‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Ominously Makes Fun of Cave Episodes in “Caves”
Star Trek: Lower Decks loves a self-reference. And what is more self-referential than a Starfleet crew lost in a spooky cave?
This latest season of Star Trek: Lower Decks sees a number of major transitions for the show. We finally have a new semi-regular character in the form of T’Lyn. The season-long mystery does not directly involve the Cerritos, but they’re still respected enough to be a major part of the investigation.
But the biggest change, of course, is that all our Lower Deckers are now Lieutenants (junior grade). The transition may not seem enormous. There’s still a lot of grunt work. However, there’s a question looming in the air throughout the season–as their lives change, will these people all stay friends?
Certainly many episodes this year split the party in ways that carry over. Boimler and Rutherford have an ongoing roommate bond that’s theirs alone. There’s a feeling that, while Mariner and Boimler are both in the process of climbing the ranks, they are doing it through different avenues.
T’Lyn takes up space in everyone’s lives but in separate ways. She helps Boimler find confidence, protects Tendi’s privacy, and connects with Mariner emotionally–a pretty big deal for a Vulcan.
So “Caves” feels aptly timed. This story brings the OG team back together right before the final two episodes of the season. And what we get is a sweet romp that pokes fun at cave tropes in Star Trek that also feels strangely ominous.
To Boldly Recap “Caves”
For the first time in a while, the Lower Deckers all share a mission together sans T’Lyn. Their task? Check out this neat cave! What could go right? Nothing! There’s a cave-in, the crew is trapped, and there’s sentient carnivorous moss about to devour them. Naturally, to pass the time while they figure out how to escape, each Lower Decker tells a cave story.
Boimler’s adventure involves getting trapped with conspiracy dork Steve Levy. They nearly bite it at the tentacles of some morality-judging Vendorians. Rutherford reveals that he got pregnant with a clone baby while trapped in a cave with Dr. T’Ana. And Mariner reveals she had a cave mission with Delta Shift where they all bond over super-fast aging (it’s a time cave).
The sentient moss is about to devour everyone, but first, it wants to hear Tendi’s story. Tendi does not have a cave story. Instead, she talks about the events after the Star Trek: Lower Decks pilot episode. This was Tendi’s first day on the Cerritos and it ends with the Lower Decks stuck in a turbolift for four hours. They play silly games, pee in the corner, and Tendi thinks that this is the best day of her whole life.
In the end, the cave moss takes pity on our heroes. In exchange, the Lower Deckers befriend the cave by studying it. Also, the Vendorians are there. Weirdoes.
To Boldly Review “Caves”
There is a major flaw here, but it’s not “Caves” itself so much as it is the lead-up to “Caves”. As much as I love the idea of the Lower Deckers self-examining how to keep their friendships strong over time, the whole affair feels a little unearned.
Yes, this season does involve all the things I wrote about at the top. Boimler, Rutherford, Mariner, and Tendi all make individual strides. But there’s no point where I think to myself “gosh, they are really growing apart”. I do think “gosh, one of these people should leave the Cerritos” but I haven’t been terribly confident that will actually happen — until now.
There’s a lot to like about “Caves” itself. The Vendorian throwback is fun for the old heads (hi, that’s me). Making fun of conspiracy dweebs is always worthwhile. Rutherford’s story continues this idea that, in spite of himself, he’s actually very good at being a dad. And Mariner’s ability to lead even people who hate her guts shows she’s ready for command.
But the big moment is Tendi’s, assuming though it is. Yes, her memory is just the four of them in the turbolift, but it feels like she’s pointedly looking back. Tendi used to be afraid of being seen as an Orion first and an officer second. These people, her friends, make it clear from the very beginning that Tendi is not defined by any one thing.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Endings
There’s been a fair bit of chat lately over the future of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Showrunner Mike McMahan says T’Lyn is in season five. However, he also says season five may be the show’s last. Considering the constant shakeups at Paramount Plus, I’m inclined to believe no amount of audience boosting will prevent Lower Decks from ending in the near future. I think McMahan knows this, too.
Is the team behind Lower Decks thinking about the show’s ending, “Caves” certainly suggests they are. And I hope they are willing to let there be some bittersweetness to this episode in hindsight. I think “Caves” is better if this is the last time they do a silly cave mission altogether. Tendi believes these people will be the best of friends no matter what–it’s time to test that theory.
“Caves” gives me the warm fuzzies. It makes me glad this show is the way it is. But it also reminds me it is time for things to change. And how I’ll view this episode in the future will depend entirely upon if and how that change happens.