Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4 episode 3 sees the USS Cerritos meeting a benevolent AI. “In the Cradle of Vexilon” was written by Ben Waller and directed by Brandon Williams.
“In the Cradle of Vexilon”
Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) of the Cerritos records a captain’s log, Stardate 58759.1. The Cerritos is visiting Corosonia. It’s a ring-shaped artificial structure created by an ancient, advanced and extinct alien species. Corosonia is inhabited by the Corosonians, non-natives who enjoy perfect surface conditions thanks to a benevolent environmental computer, Vexilon. The shuttlecraft “Yosemite II” lands and Freeman disembarks with Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell). They are greeted by two Corosonians who explain they’re concerned about Vexilon.
After confirming Vexilon is indeed benevolent, the Corosonians explain Vexilon’s hardware is running down and affecting its performance. Weather and geographic systems are no longer stable. Some areas have even flooded. As a community of artists and poets, the conditions are beginning to affect their creative output. Inside a temple, Vexilon welcomes Freeman and says they appreciate her help. It replicates iced tea. However, the iced tea turns out to be hot. Freeman assures Vexilon it’s normal for a planetary system to need occasional maintenance. Vexilon admits it has had difficulty controlling its monsoon season. Freeman offers to pop its control panel and take a look at its circuits. A console rises from the floor.
Freeman rolls up her sleeves and begins typing at the control panel. Ransom suggests beaming down some engineers. Freeman assures her first officer that she minored in Archaic Technology at the Academy. Vexilon worries Freeman’s being taken away from more important work. Freeman assures Vexilon they needed to stop in and retrofit the Starfleet power relay installed during First Contact, anyway.
Lt. J-G Boimler
Meanwhile, Lt. J-G Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) is tasked with retrofitting the power relay. The shuttlecraft “Kings Canyon” sits near a Corosonian hanger. Nearby, Boimler paces and verbally reassures himself he’s “Boss Boimler.” He’s interrupted by Provisional Lt. J-G T’Lyn (Gabrielle Ruiz), who asks if he’s completed his confidence-boosting ritual. T’Lyn assures Boimler that all equipment is in working condition for their errand. Boimler corrects her that it’s a mission, his first in command.
Boimler addresses his team, Ensigns Taylor (Fred Tatasciore), Meredith (Charlotte Nicdao), and Big Merp. He says they’re performing a straightforward power terminal upgrade. Boimler says he and T’Lyn are available for any questions. Afterward, Boimler confides in T’Lyn that he thinks the speech went well. He explains he’s had good bosses and bad bosses. T’Lyn says his caution is warranted. She states ensigns serving under new commanders are statistically more likely to experience death and/or dismemberment.
While he’s horrified, Boimler says it’s a good thing their mission is routine. T’Lyn points out that the component pieces are unstable and could detonate at any time. Furthermore, the retrofit must be executed in a precise order, or the terminal could explode. Boimler compares the process to disarming a building-sized bomb. T’Lyn concedes the accuracy of the comparison. Boimler rushes off to coach his team on safety.
Anomaly Storage Room
In the orbiting Cerritos, Lt. J-Gs D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), and Samanthan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) speculate on the status of Boimler’s mission. Rutherford says being a Lt. J-G doesn’t seem too different from being an ensign. But Tendi argues they now have access to the anomaly storage room. This is where anything that requires further study or which might need to be returned to its previous entity is kept. Items include various hand-to-hand combat weapons and NOMAD.
Rutherford points out a hat that turned Billups into a church steeple. Tendi cautions him against a spider that will make his head do that thing from The Thing (1982). They’re interrupted by a Betazoid gift box. It asks to be put in Rutherford’s quarters. Rutherford asks if it is sentient. Tendi says no, it just picks up phrases it hears. When it utters a profanity-laced sentence about eating a bag of Borg ****s, Tendi says she didn’t know Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) came in there. Rutherford spots a Wadi chula game.
The revelry is interrupted by an order to report to the isolinear chip junction. Tendi says she thought they had the afternoon off. Rutherford says being a Lt. J-G won’t be that different from being an ensign. Mariner says it will at least be interesting work. But when they arrive at the junction, Lieutenant Dirk tells them he needs the three of them to scan each and every chip by hand.
Isolinear Chip Junction
Dirk explains there’s a .015 deviation in the fault sensor, so it must be done by hand. Rutherford asks why it can’t wait until they repair the sensor. Dirk says the sensor detected a single malfunctioning chip before it went down, and the three of them must find it. Tendi says it isn’t so bad. Dirk continues that the room fills with nitrogen coolant once an hour. Furthermore, the chips can get scalding hot. And finally, Billups’ ferret has escaped and is roaming free.
“Lancelot is in here?” asks Rutherford fearfully. Mariner admits this feels pretty ensign-y. Tendi says this is ensign work or even cadet. She says that on Orion, older pirates would haze new recruits by making them do worthless tasks. But Mariner concludes there’s no way senior officers would haze them because they’re not cool enough. She says it’s an annoying job given to them by an annoying guy. Tendi says she’s probably overreacting, but it’s a big wall of chips.
On Corosonia, Freeman tells Vexilon that nothing seems to be wrong with its hardware. She asks to take a look at its terminal. Freeman says its operating system is out of date. Vexilon remembers a weekend when its creators evolved into fifth-dimensional energy beings and left it on its own. Freeman notes that its last update was six million and seven years ago. She says she’ll get it caught up with the update, which should get it fixed right up.
But Vexilon’s voice begins to skip before its screen goes dark. Ransom asks if the update required a shutdown and Freeman says it wasn’t supposed to. With Vexilon offline, Corosonia’s clouds freeze and begin falling on the Corosonians. Freeman and Ransom trade a worried glance.
At the Corosonian power relay (where it’s now snowing), Boimler reminds the away team the name of the game is safety. He’s startled by a falling frozen cloud and suggests speed. T’Lyn reminds him of the danger and questions the need for speed. Boimler says something’s going on with the weather and the team are pros.
However, Boimler immediately begins micromanaging the movements of his team members. Boimler says he’ll show them how to do one and then they can do the rest. Meredith asks if each tube doesn’t require three people. While Boimler admits that’s technically true, he thinks he should show them how to do one. He warns them that doing the steps in the wrong order could result in an explosion. Boimler continues talking as he walks out of earshot while he’s loading the power cell into the shuttlecraft. Meredith says she’s not sure if they got it. Big Merp asks if they could try it. Boimler says he’ll show them another one.
Meanwhile, in the Cerritos chip junction, all but one chip is scanned. However, it scans “fine.” Dirk returns. Mariner says they’ve scanned every chip. They’re all fine. Dirk asks if that includes the second layer, pressing a button to reveal more chips. Then he continues that the second layer is twice as hot, so they’ll now want to use tongs.
Lancelot jumps out and scurries around Rutherford’s legs. Dirk calls Billups as he runs off after the ferret. The junction’s doors close and coolant floods the room. Rutherford asks how they dealt with hazing on Orion vessels: “Blindfolded saber battles.” Mariner says she wants to hear about that but she has a less “stabby” solution. The trio exits the junction.
On Corosonia, the sky is now randomly cycling through weather patterns and times of day. Freeman assures everyone it’s no big deal. She consults the ancient manual. While she seems to have some luck, Vexilon’s screen soon shows a red “X.” Freeman calls for Billups to beam down.
When Billups arrives, he apologizes and says he’s having a hard time. He begins to explain that Lancelot got out while he was cleaning his cuddle tower. However, he’s soon distracted by Vexilon’s “classic set-up.” Before turning it back on, Billups confirms Vexilon isn’t “crushing the will of the locals or anything.” He asks if it is safe to jiggle Vexilon’s power supply. This makes Freeman think of the possibility that Vexilon has a “safe mode” for debugging.
This gets rid of the stalled update. However, it seems to trigger a full reboot rather than a safe mode. Vexilon addresses them in a robotic tone and welcomes them to their world. Resetting to default settings, Vexilon begins reverting Corosonia to a primordial state. As Corosonia begins erupting gas and lava, Boimler continues to execute his mission alone. He’s down to the last cell. T’Lyn says Boimler’s ensigns are correct and leading by example “has proven to be inefficient.”
But that’s when Freeman contacts Boimler and asks if his team has finished the retrofit. She tells him to put it back the way it was. She says according to a scroll they found in an ancient junk drawer, Vexilon can force a restart if they reroute primary power through the station Boimler’s been working on. Boimler says no problem, he just has to undo all the work he just did. Meanwhile, a volcano appears on the horizon and begins showering the station with lava.
Haze vs. Haze
In Dirk’s quarters, Tendi, Rutherford and Mariner have set up a complicated prank involving the chula game, the Betazoid gift box and the probe from “The Inner Light.” They leave his quarters and run into him into the hallway. Dirk asks if they completed the chip task and they say they did. He expresses his appreciation and emphasizes that the job is life and death. Dirk further thanks them for taking it on. Tendi asks why he wouldn’t do such an important job himself.
Dirk takes a deep breath and says, “Doctor Migleemo says acceptance is the road to healing.” He asks them how familiar they are with the chula game. He explains he was trapped in one for a month as a child, traumatizing him. Dirk says that “torture” has shadowed his life. He further says he can’t go near the anomaly room without having a panic attack, since he knows a chula game is in there. Sobbing, he confesses that he should have helped them today but the chip room reminds him too much of the game.
Mariner asks him if it would comfort him to talk about Tellarite Slop Jazz. She encourages Dirk to discuss the topic with her as she leads him away. Over her shoulder, she hisses “go fix it” to Rutherford and Tendi. Dirk begins giving a disgusting description of the music. Mariner reluctantly encourages him to continue.
On Corosonia, Boimler continues to prevent the ensigns from assisting him. He nearly drops a cell but T’Lyn catches it. She tells Boimler he will allow the ensigns to assist him. The pair seek cover as more lava rains down upon them. T’Lyn tells Boimler his desire to protect his team is admirable. However, danger is an accepted risk of Starfleet duty.
Boimler says he can’t accept that he’s been randomly promoted and feels wrong to put his peers in a situation where they might get killed. T’Lyn tells him his promotion was not random. She says his work is exemplary and the Commander was right to promote him. She tells him her team deserves his trust just as Ransom trusted Boimler. While it remains to be seen whether or not any of them have greatness within them, they deserve the opportunity to demonstrate it.
Boimler is pleased to hear his file says positive things. T’Lyn assures him it describes his strengths and weaknesses. Boimler shouts to the ensigns that T’Lyn says he has to put them at risk. T’Lyn says that is not how she would have stated the lesson.
Meanwhile, Boimler tells the ensigns that they’ve worked together for years and he trusts them to perform well. He gives them orders and everyone gets to work.
Move Along Home
On the Cerritos, Tendi rapidly scans in the chip junction. Meanwhile, Rutherford accidentally trips the trap in Dirk’s room. Soon he and the Betazoid box are trapped in the chula game. Elsewhere, Mariner groans as Dirk goes on and on about jazz. In the chula game, the box curses at Rutherford. Tendi continues scanning (with her T88) at a frenzied rate. Dirk tells Mariner the best musician, Fats B’Zrbak, overdosed on Ketracel-white. Mariner says, “Yeah, that sh*t will mess you up.”
Rutherford continues to speed-run the chula game. Tendi finally locates and replaces the broken chip in the junction. In the hallway, Dirk’s musical history lecture has reached 2380. He says he should head back to his room since Migleemo is coming over to work on his trust issues. She asks if he doesn’t want to list more things at her and she says maybe afterward. In the chula game, Rutherford and the box have reached the final room.
After Rutherford and the box return to Dirk’s room, the box is zapped by “The Inner Light” probe. The box asks if that was an entire simulated life and Rutherford says, “Sorry about that.” The box says it misses its wife. As Dirk approaches the room, Mariner attempts to distract him with various musical questions. Meanwhile, Rutherford snatches up the various pieces of the prank and prepares to leave the room.
Dirk has arrived at his room but Mariner’s statement that “someone told me there’s no difference between slop jazz and skuzz blues” finally causes him to stop. Behind him, Rutherford exits his room holding the prank equipment. Concurrently, Dirk realizes he’s meeting Migleemo in his office and has no reason to return to his quarters for hours. Dirk departs. Rutherford collapses.
The Black Mountain
On Corosonia, Boimler directs his team. Meanwhile, the apocalyptic conditions continue. Working together, they get the power online. Freeman instructs them to keep the power running while she hacks the megastructure. Vexilon comes back online. Freeman says she needs it to stop the re-genesis before everyone is killed.
At the power relay, the turbine begins overheating. Freeman says she needs more time. Boimler orders everyone out and approaches the turbine terminal. Freeman finishes her mission and tells Boimler to shut it down. Boimler’s on it. But not fast enough: the relay explodes. Boimler’s horrified team looks on as his charred body is flung through the air, landing at their feet.
After a flash of light, an uninjured Boimler awakens in a purple chair. He’s sitting in a strangely shaped room with a strange table, a single standing lamp and a purple door. Outside against a stormy sky is the Black Mountain. Boimler observes it. Then the Cosmic Koala is sitting in the chair. “It is not your time, Bradward Boimler,” the Koala says backward.
Boimler awakes screaming. The weather on Corosonia has calmed. He is bandaged and surrounded by the away team. Also present is Doctor T’Ana and Ransom. T’Lyn tells him his mission was a success. Ransom tells him “well done” and says “you never forget your first death” (this wasn’t Bradward’s). After Ransom tells Boimler the missions only get more dangerous, Bomiler collapses again. T’Ana clears everyone out as she asks for 30 ccs of “whatever just worked a f*cking minute ago.”
In the Cerritos bar, Tendi, Rutherford and Mariner agree they’re glad they didn’t get Dirk caught in the chula game. Meanwhile, Mariner begrudgingly admits she’s beginning to like the jazz albums Dirk is sending her. Tendi says she’s sorry to have brought up the idea that Dirk might be hazing them. Rutherford says next time they’ll assume the best in people.
Across the bar, Ransom and Dirk laugh about hazing the new lieutenants. Then Dirk releases Lancelot with instructions to attack Rutherford.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are available for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursdays.
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