Lower Decks’ “Caves” in Review
How often in the franchise have starship crew members been trapped in a cave set on Stage 16? And we know how Lower Decks loves to homage the Berman era….
Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford and Tendi head to the planet Grottonus to study cave moss. They discuss commonalities of caves and are trapped by a cave-in.
Frustrated, Mariner kicks the moss, making it glow and attack Tendi. The team wonder if their previous caving experiences may provide a solution. It’s Tendi’s first cave; she’s only been trapped in a turbolift. Boimler recalls being trapped in a cave with the conspiracy-minded Lieutenant Levy.
Flashback: Levy destroys a one-seat vehicle, convinced it’s a Vendorian morality test. Annoyed, Boimler rejects Levy’s theories. They’re confronted by real Vendorians, who judge them to have failed the morality test.
According to Levy, the pair will be punished by having Vendorian younglings explode from their chests. The Vendorians are surprised he knows their culture and Levy explains he’s a fan of them via subspace forums. Boimler admits he won’t yell at Levy’s beliefs, at which point the Vendorians cheer the success of their morality gambit.
Now, Boimler says the Vendorians taught him to use gammanite to boost his combadge. Here, there’s trigammanite, so the lower deckers plan to extract it from the rocks. Having Boimler use his trousers as a phaser beam filter, Rutherford says he became such a problem solver while trapped in a cave with Doctor T’Ana and their kid…
On the planet Balkus 9 in the past, Rutherford and Tendi are accompanied by a guide, Thusa, to gather medicinal ferns to cure a sick Billups. Thusa is attacked by a ferocious Grafflax. After touching Rutherford’s face, Thusa dies. Their brief touch leads Rutherford to become pregnant, have a C-section and pass out, all in a matter of seconds.
The clone baby bonds with Rutherford. T’Ana hates engineers and babies but eventually bonds with young Thusa, seeing her as a co-adventurer. The Grafflax is still stalking them… until Rutherford establishes contact with it by modifying the universal translator. It reveals it was protecting its baby, which lives in the fern pond. Deeming Rutherford and T’Ana as good parents, it happily leads them out of the cave…
The moss is still advancing on our heroes. Mariner uses a combadge to refine the trigammanite. She reveals she learned this from Delta shift, on the planet Glish.
On Glish earlier, Mariner crashes a four-person Delta shift shuttle into a cave. The shuttle is intact but needs pergium for fuel. Mariner soon spots a pile of it… but there’s a chroniton field in between, which causes rapid aging. Mariner competes with Karavitus, the Delta shift leader, to get there first… but neither can reach the pergium, though they admit they’ve been spiteful to each other.
The youngest Delta shifter, Asif, has a broken leg, so Karavitus tells him it’ll heal as he ages when trying for the pergium. It heals wrong and his lower leg falls off, just before Amadou — the fourth team member — reports finding more pergium, which has de-aged him to boyhood. The women drag the injured Asif back, leaving his leg behind. They’re about to be rescued and Mariner joins the Delta shift chant.
Having revealed these things about themselves, our now disgruntled heroes are engulfed by moss. It reveals it is sentient and promises to let them go when it hears Tendi’s story. Reluctantly complying, she recounts her first day on the Cerritos.
In the aftermath of “Second Contact” — the show’s first episode — the foursome get trapped in a lift and throw socks at Boimler’s face. They properly bond… but Shaxs terrifies them, coming to the rescue hours later.
The moss admits it has eaten many visitors but never made a friend. Releasing our heroes, the moss agrees to let them study it, so long as they have more stories. Two Vendorians watch covertly, deciding the team has passed a friendship test. They plan to let the lower deckers continue socialising before unblocking comms.
If you’re a longtime fan or have caught up with the other Trek eras more recently, you’ll probably be familiar with just how often caves feature and how recognisable the same caves become when they keep showing up in different episodes of concurrent shows. This is well done here, with the cave backdrops all being the same backdrops regardless of the planet (the toothed mouth part being particularly obvious).
It also riffs on several actual episodes, especially from DS9 and Voyager, though it does also feel somewhat more Futurama-ish in a few places, such as with the talking moss. The Vendorians, mind you, look rather like the descriptions of the Star People in HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. They definitely work better here than in the episode they were introduced in, The Animated Series installment “The Survivor”.
T’Ana is another highlight, with her attitude to the baby being exactly how adult cats react to new kittens. In fact, her whole sequence with Rutherford is just great, even to the point where she bonds with the baby as a fellow adventurer. As an mpreg (male pregnancy) story, it knocks the likes of Enterprise’s “Unexpected” into a cocked hat too.
The running gag of this being Tendi’s first trapped-in-a-cave mission works well, if leading Mariner to be a bit horrible to her, but the payoff is well worth it. There’s also some amusing wordplay, such as a cave planet called “Grottonus” (as in “grotto”), and great dialogue. The music is very evocative of the cave episodes in various earlier series.
As a pastiche of a familiar element, it works, partly due to its portmanteau format. Mariner’s story is the weakest but at least doesn’t overstay its welcome. In total, the episode is a good reminder of why these characters work and is a nice break before we’ll presumably find out more about the season’s mystery-ship story arc.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.