Star Trek loves a cave episode. You can shoot a number of different stories in similar-looking sets and limit the number of actors are the focus, you can bring together unlikely pairings and force them to bounce off each other. Caves are good! Lower decks not only agrees with this, but also uses the caveat usually found in live-action films to present a truly important episode for its heroes.
As the name suggests, in “Caves” Boimler, Mariner, Tendi and Rutherford are stuck in a cave during an away mission. It cannot be communicated with Cerritos and their cave slowly fills with unstable moss. The isolation forces each team member to think about previous times when they were stuck in a cave during an away mission, because that’s actually only a good 30% of one The Career of a Starfleet Officer.
These anthology-formatted flashbacks, aside from Tendis – who is important for another reason we’ll get to later – crucially isolate each member of the main cast from the rest. Instead, they’re either dealing with superior officers, like Rutherford and Dr. T’Ana (who gets stuck in a cave and has to deal with another classic). Hike or in the case of Mariner and Boimler, using their new promotions to see that they must take the lead as senior officers over other colleagues.
In true cave episode style, these are based on the aforementioned lover Hike Scenario in which unlikely pairings are thrown together to create a conflict that must be overcome. Rutherford’s usual passive personality forces him to rise to the occasion when he is forced to deal with the irascible Dr. T’Ana must survive while Mariner must overcome her prejudices against the Delta Shift Cerritos The crew she leads is killed during an earlier crash landing, and Boimler is forced to spend time with a conspiracy theorist he can’t stand. These are all fun ideas on their own, but together they show how much our midshipmen have evolved over the course of the show – not only in becoming lieutenants and taking on more responsibility, but also how they’ve matured as people, to deal with situations like this.
Rutherford, Mariner and Boimler would have struggled terribly with all three of these situations in the past. Rutherford is led by Dr. T’Ana overpowered, Mariner unable to overcome her prejudices and work with others, Boimler confronting literally everyone he can’t please: all of these would have been situations that would have completely undone them before, and often to hilarious effect . But Lower decks has changed, and these characters have changed, and instead we get to see how they all adapt to these situations and overcome them instead.
This stands in elegant contrast to Tendi’s own cave story, which isn’t actually a cave story at all. It’s similar to the image of being stuck in a turbolift instead of a cave, but it’s important not only because it’s the only flashback to feature in all four main films Lower decks stars together, but takes us back to the very first episode of the series to see how their bond came to be in the first place. It’s bittersweet watching the beginnings of their friendship juxtaposed with stories in which each of them is now apart, driven by the evolution of their careers. But it further underscores that the bond between Mariner, Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford is actually stronger than ever in the here and now: it’s not them have To be together and embody the lessons they’ve learned as friends, they don’t have to be right next to each other to bring out the best in each other. Each of these four characters has now had time to develop and change as people Lower decks‘ four seasons to the point that each of them manages to be alone sometimes – knowing that their friends will always be there for them on the other side of every Duff Cave Away mission.
It’s a sweet, clever lever of legendary silliness Star Trek Trope – one that is often cited as a way to save money and go easy on the budget. Here, Lower decks enriches the cave format by making the most of the character perspective. And given the positioning of “Caves” as the last episode before Lower decks‘ typical two-episode season finales, it’s a fitting moment to look back at how far these characters have come… before they undoubtedly face a trial that will challenge them unlike anything they’ve faced before.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is now available to stream on Paramount+
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