There’s a moment in I, Excretus that’s proved divisive with Trek fans. Obviously this isn’t anything unusual – we can’t even agree on obvious things like Deep Space Nine is the greatest Trek series ever, or that The Final Frontier is a misunderstood work of genius ["it really isnt" - Ed]. The moment in question sees Mariner transported into a holographic recreation of the classic episode The Naked Time, only to discover that the facsimiles of her crewmates are taking it literally, engaging in all kinds of undressed shenanigans (of the sexual variety in case we’re being remotely subtle). Chief amongst these is a spectacularly naked Boimler, sat spreadeagled, only a well-placed black square protecting both his modesty and our eyes.
For some, this is a step too far for Lower Decks – an unnecessarily crude scene besmirching the memory of a beloved episode. For others, it’s just bloody funny. (We’ll leave it to your imagination what Gene Roddenberry – a man famous for his somewhat hedonistic views and fondness for pushing the boundaries of how much sexiness he could cram into '60s TV – would have thought of it).
It’s a divisive moment – which, for the record, we found hilarious - in an otherwise gloriously entertaining episode. After the central foursome are accidentally stranded for hours during an EVA (apparently they should have signed out their gravity boots) the crew of the Cerritos is selected for a series of tests. Their drill instructor - Shari yn Yem – is a Pandronian, a race not seen since The Animated Series episode Bem, and whose distinguishing feature is being able to split their body into three parts. One great recurring feature of Lower Decks is how wholeheartedly it has embraced the much-maligned '70s series which, although severely hampered by its budget and bargain-basement animation, is a charming, oft-neglected piece of Trek’s history.
These tests involve the bridge and lower decks crews switching places. The bridge crew revel in their new lack of responsibility, getting to spend their days hanging out in transporter rooms doing nothing (a possible nod to the great web comic Chief O’Brien at work maybe?) and wondering why they ever ranked up. Their only drawbacks are having to sleep in a corridor and limited replicator choices (they don’t even get pesto, which a delighted Tendi discovers via the officers’ replicators. And she’s right to be delighted, pesto is amazing).
For the temporarily promoted lower deckers, Yem puts them through a series of holographic drills which riff on classic Trek episodes. So Tendi is tasked with dealing with an injured Klingon, determined to end his own life (from The Next Generation’s Ethics), Rutherford must sacrifice himself to save the ship in Spock/Wrath of Khan style. They both fail, but not as spectacularly as Mariner, who races through a trio of adventures. Besides the aforementioned Naked Time scenario, she has a Mirror, Mirror-style trip to the Mirror Universe, and a wild west encounter, which riffs on Spectre of the Gun.
Boimler on the other hand is tasked with taking on the Borg, something the ensign has typically read up on extensively. Not based specifically on any one episode, his adventure draws elements from Q Who?, The Best of Both Worlds, and – when he encounters the Borg Queen (featuring a returning Alice Krige) First Contact. The over-prepared Boimler is the only member of the crew to actually pass his test, modulating phaser frequencies and crawling through conduits like his virtual life depends on it. Ever wanting to impress, he’s not satisfied with his score, and obsessively keeps retaking the test, adding rescuing Borg babies and blowing up the Borg cube to his scenario.
With the crew all but having failed, Yem presents them with one last scenario, with Mariner in command of the bridge – rescuing Spock from the Genesis planet. After sending Ransom off for coffee, bickering with her mother, and getting distracted by a disturbing flashback of a naked Shaxs, they don’t even manage to get out of Spacedock.
After mistakenly deciding that the purpose of the tests all along was to get the divided crew to bond, Mariner and Freeman confront Yem, who laughs at the suggestion. Her mission was simply to save her job by choosing a hopeless crew for her tests, highlighting the need for her services. The disgusted mother and daughter pair decide to teach her a lesson. The training scores aren’t final until all the scenarios are complete, and the obsessive Boimler is still running his. Ordering him to stay in the simulation, Mariner and Freeman take the Cerritos for a spin, throwing it into dangerous situations with Crystalline Entities and black holes (nice visual reference to The Motion Picture there by the way).
It’s this section that doesn’t ring true. We’ve been repeatedly told that the Cerritos and its crew are one of the least important in Starfleet – a few episodes back they couldn’t even get into a party. Now they’re taking in scenarios that would have tested the likes of Kirk and Picard. Freeman’s assertion that her crew deal with scenarios like this every day (accompanied by shots of nonplussed crew members) seem to work against the show’s premise. Or perhaps by the time the show’s set – shortly after Nemesis – these once-challenging encounters are so run of the mill that any crew can handle them?
Anyway, a terrified Yem backs down and agrees to pass the crew. As for Boimler, he’s finally met his match, courtesy of the Borg Queen (who, with the best joke of the episode, mistakes his pasty skin for alien and says he could almost pass as human), and leaves the simulation convinced he’s been assimilated.
Like the first season’s Crisis Point, I, Excretus, uses the holodeck to give the crew a chance to have fun with Trek’s past, putting the show’s own twist on a range of classic scenarios. It also reinforces some important character traits of the central foursome. Mariner’s over-confidence and rebellious nature cause her to fail as often as she succeeds; Tendi’s lack of confidence and desire to please can cause problems; and Rutherford, although a very competent engineer, is often incapable of dealing with the simplest real-world problems (he fails his scenario because he can’t figure out how to turn a hot door handle). Boimler, on the other hand, continues to demonstrate that he’s increasingly competent, although still undermining himself with his obsessive desire for perfection (he’d actually make a good Borg) and need to prove himself. Besides the ongoing Pakled plot, if this season’s building to anything, it’s that Boimler may be ready to move on, for real this time. And that no one needs to see him spreadeagled and naked.
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