Review: ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Plays The Hits In “I, Excretus”

“I, Excretus”

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, Episode 8 – Debuted Thursday, September 30, 2021
Written by Ann Kim
Directed by Kim Arndt

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

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.

Noel Wells as Ensign Tendi, Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford, Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner, and Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler in “I, Excretus”

WARNING: Spoilers below!

The expendables

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.

Ensigns on ice

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.

Another fight over the TV remote ends in tragedy

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.

Boimler invents the Borgbjorn

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!

The family that simulates death together, stays together

 ANALYSIS

Going big

“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.

You know Data didn’t whine nearly as much

Stacking up

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.

T’Ana misses her box

Final thoughts

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 lifetime of Borg PTSD was surely worth it

MORE BITS

Random stuff

  • 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.

Laugh lines

  • 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

Horses love Tawny, Beckett, not so much

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 PodcastsSpotifyPocket CastsStitcher 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.

Subscribe
Notify me of
29 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I REALLY dug this episode. Great ratio of original story to throwback references. Yes, there were flaws, but what live-action Trek “masterpieces” don’t have their flaws?

I loved this episode, probably my favourite so far!

Lot of fun. And a special guest star. Nice.

Dear god, this was funny….

This is my favorite episode of the season thus far. The two guest stars were awesome. Loved the interaction between bridge crew and lower decks.

This episode was excellent.

I liked that Jennifer’s surname is a nod to the novels expanding of Andorian biology!

That image of Boimler and Jet “striking a pose” is my phones’ new wallpaper.

Anyone catch Boim’s deep cut quote at the end?

“They took everything that I was.”

Great writing this show.

Yeah, I called it, but looked it up to be sure.

As the review stated, this is clearly this season’s Crisis Point but they went even further going through some of the ‘best of’ stories of TOS and TNG. The ‘naked time’ simulation was maybe a minute long but it will go down in infamy in all of Star Trek. Just balls to the wall insane and hilarious!

And having Alice Krige back as the Borg Queen was so amazing!!!! Probably my favorite moment of the episode in an episode full of them. “How’s the empathy?” “We were able to assimilate it.” LOL!

All the characters were a lot of fun, especially Boimler. The only disappointment I had was hoping we at least got to the Genesis planet. I didn’t really expect to see Spock or anything, but still.

One thing this show needs to get more credit for is just how much it brings out the Star Trek universe in such a quirky and fantastic way. Besides the Easter eggs and fun appearances by legacy characters, it does a great job of reminding you how STRANGE the Star Trek universe is. That’s why I love this franchise so much, it’s such a trippy universe. Everything from Q’s, Crystaline Entities, Mirror Universe, time loops, resurrections, sex crazy viruses, temporal wars, Guardians of Forever, head floating aliens, alternate timelines, sentient androids, pheromone Orions, tribbles, wormhole aliens, energy turning people into Gods, space faring dinosaurs, transporter clones, the freaking Borg and of course Morn!

This is the crazy Star Trek I missed since Enterprise went off the air. The show just does a brilliant job of highlighting how bizarre and wacky the Star Trek universe really is and why I am here for it ALL! This was the best episode of the season for me hands down! I’m so in love with this show! Please keep getting renewed!

Calm in the face of trippyness is definitely the Star Fleet ethos.

Bring on more of it.

Again a good episode and again they manage to use their references (can’t really call them Easter eggs, if they’re that obvious) to tell a somewhat new story instead of jus relying on them. But I really wish the writers room had more confidence in their own characters and stories. Let them stand on their own for once. Do something entirely new.

It’s still a good show but I feel like there’s way more potential there.

This is the top episode so far, IMHO. Just better and better…

so good.

Didn’t think I’d say this but now there are images I can’t unsee :-)
I suppose this will get a lot of heat again. Though I don’t mind the adult content per se, I feel this went somewhat beyond Trek.
This episode wasn’t my favourite, though having a go at teambuilding events and business-generating consultants was a funny idea, to me the episode felt somewhat ragged and rushed.

Also, since last episode I’ve started writing Starfleet regulation in my head – Last episode: Directive on species-appropriate husbandry, Article 12, “Exemptions: …megalomaniacal super computers”.
This episode: My goodness, what happened to data protection requirements and personality rights since 2021? ;-D But then, Starfleet is kind of the science military and all this stuff DID happen to Starfleet officers, so training the crew to encounter their fellow crewmembers in unusual situations actually makes sense in a way…Anyways, Data protection consent for Starfleet recruits: “Starfleet may at any time use body form, character traits and psychological profile to create a holographic personal likeness (HPL) of your person. In creating a HPL, Starfleet may alter any of your personal parameters as fits the purpose. Starfleet may in their own discretion use your HPL for work related purposes, including but not limited to training drills. Starfleet or any third party contracted by Starfleet to deliver services may use your HPL to holographically create behaviours and/or interactions with animate or inanimate objects, life forms and powers, that may or may not represent a probable course of action with regard to the underlying person. Beforementioned behaviours, interactions and consequences pertaining to the HPL and its surroundings may include but are not limited to social interactions, intellectual expressions, sexual behaviours and bodily or material damage. Recordings of HPL usage will be shared with fellow crewmembers for training purposes and stored for an indefinite time. The recruit does not hold Starfleet responsible for any personal harm that may result from HPL usage. Appropriate psychological counseling services will be provided as necessary. If psychological counselor has been compromised as a result of HPL usage, well tough luck ;-D”
Um, honestly, DO Starfleet recruits sign stuff like that?, or did the consultant approach data protection requirements with the usual sloppiness ;-D?

I agree that the simplest explanation is that members of Starfleet sign off on their likenesses being used. (A mandatory condition of recruitment? Maybe we just don’t see the people who marked that provision “no.”) “For training purposes” would be the most legit use, but we’ve seen personal use starting with Barclay, which might just be a demonstration of Starfleet’s lousy data security.

The policy might be more general than Starfleet, since “simulacra with extrapolated personality” started with Dr. Leah Brahms in TNG “Booby Trap.” She definitely wasn’t happy with Geordi’s use, which implies that any restraints might be a “social mores rather than hardcoded data protection” situation.

Thanks for pointing out the precedents! One could also speculate about a continuation of the trend of living publicly on social media. As in “I can’t tell where I end and you begin” :-) Or that revelations of the private are not associated with shame anymore. Mariner disagreed though ;-) But honestly I think the writers did not exactly have data protection requirements on the radar. It’s funny how I don’t mind Mugatos but find a future like that and therefore this episode quite disconcerting and not so ethically utopian (as in “that isn’t Trek!”). So to explain this away, I’ll settle either on the combination of evil consultant plus the usual ignorance of requirements on the side of the crew, or on required flexibility in the context of the “anything can happen” daily life of Starfleet. Another possibility is that once new technologies arise (such as holodecks), regulations often lag behind. Or if you really bend your mind you might say it’s a play on how teambuilding events can be slightly transgressive when personal qualities are being explored in front of a team and the results shared with bosses. But my best bet is on a gap in writing..

It says something when Mariner, the rebel, finds it so inappropriate that she walks out.

It went over the top, sure. But it was still the best episode of the season, IMHO.

I liked it better upon rewatching

Thinking about it, I don’t mind people being over the top like Captain Freeman in the buffer time episode, but I seem to mind when the universe framework is, like the personal data issue above or those notoriously hazardous airlocks on the Cerritos …

This episode provided a very good framework for including all the classic plots and eastereggs. An overall goodep but I wonder why hardly anyone is complaining about “The Naked Time” segment. Compared to that the Mugato stuff was harmless. Had this been live-action and not animated, I’d really have major issues with it. The original episodes never went that far…

Because they can get away with a lot more doing animation. With live action American networks have so many rules and regulations about what can be shown. With streaming they might be able to push the envelope more but I imagine they still have to be careful.

Also works because the OTTness IS the gag. The whole concept of Naked Now is explicitly and wildly fleshy in those original episodes, and I thought Lower Decks was doing a great job poking fun at the distance between the logical outcome of the stated concept, and the fit for TV realisation.

They went as far as they could, at the time.
The TNG follow-up, The Naked Now, showed a room full of frozen and mostly naked bodies.

comment image

Man, the ‘Naked Time’ segment was one of the best parts of the episode lol. All it showed was what TOS and definitely TNG would’ve looked like at the time when their ‘Naked’ episodes aired if the FCC didn’t exist.

Episode needed more Naked Time.

I enjoyed this episode, although I would have preferred they let the holodeck scenarios breathe a little.

There was a missed opportunity not having Mariner kill mirror Michael Burnham for command of the ship in the mirror universe scenario.

Also, best reference ever here? The reference to the VOY technical manual – which states that the Voyager had personal holodecks big enough for one person to enter and use for like cycling or swimming or whatever. The training holodecks looked to be a direct reference to that.

Yes, I have actually read the VOY technical manual writers bible thing 😂