Summary: A “perfectly functional” episode that pretty much ties up the Doctor’s development and offers a somewhat decent adventure plot to boot. And it’s always fun to see the Doctor take Tuvok down a notch or two.
Renaissance Man isn’t a particularly inspiring episode but it is, as a Vulcan might say, “perfectly adequate.” It doesn’t measure up to
the wild brilliance of Tinker Tailor, the episode it serves as a sequel to. But it does put the Doctor’s character under real pressure and creates genuine tension and conflict, something very few of the season’s adventure stories have managed so far.
Like Tinker Tailor, Renaissance Man’s villains are once again the Hierarchy race. And they use their ability to see what the Doctor sees to keep him under control. There is also the tension between the supervisor character and a more imaginatively-minded and kinder subordinate. But the episode, by attempting to recreate Tinker Tailor, misses the things that made that episode work. Where the office drone dynamic of Tinker Tailor provided a character we could relate to and linked him to the Doctor’s own troubles, Renaissance Man employs the aliens as stock characters: “bad alien” and “decent but spineless sidekick”. It’s been done more times than can be counted and Renaissance Man, unlike Tinker Tailor, brings nothing new to the table.
Indeed, the only reason for this stock relationship is to lead up to the predictable ending where the spineless alien will finally turn on his master. Worse, it’s the only reason the aliens are turned into renegades disconnected from the hierarchy. This makes the entire thing look ridiculous since basically Janeway is being held hostage by two fat guys, only one of whom is even any kind of threat. You don’t see Kirk or Picard or Sisko remaining imprisoned for long under these circumstances. But they seem to manage to produce complete chaos on Voyager. This is more than a little reminiscent of Janeway’s embarrassing struggle with two Ferengi.
On the Voyager end, though, the Doctor outwitting and even physically defeating most of the Voyager crew is certainly entertaining. The ECH once again makes a case for his abilities as he outwits Tuvok and then defeats him in hand to hand combat. He poses as three different officers, fends off Paris’s romantic overtures and knocks out Chakotay and Kim and stows them in the overhead compartment. He takes over and runs Voyager and watching him do it is fun, even if his complete capitulation to the kidnapper’s demands is a little odd. He may be fearful for Janeway’s safety but the ECH’s tactical scenarios should have told him that the best way to assure a hostage’s safety doesn’t rest in complete compliance with a kidnapper’s demands. The constant monitoring is an important tool for reinforcing the plausibility of his actions but it’s not quite enough.
Indeed, much of this episode seems to be setting up material for the series finale. That may be appropriate as Renaissance Man is the last episode before the finale but it seems weak and misplaced because the Doctor’s behavior and Janeway’s attitudes both seem a little odd. This is why arcs help set up changes in character behavior, instead of sudden changes occurring in the context of an episode. But it does serve to cap off the Doctor’s character development.
The EMH proclaims that he’s happy to be a hologram and doesn’t want to be human. He confesses his love for Seven and begins developing a friendship with Janeway. He demonstrates his ability to do just about anything and even gets to sing again. And considering that the reality is that the Doctor was always Voyager’s breakout character, far more so than Seven of Nine, and its main character as well, it’s only appropriate that he be assigned the next to last Voyager episode. Voyager’s Renaissance Man.
Next week: Voyager’s series finale. Hey, it made Mulgrew cry.