Sunday, July 17, 2011

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

“Basics, Part Ii’ serves as the third season premiere and the final episode written by the departing executive producer Michael Piller. It was filmed back to back with the second season finale, so in terms if its basic (no pun intended) feel, it fits in more with the second season than the meandering third. The episode wraps up a lot of loose ends, almost in too orderly a fashion, leaving the show to find a new direction in the aftermath. It will have a tough time right up until the third season finale reintroduces the Borg and brings Seven of nine into the picture for the first time.

It is clear throughout that Piller had been a stabilizing influence for VOY up until this point. While the second season had brought in a number of Alpha Quadrant elements in some of the most inexplicable ways to make VOY more Star Trek and a number of episodes were clearly pet projects from particular writers, the third season really cuts loose. There are also some incredibly outlandish concepts. One wonders if Piller had stayed, could he have turned VOY around as he did TNG in its third season? We will revisit these points later. For now, “Basics, Part II.”

There is a lot going on here, perhaps too much for one episode--not that I advocate more VOY than is necessary. But there was some question when Piller was writing this episode as to whether the crew should remain stranded on the planet for a few episodes just to shake things up. I am not certain how interesting that would have been considering the One Million Years BC homage throughout their ordeal is the least interesting aspect of “Basics, Part II.” I care more about the Doctor and Suder’s effort to retake Voyager, tom’s recruitment of the Talaxians for assistance, and the kazon plan for what to do with the ship now that they finally have it far more interesting. Unfortunately, the elements I like are rushed and undeveloped to make room for the survival story.

Let us face it--the crew’s rescue is a foregone conclusion. We know they are going to find food and water on the planet and fight off any enemies until they are rescued by Voyager. What we do not know is whether the Kazon have big plans for their new ship or how the unlikely trio of the Doctor, Suder, and Tom are going defeat the Kazon and rescue the crew. I found that far more interesting than Chakotay’s mildly offensive jokes at being the only Indian who cannot start a fire by rubbing sticks together or fire a bow and arrow properly. That is just the beginning of the bad elements of the stranded crew storyline. More emphasis about the efforts against the Kazon would have been welcome.

Might as well get the on planet stuff out of the way. Chakotay is not the only character who winds up looking bad. Neelix, inexplicably in charge of a scavenging party, comes across some bones at the mouth of a cave. He orders Hogan to gather tham up. For use as tools or weapons. Why it never occurs to Neelix there are bones at the mouth of a cave because something carnivorous leaves inside is beyond me and apparently Hogan, too, as he gets eaten by a giant land eel popping out of the cave. Some survivalist Neelix is.

He further proves his uselessness by getting himself and Kes captured by a primitive tribe. They speak an unintelligible language, but it is made quite clear they want kes as a sex slave because they are more than happy to trade both Neelix and a homely looking member of the tribe to Chakotay in exchange for her. Not a bad trade, when you think about it. Kes is hot. They all wind up escaping into a cave similar to the one in which the land eel lives, so yeah, another crewmember gets eaten by an eel. Thanks, Neelix. Credit where credit is due, the eel is quite good CGI for 1996 television. It is not often Star Trek has tried something like it in the past, so at least the show took a risk.

The crew and the tribe make peace when Chakotay saves a woman trapped on a rock amid flowing lava. It is the same woman the tribe was willing to sacrifice in order to pass Kes around like a bong at a Grateful Dead concert, but what they heck. He must have suddenly gained more importance to them. Or maybe we are supposed to be distracted by that because we are wondering how Chakotay can step around inches above molten lava without the his flesh falling off the bone. Yeah, I know--it is alien lava! It works different than Earth lava. Whatever, Trekkies.

For all the similarities to One Million Years BC, we never see any hot women in fur bikinis. Kes and Torres would have been nice. I am sure that monkey from a few episodes ago would like a peek at Janeway. Heaven help the little guy. No seven yet, so you will especially have to use your imagination with that one. I suggest saving Janeway for last to snap you out of euphoria.

It is the other half of the episode which saves it. While I think it is a waste we never see the Kazon actually do anything with Voyager, it is not so bad in consideration of the time spent dealing with the doctor and Suder’s subversive efforts. First, I appreciate how Maquis tactics save the day. Second, I also appreciate the Doctor has to coax Suder into cutting loose his murderous instincts, which he does with reckless abandon in his final Rambo-esque act. Many fans oppose the idea of not only offering the character an act of redemption by allowing him to be a mass murder again, but forcing the Doctor to ignore his do no harm oath in order to accomplish it. But I liked the ends justifies the means philosophy. For once, it was a realistic dilemma in which Federation ideals would not have worked.

The only objection I have is how every element was wrapped up cleanly by the end. Suder is killed. Seska is killed. After a season of telegraphing the baby is Chakotay’s, it turns out to be Culluh’s so it can be gotten rid of conveniently. Speaking of, we never hear of the, Culluh, or the Kazon again, save for a few references. Not that I am complaining too badly. The Kazon were incredibly lackluster villains. What does bug me is how quickly the Talaxians are willing to attack Voyager and how the severe damaged caused by the sabotage efforts are nowhere to be seen in the final moments of the episode. Basically, the whole series has been reset by the closing credits.

“Basics, Part II” is a decent effort, but not as epic as one would hope for a season premiere. It is saved by the on Voyager aspect from the sillier on planet bits. It is worth watching for both, if for no other reason than some laughably bad perils on the planet. Just keep in mind how lopsided the story quality is.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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