Star Trek: Lower Decks

"I, Excretus"

3 stars

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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24 comments on this post

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Tim C
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 7:44am (UTC -5)
I reckon I'll go ahead and call this one my second-favourite of the season, after "Mugato, Gumato". It leaned *extremely* hard on the the Star Trek inside jokes (I mean, just recognizing that half the drills on the board were episode titles from other shows is as meta as it gets), which I ordinarily find the laziest kind of memberberry humour which usually drags the show down. However, when pushed to the Nth degree like it was here, it really does just feel like a genuine love letter to the universe and its fans.

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.
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Jammer
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 11:57am (UTC -5)
Review now posted.
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Episodenull
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 1:47pm (UTC -5)
I felt like the holodeck scenarios dragged this one down a bit in the first half because there was no real story to it, just a series of skits. Luckily it pulled it all together in the end, but I can't help but wonder if it would have been better if they were real-world drills on the real Cerritos from the start.

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.
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Jeffery's Tube
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
The tester, Shari Yn Yem, is another reference to The Animated Series, specifically the episode BEM (which stands for Bug-Eyed Monster). I think at this point we should just consider the Animated Series canon, except for those instances when it clearly cannot be.

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!"
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Chrome
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 2:05pm (UTC -5)
It was enjoyable seeing the crew run through all the classic Trek scenarios and fail. Boimler trying to ace the Borg material was pretty funny and it even paid off as stakes for the whole ship. Some of these scenarios had very ridiculous parameters too, like how could Tendi possibly win the scenario in "Ethics" when the solution to the episode itself was an inadvisable medical gamble? For the fans' sake, it's best that we find out all the tests were rigged.

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.

Episodenull wrote:
"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.
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Karl Zimmerman
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 2:12pm (UTC -5)
Like Episodenull, this was not one of my favorites. Yes, it was genuinely funny - the Boimler borg scenario was some of the most amusing stuff on Lower Decks this season. But it didn't gel well for me because it took us until around halfway through the episode to actually get a plot introduced. I was literally being drawn out of the story remarking to myself how little...story...there was up until that point.

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.
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Jammer
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
"I think the wild west scenario was riffing off Spectre of the Gun."

Yes, agreed. My mistake. I've corrected it.
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AMA
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 5:45pm (UTC -5)
This is my favourite episode of the series to date. I was laughing or had a smile for all of the first half of the episode, and, although the series has leaned on in-universe references far too much, I thought they worked really well here and were fun.
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Yanks
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
Nice review as always Jammer.

"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.
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Jeffery's Tube
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 6:18pm (UTC -5)
@ Yanks

"Excretus" is a poop joke.
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Jeffery's Tube
Thu, Sep 30, 2021, 7:38pm (UTC -5)
(Excrement + Locutus = Excretus)
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Yanks
Fri, Oct 1, 2021, 2:28pm (UTC -5)
@Jeffery's Tube. Thx
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Jon1701
Fri, Oct 1, 2021, 3:55pm (UTC -5)
I enjoyed it but if the administrator tampered with all the simulations how did Boimler manage to do so well in his?

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

2.5
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BemUllMin
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.” Some Trek fans (not Yanks) WOULD be disappointed if they found themselves enjoying it. According to these fans, if you don’t hate it, then you are not a real Star Trek fan. Anyway, I did not read anything about this episode before watching it and let out a silent yawp during the end credits when Alice Krige’s name was revealed. @Jammer, I agree, the show need not go to these lengths to prove its bona fides. Not to me and I suspect not to many others. We aren’t the ones who are subjecting it to the 21st century’s equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru, under which no matter what the show runners do, they lose(will some fans claim that Nicholas Meyer was using Kobayashi Maru test as a metaphor for how fans always complain, so the only way to please them is by “cheating” their expectations(having Spock die at the beginning to lull them into thinking he will not die for real later on? I hope not, given how some fans are psychoanalyzing Alex Kurtzman and other Trek kahunas(Sukal’s trantrums are a manifestation of whiny fans, etc. The show runners cannot simultaneously be obsessed with certain fans and completely ignore them in the same breath). Lower Decks has become like Trek comfort food, almost. What an unexpected and welcome surprise, when we are figuratively and metaphorically running low on comfort food.
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Bok R'Mor
Sat, Oct 2, 2021, 5:49am (UTC -5)
Wow, this really packed a lot in. Highly enjoyable and successful episode in which LD really plays to its strengths: solid character work, detailed references and making the most of what animation can do. A very clever and meaningful use of references as a framing element here, and the teamwork message worked very well, with good interactions between the lower deckers and the senior staff both separately and together.

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.
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Tom
Sat, Oct 2, 2021, 6:25am (UTC -5)
It's entertaining, that's for sure. I just wish it was as clever with the Trek-isms as it is with the jokes.

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.
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Walding
Sat, Oct 2, 2021, 9:42am (UTC -5)
@Tom It has already been established that under certains conditions Boimler will succeed without problems where everybody else will have to struggle to get even close to the finish line. Best example is "Temporal Edict" where he is the only one managing to do his tasks within time and even has time to spare. While that is not really explained there either most people have no problem accepting that Boimler is kind of a nerd and when being allowed to play the game his way (e.g. "by the book") and forcing everybody else to play the game this way too (note that both Mariner and Tendi were punished for trying to change the mission parameters) he will outperfom everybody.
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Yanks
Sun, Oct 3, 2021, 10:13am (UTC -5)
@BemUllMin
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.”

rarely
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Cjaco
Sun, Oct 3, 2021, 10:31pm (UTC -5)
This whole episode was fun, but I can't remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did at the Naked Time scene. Boimler's posing as crudely as possible and then Mariner just ending the simulation by blowing everyone out the airlock was perfect.
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Barristan
Mon, Oct 4, 2021, 2:48am (UTC -5)
Probably my favourite of the season so far. Good to see all the chracters involved in a single effective story, rather than rushed sitcom-style "A" and "B" stories with varying degrees of success. The highlight was definitely Boimler's obsessive perfectionism with beating the Borg simulation... a running gag that actually kept getting funnier for once! His rescue of all the Borg babies & drones -- while blowing up the cube for good measure -- made me laugh out loud.

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!
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Latex Zebra
Mon, Oct 4, 2021, 3:30am (UTC -5)
Excellent fun that. Not sure if it is my favourite episode this season but it was definitely the funniest.
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.
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Randall
Tue, Oct 5, 2021, 12:37am (UTC -5)
This was my favorite Lower Decks episode of all. The writing was exceptionally clever compared to the rest of the series. Usually, when they try a juggling act this full of curveballs, they drop a few, but this time, they kept every one of them in the air. (Note: I don't have a problem with what it seems a lot of people do; namely, the references. I like them. This episode even threw in an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" reference for fun.)

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.
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Yanks
Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 10:17am (UTC -5)
I'm raising my score to 3.5 stars.

The best effort of season 2.

Still waiting for the 4 star episode this season though.
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OmicronThetaDeltaPhi
Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
Finally a NuTrek episode that follows Roddenberry's vision. ;-)

Not the right vision, mind you, but at least one of them... So it's a start. ;-)

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