Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, Episode 8 – Debuted Thursday, September 30, 2021
Written by Ann Kim
Directed by Kim Arndt
Lower Decks delivers what is sure to be a fan-favorite episode by indulging in Star Trek lore while still expanding on the themes and arcs that have been developing all season.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Opening with our ensigns on a spacewalk taking in the beauty and majesty of space was just the calm before the fast-paced storm that is this episode. Soon enough, the awe of it all is turned upside down when the Cerritos warps away, dangerously (but hilariously) leaving our heroes wondering how much air they have left and fuming at those who left them behind. Saved in the nick of time, the cold open gag perfectly sets up the core dynamic of the episode, the tension between the shivering lower deckers and smug senior officers. But don’t worry, it’s nothing a little lung rejuvenation won’t fix.
The arrival of the overly exuberant Pandronian drill instructor Shari Yn Yem only adds to the dynamic by setting up a series of role-reversal simulations with the ensigns in command and senior officers bucked down to the bottom. And since this is Lower Decks, the simulation scenarios are a greatest hits list of iconic Star Trek moments. But this is no clip show; it’s more of an homagapalooza.
Failure is the only option
The always confident Beckett knows her way around a simulation, but “Captain” Mariner soon learns she is a long way from “Crisis Point” as she blunders through a series of misadventures. She is found out quickly by Evil Boimler in a trip to the Mirror Universe, can’t even get on the horse in a “Starfleet classic” western scenario, and after seeing the amusing abomination of what the crew gets up to during “Naked Time,” she self-fails faster than a yanking Mugato. We soon realize that others are not faring much better in their simulations, which include a fun diversion into TNG medial ethics with Tendi and a less interesting visit to the TOS movie-era Enterprise for Rutherford.
After thinking that lower deckers have it too easy, the bridge crew soon learns that it’s just no fun stacking oddly-shaped crates and being left out of the loop while Klingons and Q are running around on the ship. When the role-reversed crew is tasked to work together to do a simulation of a classic Starship theft, all their tension boils over in an epic spacedock fail.
According to the scores, there actually is only one member of the crew who is handling things well: our man Brad. Thrust into a Borg simulation, Boimler puts his season one book learning together with his season two confidence and really nails it. The only problem is that despite his ironically Borg-like obsession with perfection that has him going back in over and over again, there seems to be no amount of Borg babies he can carry out to get that high score. But Jack Quaid carries the day with a standout performance in this cube comedy-within-a-comedy.
History should remember the name Cerritos
Wallowing in their shared defeat, Captain mom and daughter have an epiphany that the failures were all part of some bigger plan to get the crew to see how the other half lives, a brilliant team-building exercise. Makes sense. The only problem is, it turns out that Shari Yn Yem is a colony of evil, complete with a villain’s maniacal laugh. This was all a setup! She targeted the Cerritos in a desperate attempt to find some crew to fail her drills and justify her whole deal with Starfleet, who really needs to look into their outside contractor procedures.
But the problematic Pandronian didn’t count on one thing: Brad Boimler’s desperate need for validation. The ship’s failure can’t be reported until all the simulations are done, so he is ordered to “keep on Borging” just when he finally grabbed that 100% by teaching the Queen empathy. He–with a big assist from Alice Krige’s all-too-brief return–assimilates it up yet another notch with even more lore-filled collective capers.
This leaves the captain time to give the drill instructor her own lesson in terror, helped along by a maniacal Mariner stepping in as first officer of chaos. Together they plunge the ship into some real crises, including getting way too close to some frisky Crystalline Entities and playing the time warp with a black hole. While the crew takes in all the classic action like another Tuesday, Shari Yn Yem literally can’t keep herself together and finally agrees to give this underestimated ship a passing grade.
With the drill instructor dispatched and Boimler–sorry, now Excretus of Borg–finally released from his pod, the perfectly-paced action finally calms down for another classic bar scene ending, with the added benefit of the senior officers bonding with their juniors, even offering up a new replicator. Pesto FTW!
“I, Excretus” was designed as a treat for longtime fans of Star Trek, and it worked. Showrunner Mike McMahan promised that the back half of season two was bigger with episodes “to lose your mind” over, and Thursday squees can surely be heard across fandom. Just like “Crisis Point” in late season one, Lower Decks reveled in the lore, but also like that episode, it wasn’t simply firing up references for the sake of it. The episode never forgets to build on our characters and to even hold a mirror up to some of the franchise’s tropes.
Showing the new confidence emblematic of season two, Lower Decks breaks up its usual character pairings and A/B story structure, with each character having their own little journey, all serving the primary story. And while there was much humor mined from the various Star Trek gags, they were primarily filtered through the prism of spot-on character moments that have been earned. This was especially true for Mariner and Boimler, with the former humbled by the experience and the latter rewarded for his growing confidence. Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid really stepped up to make it all work.
Guest star Lennon Parham was solid as the duplicitous drill instructor with the added fun of yet another Animated Series callback. Using an outsider was the right call, as it would have felt wrong to have someone so conniving in Starfleet (unless it was a badmiral). It was, of course, a thrill to hear Alice Krige as the Borg Queen, a cherry cameo on top of this not-guilty pleasure of an episode.
The twist of the drills being part of a plot created the legitimate stakes of breaking up this crew, which was clever and nicely resolves the tension set up at the beginning. However, the solution relied on this crew being jaded in the face of first-class dangers, which sort of flew in the face of the season’s running theme regarding the simmering no-respect second-class status of this ship.
As they were playing the Star Trek hits, Lower Decks also showed they are not afraid of poking some franchise fun, and not just because crates shaped like hexagons are kind of dumb. Tendi’s struggle to satisfy her oath when dealing with a Klingon who broke his back after trying to pick up a peanut shines a light on how a lot of the death-obsession and honor stuff in Klingon culture may not be so practical. The constant talk about horniness in the Mirror Universe revealed how it was always a bit dubious to conflate sexuality with evil, and while the trip to the “Naked Time” may have pushed the edge, it was a funny way to remind us that Lower Decks is far from the first show to go there.
Lower Decks loves Star Trek as much as well all do, and so it has earned the right to poke fun at it without ever feeling like its mocking the franchise or the fans.
As we head towards the end of season two, the show continues to impress, with one of the series’ best entries that has a near-perfect mix of character growth, a fun story, and loads of laughs. The lore-laden “I, Excretus” also fits well after last week’s entry, which was rather light on the references. This crew just went through their own Kobayashi Maru and found a way to beat it, coming together and justifying their existence. They are now poised to wrap up the season, which should include some remaining issues like those pesky Pakleds, and they just showed how they are smart and strong enough to do it.
- The title is a play on the classic TNG episode “I, Borg,” itself a play on classic titles like “I, Claudius,” and “I, Robot” as well as Picard’s Borg name, Locutus.
- The USS Bakersfield is (presumably) another California-class vessel.
- Captain Freeman seems to have settled on “Warp me!” for her catchphrase.
- Crewmember and celebrated performer Winger Bingston returns, noting that he is a “triple threat.”
- The officer who told Tendi to “Move it along, lower decks” in the series premiere says the same to the senior officers after they are re-assigned as ensigns.
- Mariner’s nemesis, Jennifer the Andorian, finally gets a last name: Sh’reyan.
- Mariner took two years of horseback riding lessons as a child, but apparently, it didn’t take. Interestingly, Tawny Newsome grew up on a farm riding horses and even competed in rodeos.
- Befitting his vow of celibacy, Billups appeared to be the only one not affected by the “Naked Time” simulation infection.
- We’re all equals on this ship, right? / Uh, they sleep in a hallway.
- Long live the empire, I love to hate.
- Horses love me, I’m a maverick.
- I can’t tell where I end and you begin.
- You must help me kill myself. I broke my back picking up a peanut.
- I just waited in the transporter bay in case anybody needed to be transported.
- But Captain, I beat the Borg Queen at chess and taught her empathy.
- I think I should add your biological distinctiveness to our own; it’s kind of our thing
- Adding me might result in a net-negative for the collective
More to come
Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network. On Saturday, we’ll post our weekly analysis of Easter eggs and references for this episode.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It is available on Amazon Prime Video internationally on Fridays. It will debut in Latin America on Paramount+ in September.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.