Aug 17, 2021
Hologram Yem, you’re my Pandronian: Star Trek: Lower Decks “I, Excretus”
It’s time again for Lower Decks, so let’s get low! Our quartet is repairing a satellite with the Cerritos a short distance away, taking in a view of a stunning nebula as they do so. “It’s times like this,” says Tendi, “that you realize it doesn’t matter what deck you work on—we’re all in this together.”
Suddenly, the Cerritos receives several simultaneous messages from a ship caught in a time loop, and rushes off to help, leaving the deckies stranded. They’re rescued six hours later, low on oxygen and frozen through.
After the credits, an understandably-upset Mariner yells at her mom for leaving her to die. She says that it always seems to be the lower ranks that get their lives gambled with. “Yes, that’s how rank works,” says Shaxs. Oh wait, no he doesn’t—he says, “We’re all equal on this ship.” Some officers are just more equal than others. Captain Freeman runs out of patience and tells Mariner to get her poop in a group before a Starfleet drill instructor comes to test the crew… presumably to find out how equal they are.
The drill instructor, Shari Yn Yem, is a ruthlessly peppy motivational-speaker type. She’s a Pandronian, just like Bem from the original animated series, and can split her body into three independent sections, which she does now to pump up the crowd.
The drills today are taking the form of holo-adventures in individual pods; she’s going to test the crew on scenarios other Starfleet crews have gone through before. We see a list of scenarios up on the wall, referred to by the titles of old Trek episodes with the wording slightly changed, and there’s also a scoreboard keeping a running tally of each crew member’s points. Because when I think military drills, I think of personalized testing and individual evaluations. Also, we find out that Jet’s last name is “Manhaver”.
Lastly, to take people out of their comfort zones, Sheri announces that for the purposes of these holo-scenarios, the crew’s ranks will all be reversed: senior officers get bumped down to the lower decks, and lowbies get command positions on the bridge. This horrifies Captain Freeman.
Mariner gets into the holo-pod first. She’s been given a Mirror Universe encounter, and as captain, she has to put her evil pants on and do some infiltration. Bad luck for her, though, because the Mirror Universe Boimler is just as meticulous as the one we know, and when Mariner does the Terran Empire salute with the wrong hand, she’s agonized on the spot and receives no points.
As Chief Medical Officer, Tendi gets a Crusher-esque lab coat on over her uniform and a scenario inspired by “Ethics”. A Klingon broke his back picking up a peanut and now wants to die. Tendi vows to save him, which loses her points. She shifts course and vows to kill him painlessly, which also loses her points. The angry Klingon offers her a wicked-looking mek’leth with which to do the job, but she fumbles and spills him off the operating table. A couple of surgeons wearing those weird red outfits scramble over, run their tricorder over him, and mournfully pronounce him alive.
Mariner’s next challenge is an Old West planet, with old-timey building facades that don’t have any buildings behind them, because this hologram isn’t depicting the real Old West, but the Old West as seen on the 1968 Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun”. This one she fails because she can’t ride a horse. Isn’t it funny that she can’t ride a horse? Wait, why would she be able to ride a horse? Most people today can’t ride a horse, and I’m gonna hazard a guess that the skill’s not going to become more common in the future.
Meanwhile, Rutherford’s a chief engineer in his scenario, dressed up in one of the hilarious protective suits from Wrath of Khan and charging in to fix a warp core breach. Unfortunately, the door handle is too hot to enter into the reactor chamber, and before Rutherford can awkwardly fumble the door open with his boots on his hands, the ship explodes.
There’s a meta-joke somewhere in here about how Lower Decks keeps doing the plots from all these other Star Trek episodes/movies with the twist being that these characters are bad at them. The only deckie who’s passing his simulations is Boimler, who finds himself on a Borg cube, successfully avoids assimilation, finds an escape sphere, and gets away. However, he thinks he can get a better score, so he goes through the simulation again and again, trying to get more points by rescuing baby Borgs, subduing drones and bringing them back to be unassimilated later, and whatever else he can think of.
Mariner finally fails her final failure: a “Naked Time” scenario where everyone’s lost their inhibitions and only want to fight and have sex. This horrifies Mariner even though she loves fighting and sex. It seems the holographic crew has taken the concept of “naked time” quite literally…
…and Mariner flushes everybody and herself out into space.
Later on, the crew has attained an average score of 37%, and the deckies, besides Boimler, are eating their feelings with a huge dinner from the senior officers’ fancy replicator. Boimler, meanwhile, is still obsessively running the Borg scenario, and has gotten to the point where he can save half the ship’s drones, beam them all into a waiting runabout, and blow up the cube behind him, but this still only nets him a not-perfect 94%.
Mariner is ready to concede that maybe the senior officers’ jobs are kind of rough, after all. Meanwhile, the senior officers Freeman, Ransom, Shaxs, and T’Ana are having their own revelations about how the other half lives. Their mission is to support their commanders and do whatever they say, which is to stack crates while a Klingon battle, Q encounter, and Dominion invasion all take place in the corridor outside the cargo hold. Shaxs bellows at the hexagonal crates, which prove hard to stack. He finally gets them racked up, but because they’re not perfectly tesselated, they fall over the next time the ship lurches and they fail the simulation.
The final phase of the drills is to do the plot of The Search for Spock all together. Why would Starfleet want to make stealing a starship and going AWOL into a test? Whatever. The test is going smoothly, when Mariner is suddenly distracted by a memory of Shax’s naked ass from earlier.
She explains away her visible embarrassment with, “Just remembering something from the drills earlier.” Freeman reveals that the drills are public, and she saw Mariner’s laughable attempts at mounting a horse. Enraged, Mariner sends Freeman to the brig, and they tussle until the ship crashes into the space station.
The two women make up with unusual speed, though over some drinks in the ship’s bar later, and seeing the other crewmembers swap stories about their drills makes them realize that this wasn’t a drill at all, but a team-building exercise meant to foster empathy. They take their revelation to Shari Yum Yum, but unfortunately they’re dead wrong, and it was very much a drill and they all failed and they’re getting reassigned.
It’s obvious that this fuckup crew badly deserves to get broken up, but that wouldn’t make for a very good conflict, so Tick Tock starts spinning a tale about how Starfleet wasn’t needing her services anymore since their members are too good, thus she targeted the Cerritos to save her job and even rigged the scenarios to make sure everyone would fail. The light at the end of the tunnel is that Boimler is still obsessively re-taking the Borg scenario, so the scores haven’t been submitted yet. He’s almost got his perfect 100%—”I played chess with the Borg Queen! I taught her empathy!”—but Freeman coms him and orders him not to finish, and with a regretful sigh, he begins messing up.
Freeman takes the bridge and orders Mariner to pilot the ship to the closest most dangerous thing in space to give Gew Gaw a taste of real space danger. Mariner picks a crystalline entity and maneuvers in recklessly close. Drip Drop screams at the excess of transphasic energy tossing the ship around like a pool toy, while Freeman and Mariner laugh at her distress.
Meanwhile, Boimler meets the Borg Queen (guest voice Alice Krige) again while trying to stall for time. “How’s the empathy?” he asks. “We were able to assimilate it,” she answers. Soon he’s on a First Contact-style surgical table.
After narrowly escaping the crystalline entity, the Cerritos goes to a temporal black hole and jumps along in its distortion wake before Clip Clop finally relents and agrees to pass them all. Freeman, laughing, tells her that it was just a regular black hole, neatly exposing her as a fraud. They go to rescue Boimler from his holo-pod, because by now he’s assimilated and going under the name Excretus (hehehe, that means poop!), but they bring him out and tell him he finally got his perfect score.
Fee Fi quits Starfleet, everyone has a good laugh in the bar, and the senior officers magnanimously upgrade the lower-decks replicators with the senior officers’ menu. Everyone’s good except for Boimler, who’s haunted by the trauma of his assimilation and always will be, but no one cares.
Next episode: As it turns out, only the top third of Shari Yn Yem resigned and a new drill instructor named Cari Yn Yem arrives to make trouble. Boimler restarts the Borg Queen hologram to get “the full Data experience”.