Saturday, July 9, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Lifesigns"

Episodes centered on the doctor are always a pleasure, particularly in these early seasons when he is confined to sickbay and the holodeck, so some creativity has to be utilized to bring him into focus. “Lifesigns” does it beautifully well. It is a story about romance, but unlike most Star Trek romance in which love is synonymous with sex--thank you, legions of fourteen year old virgins fans, for that--it is a sweet, often awkward journey for two people who have no clue what to do with their feelings, but understand they are genuine and good.

Voyager answers a distress call from a small Vidiian ship. The lone occupant is a woman near death. The doctor comes up with a techno babble way to download her mind into the computer, then re-create a copy of her healthy body as a hologram while he works on her real body. It is best not to dwell on the plausibility of all this, but thanfully, there is a lot of other fine stuff to distract you from it.

The woman’s name is Denara. She is a doctor who has suffered from the Phage since she was nine years old. She is absolutely ecstatic to be a beautiful, healthy woman, even if she is not inhabiting a real body. She has spent virtually all her life ostracized because of her deformities, so the doctor spending time with her in sickbay and on the holodeck is the first experience she has had of fun, adult companionship. The Doctor, too, is experiencing a new sensation. He is falling in love with her.

Both are painfully clueless, and it shows. Various crewmembers make friendly overtures to Denara which she blanches away from because being asked to dance or even shaking hands is more intimate than anything she have ever than anything she has ever done. The Doctor wants to help her adjust, but his programming just is not designed for it. Denara sends clear signals she would like to dance with him, but he has to demur in an embarrassed manner.

In a nice touch, Kes counsels Denara to be more comfortable with people who honestly like her, while Tom coaches the Doctor and takings things both smoothly and slowly. For a while here, VOY will strongly hint Kes and Tom ought to be an item. In a weird way, their respective scenes with denara and the Doctor encourage the thought. Denara and the Doctor do get together for stargazing. The Doctor hands her flowers, candy, and a teddy bear in such quick succession, she does not have time to really appreciate each gift, but, thanks to Kes, happily accepts. Having never been young and foolishly in love, neither knows how to go about things, but they wind up kissing.

The drama hits in the fourth act when we learn Denara has been secretly poisoning her actual body. She would rather live only a few days in her current state until her brain patterns degrade than possibly go on for decades in her diseased body. There are hints of Quinn in her rationale, as she argues that living only prolongs her suffering. Her problem is that she has experienced the good life and does not want to go back to a point in which people will be repulsed by her--particularly the Doctor. He assures denara he likes her for her. As proof, the two finally dance together before the final credits. He having created a dancing program and she back in her ravaged body. It is a touching ending.

It is a toughing episode altogether. Having heart is one thing VOY is not famous for, but every now and then, it hit’s the mark. The episode was written by Kenneth Biller, too. It is rare he has a good story in him as well.

The episode also continues with the subplot of Tom feuding with Chakotay in order to expose the traitor. At this point, it is still not clear without the big picture in mind how the two stories are related, which is not good storytelling. These incidents need to be obviously leading somewhere rather than feeling like filler for episodes that ran too short. My only gripe here, though, so we are doing better than usual.

Denara’s story helps make the Vidiians more complex. They have gone from an evil leper colony to a sinister force experimenting on helpless captives to now more sympathetic. We learn for the first time that not every vidiian has the Phage. I remember watching the episode in its first airing and wondering if the phage was going to become an AIDS allegory. Upon this viewing, I wonder why a supposedly advanced society like the Vidiians have never heard of quarantining a contagion or, you know, washing their hands regularly? Time passes, and the priorities of your thinking change.

What has not changed is my considering "Lifesigns” a personal favorite. It is well written--Kenneth Biller??!!--and sweet. The show should have done more character oriented episodes like it as opposed to so many techno babble plots. I note also that Denara ultimately made the opposite choice to Quinn when both were faced with the same decision, so the usual motif of there only being one correct option is bypassed in favor of characterization. Bravo.

The doctor and Denara stargaze with "Mt Prayer" by The Platters playing on the radio. It is an old favorite of mine:Rating: **** (out of 5)

No comments:

Post a Comment