Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
I, Excretus was an exceptionally funny episode. Where other episodes of Lower Decks this season have offered a mixture of comic moments and drama, this week the comedy started in the first moment of the story and didn’t let up until the very end. Though the crew were put in peril thanks to the actions of a rogue drill instructor, the entire story was light-hearted and funny, with the villainous Shari Yn Yem played in an incredibly over-the-top way.
The episode had a “Saturday morning cartoon” vibe, feeling like a story in the vein of classic cartoons such as Wacky Races or Scooby-Doo, Where Are You. For the first time this season, all four ensigns and all four main members of the senior staff participated in a single story. Each of the ensigns had their own moments in the spotlight, but every drill they participated in and every action they took all played into the same overarching plotline.
This makes a change from the way Lower Decks has often operated. There wasn’t a B-plot this time to balance things out, and though Boimler spent much of the episode focusing on his own drill this still connected to the rest of the story in a significant way. As a result of bringing its characters together, everyone felt like they had a significant role to play; no character felt extraneous or unnecessary. And because there was only one real story to focus on, with no need to bring in side-characters or send anyone on their own mission, the entire episode felt well-paced.
I’ve commented on a couple of Lower Decks episodes this season that didn’t manage to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters – usually as a result of trying to cram too many plotlines and characters into a single twenty-minute timeframe. But there’s no denying that I, Excretus doesn’t have that problem!
Lower Decks has been rather odd in the way it’s used some returning characters and actors from past iterations of Star Trek. John de Lancie as Q and Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris both felt under-used in the episodes they appeared in, and if I were to make one criticism of I, Excretus it would be that Alice Krige’s role as the (holographic) Borg Queen was incredibly minor. It’s another case where it was wonderful to welcome back an actor from Star Trek’s past, but I would’ve liked to have seen her given more than just a couple of lines.
Sticking with the Borg, although Boimler was only facing off against them in holographic form, it’s still the first time we’ve seen active Borg drones in modern Star Trek. Star Trek: Picard Season 1 featured scenes set on a derelict Borg cube, and of course brought back Hugh, Seven of Nine, and other ex-Borg. But there was never any danger posed by the Borg; no threat of assimilation, no legions of drones, etc. It was actually great fun to see a semi-Borg story for the first time in such a long time in Lower Decks – even if it was just a simulation!
The design of the Borg was particularly neat. The entire aesthetic, from the drones to their ship, was right in line with their earlier appearances in The Next Generation, complete with larger “helmets,” black undershirts, and so on. Though the design of the Borg hasn’t changed that much, by the time of First Contact and Voyager they’d taken on a more streamlined look. Lower Decks brought back what I guess we could call “original” Borg, and that made their inclusion in the story even more fun.
As a complete aside, how much fun would it be to give Lower Decks a proper Borg story sometime? An episode structured like I, Excretus would be perfect, too, with the ensigns and senior staff all having to work together to overcome their cybernetic enemies. Of course the USS Cerritos wouldn’t do well against a Borg cube… but perhaps they could have trouble tangling with a Borg scout ship or probe! For a moment as the episode drew to a close I actually wondered if Boimler’s “assimilation” would be something the series would return to next week, perhaps even ending on a cliffhanger. But I suspect the season will close out with the return of the Pakleds either this week or next. Still, I’m officially putting it out there: a Lower Decks Borg episode would be fantastic!
The drill format and the use of what looked like portable mini-holodecks allowed I, Excretus to be absolutely jam-packed with throwbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. The episode’s entire premise gave the writers an excuse to delve deeply into Star Trek’s past, picking out classic episodes and thrusting members of the Lower Decks crew into those scenarios. It worked exceptionally well, and there were overt references to The Original Series, films, and The Next Generation that all slotted seamlessly into the plot.
It was also a lot of fun to welcome back a Pandronian. These “colony creatures” were first encountered in The Animated Series, but for obvious reasons proved impractical to depict in any of the live-action shows. Lower Decks has had a number of references to The Animated Series, and this latest one was neat too. Apparently the Pandronians are now on friendlier terms with the Federation than they were in Captain Kirk’s day!
I, Excretus had a fun opening gag, but unfortunately it was one that had been spoiled by pre-release trailers. Though it was a lot of fun to see the ensigns accidentally abandoned by the Cerritos while on a spacewalk, knowing that it was coming kind of robbed the moment of much of its humour. As I said shortly before Lower Decks Season 2 premiered, the marketing team seemed to go overboard with throwing out trailers, clips, and mini-teasers in the run-up to the season premiere. I actually ended up switching off and not watching all of them specifically because I wanted to avoid this feeling.
This is something I call “the Simpsons Movie phenomenon” – named for the incredibly bad way that film was marketed. Long story short, by the time I sat down to watch The Simpsons Movie I’d literally already seen every single good joke, visual gag, and funny moment because they were all included in the trailers! Lower Decks isn’t that bad – at least not yet – but it’s definitely something the marketing team should keep in mind. There’s a line to walk between getting viewers interested in an upcoming production and revealing too much, and Lower Decks has definitely come close to skirting that line sometimes. The entire opening of the episode prior to the titles set up this one joke – the ship warping away and leaving the ensigns behind. But a lot of folks will have already seen that moment because it was included in full in the trailers, depriving it of much of its impact. Though the episode as a whole was fantastic, and that moment at the beginning is quite funny, it’s something that I feel the show’s marketing team need to be aware of.
The opening joke came back into play later in the episode, and this is something Lower Decks has excelled at, particularly during Season 2. What seem to be one-off gags or jokes disconnected from the rest of the story actually prove to be important later on – such as the anbo-jyutsu match in Mugato, Gumato. Though the show still makes abundant use of throwaway jokes and one-off scenes, the fact that some seemingly innocuous moments end up connecting to the plot in a big way is testament to the quality of the writing. As a viewer it keeps us on our toes – we can’t be sure what’s just a joke and what might be important to the plot!
A big part of I, Excretus was showing how both the ensigns and senior staff struggled when forced to switch roles. This kind of team-building exercise can be important to morale, and perhaps we’ll see a future episode or story make reference to the lessons that the characters learned this week. Tendi’s story in particular highlighted this aspect of the episode – being put into a situation drawn from The Next Generation Season 5 episode Ethics, she came away from the experience with a great deal of respect for the decisions Dr T’Ana has to make on a daily basis.
Mariner was the character we spent the most time with during this portion of the episode. She got three separate drills whereas the others only got one each. Her first drill harkened back to Mirror, Mirror from The Original Series, complete with classic Terran Empire uniforms. Though the Mirror Universe has never been a personal favourite of mine, I’d actually be interested to see Lower Decks’ take on the setting in future. The glimpse we got this time was tantalising, and just like the Prime Timeline’s Cadet Tilly was a captain in the Terran Empire, maybe the alternate universe could shake up the command structure of the Cerritos as well. Captain Mariner, perhaps?
Her second drill took her to The Original Series again, this time the third season episode Spectre of the Gun. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this Wild West-themed story, and though it didn’t take up a lot of time in the episode it was still neat to see. It also led to the revelation from Captain Freeman that Mariner took horse-riding lessons for two years, which was kind of cute.
Finally, Mariner got to experience polywater intoxication first-hand. And my goodness, if folks thought that Mugato, Gumato was “too adult” a couple of weeks ago, this sequence must’ve made their heads explode! As the holographic crew suffered from the strange affliction seen in The Original Series first season episode The Naked Time and The Next Generation first season episode The Naked Now, they engaged in all kinds of debauchery, much to Mariner’s shock and disgust.
There will be criticisms of that sequence, especially considering the weirdly squeamish, reactionary response to a five-second clip in Mugato, Gumato, and Lower Decks will have to face up to that. Some fans simply don’t like this style of humour. But as I said when I talked about this issue in more detail, as someone who is asexual I’m one of the people that you’d think would be offended or upset by these kinds of sexual jokes. But again, as with the moment in Mugato, Gumato, I just didn’t think it was a problem at all. In fact, some of the individual jokes during this sequence – such as Ransom getting a spanking and Mariner’s horrified reaction to it – actually made me chuckle.
Rutherford got a Wrath of Khan-inspired moment during his drill, but unlike Spock was unable to sacrifice himself to save the ship. It was actually really cool to see the “monster maroon” uniforms in animated form, as well as to catch a very brief glimpse of what I assume would be the USS Enterprise in its refit configuration. Rutherford didn’t get as much screen time during this part of the episode, but his scenes harkened back to one of the best Star Trek films.
At first the senior staff thought they’d got it made! But as their drill ramped up and they were left in a cargo bay to stack crates while all manner of excitement seemed to be happening outside, they quickly became frustrated. Lower Decks originally promised us a look at the mundane activities away from the bridge, and stacking crates in a cargo bay seems about as boring a task as there is in Starfleet! Thinking back to episodes of Voyager or The Next Generation, though… someone has to have stacked those crates in the cargo bays!
As a “fish out of water” story, this side of the episode was fun. Putting the entire crew through their paces, then having them team up and use what they’d learned to defeat the villain made for an exciting, well-connected episode. Episodes like I, Excretus were exactly what I had in mind when Lower Decks was first announced, and although the A-plot/B-plot structure the show favours can work very well, once in a while it’s nice to see most of the characters working together and involved in the same storyline.
I had a great time with I, Excretus. The story was packed to the brim with very obvious callbacks to Star Trek’s past; the Mirror Universe, The Animated Series, even The Search for Spock were all represented in an incredibly fun, light-hearted story. Bringing the show’s main characters together for an outing that harkened back to old-school cartoons was truly fantastic, and I, Excretus will surely go down as one of the highlights of Season 2. Speaking of which… there are only two episodes remaining now that we’re into October. Where does the time go, eh?
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.