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)

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