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Monthly Archives: January 2001

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Star Trek Voyager review – Repentance

Summary: A surprisingly quiet and reflective episode on crime and punishment with a truly misleading UPN network promo.

The death penalty is an issue that has come into play more and more in recent years especially what with our new president never having met a method of execution he didn’t love and the debate over its validity and associated issues is only likely to keep on growing. The problem of course is that usually when Voyager or Star Trek in general tries to address a “timely” issue, the results often come out looking like last week’s Lineage. In other words, well-meaning and sincere but fairly one-sided and not really thought out. And while Repentance certainly suffers from these problems, its core success is as a series of quiet character pieces rotating around the implications of the difficulties of making both moral and just choices.

When Repentance drags out Jeff Kober to play yet another in a seemingly endless strings of psychotic criminals, brings in the criminals as a security problem and

star trek voyager repentance

"I'm just misunderstood. Really"

introduces the innocent man convicted only because of his race, it’s seemingly set on an inevitable course. The criminals will escape, the evil psycho will escape and the innocent man will be seriously wounded or die trying to stop him thereby commenting on the cruelty of the system. And while with a few adjustments that is the actual plot, this is not an episode where the action drives the story but where the character work drives the action which is at best a very minor point of the episode. The breakout, when it finally comes, is anti-climactic and only a way to focus the ideas into demonstrative action. The expected good and bad roles are gradually reversed with the transition being so slight it’s almost invisible.

Where most Voyager episodes are goal oriented, there’s a problem, e.g. the ship ruptured into different timelines; the characters become aware of the problem, work together to solve the problem, overcome obstacles both within and without and the problem is solved, there’s a goodbye scene and the episode is over. Even great Voyager classics like Living Witness, Memorial, Deadlock or Muse tend to work that way. Repentance though never really begins or ends, the goals themselves are mostly irrelevant and the problem can never be solved. Rather than giving us 90 seconds of cute banter between the bridge crew at peace who are then suddenly confronted with the beginnings of the crisis, Repentance jumps right into the mess with everyone hurrying about their duties as if this were NYPD Blue. It’s far more professional and a nice break from the cloying “Voyager family” routines that have sometimes come to verge on the nauseating.

Once the dilemma is set out, Repentance banks for a while. For some reason the prisoners are kept in special facilities instead of Voyager’s brig. Sure they’re dangerous criminals and all, but shouldn’t Voyager’s brig be designed to be unbreakable, intended not just for its crew but enemy warriors and what not. Indeed the advantages of the cargo bay prison is a little bit confusing. Beyond putting chicken wire on top of the cages and a hole in the force field so food can be passed through, the system provides few advantages and putting strong metal gates on the cages as a failsafe so even if the force fields fail, the prisoners still won’t be able to get out, is an idiot whose time on Star Trek has not yet come. More to the point, Tuvok’s insistence that only Starfleet guards be allowed inside the cargo bay is morally right but since we know there’s going to be an escape attempt and that therefore it’s going to happen on his watch, it makes his moral stance look foolish and incompetent. And indeed when the breakout does happen, the security personnel are easily disposed of and only the warden and Iko prevent the prisoners from escaping.

Picardo and Phillips turn in nice underplayed performances as the EMH and Neelix argue for the prisoners’ plight but the terms of the story cause them to be uninvolved. Ultimately, at the end of the day they’re still outsiders, case workers who shake their heads in dismay but whose words come off as hollow because this just has very little to do with them. Where TOS and TNG attempted to force the characters into the problem in order to comment on social issues, in episodes like Critical Care and Repentance, Voyager has trouble really getting the characters involved in what’s going on so that they seem like benevolent stick figures lecturing on matters that don’t really involve them. It would have been interesting to use Paris’s prison time for correlative experiences with Federation prisons, how does the Federation really handle its prisoners and what are the outcomes, the moral issues? Instead it’s assumed that the Federation is comprehensively benevolent and can therefore just lecture the stand-ins for 20th century America on how to do things.

And so to forge a link, Voyager falls back on its standard, Seven of Nine who can be involved in the problem because she’s a Borg. The analogy between her and Iko is debatable since while Iko wasn’t really sane or in control of himself before, he did make decisions in his own way and execute them. Seven was just the drone, a limb of a vast collective, who made no decisions and had no mind of her own period. Still, Seven seeking absolution through Iko indicates that Seven has modeled quite a bit of her human character on Janeway. After all, Janeway used Seven as absolution for stranding her crew in the Delta Quadrant and Seven is just following in her footsteps with a series of prototypes that seemingly ended with Icheb. But Jeri Ryan’s performance is the weak point in Repentance. She was never a great actress, but here she just seems to be phoning in her Seven repertoire. Watch Seven as cold but defensive, Seven involved and vulnerable and the result is that she never actually seems to be interacting with the rest of the actors, let alone Jeff Kober.

Fortunately Seven is only one of several characters being focused on in Repentance and all the rest do excellent jobs. Kober does his usual good run through of the psycho and then the ex-con trying to go straight. He’s done both on television many times but he still manages to do solid work even while buried underneath some gruesome makeup and stilted dialogue. The actor playing the Ikanian prisoner manages to be perfectly sincere all the way up to the end. With the clumsy use of makeup, facial mobility is practically frozen and the actor has to do virtually all his work using just his eyes to convey sincerity and then guile. Janeway is thankfully mostly uninvolved though her continued insistence on the Prime Directive is mildly odd since the civilization in question is an advanced spacefaring culture and there’s certainly nothing about the Prime Directive that says she can’t grant asylum to an alien from an advanced spacefaring culture. If there were, the Romulan defector from “The Defector” should have been tossed back to the Romulans and Worf should have never been raised by humans.

The Warden never really gets a chance to articulate his position, instead he’s forced to speak in nasty cliches that make him out to be the bad guy at least early on. Part

star trek voyager repentance

They're already in prison, do they have to be tortured too?

of this ties into the writers difficulty with presenting the tough-on-crime approach side of the argument in the first half of the episode, which leaves the warden looking sadistic and mindlessly mean. The second half of the episode with its reversals allows him to play a more complex role but while Repentance can recognize the validity of the victims perspective, it has trouble doing the same for law enforcement. Are we really supposed to buy him making a complete turn merely because Iko aided him in a prison escape? A cynical man might even conclude that Iko knew he wasn’t going anywhere and that the ship to rescue him and was simply hedging his bets for a pardon.

But that is a key fault in the use of Repentance as a vehicle for social commentary because no one thinks anything through beyond skin deep and as a result, the ideas don’t really go much deeper than the letters section of USA Today. The Doctor declares that all killing is wrong even though he’s on a starship equipped with huge phasers and photon torpedoes; Seven takes a utilitarian approach until she gets to know the prisoner and forms an emotional bond with him; Neelix never really grasps the issues but has a sense that things are unfair and need to be dealt with; Janeway as the bureaucratic official is mildly sympathetic but it’s not really her problem and she’s not prepared to make it her problem. These are a very effective sketch of character portraits and speak to the complexity of finding a moral and just solution to problems of crime and punishment but they’re not much use as a commentary on social policy except to essentially say “well these things are complicated” and while that’s certainly true it’s in part because no one really tries.

The characters hold ideas but no one really pushes them to the limits. Repentance has no beginning or ending as I said, its start and finish is really just a few ordinary

star trek voyager repentance

"Next time Voyager tries to rescue us, we open fire."

moments in the lives of Voyager. The prisoners themselves are just passing through Voyager and the crew knows that. They may cause complexities but there’s a certainty in the air that those complexities won’t endure and won’t really sink their hooks into the crew. While this does articulate the tragedy of the condemned, it doesn’t really connect with the material. The EMH is unabashedly for the prisoners because of his programming and Neelix is just a sympathetic and naturally kind person, Seven has an ulterior motive that has less to do with her being a sympathetic outsider and more to do with her looking for redemption by using other people as receptacles for her kindness. This is a more cynical and plausible approach that grounds the relationship in a kind of reality and produces the only plausible connection for an emotional bond in which the Voyager crewmember receives something, instead of being the patronizing philanthropist and just giving. As a result, the prisoners in Repentance come to seem much more real than the Voyager crew; while the Voyager crew will go on to new adventures next week, the condemned lives have come to an end and all the crew can use that for is material for a life lesson.

Unlike Critical Care, Repentance is an effective look at the social issue. It offers different perspectives, an intriguing notion about repentance via brain micro-surgery, a dilemma that has no real resolution and for those not very well versed in the issues, a quick grounding in the basics. Like Critical Care though, it never manages to make the Voyager crew really connect with the issues, but it succeeds by dumping Critical Care’s goal-oriented “Gosh isn’t this awful” sanctimonious tone and instead presents a series of character portraits and really develops the “prisoners” so that they can stand on their own rather than the patients and the Docs of Critical Care who only existed in relation to their relationship with the EMH. Ironically enough for a show that often drones on monotonously about the miracle of the “Voyager family”, Repentance for the most part presents its characters in isolation, drifting apart from each other and each gnawing on just one edge of the dilemma; allowing it to succeed by going against the grain.

Next week: Klingons, Klingons, Klingons and more Klingons. “There will be no peace with the Federation as long as Janeway lives.”

Star Trek Voyager review – Lineage

Summary: B’Elanna is infected with a parasitic lifeform, namely a baby and learns to overcome feelings of Klingon inadequacy. Nothing much else happens until next week.

There are Voyager episodes that are criticized for poor writing and weak acting, but Lineage certainly won’t be one of them. It’s a well written and finely acted episode

star trek voyager lineage

Science shows your future baby will be very creepy

that knows what it wants to say and gets it across with no problems. Dawson, Picardo and McNeil do their usual nice work and even the minor moments with Tuvok, Chakotay and Neelix are nice sentimental touches. There are major errors or gaping flaws here that need to be addressed and if you love those marriage episodes and couldn’t get enough of O’Brien’s baby problem arc on DS9, you’ll love this episode. But all in all it feels less like a Star Trek episode and more like an episode of Providence or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

That is to say it’s a Voyager episode that really doesn’t involve “Voyager the Starship” or Voyager’s mission but “Voyager the close knit family” that Captain Janeway every now and then sings hymns to. And its claustrophobic focus on the relationship of two people who aren’t all that interesting of a couple to begin with, dealing with a problem that felt uninvolving and ultimately trivial. This may just be a matter of personal opinion since after all I’m the kind of person who avoids medical dramas like the plague. I’m probably the only living American who’s never watched a complete episode of ER and I just can’t summon up much interest in these emotional melodramas over medical problems.

And Lineage has little innate complexity to recommend itself. Essentially 10 minutes into the show we know that B’Elanna is wrong and Paris is right. There’s no collision of ideas or struggle over ethics as the promos suggested but a “What’s bugging B’Elanna Torres” psychological production ensues. So the rest of the time then is inevitably dedicated to Paris struggling to prove to her that she’s wrong and to understand why she’s trying to do what she’s trying to do. And the resulting answer is based around childhood neurosis making it look pretty childish and making Voyager’s chief engineer look pretty childish by extension.

Like Far Beyond the Stars or Ties of Blood and Water, Lineage plays out like a stage play but unlike these episodes there’s little drama or real darkness here or useable character development. Even tonight’s Voyager rerun of Extreme Risk, a commonly overlooked major Torres character development episode, has the genuine edge and character growth that gives us a new understanding of Torres. But ultimately what does Lineage tell us about her, that she’s afraid humans are going to leave her because she’s half Klingon? This does little for the character and is a character development worthy of Wesley Crusher and not of one of Voyager’s strongest personalities who’s actually shown a strong set of values and understanding of responsibility.

So much of this episode ultimately comes down to responsibility and the lack of any real sense of responsibility on the part of most of the players in this little melodrama. Torres drives half the crew nuts with her obsession over the welfare of her child but her real focus is predictably enough on her own problems, for which she’s willing to alter her child’s genes so she can feel better. Worse the ending combined with her last camping trip flashback can lead to the sexist and offensive interpretation that she was trying to edit her child’s genes in order to keep her man. More bizarrely she tampers with the EMH’s program, subverts Voyager’s security and violates orders and all is forgotten and forgiven. Her biology may have unhinged her mental state a bit but it’s not much of a defense. Certainly there should have been some sort of restriction to quarters, demotion or at least a note in the official file, but then responsibility is obviously not the theme of the episode. Emotional healing is. Self-validation, self-esteem and just plain feeling good about yourself, responsibility be damned.

Paris and Torres decide to start a family which is cute and heartwarming as heck but not very smart. After all Naomi Wildman was conceived aboard Deep Space Nine while Voyager was still in the Alpha Quadrant. This is the Delta Quadrant, an unpredictable place where Voyager, a starship shorthanded on crew, constantly faced danger and menace. And Paris is its chief engineer, Paris is its helmsman and chief medic. Together they comprise three crucial jobs Voyager can’t go without. Ensign Wildman’s job is pretty minor and no one would really miss her if she took plenty of time off, on the other hand what happens when the warp core is overloading, a dozen hostile alien warships are firing on Voyager and casualties are filling up the triage center in the mess hall…but the new parents are unavailable. Sure there are replacements but they’re substitutes and not as good as the people whose full time job this is supposed to be.

In the past Paris and Torres were so overworked they barely saw each other. Under this state of affairs something is going to have to give, family or work. So we either

star trek voyager lineage

To everyone's surprise, Belanna grew into a very angry adult

end up with Paris and Torres taking a leave of absence which is impossible or the baby being raised by Neelix which isn’t particularly wonderful parenting. It would made a lot more sense to wait till they were back home on earth to start a family and to take precautions until then, so they didn’t accidentally start one prematurely. It would have also demonstrated a lot more responsibility to their child and their jobs as Starfleet Officers. Furthermore it’s odd that no one in this episode from Janeway to Chakotay to Tuvok raise this simple objection. As heartless as it may seem, Voyager is a quasi-military vessel and the middle of a constant struggle to survive is a poor time and place for two of the people without whom this starship might not survive to be setting up a family circle.

But then this episode doesn’t allow anything to interfere with its theme of “Voyager, Happy Family” even it makes little realistic sense. And being a happy family, everyone must be assimilated into the happy family so it’s fitting that Lineage hinges on the linked and equally trivial and saccharine theme of having Torres learn to accept being accepted. It’s almost like a Hallmark Gold Crown store threw up on Ken Biller’s I-Mac. Consider how the far superior Jeri Taylor episode “One” handled the same material with 7 of 9 by showing the horrors and madness of isolation and the need to rely on other people for inner strength. Lineage meanwhile torments us with horrifying scenes from the family picnic that look like drunken outtakes from Lassie the Movie. And then there are the twelve minutes of Dawson looking worriedly at the camera while sitting in a darkened room. God knows its impossible to get enough of that. I can’t wait for the DVD edition for bonus footage of more staring. If only UPN could give back Voyager that extra three minutes, we could have had 180 more seconds of Dawson anxiously contemplating a wall.

As much as I usually object to irrelevant or annoying B stories, this is one episode that could have used them. A contrast with some member of an alien civilization or even more of the brief Tuvok moment we had. A relief from the claustrophobic focus of “What’s bothering B’Elanna.” Indeed some outside perspective on this whole psychological mess might have made this seem more like a Star Trek episode and less like a Lifetime movie of the week. Instead in order to produce this week’s required dose of UPN action, we have the artificial crisis scene in sickbay that completely clashes with everything the rest of the episode is doing. It’s a shame too because the concept of genetic alterations of fetuses had no shortage of potential for moral controversy and the ethical questions to be debated could have really made this a standout episode. But that would have been thinking big and using science fiction to explore ideas instead of domestic problems. That would have been Star Trek, instead we got a well written, well acted episode of Providence in Space.

Next week: Voyager does Con Air. Unfortunately it looks like John Malkovich will sit this one out.

Star Trek Voyager review – Shattered

Summary: Lots of Trek favorites return as Chakotay goes on a National Geographic tour into Voyager’s past.

star trek voyager shattered

In space no one can hear you blur

In one sense Shattered is an amazing accomplishment, it’s proof that you can make a clip show episode without using actual clips. As Voyager nears the end of its run, Shattered is an attempt at a self-congratulatory home movie from a show that sees little enough congratulations from the outside. And so we have a mild romp through Voyager’s past, we meet some old favorites, see crucial events in the past as Chakotay struggles to complete a task it seems Harry Kim could pull off without blinking twice. This might not have been a bad idea if the majority of the audience really had a strong emotional attachments to Voyager and its past as might have been the cast with TOS or TNG. But Shattered shares the same problem as the series it commemorates, it has some merits but it doesn’t inspire much emotion or feeling in its audience beyond a raised eyebrow or two.

DS9 understood this when it decided to journey into TOS’s past with its Tribbles episode, rather than into its own past. TNG, DS9 and Voyager compensated during their own voyages in All Good Things, The Visitor and Before and After, by linking the journey into the pasts and futures with a personal crisis on the part of a character we relate to and an urgent task that must be completed. Shattered though only offers a lackadaisical journey into Voyager’s past, glacially paced and with little real enthusiasm and less sense to the plot than one would find in an episode of Andromeda.

Finding himself in a temporally fractured starship, Chakotay for some reason decides he needs an ally and the best one he can think of is a version of Janeway from a period where they’re enemies and who knows nothing at all about their current state of affairs. He then gives her as much information about the future of Voyager as he can and then halfway through invokes the Temporal Prime Directive. Janeway willingly accompanies a man who kidnapped and attacked her and becomes best friends with him within fifteen minutes, even though she’s the type of person who holds on to grudges forever and never tolerates any abridgement of her authority. The Borg drone version of Seven willingly follows Janeway and Chakotay’s orders without once considering the Borg’s priorities or delivering the demands of the Borg as she did in Scorpion 2.

Virtually everyone behaves in a way completely out of character and even though there’s a new crisis every 5 minutes, none of the crisis feel

star trek voyager shattered

The one Voyager couple that didn't get nearly enough fanfic

particularly urgent or critical. It all just seems like a National Geographic expedition. Follow your guide Chakotay as he takes you 3 years into Voyager’s past. Meet the Kazon and Seska. Next follow him into the cargo bay and meet some Borg drones. Don’t worry, they’re friendly drones and really great at parties. Stop by the corridor and get chased by a Macrovirus and then see the Maquis in their leather outfits. It’s cute but only the Captain Proton sequence manages to be funny and only the Seska sequence evokes any tension. Both Martin Rayner and Martha Hackett use their last chance to return to Voyager as an opportunity to chew as much scenery as possible and so Dr. Chaotica and Seska can’t help making an impression. Dr. Chaotica declaims his speeches in a timbre that makes wannabe Shakespearean actor, Robert Beltran flinch while Seska plays devious, manipulative and ruthless as if she knows she has only 5 minutes of screen time available.

If they had gotten the whole episode themselves or maybe gotten a chance to unite, pool their talents for evil together (imagine Seksa and Dr. Chaotica together preparing to fire the Death Ray at Voyager) this episode might have had a focus. But they’re just pit stops on Chakotay’s tour of Voyager, a tour aimed at Janeway and the audience. The clumsy goal of this tour is to show Janeway what wonderful things await her and to show us what wonderful things have happened but Shattered never produces a sense of wonder, rather a sense of boredom since most of the things we’re being shown were more interesting in their original episodes. Basics, Scorpion and Caretaker were much better episodes than Shattered and what made them work can’t be contained in a few minutes. And while some of Janeway’s early responses are amusing, she adapts too quickly and too easily to functioning in this environment.

Once she does ponder keeping Voyager in the Alpha Quadrant and is easily talked out of it by Chakotay’s impassioned speech about the

star trek voyager shattered

Itcheb and Naomi. Somehow even more annoying as adults.

wonders of Voyager. His speech though doesn’t make very much sense. Voyager has acquired new crewmembers but Neelix would exist whether or not he joined Voyager’s crew, Naomi would have been born on DS9. Seven and Icheb would have remained with the Borg but was it worth to have Voyager lose dozens of crewmembers including Janeway’s actual first officer and Doctor just so Voyager can have some neat adventures in the Alpha Quadrant? There are plenty of adventures in the Alpha Quadrant too. The Enterprise D has managed to go where no man has gone before without spending 7 years on the other side of the galaxy, Voyager could have too. What exactly is so special about the Delta Quadrant? What has Voyager accomplished here that it could not have accomplished anywhere else?

Shattered has no answer and so Shattered ultimately comes off like a customer who made a bad purchase trying to convince himself what a great deal he got. It tries to praise Voyager but finds that there isn’t that much to praise. And so it limits itself to repeating “Look, see what a great time we had” over and over again in the hopes that somebody will actually believe it. Still Shattered does manage to accomplish one thing, it finally gives Robert Beltran a Chakotay episode and makes it so that episode is about everyone and everything but Chakotay. He must be shattered.

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