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REVIEW – Star Trek: Lower Decks “Caves”

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The fourth season of Star Trek: Lower Decks is coming to an end with the eighth episode “Caves”. Season 4 has been a season of substantial change, promoting all of the Lower Deckers. However, amongst all these crazy missions, the four main characters have had very little time to relax and hang out. That’s where this episode comes in, disconnected from any arc and allowing the gang time to reminisce.

So, what does the show do with the classic cave setting this week? How have the gang actually grown and changed since the beginning of the season? And what is this mysterious green moss? All of this and more in this review of the latest Lower Decks crazy antics await the crew of the USS Cerritos so late in the game. All of this and more in my review of the latest Lower Decks adventures.

WARNING – Spoilers below for the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode “Caves”. If you’ve not seen the episode, it’s probably a good idea to watch it before continuing on!

L-R Eugene Cordero as Rutherford, Noël Wells as D’Vana Tendi, Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler and Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Another Cave Adventure

As the title rather creatively telegraphs, this episode takes place in a cave. In classic live-action Star Trek, these crazy alien worlds tend to look like Southern California or the same identical cave. It’s kind of surprising that the show had never touched it before late Season 4. However, letting Mariner (Tawny Newsome) dissect classic cave adventures was a great decision. Letting the show be a meta-commentary on Trek is where it generates the biggest laughs from me.

Sending the four Lower Deckers down on the same away mission is long overdue. It’s been such a long time since they all had a genuine interaction. Splitting the characters up so much has been one of the season’s biggest flaws, and this episode fixes just about all of those complaints in one go. Having them work toward the same common goal, and being trapped in the same enclosed space is a stroke of genius.

The confined setting forces them to actually deal with one another. While there’s obviously no animosity or serious conflict, there’s a sense that they don’t know each other anymore. Having them share stories of their solo adventures while on their first mission together in ages allows the characters to address this flaw. It does it rather well, but also allows the episode to lean into a classic TV trope that Star Trek hasn’t done in a long long time.

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

Classic Filler Format

The episode’s a sort of clip show, but all the footage they cut away to is stuff that we actually haven’t seen before. Clip shows, especially where the footage is from previous episodes, tend to not be held in high regard. Just look at the Next Generation episode “Shades of Gray”, held to be a letdown of a season finale as well as a poor hour of television.

A parody like this, a healthy middle-ground between the absurdity of Rick and Morty and the craziness of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is delightful. There aren’t really any guest stars in the cave they share, which forces them to play their memories solely off one another. While these unseen adventures look like fun, the best part of it is that the cave setting in all these stories is the same one that the crew find themselves trapped in in the present.

The identical set in an animated show is far from an unnecessary addition if only to highlight the similarity of the cave episodes of Star Trek. This is honestly the best use of the ‘clip show’ format I’ve ever seen. It’s not recapping a series, and the characters seem to be genuinely bonding for the first time in a long time. It may be overdue, but it creates the most sentimental episode of the season by far. If this is a bonding experience leading into a tragic finale, this would be devastating.

L-R Eugene Cordero as Rutherford, Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner, Noël Wells as D’Vana Tendi and Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

The Survivors

The stories that the individual crewmembers tell are funny while not totally compelling enough to fill out their own episode. Writer Ben Rodgers understood the assignment when it came to what warrants an episode, and what’s probably best suited to a short skit. The most notable of the four, and probably my favorite, came from Boimler (Jack Quaid). As with all the stories, he finds himself trapped in a cave.

However, he’s trapped with someone who can only be described as an idiot. He’s a conspiracy theorist in just about every way, with a couple of obvious connections to the sort of stuff they spout these days. While it feels a little overdone in comedy, there’s something charming about a Star Trek version of this sort of stuff. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, and having him actually be correct about some stuff is a genuine shock.

What was most surprising though was the inclusion of the Vendorians from the original Animated Series episode “The Survivor”. Given it’s the 50th anniversary of the classic series, it’s fitting. Although, it’s not the first time the species has appeared in the series, with both having animated roots. It’s nice that after all this time, and about a century later, they get the chance to be fleshed out a little more.

L-R Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler, Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner, Eugene Cordero as Rutherford, and Noël Wells as D’Vana Tendi in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Ageing Lines and Babies

There are two other cave stories from throughout the episode, including some paternal instincts and briefly becoming far far older. Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) becomes trapped with Dr T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) in, you guessed it, a cave! There are some big Star Trek monsters that wouldn’t have looked very good in the ’90s, and some strange male pregnancy played for laughs. It’s an absurd premise, but nothing that the shows haven’t done before.

The best bit of it all is the paternal instincts that Rutherford develops for the strange clone baby. It goes to show that perhaps the natural endpoint for these characters could well be parenthood. Not only that but T’Ana continues to be one of the show’s funniest characters. It’s a real shame that she and Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) are often sidelined and totally absent. Softening on babies, and engineers marks what is probably her best moments all season.

Mariner’s story focuses on her and Delta Shift in a cave. They’ve been rivals throughout the series, so letting them make up also feels overdue. While some of the moments here, the leg stuff in particular, lean a little too far into the absurd for my taste, it’s still a good time. Playing around with the characters’ ages allowed for a great show of acting on all of the actors’ parts. While it wasn’t the best skit, there was clearly a lot of effort put in here.

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

The Turbolift

Throughout the episode, Tendi (Noël Wells) keeps trying to tell a story about a turbolift. However the other characters keep stopping the story because it’s not a cave. They need ideas for a cave escape, and that’s not what they’ll find in a turbolift. While the story isn’t the secret to escaping, it’s a really heartwarming sight. In a surprise twist, she gets to tell the story after the carnivorous moss becomes sentient and insists.

It’s a sweet note to end the episode on too. The story is from shortly after the rage incident in the pilot episode, with the animation style subtly changing to match. Amid all the power failures, they got trapped in a turbolift. It forced the four of them to bond over hours and hours, with Tendi getting to know them essentially for the first time. The situation mirrors where they are in the episode’s main story, but they’re having way more fun together.

This is the sort of retrospective I would try and do before an emotionally devastating finale. There are two episodes left in the season, and ending on such a sweet note doesn’t bode well for the characters. Although if this is one of the last times that the gang is happy together, it could hardly end on a funnier note. What an inventive episode, using a classic sitcom trope and hilariously calling back to very old-school Star Trek budget limitations.

Noël Wells as D’Vana Tendi in episode 8, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Conclusion

“Caves” is a real standout episode from season 4. In allowing the characters to come together, and actually bond, it plays into the show’s biggest strength. Over the past four seasons, the cast have all really settled into their roles. Allowing them to actually interact with one another is something the show hasn’t done enough of this season. It fixes what is probably everyone’s biggest complaint all in one go.

I hope that the final episodes of the season actually wrap up the story satisfyingly. This has been the first episode since “In the Cradle of Vexilon” not to explicitly tie into the season’s ongoing arc. Given what was revealed last week, the final showdown is going to be big. Even better is that the characters will be going into this conflict more united than ever before. Whatever potential devastation the finale has in store, count me invested.

You can find Star Trek: Lower Decks streaming every Thursday on Paramount+ in the US, Latin America, UK, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Each episode is also broadcast on the CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The season will also stream in South Korea on Paramount+ later in the year when the service arrives there. For more reviews, news, and general geeking out about Star Trek, follow Trek Central!


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Connor Schwigtenberg
Connor Schwigtenberg
All round science fiction geek and a passionate Star Trek enthusiast. Can reliably be found nerding out online. Currently exploring the expanded media. A writer at heart, look out for deep dives, reviews, and feature articles.

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