Monday, June 6, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Caretaker"

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen. The first Star Trek: Voyager review. This show has been constantly requested since last July. Commence with the wetting of pants. Way back in the ancient days of 1995, I was not wetting my breeches, but I was anticipating VOY. I had been a fan of TNG. By this point, I was hooked on DS9, too. The latter was becoming and still remains my all time favorite trek. The prospect of a prime time Trek series was thrilling. The premise that the ship was going to be stranded far away from the Federation space promised a return to the premise of the exploration of strange new worlds and civilizations. It was to be a refreshing change from the alien politics that had bogged down the other series set in the 24th century.

It really did not work out that way, but I will give credit to ’Caretaker” for at least well establishing the premise and introducing the characters in decent fashion. I suspect much of the credit is due to Michael Piller for co-writing the teleplay. Piller is the man who reversed course on TNG for its third season and beyond after gene Roddenberry’s drinking buddy Maurice Hurley moved on to master thespian David Hasselhoff and the bouncing boobs of Baywatch. The script is not without its flaws, mostly due to characters acting illogically in ways necessary to set up the dynamics of a crew stranded a 75 year journey to home, but it holds promise.

The episode begins with a short scrawl explaining who the Maquis. Savor the introduction, because it is about all you are going to get. The maquis were introduced and developed in TNG and DS9 specifically so VOY would not have to flesh out their story, and by heavens, VOY took the favor to heart. If the opening scrawl reminds you of Star Wars, so, too, will the attack on a Maquis ship by a Cardassian warship. The Sci Fi Channel had launched with Star Wars three years earlier. I guess UPN wanted to get in on the act. In an attempt to evade the Cardassian waR SHIP, THE Maquis enter an unstable region of space called the Badlands and disappear in some sort of storm.

Next, we are introduced to Kathryn Janeway visiting a penal colony in New Zealand. Up until this oint, we have heard there is no crime, poverty, or war on Earth, so one wonders where the penal colony fits in. Perhaps all trouble makers are sent there as a way of suppressing dissent. You know, the appearance of utopia is utopia. Considering jane way is here to recruit Tom Paris, a screw up former Starfleet officer who joined the maquis only to be captured on his first mission, the idea of keeping misfits out of sight in prisons is not all that implausible. Welcome to the enlightened Federation.

Janeway is the captain of the newly commissioned starship Voyager. She is going after the Maquis ship the Maquis and needs Tom’s assistance, as he was an absolute failure as one on his first mission and is therefore an expert on them. Or something like that. He agrees, but gets the cold shoulder from every member of the crew when he arrives on board, save for Harry Kim. Harry is green around the gills with this being his fresh out of the academy mission. He probably does not know any better.

Stop for a moment here and ask yourself why Janeway, who is urgent to find the maquis, leaves her ship docked at DS9, travels all the way to earth and back just to recruit Tom? Why not have him brought to VOY and ask him there? That way she would not have wasted the time on a return trip. The fact tom was already there might make him more agreeable to join her, too. It is the first of many instances in which janeway makes some inexplicably strange decisions. Call it a nitpick if you wish, but it is telling the pattern of Janeway’s warped way of thinking is evident even in her first appearance.

Cut to the action: Voyager hit’s the Badlands and is caught up in the storm, too. The ship winds up near an array 75,000 light years from Earth. Half the crew did not survive the violent transport, including their Chief Medical Officer. Worse yet, Janeway’s hair got mussed, so someone is going to have to pay. The surviving crew is transported to a holographic representation of--what else?--a Midwest hoe down. No telling where the caretaker, which is the entity that brought them there, got the image from, but it bears zero resemblance to anything in the real Midwest.

The crew disrupts the hologram enough to discover they are all really strapped onto medical beds in the array. Experiments are performed on Torres, one of the maquis, and Harry. It is the first in a long line of hard luck for Harry. In an unintentional bit of humor, Torres has a long needle jammed into her stomach, causing her to grit and her teeth and grunt. When a similar needle enters harry’s stomach, he screams like a little girl. Also indicative of much of what is to come from Harry.

The rest of the crew is returned to Voyager with three days of time and Harry missing. Hailing the Maquis ship, they discover Torres missing from, too. The two crews agree to temporarily put aside their differences to find their missing crew and get home. Transporting over to Voyager, Chakotay, the Maquis leader, learns Tuvok, one of his loyal lieutenants, is a spy working for Janeway. He is not thrilled to see to, either, whom he now considers a three time failure.

Nevertheless, they all go looking for aliens called the Ocampa, whom the Caretaker has been watching over. Along the way they run into a junkyard owner named Neelix who offers to help, but is actually conning them into confronting an alien race called the Kazon in order to rescue his sugar plum, Kes. Janeway is going to trade water to the Kazon in exchange for revealing the location of the Ocampa. Instead, Neelix opens up a firefight when he is certain he can safely recover Kes.

Do appreciate the stupidity of it all. Janeway meets an alien she has no clue about, trusts him enough to let him lead them to a planet of aliens she knows nothing about, and gives him a phaser for good measure. While you are attempting to absorb the sheer number of mistakes there, take some time to wonder how a space faring race like the Kazon do not have the technology to make clean water. But do not think about all this too hard. You will need to save some bewilderment for later when, inspite of it all, Janeway allows Neelix to stay on Voyager in spite of his actions. This is one of the things I meant by illogical actions in order to set up the dynamics. Neelix is supposed to be the break out character. He is a screw up, supposedly to make him more amusing, but he actually comes across as someone you would throw out of an airlock before he gets everyone killed. Yet, he is allowed to stay onboard. Why, I ask you?

Kes is grateful to be saved, so she leads the crew to the Ocampa’s underground city run by the Caretaker. There, they learn the caretaker is dying and looking for a replacement to continue caring for the Ocampa. Torres and Kim, had been there, but deciding they wanted none of that, took the advice of an ocampa who told them there was a staircase exit, but it would take years to find it, and a door to the surface, but it would take heavy equipment to open it. In proof the Ocampa, with the exception of kes, are idiots who cannot use a fork without injuring themselves, not only do Torres and harry find the staircase in a matter of minutes, but so do Janeway, Chakotay, and tom. They are also able to blast the door open with a phaser. Caring for the ocampa must be like playing a never ending game of Lemmindgs

The caretaker is dying, so the whole place is falling apart. Chakotay breaks his leg when part of the staircase collapses. Tom, opts to risk his life to go back and save him under the rationale of an old Indian custom that Chacotay would then owe him his life. The scene could not be more racist if the Ocampa stood behind them doing the war chant and tomahawk chop. I would almost swear Kennth Biller sneaked in and wrote that bit. He is VOY’s on ethnic sensitivity, you know.

The Kazon begin attacking the array. They want to use it as a weapon. Maybe even as a water fountain. Not all their intentions are clear. Chacotay sacrifices the maquis ship in order to stall for time as the Caretaker dies. With him gone, Janeway decides it is her responsibility to protect the Ocampa. Tuvok points out the Prime directive says they should not get involved. Janeway, in the first of many times she will mentally flip a coin to decide whether to follow Federation policy, says screw it and blows up the array so the Kazon cannot use it. Destroying the array strands both Voyager and the Maquis in the Delta Quadrant.

Torres is incensed. She does not recognize Janeway’s authority to make such a decision. Chacotay, noticing which said of the bread his butter is on, says she does because she is the captain. Kissing Janeway’s behind in such a way works. When the crew is merged into one, Chakotay is made second in command. I emphasize the butt kissing as the main catalyst for his cushy appointment because he really was not a prominent character at any point in the episode. Chacotay is the least developed of the main cast in ’Caretaker.” even the EMH is more fleshed out. Then again, Robert Picardo is a fine actor while Robert Baeltran is a cardboard cut out who can memorize dialogue.

Recall again I said characters act illogically in order to keep the dynamic of the show going. Janeway has four option regarding the array. One, she can honor the prime directive and not intervene in the kazon taking it, in which case the crew can use it to get home. Two, she can set a time bomb--surely they can cook one up--to blow up the array after they use it to get home. Three, she can order someone to stay behind, or even stay herself, to destroy the array after the ship has been safely taken home. Finally, she can blow the array up without using it to get home, thereby dooming everyone to stay in the Delta Quadrant for 75 years. It is the fourth option the fruit loop thinks is best--and only Torres calls her on it. As you will see many times over, Janeway makes incredibly stupid decisions, but her crew loves her, anyway.

Yeesh.

In terms of VOY episodes, “Caretaker” is about par. The characters are introduced perfectly as the story in laid out with all tensions well established. The problem is how flawed the characters are. I do not mean fallible. I mean dumb. With her decision making, janeway should not be managing a Dairy Queen, much less a Federation ship. The tension between the Starfleet and Maquis crew evaporates way too quickly, particularly considering it is a Starfleet officer who strands them in the Delta Quadrant. The Kazon are supposed a fearsome enemy, but are stunned at the appearancew of a water filter. Neelix is a liar who nearly gets them all killed, but becomes a member of the crew without having redeemed himself at all. It all just does not fly that well, but since the status quo will keep on rolling for years, at least it is all well established by “Caretaker.”

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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