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REVIEW – Star Trek: Lower Decks “In the Cradle of Vexilon”

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Another week, another episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. The season’s now in full swing, and we’re on episode three. This week’s episode is Lower Decks “In the Cradle of Vexilon” and comes to us from writer Ben Waller. After a strong and intriguing premiere, I want to see where the series goes. There’s a lot going on this season. The characters have been promoted; there’s a ship on the loose, and that’s just the beginning. It’s going to be quite the season!

But what does this week’s tale have in store? How is the series coping with the totally changed-up character dynamics? And are there any more hints as to what exactly’s in that ship? As we review and discuss the latest Star Trek: Lower Decks adventure, let’s find out. Onwards to “In The Cradle of Vexilon”!

WARNING – This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 4 Episode 3 “In The Cradle of Vexilon”. If you would rather avoid that, please read no further. You have been warned!

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+

Inconsistency

I’m sorry to start out with a complaint, but it’s something that bugged me from the beginning of Lower Decks “In the Cradle of Vexilon”. To recap, the first episode of the season double-premiere ended with a mysterious alien ship. Plus, the cold open of the second episode. This week’s third episode didn’t even have a cold open, cutting straight to the opening credits.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the series’ opening credits, probably more than most. But I find myself disappointed in the season’s lack of consistency in whether or not it wants to have a cold open, whether or not it’s touching on the season’s mystery ship, where that is in the episode. That said, three episodes probably isn’t the best sample size in the world. We’ll have to see how all of this carries into future series episodes before I get too annoyed.

Especially given how funny episode 2’s Romulan-themed cold open was, it just feels like a missed opportunity. Particularly for comedy series, the cold open offers an opportunity to tell jokes or portray situations that couldn’t fill out a whole episode. In a universe as infinite as Star Trek‘s, and given Lower Decks‘ comedic nature, it’s a little disappointing that it’s not something that shows leaned into.

L-R Jerry O\’Connell as Commander Jack Ransom and Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner appearing in episode 2, season 4 of Lower Decks streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Paramount+

Allamaraine

I’ve said it dozens of times in the past, but it bears repeating again that Deep Space Nine is my favourite Star Trek series. In the current era of the franchise, it remains the series called back to the least. As a result, I’m always overjoyed when I see or hear a reference to the series. Short of last season’s episode set on the station, this is probably the best example yet.

The legacy of “Move Along Home” is a mixed one to say the least, but the idea around the Wadi Chula game fits a comedy series perfectly. Out of all the 90s Star Trek episode ideas, it stands out among the strangest. Watching Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) speedrun the game towards the end is genuinely funny. Seeing them subtly incorporate current gaming trends like that is very charming, and as someone very familiar with the episode, it worked.

An element of the episode that I was slightly more mixed about was the traumatic story that ended up being fake. It could have led to an interesting meditation on the newly promoted gang-making assumptions, and it almost does. But then, for the sake of a laugh, the carpet is pulled out from underneath at the last possible moment. Comedy is all about subversion, and the joke works, but it’s an awfully long time to spend on something that wasn’t real.

L-R 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+

Re-Genesis

Lower Decks “In the Cradle of Vexilon”‘ main plot line is set on the superstructure of Vexilon, home of the Corazonians. It’s a new society and one that I’d love to revisit in the future. A society looked after by a computer, especially in the age of powerful artificial intelligence, is a powerful story. However, this is a story of rebooting said computer. It doesn’t go as far as it should with its premise, but it’s still silly fun about computer troubles.

As a result, cramming the older characters Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) and Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) created a nice bit of comedy. It was obvious from the beginning that their perceptions of art and technology were just a little bit out of touch. Definitely an interesting dynamic for the episode, but maybe not as funny as it should’ve been. For characters who too often find themselves sidelined by the main gang, it was nice seeing them both have a big role in this story.

What struck me from the beginning of the episode was how similar this structure was to the Halo games. I’m unfamiliar with the franchise, but it’s a powerful and iconic image. It’s also cool to see something outside the traditional planets or nebulae. It creates a very unique image in an episode that otherwise does anything all too special. I hope this is a good sign for the future of the season, with some more crazy out there sci-fi settings.

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

Genuine Character Growth

I was so so surprised in how well this episode develops Boimler (Jack Quaid). As much as the characters’ promotions shake up the status quo, I really feel like he’s grown substantially as a character through this episode. It was here that he learned to trust other people, to take them under his wing, to delegate responsibility.

Throughout the series he’s been a dorky rulebook, almost certainly a stand-in for certain types of Star Trek fan (myself included). Having him here, taking charge of a situation and bossing around a bunch of Ensigns made this the perfect season 4 episode. We’ve come to know him well, seeing him promoted and properly grapple with the ramifications of that was glorious. I need more character moments like this in Star Trek‘s storytelling.

He even got to go through something that all the best Star Trek characters get to go through. Previously, he was a sort of redshirt, but his promotion appears to have given him some form of invincibility. He survives an explosion, twice. It’s only a very short appearance from Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) here this week, but it had me howling. There’s something very funny about Star Trek plot armour and the fact that the series censors swear words.

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+

Hazing

The rest of the gang spends time doing some crazy mundane tasks this week, believing it to be a hazing ritual. While story-wise, there’s nothing too interesting going on, the cast’s chemistry is laudable. Some lines between Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Tendi (Noël Wells) were particularly funny.

The green chips in the walls weren’t quite as visually interesting as they should’ve been, but the lighting was well done. The way the situation just keeps going, between the room’s heat and the second layer of boards, is almost funny. It helps to verify the idea that they’re being hazed, although it’s nowhere near as interesting as Tendi’s story.

It turned out that they were being hazed, but potentially only about the Wadi Chula game I mentioned earlier. From what Tendi was doing at the end of Lower Decks “In the Cradle of Vexilon”, we get the impression that one of the chips actually was broken. It’s another one of those things that the hazing joke exposes the episode to upon a rewatch. Still, though, it was silly, and in traditional Lower Decks style, it was fun.

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+

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed this week’s episode, and I love how this season has been shaking up the dynamic, with Boimler’s rank in particular, being a cause of some genuine character growth. Even though the series isn’t doing anything new, everything old feels new again in the age of their promotion. Enough of it also got a good laugh out of me, which is always a positive in a comedy series.

While the episode didn’t blow the series out of the water, it was a more than enjoyable 25-minute romp. If this is going to be the standard for the season, it’s going to be a very, very easy couple of months. Even the incident of the week episodes have been pretty funny so far. I don’t know what the future holds for Lower Decks. The details of next week’s episode are pretty scarce at time of writing, but count me very invested. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the USS Cerritos and the gang!

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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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