In the eighth episode of the sophomore season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, we get what amounts to a sequel to the second episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series season two, “Bem.”
Written by Ann Kim and directed by Kim Arndt, “I, Excretus” also pays homage to episodes from Those Old Scientists (TOS), The Next Generation, VOY, and one of the best* Trek movies, First Contact!
*(Editor’s Note: They are all the best movies.)
If you want to catch up with The Beat’s previous Lower Decks recaps, you can do so here.
S2E8 — “I, Excretus”
We open on the Lower Deckers completing repairs on a satellite. The four ensigns pause to admire the view.
Meanwhile, on the bridge of the Cerritos, Ensign Barnes (Jessica McKenna) reports that they’re getting a distress call from the Bakersfield, which is caught in a temporal causality loop! Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) naturally leaps into action, instructing the bridge crew to go to warp…
…and leaving the Lower Deckers on the satellite. Ensign Becker Mariner (Tawny Newsome) asks how much oxygen they have, and Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) says she’s sure they’ll be back shortly and they’ll all have a good laugh.
Six hours later, the four freezing Lower Deckers beam into the medical bay as the panicked bridge crew arrives. “See guys, we’re laughing,” says Tendi unconvincingly as we head into the theme song.
After the theme song, Dr. T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) says that their condition is nothing a little lung rejuvenation won’t fix. Freeman says it’s “no big deal” but Mariner is still offended. Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) states that had Mariner followed protocol and signed out her magnet boots, this never would have happened (see also: The Undiscovered County).
Mariner questions whether following protocol would have mattered, since Lower Deckers get no respect anyway, and Lt. Commander Shax (Fred Tatasciore) insists that they’re all equals on the Cerritos… But Ransom reminds him that the Lower Deckers sleep in a hallway.
Freeman tells Mariner to get it together, as a drill instructor will be arriving later in the day to test the crew’s mettle.
Later, the Cerritos crew files into the area where the drill instructor has set up. Ensign Jennifer (Lauren Lapkus) is speaking with Lieutenant Winger Bingston, Jr. (Eugene Cordero, playing a non-Rutherford role) about the fact that the drill instructor is a Pandronian.
Pandronians (like Bem, the honorary commander aboard the Enterprise in that eponymous TAS episode) are colony creatures, capable of splitting their body into three parts. However, an interesting fact we learned about the people of Pandro: if they have been prove to be “defective,” they will disband the union of their multiple pieces.
After filing into the storage bay where the drills will be held, the crew of the Cerritos begins listening to a speech by Shari Yn Yem (Lennon Parham), the Starfleet Drill Instructor. She does some of the grandstanding you expect from this kind of inter-fleet administrator, which gets some positive reaction from Ensigns Rutherford and Tendi (although Mariner couldn’t care less).
Shari Yn Yem explains that each of the holopods in the storage bay are programmed with a scenario that reflects an experience recorded by a previous Starfleet crew (and we can immediately see from the scoreboard that we’re going to seeing some fantastic homages, with scenarios like “Tribble Troubles” and “From Q to Q” teasing some great allusions).
Each member of the Cerritos crew will be scored based on their performance in these drills, with the results posted so they can see how they fare against their fellow crew. And finally, Shari Yn Yem notes that she’ll be flipping their ranks: the Lower Deckers are now the command crew, and Freeman and her team are now consigned to the Lower Decks.
As the Lower Deckers celebrate their sudden rise in rank, the command crew is told to “keep it moving, Lower Decks.”
Mariner is excited to start the drills as she enters a pod, which immediately activates “Mirror Universe Encounter.” Mariner believes it will be a simple task – she can pretend to be evil, she reasons with a Vindicta-style laugh (see Lower Decks season one episode nine, “Crisis Point,” if you don’t get this one).
Mariner is clothed in Lieutenant Uhura’s outfit from TOS season two episode four, “Mirror, Mirror,” and dropped into the transporter bay of the Mirror Cerritos, with instructions to find a way to return to her own universe. She addresses Mirror Migleemo and Mirror Lundy before escaping into the hallways.
She hides from Mirror Billups (Paul Scheer), whose mirror self is obsessed with sex (so unlike our Billups), and Mirror Rutherford. Mariner decides she’s going to take over the Mirror Cerritos to try and overthrow the Terran Empire, but she loses points for deviating from the mission parameters.
Then she runs into Mirror Shax! He demands to know who ran into him… So Mariner says it was her and two-hand punches him! Mirror Shax accepts this as identification and moves on.
Then Mirror Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid) appears. Just like our Bradward, he’s trying to transfer to a command ship, but with murder instead of slavish devotion to protocol. But when Mariner approaches him, he identifies her as a fake (Mirror Mariner is right-handed) and immediately falls into the pointing pose from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).
Alerted by Boimer, Mirror Manhaver and another Mirror Ensign apprehend Mariner, and she fails the drill… and has to deal with a pun from Shari Yn Yem.
Next up is Tendi’s drill. As Chief Medical Officer, she must navigate a tricky ethical situation: a Klingon who had been paralyzed picking up a peanut wishes to be euthanized, and Tendi must assist in the ritual so he can have an honorable death (for more on Klingon Death Rites, see TNG season five episode sixteen, “Ethics”).
After trying to avoid killing him, Tendi next tries to use a hypospray to euthanize him, but he demands she use his ceremonial knife. As the situation spins out of control, the Klingon falls to the floor. Two nurses try to assist in the euthanization… but it’s too late. The Klingon lives… and Tendi fails her drill.
In another pod, Mariner is facing her next drill: “Old West Planet,” which she notes is a Starfleet classic (TOS season three episode one, “Spectre of the Gun”).
That last episode of #StarTrekLowerDecks is putting us in the mood for some holodeck fun so we're watching this classic #StarTrekTNG episode directed by @SirPatStew. What holodeck episodes do you recommend watching this weekend? pic.twitter.com/b0uDM5D05e
— Star Trek on Paramount+ (@StarTrekOnPPlus) October 1, 2021
Mariner realizes the drill has some narrow parameters: she must ride a horse.
But when she gets on, the horse freaks out and throws her to the ground, stomping her in spite of her protestations and insistence that horses love her.
Meanwhile, Rutherford is undertaking a drill called “The Good of the Many,” based on the climax of The Wrath of Kahn. Rutherford must enter the chamber and fix the warp core breach or everyone on the Enterprise will die! Unfortunately, the handle is hotter than he’s expecting. He finally figures out that his boots can be put on his hands in order to open the door… but it takes too much time. The warp core goes critical and we cut to the Enterprise exploding in space!
Next up, we get to see Boimler’s drill: “Borg Encounter.” The encounter has the mission parameter of “resist the Borg,” but nothing futher – however, Bradward is confident: he’s read everything there is to read about the Borg, after all.
He’s impressed with the detail in the Borg cube as the drill begins. Boimler adjusts the frequency on his phaser to take out a few drones before fleeing.
He comes upon a drawer full of Borg babies (similar to Seven of Nine’s experience in the sixteenth episode of Voyager season six, “Collective”), but leaves them to flee through a maintenance shaft, where he locates an escape sphere and accomplishes his mission! But with a score of 79%.
Boimler isn’t satisfied with that score, and so he restarts the drill. This time, he rescues the babies and brings them with him in the sphere…
Which raises his score to 83%. “I can do better,” Boimler says. This time he captures several drones, which raises his score to 84%. “Do it again,” demands Bradward. “Hit me!”
In another pod, Mariner is dropped into a drill called “Naked Time” (for more on this, see the “Shipf*cker” list of weird Trek sex episodes – this one’s a reference to both TOS and TNG). The mission parameters ask if Mariner can resist her “own temptations”… as she enters a Cerritos bar filled with nude debauchery.
“It’s naked time,” declares Shax as Dr. T’Ana climbs all over his body. Everyone is naked. EVERYONE.
Mariner opens an airlock and nude bodies fly out into the void as she screams, “Fail me, fail me, fail me!”
But while you can’t really blame her for opting out here, it does drop the average drill score on the Cerritos to 37%…
Rutherford, Mariner, and Tendi are commiserating over their failure in the Captian’s Quarters, which is filled with an impressive spread of food and drink… and while their situation may mostly suck, at least Tendi discovers the glory of pesto!
Elsewhere, Boimler is still working on the Borg Encounter drill. He manages to summon a Starfleet Shuttle to rescue him (from an impressive ship, judging by the crew uniforms) and even destroys the Borg Cube… but still only achieves a 94% — less than perfection, which Bradward cannot abide! He demands the pod run the simulation again.
In the Captain’s Quarters, Mariner admits that bridge crew may have more difficult jobs than she gave them credit for, but Tendi says that they’re probably learning the same thing about lower decks…
But they aren’t. Freeman, Ransom, Shax, and T’Ana are hanging out in the Lower Deckers quarters and discussing how relaxing it is to be an ensign. But that’s when a Red Alert alarm hauls them out of bed and into a Drill chamber.
The command crew must face “Klingon Encounter,” but as ensigns. While it’s clear the ship is in chaos, the four “ensigns” are tasked with stacking crates instead of helping with the immediate threat (sort of like being an essential worker during a global pandemic, one imagines).
Their commander won’t give them any details about the situation and instead just tells them to complete their task… even after a Q arrives as well… and then the Jem’Hadar??? In spite of all this, Shax manages to stack the crates… which is great, until they get knocked over anyway and the command crew fails their drill, too.
The final task is a simulated experience that utilizes the actual bridge of the Cerritos. Shari Yn Yem says the true test of a crew is how well they can unite as a team, and gives them their assignment, which is straight out of The Search for Spock: steal the Cerritos from spacedock and then travel to the Genesis Planet to save Spock.
However, the positions of the crew are still reversed. Mariner sends Yeoman Ransom to fetch some coffee. But that’s when Shax stands and begins stretching (he’s cramped from sleeping in the Lower Decker bunks). But this causes Mariner to have a flashback to the “Naked Time” drill! She panicks and tells him to stop.
But then Freeman reveals that the drills are public and she saw Mariner be thrown off the horse. Enraged, Mariner tells Freeman to go to the brig, and the pair start fighting with one another. Distracted from the drill, they collide with the spacedock doors and fail – a new record.
In the bar, Mariner and Freeman discuss the situation with one another. Freeman admits she had forgotten how hard it can be when you’re not in the loop, and Mariner notes that commander level stuff is difficult. As the pair make amends with one another, they realize that the rest of the Cerritos crew is now closer than ever. They conclude that must be the point of the drills must be teambuilding!
They approach Shari Yn Yem and tell her they’ve figured her out, but she quickly disabuses them of this notion, saying they won’t be moving forward. Soon, she reveals her plan: she’s concerned that her drills aren’t being viewed as integral for Starfleet, since bigger ships pass with no problem, and she’s worried her position will be eliminated. In order to avoid this, she has rigged the drills on the Cerritos to ensure they’ll fail – after all, if Freeman left four ensigns on a spacewalk, they don’t “deserve” to pass.
Freeman says they need to do more drills, but Shari says that they’re locked out once they’ve failed – and once the scores have been collected, they can be submitted. However, there’s still one drill active: Bradward in the Borg Encounter! Shari says one passing score won’t help, but because the results won’t be transferred until the drills are all complete, it does buy them some time.
Freeman instructs Boimler to continue the drill as long as possible. While he managed to get a 100%, he has to stay in the drill so Shari Bing-Bang can’t screw them!
Shari says they’re torturing that “young officer” for no reason, but Freeman says he can handle it – he’s the best. Shari says none of them are the best, they’re on a California-Class ship – most of the fleet doesn’t even know they exist!
“The smaller the ship, the tougher the crew,” states Freeman.
Shari says she’s read all about space missions, but Freeman says that’s not the same as real space missions as they arrive on the bridge. Freeman scans for anomalies, and Mariner notes that it seems like it’s “crystalline entity season.”
Meanwhile, Boimler flees through the Borg Cube… until he encounters the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), who previously appeared in First Contact, and in the VOY episodes “Dark Frontier,” “Unimatrix Zero, Parts I & II,” and “Endgame.”
“How’s the empathy,” asks Bradward, and the Borg Queen says she was able to assimilate it.
Meanwhile, on the bridge, Freeman directs the Cerritos into the perimeter of the crystalline entity! They get caught in a electromagnetic resonance belt. Mariner and Freeman and enjoying themselves in spite of the danger, as Shari screams.
In the pod, Bradward is now on the assimilation table. The Borg Queen comments on his bad complexion but resolves to add his biological distinctiveness to their own (it’s kind of their thing).
On the bridge, Shari is panicking, but Freeman, assisted by Mariner, maintains control of the situation. As they fly away from the crystalline entity, the Cerritos crewmembers in the bar go back to their drinks.
Freeman wants something else to scan, and they find a black hole feeding on a temporal rift a few systems only. Shari says she’s putting the crew in danger but Freeman says they do this work every day.
They arrive at the black hole and Shari panics further… finally conceding that they win, and passes the crew with a perfect score. Once she’s done so, the effects of the “temporal rift” quickly pass, and it’s revealed that it was just a regular black hole (which Shari would have known if she had any legitimate experience of her own).
But inside the drill, things have taken a turn for the worse: Boimler’s been virtually assimilated! “There is no Boimler, I am Excretus, of Borg.”
Shax opens the pod and Bradward falls out, and while he’s somewhat traumatized… he was instrumental in keeping the Cerritos together.
Later on, in the mess hall, Freeman reveals that Shari Yn Yem resigned her postion, and Mariner notes that it feels good to ruin a jerk’s career. Freeman agrees, and rewards the Lower Deckers with a replicator that’s big enough to replicate a whole pizza (and even comes loaded with the Command Crew’s special recipies).
While Bradward says the virtual Borg took all that he was… he’s still ready for a helping of that delicious lobster mac & cheese. The Cerritos jumps to warp as closing credits roll on yet another incredibly good episode of Lower Decks.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks are made available for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursdays.