Star Trek: Lower Decks
Air date: 9/30/2021
Written by Ann Kim
Directed by Kim Arndt
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I, Excretus" is a pretty good example of what Lower Decks probably ultimately aspires to be. This is a story about an entire ship of scrappy underdogs — whose Lower Deckers are the most underdogged of the underdogs — working on a ship that don't get no respect. They must prove themselves to the people who don't respect them, in this case a Starfleet drill administrator named Shari Yn Yem (Lennon Parham), who has come on board to put the crew in a series of individualized holodeck-simulated mission drills where their performance is scored. The twist: The ensigns become command officers and the command officers become ensigns.
The simulated missions give the episode the excuse to do what this show does most often (I was tempted to say "best," but that would probably be false and would encourage them), which is to page through the library of Star Trek in order to feed us our regular diet of franchise references. The simulations include scenarios from, in order, "Mirror, Mirror," "Ethics," "Spectre of the Gun," The Wrath of Khan, "The Best of Both Worlds" (or perhaps First Contact), "The Naked Time" (or "The Naked Now"), and The Search For Spock. (Also, "Silicon Avatar," but that doesn't happen in a simulation.) As these things go, it's a clever and effective way of shoehorning a bunch of recognizable references into an episode, because they're actually baked into the plot as rather than being pointless fourth-wall-breaking asides. I can endorse this.
And there's fun in seeing these scenarios played through, as when Tendi fails medical ethics for not stabbing a paralyzed Klingon who wants an honorable assisted suicide. But far and away the highlight of all this is Boimler's overachieving obsession to get a perfect score on the Borg cube escape simulation. He's the only one to pass (on the first try with a score of 79 percent), but that's not good enough for him, so he keeps resetting and going through the simulation again and again, trying to do more and better (rescuing Borg babies from the nursery, then adult drones, and finally figuring out how to destroy the ship entirely) in order to increase his score. It's so Boimler. And then just when he gets to 100 percent, he's told he has to stay in the simulation (and sacrifice his score, and ultimately be simulated-assimilated) in order to bail out everyone else's failures. Also so Boimler. (Alice Krige reprises the role of the Borg Queen by providing her voice, which shows you that (a) this show goes to lengths it doesn't at all have to just to prove its bona fides and (b) voice acting probably makes these kinds of walk-on cameos easy for actors.)
Meanwhile the command officers are reminded what it's like to be completely left out of the loop on everything that's happening while relegated to pointless duties of inconsequence. This whole storyline is so obviously and clearly pointed toward a conclusion of "the whole drill is a morale-building exercise to remind everyone how the other half of the crew has it" that imagine my relief that the episode knows this is the obvious payoff that's coming and throws us the twist that the drill administrator's motivations are more self-serving: She's a career opportunist trying to use the Cerritos to prove her drills are still relevant. So now the Cerritos crew has to band together to show this bureaucrat the type of true dangers real Starfleet officers — even the disrespected ones on California-class starships — deal with every day.
And, yes, it also does the straightforward morale-building character-core thing, and pretty well. Lower Decks is solid when it remembers that although these officers are not serving on a ship as elite as the Enterprise, they still have a desire to do a good job both at the bottom and top of the command chain. And it works even better when it uses a story to show that without layering on a bunch of extraneous zaniness. As Freeman says, "The carpet's always grayer on the other side of the ship." That either means the opposite of the standard adage, or these Starfleet types really like their gray.
Previous episode: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie
Next episode: Wej Duj
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28 comments on this post
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 7:44am (UTC -5)
The silly plot with the drill instructor trying to save her own job didn't even really matter; it was just plain *fun* watching all the main characters run into different scenarios we previously recognize, and it was well-paced. It also helped that the crew got to prove they weren't actually incompetent. I want to be able to root for the characters I'm watching, and this show sometimes walks right up to the edge of making them look dumb for a cheap joke.
I got several laugh out loud moments from this one, but I think my favourites were:
* Simulated Naked Now Boimler's graphic pose on the bar in Mariner's drill
* The final button on the episode, where Boimler undercuts the cheesy TOS-style punchline with a plaintive "They took all I was". Dark stuff, and it was hilarious.
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 1:47pm (UTC -5)
BTW, I think the wild west scenario was riffing off Spectre of the Gun, not A Fistful of Datas, at least based on the false-front buildings and red sky.
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
Enjoyed this episode a lot. Nice bit of character work to have Boimler be the only one actually able to perform in the rigged drills, then keep at it to get a 100% . . . only to have to save the day by failing and thereby, while getting recognition, not getting the recognition for what he wanted to get it for.
Best joke: "If they want us to stack these things then why do they make them this shape!"
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 2:05pm (UTC -5)
You gotta wonder what kind of paycheck Alice Krige got for this. Like, any voice double for the Borg Queen would have been good enough. Surely she *wanted* to do it. But ultimately it's good to know that former guest actors are into this show.
"I think the wild west scenario was riffing off Spectre of the Gun based on the false-front buildings and red sky."
Yep, that red backdrop is pure TOS.
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 2:12pm (UTC -5)
I also feel it was a weaker episode from a character standpoint. There was a little bit of further examination of Mainer's relationship with her mom, but this has been done to death at this point.
Still, three stars is about what I would have given it.
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
Yes, agreed. My mistake. I've corrected it.
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 5:45pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
"The Best of Both Worlds" (or perhaps First Contact) - I think it's both Jammer. First Contact when the Borg Queen blew on Boimler's neck and BoBW when Boimler turned his head to the camera as Locutus did at the end of part one.
We've had an Easter Egg break the last couple of episodes, so it's nice to see them come roaring back. I'll second Jammer's point that they did it better this time as the references were more woven into the plot/story as opposed to just walking through a room with a bunch of artifacts/pictures.
Did anyone else think of "The Fly" when they saw the hologram chambers?
I suspected foul play when everything Mariner did was wrong. Tendi didn't trigger me like that because I knew her instinct would be to cure the Klingon. Rutherford's failing kind of made sense. (nice shot of the Connie refit BTW).
Boimler's borg time was pretty darn funny and definitely in character. I was thinking that the entire crew was going to enter the pod and save him at the end, but I see that just opening the door did the trick.
This series is just so much fun to watch. I rarely am disappointed.
I'm not sure what "Excretus" is referencing...
Solid 3-star episode from me too.
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 6:18pm (UTC -5)
"Excretus" is a poop joke.
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 7:38pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Oct 1, 2021, 2:28pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Oct 1, 2021, 3:55pm (UTC -5)
It seemed a bit of a stretch she would’nt notice THE GIANT SCREEN THAT SHOWS HIS SIMULATION IS STILL ACTIVE.
Better episodes this season for me but still enjoyed all the callback stuff
Fri, Oct 1, 2021, 9:42pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 2, 2021, 5:49am (UTC -5)
The Tendi/'Ethics' scene was laugh out loud hilarious from start to finish, and I laughed out loud Boimler's final line ('They took everything I was') too. Loved it. The 'Q Who' stuff was top-notch - and what a surprise that Alice Krige actually guest starred!
Outstanding animation during the black hole and Crystalline Entity scenes. Bravo to the animators. Wonderfully colourful!
One of this season's best episodes for me.
Sat, Oct 2, 2021, 6:25am (UTC -5)
Classic Trek would have made a point about Boimler succeeding with his simulation while the others didn't. There didn't seem to be a reason for it here other than because the story required it. That's part of the reason I still see the show as more 'toon' than Trek - which is fine, just that it would be nice if it were both. There are signs it could be.
Sat, Oct 2, 2021, 9:42am (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 3, 2021, 10:13am (UTC -5)
Fri, Oct 1, 2021, 9:42pm (UTC -5)
I thought for a second that @Yanks wrote, “This series is just so much fun to watch. I really am disappointed.”
Sun, Oct 3, 2021, 10:31pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Oct 4, 2021, 2:48am (UTC -5)
The drill administrator's use of different pronouns -- "this one" -- was also a neat touch (surely different cultures / species would have different ways of referring to themselves, given the variety we see within our own culture) but I was disappointed that she broke her own rules and used "I" & "my" a few times, possibly because the writers forgot or didn't notice.
Overall this felt like a return to the higher quality of the first season; hope the trend continues next week!
Mon, Oct 4, 2021, 3:30am (UTC -5)
The Naked Now one I was cracking up and Boimler does the Borg, as has been said, really good stuff.
Yeah, no real critical analysis here. Just a thumbs up from me.
Tue, Oct 5, 2021, 12:37am (UTC -5)
Anyway, it's hard to pick from so many examples of solid writing, but I particularly liked how they stayed true to Mariner's and Boimler's characters. Mariner's specialty making a mess of things, but somehow coming out on top. Boimler's is to have all the ingredients for success - including the success - yet it all somehow turns on him. You knew the tables would turn for both, but not how, and the show deftly handled giving us both the comfortably familiar *and* the unexpected.
Also, it was hilarious. Everyone will have their highlights, many of them the same, and I'm no different. Boimler's relentless perfectionism demanding he end up wearing a bandolier of rescued Borg babies, with a herd of captured Borg in tow; "Captain, but I beat the Borg Queen at chess and - and taught her empathy..." Fantastic.
Mariner bailing on her "Naked Now" test after seeing Boimler in a pose that evoked Mr Show's taint-oriented parody of "Boogie Nights." Sublime.
Four stars from me.
Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 10:17am (UTC -5)
The best effort of season 2.
Still waiting for the 4 star episode this season though.
Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
Not the right vision, mind you, but at least one of them... So it's a start. ;-)
Mon, Oct 18, 2021, 10:04pm (UTC -5)
Another positive was that, once again, the show reminded that I like the main characters, I like Starfleet, and I’d want to live in this world if it were possible. Still the only Nu Trek to pull this off.
Thu, Jan 13, 2022, 8:03pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jan 23, 2022, 9:11pm (UTC -5)
You also missed the episode’s brilliant meta-reference to TAS’ Bem, a three-part alien who talked with “this one” prefaces and learned a certain lesson by the end of the episode after causing some trouble. It’s one of the most intriguing, thoughtful, and affecting episodes of The Animated Series, and this episode of Lower Decks has a similar character structure for the guest alien from this species of ally-irritant-penitent. It almost plays as an homage to the TAS script despite the plot details differing. A really well conceived Easter egg behind all the more obvious ones in this episode.
If LD is going to keep doing TAS references that you miss, I think it’s a liability that you haven’t reviewed the 25ish half hour episodes of TAS. If you want to be literate in all things Trek, you really need to watch them. They contain some really fine stuff, especially Yesteryear’s portrayal of Spock’s childhood bullying that Star Trek 2009 riffed on and Discovery continued. There are so many canonical things established on TAS, including the holodeck. I hope you’ll consider reviewing it soon.
Wed, Mar 16, 2022, 9:42am (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 14, 2022, 2:00am (UTC -5)
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