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)

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