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Monthly Archives: November 1999

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Star Trek Voyager: The Voyager Conspiracy review

Voyager Ate Elvis’ Brain!

The displays in supermarket aisles right before you get to the cashier tend to be crowded with lots of tabloids with headlines like “Elvis’ Brain frozen on Ice attacks Donald Trump”, “New Bigfoot diet key to fighting millennial prophecies” and “Boy without face kidnapped by aliens.” Despite all the glare and hype the tabloids, much like “The Voyager Conspiracy” — the episode seemingly inspired by them — have little to offer once you get past the glare and the big red type. No matter how bright or exciting the promises made, ultimately at the end when we have slogged through the whole mess we find out that the whole thing is just a fraud. So too goes Voyager Conspiracy, going the way far too many UPN promos have gone. The thing is that despite all the abuse they get, UPN promos are more often than not, non-representative of the actual episode. But there are always exceptions and Voyager Conspiracy is just such an exception, an episode that not only fails to be more than its station promo but actually manages to be far less.

star trek voyager the voyager conspiracy

It's like... a conspiracy, man

There are critical times in the life of a TV show or any dramatic product when it stands on the border of making a really great leap or sinking  back down into mediocrity. There is a chance given to take a big risk and to really alter the face of your story or to take the safe option and go on as you have before. Taking that risk is more than just a choice. When you’re at home typing up your latest take on the great American novel, taking a bold turn really is a choice. If you haven’t topped the bestseller lists lately or at all, the direction you take is up to you. On the other hand when you’re working with product, someone else’s product, which itself is just the tip and the loss leader for a multi-billion dollar merchandising empire and the stool on which UPN is standing with the noose around its neck, then the pressure on you is far greater. Taking that risk becomes courage. Not everyone has courage.

In the past Voyager has tackled some very dark issues sometimes even going into places the supposedly superdark DS9 wouldn’t go. But the one area where Voyager has played it safe is its characters. This is understandable because the characters are what the show and the merchandising really rest on. An offensive or controversial subject matter in one episode can bring some calls or some letters but there is no lasting harm. The format remains intact and the individual episode can be ignored. The original series itself had no shortage of episodes that needed to be ignored. The core format though stayed the same. Kirk remained Kirk and Spock remained Spock and so on. The most dangerous thing you can possibly do on a show is to tamper with format. This is why writers and producers will usually put far more thought into the glacial pace of a romantic relationship than the details of an alien culture or a starship drive. It is one thing to have dark content and another to apply it to your characters. It is one thing to have your heroes hunt a maniac, it is quite another thing to reveal that the maniac was one of your heroes all along. The first puts you well into the safe realms of TV format, the second is dangerous and risky. It is courageous. The Voyager Conspiracy started off promising courage but in the end it only delivered standard TV format. At the end of the day things can go on as they have always gone on before. The format remains intact. The episode ends with virtual hugs all around and a lesson learned. Thank you June Cleaver.

The key element of the Voyager Conspiracy that serves to drive the episode and remains unexplained at the end is footage Seven recovers from the sensors. The footage shows an alien spacecraft tractoring one of the generators from the Caretaker’s array before it exploded and with it Voyager’s only way home. Meanwhile Voyager has encountered an alien with a problem similar to Voyager’s. He has devised a gateway that can transport him home and potentially transport Voyager closer to home as well. The coincidence of the two elements pushes Seven to begin hatching conspiracies indicting either Janeway and Starfleet or Chakotay and the Maquis of deliberately stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant.

No show has had quite as problematic a premise as Voyager. The crews of the original series and the next generation were simply out exploring space. They were exactly where they wanted to be. By contrast Voyager is not where it wants to be. By contrast the Voyager crew are not where they want to be. They are stranded in space and despite Janeway’s emphasis on exploration, their real mission is to get home; a place Star Trek crews have traditionally gotten away from. This basic reversal of the traditional Star Trek premise was a way of tampering with format and has proven far less than popular. The premise though did not have Voyager simply stranded but Janeway actually making the decision to effectively strand Voyager. This was never really properly dealt with. While “Night” came closest to having Janeway examine her behavior, Voyager Conspiracy raises the ghost and exorcises it by loading the deck from the start.

In a rather odd bit of behavior for a logically oriented Ex-Borg, Seven crafts some far out theories with no basis at all. The footage is star trek voyager the voyager conspiracyinteresting and intriguing but ultimately it proves nothing which is the lesson of the episode but it is a lesson the character Seven who was established as should have known from the start. The episode might have had some potential if B’Elanna or Tom had gotten hold of this information and jumped to all the wrong conclusions but this behavior is utterly senseless for Seven to engage in. She only acts this way in order for the episode and the lesson at the end to occur and this is an idiot plot. Namely a plot in which characters behave like idiots for the plot to work. Throughout the episode Voyager’s crew of highly trained Starfleet personnel behave like the actual readers of tabloid magazines jumping on circumstantial evidence and hatching conspiracies. If Voyager really had this much tension running through it and if Janeway and Chakotay really trusted each other so little, a mutiny would have happened long ago and Voyager might actually have a capable Captain in command now.

This is yet another example of the producers’ over-protectiveness of the characters resulting in ridiculous plots that must be tweaked to justify their behavior. Rather that taking the courageous step of writing an episode that actually might have revealed more complex intentions on the part of Janeway and made the premise a bit more palatable, Voyager once again spins out a tale in which Seven as errant and foolish daughter is taught a lesson about humanity, Janeway serves as the teacher and Janeway and Chakotay bond at the end and wonder how they could have possibly gone a millimeter apart from each other. This does finish off the story according to format but one has to ask, what the hell is the point of actually watching this episode to begin with because nothing actually happens in this episode.

While audiences were and are seemingly prepared to watch the Enterprise crew eat lunch, few are ready to provide that kind of attention to the Berman spinoffs. In the final summation Voyager Conspiracy is an episode about nothing and unlike Seinfeld it isn’t even remotely funny. Seven of Nine develops a crackpot idea and infects some of the crew with it, said problem is solved by everybody learning that they have to communicate better and really love one another. This is very sweet and all and if this were Touched by an Angel it might make a very nice episode but few Star Trek viewers go for that sort of thing in the first place. The remaining question of the alien ship is mildly interesting buy why surrond it with that god-awful pointless excuse for an episode in the first place?

Star Trek Voyager Review – Riddles

Your average TV drama has a limited repertoire of character relationships. Two characters can be friends, enemies, colleagues or lovers.

star trek voyager riddles

Tuvok, Default Expression No. 2

Mostly they’re the first and the third, during sweeps or when the show has gone on too long they may become the fourth and there are the perennial enemies who make up the fourth. The borders tend to be pretty set and follow a simple formula. But then there are the character relationships that seem to exist somewhere outside the formula: the Tuvok/Neelix relationship would definitely have to be filed under this category.

Both Tuvok and Neelix are strong characters in their own strange ways but where Neelix’s strength comes from how much he cares about his friends, Tuvok’s reservoir of strength, like that of all Vulcans, remains a mystery. Ever since Spock came on board and departed along with the rest of the Original Series crew, Star Trek has tried to duplicate the Vulcan formula with more or less success. Star Trek Phase Two, the follow-up to the original series, which never aired but was eventually transmogrified into Star Trek The Motion Picture, had a Vulcan named Xon. The Next Generation confined itself to two strong guest star appearances by Mark Lenard as Sarek and a somewhat less successful one by Leonard Nimoy as Spock. Deep Space Nine featured some embarrassing and unpleasant moments with their unexplained hostility towards Vulcans and Voyager, finally going where Phase Two was meant to go before, featured a Vulcan as part of the cast.

Despite fears, Tuvok was most certainly not a Spock substitute but something different, an angry, hostile and unexpectedly loyal full blooded Vulcan with an attitude bordering on the fascist. As with all Vulcans and characters intended to represent the “Other”, they’re only interesting when coming up against humanity thus defining again what it means to be human. As a result, such a character is often half-human and struggling with humanity as in the case of Spock or B’Elanna, wanting to be human as with Data and the EMH or afflicted with a superiority complex and rejecting humanity but insecure because of his own rejection by his own people like Worf, Odo or Seven of Nine. These of course are not genuine aliens, merely representations of ourselves that we toy with. A genuine alien character might want very little from us and give just as little in return. Such a character is not very interesting to us and this has been Tuvok’s dilemma all along.

We could not see Tuvok as a Vulcan within Vulcan culture because short of the occasional flashback to childhood there are no Vulcans for

star trek voyager riddles

You know him from guest starring on every TV show in the last 10 years... also The Killing

him to interact with in the Delta Quadrant anymore than there are Klingons for B’Elanna Torres to spar with. These species have a meaning in the Alpha Quadrant but in the Delta Quadrant they are just as alien as we are. And so Tuvok as an alien among aliens remains mysterious, a riddle no one can quite solve, though Neelix spends more than a little time trying. Just as McCoy served as the emotional middleman for Spock, Geordi for Data and Quark for Odo, Neelix does his best to be there for Tuvok whether Tuvok wants him to be or not. And that is where we are at the start, Neelix offering Tuvok a riddle whose answer is completely illogical, a joke, a play on words.

As we have seen frequently on Star Trek and other Sci-Fi shows, logical computers do not understand word play and neither does Tuvok. Neelix’s clingy prodding eventually drives him to his doom when he leaves to get some peace and quiet and is promptly zapped by a cloaked alien here to spy on Voyager. Tuvok is brought back to Voyager with his mind severely damaged and Neelix does everything possible to try and help him recover (possibly because he thinks the whole thing is his fault in the first place, although neither he nor Neelix mention this in the episode), from surrounding him with Vulcan objects or playing him Vulcan music to reading him Vulcan drama. Eventually Tuvok wakes up but rather than undergoing the kind of instant recovery characters on Star Trek usually do, he is damaged. At first even unable to speak and completely devoid of logic he becomes something Neelix is very good at dealing with, a child.

We’ve seen that Neelix is very good with children because Neelix is quite a bit of a man-child himself. Where normal adults communicate on a mixture of emotional and rational levels, Neelix can really only communicate on an emotional level and damaged as he is that is the only level on which Tuvok can now receive and respond. While Janeway and Co. assisted by an alien version of Agent Mulder with Janeway serving as his skeptical Scully investigate the mystery of the invisible octapodal aliens (who are wisely kept far enough in the background for us to want to see more of them instead of overexposing them as the Aliens of the Week), Neelix is forced to try and solve another riddle, the riddle of Tuvok.

While Voyager usually operates on the premises of science and rationality, Riddles’ core premise poses two riddles to which the answers are illogical. First is the X-File mystery of the cloaked aliens in which the Mulder character is of course correct, and second is Neelix’s dilemma of how to make Tuvok a whole Vulcan again. The riddle which frames the episode that Neelix asks at the beginning and Tuvok answers at the end points up that same theme. While Tuvok is correct to apply logic to a practical problem, the problems of characters can rarely be solved using logic but “by eating the dates on the calendar.”

When Neelix realizes that he cannot help Tuvok as a Vulcan instead he helps him survive as a friend and a caretaker, appropriately enough,

star trek voyager riddles

They used to have a commercial for this in the 80's

through food. Before Tuvok can become an adult, he must become an emotionally secure child and it is this experience that Neelix is most qualified to provide for him. As an adult Tuvok retains some of what Neelix has taught him during his “childhood”, allowing Tuvok to see past logic. Tuvok’s achievement in suggesting the Sundae solution is not in the answer to the riddle itself but in finding a way to communicate with Neelix and to respond to him on his level. Meanwhile the Inspector whose quest is just as irrational and emotionally driven as Mulder’s compensates for his unfeeling treatment of Tuvok by sacrificing his life’s ambition for him.

There are different levels of riddles interwoven throughout this episode. The core riddle is of the cloak Tuvok uses to conceal himself from others and is paralleled by the cloak the aliens employ to hide themselves from other species. The solution to both riddles is inherently irrational and illogical and joined as it requires restoring the cloaks used by both the aliens and Tuvok. Nevertheless, the logic to both solutions is an emotional one. By carrying through a deal with the aliens allowing them to feel secure, trust is produced allowing there to be hope that someday the aliens will come out of hiding on their own terms. Restoring Tuvok’s cloak allows him to integrate what he has learned of the child with the adult giving us hope that someday he might be more than just that cowling Vulcan in the corner.

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