Tuesday, 5 October 2021

I, Excretus; Lower Decks S02 E08

I LOVED this one.

Providing a real ensemble performance from both the four main cast members and the senior staff, I, Excretus is one of the finest moments this season has produced to date.

Choosing to head a single storyline really works with the crew of the Cerritos lined up for evaluations at the behest of Shar Yen Yeb who is a Pandronian, the same species as Bem from TAS's episode of the same name. 

The opening skit with the quartet stranded on the satellite sets up the story clearly with the difference in rank and standing highlighted, precisely pinpointing the lower decks expendability in life or death situations.

Allowing Lower Decks to step outside of its own confines, the crew get the chance to step inside personal simulators (mini one-person holodecks) and be assessed. The scores certainly aren't racking up but as the episode progresses we are witness to a succession of famous encounters and moments from the past 55 years. The ensigns y'see re now placed into the positions of the senior officers and vice versa to see how the other half lives and for both it's eye opening.

Rutherford has to perform a life-threatening warp reactor repair (The Wrath of Khan), Tendi
must end a Klingon's life after a crippling injury (TNG's Ethics), Mariner is placed into the Mirror Universe and a Western town while Boimler handles the Borg. In at least three instances (plus the rest of the crew), the results are a disaster but the experience here is phenomenal and steps up the quality of Lower Decks yet another rung.

It's inspired to be able to freely enter all of these classic environments so easily and as part of the plot AND we have a guest voice provided by the Queen herself, Alice Krige. The Borg bits are classic. There's the changing of phaser frequencies (and throwing the weapon when it fails) all backed with the classic orchestral score from The Best of Both Worlds. Amazing.

This episode is again awash with references and while the last couple have been hat-tip light, it's a kick to remind viewers that actually that's one of the key elements that makes Lower Decks work. Yes, some of the situations are ludicrous and the execution of duties by the crew horrendous on virtually every occasion but it's the ability of this show - and the nature of it  - to poke fun at the absurdities of the past five and a half decades that kills it. 

Lower Decks has stomped on the stuffiness and occasional pretentiousness of Star Trek with a firm size 11 this week, even having the "gall" to trek back to the famous Spock death scene from the second movie and fluff the "Steal the ship" piece from The Search for Spock.  Both are executed magnificently and failed perfectly in the most extreme Cerritos way possible - spot on with a script and pacing to match.

Flipping the script, the senior officers realise how poor rations are and also just how much they are kept out of the loop. Initially their time in simpler quarters (a corridor) looks to be a quiet life. That's spat out when they have to stack hexagonal boxes while the rest of the ship deals with Klingons and then the Q - however they aren't involved in any way. Don't worry about it, those crates won't stack themselves.

Bringing the cast all together for one story is another brilliant strike actioned here. There's no inner bickering, no fighting or whining but a crew that is united and working as one for a desired goal. It might not be completely ethical but you can't help but root for the crew to win through in the end.

However, there is one sequence that may or may not have further consequences off screen. One of Mariner's experiences is The Naked Time in which the crew shed their inhibitions as per the classic (and TNG) episodes. Now, Lower Decks has never been for kids (that's Prodigy) but there are definitely a couple of jokes and at least one visual that may have stepped over the line from funny to possibly offensive. Was I personally that bothered? Not really but I'm sure there will be a line of fandom spouting about it "Not being my Star Trek" which is all well and good - so don't watch it.

The episode itself does play like a Greatest Hits collection and nails every one of them absolutely perfectly. To be fair, even that Naked Time sequence was generally hinted at in the episodes but never seen. Here we've just been a little closer to the "action" so to speak.

With the whole crew working as one there is a much more united goal this week although Boimler takes more than just one for the team to ensure that they don't utterly flunk the tests. While returning the Borg Queen it clearly pastiche's First Contact and just a little of the assimilation probes from The Best of Both Worlds with even a sprinkling of early Borg babies and long johns more likely to be seen in Q Who. Visually you have to say that the recreated sequences are perfect with the fun of a Lower Decks episode and a percentage of comedic "What If...?" added to the mix.

I, Excretus is a benchmark for the show, exposing its brilliance and attention to detail as well as the series' ability to make something new from the established every single week. Mariner has mellowed this season. While still occasionally extreme it's now more Boimler's turn to be stretching the boundaries thanks to his numerous and repeatedly mentioned time on the Titan.

Episode eight is, aside from maybe one graphic moment, a superb story that does everything you'd want from Lower Decks. Absurdity, canon nods and a surprise or two that you won't have seen in the trailers. Overall, the best of the season to date.

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