Lower Decks’ “In the Cradle of Vexilon” in Review
It’s dodgy computer time again in the Federation, but for once it’s not psychotic…
The USS Cerritos visits Corazonia, an artificial Ringworld of artists and poets, to replace some power relays. The planetary operating system, Vexilon, was installed by the world’s builders aeons ago, and is starting to glitch, flooding mountains and replicating burning iced tea. Despite Ransom suggesting to let engineers deal with it, Captain Freeman — having taken a minor course in Archaic Technology — figures she’ll sort the problem herself.
Newly minted Lieutenant Boimler is leading his first away team, along with “Provisional Lieutenant, junior grade,” T’Lyn. Once he has conducted his “confidence ritual,” he becomes even more nervous when T’Lyn points out that the power relays their ensigns have come to replace are very fragile, highly explosive, and must be manipulated in the right order.
Mariner, Rutherford and Tendi have access to the Cerritos’ anomaly storage room, where a bunch of alien artifacts requiring study are kept, including a Vulcan lirpa, Nomad, a bat’leth, a Betazoid gift box, and the notorious Wadi game from the DS9 episode “Move Along Home”.
They are then called by Lieutenant Dirk to manually check all of the thousands of isolinear chips for one broken one, in a junction which fills with nitrogen coolant every hour because the chips are scalding to the touch — and they should report any bites from Billups’ escaped ferret. Tendi believes they’re being hazed with cadet-level meaningless busywork.
Vexilon’s hardware is okay, but the software hasn’t been updated in six million years, so Freeman triggers the update… This causes an immediate shutdown of Vexilon and all the weather and geology it controls — clouds start dropping from the skies and smashing.
There’s a sudden blizzard at the power relays. There, Boimler insists on showing his ensigns how to do the job himself, even though it takes three people for safety. This also dismays the ensigns, who wonder when they’ll get to do some of the mission.
Mariner, Rutherford and Tendi, meanwhile, think they’ve tested every chip to no avail, until Dirk uses a hidden button to reveal the next layer of them, which are hotter and need tongs. He then sets off in pursuit of the ferret. Tendi wants to give him the Orion response to hazing, which involves blindfolded sabre fights, but Mariner develops “a less stabby solution.”
With Vexilon’s update stalled, Freeman has Billups beam down. She then tries to boot the machine in safe mode, but accidentally begins a new install instead, leading Vexilon to start the world from scratch in a re-genesis, beginning with fjords and primordial ooze. Boimler is removing the last relay, to show his team how it’s done, when Freeman calls to have him put them back — Vexilon can be restored if booted via the relays. At the same time, a volcano erupts outside the relay station.
Mariner’s revenge on Dirk is to set a trap in his quarters, to trap him in the Wadi game with the gift box yelling at him. However, they meet him in the corridor outside, where he reveals he was once trapped in the game for a month and has PTSD about it. Mariner distracts him with talk of Tellarite slop jazz, while Tendi and Rutherford run to find the bad chip and undo the trap.
Dodging lava bombs while carrying the volatile relay cylinders, Boimler refuses to let his team help, in case they’re hurt. T’Lyn convinces him that his promotion was due to his record, which she read, and that he needs to trust his team, as Ransom and Starfleet trust him. Reassured that he can put them in danger, Boimler has them replace the relays.
While Tendi finds the malfunctioning chip, Rutherford falls into their own trap and has to carry the gift box through the Wadi game in record time- it spits him out to knock over the probe from TNG’s “The Inner Light”, which hits the gift box, giving it Kamin’s life story.
Boimler’s team get the relay station back online, allowing Vexilon to reboot successfully and cancel the re-genesis. However, the power core overloads and — as Boimler hits the emergency shutdown button — the building explodes. He then finds himself in a small room with a koala, before returning to life to be told he was the only fatality. At this, Boimler loses consciousness again.
Back on the ship, our heroes have learned that they weren’t being hazed… while Dirk tells Ransom that he gave them a tale about being trapped in the game, and they agree it was a good wind-up…
Whereas out-of-control computers are a staple of the Star Trek franchise, this is a nice fresh take on the trope. It’s also totally understandable to anyone who has become frustrated by updates taking their time.
Splitting the narrative into three means it has smaller arcs to squeeze the gags and easter eggs into. The best easter eggs are in the anomaly room, of course, and the gift box quoting Doctor T’Ana is a highlight, especially since we have to wait so long for the actual T’Ana to appear. Let’s not forget the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference to the fjords either.
Freeman’s messing the computer up seems a little out of character, while douchey prankster Dirk is performed with a good range. It’s also nice to see more of T’Lyn.
Overall, this has a good set of characters, positive dialogue, and gags, as well as the annual equation of the blue koala with death. The gags are good, the music is good, and it balances out well. A good, solid episode of the series.
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.