I had a dream
I got everything I wanted
Not what you’d think
And if I’m being honest
It might’ve been a nightmare
To anyone who might care…
Congratulations, lower deckers, you’ve all been promoted! And have more important things to do than listen to Billie Eilish, even though her lyrics might be ringing true for our suddenly not-so-low-ranked characters…
Last week’s episode had Mariner actively trying to shake off her new pip while Rutherford busted his butt to gain his and join his friends, while Tendi cheered him on and Boimler dealt with a housing nightmare. So this week’s episode, “In the Cradle of Vexilon,” is the first time we’ve seen our entire group as lieutenants junior grade, and the first time we really get to see them in action with their newly acquired ranks.
The Cerritos has been called in to help an artificial alien world deal with a malfunctioning sentient supercomputer called Vexilon that maintains the entire place and is surprisingly un-megalomaniacal. Captain Freeman greets the local dignitaries and is shown to a very apologetic Vexilon. Just needs a software update, she says. It’ll be simple, she says. Sure…
As far as Lower Decks episodes go, it’s the kind of set-up that’s come to be expected: Take a well worn sci-fi trope (sentient supercomputer running an alien world), turn it on its head (hey, it’s friendly!), and let chaos ensue (the update does NOT go well). Though the plot is rather stale for this show, it does treat us to some fun moments with a cocky Freeman.
Meanwhile, she’s got a team updating an old Starfleet power relay, and said team is led by… drumroll please… LT. BRAD BOIMLER! At last, our favorite try-hard gets to be the BOSS! With the Vulcan T’Lyn assisting in case of “science stuff” and a group of three ensigns under his command, Boimler finally gets to take charge as he always dreamed of. What happens next is rather predictable for those of us who know and love this famously neurotic character… he’s so freaked out by the idea of the ensigns doing something wrong that he tries to do everything himself. It’s an honest depiction of what often happens to people thrust into leadership positions, and very true to the character, if, again, not entirely original.
Funnily enough, the least unoriginal part of the show takes place in the C-plot, involving Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford back on the Cerritos. Not saying it’s original, mind you, just that it’s slightly less predictable. Very slightly.
The three newly minted lieutenants are excited about the perks their new positions come with, including getting to access the anomaly storage room, which is basically a giant excuse for classic Star Trek references / easter eggs (Betazoid gift box, anyone?). Now, I’m pretty sure there were plenty of past episodes where the lower deckers dealt with anomalies, but whatever.
Their fun is interrupted when Lieutenant Dirk — a whole lieutenant, none of this junior grade stuff — orders them to scan about a gazillion chips by hand looking for a single faulty one. They soon conclude that they’re being hazed and decide to get back at Dirk with the assistance of one of the most annoying episodes in Star Trek history: “Move Along Home” from the generally excellent Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In that episode, four crew members are abruptly transported into a game dimension… that is, they can only return to their world if they play the game correctly. A version of said game was in the anomaly storage room…
Star Trek has always been a mixed bag, ranging from some of the best science fiction ever to appear on TV to some of the absolute worst. And this season, Lower Decks seems to be leaning into the worst of the worst, dredging up references to the most absurd Voyager episodes in its season opener and now reminding viewers that Deep Space Nine, often praised (and over-praised) as the best sci-fi show ever, had its share of stinkers. Now, if they could just work in a reference to the truly atrocious Voyager episode “The Thaw”…
Anyway, this C-plot, with all its references, isn’t exactly original either, but it amps up the comedic chaos in its short runtime… or perhaps because of its short runtime.
The nice thing about Lower Decks is that it has managed to perfect its formula in such a way that even when the plots fall short, the characters and gags are still plenty enjoyable. All in all, “In the Cradle of Vexilon” is a fun, if predictable, episode.
4/5 stars, bumped up from 3.5 just for “Allamaraine, count to four, Allamaraine, then three more…”