Bride of Holodeck
There’s no way of truly gauging how awful an episode that depends on the characters being threatened by malfunctioning technology is going to be. In the Trekverse, the malfunctioning technology is usually the transporter or the holodeck. The aim of both is much the same. To leave our heroes stranded in a bad situation with no easy way to rescue them for 10 or 15 minutes and thereby producing suspense and keeping the interest of the audience; or so the theory goes.
Some of these stories worked well enough in the early days of Star Trek but they were tiresome by mid-TNG and by the time Ds9 and Voyager
came along, they just needed to be taken out and shot. As David Gerrold pointed out, why would you continue using a technology that constantly breaks down in the first place? There may be some justification for the transporter which is critical technology that might be a bit hard to replace but the holodeck is the Trekverse equivalent of TV. It’s entertainment. If it has a bad habit of going berserk and trapping our characters in a room full of gangsters, criminal masterminds, or deranged villagers why keep using it? Worse, Star Trek writers have a habit of throwing what’s left of their brains overboard when a holodeck story is written.
A holodeck story has become the signal for camp, lots of in-jokes and a completely implausible plot. When this is kept grounded in reality as with The Killing Game which had its share of drama and mind-blowing sequences, it can work, but when that fails, the episode turns into a Vic Fontaine romp or Fair Haven. To its credit, Voyager’s most prominent transporter malfunction episode “Tuvix” was actually intriguing and original. And Voyager had managed to make some interesting and original uses of the holodeck. “Nothing Human” gave us a quite unethical but very memorable holodoc, “Killing Game” that famous Nazis vs. Klingons moment, “Real Life” had the EMH creating a family for himself, “Alter-Ego” a holographic take on internet chat rooms and “Pathfinder” as the best Barclay episode yet. Still when a Star Trek show goes decides its crew needs some time off from the real world to relax, the results tend to be horrific. Witness “Twisted” and “Fair Haven”, DS9’s “Holosuite” and Vic Fontaine series or VGR’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
Spirt Folk (the writers wisely avoid fairy folk) itself is a sequel to an episode that never should have been made. Still, since Fair Haven set up a relationship for Janeway with a hologram who doesn’t know he’s a hologram, that clearly had to be resolved somehow. Unfortunately Voyager falls back on the cliche of a holodeck malfunction. Some lessons have been learned by the writers. The holodeck malfunction is not sudden or unexpected. The safety protocols are not randomly disabled but damaged when hit by a shotgun blast (though you have to wonder how the shotgun blast could have done any damage if the protocols were online to begin with?) And most of what happens makes a certain amount of rational sense.
Paris has been running the Fair Haven holoresort program on a 24/7 basis while the crew have been using their omnipotent powers over the holodeck world to save babies from wells and turn Kim’s dates into cows (does that qualify as yet another doomed relationship for him?) and while Janeway struggles with a relationship in which her boyfriend isn’t real, the townfolk begin to suspect that the Voyager crew are spirit folk. What happens here is somewhat interesting mainly because Voyager’s writers and the writers of many TV shows turn out small town cliches of the perfect simple place; while Spirit Folk unintentionally takes the stereotype Fair Haven built up and shows the ugly reality underneath.
Under the picteresque mannerisms and scenery, most of the residents are ignorant, superstitious, violent and dangerous much as people of
that era really were. The writers insert repeated lines into the mouths of the characters excusing their actions by claiming that they are influenced by fear and ignorance, but that explains their behavior but hardly excuses it. One wonders how long it would have taken for the wonderful Fair Haven villagers to have permanently ‘disposed’ of Paris and Kim at the stake if Janeway’s boyfriend, modified with knowledge and culture he couldn’t have actually had, hadn’t gone for help. DS9’s “Badda Bing” tried to disingenuously wave away the divergence between the holographic fantasy and the historical reality much in the same way that modern day writers want to ignore a commitment to what things were actually like in favor of how things would look better on a picture postcard.
But then once again Spirt Folk, like Fair Haven completely ignores any of the real issues here in favor of worn out comedy routines (Oh wow, there’s a cow in the church!) and sugary speeches. When the crisis comes, we once again are faced with the same ridiculous premise that the entire problem is caused by the ship’s equivalent of a TV set which cannot be shut down. Why can’t it be shut down even when valued members of Janeway’s crew have their lives at risk? B’Elanna Torres helpfully points out to Janeway that unlike Janeway’s boyfriend, her boyfriend cannot be reprogrammed if he develops a sudden hole in the head. To this Janeway sagaciously responds that it doesn’t matter if the people of Fair Haven are real as long as our feelings for them are real. On the logical scale this is somewhat roughly the equivalent of completely insane.
After all if Janeway were to decide that a chair or a rock was her significant other and if the feelings she has for the chair or the rock are quite real, should they take precedence over the lives of actual real people? We may assign sentimental value to photographs of loved ones or to books or William Shatner’s toupee but that doesn’t put them nearly in the categories of people. The people of Fair Haven are not real. They are interactive ‘TV’ characters with some sophisticated programming. You cannot have a relationship with them anymore than you can have a relationship with a chair or a rock. That is you can love the chair but the chair can never love you back. Without a mutual exchange of feelings there is no relationships and there can be no mutual exchange here. Unlike the EMH, the Fair Haven holopeople are not at sentient level or no one on Voyager would be treating them as property. Literally they are the equivalent of a collection of tapes from a TV show. They should have been dumped at the first sign that human life was at risk. This of course would be taking the logical, moral and sane way out, not a very likely thing for Janeway to do.
So of course when Paris and Kim are trapped by a mob of irate villagers in the pub, Janeway decided to beam Paris and Kim off the holodeck. This in and of itself doesn’t actually solve any problems except for the one involving the safety of Paris and Kim. Even though she was warned that the villagers suspect members of her crew as being spirit folk, she nevertheless sends in the Doctor who is also the one member of her crew most likely to be vulnerable to a holodeck environment. The result of course is just another hostage. Janeway is left with egg on her face and it becomes clear that the situation cannot be resolved without a reunion between the two lovers. While many fans next objected to the hypnotism of the doctor, this actually makes perfect sense. With the emitter removed the EMH becomes part of the holodeck program and as a hologram he is subject to the rules and physics of the Fair Haven world. Using the EMH as an unwitting conduit to the Voyager data-link, something far more plausible than Moriarty’s method of having the holograms figure out where they are through taking control of the system, he figures out what to do and where to go in a way that is completely in keeping with his primitive mindset. This is again surprisingly reasonable.
Once together Janeway and holographic bartender tour the ship and she lies to him again implying that Voyager travels in time back to their
era. Though supposedly a well educated man who has traveled to distant countries, the bartender doesn’t request a miracle cure for illnesses or any futuristic technology. Instead this leads in to a return by the pair to the pub where they give a wonderful speech about tolerance and togetherness that instantly makes the demented villagers tolerate the Voyager crew again not as spirit folk but as spacemen. Some people would argue as to how likely it is that the villagers could understand the concept of time travel or spacemen, let alone use it with such facility but then again it’s important to remember that these aren’t real villagers any more than Janeway is a real Starship Captain.
Voyager’s most successful holodeck episodes have been non-holodeck holodeck episodes in which holodeck like events were taking place but not within the confines or the agency of the holodeck. Episodes like “One”, “The Muse”, “Memorial” and “Tinker Tailor” did a great job of featuring fantastic story, unrealistic elements in a more realistic and less recreational setting. Braga himself pioneered a different kind of holodeck episode in TNG’s “Frame of Mind” and Voyager definitely represents the ultimate exploration of holodeck possibilities. But it just seems that enough might be enough.
For a parting gift Janeway hands him a copy of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King’s Arthur’s Court,” a satire about a man who goes back in time to disease, poverty, and ignorance-ridden England and attempts to make constructive changes only to find them all in vain. Proving that Voyager writers are just as ignorant of Twain and this particular book as the TNG writers of “Time’s Arrow,” she describes it in somewhat more glowing terms. All in all if you’re dealing with someone who’s pretty suspicious of you to begin with it’s probably not too smart to give him a book about a man from the future who uses his abilities to take over your country. Then the program will remain along with their memories of how to damage holodeck equipment, kidnap and hold hostage Voyager crewmembers and even how to escape the holodeck itself in order to build relationships with those non-existent people. Ultimately though like “Alter-Ego”, “Muse” and many Voyager episodes this could be considered a commentary on fans and their relationships with fictional characters. After all there is no shortage of fans who wouldn’t pull the plug on Star Trek, even if it were time.