable visual in the annals of Star Trek history. Naturally, it’s ripe for Star Trek: Lower Decks parody, and in what should be no surprise for fans of this show, “Caves” pokes fun at this part of the Star Trek legacy while developing the solid friendship our four lovable main characters share.

Becket Mariner (Tawney Newsome), Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), D’Vana Tendi (Noel Wells), and Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) are exploring a cave on the planet Grottonus when each member has the opportunity to share recent away missions they were individually on that involved similar caves. These stories aren’t just there to poke fun at the ubiquity of caves in the Star Trek universe; they allow our characters to share snippets of their lives outside their core friendship.

L-R Noel Wells as Tendi and Tawny Newsome as Mainer in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

“Stupid cave mission. I feel like I’ve been in this cave a hundred times.”

– Mariner, as she and her friends begin their research mission.

A frustrated Mariner kicks a clump of moss in the cave, and wouldn’t you know it, the moss seemingly comes alive and starts to creep its way threateningly toward the away team. Boimler remembers a way to boost their comm signal – which is, of course, disabled after a cave-in – thanks to a recent ordeal with Steve Levy (Fred Tatasciore), a conspiracy theorist we’ve seen before in “No Small Parts.”

Boimler relates how he and Levy were exploring caves on Kyron 4 when an ion storm trapped them. Boimler listened to Levy’s rant about the shapeshifting Vendorians and how they must be behind the storm and the pair’s entrapment, but Boimler dismissed the lieutenant’s outlandish claims. Boimler then stumbles upon a ground vehicle seemingly perfect to escape their predicament, except that the vehicle only has one seat, which prompts the paranoid Levy to destroy it; he asserts the vehicle was a morality test created by Vendorians.

Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

After Boimler goes off on Levy, some Vendorians do appear before the startled Boimler and assert he failed their morality test. The aliens plan to punish the Starfleet crew members, but not after they realize Levy is actually an expert in Vendorian culture, something the aliens appreciate. Boimler is forced to admit he misjudged Levy, an act that allows the lower deckers to pass their morality test. With his story finished, Boimler tells his friends how Levy isn’t so bad, and that the pair have hung out together since their ordeal. This admission angers his friends, who feel slightly betrayed at Boimler hanging out with someone like Levy.

Next up is Rutherford, who relates the time he and Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) are trapped in a cave system on Balkus 9, and their fatally wounded alien tour guide effortlessly implants Rutherford with a child. (Believe it or not, a male human pregnancy is not new to the Star Trek universe.) It’s a strange ordeal, to be sure, but soon enough Rutherford gives birth with the doctor’s help, and the pair are, for a time, at least, taking care of an infant. Dr. T’Ana is actually impressed with how good a father Rutherford ends up being; seeing this side of Rutherford isn’t new for us, as we know he tried and partially succeeded at being a great dad for Badgey, his holographic “son.” Back in the present, this story surprises Rutherford’s friends, and they are irked he didn’t share this remarkable tale earlier.

With the dangerous fungus closing in on the away team, Mariner has time for her story: an adventure where she bonded with Delta shift, the sworn enemy of our heroes in the Beta shift. The bonding didn’t come about easily, as it required Mariner and the Deltas to maneuver through a time-dilation field they found after crashing in a cave system on the planet Glish. But after successfully repairing their shuttle, Mariner became friends with the Deltas thanks to the ordeal. Importantly, Mariner has a better understanding of why the Deltas are so angsty toward the Betas; the Deltas feel they don’t get recognized for their night-duty work in the same way the Betas’ work is valued. In the present, Mariner’s friends are surprised and feel a little betrayed at their friend’s fraternization.

Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

The aggressive fungus is mere moments away from extinguishing the lower deckers completely when it reveals itself as a sentient being. Its booming voice demands Tendi share a story she’s been trying to tell during this entire ordeal, but she was always shut down because her story didn’t involve a cave. The Orion wastes no time in diving into one of her favorite memories from her time on the Cerritos: when she and her friends were trapped in a turbolift shortly after the events of the series premiere.

Tendi’s story shows how the fast friends comforted and rallied each other during their multi-hour entrapment, and it’s a great representation of how these characters naturally bonded. We especially appreciated how Tendi and Rutherford immediately hit it off, with the Orion improbably getting in two guesses about what word Rutherford was thinking of. The fungus, touched by the story’s show of friendship, lets the team go and allows them to stay and study the cave – but only if they keep telling stories. Crucially, Tendi’s recollection rallies the friends’ spirits and allows any angst born from their individual stories to fade away. Finally, the audience learns the aliens behind the moss turn out to be Vendorians, who are impressed with the friends’ ability to maintain their close bond despite having other side adventures.

“Caves” is a super-sweet episode, and reinforces our vociferous belief that Lower Decks is greater than the sum of its parts. Basing these vignettes within the overarching parody of Star Trek’s signature caves, Lower Decks accomplishes its two most prominent goals: good-natured parody of this franchise, and making its audience feel things in a way animated shows typically don’t. Unlike what we’ve seen elsewhere in this show, “Caves” shows us life for our main characters outside their on-screen hijinks, which is an appreciated look at the life of a lower decker. Such tales help flesh out the world in which our characters reside.

Eugene Cordero as Rutherford in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

We also value how the friendship the four characters share isn’t perfect. Sometimes they run into troubles amongst themselves; Mariner and Boimler’s rift following Boimler’s assignment to the Titan comes to mind, as does Rutherford and Tendi’s recent faux-experimentation with romance. “Caves” shows us a realistic look at how friendships can run into hurdles. This imperfect relationship dynamic isn’t exclusive to Lower Decks within the Star Trek universe, but it does help this show’s cast standout from its fellow franchise crews. That’s just another reason why we are so fond of this show.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Vendorians were first introduced in The Animated Series, and seen again in Lower Decks’ “Envoys.”

  • Levy’s conspiracy theories include Wolf 359 being a setup; the Vendorians “doing” the Klingon Civil War; Q not existing; Picard being a hologram; Voyager’s doctor being a real person; and the Prime Universe actually being the evil Mirror Universe.

  • In what world have we seen a phaser beam able to deflect off a wall and onto another surface?

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