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)

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