Saturday, July 16, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Basics, Part I"

“Basics, Part I” is the second season finale. Along with it concluding chapter in the third season, it features the final scripts written by Michael Piller until Star Trek: Insurrection nearly three years later. Elaboration on his departure and its effect on VOY’s philosophy is better left for tomorrow. Suffice to say, Piller intended his send off to be a game changing cliffhanger that would attract the same amount of attention as TNG’s ”Best of Both Worlds”, a season ending cliffhanger which elevated the show from lukewarm TOS sequel to cultural icon. “Basics, Part I” did not elevate VOY to such heights, but it has its merits.

Said merits are few and far between, however. The Kazon could have hired a skywriter to make, ’We’re taking over the ship!” in letters ten miles long and five miles wide and still be less obvious Voyager heading into a trap. But that is VOY for you. The quality of the story also lends validity to the rumor Piller was so fed up dealing with the other executive producers on the show’s direction, and pounded the script out and left in a rush. Whether that is true is hard to tell, but considering the meandering the third season will suffer before reintroducing the Borg as villains, one suspects Piller was a tempering agent against the other writers. Things might have been far worse, far sooner. Again, those are remarks best left for tomorrow.

Voyager picks up a distress call from Seska. Her baby has been born, and Culluh, genius that he is, has finally figured out the little rug rat ain’t his seed. Chakotay has a crisis of conscience, mostly because he is a jackass. He does not want to rescue his child because he had no consent in Seska using his DNA to get pregnant. I cannot tell if he is now an offensive racial minority deadbeat dad or if he is insisting the father have some say in whether his child is born. Whichever the case, it is out of place considering the rest of the episode. He goes on a vision quest in which his father appears to him. Chakotay tells him--literally--he does not care about the kid because he does not want him. His father metaphorically slaps him in the back of the head for being a jerk, and the race is on.

It is interesting to note that in spite of Chakotay’s reluctance, the crew is ready to go after his son right off the bat. Maquis and Starfleet personnel alike are ready to go charging into overwhelming odds out of loyalty to the commander, but he is not moved. It is pitifully humorous how a rapid planning session around the conference table breaks up and everyone is practically out the door before Chakotay can stop them all to say a meager thanks. Maybe it is due to the usual Star Trek daddy issues. Everyone other than the Sisko family has them.

While heading for Kazon space, the crew encounters the wounded Trena adrift in a shuttle. Trena was Seska’s assistant. He tells them Seska and the baby have been sent to a slave colony of some sort. They alter course for that planet. Everyone in your Adm. Ackbar voice--It’s a trap! Seriously, that is just the first indication. As the ship travels to the planet, it is attacked by smaller Kazon vessels which target a specific, non-essential part of the ship. It is obviously a deliberate plan, but no one stops to speculate on why the kazon would attack that section. Nor does it occur to anyone to secure trena in quarters anywhere until Voyager is about to engage a Kazon fleet.

Janeway does take time out to discuss genetically altering the vegetable garden with the imprisoned psychopath Suder. He is going to play a big part in the conclusioing episode, so Piller has to get him in there somewhere. But it feels incredibly strange to take time out when the ship is being intermittently ambushed to do so. All that should have been gotten out of the way in the teaser or first act before the action started.

Trena is actually a living bomb, so he disables the ship for his buddies to converge, board, and take over. The intermittent attacks were to destroy Janeway’s ability to set the autodestruct. No one bothered to think about that, I guess. The result is a quick, budget saving takeover. We only get to see Culluh, Seska, and Chakotay, Jr. take over the bridge. We learn Seska lied about the kid and claimed Chakotay raped her. Culluh the idiot shrugs and says, ’Okay.” Remember, even though he is that dumb and is mesmerized by technological advancement like water filters, he and his crew repair Voyager in no time and know how to fly it to a nearby primitive world, land on that world, and strand the Voyager crew there. It doth boggle the mind.

The cliffhanger leaves the Doctor and Suder secretly on board with the Kazons and Tom, who may or may not have been killed when his shuttle was hit, to locate Talaxian help while the stranded crew looks for the necessities of life on the near barren planet. Ironic, since the whole issue is their refusal to share creature comfort technology.

There are definitely a lot of flaws which have to be overlooked. Most notably, the crew does not even take the most basic precautions in avoiding the obvious trap, even when evidence piles up that is what is happening. There is not much in the way of characterization, unless you count Chakotay coming across like a immature child, so the episode is not particularly deep, either. The action is pretty exciting, though, and the cliffhanger does make me want to see the conclusion. The bottom line is that is what is intended, so it gets the job done. Underwhelmingly, but it gets the job done.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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