Saturday, July 30, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Alter Ego"

There are bad VOY episodes, and then there are VOY episodes that make you embarrassed to admit you watched them. Seriously, have you ever been in a theater watching a bad movie and sank in your seat? The feeling is hard to describe, but it mostly shame of association and the fear your association might encourage someone to make another movie just like it? That is what it feels like to watch a bad VOY episode. Worse, to write a fairly lengthy review may give off the impression it provokes a lot of thought. Ugh. Covering some episodes is a no win scenario, folks.

“Alter Ego” has three of VOY’s biggest stumbling blocks. One, it is a holodeck malfunction story. Two, it is a Hard Luck Harry story with added bonuses--he is in love, but gets dumped and forgotten in the first act. Finally, it is a Tuvok does not understand human emotions, yet knows better than everyone else by the end how to handle them story. If only Janeway had blown off the Prime Directive for the opposite reason she ignored the edict yesterday or killed someone with her bare hands, we could have added Janeway is Awesome and “Alter Ego” would have deserved some kind of special designation like the Golden Sombrero or something. Let us take the three factors in turn.

Why do you even need a holodeck for stories on a series revolving around explorers in outer space? That is a question which should apply to all Star Trek set in the 24th century, but particularly VOY. The series theme is the ship is lost in uncharted, supposedly more exotic than usual space. Show a little imagination. Ort logic, for that matter. So much of the contact with alien species is motivated by respelling drained energy sources. Why, if energy sources are a problem, are you wasting energy on a frivolous virtual reality game? The entire concept not only demonstrates lazy writing, but negates the idea the crew is really struggling to survive in any appreciable way.

Voyager has the added silly issue of running themes with holodeck programs that peter off. First, we had Janeway playing with her Victorian governess/ghost/love story thing that was tied into an episode solely so it could be dropped from the series. For a while, it was tom’s French bar--because tom’s last name is Paris and he once visited France, you see. Later, we will get that Irish town Fairhaven, but for now we are in the middle of the Polynesian Resort Era of holodeck stories. For this episode, that means being strangled with a lei whole crewmates fistfight with belly dancers and flaming torch bearing guys wearing Tiki masks. Do I need to say more? “Alter Ego” takes the holodeck malfunction story and kicks it down a notch. It is almost impressively incompetent.

Hard Luck Harry. I have never met Garret Wang, but I know people who have and I visited his Twitter page where upon he tweets about once every month or so when he is visiting a former member of the VOY cast. From what little I glean from those sources, Wang is playing himself on the series--a decent guy who is in over his head, but propped up by others, either out of friendship or pity. Behind the scenes circumstances will arrive at the beginning of the fourth season which will stymie a perhaps merciful departure for Wang because he will be named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People --good looks have undeservedly launched/saved many a Hollywood career--so I am reluctant to say much now best explored for later. I will hit the specifics here.

Harry crosses over hard into Geordi La Forge territory in “Alter Ego” by falling in love with a holodeck character. Unlike la forge’s experience, Harry gets no real encouragement from the object of his affection, fake though holographic Leah Brahms’ was, gets dumped the first time she meets someone else (Tuvok), and has to seek out therapy because everyone on the ship recognizes what his behavior indicates he is feeling. They have not seen such immature behavior since junior high, but this is a show aimed at fourteen year old virgins. Expectations must be kept reasonable. But Hard Luck Harry is completely dismissed after the first act save for the closing scene with Tuvok. Yes, Hard Luck Harry’s luck is so hard, he is the catalyst for the story, but it is not his story. It is Tuvok’s. so VOY manages to take a hard Luck Harry story and kick it down a notch, too.

We are left with talking about took and his struggle with emotions. While I am only mildly amused at the effort of developing the character, I will recognize said attempt is the only redeeming factor to be found in “Alter Ego.” Unfortunately, that is not saying much. The story is a lot of fluff with a very weak ending the two characters involved, both supposedly highly rational beings, should have eliminated long before anything became a problem.

Voyager stops to study the dampening field around a nebula. It is a slow going, uneventful study, so crewmembers have been spending a lot of time in the Polynesian Resort. Harry has fallen in love with a girl named Marlayna. He cannot handle his feelings for a person who is not real, so he asks took to help him purge himself of the emotion.

Tuvok is a jerk. I have never noticed any dislike for Harry on his part in the past, but there is a definite irritation regarding Harry’s immaturity here. Tuvok, who is playing one of those Vulcan ubergames, dismisses Harry’s comparison of it to chess by saying the game is as much like chess as chess is to tic tac toe. Ouch. In spite of the rudeness, Harry still pours his heart out out his problem to which Tuvok condescendingly points out how every reaction Harry has to Marlayna is a junior high kid with puppy love’s actions. Ouch II, even harder.

Tuvok is ordered by Janeway to relax at a luau where he sees Marlayna playing the Vulcan game. He is intrigued. Harry tucks his tail and runs. We do not see Harry again until the end. Tuvok bonds with Marlayna over ideas and knowledge exchange--or so they think. What they really have is a mutual loneliness. This loneliness becomes evident when the ship attempts to leave the nebula are met with resistance from Marlayna, who has gained control of the ship’s systems via the holodeck. She demands took beams over to a space station hidden within the nebula, or she will destroy Voyager.

On the space station, Tuvok meets the real Marlayna. She is a brilliant woman who finds most people so boring, she volunteered to man this nebula alone so she would not have to deal with social interaction. She secretly studies ships that pass by the nebula. She was kinda hot for Harry a moment, but then she saw Tuvok and recognized a kindred spirit. She is right, in a lot of ways. Tuvok does not like involving himself with his human crewmates. He had to be ordered to go to the luau and while there, was the only one to wear his uniform and refuse a lei. He separates himself from others on purpose, too. But they both desire a companionship unavailable to them seemingly outside each other.

Nevertheless, Tuvok’s sense of duty compels him to use her emotions against her. If she really cares for him, she will want him to return to his ship in order to continue the journey home to his family. She agrees. He suggests she request a replacement for her job while she explores her need for companionship. She agrees to do this, too. The two depart on good terms.

Wait. What? Marlayna captures the ship, nearly kills three crewmembers, and threatens to kill the entire crew if took does not become her BFF all because she needs an extended vacation? One that presumably involves a gigolo. When this is pointed out to her, she agrees, and the episode is over? Except for some Tuvok patching up with Harry, yeah, pretty much. I suppose at the time, it meant more because it looked like Tuvok was going to take his own advice and develop a friendship with Harry. That did not happen, but I cannot judge events beyond episodes in question. Still, this was one luau I could have happily skipped.

Rating: * (out of 5)

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