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)

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