Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Swarm"

“The Swarm” is definitely a mixed bag. I am more disappointed with it than the usual mediocre VOY fare because it features a doctor-centric story. Robert Picardo is by far the best actor on the series. The doctor is still a character that can only have limited use in stories because of his confinement to sickbay and the holodeck, so on the rare chances we get a story revolving around the Doctor, I expect something special. It does not happen this time around. Worse yet, the episode is dragged down by the pointless B-story.

The main idea idea has much merit. The Doctor’s memories are degrading because his program was never intended to contain so much extraneous experience. They could just hit reset, but that would wipe out of the personality developments he he gained over the last two years. Kes in particular thinks that would be too much of a loss and advocates any other solution. Do appreciate the irony of a refusal to use a reset button by characters on this show. I am amused, at any rate.

If there is anything to be praised about ’The Swarm,” it is the character interactions between Kes and the degrading Doctor. Picardo is essentially playing a man slipping falling rapidly into senility. Kes desperately, but patiently, props him up in his old ways as much as possible. She reminds me of a loving granddaughter who realizes her grandfather is fading away, so she keeps a sense of his normal self as long as possible. At other times, I get a sense her feelings are, if not romantic, then puppy love. Another episode later on this season will play on the concept again from the doctor’s perspective, so there is something to the idea of love between the two.

“The Swarm” is the first time Picardo plays both the Doctor and Louis Zimmerman, though as a diagnostic hologram rather than the real thing, simultaneously. They have an entertaining interaction, but this is not the best episode to feature the two characters together. Kes herself works out the solution to download the diagnostic hologram into the doctor’s program like a skin graft. It works, but the doctor appears to not retain all of his memories.

As you can tell, there is nothing about a swarm of anything thus far in the review. The doctor’s plight takes up much of the episode. It is also the best part. The rest of the episode introduces a new alien menace which serves as little more than an advertisement for VOY action figures. Quite literally, as it were. While it is unfair to judge an episode because of outside factors, an action figure of a Swarm Alien was released months before this episode aired. I recall fans saying it looked cool, but nothing was known about it for months. Until this episode when the aliens attack Voyager by boarding the bridge and engaging in a quick firefight. I guess that convinced every kid he had to have one. It reminded me of my youngest days when virtually every character in the Star Wars films, no matter how obscure, got an action figure and every fan wanted one. This is not the first time VOY has used an episode to promote a tie in product. Last season featured a Hallmark Christmas ornament of Voyager.

(No, I did not have a Janewqay action figure, thank you very much. I did have one of those Jawa Beanie Baby deals sitting on top of my computer right next to my plush University of South Carolina mascot, Cocky. Such was my most open concession to science fiction geekdom at the time.)

Aside from the blatant advertisement, we have the added issue of Janeway contradicting a past position she once held strongly with no journey as to how she came to change her mind. Flipping that mental coin , I suppose. The premise is the Swarm are highly xenophobic. Neelix says they attack anyone and everyone who invades their space. Voyager could go around their space, but it would add fifteen months to the journey. Janeway says screw it and goes through anyway because, as she says, she does not like bullies. Projecting there, methinks.

The problem is Starfleet forbids its ships from crossing into alien space without permission, as took points out. Janeway replies with the above concern she does not want to add fifteen years to the journey and she hates bullies. Those are not necessarily good excuses--what is fifteen more months on an already 75 year journey, really?--but there is also that Janeway has refused to bend the rules in the past even if it would have gotten her crew closer to home. If she has changed her attitude, fine. Show us why she did. But they do not. She has just decided on a whim to do the exact opposite of what she previously considered a high moral imperative and that is the end of it. Swarm action figures are now available in stores everywhere. Buy ’em by the backhoe load. They are swarms, you know.

The Doctor half of the episode is good, full of touching character moments that still feel like they could have been much more. The Swarm Alien parts are blah advertisements. What is worse is the crew is so preoccupied with the swarm, the doctor’s fate takesa backseat. If his program degrades down to nothing, that is it for medical treatment the rest of the trip. Should that not have some people worried? It is said even if his program is reset, it may just degrade again. That sounds like something everyone ought to be on pins and needles about. But no such luck. The Swarm aliens should have been taken out altogether with the doctor’s problem comprising the entirety of the story. That way, “The Swarm” could have risen above the dilemma of the week story we got instead.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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