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)

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