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 7: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Further spoilers are present for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series, The Next Generation Season 4, Discovery Season 1, and Picard Season 1.

Prior to the broadcast of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, there was arguably more hype than for any other Lower Decks episode so far this season. The return of actor Jeffrey Combs to the Star Trek franchise – he’d previously played Shran in Enterprise and Weyoun in Deep Space Nine, among other characters – was something that the marketing team were keen to show off on social media, and with this episode having been teased earlier in the season, as its broadcast approached there was certainly a degree of hype.

Considering how a couple of previous returning actors’ roles landed – John de Lancie in Season 1’s Veritas and Robert Duncan McNeill in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris just a few weeks ago – I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But I was pleased to see that Combs’ character of Agimus – an evil computer – was handled well and played a significant role in the story.

Agimus – the evil computer!

I didn’t know that the one thing Lower Decks had been missing was a spotlight episode for chief engineer Andy Billups, but you know what? It worked far better than I would’ve expected. The rest of the senior staff – Captain Freeman, Commander Ransom, Dr T’Ana, and Shaxs – have had aspects of their characterisations and backgrounds explored gradually, with little tidbits dropped in previous episodes. Billups didn’t have much of that; the closest he’d gotten to a spotlight moment until this week was in Season 1’s Crisis Point, where he was part of Rutherford’s story.

Billups was certainly the least well-known of the senior staff, despite being Rutherford’s boss. Lower Decks just hasn’t spent as much time in engineering as it has in other areas of the ship, so he’d been a background presence at best for much of the show’s run to date. This week’s episode felt like Lower Decks was almost trying to make up for lost time by dropping Billups into a major plotline that not only gave him a starring role but that also explained much of his background.

For the first time, Billups got a starring role.

One thing that I liked about this storyline is that it was a riff on the old maxim “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Billups, in his earlier appearances, seemed to be a bland, uninteresting human, probably from North America. He was dedicated to his work in engineering, and though he was on friendly terms with others on the senior staff, we never really saw him as a party animal or even having a close friendship. He seemed to be a pretty plain, uninteresting character – and we would’ve expected his background to match that persona.

Billups’ people – the Hysperians – are very far removed from that expectation! There was something about the Hysperians that reminded me very much of peoples Captain Kirk encountered during both The Original Series and The Animated Series; a throwback to Star Trek’s earlier days, where planetary societies based around ancient Rome or 1920s Chicago were commonplace. These kinds of stories and civilisations had faded from Star Trek by the time of The Next Generation, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Lower Decks bringing them back.

The Hysperians felt like they could’ve been a people encountered by Kirk in The Original Series.

The aesthetic used for the Hysperians and their vessel was unique, too. Inspired by a “renaissance fair” – as the episode noted – there was something fun and whimsical about their appearance. On the surface, factions like the Hysperians may seem “less realistic” than others in Star Trek, but I’d actually argue the opposite. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to think that future groups of humans might settle colonies and establish societies based around mutual likes – it’s basically an extension of online communities where people share what they have in common.

The design of the Hysperian cruiser was neat, and both inside and out it reflected their “renaissance fair” society. The hallways being lined with huge portraits reminded me of more than one stately home that my parents dragged me to visit as a child, and I liked that the Hysperians re-named their ship’s systems to match their culture.

The Hysperian starship Monaveen.

Billups’ storyline raised a very interesting question. Apparently, in addition to (or as part of) their medieval-fantasy culture, the Hysperians have a strange attitude toward sex and sexuality. Losing one’s virginity seems to be a big deal in their society – at least among the aristocracy. (Are all Hysperians aristocrats? Or are there peasants to go along with the knights and castles? An interesting aside!) So Billups had been avoiding losing his virginity as doing so would mean he would have to become king.

Given that Billups was incredibly reluctant to have sex – to the point that he had to be tricked into it – and that he seemed uncomfortable both before being taken to his quarters and immediately prior to getting into bed, I wonder if Billups might be asexual? Certainly this is one of the most overt references that the Star Trek franchise has ever made to asexuality, and although parts of it were – somewhat disappointingly – played as a joke, as someone who is asexual myself I find the whole thing particularly interesting.

A significant part of the story revolved around Billups’ unwillingness to have sex. Is he asexual?

Many asexual people – myself included – have had sex. This can be for a variety of reasons: societal pressure, the lack of education or awareness of asexuality, and the desire to appear “normal,” among many others. Because Billups seemed so genuinely uncomfortable at what would’ve been his first time, and that he’d made it to adulthood without ever losing his virginity, I’m wondering if we could make that inference. Billups chose to prioritise his work and his love of Starfleet over having sex, at any rate, so sex is clearly not a high priority for him.

We need more positive portrayals of asexual people in all forms of media – as well as portrayals of LGBT+ people in general. Though there were some issues with the way Billups’ role in the story was handled when viewed through that lens, such as how his apparent impotence was being played as a joke, I want to give Lower Decks credit for tackling this kind of story. Some folks might choose to attack the show for going down an overtly sexual route for part of this week’s story – particularly in light of the “adult content” controversy that blew up in the aftermath of Mugato, Gumato recently – but I’m honestly just pleased to see anything tangentially related to asexuality appear!

I can strongly relate to how Billups was feeling during this sequence.

There is also a second dimension to this, and it’s one Star Trek has tackled recently. By attempting to trick Billups into sex, the queen and the other Hysperians were essentially forcing him into a sexual act that he couldn’t consent to. Billups also made it clear on several occasions that he categorically did not want to have sex. There’s a word for forcing someone into sex or tricking them into it under false pretences: rape.

Ash Tyler’s portrayal in Star Trek: Discovery, particularly in the latter part of Season 1, was a very powerful analogy for male victims of rape and sexual assault. Though the way Billups’ sexual encounter was handled in Lower Decks was very different, the premise is comparable. Star Trek has never shied away from tackling these tough topics, but Lower Decks didn’t really provide much closure in that regard. Rutherford’s timely arrival prevented Billups from being tricked into having sex, but there were no consequences for his mother and the Hysperians who tricked him. The whole thing was played very light-heartedly, and when we compare this to the powerful Ash Tyler storyline in Discovery it feels as thought it comes up short.

Parts of this story were played for comedic effect, seemingly disregarding the disturbing, dark implications of tricking someone into having sex.

There was a distinct and out-of-place light-heartedness to the way the Hysperians and their queen were portrayed, both before and after their most recent attempt to trick Billups into a sexual encounter that he absolutely did not want to have. Lower Decks played some of this for laughs, and while humour is definitely something subjective, the jokes obscured some pretty dark and serious subject matter. Society as a whole needs to do better with helping and believing victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault, and male victims can be particularly invisible. Some male victims of sexual crimes have even reported being mocked and laughed at by law enforcement when they attempted to report what happened and seek help. Portrayals like this one don’t help the mindset that “men can’t be victims.”

Shelving that side of the story for now, we come to Rutherford. He played a role on this side of the story, but parts of it felt a little out-of-character. Though his conversation with Tendi at the beginning of the episode, in which he shared his reluctance to take on the assignment and work on a different ship, set up her devastation later on when she felt she’d pushed him to take an assignment that led to his death, the idea that Rutherford of all people wouldn’t jump at the chance to work on a fancy new starship engine for a change just didn’t seem to fit.

Though this worked as part of the story, it felt out-of-place for Rutherford to be reluctant to work on a fancy starship engine.

Rutherford’s death always felt like a fake-out, even though the episode put us through several minutes of seeing other characters reacting to his supposed death. The way Dr T’Ana informed Tendi was sweet, and I wish we could’ve seen more of the usually-grumpy doctor showing a softer, more sympathetic side for a change. Tendi of course reacted very strongly and with emotion – and the performance by Noël Wells was fantastic at that moment.

In light of Rutherford’s memory loss at the end of last season not really manifesting in a major way this season, and particularly after Shaxs came back from the dead in unexplained fashion, Rutherford was clearly not in any danger. I don’t even think that Lower Decks wanted to convince us as the audience that he was really dead, even though the characters went along with it at first. It wasn’t exactly a waste, as it set up the conclusion to the story quite well, but I’m not really sure what to make of it.

Rutherford’s death always felt like a fake-out.

Rutherford being “dead” obviously hit Tendi the hardest. And even after he was shown to be alright, she was still very clearly affected by the experience. We might yet see some consequence of this in a future story; Tendi seemed very nervous and might try to interfere in a future story if she thinks it’ll help save Rutherford’s life. But that’s just speculation – it’s just as likely this whole thing will be forgotten as Lower Decks moves on to new stories in future.

Tendi and Rutherford spoke about getting him out of his comfort zone at the beginning of the episode. Though I stand by what I said earlier about Rutherford’s reluctance to work on a new ship being out-of-character, as a concept I liked what Tendi had to say. It can be important for everyone to push themselves and try something new. It can be something work-related, learning a new skill, or even visiting a different place for the first time. Though this wasn’t exactly the core of the story – and Tendi expressed regret when she thought Rutherford had been killed – the message itself is worth paying attention to for anyone who feels like they’re settled and haven’t tried anything new or different for a while. It’s very unlikely to end as explosively as it almost did for Rutherford!

There’s a lesson in getting out of one’s comfort zone.

On the other side of this week’s story were Boimler and Mariner, paired up once again for a mission aboard a shuttlecraft. After Agimus had been taken into Federation custody at the beginning of the episode, the duo were assigned to transport it (him?) to the Daystrom Institute for safekeeping. I liked that the Daystrom Institute was name-dropped here, as it has recently appeared in Star Trek: Picard. Dr Jurati was a scientist who worked there at the beginning of Season 1. The Daystrom Institute has appeared in other iterations of Star Trek as well, and was named for Dr Richard Daystrom, a computer scientist who appeared in The Original Series.

Jeffrey Combs has always played devious, villainous characters exceptionally well in Star Trek, and Agimus was no exception. Combs’ distinctive voice gave the evil computer a genuinely menacing quality, as each syllable dripped with malice and their attempts at manipulating Boimler and Mariner were obvious.

Agimus fantasised about creating murder drones and ruling an entire planet.

Agimus picks up another trope from The Original Series – computer-dominated societies. Lower Decks already brought back Landru at the end of Season 1, but there are other examples of this, such as Vaal and the Controller of Sigma Draconis VI. Again, this was a welcome step back to what felt like a story that could’ve been part of the franchise’s early days. Agimus is very much in line with the way other evil computers had been depicted – but elevated by Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal.

Though this side of the story teed up some Mariner-versus-Boimler tension, I was glad that the way that particular storyline ended showed Boimler in a positive light. Boimler has grown a lot since we first encountered him at the beginning of Season 1, and particularly after the lessons he’s learned this season about maintaining his close friendship with Mariner, if he had succumbed so easily to Agimus’ manipulations it wouldn’t have felt right.

Boimler outsmarted Agimus – without telling Mariner what he was doing.

But Boimler certainly had Mariner and Agimus fooled! I like seeing a more confident Boimler following his jaunt aboard the USS Titan. There must’ve been a temptation to reset the character after he returned to the Cerritos, but realistically an experience like that would have changed him. We see this change manifest in Boimler becoming more confident in his own abilities and more secure in his knowledge – even to the point that he surpasses Mariner in this particular story, figuring out a solution before she could and seeming to go along with Agimus only to gain access to the malignant computer’s battery.

It was a well-executed story, and one which didn’t come at the expense of Mariner. Though she was understandably unaware of what Boimler was doing, she wasn’t portrayed as being naïve or stupid in order to give Boimler his surprise ending. She underestimated him – believing him not to be ready for a different away mission. But we could also interpret her meddling as a desire to keep Boimler on the lower decks with her. Having lost him once, she isn’t prepared to lose him again. Whether she’s aware of that as she’s going behind his back isn’t clear – and I suspect that this side of their relationship will have to be explored again at some point. But this time, in the context of this story, it worked well.

Boimler fired his phaser at Mariner – but it was all a deception to trick Agimus and allow them to be rescued.

Their shuttle crashing on a desert planet reminded me of The Next Generation fourth season episode Final Mission. In that story, Wesley Crusher and Captain Picard would similarly find themselves crash-landing on a desert world, and having to survive with a somewhat hostile companion. That episode would also mark Wesley’s departure as a permanent cast member (though he did return to The Next Generation for a couple of other stories). Whether intentional or not, it was neat to feel that Lower Decks was channelling that episode at points.

Agimus made for a difficult adversary for Boimler and Mariner to overcome, especially considering the crash severely damaged their shuttle. The stakes were raised higher by the damaged replicator and the loss of their emergency rations to an alien monster. It seems to have been around this point that Boimler formulated his plan! The joke about the replicator only being able to serve up black liquorice was also funny – as was the plant that also tasted of liquorice. I guess it must be an acquired taste – though I’ve always liked liquorice personally.

What’s so bad about black liquorice?

Mariner and Boimler’s trek across an unforgiving landscape also presented a comparison to their first away mission together in the second episode of Season 1: Envoys. That story saw Boimler at his most anxious and out-of-place; the contrast with the confident way he executed his plan this time around could not be more stark. The fact that both episodes saw an away mission aboard a shuttle go awry is interesting – Lower Decks is almost being poetic!

After their rescue, Boimler and Mariner returned to the Cerritos aboard a shuttle crewed by officers in the black-and-grey uniform style that Boimler wore aboard the USS Titan. Presumably these officers were from another ship, but it was interesting that they weren’t just picked up by the crew of the Cerritos. It was funny to see Agimus in their “prison” – surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds, of near-identical evil computers. Apparently out-of-control AI is a huge problem for the Star Trek galaxy… no wonder the Romulans in Star Trek: Picard were so concerned!

Agimus in prison, surrounded by dozens of other evil computers.

This week’s episode had two stories that both felt well-paced. Neither story felt rushed, and the number of characters present felt about right. Though the two stories went in completely different directions – literally and metaphorically speaking – both harkened back to The Original Series in ways that were very clever. It’s been a while since Star Trek produced an episode that felt so connected to the planets, peoples, and storylines of its first iteration, so that was fantastic.

Though there were some issues with the way Billups’ story was handled, I maintain that he could be asexual. At the very least there was an interesting asexuality-adjacent storyline this week, and it’s the first time that I can recall that Star Trek has come so close to touching on this subject. It wasn’t perfect, for the reasons I laid out above, but it was something – and there’s power in almost any form of positive representation, even when things aren’t perfect. If you’re interested to read my story about coming to terms with being asexual, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Mariner and Boimler had an exciting story too, and Jeffrey Combs put in a wonderful performance as the antagonistic Agimus. It was great to welcome him back to Star Trek – and to see solid evidence of Boimler’s growth as a character.

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 1: Strange Energies

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

Here we go again! After more than seven months with no new Star Trek, Lower Decks has returned to brighten our days once more!

Despite problems caused by the lack of an international broadcast limiting fans’ access to the show, the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks was outstanding. The series broke new ground for the Star Trek franchise, being its first foray into the realm of animated comedy, yet at the same time felt familiar. Many of the jokes relied on references to past iterations of Star Trek, and as a whole Season 1 of Lower Decks felt like a love letter to the franchise and its fans.

Star Trek: Lower Decks has found an international home on Amazon Prime Video, and beginning with Season 2 fans all over the world are able to watch together, which is great news. I hadn’t realised until recently how much I’d missed my weekly appointment with Lower Decks, and it was wonderful to be able to step back into its fun take on Star Trek.

The episode’s title card.

Having been excited to see trailers and teasers for the new season earlier in the year, as Strange Energies approached I felt that the marketing department at ViacomCBS went overboard with showing us clips from the episode. I wanted to avoid the dreaded “Simpsons Movie phenomenon” – where a production gives away all of its good jokes and clever moments in marketing material ahead of time – so in the final few days leading up to the episode’s arrival I actually tuned out of all of these clips. I wanted to go into Strange Energies in as unspoiled a manner as possible.

The episode was solid, but perhaps not the best Lower Decks has had to offer. There were some clever jokes, fun references, and an A- and B-plot just like most of Season 1. The A-plot looked at the relationship between Mariner and Captain Freeman as they dealt with the titular strange energies that effected Commander Ransom. The B-plot focused on Tendi and Rutherford’s relationship in the wake of his memory loss at the end of Season 1.

Rutherford and Tendi got a secondary storyline in this episode.

Both of these storylines had some great elements and some that weren’t so good. When it came to Tendi’s desire to keep Rutherford as her friend, the whole thing just felt rushed. Within seconds of the two characters appearing on screen, Tendi had jumped down the rabbit hole of obscure technobabble medical conditions, and their story then raced through several sequences before coming to an obvious conclusion. The only time either character had a second to breathe was in the episode’s final moments.

Tendi has been a character that I felt failed to really find a niche in Season 1, despite Lower Decks putting her in several different situations. The one constant in her characterisation had been her friendship with Rutherford, so this storyline did have a solid foundation to build on. Perhaps if more time had been dedicated to it it could’ve worked better; such is the peril of making an animated series with episodes that barely reach the twenty-minute mark.

Rutherford and Tendi’s B-plot felt rushed.

As for Rutherford, though the memory loss was mentioned, it really served as little more than background for the unfolding story. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Rutherford coming to terms with his lost memories and re-forging the friendships he had in Season 1, not just with Tendi but also with Mariner, Boimler, and characters like Billups in Engineering. This story with Tendi worrying about the future of their friendship could still have worked in that context, but could’ve perhaps come in episode 2 or 3 of the season, after we’d seen a little more of Rutherford rebuilding after losing all of those memories. In that sense, one of the last big moments in the Season 1 finale felt like it was underused at the beginning of Season 2. There’s still scope for some Rutherford memory loss moments, I suppose, but they’ll come after this story has already effectively reset him to the way he was last year.

When the episode’s A-plot focused on the relationships between Mariner, Freeman, and Ransom I was concerned that we were going to see Mariner undo all of the growth and development that made her arc in Season 1 so powerful and interesting to watch. I was glad that it didn’t happen; the story built on that character arc and took the characters to different places without trying to undo what had come before.

Strange Energies devoted a lot of time to the relationship between Mariner and Captain Freeman.

It makes sense for characters as different as Freeman and Mariner to find it difficult to work together at times. And it makes sense for Ransom, as the ship’s first officer, to see Mariner’s newfound status and special treatment as an issue, so all of the building blocks that went into this side of the story worked as intended. Just as it took an extreme and unusual event in the Season 1 finale for Mariner and Freeman to overcome those differences and work together, it took another such event this time for them to realise that they didn’t enjoy their new dynamic as much as they pretended to. There’s almost a mirror feel to these characters’ stories in this episode and the Season 1 finale from that point of view; they form a duology.

Once a secret is revealed, though, there’s no way to cover it up again. And the show realised this; it isn’t possible to reset Mariner to the insubordinate angsty teenager that she was at the beginning of Season 1 because the nature of her relationship to Captain Freeman is now a known quantity, and we’ve already seen her growth in that regard. So Lower Decks charted a new path for Mariner, one which will hopefully allow her to do things on her own, keep some of her rebelliousness, but at the same time not completely regress or revert back to the way she was and undo that wonderful Season 1 character arc.

Mariner still gets to be a rebel, but hasn’t been “reset.” I think that balances things well!

Mariner undergoing a character regression was one of my fears for Season 2, and I’m glad that – so far, at least – Lower Decks has managed to avoid that temptation. A show can still be episodic if it has character arcs and genuine character growth, and what I’m hoping Season 2 will deliver, at least in regards to Mariner, is the best of both worlds from that point of view.

It was an interesting choice to begin Season 2 with an episode that essentially sidelined Boimler. He got a few seconds of screen time right at the very end, but that was all. After all of the speculation about a possible demotion or a return to the Cerritos, for it not to have happened in the first episode was a bold decision – one which worked well.

Boimler, Riker, and the bridge crew of the USS Titan.

Had Boimler been included in Strange Energies in any meaningful way (such as by returning to the Cerritos), realistically one of the other storylines would have had to be cut entirely in order to make his promotion-demotion story work. As it is there’s already a concern that undoing Boimler’s promotion so soon after granting it could be a problem, so keeping him out of the first episode and just teasing that things aren’t going well for him on the Titan was clever – it seems like it’s setting up a pathway for him to perhaps lose or voluntarily give up that role in a future episode.

Though I do have some theories that I posited before the season kicked off, I’m still not sure how Lower Decks will square that circle. Since we’ve been talking about Mariner and her Season 1 character arc, I want to repeat that I hope Mariner doesn’t intentionally sabotage Boimler’s new role and promotion. She seemed mad at him in the opening act of Strange Energies, but also said she couldn’t really blame him for leaving as the episode reached its conclusion. So there’s hope, from my perspective, that whatever reunites Boimler with the rest of the group won’t be all down to Mariner!

Boimler is clearly not settling in well aboard the Titan.

I’m curious to see if we’ll get a full Boimler episode next week – or at any point this season – showing him under Riker’s command aboard the Titan. If so, perhaps the conflict the Titan was engaged in with the Pakleds at the end of Strange Energies may have set that up. It was great to have Riker back, though, even just for a brief moment.

Ransom becoming a god-like entity was perhaps the weakest part of the episode, even though it served as the catalyst for a solid Mariner-Freeman storyline and managed to include some decent and clever jokes. Perhaps it felt too over-the-top, as if Lower Decks had turned the silliness up to 11 mere moments after the season debuted. Or perhaps there was just something about the way Ransom turned 180° from his usual laid-back self into a ship-eating monster that just felt forced or didn’t stick the landing.

I wasn’t wild about this part of the story.

Plus the whole “kicking him in the balls” ending was pretty silly and childish, even by Lower Decks’ standards. I usually enjoy even the lowest-brow humour that the show has to offer (the line “he’s got wood” was one of the funniest for me in all of Season 1, for example) but something about this being the ultimate resolution to Ransom’s newfound godhood just seemed… cheap? It was definitely exceptionally silly.

It was funny to see how casually Mariner, Dr T’Ana, and others treated what was happening to Ransom, as if these “strange energies” are something everyone in Starfleet has encountered or heard of at some point. And the callback to Where No Man Has Gone Before – Star Trek’s second pilot – was definitely appreciated, as was the way Dr T’Ana became convinced that squishing Ransom with a boulder was the only solution to the problem. Lower Decks has been packed full of these references and callbacks since it kicked off last year, and I was glad to see more of the same this time around.

The Gary Mitchell reference was neat.

The Cerritos is continuing its mission of second contact, and this week we met a new race – the Apergosians. Their design was okay, but nothing groundbreaking – though they really just served a role in the story instead of supposedly becoming a race we’re going to spend a lot of time with, so I guess that’s okay. Not every alien has to be unique and distinctive! Their leader, who was pretty much the only Apergosian to get a speaking role, was very picky and almost neurotic, and I wondered if Lower Decks was going to do some kind of story about autism or Asperger’s syndrome – perhaps the name of the alien race also contributed to that. As it happened the story went in another direction, which was probably for the best.

Dr T’Ana was great comic relief in Strange Energies, and she’s one of my favourite secondary characters on the show. The moment where Ransom used his new powers to turn her hypospray into an ice cream cone was already hilarious, but then the fact that she just shrugged and started eating it almost made me spit out my drink. I had to pause the episode and recover my composure! Her boulder obsession was also pretty funny; having become attached to the idea that this was the only way, she just went off in search of a boulder disregarding what Mariner and Freeman did. And seeing her driving a forklift was funny too.

Dr T’Ana, forklift driver!

So I think that’s about all I have to say about Strange Energies. It wasn’t the best Lower Decks has had to offer, dragged down a little by the Ransom storyline. Its B-plot also didn’t really accomplish very much and felt rushed. But there were some funny moments, good jokes, and satisfying interplay between two pairs of characters. The fact that Strange Energies has started to chart a path for Mariner that doesn’t revert her to her early Season 1 portrayal while still keeping her relationship with the captain and chain of command strained will hopefully lay the groundwork for more fun antics as the season rolls on.

A solid if unspectacular start to Season 2, then. All things considered I’m satisfied with that!

Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally. 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.