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Whit Stilman’s The Cosmopolitans Works for the Same Reason Damsels in Distress Didn’t

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Whit Stilman’s movies are at their best when they create an atmosphere that is on the borderline between wealth and sadness, loneliness and privilege, the sense of being an outcast even while living at the center of a life that most can only envy. It’s what he captured first and best in Metropolitan.

It’s what he does again in The Cosmopolitans.

The Cosmopolitans is being compared to Barcelona, but it isn’t really. It’s closer to Metropolitan with Paris standing in for Manhattan and the loneliness of being an expat standing in for being poor. The writing isn’t quite as good, but it captures the same atmosphere and the same innocent timeless feel despite the cell phones.

Damsels in Distress was always doomed. Stilman doesn’t write women well which is why despite its atmosphere, The Last Days of Disco was a poor movie. Barcelona had the writing, but lacked the atmosphere. The Cosmopolitans brings them together. It captures what made a Whit Stilman movie work within the frame of a television show.

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The characters in Whit Stilman’s movies are trying to figure out who they are and what their lives should be. Their status has allowed them the space in which to do that without protecting them from the loneliness and heartbreak of trying. They were sheltered enough to have a kind of innocence that comes from immaturity. They were never really tested. Their decisions have never been hard. It might be easy to resent them if they weren’t basically good people underneath.

Adulthood is the truly foreign world for them. Paris is only a metaphor for the bigger emotional journey that they don’t know how to take.

I don’t know what kind of series The Cosmopolitans will make or if its mood will be sustainable, but if Amazon picks it up, I think it will work in its own way. Stillman’s openness can feel like indecisiveness and audiences may grow tired of a show in which nothing significant happens and in which the flavor of the place is the story. But the same could have been said of Seinfeld.

Stilman’s humor is the nuances. There’s no over the top word salad like Gilmore Girls. The feel of the show is in noticing the small things. It doesn’t try to fool you into thinking you’re smart. Instead you’re another outside experiencing the flavor of a particular place and time. It worked for Stilman in Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. It works in The Cosmopolitans.

We’re not watching stupid characters pretending to be smart to convince us that we’re smart. Instead we’re watching smart people who make stupid mistakes because they’re only learning remind us that no matter how smart we are, we’re still basically fools.

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Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Countdown

Synopsis: The Sphere Builders act to thwart the crew and Xindi’s attempts to stop the weapon from being armed

Review: As the last episode before the season finale, Countdown is appropriately suspenseful and ominous. But at the close of the season it also delivers a strong episode by harnessing the power of characters who have been all too often kept in the shadows this season in favor of exploitative Trip and T’Pol material.

star trek enterprise countdownReed once again emerges as a troubled but determined leader and his scenes with Major Hayes compromise some of the most moving scenes this season that speak eloquently about command and responsibility all the more so for being understated even as it is clear that strong currents of emotion are boiling underneath. Both Steven Culp and Dominic Keating deliver excellent and restrained performances as they finally resolve their conflict in favor of the mission.

Unfortunately we haven’t seen nearly enough of Major Hayes and Reed has been woefully underused this season. Hoshi too has been barely visible this season manages to nearly compensate for it in only a few scenes in which she shows strength and courage amidst her fear. And Phlox fighting with Captain Archer over transporting Hoshi is yet another great moment in the work of yet another underused Enterprise character.

Even Commander Dolim, despite the cheesy makeup, cheesy character and pretty much cheesy everything somehow comes off as menacing perhaps because his tone is that of cold grim amusement like Gul Dukat, rather than a cartoon monster. He is not senseless or consumed by hatred but coldly determined to do his job while enjoying it in a grim sort of way at the same time.

The only weak moment in the episode really comes when we get another round of Trip and T’Pol’s whining. Suddenly the episode grinds to a halt while we indulge in some more cheap soap opera. Worse yet I experienced a flashback and was certain that I had somewhat stepped back into an episode of Voyager with Paris and Torres bickering at each other. And after all Trip is Paris with a southern accent and T’Pol with her emotions out of control is increasingly turning into Bellana. God alone knows why TPTB decided that 4 years of Paris and Torres weren’t enough and that we needed another 5 but apparently that’s what we’re going to get.

Considering the ending, you almost wish T’Pol and Trip would really get their own ship along with their own spinoff show in which they could voyage around the galaxy annoying alien species and giving them erotic massages. As things stand now UPN would unfortunately probably be a lot more interested in ordering it than a 5th season of Enterprise.

Countdown itself suffers from the premise of the idea that the Xindi can deliver the weapon from their council area and then directly to earth in a matter of hours. This steps up the suspense but it also looks ridiculous. Enterprise should have broadened the Xindi arc by adding an extra episode that would have focused on the pursuit of the weapon and the interrogation of Hoshi, the relationships with the Xindi and perhaps Dolim and the Insectoids questioning the real role of the Sphere Builders. There’s a lot of rich material here that’s going untapped because of the need to artificially accelerate the pace.

Archer’s deal with the acquatics though is a nice touch. Up till now the Xindi seemed to have been all too willing to go along with anything Archer wanted. The deal though is a more plausible exchange in which they aid Archer in exchange for something of interest to them. Though the move to transfer the team going after the weapon to a Xindi ship while leaving Enterprise and most of the crew in the Expanse hacking into a Sphere seems off. It makes logical sense but not emotional sense to leave Enterprise out of the fight to stop the Xindi weapon.

Nevertheless the transfer scene is effective and has overtones of Voyager’s Year of Hell separation sequence. Archer’s voiceover log giving the exact date as the ships launch and the crew members prepare for combat is another excellent scene that sets up the momentous events to follow. And the dinner at which Archer, Trip and T’Pol discuss their future plans after the ‘war is over’ nails each bit of dialogue just right. Chris Black’s skills with dialogue are evident yet again in turning even ordinary banter into exchanges that really connect with the underlying themes. It is many ways striking to see the opening of Enterprise with a rundown of humanity’s exploration accomplishments that seems to have nothing at all to do with the show today. Scenes like this look to a future beyond.

Meanwhile the Sphere Builders like the Olympian Gods watch over and manipulate the fate of the mortals from their cloudlike positions straddling time and space. In some ways this season Enterprise has been an Odyssey and now finally despite all the gods can do enterprise is coming home.

Star Trek Voyager review – Natural Law

Summary: Another day, another shuttlecraft. Half the Voyager special effects budget is blown on one of the worst episodes of the season.

The poet has said, “The saddest words of tongue or pen are these: ‘It might have been’.” On Voyager the saddest words are, “What was the

star trek voyager Natural Law

There... that's where Craft Services is set up

point of making this episode in the first place?” And all too often when this question is asked, there is no answer except another bad episode from a show that already has far too many bad episodes to begin with.

The first half of Natural Law has all the dramatic and intellectual excitement of a half hour of static and noise. For those few fans hoping for a romance between Chakotay and 7 of 9, the opening classic fanfic hurt/comfort scenario might have suggested some possibilities but as awful as that possibility might have been, it’s better than what we actually got; which was nothing. Or technically speaking, worse than nothing. There are plenty of FX dollars which might have been put to better use on “Void”, but were expended on a B-story that has Paris going to alien driver’s ed.

One could ask why we need this storyline. One could also ask why we need the Ebola virus. It accomplishes nothing useful except for a weak attempt at humor whose payoff only comes in the final few minutes of this episode. After “Author, Author” had tried to make such a point of how Paris had matured since we first met him, this storyline makes a strong case for Paris being the same developmentally disabled adolescent he always was. The instructor may not be particularly flexible but instead of approaching the problem in a mature manner, Paris tried to lie to, wheedle and manipulate the instructor thereby proving the instructor’s worst notions about him to be true.

You have to wonder if there isn’t any character, any story on Voyager that needed to be told more than this one. I could think of half a dozen and so could most fans, especially considering that we’re a few episodes away from the finale which means this is all the character development we’re going to get. In light of this and in light of the fact that Paris has been on a solid fatherhood character development path for a while now, what was the point?

But as bad as the “Paris goes to driver’s ed” storyline may be, the first half hour of the “Seven of Nine learns the value of other cultures” story is even worse. Here, the writers attempt to avoid the possibility of having a bad story, by having no story at all. Instead Chakotay hurts his leg, Seven of Nine breaks a heel and loses her tricorder (why is she wandering around a forest in high heels anyway?) and they discover some friendly natives. Why are the natives so friendly and ready to give our characters the shirts off their backs, literally?

Well, there are no explanations given except that for lazy writers this is the cheapest and dirtiest way of shouting how wonderful and special a people the natives are, from the highest tower. As with the Ba’ku in Star Trek Insurrection, we’re supposed to believe that these people have amazing spiritual or cultural values that make them truly amazing. The writers fail to specify what these values are but they seem to involve smiling a lot, using sign language and giving lots of presents. And so of course Chakotay soon trusts the aliens absolutely.

This is a bit odd considering that he doesn’t know anything about their culture, species or whether or not their gestures mean “stay for dinner and we’ll cook you a nice meal” or “stay for dinner and we’ll cook you into a nice meal.” As friendly as they appear, leaving yourself at the mercy of a primitive society can be a bad idea, yet none of them actually take any precautions. But then the aliens aren’t real and neither is their culture, they’re two dimensional caricatures intended to make a political point. There’s no complexity or contradictions here. It’s not a primitive culture, it’s a primitive culture theme park courtesy of Disney where nothing can actually hurt you.

But this “noble savage” aspect of the natives drives what little in the way of a story this episode has. Which is that the natives are better off

star trek voyager Natural Law

"Do your wise and noble people have any hallucinogenic herbs to share?"

being cut off by the barrier from the rest of the universe. The episode denigrates the research team for arrogantly thinking they know what’s best for the natives and Chakotay challenges Seven demanding to know how she can think she knows what’s best for the natives. This is nice except that Natural Law is dedicated to the premise that the Voyager crew know what’s better for the natives more than anyone else, including the natives’ advanced cousins and the natives themselves!

The barrier was a piece of alien artificial technology. The result was to isolate the natives trapping them in a static, unchanging, primitive society for centuries. After a surface encounter with the native culture, Chakotay and Seven arrogantly assume that they have perfect knowledge of them and can make decisions for them. They praise the wonders of the native lifestyle ignoring the fact that this lifestyle is artificial and imposed by the barrier. And one wonders what the average lifespan is for the natives right now. Undoubtedly, a fraction of Chakotay’s or that of the writers so ready to praise such a lifestyle and so unready to adopt it. It’s almost amusing to see how many simple-living tales come out of Hollywood, a place as synonymous with simple living as the People’s Republic of China is with human rights.

Janeway, then, bizarrely presents the aliens with an ultimatum– ordering them to leave a planet in their own solar system. Of course she expects them to obey, as the Federation would no doubt obey if the Vulcans stopped by Earth and ordered them to leave the American continent. Unsurprisingly, they attack Voyager instead in a very restrained manner, indeed showing far more restrain than Janeway has. She and Chakotay claim to be doing it in the best interest of the natives but beyond a passing glance of their culture and a few words of their language, they know nothing of that culture. The natives themselves don’t get consulted on the subject. Their curiosity, their desire for knowledge and their fascination with Voyager’s technology are dismissed as aberrations that would interfere with their primitive way of life. Yet just about every action of the aliens suggests that they want more, yet is ignored as being counterproductive to maintaining their own primitive way of life; because the Voyager crew of course knows what is better for the natives than the natives know themselves. This is the ultimate arrogance, the ultimate colonialism, as the Voyager crew reduce the natives to children who can’t think or choose or decide for themselves.

Next week: Neelix finally goes to join his own people.

Star Trek Voyager review – Workforce II

Summary: Season 7 presents us with a kinder gentler Voyager two parter. A view from the Isle of the Lotus. And for once working within the system works out.

Traditionally the Star Trek two parters have been action heavy special effects extravaganzas specializing in epic confrontations and terrible

star trek voyager Workforce

"My quarters... they look like a Star Trek fan here"

disasters. Episodes like Basics, Year of Hell, Scorpion, The Killing Game, Dark Frontier, Unimatrix Zero certainly fit that bill. Three of them involved the Borg, two of them featured the crew and the ship being taken prisoner and one of them featured the destruction of Voyager itself. But this season under new management, Voyager has featured a kinder and gentler two parter. Flesh and Blood had the essential trappings of the standard Voyager two parter but it was a much more character oriented show than any of the prior two parters. Workforce is essentially more in the tradition of episodes like One and Memorial and has far more in common with them than it does with Scorpion or Unimatrix Zero..

Normally Workforce might have run as a one hour episode with the ParisTorres and Seven subplots trimmed along with most of the special effects sequences and some of the action scenes and would have ended with the usual abrupt “30 seconds before closing time” ending that essentially occurs because the show has run out of time. And that would have been a shame and a waste because an effective if not particularly mind-blowing two part episode would have been replaced by another Prophecy or another Shattered, a poorly thought out and unfocused episode that possibly had potential but never got anywhere. The extra space of a two parter however allows the story to really be developed, it allows for the insertion of all those little subplots that round out an episode. And what special effects exist are mainly focused on establishing shots including some absolutely stunning and complex shots of the alien city and some striking footage of Voyager resting at the bottom of a crater. The space battles that occur are few and far between and not really the focus of the story.

But this doesn’t mean that Workforce isn’t a major and essential part of Voyager’s story. Voyager’s journey home has been modeled after Homer’s Odyssey. Voyager was thrown of course into the Delta Quadrant by the 24th century equivalent of a God. In Scorpion Voyager has found itself trapped between Scylla and Charbodis, represented by Species 8472 and the Borg. Which particular alien encounters in Voyager’s history could be said to represent the Cyclops, the Laestrygons or the Sirens is left as an excercise to the reader. But Workforce of course is linked to the Isle of the Lotus. For seven years Voyager has been on an obsessive quest for Earth, for home. More specifically it’s been Janeway’s obsessive quest but the real test of any quest is to present the hero with a way of surrendering the quest that in some ways is equal or even superior to continuing the quest. A chance to give up and enjoy some sort of illusory happiness.

Now it might not be all that shocking to see Chakotay or Paris and Torres partake of the lotus, after all they’re essentially people with short attention spans that focus on goals of some personal importance. They can be happy and do what they want just about anywhere. If the Voyager mission hadn’t come along, they would have found some other niche or gotten themselves killed in some other way. Janeway though is a bureaucrat and a bureaucrat is second cousin to a machine. She thinks only in terms of goals and purposes, which generally have nothing to do with her. What little happiness she gets out of life comes from merging her own identity with that of her position and mission until she can’t tell the difference between herself and her command. This has led her into completely sociopathic behavior but it also makes her virtually inflexible when it comes to accomplishing her goals. And this is why having her taste the lotus is far more shocking than for it to happen to any of the other crew members.

And yet here brainwashed and enslaved on an alien planet, for the first time in seven years of voyaging Janeway gets to be a human being. She has a job she enjoys, a relationship with real intimacy and a home of sorts. Though it may be based on false memories, it’s also more real than anything she’d done since leaving the Alpha Quadrant. The obsessive martyr complex, the sense of responsibility and the inability to tell where Kathryn Janeway ends and Captain Janeway begins are gone. In its place is a human being. And that tends to be a hero’s ultimate test, the choice to give in to human needs or to choose self-sacrifice and fight on for greater goals. Tuvok may not quite be able to adapt, despite his comprehension of humor “Yes it is funny because he did not understand how your species reproduces”, but just how easily Janeway adapts is shocking and that is what drives the episode. The seduction of the Lotus and the inability of Voyager’s crew members to be themselves.

We know that in the end, despite the odds, any episode involving the crew will end with them successful, surviving and possibly victorious. The inability of the crew to fail is practically a reflex by this point. It’s been a long time since there was a Star Trek episode with any real ambiguity about whether or not the crew will make it out or whether the ending will even be what they wanted. Voyager managed a few genuinely dark endings early on with Basics 2 and The Chute but since then we may not know what an upcoming episode will be about but we can usually take a good guess as to what the last 5 minutes will be, sight unseen. Workforce though takes away the crew’s identities and along with that allows for the suspension of disbelief and the possibility that the crew will fail and even that failure might not be such a terrible thing.

Contrary to the claims of the Borg Queen, being assimilated is not fun, but being part of the Workforce might not be such a bad thing. The end result is a fairly decent life and in the case of Janeway possibly even a better life than the one she had before. The rest of the crew doesn’t seem to be doing all that badly either. Paris was together with Torres again and would no doubt have married her (again) in due time. Seven had found the job she was born to do. This was a Brave New World and a world without Starfleet uniforms or the Federation Starfleet certainty in the optimistic outcome. For once the crew were just people like us, living from day to day and just doing their jobs with no higher goals or sense of invulnerability. With hard work and some terrible risks they pull off a happy ending but they’re not particularly confident or self-assured while doing it. They’re just people put in a bad situation, which in TOS was all that the crews were.

For those who expected Tuvok to just tell Seven what’s going on, then to have Seven communicate with the rest of the crew, set up a device to

star trek voyager Workforce

"Don't worry, in a few months I'll replace you with a hologram"

restore their memories and then have the crew working in tandem with Voyager try to escape; or in other words the conventional Voyager plot we certainly would have seen if this had aired as a one hour episode, here we instead got the exact opposite. Seven is confused and is on the trail of something and even ironically enough views the Workforce area as the interior of a Borg cube for one moment thereby experiencing the paradox of being reassimilated; but she’s a long way from knowing who exactly she is. Janeway has a few moments of bonding with Chakotay but when the test comes between her relationship, her life here on the Isle of the Lotus and her life on Voyager with Chakotay; she chooses the Lotus and betrays Chakotay in a flash.

Indeed none of the Voyager crew, except when B’Elanna as the original sailors of the Odyssey are forcibly dragged away, recover their original memories and identities until they’re back on Voyager. In fact once Chakotay is out of the game, most of the work of uncovering the conspiracy is actually done by a native junior psychiatrist and the equivalent of a police detective. Up until Janeway disables the chief generator, it’s they who uncover most of the dirt and really prod the chief psychiatrist into desperation. Seven encourages them to do what they do but in the end it’s not even the Voyager crew that saves the Voyager crew. Chakotay helps rescue B’Elanna and sows suspicion in Janeway but then is successfully brainwashed. Neelix does nothing particularly useful. The ECH and Kim have several running gun battles with enemy vessels and stay alive but don’t really accomplish very much. Janeway betrays Chakotay and then only really acts when the entire picture has been laid out in front of her at the very end. Paris glowers at people. Seven puzzles out a lot of the necessary information but it’s the classic detective suspended from the force for learning too much who actually moves things along. Unlike their Voyager personalities, none of them are really prepared to take charge and get things done and that is what makes the possibility of their success so ambiguous. Like Janeway they’re capable of doing more, but are too uncertain to take the challenge.

So contrary to the expected cliche we might have thought we’d get from the first part about the evil alien species that kidnaps and brainwashes people, we instead see a complex system that has both good and bad in it. And a system that in some ways mirrors the Federation. The people in charge, even the bad ones, have high ideals. There is the interspecies integration, a system that despite abducting and brainwashing workers also appears to run on merit and to provide a decent place to live at least by the standards of 95 percent of the world as it is today. There is corruption and abuse of power but we’ve also seen the same thing in the Federation. The Chief Psychiatrist who insists that his actions were all justifiable and for the greater good seems to mirror Admiral Dougherty from Star Trek Insurrection who insists that his forced evacuation of the Baku and alliance with criminals was for the greater good of the Federation. Indeed it’s easy enough to see the Chief Psychiatrist holding down a job with Section 31, possibly working on designing the changeling virus. Instead of giving us another alien of the week, Workforce presents an alternate Federation or quite possibly the Federation as it might have looked 200 years ago. Before there were transporters and replicators and white gleaming surfaces everywhere, post WW3 earth at the Birth of the Federation might have looked a lot like the Quaren homeworld with the same positive and negative aspects that would be carried along into its future.

And this only makes this particular Isle of the Lotus only more compelling as a potential alternative home to Earth because it’s not just some alien planet, in many ways it is an analogue of the Federation and home itself. The writers might have pushed their analogy further by giving it the sheen and clean look of 24th century earth but as it is the point comes across. And as in the Federation there are also higher powers who can correct the errors of the system, whereas with the usual aliens of the week, Voyager has to browbeat them into accepting the Federation solution. The Quarren already have a system in place and it is the Quarren who do most of the work in uncovering their own crimes. It’s also what makes it all the more disturbing. One of the horrors of the Borg focused on how close to home it hit, the Quarren homeworld also hits close to home because our world is currently closer to theirs than it is to the Borg. It’s also close enough to the Federation and us to have people both good and evil, all driven by ideals we can relate to. This makes a scene in which Roxann Dawson cuts from the sharp instruments lying on an operating table table to be used on their victim to the supposedly free and open corporate society of the bar into which the Doctor’s phrase “We’ll help him” follows seem all the more disturbing and downright chilling. “We’ll help him” has always been the Star Trek ideal and the implications of how that can be perverted and how vulnerable the Federation is to such a perversion makes the Quarren society problematic in a way that defies any easy resolution.

And Roxann Dawson’s direction indeed carries on from the Kroeker directed Part 1 very nicely and smoothly. She manages to combine the

star trek voyager Workforce

Get Foundation Imaging on the phone, we're going to need bigger explosions

talent for filming character oriented scenes she showed in Riddles with the work a peak Trek director is expected to do on a more epic episode like Workforce. Handing over the payoff for a two part episode to an amateur like Dawson was a definite risk but it clearly pays off. From the very effective use of shadows in the JanewayChakotay confrontation and especially the dermal regeneration scene (which also cleverly manages to save FX dollars and still look better than the FX scene would have) to the camera work on the quieter moments between her and Neelix; this is surprisingly professional work. It’s almost as shocking to see her be this good behind the camera as it was to see Avery Brooks turn out be better as a director than he was as an actor. It’s nice to see that in concord with TOS’s Leonard Nimoy, TNG’s Jonathan Frakes and DS9’s Avery Brooks; Voyager has produced its own professional director from among its cast.

So all in all, Voyager season seven has taken plenty of risks that didn’t pan out. Workforce however has taken a large number of risks that have. First setting a two part episode around a storyline that focused more on the characters and much less on the action and FX quotient. Secondly by putting much of the resolution of the story into the hands of the aliens and making them more complex than your usual Hirogen. Thirdly by actually letting Janeway be a human being ever so briefly and tempting her with the opportunity to step off the cross and into life (and of course letting the ECH demonstrate that Voyager would have done just as well without her.) And finally by avoiding most of the obvious and easy plot gimmicks and let the characters actually struggle to work things out, something we rarely see on Voyager. Appropriate enough in an episode entitled Workforce.

Next week: Seven of Nine as UPN’s obnoxious promo department has always wanted you to see her.

Star Trek Voyager review – Workforce I

Summary: A nicely arranged setup for an as yet unseen payoff.

It’s always hard to review the first part of a two part episode. Fortunately Voyager has gotten into the habit of airing both parts in one night. Workforce though is the exception and the task of reviewing it is made all the more difficult by the fact that Part 1 is mostly setup giving us the basics of the situation and shows us how it’s beginning to unravel. By this same point The Killing Game had already gone well into payoff territory but Workforce is playing out a more drawn out and complicated character oriented story and so it takes all this time just to set up the basics of the situation.

The limitations and complexity do, however, produce a certain amount of creativity in the style of the episode. As in The Killing Game, we

star trek voyager Workforce

Space Sydney 2429

skip over the attack to begin with a scene that features the crew already in their altered reality but unlike Killing Game’s gratuitous “Janeway as Klingon warrior” scene, Workforce begins with a gorgeous opening shot of the alien city and a lift ride into the depths of a factory that’s there only to give us a sense of the setting. This is a smart move because it makes the entire situation feel deeper and more real, instead of just the Voyager crew wandering around some redressed alien sets. Also unlike Killing Game, the crew doesn’t have either their memories or personalities suppressed but instead are the same people they are but with twisted memories and a view of the world colored by those memories. The result is all the more disturbing because they’re the people we know but yet they aren’t, in an ‘of the Body Snatchers’ sort of way.

This is clearly a Janeway story and so Janeway finally gets a relationship and a setup for the choice that will come. Janeway has always complained about being overburdened and has spent seven years walking around with a martyr complex. In Workforce she gets the chance to put that complexity aside and function as an ordinary person. While the happiness of the rest of the crew seems artificial and Stepford empty, it seems as if Janeway’s happiness might have a certain dose of reality and depth to it. Perhaps she really is better off and certainly happier not being in command. The entire Paris storyline does seem a bit hollow and a waste of time, on the contrary. Paris finds work in a bar, frankly who really cares. Torres seems lonely and the two reconnect. I’m not even sure that counts as character development. The scenes on the ship with the ECH are a nice piece of continuity with Tinker Tailor and only add to the tension of the episode. And the other touches of continuity including Janeway’s cooking and her conversations with terminals fit it nicely as well.

Tuvok has some nicely eerie scenes, for once his breakdown is correctly handled and the decision to intercut scenes of him being

star trek voyager Workforce

"Wouldn't it be easier to just pay them more money?"

brainwashed with Janeway and Co.’s daily routines and happy evenings makes for a decidedly creepy effect which turns up the already disturbing atmosphere up a few notches. The constantly vigilant guards patrolling in pairs, socialist realism posters and grey 21st century urban feel contrasted with the worker’s faux happiness are very effective. Allan Kroeker is one of Star Trek’s best directors, and in an episode mostly running on atmosphere, he does an amazing job of turning what could have been a fairly bland script into a dark and suspenseful episode. Between the brain washing disguised as immunizations and the happy multi-species work environment in which all workers are valued and the employers “really” care about their workers, this episode feels like a version of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ updated for corporate America.

But it’s the human conventional touches rather than the SciFi stuff like the Minister’s view of the whole thing as a means of obtaining skilled labor and inability to comprehend Chakotay’s objections as anything except an attempt to obtain skilled labor for his own vessel that really makes this environment mirror the Borg circa TNG. But where the Borg concept put a lot of distance between us and them, Workforce hits disturbingly close to home. Where the Borg simply chose to represent the subservience of the individual to the group by completely erasing individuals and turning them into drones, the Workforce government instead chooses to sabotage the ships, pick up the refugees and brainwash them into believing they’re happy workers. In a sense they, like the Borg, are using similar tactics for a similar goal but they have no greater goals or greater inhuman ruthlessness; just petty mortal goals and the refusal to acknowledge the rights or even needs of the individuals they destroy. Like the Borg they insist the people are happier this way, like the Borg they refuse to see the evil of their actions but unlike the Borg they lack the excuse of being a cybernetic collective, instead they’re all too real and all too human and it’s difficult to describe which seems more horrific.

And so Part 2 will depend on keeping up this atmosphere, something fairly amateur director Roxann Dawson will hopefully manage to do, and keep the focus on the general system instead of mistakenly selecting individual villains to be lecturers as Critical Care did. The way Janeway’s choice is handled will also be important as well as the way the transition of the crew back to their older memories occurs.

Having Seven act as the instigator is clumsy and overlooks the fun of having her as the antagonistic efficiency expert, plus it mirrors the Killing Game storyline a bit too closely. But after Seven’s mind meld it also seems pretty inevitable. Chakotay and Tuvok doing all the work would be more interesting but ultimately the suspense only exists for about as long as the crew are in their new lives. Once they’re back to being the Voyager crew and “The Heroes”, most of the suspense and tension will collapse back to nothingness. And a final hope that the KimEMH command bickering will be kept to a minimum. Despite Kim’s actions in Nightingale and the EMH’s occasional self-absorption it’s ridiculous to think that either of them would use this situation to bicker over who’s in command. And considering Kim’s behavior in Nightingale it’s almost certain that he would come looking out of this more childish than ever and with only a few episodes left until the end of Voyager he won’t have much time to grow up.

Next week: Part 2. Robert Beltran has fun with makeup, Voyager blows up alien ships, Janeway has to choose between an adult relationship and her martyr complex.

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 – Nightingale

Summary: Kim finally gets his own command and turns into mini-Janeway.

Kim has always wanted his own command. This part of his character development went part of the way in Warhead and now in Nightingale he has the chance to go all

star trek voyager nightingale

"Maybe now they'll let me direct an episode"

the way by commanding his own starship. And after a barrage of lightweight episodes early on in this season, a serious, well-written episode like Nightingale is exactly what Voyager needed. While it might not have stood out as obviously during Voyager’s consistently better 6th season, in the anemic 7th season it is a godsend. Not only does Nightingale not feature leading performances by Seven, Janeway or the EMH, but it actually addresses continuity issues and contributes some much needed character development to a generally overlooked character. It has a logical plot that does not focus on Voyager being put into peril and is resolved through a clever and easy to follow tactical maneuver.

Nightingale does begin with a scene that Voyager has managed to turn into a cliche in only two years, the crew relaxing on the Delta Flyer just before alien trouble strikes. Still, once the trouble begins, Kim is faced with a tough dilemma Voyager hasn’t addressed in some time. Aid the medical ship that’s about to be destroyed even though he doesn’t know the nature of their conflict or follow Starfleet rules and continue on his way. The dilemma would be less gripping with an experienced officer who would know better than to make rush judgements based on casual perception, but Kim isn’t an experienced officer; just an overdue ensign eager for his own command. And once he arrives on the medical ship he discovers that they’ve lost their commander and are even more incompetent than the Voyager crew. With Kim behaving as the very model of Starfleet efficiency, it’s no wonder that they soon decide they want him in command.

Unfortunately Kim’s only model for Captain is Janeway and Janeway is a very bad role model. On his first return to Janeway, Kim justifies his actions by saying that it’s what Janeway herself would have done, and as such, Captain Kim does what Janeway would do. The result is that in no time at all Kim turns into mini-Janeway, taking over people’s consoles, dismissing their ideas and giving out insane orders. The difference is that unlike the Voyager Stepford crew which will follow any order Janeway gives until she’s knocked unconscious by her own stupidity and Chakotay can take over and try putting things right, the Nightingale crew is just using Kim to get home safely. They have no mythical devotion to him and think for themselves. So when Kim’s mini-Janeway routine reaches its insane height by ordering members of the ship’s crew to go against their own race and agenda by going back to Voyager, the only thing that would have been better than seeing the shock on Kim’s face when he realizes that “Captain” is just a title and not a superpower, would be for Janeway to be there absorbing the lesson with him.

But unlike Janeway, Kim can learn from his mistakes. And indeed Nightingale would have been a stronger episode if Kim really had been allowed to ponder what he did

star trek voyager nightingale

"Meet me for drinks after work"

wrong and learn from it on his own, without 7 of 9 delivering pat lectures on command to him. Indeed what exactly is the basis for casting Seven as a command guru anyway. Are TPTB so truly desperate to give her a role in every episode that they have a civilian who’s been human and on board Voyager for less time than Naomi, lecturing a Starfleet officer on command techniques? And for that matter, why during a crucial time for Voyager when so many systems need to be repaired, does Janeway send Seven away on a relatively frivolous mission she’s not particularly qualified for? If Itcheb is invaluable on Voyager, Seven must be far more so. As he himself suggested, Paris would have been a much better fit for this mission and he’s a lot less needed on Voyager than Seven is.

Kim’s biggest error centers around the same plot point where the episode’s biggest problem lies. The cloaking device. Kim never bothers to wonder why a medical ship is equipped with a cloaking device. Once their crew make it clear to both Janeway and Kim that they require their services, neither makes the obvious request for the specifications of the cloaking device. Certainly a cloak would make Voyager’s trip home a whole lot easier and it never even seem to be under consideration. A line stating that the cloak wouldn’t function with Voyager’s systems would have come in handy at this point.

Still, the crisis of the Nightingale manages a very effective and even exciting resolution, certainly a more effective and exciting resolution than Voyager’s usual response to a crisis. In true Captain style, Kim is prepared to go down with his ship, but unlike Janeway he actually has a Plan B and manages to outsmart the enemy without gloating about it all the while and even borrowing part of Kirk’s tactic for escaping Khan in Wrath of Khan to do it. Kim’s final scene with Neelix is an effective way of closing off this chapter of Kim’s character development and the use of soup ordering as defining command style is the kind of clever characterization Voyager desperately needs more of.

Nightingale’s B story is a pretty silly and cliched bit about Itcheb imagining that Lt. Torres is attracted to him. Still Manu Intraymi once again manages to do a decent

star trek voyager nightingale

"With Captain Kim in command, we're lucky to be alive."

job with mediocre material, a very valuable quality for an actor on a show like Voyager. For better or worse, it’s managed to contribute to Treknology the idea that love can be detected with a tricorder, courtesy of the Doc. Still it’s a shame that the producers have decided to devote as much screen time to Itcheb getting crossed signals from Torres and Paris, as they did to Tuvok going through Pon Farr.

The two alien species never get a chance to be fleshed out in any way but there was clearly no time in the episode for that. A little more time could also have been used to flesh out the credibility of Kim’s return to take command of the Nightingale’s bridge. The aliens seem to accept him back all too easily. A scene featuring Kim confronting the alien scientist and coming to terms with the fact that he dislikes the mission but can’t turn back now and will fulfill it regardless, would have enhanced the episode. Indeed having him learn those lessons of command from the alien scientist, instead of Seven to begin with might have taken Nightingale to a whole new level and would have turned the alien scientist from a faceless minor character, into someone more vital and memorable.

Still, all in all Nightingale is a good episode and a good lead in to the upcoming Holograms vs. Hirogen fest.

Next week: When Holograms attack Hirogen hunters.

Voyager review – Body and Soul

Summary: Sex on a Starship. Ryan does a bad Picardo imitation, aliens of the week menace the Delta Flyer again, Tuvok goes through Pon Farr in 5 minutes.

To begin with, it’s hard to figure out why this episode was made. Could the producers really have taken a look at the 7th season so far and

star trek voyager body and soul

"Wait, you want me to do what?"

thought, “what we need here are more light episodes”? As it is, Body and Soul is an episode that swallows two interesting plot ideas inside a one-shot gimmick that manages to be passably entertaining for a Wednesday night. While UPN promos for Voyager have been historically deceptive, B&S’s promo nails the episode pretty well. If you’ve seen the promo for Body and Soul, you’ll find that there’s not much to the episode you haven’t seen.

Body and Soul starts out, as quite a few recent Voyager episodes have, with an uneventful journey aboard the Delta Flyer. Shockingly enough, the Delta Flyer is attacked by aliens who in the episode’s one and only twist are after photonic lifeforms like the Doctor. Using a weapon that disrupts photonic beings they nearly destroy the Doc before 7 transfers him into her own circuitry. The EMH takes control of 7’s body and hilarity ensues. It’s not particularly implausible that the Doctor would behave so badly and clumsily in a crisis, considering that Tinker Tailor showed that he’s not quite ready for prime time. But it does get old fast. Ryan doing a bad imitation of Picardo and acting drunk can be amusing but it just seems as if Body spends two thirds of its time on what is at best a five minute joke.

By contrast Seven’s scenes with the tactical officer in sickbay are out of tune with the style of the rest of the episode and really don’t matter since the episode isn’t ready to treat the entire situation seriously to begin with. Worse, we barely just recovered from the Doctor using his medical skills to try and heal a screwed up civilization a few episodes ago in Critical Care, and we had the Doctor as earnest comic relief in Inside Man. Voyager does have other characters besides Seven and the Doctor after all, it might be nice if they had something to do as well. It would be nice if Kim had something to do in this episode except spout technobabble and fake a seizure (doesn’t one naturally lead to the other anyway?)

And fans have been anticipating Tuvok’s Pon Farr for seven years now. Even those people who weren’t on board with some of the weirder

star trek voyager body and soul

The premise on an episode has never been better expressed in a screenshot

solutions for Tuvok’s dilemma wanted more than using it as an aborted B story in which Tuvok mediates, medicates, groans, uses the holodeck and is back to work before anyone notices that he was even gone. Indeed from the character growth perspective, if you compare the utility of having Tuvok suffer through Pon Farr or Seven realize she needs to experience more sensations, it’s hard to see the Pon Farr story as being more disposable.

A well written Tuvok Pon Farr story could have finally done for Tuvok what Wire did for Garak on DS9. The few scenes with Paris did show potential for some good KirkSpock interplay. Even a badly written one could have had a lot more comedic and dramatic possibilities than a 5 minute skit about the Doc inside 7’s body. During the height of Braga’s supervision the 6th season managed to do some of Voyager’s strongest stories, but now with Braga working on Series V, Voyager is back to ripping off Disney movies. Even Jeri Taylor’s stepsonVorik got himself an entire episode (ironically enough directed by Andrew Robison) to deal with his Pon Farr; but Tuvok who according to Body and Soul would experience a much stronger version of Pon Farr resolves his problems with a holodeck program, even though Blood Fever itself showed that this wouldn’t work.

Finally, we have the bizarre and ridiculous line of “It isn’t cheating if the hologram looks like your wife.” Admittedly Voyager has some awful history in the ethical dilemmas department and tends to think moral dilemmas can be solved by having Janeway hit the right pitch of outrage with her rhetoric, but this is just bad. It’s halfway plausible for Paris to propose such a thing, even though he’s moved well beyond that kind of thing. It’s completely ridiculous for Tuvok in a halfway sane state of mind to agree. What indeed does the appearance of the hologram have to do with anything? If there’s anything that should have been hammered home after 4 Star Trek series each of which featured the required dozen “alien possession” shows, is that identity and not appearance is what matters.

The rebellion of photonic servants is certainly an interesting possible plot and the tactical officer’s recitation of how she doesn’t understand why her holodoc rebelled and its similarity to both the justifications for slavery and how Janeway and the Voyager crew condescendingly describe the Doctor as “part of the family” could have had some potentially very disturbing implications for Voyager. Instead the Doctor shrugs her off with a few banalities and focuses on his central goal of flirting with her instead. The Doctor may be a bit overstimulated and clumsy but he’s not completely thoughtless or stupid either. This piece of dialog seems like it belonged in a different episode, an episode that actually had something to say.

Instead, Voyager bases an episode around ripping off a cliche so cliched no one even bothers ripping it off anymore, tips a hat to TOS’s worst episode Turnabout and leaves two potentially interesting stories lying in the dust. And God knows if there’s anything Voyager needs this season it’s an interesting story.

Star Trek Voyager review – Drive

Voyager meets Dukes of Hazzard

Summary: Paris and Torres deal with their drives, Harry has another ill-fated romance and Voyager extras serve as comic relief.

After the Tragedy-of-the-Week feel of Imperfection and Voyager’s Big Borg season opener, Drive’s light comedic touch is a definite relief. The star trek voyager driveParis and Torres relationship has a rocky one-dimensional history so bad it often aspires to being a soap opera and while Drive doesn’t really break that trend it does a good job of making the process fun instead of childish and wearying in the way that episodes dedicated to the Paris/Torres relationship tend to be.

Paris has always been a 20th century kind of guy and so Drive abounds with 20th century references and material. The EMH plays golf, Neelix takes on the job of sportscaster and Paris has to win the race and get the girl at the same time. So while Drive is still completely predictable, it’s actually fun too. Rather than pursuing the Paris/Torres relationship with the usual grim determination of a Honda Accord heading uphill, Drive turns it into a screwball comedy while Harry (in keeping with the Torture Harry premise of Voyager) is tossed into a film noir as he unknowingly romances a female secret agent out to sabotage the race. Winrich Kolbe’s (one of Star Trek’s top directors) smooth direction moves the episode along keeping up the light atmosphere and Harry’s struggle with Eirina even features a few Noir effects. His intercutting between scenes of Paris and Torres and Harry and Eirina is one of the high points of the episode.

Most refreshing is the fact that Dawson gets to play something besides the angry, frustrated, one-note half-Klingon, and instead, a person

star trek voyager drive

Get ready, get set, get CG

whose responses aren’t all that simplistic or predictable and who does things for reasons other than the completely obvious. RDM is still mostly stuck with the same old Paris but the closing material allows him to play the kind of sincerity the actor is clearly much more at home with, than the flippant cliche he’s usually saddled with. While the pair doesn’t really have the kind of chemistry that makes on-screen relationships work, both try very hard and the effort bears a certain amount of fruit. By the time the episode ends their relationship is probably on a better footing than at any time before. Best of all Drive’s light note and focus on the race makes the entire thing feel less like a Paris/Torres episode and more like a Voyager episode with a Paris/Torres subplot.

Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to feel because really, despite the waste of lots of FX dollars and some beautiful work by Foundation Imaging, the race itself doesn’t actually matter. On that point, at least Drive is pretty straight-forward from the outset. The entire thing begins with a drag race and the entire crew from Janeway down never treats it as anything other than a frivolous amusement. The threat to Paris

star trek voyager drive

"You know what this desperate voyage home needs? For two of its key officers to take some time off and participate in a space race."

and Torres and the peace is taken about as seriously as it would be on Captain Proton. But then as with the actual Captain Proton episode, the whole plot is besides the plot. Voyager has mostly given up doing straight-forward TNG episodes some time ago and where TNG would have focused on the politics of the alien races and the need to keep the peace, Voyager uses it as background for a romantic comedy. Still, you can’t help but wish that they’d saved the special effects for an episode where it would really count.

While the basic premise of diplomacy, betrayal, relationships and sabotage of Drive seem to come from TOS’ Journey to Babel, Drive isn’t going for originality or consistency or serious drama. As a comedic episode that moves along quickly and resolves a prickly character arc it works. It’s not a great episode, just a fun one and that’s all it was ever meant to be.

Next Week: Voyager crewmembers from the past and the future phaser each other a lot.

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