I recently reached out to a friend of mine, one with whom I haven’t spoken in months. Yes, we keep track on the relevant socials, but we certainly don’t speak every day or even every month. However, we can pick up exactly where we left off, no matter how long it’s been since we last spoke. These are the “forever friends,” and they’re priceless. However, friends like this are incredibly rare, but even though we can go months or even years without speaking, that friendship, like any other relationship, requires investment and effort to maintain, no matter how minimal.
Star Trek: Lower Decks eighth episode of season four “Caves” sees our core four Lower Deckers getting a crash course in maintaining friendships. Sure, in a Lower Decks context, they need tentacled Vendorians of TAS fame to goad them into reinvesting in their friendship, but the episode makes the point that Boimler, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford must share of themselves with their friends in order to grow their friendship. They share their stories with each other, and in so doing, gain a new friend. The reminder there is that stories are not just powerful in shaping our worldviews but also in how they shape our relationships and communities.
In “Caves,” our new lieutenants junior grade get assigned on an away mission to study moss growing in the cave. Par for the course in Lower Decks, a ceiling collapse renders them trapped in the cave and initially unable to contact the Cerritos for rescue. Then, they discover that the moss they’ve come to study is carnivorous, meaning that they must escape the cave before the moss can consume them. Boimler estimates given the rate of growth that they only have a few hours before they become a food source.
As they work through various solutions, they turn to previous experiences in caves as a way to find a solution to their current dilemma. Boimler tells a story about getting stuck in a cave with conspiracy theorist Steve Levy in which he used gammanite to boost comm signals. Levy was convinced the cave-in that trapped them was a Vendorian morality test, which Boimler initially fails due to snapping at Levy. Rutherford shares a story about getting lost in a cave system with Dr. T’Ana because their guide was eaten by a beast protecting its child. As an aside, their guide used Rutherford as a physical host to grow a new clone body of herself, meaning that Rutherford gave birth in the cave. However, that’s where he learned to separate out trigammanite. Mariner shifts her comm badge in the trigammanite in order to modify its microcircuitry. They ask where she learned that skill, and she has to confess that she picked it up on an away mission with the members of Delta Shift. As an aside, she also discovered that the enmity between Beta and Delta Shift had more to do with Delta’s frustration that they’ll never get promoted due to lack of exposure more than anything else.
Meanwhile, Tendi has been trying to tell the story of how they all became friends when they were stuck in a turbolift together. Mariner shuts her down at every turn, but the moss reveals itself to be sentient by demanding that Tendi get to tell her story. It even comments that it has never made friends before and offers to spare their lives and allow them to study it if they continue to tell it stories. They agree and swap stories while Vendorians appear, unbeknownst to the cave’s other occupants, and reveal that they trapped the intrepid lieutenants in the cave as yet another morality test.
I love how “Caves” places what is an entirely normal experience and recontextualizes it into a uniquely crazy Star Trek experience. We’ve all had friendships that we’ve lost because we got too caught up in our own lives—be it work, family, or even a move—that we let atrophy and fall away. Granted, our work doesn’t usually involve chroniton radiation, but what Boimler, Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford experience is completely natural and normal to our everyday lives. We don’t have Vendorians to force us to reconnect with our friends; we have to remember to do it.
However, even more interestingly, we’ve got a subthread here about how story-telling is part of that. Boimler’s perception of Steve is based on the stories he tells, and the Vendorians alter that perception. Mariner has been telling herself one story about the members of Delta shift, and it turns out, another narrative was true. Even the failure of the friends to share their own stories with each other is damaging to their relationships with each other. The currency in “Caves” is stories and the act of storytelling, which is a good point to make in a societal climate dominated by competing narratives. We need to remember that stories are powerful and necessary and should be treated with care.
Four cups of earl grey tea
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- Yeah, Mariner’s scream is very much a call back to Star Trek IV.
- Vendorians come from TAS.
- Why, yes, I do believe I see some abuse of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” as a metaphor.