Lower Decks S4E3: In the Cradle of Vexilon

The Cerritos visits Corusconia, an alien megastructure that’s been colonized by the Federation, a “bespoke” artificial world run by Vexilon, a benevolent supercomputer, “with no interest in world domination,” as Captain Freeman ominously reassures us in the opening captain’s log.

But Vexilon’s hardware is aging, and it’s starting to behave erratically. While Freeman and first officer Ransom attempt an upgrade, newly-promoted Lt. Boimler is leading his first away mission, repairing the computer’s power source, and is naturally overthinking things, with new Vulcan science officer T’Lyn on hand to dryly remind him he’s screwing things up.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford quickly learn being junior grade lieutenants doesn’t mean they’re free from doing the kind of tedious grunt work they did as ensigns. Except they start to convince themselves they’re being made to do pointless work by the senior staff as a hazing ritual, and of course also screw things up.

After a strong start with last week’s two episodes, this is a lightweight episode, as the shipboard hijinx don’t connect with the main story and don’t really tell us much about the characters other than that they’re loveable screwups who manage to get it right in the end. The captain’s story really only has one joke, that updating this six-million-year-old has all the same headaches as reinstalling MacOS. Neither add that much to the episode, and an A, B, and C story feel like they’re stretching the 24-minute episode a little thin.

The Boimler story is the strongest of the three, as he spends his first command reluctant to give any orders, and doing everything himself. Which, we learn, isn’t because he doesn’t trust the ensigns under his command; it’s because as someone who was an ensign a week ago, he doesn’t feel like he’s earned the right to order them into potential danger. Nice to see the show’s using the crew’s promotions to re-examine the characters, and there’s more to that storyline than simply “well, they can’t be ensigns forever.”

But on the whole, the episode is neither character-heavy nor joke-heavy, and while not every episode of a sitcom has to feel significant, this one feels particularly insignificant. The arc that started Season 2, with Boimler aboard the Titan and separated from the ensemble gave the other leads a chance to shine; this week the other leads feel like they’re killing time until Boimler comes back. Hopefully we’ll have the band back together next week.

Stray tachyons:
• Lunkhead first officer Ransom being an astute art critic is a terrific gag.

• T’Lyn continues to be a delight. “Ensigns serving under recently-promoted lieutenants are statistically more likely to experience death or dismemberment.” “DEATH?!?” “Yes. And ‘or dismemberment.’”

• “I think I have a less stabby solution.” That’s not like you, Mariner!