Thursday, June 30, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Cold Fire"

“Cold Fire” offers Kes a chance to play Luke Skywalker learning the ways of the force when the crew encounters a colony of Ocampa protected by another Caretaker. It is a poorly kept secret the discovery of a second Caretaker is in response to VOY’s lackluster ratings. It is meant to be an easy out for the ship to return to the Alpha Quadrant should the series not survive. But VOY limps along another five years, so Caretaker II never makes another appearance.

I have mixed emotions about “Cold Fire.” It is an entertaining episode overall. It explores Kes’ powers in greater detail. It introduces a good Villain in Tanis, a megalomaniacal Ocampa. The episode explores the negative impact Voyager has had on the Delta Quadrant in stark contrast to previous claims history cannot be rewritten because theie impact on the quadrant is now a necessary part of it development. But in spite of these good points, the episode does so many dumb things there is a counter balance to every high point.

When the episode begins, Tuvok is working with Kes to hone her mental abilities. He teaches her to reach out to the minds of the crew and read their thoughts, which she does. Geez, what a great invasion of privacy the security officer is encouraging Kes to do. Neither demonstrates any qualms about secretly invading people’s minds, either. Good to know how far took is willing to go in order to maintain safety.

Later in sickbay, the remains of the Caretaker, which they kept for some weird reason, begin to light up and shake. According to some Torres t is an indication another Caretaker is nearby. It leads them to a new array which serves as a home for a colony of Ocampa. These Ocampa are lead by Tanis, a fourteen year old Ocampa with extraordinary mental abilities and an extreme Ocampa supremacist attitude he relays to Kes every chance he gets. Naïve Kes takes shows no apprehension about it until she has to physically confront him in the climax.

Tanis is played wonderfully by Gary Graham, the actor who will go on to play Soval in ENT. Quite a few readers may be more interested in his regular contributions to the conservative website Big Hollywood.. Graham has played villainous characters before, but not quite like Tanis. He is over the top, but not hammy. He is exactly what you would expect from a villain who is tapping into a source of near unlimited power which makes him feel far above other ’minor” life forms.

Tanis is reluctant to cooperate with Voyager. Janeway’s reputation precedes her. Tanis tells her she is feared across the quadrant because of the Caretaker’s death, the continuing war with the Kazon, and their taking resources from planets without any permission or approval. The thing is, he is right. They have not only done all these things, but are secretly preparing a weapon to stun Caretaker II if it tries to overpower them like before. The issue is glossed over, however, because Tanis and Caretaker II are angry over the one thing the crew did not do--murdered Caretaker. He died of old age. So rather than explore the crew’s actions in fighting the Kazon or taking resources in the name of survival, the conflict in “Cold Fire” puts the crew squarely in the right because they are victims of a false accusation. It is a cop out.

The bonding of Kes and Tanis has its own issues. There is an amusing undertone of Kes as Luke Skywalker and Tanis as Obi Wan Kennobi in the beginning, but slowly morphing into Darth Vader as he helps her tap into the more sinister possibilities of using her powers. I am even willing to concede her naïve tolerance of Tanis’ contempt for humans is a result of her thrill of utilizing powers she has never before experienced. But there isa big flaw in the teaching progression. Why does Tanis teach her the telekinetic ability to move a tea cup and the ability to summon fire in the same lesson? Arguably, it is to tempt her with more, but she nearly cooks Tuvok’s head with it. Still, no one gets any negative vibes from Tanis. What does it take to get through to these people?

Caretaker II shows up in the form of Ben Savage’s little sister from Boy Meets World. We quickly degenerate from Star Wars to Carrie as she tortures the crew in revenge for allegedly murdering the other Caretaker. Janeway is able to use the weapon they have been developing to stop her, so even the fact they were secretly planning to violently subdue the Caretaker Ii if necessary turns out to be the right thing to do. Presumably, so id fighting the Kazon and stealing resources by default. See, Tanis? You could not be more wrong. Caretaker Ii and Tanis flee never to be seen again after being defeated by Janeway and Kes respectively. The Magic Reset Button is pressed, too, as Kes can no longer use telekinesis or summon fire.

In spite of its flaws, “Cold Fire” is one of the best episodes thus far. If for no other reason, it is because of the potential empowering of Kes and the prospect of Tanis as a more interesting recurring villain than Seska. Alas, the former is wasted and the latter never materializes. This is a serious problem with VOY. Every opportunity to make the show more interesting is dropped immediately in favor of technobabble and the absolute assurance federation philosophy is morally infallible. As a result, “Cold Fire” is about as good as it gets when the regular writing team attempts to further the series arc.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Maneuvers"

Since there are many nitpicking Trekkies out there, a technical note is in order regarding episode sequence from here on out. There are two different episode lists floating about the internet. One is the original broadcast order. The other is the revised order for syndication and DVD. The latter is considered an improvement because it allegedly clarifies some continuity issues and puts more distance between episodes in which special effects shots were reused for budgetary reasons. Some episode titles have been changed for aesthetics or to better reflect content. I am going by the DVD order rather than original broadcast, so if things do not jibe with what you remember, nothing is wrong. I am going by the revised material.

“Maneuvers” features the return of the Kazon. Before you groan at the prospect, bear in mind they are now being manipulated by Seska through the leaderr of a relatively weak sect, Culloq, whom she has by the penis. Seska is plotting to unite the Kazon sects herself by stealing Federation technology and using it to create alliance. Culloq is being duped into helping her by thinking it is all his idea. He falls for this hook, line, and sinker because of that whole being dragged around by the penis thing.

There is much more slam bang action in “Maneuvers” than VOY has had thus far. It is the beginning of a noticeable trend to make the show less talky, which I welcome, but it will still be loaded down with preachy progressive ideology and inane techno babble, which I do not. One takes his blessings where he gets him, folks, lest they stop coming altogether.

Seska arranges for Voyager to follow a beacon signal using a code Harry identifies as one used from a star date after they were stranded in the Delta Quadrant. How he could know this is never clarified. This is a Kenneth Biller script, so just accept it. He is doing the best he can. You do not have to be Adm. Ackbar to know this is a trap. The Kazon make a daring raid on the ship and steal transporter technology before making a clean getaway.

It should not surprise you no one suspects Seska’s involvement until she contacts Voyager in order to taunt Chakotay. For the remainder of the episode, “Maneuvers” is largely a personal drama between the two. Chakotay secretly flees the ship in order to follow a warp drive trail Seska deliberately left behind. Her plan, as far as Culloq is concerned, is to capture him in order to get the command codes for Voyager. But she has a more personal vendetta running.

Credit where credit is due, “Maneuvers” covertly addresses the tensions between the Maquis and Starfleet crewmembers, something that has been ignored for quite a while. I say covertly because no one ever says that is the motivation for anyone’s actions. Chakotay goes AWOL because it does not think Seska is a Starfleet problem. She is a traitor to him personally. Janeway does not want to risk the ship in a rescue attempt, but is convinced to do so when Torres says his loss will destroy morale. What she actually means is the Maquis will rebel if she abandons their leader. Even the rescue operation is said to be a violation of Starfleet safety protocols. Yet there is very little overt acknowledgement the Starfleet way is being completely abandoned in favor of the Maquis way. Perhaps that is because the Maquis way works where Starfleet methods have failed. Did the ghost of Gene Roddenberry rattle his chains while biller was typing away?

In the end, Chakotay destroys the stolen transporter technology and gets rescued. Culloq’s attempt to create and alliance with other Kazon sects fails when Seska turns her attention from his penis to Chakotay’s. she extracts some of his DNA during interrogation and impregnates herself with it. Only in VOY science does that sort of thing work. She then taunts Chakotay with the news in front of the Voyager bridge crew. That is one cold woman.

“Maneuvers” has some serious plot holes. Chakotay ought to know Seska wants to captire him for the command codes. Either he is dumb for falling for it, or Janeway is dumb for not changing the command codes to make them useless after Chakotay went AWOL, or Seska is dumb for not anticipating the command codes would be changed. Take your pick. The final rescue attempt involves taken the heads of the Kazon sects hostage, but the terms of their release do not involve handing over Seska. That seems like an obvious demand to make, but future storylines require her to be free, so there you go. The whole DNA impregnation thing does not sound terribly plausible, either. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining effort that is indicative of a less talky future for the series. Kudos for that.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Persistence of Vision"

“Persistence of Vision” is the first VOY script which Jeri Taylor writes without collaboration. Therefore, its theme is Janeway is Awesome. Get used to that. Taylor lives vicariously through Janeway on a regular basis from the now until the end of the fifth season. Her fascination with Janeway is not a detriment here, however. “Persistence of Vision” is one of the best episodes VOY has had in a while. The crew finally encounters an unusual alien menace who creates a surreal and frightening experience for them.

If I have any serious criticism for “Persistence of Vision,” it is that it shifts gears in the final two acts. While the first three acts are completely focused on Janeway, the fourth, the fourth spreads out to the rest of the main cast and the fifth has Kes, all alone, saving the day. I cannot criticize the gear shifting too harshly, however. It offers a better insight into the characters than we have seen before. We also get the first real hints Kes possesses far more powers than previously believed.

Voyager is about to enter Bothe space. The Bothe are a xenophobic race that do not care for strange ships passing through. Janeway is under a load of stress balancing diplomacy with defensive measures to ensure they make it by the Bothe. The doctor orders her to spend some time with her holonovel to relax. This is the governess one in which she falls in which a widower falls in love with her. There is a disturbing undertone the children she is taking care of do not believe their mother is dead. That does not stop Janeway from putting the moves on their daddy. If women’s sexual fantasies really are akin to romance novels, then Janeway is essentially engaged in an adult film. If Chakotay took part in a holodeck program more in line with male sexual fantasies, reaction would be far different. Just saying.

Janeway begins seeing characters from the holonovel outside the holodeck. Over three acts, it appears she is going insane. Well, more insane than usual. She is not really the picture of mental stability at any point. By the fourth act, the entire crew is being affected. They see family members, for better or for worse, beckoning them. All accept for Torres, who imagines a romp in bed with Chakotay. Keep this scenario in mind. Towards the end of the season, Janeway will flirt with it, too, in another episode written by Taylor. Something tells me she has had a kidnapped by Native American braves and never rescued by cowboys fantasy at some point in her life. Maybe several points.

Once the crew give in to the visions, they are stuck in a catatonic state. Kes is the only one who has the power to resist, and she is the one who exposes the Bothe alien intruder who has been causing the hallucinations by overpowering him with her mind. She has no clue how she was able to do so. While Kes is the hero, Janeway steals her thunder. She was the first one to be attacked by the alien, but was the last one to go all catatonic. That means she resisted for hours while everyone else succumbed within minutes. Janeway is Awesome!

She is also inconsistent or willing to learn from her mistakes, depending on how generous you want to be. She decides to throw the Bothe in the brig with the specific rationale she will not allow him to attack other travelers again. Back in “Phage,” she refused to hold the Vidiians who stole Neelix’s lungs in the brig because she did not want to haul them along on the 75 year journey even though she knows they will steal the organs of any other travelers they encounter. Maybe she learned from the second encounter with the Vidiians not to play around, or she is just angry the Bothe messed with her personally this time, but now she has no qualms about dragging prisoners along for three-quarters of a century. Take your pick which you believe. I am inclined towards the latter.

I like “Persistence of Vision.’ While it is hard to describe why, it feels like an episode that could only occur on VOY. Perhaps because the situations feels peculiar enough to only have happened in the new and strange Delta Quadrant. Or maybe it is the bothe’s attitude. When Janeway asks his motivation, he says he did it because he could. Not to study them or for some survival or political ends. He did it for the old school daffy Duck reason--he just wanted to screw with them. Some fans consider that a lame excuse, but I think it is a refreshing change from the norm. As is "Persistence of Vision.”

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Parturition"

You had to figure Neelix’s jealousy towards tom’s friendship with kes would come to a head at some point. The idea of an entire episode being devoted to what was a running subplot is a surprise, particularly considering what a juvenile attitude both characters have been exhibiting. “Parturition” resolves their dispute in as trite and predictable a manner as possible, so at least there is consistency.

The trouble begins when tom is teaching Kes to pilot a shuttlecraft in a holodeck simulation. She slips at one part when the shuttlecraft is rocked and falls into his arms. She sits in his lap just a little too long. The ironic part is Neelix does not know about this. All he knows is the two of them were in the holodeck together. He knows this because he was spying around the corner. So he is a demented stalker.

The two come to blows in the mess hall after kes has the nerve to wave at Tom and smile. It is at this point, while still covered in pasta, they are ordered to report to Janeway for a mission. There is a nearby planet with a hostile atmosphere that may host edible planets. Tom is the best pilot to manage the atmosphere. Neelix is all about edible plant life. They are stuck together.

As you can most certainly predict, the shuttlecraft crashes. The two survive unhurt, but cannot be rescued until a convenient clear patch opens in the atmosphere for a beam out. They have to stick together in order to survive. The whole affair comes across poorly. The atmosphere is irritating to the skin, but it is explicitly stated it would take a week’s worth of exposure to be fatal. They will be able to beam out in a couple hours, so the worst they suffer are rashes. Neither of them were injured in the crash, so there is no ticking clock for emergency medical care. The drama is finding a cave, sealing themselves in, and then sniping at each other.

Their fighting is broken up by the discovery a a baby lizard hatching in the back of the cave. Naturally, it is sick. Tom knows this because the lizard is shivering. Cold blooded reptiles do not shiver, but this is VOY where the science is even worse than the plotting. Barely. The lizard’s problem is it gets nutrients from the atmosphere. Because Tom and Neelix blocked off the cave, the lizard is starving to death. So they take it outside in spite of their nasty rashes. They save the lizard together and that bonds the two. Neelix admits he suffers from severe jealousy. Tom confesses if it were not for Neelix, he would jump Kes’ bones in a heartbeat. Somehow, the brutal honesty resolves the issue. Television logic. You have to love it.

The subplot is the lizard’s mother is part of a space faring race that attacks Voyager in order to protect its baby. I have a tough time accepting that a race technologically advanced enough for interstellar travel would have to dump its eggs on a planet in order to properly feed it. But even if they do, reptiles usually abandon their eggs once they are laid period, so coming back for the baby would be strange. So would not just communicating with Voyager about the planet serving as their nursery rather than going in guns blazing. It is dumb all around.

In spite of the negatives I have accentuated, there are some good character moments involving anyone not named Neelix or Tom. When those two knuckleheads show up in Janeway’s office covered in pasta and insisting they not be assigned a mission together, she is succinct in addressing their problem--’Solve it.” That is how a captain ought to handle petty issues among her crew rather than the micromanaging of everyone’s lives and ordering them to implement her solutions like Janeway normally does. I do not get to praise Janeway much, but credit where credit is due. On rare occasions, she acts like someone qualified to have her job.

Harry is another character who gets a moment to shine when he consoles Kes over the missing Neelix and Tom. Too often Harry is the focus of bad luck and/or abuse. Even when he is the focus of an episode, he rarely gets any development. His ability to connect emotionally with Kes here without any hint the would like to sleep with her raises him far above either Neelix or Tom. You have to wonder why Kes does not see that. Not saying she should fall for Harry, but that she ought to recognize what cads the other two are in comparison. Maybe she just likes immature, abusive men. Women appear to have a self-destructive need to reform those types of men.

Even though I find the conflict between Neelix and Tom petty and dumb, I have to recognize the rarity of main characters in a Trek series actually having a conflict that involves emotion. Normally, any conflict of this nature between characters has to be the result of alien influence interfering with the way enlightened 24th century humans handle their problems. Of course, the catalyst is still Neelix the unenlightened alien, so we do not get to journey too far passed the usual motif.

“Parturition” is not a particularly good episode. Plot wise, it is on par with a cartoon meant to teach children a lesson about jealousy. The whole baby lizard and its mother attacking the ship bit is trite and demonstrative of VOY’s shallow thinking in both plot and scientific accuracy. The only highlights are the all too brief moments with Janeway and Harry I described above. They sre not enough to elevate the episode to anything enjoyable.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Twisted"

Oh, dear--a high concept episode written by Kenneth Biller. That cannot be good, and rest assured, it is not. I waver on whether the idea of a spatial anomaly altering the ship’s design, thereby trapping the crew in a maze, is a good idea in the first place, but I am certain the unintentionally funny manner in which the crew constantly gets lost wandering the corridor’s certainly is a bad idea. Speed up the camera and add “I’m a Believer,” and you have a lost episode of The Monkees.

That is not even the worst part of the story execution. I am confident the powers that be knew this script was not working well, so they added in a lot of personal conflict which comes across as juvenile, junior high level sniping jealousy over a girl and being passed over for a promotion. when you believe you have 63 minutes to live, such bruised feelings really ought to be cast aside, particularly when one of the participants is a supposedly emotionless Vulcan.

The episode begins with a surprise party being thrown for Kes. Tom uses two weeks worth of replicator rations to make her a gift, so Neelix flips out. Before we can speculate whether he is going to smack her around, or just lock Kes in a closet as punishment, the ship gets pulled into a spatial distortion which twists it into a constantly changing maze. For the next 35 excruciating minutes, the main cast wanders through the corridors getting lost and sniping at each other.

No exaggeration. They literally do nothing but this until Torres gets a techno babble idea and finds her way to engineering to try it. It only makes things worse--big surprise, that--and the trapped crew resigns themselves to a painful death being contorted into oblivion. Too darn merciful for them, if you ask me.

Here is the dynamics of it. Everyone but Tuvok and Harry are at the partyy in the holodeck. Harry is itching to go to the party, but the spatial distortional engulfs the ship right then, so Tuvok cans the idea. Everyone in the holodeck, unaware of what is going on because communications are down, split up to go their separate ways. They spend two acts constantly getting lost before gathering back again in the holodeck, this time with Harry having found/lost his way there, too. Two acts is way too much time to establish the problem without going overboard, but there you go.

The second time they split up, they are still wandering about, but the emphasis is on angst. Neelix offers to go with Chakotay because of his famed tracking skills. You can literally see how thrilled Chakotay is. It is just an excuse so Neelix can get advice about jealousy from him. With fifty some odd minutes left to live, Chakotay reallt stops to counsel him over Kes and Tom. He manages to lose neelix when the famed tracker gets lost, but just to prove there is balance in the universe, he runs into Tuvok. The two of them clash over the course of action to take, then admit it is motivated by anger that Chakotay was chosen as first officer. It is good to know in the shadow of Death, they are thinking about the big issues. At least Janeway, who gets caught in the distortion itself, is unconscious for most of the episode.

With all options exhausted, they all brace themselves for the worst. The turns out to be…nothing. Janeway suddenly sits up and spouts a line of gibberish as the spatial distortion passes by,, and that is it. It was actually an intelligent life form studying them. It even left data about itself in the computer for them to study once it left. The only danger the crew was ever in was when Torres did something stupid and nearly blew the ship up.

Oh, yeah--the Janeway speaking in tongues bit is existentially hilarious. It reminds me of the day I learned way no one goes to the luncheon to annual welcome new students to Regent University hosted by the Divinity students. The Pentecostal Divinity students. The charismatic Pentecostal Divinity students. Try having a nice, quiet meal after everyone in the room just babbled incoherently, but in earnest, during the blessing.

“Twisted” is awful on all levels. There is never any real danger. The crew acts petty in their disputes and are otherwise made to look dumb by wandering about confused virtually the entire episode. Practically every point of drama, from the reactions yo being lost, to the personal conflicts, and Janeway finding that old time religion come are terribly absurd under the circumstances. Skip this one for the sake of you own sanity.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Non Sequitur"

“Non Sequitur,” Latin for “it does not follow,” is the second in a long line of hard Luck Harry episodes. You would think it would be difficult to find so many ways to put the poor guy through the ringer considering he “died” in the first one, but the powers that be manage to to perfect their sadism in some astoundingly creative ways. Not necessarily good ways, but creative.

Harry awakens one morning to find himself back on Earth. He soon discovers that he is not in the past, but that someone else took his place on Voyager before it got lost in the Badlands. Now he is a promising engineer who is responsible for designing a new shuttlecraft. He is also engaging to Libby, the chick he was pining for about three minutes there in the first episode. He has everything he could possibly want out of life, including the knowledge of what would have happened to him had his request to be assigned to Voyager been granted. Yet, he panics and wants nothing more than to get back to his reality.

The interesting part about ’Non Sequitur” is that nothing is explained until the last act. We are not given any clues that there is anything sinister afoot. Harry has an idyllic life, which includes the astrong hin the got laid. How often does that happen for him? But seriously, he has a top notch job and can marry his true love, yet he is not happy. He is convinced he is either stuck in a simulation or has somehow altered the time stream. Whichever the case, he is not going to stand for it.

Quite by accident, he discovers tom missed the trip to the Badlands, too, because he was arrested by Odo after punching out Quark during the DS9 layover. Conveniently, tom not being on Voyager is the only other change to the timeline. Tom is a pool hall hustler who, in spite of having his parole revoked for his DS9, was not sent back to prison in New Zealand. Figure that one out. Harry asks for his help, but since they did not become friends until after Voyager was lost, tom does not budge.

Harry, however, comes under suspicion of being a spy with the combination of his use of Voyager access codes, crazy talk of altering reality, and communicating with maquis Tom. Harry is given an ankle monitor to track his whereabouts until the mess can be sorted out.

It is only at this point is the situation clarified. The café owner across the street from Harry reveals he is an alien. His species lives within cracks in the time stream. Harry fell through one and wound up here. The odd part is that, according to the alien, they cannot send him back because one can wind up anytime, anywhere, by traveling through a rift. He explicitly tells Harry another trip could send him to the primordial ooze of any planet, or a billion years into the future of any planet. So how the heck was Harry lucky enough to land in his own life and better off for it? Better yet, how does it send him back to Voyager when he recreates the circumstances of falling through the crack? Jusu lucky, I guess. Twice.

The kicker is Harry’s insists he has to go back becauseTom has a bad life in this new reality and it is not fair for the guy who replaced him on Voyager to be stranded in the Delta Quadrant in his place. Reasonable arguments, I suppose, but really flimsy. Most anyone would choose to live on with the good life rather than give it up for two people who are strangers. It would be more believable if the stakes were higher. As it is, Harry just comes across as a masochist who cannot stand to be happy.

Starfleet Security catches up to arrest him, but he is saved by Tom, who has decided that he would rather have the life Harry says he does in reality than being the worthless hood he is now. They steal the prototype shuttle to recreate the accident. Extraordinarily enough, in a universe of infinite possibilities, Harry lands right where he wants to be--stranded in the Delta Quadrant no where near Libby. Congratulations, buddy.

It may just be me, but Starfleet struck me as being particularly fascist here. San Francisco of the future is so clean and sterile. That in and of itself is not so bad, but no one thinks twice about Harry walking around with an ankle monitor conspicuously on, nor do they seem flustered when he is chased through the streets by security forces with drawn phasers. It is like they see that sort of thing all the time. I get the impression, existential I am sure, that Starfleet regularly enforces rigid order in such an extreme way.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with “Non Sequitur,” but it is not very memorable, either. It should have had moe of an emotional impact. Had Harry been happy with his new life, but felt overwhelming circumstances forced him to giveit all up, that might have made for a much better episode. As it is, he never even entertains the idea of staying, so we do not feel any sympathy her him. In fact, he comes across as crazy for wanting to go back to Voyager and its circumstances. As I said above, it is understandable he wants to be fair to others whose lives have been altered, but his decision is not reached with the emotional impact with which one would hope.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Elogium"

If you want to know everything that is wrong with VOY in one episode viewing, you could do far worse than “Elogium.” it has it all; bad writing, poor character development, dumb plot, techno babble solution, and the Magic Reset Button, all wrapped in newspaper and rubber bands, thrown under the tee when by your drunken father who just showed up for Christmas after being gone for five years. Oh, dear.

Before I rip into “Elogium,” let me mention that I do like Kes. She is far more than young eye candy like ENT’s T’Pol. Admittedly, her character arc was infinitely predictable from the beginning. She only had a life span of nine years. Two were already gone, leaving her with seven years of life left. Seven years being the general target for which modern trek series aimed, it was clear Kes’ undefined mental powers were going to be the catalyst for sending Voyager home, probably in a dying act in the final episode. But aside from telegraphing her ultimate fate, the character had lots of promise.

Promise that rarely got fulfilled. While some kes-centric episodes are my favorites of the series. But she is so often wasted on such silly stories like “Elogium.” the powers that be never fully realized Kes’ potential as a character before deciding to fire her instead of Garrett Wang at the beginning of the fourth season in order to make room for Jeri Ryan. I will have more to say about that near the end of August. For now, let us examine ‘Elogium.”

We cannot get passed the opening credits before the first problem is evident. The script is written by Kenneth Biller and Jeri Taylor. The story does not have a Janeway is Awesome theme, so it is almost certain Taylor sat around bored, contributing a scene or two while Biller came up with most everything. It definitely has all the trappings of a Biller episode, though I am convinced he consulted with the scientifically illiterate Brannon Braga on some of the finer technical points. Those have his name written on them.

The ship encounters a swarm of space faring paramecium that decide they want to mate. The paramecium emit some kind of pheromone while doing the deed that forces Kes into an early fertility cycle. She has to mate now, or she will never conceive a child. Neelix is put on the spot.

Look at the technical aspects of Kes’ situation. The Ocampa can only mate once in their lives. They can only have one child in their lives. That means even under the best of circumstances, the Ocampa is cut in half every generation. That is under the most ideal circumstances of an equal ratio of boys to girls. There are bound to be instances of infertility, Ocampa dying before having a child, infant mortality, declarations of celibacy, decisions to not be a parent, and maybe even homosexuality. The Ocampa ought to be extinct by now. You would also think a show like VOY would have a science adviser who would catch such a mistake before filming. you do not even need a science adviser. Just apply elementary school math.

Trying to ignore the scientific inaccuracy by focusing on the personal angst of Kes and Neelix as they decide whether to have a child does not work well, either. You should already have guess the big problem is Neelix. What does Kes see in that toad? He is not only a complete jerk, but he is written to be deliberately worse here. In the beginning, Kes is paling around with Tom.. Tom is acting as far from a wolf in sheep’s clothing as he ever will , but Neelix suffers insane jealousy that leaves one wondering how far he is from slapping Kes around. At the very least, he shows signs of an abuser’s habit of isolating the woman he likes to abuse so she has no one but him to rely upon. The only thing left is for kes to be motivated to have a baby to “fix” their relationship.

Thankfully, that is not the way it goes, but the two eventually find themselves heading in opposite directions. Neelix warms up to the idea of being a father after seeking guidance from Tuvok, while Kes goes the modern feminist route in deciding having a child would keep her from accomplishing the things she wants in life. She reaches her conclusion after seeking consult with the Doctor. It is interesting the two decide to speak to an emotionless Vulcan and a hologram about such an emotionally charged issue. Do their choice of confidants inspire faith in their decision making ability?

It does not matter. The crew finally figures out how to get the critters to stop mating with the ship after realizing they need to act submissive to a rival giant paramecium that shows up. When the ship turns blue and does a barrel roll, the critters leave to go party with the other big kahuna. With them gone, Kes’ fertility cycle ends, so she cannot have a child, anyway. Whatever character development she and Neelix had is completely meaningless because they do not have to face the consequences of the decision. Just to have a happy ending, the Doctor, who admits several times he knows nothing about the biology of Ocampa pregnancy, says she will go through elogium again at the proper time since this time it was artificially induced.

There is nothing in “Elogium” worth watching. Even the strange mating rituals, such as the ceremonial massaging of Kes’ feet, wear their humor out quickly. The reset button at the end makes every bit of personal growth moot because neither Kes nor Neelix have to commit. They get let off the hook, so why should anyone care? The b-plot is bad as well. The ship can escape the paramecium swarm at any time by using the warp engines, but Janeway refuses because it will kill perhaps the entire swarm. So they just sit there and get--you know--until the idea to look like a poor mate dawns on Chakotay. They are paramecium, people. Fore up those engines!

Samantha Wildman makes her first appearance. She name drops DS9 and announces she is preggers. Her child will eventually become a big part of the series, particularly when Seven shows up, so there is that. It is still not enough reason to watch “Elogium.” nothing is.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Projections"

I have made no secret I think Robert Picardo is the best actor on VOY. His portrayal of the doctor is the most colorful on the series. It is going to be a little while longer before he will gain the ability to travel beyond sickbay, so his role is disappointingly limited for now. It is always good when the powers that be can find a way to incorporate him into a story beyond tending to various crew ailments. It is better still when an episode centers on him fully. Such is “Projections.” an existential story in which the doctor examines who he is and what is his purpose.

The episode begins with the doctor mysteriously being activated to find he is the only one on board the ship. The crew have all escaped in life pods, but the doctor is unaware why. It turns out the computer is wrong in telling him no one else is on Voyager. Torres makes it to sickbay and explains there was a Kazon attack. She and Janeway stayed behind, but the rest of the crew ejected into the life pods. Unfortunately, they were all captured by the Kazon.

Torres jerry rigs a way for him to travel to the bridge in order to tend to the injured Janeway. Afterward, he is forced to go to the mess hall to answer a distress call from Neelix. In what is probably a more comical scene than is intended, Neelix is holding off a Kazon by throwing every pot, pan, and kitchen utensil at him. It reminds me of the Eddie izzard routine about the desperation of the Battle of Britain.

“Shoot them! Shoot them! What? We are out of ammunition? All right, throw the pots and pans at them! No more pots and pans? They are still coming? What else do we have? Ice cream? Well, throw the ice cream at them!”

The doctor successful tranquilizes the Kazon, but is injured in the scuffle. He is not programmed to feel pain or bleed, so he knows something is wrong. Back in sickbay, he stumbles across the truth--he is real, but everyone else is a hologram. Reginald Barclay makes his first trek appearance since TNG rode off into the sunset two years prior in order to explain things to the doctor. Barclay’s appearance is the first of several attempts in the second season to tie VOY back in to the Trek universe. It is not a good sign to have to do that at all, much less so soon with a show like VOY, but at least Barclay is entertaining. Q’s appearance a few episodes down the road I could do without. More on that later.

Barclay explains the Doctor is actually his creator, Louis Zimmerman. He is stuck in a holodeck simulation set to study the effects of long term isolation on Starfleet crews. Voyager does not exist--oh, if only--and he must destroy the ship in order to escape the malfunctioning simulation or further exposure to the radiation causing the malfunction will kill him. Batclay nearly convinces him of this, but Chakotay shows up to argue that the doctor was actually indulging in a holonovel when a radiation surge scrambled his program in with the holodeck’s system. If he destroys the simulation as Barclay suggests, he will disappear forever.

The only real flaw of “Prohections,” aside from some problems with logic, is the doctor does not have to do anything to save himself. He passes out under the pain of whichever radiation disorder he is actually suffering from before he can decide whether Barclay or Chakotay is telling him the truth. There is brief fake out before he is truly rescued by the crew, but that is it. The story is all about the Doctor’s struggle to decide what is real. In the end, it is decided for him without his lifting a finger. I would like to have seen him as proactive in the final moments as he was throughout the rest of the episode.

There are a few logical problems. Why does Janeway stop to make a log entry in the middle of a Kazon attack? How does the doctor’s holographic communicator work just like a real one? Why is Chakotay sent to convince the Doctor he is really a hlogram? Kes would be the more logical choice. That last point I can forgive, however, because it sets up Kes as his love interest in the damaged program. That is a revelation the two have a special relationship. One hat is less awkward than any Data, the most comparable character to the Doctor, has attempted before. I should excuse everything, really. Brannon Braga wrote “Projections.” Illogic comes with the territory in a Braga script.

“Projections” is one of those fun episodes in which the true nature of a character is explored by placing him in some sort of mind bending, hallucinatory situation. Joe Menosky writes these kids of stories best, but braga does all right because, as said above, his inability to draft logical stories can be disguised by the absurdity of it all. Picardo’s performance elevates the episode. If focused on any other character, “Projections” might have been a run of the mill, we have to have an episode centered on so-and-so this season installment. It does not quite merit four stars because of some minor issues and the fact the holodeck malfunctions yet again in a case of lazy plotting--but it is one of the better VOY episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Initiations"

Are you intrigued by the Kazon, folks? Neither am I. They have been labeled the premiere villains of the Delta Quadrant, but have so far done nothing but marvel at water filters and get jerked around by a Cardassian double agent. Well, one gave Kes a black eye. I guess that is something. The Kazon are going to be more prominent in the second season as the allegory between them and Los Angeles street gangs becomes more apparent. As said allegory becomes more apparent, the kazon are going to lose what little appeal they had as villains to the point they will virtually disappear from the series after the third season premiere. But we have to suffer through them quite a bit until then.

The episode begins with Chakotay alone in a shuttlecraft engaged in a ceremony to commemorate the death of his father. The ceremony involves a number of old looking sacred objects which he could only have replicated because he was beamed over from his Maquis ship with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. Picking nits, I know. But still. His ceremony is interrupted by an attack from a young Kazon pilot named Kar. Kar is played by DS9’s Aron Eisenberg, better known as Nog.

It is a short battle in which Chakotay damages Kar’s ship to the point it will explode, but beams Kar to his shuttlecraft before that happens. The two are then captured by a large Kazon vessel. It is bad news for both of them. Kar’s attack was an initiation to earn his name as a warrior--or colors, in the street gang vernacular. It was kill or be killed, and since he failed to kill Chakotay or die trying, he has to be killed by his fellow Kazon. They are going to kill Chakotay just for the heck of it.

Chakotay manages to escape by faking out the Kazon, as they have obviously never watched any Saturday matinee westerns. Yes, I do appreciate the juxtaposition of a Native American using cowboy ingenuity. He offers to take kar along in order to keep him alive. Kar agrees, but he continues to be a royal pain over his intentions to kill Chakotay anyway when and if they can fully escape. Chakotay ought to scalp the little prick. Literally no one would blame him.

Voyager has its first of many, many, many shuttlecraft destroyed, but Chakotay and Kar beam down safely to a nearby moon. While the action has been all about them thus far, their story shifts gears to an often tense cultural exchange wherein Chakotay attempts to find common ground with Kar. Bits do ring hollow. Chakotay tells Kar of the pride he takes in what his Federation uniform stands for. We know that is a crock. He is Maquuis because the federation abandoned his people to the Cardassians. That uniform does not mean diddly to him on any level of idealism. I do not believe the writers meant for the audience to think he is jerking kar around in order to stay alive until he can be rescued, but that is exactly what he is doing. The writers just plain forgot why Chakotay is maquis.

While the two converse, the action shifts to Voyager and the Kazons when they team up to search for their respective missing associates. Neelix negotiates the alliance, thereby giving him something important to do finally. Tom is left in command of the ship while Janeway leads an away team to the moon, thereby giving him the only major screen time he has had since his murder conviction was overturns nine episode ago. There is an inexplicable double cross by the Kazon before Kar decides to kill the leadr of their away team as a power play. It works. He earns his name, and we wonder what the heck it all means. But not for long, because it is difficult to care.

The leader he kills, razik, is played by the so nice, we almost named him twice Patrick Kilpatrick. A few years after "Initiations,” Eisenberg and Kilpatrick will team up again in DS9’s “The Siege of AR5558,” one of my favorite episodes of the series. Their relationship in “Initiations,’ that of a young wannabe both intrigued and frightened by a warrior battle scarred to the point of insanity, is repeated in the DS9 episode. I have no proof their interactions here had anything to do with Kilpatrick’s subsequent casting in DS9, but it seems likely.

As you can tell by my snaky comments, the episode is underwhelming. I have never been interested in the anthropology of street gang culture, turf battles, respective colors, and the like. It does not translate very well into a space faring villain, either. The kazon are not an empire. They are thugs who “rule” over territory that legitimate authorities control. Their status does not make them interesting. They are just brutal criminals. Very disappointing. More where that came from, too.

Mediocre, but watchable is my final verdict. There is a lot of Nog in Kar, so I give some props for that. Chakotay is finally given something to do other than stand around like a cardboard cut out of himself or get fooled by yet another double agent. I did not buy into his lovey dovey speech about the sheer wonderfulness of the Federation, but I do not buy into any of the kazon junk, either, so it balances out in the end. Typical VOY.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The 37s"

“The 37s" serves as the second season premiere. It was intended to be the first part of a two part first season finale/second season premiere, but was held over by UPN as a cost cutting measure and then reduced to a single episode. I can see how its theme would have served better as a season finale, particularly considering the final act, and it does feel awkward as the starting point for the sophomore effort. Then again, much of the second season is awkward. Expect to see lots of reasons why the kazon were unpopular villains, loads of techno babble, and Kenneth Biller and Jeri Taylor cutting loose with enough mediocre writing talent to send Michael Piller packing for the sake of his career.

The first thing to note about “The 37s” is how much it feels like a TOS episode in concept. I am not so much referring to how early episodes of TNG emulated TOS with cheap sets, save for one glaring bit, and godlike aliens testing humanity’s worthiness. Voyager may be trying to save a few bucks, but the special effects are quite good and the alien menace--if you can even call it that--sets up a dilemma that the theme for which VOY cries out. But there are so many things which are illogical and/or underwhelming.

While cruising through space, the ship finds a 1957 Ford truck floating about. The discovery brings back memories of a flying Abraham Lincoln or a giant hand holding the original Enterprise still. But VOY cannot help but bring in the 24th century staple of the crew being unfamiliar with elements from Earth’s past which are not all that different from their contemporary stuff. In this case, they only have the vaguest impression what a truck is, what an engine is, what a key is, and what a radio is. The worst is Torres, who forever establishes her reputation as an idiot by not being able to identify the dried manure in the truck bed without her tricorder. There is a definite metaphor there for reviewing this show.

Fortunately, Torres is in good company when it comes to intelligence. While fiddling with the truck’s radio, Tom picks up an SOS the crew decides to follow to a planet with a turbulent atmosphere they cannot scan through to the surface. Look at this for a moment. They find a truck floating in space. There is no reasonable explanation for it being there. When searching the truck, they conveniently find a reason to go to a planet they cannot scan to find out what is on the surface. This scenario not only looks like a trap, it is the equivalent of a trout not questioning why there is a worm under the water with a hook sticking out of it. Like the trout, Janeway bites.

Here is the kicker. They cannot use the transporter because of the atmosphere. Ditto the shuttlecrafts. They have no clue where either will wind up if they do. So the solution is…land the entire ship. For no other excuse than it has not been done in the series thus far. If it is too dangerous to take a shuttlecraft down, thereby risking a pilot, why is it better to risk killing everyone? Is there not a Prime Directive issue here, too? The only thing they know about this planet is they have 400 year old trucks and use Morse code. That sounds like a pre-warp civilization. But Janeway mentally flips her Prime directive coin and decides to say screw it, as she does about fifty percent of the time.

On the planet, the away team finds an underground chamber with five people in suspended animation. After a minor debate, they decide to revive them, particularly once janeway identifies missing aviator Amelia Earhart among them. Chacotay advises only humans be present when the people are revived, so naturally Kes with her pointy ears is the one standing by to flip the switch. No shock value there.

Long story short: aliens known as the Briori abducted 300 people in 1937 to use as slave labor. The humans eventually revolted, so the defeated Brioni fled. For whatever reason, the five discovered in the chamber were never revived. The humans assumed they were dead and kept them there as part of a shrine. In the ensuing 400 years, they built a thriving civilization in which they invite the crew to live in.

Here is where that glaring budget busting move stands out. The leader of the settlement invites the crew to see their magnificent cities which everyone raves over before and after seeing them. But we do not get to see them at all. It is the equivalent of a character telling us how amusing it is to watch a bear juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle just off screen is, but never showing it. Even Doctor Who in its cheapest days would offer up a matte painting. But the episode blew its budget on that pointless landing sequence, so that is what we are stuck with. It is a bad trade off.

Perhaps even more implausible is the decision with which the crew is faced. Do they stay or go/ surprisingly, janeway gives them the choice. She will not be so magnanimous in the future. It is no surprise all the 37s decide to stay, even though you suspect Earhart has unbearable urge to travel through space. The surprising point is that no one on Voyagerdecides to stay. Just last episode, four Maquis declared they would rather spend 75 years in the brig than serve Starfleet. At the very least, one would expect a few crewmembers to be intimidated by a journey that long. They are asking for one heck of a case of cabin fever. Yet they all stay. It is too hokey. At least a few should have stayed behind. Realistically, it is the last, best chance of experiencing a little piece of Earth while they are young enough to build a life for themselves.

So what we have is the crew conducting themselves in as dumb a manner as possible, the production staff making poor creative decisions in what to show and hide, and an implausible resolution. A fairly typical VOY episode. Even the theme of Janeway deeply admiring Earhart as an aviation pioneer is glossed over. I do not know id expanding to two episodes would have improved matters, but as it is, “The 37s” is underwhelming. A good idea, but handled in a far too lukewarm manner.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Learning Curve"

“Learning Curve” is the first season finale, although it was not originally intended to be such. Four episodes were held over for the second season. They included what was to be a season finale with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the second season premiere. The finale was condensed into one episode and lead off the second season. It had its own problems I will address tomorrow. For now, appreciate this sad combination; not since the 1988 writers strike reduced TNG’s second season to a clip show has a Trek season ended on such a poor note, but “Learning Curve” remains the highest rated season finale of VOY’s run. Lots of fans saw the massive failure and headed for the hills, never to return.

I am going to be as charitable as possible here. The idea behind “Learning Curve” is a decent one. Several Maquis crewmembers are growing increasingly insubordinate, so Janeway orders Tuvok to give them a crash course in what it means to be part of Starfleet. This being television, not only does it work, but Tuvok learns to bend the rules like a Maquis during a real crisis and saves the life of a Maquis in doing so, so everyone conveniently bonds. The episode is an effort to demonstrate how the Starfleet and Maquis crew are integrating. Considering how much the friction between the two groups will be all but ignored here after, at least we can look back on this for an explanation.

However, the friction between Tuvok and the Maquis is quite pedestrian. Tuvok plays the drill sergeant whipping into shape stereotypical military recruits. You have seen everything that happens here in Full Metal Jacket and An Officer and a Gentleman with far more flair. The problem is not the Maquis. They are, in fact, some of the most real characters the series ever features. Their de facto leader, for instance, joined the Maquis after his girlfriend was gang raped and murdered by Cardassians right after the Federation abandoned his colony. He sees no point in respecting Federation principles under the circumstances. Who could blame him?

The problem is Tuvok. I have nothing against Tim Russ as an actor, but he plays drill Instructor Tuvok so boringly dry, you have no problem seeing why he cannot get through to the Maquis. Indeed, they only begin listening to Tuvok on the basest level because Chacotay slaps one of them around until he acquiesces. Rather than building up took as an interesting character, he is demeaned by it. It is worse in hindsight when we learn later took is miffed he was passed over for First Officer in favor of Chakotay solely because Janeway did not think he could keep the Maquis in line like Chakotay could.

What really kills the episode is the B-atory of a bacteria infecting some of the buogel thingamabobs that help power the ship. If your are keeping count, they qualify as the third essential energy source the ship needs to operate. They are also the third that if fail, everyone dies. Yet the energy crisis is not so much they cannot run the holodeck, which happens three times--Janeway’s I can care for children without killing them fantasy, a training exercise for the Maquis, and tom’s pool hall. The worst part is the bacteria wafts through the ventilation system because of steam from Neelix’s cooking. So he nearly kills them all with his food without the crew ever taking a bite. This after a fairly solid Neelix-centric episode, too.

“Learning Curve” has VOY sputtering across the first season finish line on nothing but fumes. Ironic, considering fumes from Neelix’s cheese concoction nearly kills everyone on board when life support systems start failing with those biogel thingies falling over dead. As a regular episode, it is an average effort centered on a not so popular character. Hardly any main cast member gets more than a couple lines outside Tuvok. Only one of the Maquis characters will appear again, so building them up only to drop them later is strange. What you have is a filler episode which sticks out like a sore thumb because it became the season finale. One would expect more.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Jetrel"

“Jetrel’ is VOY’s attempt to have its own version of DS9’s ”Duet.” In that episode, a low level Cardassian soldier once assigned to a forced labor camp poses as a war criminal in order to be punished for atrocities committed there even though he had no control over them. But he need the guilt over his helplessness in the face of those war crimes alleviated. It is one of my favorite DS9 episodes. ’Jetrel” is a noble effort, but makes two major missteps which keep it from being little more than a decent episode of the series.

Voyager is contacted by the Haakonians, a race that was at war with the Talaxians fifteen years ago. A scientist, Jetrel, wishes to see Neelix immediately. Neelix refuses. Jetrel is the inventor of a weapon of mass destruction called the Metreon Cascade. The Metreon Cascade was used on the moon orbiting talaxia. It killed 300,000 people, including all of Neelix’s family. Jetrel insists Neelix may be infected by Metreon radiation sickness. If so, he will die without Jetrel’s help.

Emotions run high as Jetrel and Neelix confront the consequences of their respective roles in the war. Jetrel is blustery at first, maintaining that use of the Cascade was a military decision, not his. All he did was make the discovery of how to use metroen. It was inevitable someone would have done so if not him. His changes his tune quickly, however, when confronted with the loss of Neelix’s family. A part of Jtrel died the day the Cascade was used. His own wife thought he was a monster. Jtrel has the deaths of 300,000 people on his conscience with no way to salve his guilt.

Neelix has his own truth he is hiding. He is not only angry over his family’s deaths, but at himself. He is a draft dodger. When he was called to military service, he ran off because he thought the war was unjust, but he was terribly afraid of dying. Had he reported for duty, he would have been on the moon and died with his family. So he faces anger over his cowardice and survivor’s guilt.

If the episode had stuck with these two themes and allowed the two characters to come to terms with their pain, “Jetrel” might have been a classic. But for whatever reason, that just would not have been enough for the powers that be. They blew the resolution of both characters’ stories.

Jetrel lied about Neelix being sick. He only wanted to travel back to the moon in order to attempt to clean up the after effects of the Cascade. His attempt fails. The disappointment of his failure exasperates his own radiation poisoning. He only has a short time left to live himself. Neelix opts to forgive him, for whatever that is worth, because he made a noble effort to clean up his mess. That is completely unnecessary from a dramatic standpoint. The writers took what had been a compelling emotional conflict and resolved it with a techno babble solution that is enough to convince all parties to smooth things over even though it failed. Every bit of what makes the episode good is deflated in the final five minutes.

But that is not the worse bit. That distinction belongs to Kes and Neelix’s discussion when he reveals to her he dodged the draft and, had he not, he would have died with his family. Neelix freely admits he did not support the war because he did not think it was right, but also confesses his cowardice. Kes, whom I will give credit for attempting to be comforting, ignores his admission of cowardice and instead says he did the right thing for standing up for his beliefs. Well, no, he did not. He just admitted he was really just too scared to go to war. He wound up getting his wish by surviving, but at the cost of his family.

The problem is the episode judges Jetrel for his work on creating the cascade, but does not judge Neelix for shirking his military duties. The idea Neelix is beating himself up over survivor’s guilt is presented as a bad thing. He is the victim here of an unjust war war and a scientist who created the weapon that ended it. Neelix gets to be the big man in the end by forgiving Jetrel, and there is not any sense he does any thing but accept kes’ insistence he has had the moral high ground ever since he avoided the war in the first place. Never mind that he had previously told kes and the Voyager crew he was a war veteran.

“Jetrel” introduces a problem that is going to plague VOY often in it moral dilemma episodes--there is only one right answer to the dilemma. In “Jetrel,” we learn war is bad, and anyone associated with fighting one is also bad. We are not left with any details of the war in question. We only know that Tallax surrendered after the Cascade was used and is now under the control of the Haakonians. We are not given any details about who was the aggressor, if anyone, or what the war was even about. Only that Neelix thought it was unjust. All we have to go by is the word of a self-professed draft dodger who was too scared to fight in it. However, since no one previously judged him for the claim he was a veteran, how wrong could Tallax have been for fighting it?

The resolution diminishes the story as a whole, but the emotional conflict between Neelix and Jetrel is wonderful while it lasts. Neelix is not often presented as more than comic relief, and annoying comic relief at that, but there is much potential evident in him here. Why his emotional pain had to be lifted immediately off him is beyong me. A lost opportunity, that.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Faces"

If you believe I have been too harsh in my criticism of VOY, take heart. “Faces” is the best episode of the first season, and I give credit where credit is due. But I am also honest. Being the best episode of VOY’s first season is like being the smartest kid in remedial math. Faint praise is still praise, right? It is a Kenneth Biller script, too,. Kudos are in very limited supply when he pens the story.

“Faces” is largely a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hhyde allegory in which Torres has a conflict between her human and Klingon halves--literally. When she, Tom, and Durst are captured by Vidiians while surveying a planet, she is literally split into two beings when the head Vidiian surgeon suspects klingon DNA may be resistant to the Phage that is ravaging his planet. Torres’ Klingon and human halves retain nothing of the other. Klingon Torres is aggressive and has a raging temper with no patience to control her fiery emotions. Human Torres is rational, but terribly meek and prone to crippling bouts of fear. While Human Torres is glad to be rid of her Klingon half, she comes to realize she needs it in order to be the person she normally is. She reaches this conclusion in an interesting campfire discussion between her halves after they have temporarily escaped.

Roxann Dawson is a very pretty woman without her Klingon forehead ridges:Dawson does a fantastic job essentially playing three characters; Klingon Torres, human Torres, and Torres. Each has distinct characteristics. The way she plays the former two, you finally see how complex Torres is. She has not had much character development this season. Considering that she will be relegated to chief engineer’s techno babble throughout much of the series, we will not get to see dawson’s acting muscles stretched all that often. Get it while you can.

While we are on the subject of expanding characters, the Vidiians come across here as a much more sinister menace than the scavenging lepers they were in their first appearance. “Faces” has them imprisoning members of other delta Quadrant races to use as slave labor in order to power their laboratory. When the slaves can no longer work, they are killed for their organs. It is clear they have descended much further morally in carrying out actions they need to do in order to survive. They are frightening, no only for their horribly deformed appearance, but because humanity would most certainly resort to the same tactics if such a disease threatened to wipe us out. The barbarism is as unsettling as the prospect of the disease itself.

The Vidiian surgeon, Sulan, provides one of my favorite VOY moments. He has Klingon Torres strapped to an operating table so he can observe her reaction to the phage. Iit is clear he has an admiration for her strength that borders on sexual attraction. She senses it, too, and plays him in an effort to be released from her bonds. Sulan resists because of his grotesque appearance, but returns to her later--with durst’s face grafted onto his. Sulan surmises she will feel more comfortable with his new appearance. His rationale is so warped, yet earnest, it is an inspired moment.

You knew when I said Torres, Tom, and some guy named durst were kidnapped that he was not going to be long for this galaxy, right? If not, you have not watched much Trek.

Everyone manages to escape when the two halves of Torres drop the force field keeping Voyager from beaming the prisoners away. Sulan accidentally kills Klingon Torres as she takes a pgasor blast meant for her human half. The doctor can replicate her Klingon DNA, which she needs to survive, so there is the Magic Reset Button. But torres learns more about herself and why she is the way she is, so the end is not precisely status quo.

“Faces” has a major logical flaw. Namely, if the Vidiians have technology advanced enough to split people into two distinct beings, way can they not do that and have all the healthy organs they need? Certainly, doing so creates the moral dilemma of cloning a person solely to kill them for spare parts, but that is less of a moral issue than kidnapping, enslaving, and them murdering regular people for their organs. It is a logical flaw that is never addressed.

No matter. “Faces” has enough positive aspects to more than make up for this flaws. Had the show done more exploration of personal conflicts and developed villains to be as compelling as the Vidiians are here, VOY would be remembered far more fondly. “Faces” is the first four star VOY episode because it not only features all the elements I have talked about above, but adds a slam bang action sequence with the final rescue. Normally, VOY has a hard enough time doing any one of those elements correctly.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Cathexis"

I have made no secret I do not care much for VOY on its best days, so brace yourselves for the following review. “Cathexis,” which means investing mental or emotional energy into a person or thing, is the worst episode of the first season. Fortunately because of a wide field of competition, it is not one of the worst of the series as a whole, but it is darn close. The problem, near as I can tell, is a common one for VOY--Brannon Braga cannot write a coherent script to save his soul unless he is sleeping with Jeri Ryan, and even then, he is hit and miss.

Chakotay and Tuvok return from a quick shuttle craft mission in a nebula where they are allegedly attacked by an alien vessel. They are both injured. Took only minorly, but Chakotay is brain dead because all of his neural energy has been drained. The doctor keeps him on life support until he can figure out what to do. Unfortunately, there is a bigger problem of an energy being having been brought back with them that bounces from person to person in order to take over the ship and guide it towards the nebula. When a person has been inhabited, he or she has no memories of his or her actions.

What you have there is a formula for a claustrophobic story of paranoia wherein Starfleet and Maquis distrust for one another ought to flare up as the crew attempts to restore control of the ship with the understanding any one of them could be sabotaging the effort at any moment without knowing it. At least you would have that if anyone other than Braga was writing the script.

I am not being mean here, honest. “Cathexis” is famous for a behind the scenes struggle between Michael Piller and Braga. Piller is about the only member of the production staff who remembered the Starfleet and Maquis crew do not trust each other. Therefore, it would be good drama to exploit that distrust. Braga, adamantly holding on to his TNG philosophy of no conflict between perfect 24th century humans, glossed over that aspect of the plot to give us a disjointed sequence of events with an absolutely ridiculous resolution. Piller and braga would continue to have these disagreements all throughout the second season until Piller threw his hands up in the air and left the series. I will have lots more about that over the next month.

For now, look at the problems with “Cathexis.” The episode begins with an irrelevant teaser in which Janeway is being hired as a Victorian era governess for a widower’s children. Other than hinting part of laneway’s mental/emotional problems stem from self-loathing of her childless spinster status, it means absolutely nothing to the rest of the episode. Now does Chakotay’s brain dead status until the very end. While the energy being is quickly established as controlling people in order to pilot the ship, the potential element of identifying who might be under its control at any given time is moot. The alien is in Tuvok the whole time. When other crewmembers have sabotaged the ship, it has been--wait for it--Chakotay’s mind invading theirs in order to stop the ship’s flight into the nebula.

How is this possible? Native American spiritualism is the ambiguous answer. It is left so ambiguous, the viewer is left to wonder why Chakotay could not inhabit his own body instead of everyone ele’s. it is not like the story is more interesting when he has bounced into Torres or Neelix. The question of why he cannot go back into his own body is completely ignored for the sake of a plot device which is eye-rollingly bad in the first place. Only Braga could have thought something like that was a good idea.

Why does the Doctor not recognize Chakotay's brain wave pattern in the scans of inhabited crewmembers Why does Chakotay not inhabit Tuvok directly and stop him? Or inhabit anyone near something to write with and explain things? Who knows? It is a Braga script.

The energy being is one of many which live in the nebula. They want the crew to enter the nebula so they can each have a mind to inhabit. There is still no explanation why one did not inhabit Chakotay like Tuvok. You know--two heads are better than one? So why he wound up brain dead is anyone’s guess. Chakotay’s floating essence saves the day, so I guess that is all that matters.

For some peculiar reason, Janeway sports a different hairstyle in the third act from the one worn during the other four. Perhaps when she needs to think, she does her hair in order to focus her mind. I try not to pile on about production mistakes such as the wrong number of pips on a crewmember’s collar and such, but that one is pitifully glaring. In an episode so poorly thought out and executed, the error stands out even more.

Skip "Cathexis.” You will only be disappointed by the combination of failed potential to develop characterizations when everyone mistrusts each other and marvel that yet again the geniuses flying Voyager have encountered yet another geographic mark in space that turns out to be an alien. Subtract points for making the same mistake in back to back episodes, much less for the third time in thirteen. I would subtract more points for Chakotay and Tuvok being attacked by the alien in back to back episodes, too, but I am feeling strangely charitable right now.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Heroes and Demons"

Let us get the most obvious question out of the way first. As I have asked a number of times in TNG and DS9 reviews, why does a show about space and all its infinite possibilities need to rely on a holodeck for stories? It is particularly baffling for VOY because this show is supposed to feature the unfamiliar in order to emphasize the stranger in a strange land aspect that is supposed to be the main idea. Alas, it should not be too baffling, because “Heroes and Demons” recycles the same plot from a few episodes back in “The Cloud” as the catalyst for the tried and true holodeck malfunction. If the VOY writers are already repeating plots before the first season is even complete, then a holodeck malfunction story sounds like a quaint bit of incompetence.

The saving grace is Robert Picardo. He is by far the best actor on the series. Up until now, the doctor has been relegated to medical emergencies when the stories allow, and comic relief when they do not. Even in those relatively limited capacities, the spark is there that prompts everyone to know his role must be expanded. Here he gets to play the hero. There is some comedy and even romance thrown into the mix. It is a combination that makes ‘Heroes and Dragons” far better than it ought to be.

The ship is still suffering energy troubles. Torres discovers a smattering of potonic energy floating in space and beams some of it aboard for use. Unbeknownst to anyone, the potonic energy is a living being who decides to take revenge for Torres imprisoning part of it by invading Harry’s holodeck program--energy crisis or no, they run the holodeck, darn it-- and turn him into pure energy. So Hard Luck Harry is back again. This time with two minutes worth of screen time and three lines in the final act.

Chakotay and Tuvok go into the holodeck to search for Harry, but they are converted into energy as well. The only person who can safely enter the holodeck is the Doctor. He is both nervous and excited about his first away mission. He displays a charm that his arrogant demeanor has not as of yet--that of being out of his element, yet determined not to let Jasneway down. The two have forged a mutual respect for one another. Janeway may be a total psychopath, but she is the first command officer to treat the Doctor properly. I give her credit for that.

Harry, Chakotay, and Tuvok are trapped within a recreation of the 6th century epic poem Beowolf. It has been about eighteen years since I read the poem back in high school, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the recreation beyond getting the characters’ names correct. Nevertheless, the production values of the setting and the doctor’s fish out of water reaction to both awkward social situations and genuine danger is great. The energy being has taken on the role of the monster Grendel.

It is outside the holodeck where Torress and Tom figure out the potonic energy is an intelligent being. They charge the doctor with a first contact mission to convince the energy being they meant no harm and have freed the rest of it. Hopefully, the gesture will convince the energy being to let the captured crew go. The doctor runs into the obstacle of an overzealous Unferth who momentarily steals the container holding the piece of the energy being after killing Freya, the king’s daughter. The doctor gets the container back and convinces the energy being of his good intentions, so Harry, Chakotay, and Tuvok are returned.

“heroes and demons” is plagued by unoriginality which drags down any part of it which does not focus directly on the Doctor. But when the episode does focus on him, it is great. Even outside the holodeck recreation, you get a real sense of emotional connection between Kes and him, almost hinting at love, and his desire to not let Janeway down. Inside the holdeck , it is an adventure the Doctor faces with an awkward charm. He still does not know how to really deal with people, even if they are holograms like himself, and he is totally unprepared for the romantic moves of Freya or her death. It all happens quickly, but does not feel rushed thanks to Picardo’s acting skills. Watch “Heroes and Demons” for him. There is no other reason.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"State of Flux"

“State of Flux” is the episode in which Seska is revealed as a traitor. It is not a bad episode in spite of a lack of emotion and mystery, but it mostly earns it high marks for expanding story possibilities for future episodes. The crew has made a new, recurring enemy in the Delta Quadrant--one that burns at Chakotay personally.

A large away team is gathering fruit and vegetables on a planet when Voyager accidentally discovers a Kazon ship hiding in the atmosphere. The away team quickly assembles in order to beam off world only to discover seska is missing. Chakotay goes off to look for her. He finds her in a nearby cave where it appears she is hiding from a team of Kazons. Ship and crew all get away safely.

The Kazon ship is later discovered severely damaged with only one crewmember still alive. An explosion was caused by a failed attempt to integrate Federation technology into the ship. Took runs through the possibilities that it is not Federation technology, Federation technology stolen from another Starfleet ship stranded in the Delta Quadrant, or from a traitor on board Voyager.

As a notorious nitpicker, I have to note two things. The Kazon were attempting to integrate a replicator into their ship. Janeway told them the first time they met, after the kazon wanted the device that creates water, the replicators are not separate devices and cannot be removed from the ship. But for the sake of argument, let us say they can. Would it not be easy to find out if one was missing? I guess took is assuming the last possibility is so obvious, there is no need to, you know…look.

I have already blown the fact Seska is the traitor, but I have not really blown anything. There is only a brief moment in the second act in which Carey is introduced as a possible suspect that Seska is not the obvious culprit. The Kazon are using a Maquis tactic to hide in orbit. Seska is with the Kazon in the cave. She is the only crewmember to have never given a blood sample. When the blood sample turns up abnormal, she has an excuse--a childhood disease. She beams over to the Kazon ship to either cover her tracks, or attempt to clear her name, depending on how sympathetic you re to a love struck Chakotay. There is virtually nothing that points to Carey, so where is the mystery?

Or the emotional impact? “State of Flux” is the first hint we get that Seska and Chakotay were an item. Her betrayal would have been much more powerful if we had any hints of their romance before now. I cannot entirely dismiss the impact as it is, even if Robert Beltran is more wooden than a log cabin. But the real impact comes from the reveal of Seska’s motivation. She thinks Janeway is an idiot for destroying the array and refusing to steal the warp technology to get them home. At the very least, she ought to be forging alliances, which is what Seska was attempting to do by giving over the replicators. Seska has a logical argument. She is also proof not everyone on the ship may be willing to quietly accept their fate.

Martha Hackett plays Seska to the hilt. She turns from a passive bajoran engineer to a conniving, sneering Cardassian on a dime once she is exposed. As makes quite a memorable villain in her subsequent appearances, though I seem to recall a abrupt end to her story. It has been fifteen years since I have seen those episodes. Things will become clearer to me later.

Seska manages to elevate “State of Flux” above it flaws. Her betrayal could have been hidden much better for much longer, and her twisting the knife between Chakotay’s shoulders would have been more poignant if we had known for more than two commercial breaks he was in love with her. Nevertheless, the episode does not deserve a bad score due to lukewarm set up. It definitely has its merits.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Prime Factors"

After a string of bad episodes, VOY comes through with something worthwhile. Do not let the four writers attached to the script, a sign of massive rewrites, fool you. “Prime Factors” takes the standard trek moral dilemma and presents it in a fresh, new way.

The crew is offered shore leave on a planet populated by epicurean pleasure seekers. Unlike past paradises of this nature presented in Trek, it is not a fourteen year old virgin’s wet dream of half naked women ready to make love at a moment’s notice, but a literate society that appreciates beauty and culture. Janeway accepts their hospitality. While vacationing there, Harry discovers warp technology that might transport the ship as far as 40,000 light years, thereby cutting forty years off their journey. Garth, an authority figure of some sort, refuses to allow the crew to have it out of fear it could be misused.

Garth’s refusal turns Federation ethics on its ear in a way 24th century Trek rarely has. His rationale that use of the technology for another other than recreational travel would violate his people’s beliefs. For them, it is a Prime Directive-- use it for personal pleasure, or do not use it all. Janeway has finally run into someone as rigid about rules as she is, but she is entirely willing to give up. She offers the entire library of Earth literature, recipes, etc in exchange for the technology. Garth still refuses, but one of his subordinates is so intrigued at the prospect of gaining the literary output of a planet, he covertly offers Harry the warp technology in exchange for the library.

In a sign the crew has well bonded with one another, Starfleet and Maquis alike whisper they should make the deal even though Janeway has accepted defeat over the issue. Garth will not budge, so there is no recourse. A group of conspirators, including Torres, Casey, and Seska, are joined by Tuvok in making the exchange. However, the technology is not compatible with Starfleet equipment and has to be destroyed before it causes a warp core breach. The conspirators own up to what they have done rather than cover it up.

She lets them all off with a warning, but is deeply wounded by took’s apparent betrayal more than the threat of a Maquis coup. She has trusted took to be her moral compass--take a minute to absorb that one, folks--and now doubts she can. I actually sympathize with how alone she must feel at the end.

I also have to say “Prime Factors” is much better as a standalone episode without knowledge of future episodes. Over the next six and a half years, Janeway will resort to all sorts of immoral acts of brutality and theft, often robbing her own crewmembers of self-determination, in order to achieve ends she deems necessary. Virtually all these future actions will be far more morally questionable than making a fair trade behind the back of a political leader who is uncooperative for no logical reason.

But block all that out of your mind and appreciate that Tuvok decided it would be a logical thing to take part in a coup to take technology that might eventually get the crew home in order to spare Janeway the anguish of making the choice to go along with the covert exchange or suffer the guilt of extending the journey home by forty years. He did the wrong thing, but for the right reasons.

What is bad is there is no progression (regression?) of Janeway’s moral stance as the show goes on on what she will do to get the crew home. As a narrative, it would be compelling to see her eventually come around to the kind of captain who would make a different moral choice as she becomes a harder, more desperate person. Instead, as I have said before, she will flip a mental coin to decide between rigid extremes no rational person would choose. But the possibilities of more intelligent choices introduced by ‘prime Factors” make it a very good episode.

As does Seska’s involvement in the coup. It has yet to be revealed, but she is a Cardassian who was spying on the Maquis. In hindsight, she is clearly exhibiting Cardassian ends justifies the means philosophy by her involvement in the coup. Voyager is not known for its subtlety in writing, but that is a nice touch.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Emanations"

“Emanations” is the first Harry-centric episode. As such, it establishes his reputation as Hard Luck Harry, the guy everything bad that could possibly happen, happens. The motif is almost as prominent as his underlying sexual confusion, though I chalk that problem up to poor writing. We will explore that later. “Emanations” also explores the eternally important question of what happens after death. But since the script is written by Brannon Braga, it is quite underwhelming.

Harry discovers what may be a new element on a remote asteroid. When an away team beams down to investigate, they find themselves in the middle of a burial ground. The alien corpses emit the new elements as part of their decomposition process. Chakotay urges not to disturb the tomb because they do not understand the funeral rituals of this species. Janeway agrees, but before they can leave, a flash of energy sweeps over the away team as they beam up. Harry disappears and a female corpse appears in his place on the transporter pad.

Harry finds himself banging on the lid of a coffin. Fortunately, it is at the funeral, so there are plenty of people there to let him out. These aliens are the Unori. They now believe Harry has come back from the dead,.. Therefore they are keen to find out what the afterlife is all about. They are disappointed to learn the afterlife is an asteroid where corpses are dumped.

Equally disappointed is Ptera, the woman who replaced Harry on Voyager. In spite of her previous decision to leave the corpses alone, Janeway allows the doctor to cure the woman’s terminal disease and bring her back from the dead. She is disappointed to learn her afterlife is a federation starship commanded by Janeway. On the bright side, now the Unori have a concept of hell. The devil, too, if you are not a Janeway fan.

Meanwhile, Harry has to stay at the funeral/home/science lab/suicide center to protect him from everyone who has a stake in their interpretation of the afterlife which he has just ruined. There he meets Hatil, a disabled man who is going to kill himself in order to spare his family the burden of caring for him. He was expecting the afterlife to be wonderful compared to current situation. Thanks to Harry, he now suffers skepticism.

That is all the set up we have for the exploration of death and the afterlife. Ptera is disappointed she is not a happy spirit living with her loved ones. Hatil he is going to wind up plopped unceremoniously on a remote asteroid as a reward for putting up with his selfish family. Harry is frustrated because he cannot answer the Unori’s questions about what lies beyond., and everyone is mad at him because their beliefs in the afterlife have been destroyed by his arrival.

The resolutions to all thissues is a dud. Torres comes up with a way to beam ptera out during one of those energy dumpings of corpses. Unfortunately, it does not work, and it kills her. Without the slightest fanfare, I might add. Harry and hatil arrange to secretly switch places so harry can be sent to the asteroid while Hatil runs off to hide in the mountains away from his selfish family. Wait..if he can live alone, why is he a burden to his family? There is a Braga script for you. In the end, no one is satisfied with how events wound up because the afterlife, if it exists, is still undefined.

I do not anticipate a random episode of a science fiction series to offer up answers to unknowable questions. Even the most faithful religious peple have doubts about what happens when they die. Any who tell you otherwise are being dishonest. But if an episode is going to explore a profound issue like belief in the afterlife, it ought to pick a perspective and deal with it. “Emanations” cannot decide on anything. Janeway agrees disturbing the burial site is wrnong, then has a corpse revived. When the corpse returns to lifwe, she is so upset, she is willing to risk death in order to escape. She does die, but without any real sense of closure. Hatil believes the afterlife is going to be great, then hauls off to become a hermit when he learns from harry it is not. Harry cannot figure out anything regarding life after death to suit anyone.

If there is a point to any of that, I missed it. I am not even certain if hatil’s situation with his family’s reaction to his disability is supposed to be a comment on euthanasia because it is presented so dryly. The episode is completely devoid of emotion by all parties. The closest we get is ptera, who is so mad to not see her long dead brother, she wants to go home and everyone who told her the afterlife was paradise a piece of her mind. Even the crew is cold. Harry is tom’s only real friend, but we get no reaction whatsoever from him over his loss. The crew has no idea how to recover harry, either. He just has a flash to go through the energy flash transport to see if it works. They are ready to leave withot him within a matter of hours.

A better, more focused writer than Braga probably could have done something with an idea like tis. There will be subsequent episodes dealing with faith and death which deal with those issues far better than ‘Emanations.” in fact, I suspect those episodes are intended to make up for the mistake that is “Emanations.” Do not look to this one for any profound exploration of life after death questions.

Fans of The X-Files can look for Jerry Hardin , Deep Throat himself, playing a brief role as a scientist. The X-Files Now there was a show worth reviewing.

Rating: * (out of 5)