Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 9: wej Duj

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.

wej Duj – which is Klingon for “three ships” – was an exceptionally funny episode, and certainly one of the highlights of Season 2. What makes it stand out is that much of the humour came not from the main cast, nor even from secondary characters like the senior staff, but from guest-stars who gave us a glimpse at life on the lower decks of both Klingon and Vulcan ships.

Lower Decks promised us right from the beginning that we’d be looking at junior officers who get the worst assignments, so taking that concept and expanding it to show us the same kind of people on other vessels felt incredibly natural. It’s one of those ideas that just makes sense – and leaves you wondering why you didn’t think of it sooner!

The title card – in Klingon!

The episode skipped the usual pre-titles sequence, so after the opening titles rolled we were straight into the action. The title of the episode was displayed in Klingon (or should that be Klingonese?), which was a very neat little touch. As an aside, wej Duj is the first Star Trek episode – out of more than eight hundred – to have a Klingon title!

The setup for the episode was interesting, and gave us a rare glimpse at a starship during a period of downtime. Most episodes naturally focus on adventures of one kind or another, yet when you think about it, at least some interstellar travel is going to be dull, waiting for the ship to arrive at its next destination. We’ve seen glimpses of that in episodes like Voyager’s Season 5 opener Night, but this was its first appearance in Lower Decks. As above, this concept feels like another natural fit for the series – showing us what some of the junior officers get up to while the ship is warping to its next destination.

Dr T’Ana and Tendi enjoying some downtime together.

wej Duj used that premise as an excuse to shuffle the ensigns off-stage, and the story progressed without much significant involvement from Mariner, Rutherford, or Tendi. Boimler got a B-plot of sorts as he tried to buddy up to Commander Ransom. This sub-plot relied on a lot of sitcom-style “cringe” humour as Boimler pretended to be from Hawai’i to ingratiate himself with Ransom and a couple of other officers.

This kind of humour, popularised by shows like Friends, isn’t always to my taste. While Boimler’s story definitely had some funny moments, its reliance on a sitcom cliché premise made it the lesser part of the episode – at least in my opinion. The way it ended was definitely amusing in its irony, though, as it turned out that neither Ransom nor any of the others were in fact from Hawai’i either – all having made up the same lie at different times.

Though it wasn’t bad per se, Boimler’s sub-plot featured a style of humour that I generally don’t enjoy.

The main thrust of the episode focused on two guest-stars: junior Klingon officer Ma’ah, played by Jon Curry, and Vulcan lower decker T’Lyn, played by Gabrielle Ruiz. Pinning the bulk of an episode on two brand-new characters was a risk, but it was one that paid off and worked exceptionally well.

Both characters – and their supporting cast of fellow lower deckers and the senior officers aboard their respective ships – were exceptionally funny in completely different ways. The juxtaposition of two of Star Trek’s best-known races was at the core of what made this comedy work; seeing the aggressive, barbaric Klingons drinking bloodwine and engaging in fights to the death then immediately hopping over to the stoic Vulcans who showed no emotion was key to making the episode as funny as it was.

T’Lyn (left) and Ma’ah were the breakout characters from wej Duj.

wej Duj was also a very well-paced episode. In barely twenty minutes it had to bring together multiple story threads that began in very different ways and different places. It also had to balance three entirely disconnected segments and sets of characters, giving each enough screen time to allow for some development and for story beats to play out naturally. Not only did all of this work, with the pacing of each character’s story feeling just right, but wej Duj also connected the events every character experienced into the Pakled storyline that has been running since the end of Season 1!

I haven’t been afraid to criticise Lower Decks earlier in Season 2 when episodes felt overcrowded. Some potentially interesting storylines just didn’t get quite enough time to be fully-realised, and I stand by those criticisms. wej Duj was already an incredibly ambitious episode, considering everything it had to include, but seen in that light I think the fact that the writers, producers, and editors managed to pull it off is nothing short of remarkable.

There were a lot of different elements packed into a single episode this week, and the way they came together was brilliantly-executed!

It would’ve been easy to overlook one or more of the different stories considering the episode’s runtime and just how many characters and ships were in play. It really is a triumph of writing – and undoubtedly editing as well – that wej Duj worked as fantastically well as it did.

The Klingons were featured prominently in Star Trek Into Darkness as well as the first two seasons of Discovery, where some elements of their redesign proved to be controversial. Lower Decks returned the Klingons firmly to their familiar look – the one present from The Motion Picture right through to Enterprise. And as much as I enjoyed some of the Ancient Egyptian influence present in Discovery’s Klingon redesign, it felt absolutely wonderful to be back with the Klingons in their best-known aesthetic and to spend time aboard one of their ships again.

Commander Togg and other Klingon officers aboard the bridge of their Bird-of-Prey.

The aesthetic of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey on the inside was again very much in line with prior depictions. Everything from the lighting to the design used for Klingon computer monitors could’ve been lifted straight from Deep Space Nine or The Search for Spock – and I loved that the lower deckers were forced to sleep in hammocks that made the ensigns’ hallway look palatial in comparison!

The Vulcan ship was clearly based on the design of ships seen in Enterprise. Though Starfleet is the Federation’s main military and exploratory force, throughout Star Trek the Vulcans have been depicted as maintaining their own fleet of ships alongside Starfleet, so I don’t think it’s in any way a canon problem to have a Vulcan cruiser like this in Lower Decks. The relative power of the Vulcan cruiser compared to the USS Cerritos, which was on full display in the climactic battle, was very reminiscent of the way Vulcan ships would constantly outclass and outmatch the NX-01 in Enterprise – a neat little understated callback to Star Trek’s first prequel.

T’Lyn’s Vulcan cruiser at warp.

With the Klingon commander in league with the Pakleds, T’Lyn and Ma’ah – and later the USS Cerritos – were all drawn to the same place. The Pakleds had detonated a bomb given to them by the Klingon commander in the hope of destabilising peace in the Alpha Quadrant and sparking a war, and while Ma’ah challenged his commander, T’Lyn and the USS Cerritos both detected the residual after-effects of the Pakleds’ weapon detonation.

This moment set up the storylines coming together, and it was based once again on the Pakleds’ stupidity, which was pretty funny. The way Commander Togg reacted to the Pakleds’ detonating the bomb he’d provided was one of the funniest moments in the whole episode! Captain Riker had speculated that someone had been manipulating the Pakleds to become so aggressive, and wej Duj gave us the answer – a rogue Klingon commander.

It turns out that a rogue Klingon commander has been arming the Pakleds and pushing them to attack the Federation.

As Discovery showed in its first couple of seasons, there’s plenty of life in the Klingons as villains. When stories get their warrior-barbarian culture right, the Klingons can feel very threatening indeed. I’d point to the Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Nor the Battle to the Strong as just one example of that. But having seen the Klingons as allies throughout Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War in particular, and having had sympathetic characters like Worf, B’Elanna Torres, and General Martok, making the Klingon Empire as a whole an enemy once again wouldn’t be my first choice in Star Trek any more.

wej Duj found a clever way around this by giving us a character somewhat inspired by The Undiscovered Country’s General Chang. By making it clear that Togg was acting on his own, without the backing of the Klingon High Council or Chancellor – which should be Martok at this point in time, surely! – the story managed to be interesting and entertaining, but without dragging the Federation and Klingons into open conflict with one another. I think many Trekkies like the Klingons far better when they’re allies, with their aggressive nature turned on mutual enemies, than when they come into direct conflict with Starfleet – and I’m generally in that place too. While the Klingons can and do make entertaining villains, I enjoyed the way they were portrayed in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and would be loathe to see them as enemies once again.

The Klingons made a welcome return in a semi-adversarial capacity.

T’Lyn and her Vulcan colleagues also provided the episode with plenty of humour. The absolutely deadpan way that all of the Vulcans spoke to one another was hilarious, and the way they interpreted very politely-worded statements as emotional outbursts or insults was a very funny send-up of Vulcan culture from Lower Decks’ writers.

Though they featured prominently in the images shown off before the episode’s broadcast, wej Duj only contained brief scenes involving Tendi, Mariner, and Rutherford. I’d have liked to have seen a little more of the ensigns and their “bridge buddies” during their down time. Tendi’s rock-climbing outing with Dr T’Ana was a cute reference to The Final Frontier, which saw Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy enjoying shore leave at Yosemite national park. Rutherford’s pottery-making class with Shaxs actually contained a very sweet moment between the two, with Rutherford calling Shaxs “Papa Bear” when the latter became angry and upset by Boimler mentioning Bajor.

This moment between Rutherford and Shaxs was surprisingly touching.

Mariner didn’t appear to be enjoying her time with Captain Freeman at first, as the pair engaged in some mother-daughter bonding time on the holodeck and later in the captain’s ready room. But as they parted ways, both admitted that they had a good time together – another very sweet moment, and further evidence of the change in Mariner’s character and attitude that we’ve been tracking since midway through Season 1.

As the crew of the Cerritos scrambled to their posts from their leisure activities, the ship was awash with out-of-uniform officers. It was a pretty funny mix of characters in different outfits, and the sight gag of characters in everything from ball gowns to winter coats worked very well. It also showed that the crew are capable, despite serving on a “lowly” ship. These are still professional Starfleet officers, after all!

The crew of the USS Cerritos dropped what they were doing to rush to their posts!

Two questions remain now that wej Duj is over. Firstly: is the Pakled threat now over? Their reliance on Klingon weaponry has now been exposed, and with Commander Togg dead there isn’t anyone left to manipulate the Pakleds and push them closer to all-out war, so perhaps the threat is now largely at an end. I feel that the Pakleds have been very funny in Lower Decks as adversaries, but the way they’ve been presented has left them feeling like a one-trick – or one-joke – pony. Perhaps the “Pakleds are really dumb” joke has run its course, even though there was plenty of humour derived from that premise this week. Better to end it before it outstays its welcome, though!

Secondly, the end of the episode saw T’Lyn dismissed by her Vulcan commander and forcibly reassigned aboard a Starfleet vessel. Could she be making her way to the USS Cerritos, perhaps? T’Lyn provided ample humour in her own incredibly Vulcan way in wej Duj, and while there probably isn’t room for a fifth lower decker as a major character, bringing her in as a recurring character or in a different department could be an interesting way for the series to go as Season 3 beckons. It’s probably not going to happen… but you never know!

T’Lyn has been reassigned – could we see her aboard the Cerritos one day?

The worst thing about wej Duj is that now it’s over that means there’s only one episode left in Lower Decks Season 2! The ten-episode seasons that many modern television shows use are a double-edged sword in some ways. We get more shows, and the episodes that are made generally get a higher budget as a result. But it does mean that seasons seem to race by very quickly! I’m sure that Lower Decks has a suitably explosive finale planned for the end of the season, though.

wej Duj was a completely different kind of episode for Lower Decks. It saw guest-stars take centre-stage for the first time, and the episode was largely carried not by anyone aboard the USS Cerritos but by a pair of Klingons and some stoic, bickering Vulcans. Seeing the life of lower deckers on a couple of different ships was an absolutely outstanding premise, and wej Duj pulled it off with aplomb. The complicated story was expertly weaved together as it reached its climax, and appears to have exposed and perhaps resolved the lingering Pakled threat.

I had a lot of fun with wej Duj, and it will go down as one of the highlights of Season 2 without a doubt. It was funny almost from the first moment, with suitable moments of tension as the complex four-starship battle unfolded. It’s set a high bar for next week’s season finale!

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.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is boldly going for asexual representation

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2, particularly the episode Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

This article deals with the subjects of sex and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

Growing up asexual is difficult. We live in a world that seems to revolve around sex and sexuality much of the time, with an awful lot of music, art, and entertainment dedicated to relationships and to sex. Graphic depictions of sex on screen may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but even in the 1980s and 1990s sex was a frequent subject on television, in cinema, in music, and in practically every other form of media.

Even the arrival on the scene of more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans characters in media didn’t bring much respite. Who people were having sex with changed, but the fact that they were having sex – and spent much of their time pursuing it in one form or another – had not. The growth in LGBT+ representation in media has been fantastic (though it is still far from perfect) but speaking for myself as an asexual person, it didn’t always succeed at resonating with me. I still felt alone, that my perspective wasn’t being represented.

The asexuality flag or asexual pride flag. You might’ve seen it before – it’s permanently flown in the upper-right corner here on the website.

In the few “sex education” lessons that I was given at school, there was no mention of the LGBT+ community, let alone asexuality. Sex was something that “everyone” had and wanted to have, and between the depictions and talk of sex in all forms of art and media through to peer pressure from my adolescent peer group, it was inescapable. The only people who might be celibate were monks, nuns, Catholic priests, and losers who couldn’t find a date. That was the way sex and sexuality appeared at the time I was discovering my own.

In the time and place where I was growing up, away from the more liberal and cosmopolitan cities, even being homosexual was considered something abhorrent, let alone being trans, non-binary, or asexual. People didn’t understand what any of those terms meant because they’d never been exposed to it, and even being suspected of being a “poof” or a “bum boy” was enough to send the bullies into a frenzy.

The new “progress” LGBT+ pride flag.

The process of “normalising” – and gosh do I hate that term – asexuality can only begin when asexuality is visible. There may be a handful of asexual activists both within and outside of the broader LGBT+ movement, but generally speaking the level of visibility remains low. Without that visibility, understanding and acceptance can’t follow. The same is true of any minority group – including transgender and non-binary.

It’s for this reason that I get so irritated when I hear people talking about “too many” gay characters on television, or how “in-your-face” LGBT+ representation feels. It’s like that specifically because these groups have been so underrepresented for such a long time, and by making LGBT+ depictions more overt and obvious, it raises awareness and draws attention to the LGBT+ movement and the quest for acceptance within society as a whole.

Greater representation of LGBT+ people is still needed.

Since I went public with my asexuality, I’ve started displaying the asexual pride flag right here on the website. You can see it in the upper-right corner both on PC and mobile devices. I do that deliberately with the express intention of raising awareness and pointing out that asexual people exist in all areas of life. My chosen subjects here on the website are entertainment – Star Trek, video games, sci-fi and fantasy, among others. But there are asexual people in all walks of life and with as broad a range of interests as everyone else.

Being open about my asexuality was a choice that I made in part because of the lack of representation and lack of awareness many folks have of asexuals and asexuality. Even by offering my singular perspective on the subject in a small way in my little corner of the internet, I feel like I’m doing something to advocate for greater awareness and greater visibility, because without those things I fear that asexuality will never be understood. And without understanding it’s very hard to see a pathway to broader acceptance of asexuality in society.

If you’re interested to read a more detailed account of how I came to terms with my asexuality, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Title card for Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

So we turn to Star Trek. As an adolescent dealing with some of these issues surrounding my sexuality, the Star Trek franchise – and other sci-fi and fantasy worlds – could offer an escape. Science fiction and fantasy tend not to be as heavily reliant on themes of sex as, say, drama or even comedies can be, and I think that may have been a factor in my enjoyment of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its original run.

Despite that, the Star Trek franchise is hardly nonsexual. Characters like Captain Kirk and Commander Riker are well-known for their many relationships, and episodes like The Naked Time and Amok Time, while never showing as much overt sexuality as some more modern shows, do reference the subject. Even characters who have proven popular in the asexual community – like Spock and Data – had sexual relationships. While the Star Trek franchise has been at the forefront of many battles for representation – famously showing the first interracial kiss and with episodes like Rejoined promoting LGBT+ issues – asexuality itself had never been overtly referenced in Star Trek.

Characters like Data have been talked about in an asexual context before.

Though the depiction of Lower Decks’ chief engineer Andy Billups wasn’t explicitly about asexuality, his story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie presented the first significant analogy for asexuality in the Star Trek franchise – and one of the first ever on television, certainly the first that I’ve ever seen. In typical Star Trek fashion, the episode looked at the subject through a science fiction lens, with Billups’ unwillingness to have sex being tied to the medieval-spacefaring culture from which he came.

Star Trek has often done this. Rather than explicitly referencing a contemporary issue, writers will devise an in-universe comparison. The Doomsday Machine featured a planet-killing superweapon in an analogy about nuclear proliferation. In The Hands Of The Prophets told a story about Bajoran religion clashing with secular teaching in a story that was clearly about the creationism/evolution debate but that made no explicit references. Likewise we can say that Where Pleasant Fountains Lie is a story about asexuality – but one seen through a Star Trek filter.

The episode told a story about asexuality through a typical Star Trek lens.

As an asexual person watching the episode, I was floored. For the first time, a character in Star Trek shared my sexuality and feelings about sex. More than that, as the Hysperians’ plot to trick Andy Billups into having sex reached its endgame, the poor man looked so incredibly uncomfortable and ill at ease with what he was about to do. I’ve been there. I’ve been Andy Billups in that moment, and to see that portrayal was incredibly cathartic.

When I was fifteen I lost my virginity, succumbing to the pressure from my peer group and having talked myself into it. I thought that by doing so I could convince others – and myself – that I was “normal,” just like everyone else. Never having heard the term “asexual,” nor understanding that the way I felt about sex and genitalia was valid, I convinced myself that I must be the one who was wrong, that I was broken and that my sexuality simply did not exist as I now understand it. In that moment I felt a great deal of trepidation. This wasn’t simply the anxiety of one’s “first time,” but I was forcing myself to do something that I fundamentally did not want to do; something that disgusted and repulsed me.

I related to Billups so much during this sequence.

If you’re heterosexual, I guess a reasonable comparison would be having sex with a same-sex partner. Even if you could talk yourself into it, it wouldn’t feel right. And vice versa if you’re homosexual; having sex with an opposite-sex partner would feel fundamentally wrong. That’s the expression that I saw stamped on Andy Billups’ face in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, and if I had looked in the mirror on that day in my mid-teens – or on any of the other occasions on which I talked myself into having sex with partners both male and female – I would have seen the exact same thing.

I believe that this is the power of representation. To truly see myself reflected in a fictional character has been an entirely new experience for me, and no doubt for other asexual folks as well. Lower Decks may be a comedy series, but this storyline has become one of the most powerful that I’ve seen in all of Star Trek. It was the first time I ever saw my sexuality represented on screen, and for as long as I live I will be able to go back to that moment and point it out to other people. There is finally an understandable, sympathetic metaphor for asexuality on screen.

Chief engineer Andy Billups: asexual icon!

As I stated in my review of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, the depiction of Billups wasn’t perfect. There was a jokiness and a light-heartedness to elements of the story that clashed with the heavier themes that were present. But in spite of that, Billups’ story resonated with me. It’s an incredibly powerful moment to see any kind of asexual representation, and although there were jokes at Billups’ expense in the episode, he came across incredibly sympathetically. He even had his entire team cheering for him and chanting his name at the end – celebrating how he remained true to himself and didn’t have sex.

No asexual person should ever feel that they’re obligated to have sex. Sex education classes need to include asexuality alongside the rest of the LGBT+ spectrum so that asexual kids and teenagers can understand that the way they are is normal and valid. But education is only one thing that needs to change. Representation in all forms of media is exceptionally important too, and even a single depiction of a secondary character in one episode is already the best and most powerful asexual story that there has been in a long time – possibly ever. As more people become aware of asexuality and understand its place alongside heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, and other sexual orientations, the stigma or prejudice against asexuals and asexuality that exists in society will – in time – decrease.

Whether intentional or not, Lower Decks has joined the conversation and brought asexuality to mainstream attention in a way that I’d never seen before. It’s now possible for me to point to Where Pleasant Fountains Lie to show anyone who’s interested to learn more about asexuality and to see it represented on screen. That opportunity didn’t exist before, and I’m incredibly grateful to Lower Decks for this episode, this character, and this powerful story.

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.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 8: I, Excretus

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.

“We won’t let you get away with this!”

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!

It was great to bring the show’s main characters together for a change.

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!

Boimler’s Borg encounter was a fun element of the episode’s storyline.

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!

Boimler faced off against the Borg Queen this week… albeit in holographic form.

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!

The episode’s villain, Shari Yn Yem, was the first Pandronian seen in Star Trek since The Animated Series.

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 on an episode of my podcast, 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.

This moment had been shown ahead of time in the trailers for Season 2.

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.

Having the characters swap roles gave them a greater appreciation for their colleagues and the work they do.

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.

Mariner during her Wild West drill.

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.

Mariner did not enjoy this particular drill…

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!

The senior staff got a turn at being lower deckers!

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.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 6: The Spy Humongous

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.

For the second week running, Lower Decks managed to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters. The Spy Humongous spent time with the bridge crew, gave Boimler his own story, and gave Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford something to do as well. Crucially, the episode managed to make each of these three components feel significant; none felt under-developed.

Most importantly, all three storylines were fun! The bridge crew split up for this episode, with Captain Freeman and Shaxs on an away mission to the Pakled homeworld on a peace initiative, while Ransom and Kayshon played host to a Pakled “guest” aboard the ship. These two halves comprised a single story, while Boimler separated from the other three ensigns for his own character journey.

The Pakled spy got into a little trouble…

Tendi, Mariner, and particularly Rutherford took smaller roles this time in a story which put Boimler at the centre, but their paths crossed in a significant way toward the end. I’ve spoken numerous times about how amazing Mariner’s character arc across both seasons has been, and how enjoyable it has been to watch her grow. The Spy Humongous gave us some comparable character development for Boimler, as he came to realise that chasing a promotion isn’t everything – and that imitating great captains of the past isn’t any use in a crisis.

Several Lower Decks stories have felt like they could’ve been set in a school had the characters been different. I’m thinking of Mariner making up rumours about herself in Mugato, Gumato, as well as the “love triangle” in Cupid’s Errant Arrow last season. This time, the story of Boimler ditching his friends after being poached by a group of “cooler kids” likewise felt like it could’ve been about schoolkids. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way, if anything it’s a commentary on how the series takes familiar situations and gives them its own Star Trek-themed twist.

Boimler with the Redshirts.

Having only just settled his conflict with Mariner regarding his decision to prioritise promotion over their friendship in last week’s episode, as well as seemingly learning a lesson in the process, it was a little jarring for that moment to immediately be followed up by Boimler again ditching Mariner (and the others) in order to hang out with a new group who he feels – at least in the moment – are more likely to be useful to his ambition. This is a consequence of scheduling more than story; I said last week that both pairs of ensigns got stories that resolved lingering conflicts from Season 1, and that those stories might’ve been better-served by coming earlier in the season. Boimler’s plotline this time only reinforces that; at the very least this episode shouldn’t have immediately followed on from last week as it makes it seem that Boimler learned nothing – or very quickly forgot the important lesson he’d learned about friendship.

Scheduling aside, The Spy Humongous gave Boimler a satisfying arc. He began the episode enticed by the “cool kids” to ditch his friends and follow only his ambition, and for a time went along with their shenanigans. But when Tendi was in danger, Boimler knew what to do, and while the other wannabes tripped over one another to try to give “inspiring” speeches copied from past captains that they admired, Boimler recognised the problem and took the necessary steps to solve it. Even though doing so meant abandoning the new group of “cool kids” and by extension his aim of getting promoted again, Boimler prioritised problem-solving and friendship. His reward was a compliment from Commander Ransom, something which clearly meant a lot more to him than any “acting captain” role.

Being noticed by the Commander and receiving a compliment for his work was worth it for Boimler.

This was, unquestionably, a deeply satisfying character arc for Boimler to go through. Had it not come immediately following a similar moment last week it would’ve worked better, but that’s the scheduling issue again. The way that the episode tied this arc into the B-plot following Mariner, Rutherford, and Tendi as they collected “anomalies” that the senior staff had been working on was neat as well.

Tendi actually got one of the more emotional moments this week. I think we’ve all had an experience, at some point in our lives, of either feeling genuine excitement for something or trying to show excitement for the benefit of others, only to have someone else shoot it down. That feeling of being crestfallen or deflated is exactly what Mariner and Rutherford inflicted on Tendi after shouting at her for being too enthusiastic and eager during one of their most-hated assignments aboard the ship.

Haven’t we all been Tendi in this situation?

This moment set up the remainder of Tendi’s story – as she was transformed into a scorpion-like monster by a strange artefact – as well as led to the crossover with Boimler. But as a purely emotional moment that I think a lot of us can relate to, it was one of the highlights of the episode for me.

I created this website in part to share my love of Star Trek with a wider audience. But I can remember many occasions where being a Trekkie or even simply mentioning Star Trek was enough to have someone react with derision or dismissiveness. Even within the Star Trek fan community and among friends, I can remember moments where expressing passion for the “wrong” part of the franchise became an issue. When talking to a Trekkie friend excitedly about 2009’s Star Trek shortly after the film premiered I was hit with that feeling when they reacted angrily having pledged to never watch the reboot. So in a very meta Star Trek way, I can relate to what Tendi must’ve been feeling! That sense of showing someone you care about something you’re excited for only to have that excitement ripped away is a very real feeling.

Tendi was transformed into a scorpion-monster.

Mariner didn’t get very much to do this week. The episode put her through a montage of unpleasantries to emphasise how bad this particular assignment was and build up to her shouting at Tendi. Aside from that she was relegated to a background role alongside Rutherford, whose characteristic love for all things Starfleet apparently doesn’t extend to Anomaly Collection Day either!

On first viewing I felt that Tendi’s loud and rather rude laugh at Boimler’s mess hall mishap at the beginning of the episode was a little out-of-character, but on reflection I can see that this was an attempt to set up the conclusion to her and Boimler’s stories. It’s not the first time that we’ve had an out-of-place moment like this which has become important later; Lower Decks isn’t always subtle in that regard!

This moment at the beginning of the episode became important later on.

The mysterious artefact that transformed Tendi was just a macguffin at the end of the day, but it was one that didn’t feel out of place in Lower Decks. The first episode of the season set up how “strange energies” were something Starfleet regularly has to put up with, and across the season we’ve also seen Lieutenant Kayshon turned into a puppet and met a self-duplicating species, so it definitely doesn’t come from nowhere! Star Trek has, in the past, leaned into this kind of weirder, inexplicable macguffin for many different episodes across basically every series, so again it’s right in keeping with the way the franchise has always operated.

As mentioned, Boimler was the hero of the day. He figured out that the macguffin was feeding off or amplifying Tendi’s emotions (though exactly why she became a giant scorpion is still not crystal clear!) and that the best way to save her – and everyone else – was to make her laugh. Looping back to what made her laugh uncontrollably at the beginning of the episode, Boimler used the mess hall’s replicators to cover himself in food, much to Tendi’s amusement and the disgust of the “cool kids” he’d been hanging out with all day.

Boimler saved the day – and his friend.

Though much of Boimler’s time with the other ensigns followed a familiar trope, one moment which stood out was his inspirational speech. This sequence was also incredibly well-animated, as the empty stage faded into a truly outstanding recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise-D. Boimler gave a great speech, one which could’ve been given by any of Star Trek’s past captains. Though he may suffer from anxiety and be more than a little neurotic, Boimler can make a difference when it counts. We saw that not only with the speech, of course, but also with the way he saved Tendi.

I was reminded of Boimler’s speech in the episode Veritas from last season. The joke in that episode (which I felt fell flat, sadly) was that he and his shipmates were never in danger, and on this occasion he similarly gives an inspiring speech when there are no real stakes. But his ability to speak well and to give that kind of rousing address is in keeping with where we saw him last season, and I felt it was worth making note of that.

This was a great moment in the episode, both in terms of the speech and the animation work.

I really thought that the Pakled spy was going to turn out to be something different, perhaps something that challenged the notion that the Pakleds were all as stupid as they appear to be. For the entire time the spy was on the ship, and especially when he snuck away, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for some kind of revelation. Was Shaxs – recently and inexplicably back from the dead – going to turn out to be the real spy? Was the spy actually better at his job than he let on? It was a hilarious double-bluff that, in reality, the Pakleds truly are as dumb as they seem to be.

There’s somewhat of an old-school cartoonish charm to the way Lower Decks presents the Pakleds. An alien race who all seem stupid in comparison to the rest of the galaxy could easily fall into the trap of stereotyping folks with learning difficulties, but because of the overly-exaggerated way the Pakleds’ stupidity is presented, it doesn’t come across as offensive. It manages to just be funny – and even though there’s surely more to come from this Pakled conflict before the season is over, I can’t predict where it’ll go or how it’ll end. There was a mention this week of a Pakled bomb being sent to Earth, but it seems as though Captain Freeman will be able to alert Starfleet in time to prevent anything bad from happening.

The Pakleds were back in The Spy Humongous.

Lower Decks has usually been great when it comes to depicting different-looking, aesthetically interesting planets. Pakled Planet was a little disappointing in that regard, as it felt rather generic. The action that took place there was fun and exciting, of course, but the background could’ve used a little spicing-up in my opinion. It could still have been kept simple – in keeping with the show’s depiction of the Pakleds – but a different colour palette (Pakled Planet was very heavy on yellow and brown tones) or some item or landmark of visual interest would’ve improved these sequences.

It was funny to see the various Pakled “leaders.” A queen, a king, and an emperor all seem to be parts of an overall hierarchy, one determined solely by the size of their helmets. I can’t help but wonder what consequences – if any – there will be for the Pakled revolution and overthrow of the previous leadership. Perhaps that’s something routine on Pakled Planet that won’t make any difference – but if so, why show that on screen? I can’t help but feel it’s setting up something that may be of importance later!

The Pakled Emperor.

It was particularly funny how the group of “cool kids” referring to themselves as “The Redshirts” – a Star Trek fandom expression dating back to the days of The Original Series. Redshirts were disposable minor characters who often ended up dead on away missions! Seeing the Pakled spy drifting through space after accidentally shooting himself out of an airlock was also a really funny moment.

So I think that’s about all I have to say this week. There was a great story for Boimler – albeit one that might’ve benefitted from taking place at a different point in the season – as well as some advancement of the Federation-Pakled conflict. There were some hilarious moments for all of the main characters, and particularly the Pakleds. Ensign Mariner took a backseat for the first time this season, but giving her an occasional break is no bad thing.

All in all, a great episode.

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.

Star Trek: Lower Decks makes its international debut… finally!

Don’t worry, there won’t be any major spoilers here if you haven’t seen Lower Decks. If you’re a Trekkie and you managed to resist the temptation to watch Lower Decks by “unconventional means” then I commend you. After five long months, Lower Decks is finally available to an international audience via Amazon Prime Video – sharing the platform with Star Trek: Picard.

If you haven’t yet seen Star Trek’s second animated series, I really think you’re in for a treat! It’s funny and clever, and while there were some teething problems, especially in the first couple of episodes, I had a great time with the show overall. As an out-and-out comedy it’s certainly different from Star Trek’s past offerings, but if you believe that the franchise has never had a sense of humour then I think you’ve missed something significant!

Ensigns Boimler and Mariner.

The Original Series derived a lot of humour from the interactions between Dr McCoy and Spock in particular, and the franchise’s sci-fi setting has led to some weird and very funny moments. I think I’ve laughed out loud watching every Star Trek series to date. Lower Decks turns that up to eleven, and that may not be to everyone’s taste. If you don’t like animated comedy shows like Rick and Morty then perhaps the style of humour will be less enjoyable.

But even if you aren’t laughing out loud at every wacky situation that the ensigns find themselves subjected to, underneath the comedy is still a Star Trek show, and one that has heart. I would encourage fans who didn’t like Discovery or Picard to give Lower Decks a shot, because in many ways its closer to 1990s Star Trek than either of its two live-action cousins.

Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford.

Lower Decks is largely episodic, it brings back the classic design of Star Trek ships from that era as well as bringing back classic designs of aliens like the Klingons – the Klingon redesign was a point of contention when Discovery premiered. So from the point of view of someone who loved Star Trek in the 1990s, Lower Decks goes out of its way to use that aesthetic and style.

Despite the focus on the four ensigns, the bridge crew and senior staff of the USS Cerritos get screen time and development as well, and while not every episode will feel like classic Star Trek, some genuinely do.

When I watched the first season, I said several times that it’s important to have the right expectation when sitting down to Lower Decks. It’s an animated comedy first, and a Star Trek show second. If you go into it expecting The Next Generation with a few extra jokes you will be disappointed; Lower Decks puts its humour front-and-centre.

Commander Ransom and Captain Freeman.

A sense of humour is a very personal thing, and jokes are subject to individual taste. If the likes of Rick and Morty, Disenchanted, and even Family Guy are shows you like, I daresay the style of comedy in Lower Decks will be perfect for you. If you find those shows insufferable, however, it may be a more difficult watch – at least at some points.

Though not every joke landed, and some were actually dire, in my opinion the humour was more hit than miss, and there were some truly hilarious moments where I had to rewind the episode because I was laughing so hard. The humour generally doesn’t feel random; Lower Decks draws on the history, legacy, and mythos of Star Trek for many of its gags, which was wonderful.

Dr T’Ana.

Discovery was often criticised early in its run for feeling as though it was made by people who were not Trekkies. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, and I think it stems from the fact that the producers and writers were taking the franchise to new places. But regardless, that accusation simply cannot be levelled at Lower Decks. Almost every second of the season oozes Star Trek, and the characters, settings, storylines, and comedy are all drawn directly from the Star Trek shows of the 1990s.

There are also some genuinely inspiring and emotional moments in Lower Decks, with great scenes and characters inspired by past iterations of the franchise. In some ways, Lower Decks satirises or parodies Star Trek, but it always does so in a loving way. None of the jokes in Lower Decks felt like they were laughing at Star Trek – they were using the franchise as inspiration and making the goings-on in Starfleet fun, but never attacking the franchise nor being mean-spirited about it.

The USS Cerritos.

One thing I’m still hopeful for with Lower Decks is the expansion of the fanbase. An animated comedy in the vein of Rick and Morty has the potential to appeal to viewers who would not ordinarily seek out Star Trek, and while the splitting up of the broadcast did kill a significant amount of hype for the series, there is still the possibility to bring in new fans. Some of those people who are about to sit down to their first ever Star Trek show will go on to watch Discovery and Picard, as well as The Next Generation and The Original Series, and will become Trekkies. Lower Decks will, for some folks, be their first contact with the franchise, and I think that’s wonderful.

It took Rick and Morty three seasons to really go mainstream, so even though Lower Decks didn’t exactly catch fire during Season 1, with a second season already in production, and now having found an international home, I believe the show is in a good place, well-suited to expand beyond Star Trek’s typical sci-fi niche and bring in new fans.

Season 1 was a fun ride, and I’m already eagerly awaiting Season 2. I will certainly give it a re-watch on Amazon Prime Video now that it’s available – and I daresay I’ll have a great time all over again!

On my dedicated Star Trek: Lower Decks page you can find individual episode reviews for all ten of Season 1’s episodes. All ten episodes are available now on Amazon Prime Video, having followed Netflix’s lead and dumped them all at once! So if you haven’t seen Lower Decks yet, give it a shot. Maybe it won’t be your cup of tea – but maybe it will.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available now on Amazon Prime Video around the world, and on CBS All Access in the United States. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.