Friday, July 8, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Death Wish"

Let me preface this review with a caveat I have certainly mentioned before: I do not like Q. He is popular among fans and John de Lancie is a fine actor, but the character has never done anything plausible in my mind. By that, I mean what can you possibly do with an omnipotent character in the midst of humans he ought to think of as less than insects? The answer is not the level of involvement he has participated in thus far. So anytime Q shows up, I automatically feel that the writer has to dumb down the character from what he would logically be in order to have a story. Any such episode has a knock against it from the get go. “Death Wish” is not any different , but it does redeem itself better than most.

Voyager inadvertently releases a suicidal Q. He will eventually call himself Quinn, so I will, too, in order to avoid confusion with the Q we all know and…well, you all seem to love him. I have already expressed my thoughts on him. Q shows up before Quinn can off himself. The two have Seinfeldian slap fight with their powers. The ship is -perilously caught in the middle, but the mood is not so tense the show cannot take time to advertise the keepsake Voyager Christmas tree ornament on sale for the 1996 holidays. Deciding the battle could go on forever, Quinn asks for asylum. Janeway grants him a hearing on the matter. Granting Quinn’s request is nothing but her overblown ego talking. She has not been in control of the situation since Quinn showed up. She cannot protect him from the Q Continuum.

The episode does begin a steady rise at this point, though not without a dip or two along the way. Quinn asks Tuvok to represent him at the hearing, because vulcans are allowed to euthanize themselves rather than face debilitating illnesses. In my mind, the revelation leaves a gaping plot hole--why did Sarek not kill himself rather than wait out the violent senility that eventually did him in? But I am going to be hit with so many other plotholes during the rest of the episode that it is impossible to dwell on any of them individually. Perhaps that is the point of having so many. Q represents the Continuum.

What we are presented is a debate over the quality of life and whether it is ethical to end ones life mean one can no longer find meaning in it. Q argues both that Quinn is an omnipotent being living in a highly developed civilization. What more could he possibly want? Apparently plenty more, and that is obvious to Q. a couple times, he attempts to bribe Janeway with a trip back to the Alpha Quadrant if she rules in the continuum’s favor. At others, he offers up alternate plans other than imprisonment which will still keep Quinn alive against his will. The suicide of a Q would obviously be a big deal.

Quinn takes Janeway to the Continuum in order to show her what life is like. She sees it as a dusty road which only goes around in a circle. Beside the road is an old house with q scattered about, silently and joylessly engaged in reading or playing games. The road is the universe. It has been well traveled by Quinn and every other Q. there is nothing new to experience. There is nothing even to say to one another. Yet this goes on into infinity. Quinn desperately wants to end his part in it.

I recognize some similarities between the Continuum and the skeptical description of heaven. Why would eternal life in heaven be paradise? Would it not get boring after a while with no new discoveries to be made or challenges to overcome? Yet I do not see “Death Wish” as a specific critique of the Christian belief in the afterlife. If it is, the writers are leaving out the idea that our finite, sinful selves cannot fully grasp spiritual things, so we do not have enough pieces of the puzzle to see what a picture of what heaven is. As proof of the writers’ misunderstanding, I submit they are not fdoing a very good job of presenting Q as a omnipotent being, either. If they do not understand what omnipotence would really be like, they certainly cannot grasp heaven.

Janeway rules in favor of Quinn under the rationale he deserves self-determination apart from the state’s will. Store that one away in the back of you mind, because this is the only time she is going to feel that way. She will eventually force her will on plenty of crewmembers, but particularly Seven when she shows up. She also urges quinn not to kill himself, which is another oddity. She is going to kill a crewmember herself in a few more episodes. Flipping that mental coin to decide her moral principles on any given day, she is.

Q honors the ruling by taking away Quinn’s powers. He also secretly provides Quinn with a suicide method no one can stop from working. We will learn the consequences of Quinn’s suicide later. Unfortunately.

“Death Wish” offers up many engaging arguments regarding the right to choose how one lives and dies. Does anyone have the right to keep a person alive if his life no longer holds any meaning for him? How low can the quality of life descend before ending it is a better idea? How about if his continued existence if for the greater good of all? In a round about way, the episode decides anyone of sound mind can off themselves if they want if for no other reason than boredom. That is essentially how Janeway ruled, even though she is rationalizing her decision as only granting asylum.
If that is all the is, I would grant it four stars. Five is out of reach because it is q-centric. But there are two many laugh lines and inconsistencies breaking up the tension in detrimental ways. Q cannot help but clown around even during the hearing. For a man concerned over life and death matters, he is not taking the trial very seriously. His witnesses are just dumb. In order to show Quinn has had a positive impact, he calls up Isaac Newton, the soundman from Woodstock, and William Riker. Quinn made the apple fall on Newton’s head. He got the sound guy to Woodstock on time for the concert to go on. He saved one of Riker’s ancestors. so Jonathan Frakes’ appearance is really a pointless ratings stunt. As for inconsistencies, how does Quinn know Q was once expelled from the Continuum? He has been locked away from 300 years. Why would Quinn’s death matter when other Q have been executed over the years? The biggest? Why does Janeway not ask Q to send them home anyway?

“Death Wish” is a good episode which raises some interesting questions, then remembers it is a VOY episode and stumbles through most of them. It is definitely worth watching, but possess numerous flaws regarding character behavior and continuity errors which could have been prevented with minimal logic and attention paid to the established lore.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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