Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Killing Game, Part I/II"

Normally when there is a two part episode, I review each individually unless the story was originally aired as a two hour movie. “The Killing Game, Part I/II” throws me a curve. It was originally two episodes aired back to back on the same night. I do not recall whether UPN was struggling with cancelled shows and had to do that or if they realized the stoory for ’The Killing Game” was one episode’s worth stretched into two, but the latter circumstance helps make the decision to review both episodes as one. Believe me, you are not getting short changed by the combining.

We hit the ground running and have to figure things out as we go along. The Hirogen took over Voyager three weeks ago. They implanted neural thingamabobs in each crewmembers’ head so that he or she believes whichever holodeck simulation he or she is a part of is real. With the safety protocols cut off, the Hirogen have been hunting, shooting, stabbing, and otherwise maiming the crew for the duration. They have have mmade Harry their bee-otch--naturally--by forcing him to not only keep the holodecks running, but expand them to cover every inch of the ship. The Doctor is also active in repairing the wounds as best as possible before sending the hapless crew back into the holodecks.

The Hirogen are running two programs: a Klingon battle which gets little airplay and a World War II simulation involving the French Resistance--the original Maquis, composed mostly of Starfleet officers, ironically enough--sabotaging the Nazis to pave the way for the American invasion. The bulk of the action takes place in the World War II simulation. As a World War II history buff, I go for it. As one who is amused by the absurdities of television, I am amused the main SS officer assisting the Hirogen is actor J. Paul Boehmer from Ohio. I am also amused the stolen German weapons the resistance are using are American made are M1 Grand and Colt 1911. In all fairness, this was post D-Day. Germany was scraping the bottom of the barrel for men and materiel.

The main reason I have combined these two episodes into one review is because of the structure. The first episode is literally the crewmembers, convinced they are fighting Nazis, acting out the simulation. It is only at the cliffhanger when the doctor and harry have disabled the neural thingamabobs on Seven and Janeway the story shifts gears towards a resolution. Even then, it barely does. The second part is a spectacle not unlike the climax of Blazing Saddles in which the characters spill out into the real world of the filming studio. In the case of “The Killing Game,” it is French Resistance, American GI, and Klingons battling Hirogen and Nazis on the streets of a French city and the corridors of Voyager. There is not much substance to it, but it is neat to watch. The production values are generally fantastic, though some Cgi is clearly choppy 1998 era stuff.

Up until this point, we have been forced to accept Voyager was taken over off screen while spending time watching a holodeck simulation that we know has no real consequence. We even know, even though main characters are becoming graverly wounded far more often than normal, they will al survive. It is difficult to find any entertainment value beyond the mindless spectacle. The meager attempt to put some meat on the skeleton of a plot does not help.

The leader of the Hirogen has forbidden his men to hunt the crew outright. Instead, he orders them to play along with the simulations in order to study how humans survive perilous situations. He has an ulterior motive. He believes his people are hunting themselves into extinction by their nomadic hunting existence. He wants them to learn from humans how to survive and evolve against the odds and also convince them to settle down on a planet, rebuild their civilization, and use holodeck technology to simulate the hunt so they do not have to spend their entire lives engaged in one. You have to figure he was unaware of holodeck technology before taking over the ship, so he had to have had this change of heart and developed this plan to save his people in just a few minutes after conquering Voyager. In other words, this part of the plot feels thrown in without much forethought.

It gets worse. Once Janeway figures out his plan, she offers him holodeck technology. You may recall she did not want to do that when the kazon were also constantly attacking and killing her crew. You could argue she is in a tougher spot here, but the episode eliminates that argument for you. The Hirogen second in command, who was on board with the whole build a civilization and simulate the hunt bit, gets the master race pep talk from the Ohio Nazi. He become convinced it is the hirogen duty to hunt down inferior races. He continues the battle after janeway and his superior have called a truce. He kills his superior, so janeway kills him personally. Finally, it has been a while since she personally murdered someone. The deal is the third in command is ready to honor the truce and leave. He has no idea that Janeway has agreed with his now dead superior to hand over holodeck technology, so when she does, he does not want it. But she--wait for it--talks him into taking it anyway! She was completely off the hook, but decided to screw the prime directive and hand over technology to completely change the Hitrogen civilization--technology she said she would die before giving to the Kazon a couple years prior. That is Janeway for you.

There is not much to be said about “The Killing Game.” Its purpose is to be a mindless action episode. As that, it succeeds. It is a lot of fun watching the crew play different characters while fighting mismatched battles in different settings. The production values and sets are quite impressive. But the plot is embarrassing dumb. There is too much glossed over to make this a classic. Janeway changes her mind from a previous position that drove major plots for two seasons without any explanation and, for good measure, carries out her agreement even though she no longer has to do so. Of course, there is the Magic Reset Button. Voyager is severely damaged from battle, but will be perfectly fine at the beginning of the next episode.

I recommend ’The Killing Game.” It is fun to watch just for the juxtapositions. You will have to switch off you brain in order to enjoy most of it. Just follow Janeway’s lead in that regard. Fortunately, we will not see the Hirogen en masse again until the seventh season when we learn--surprise, surprise--Janeway giving them holodeck technology has lead to them killing each other. Maybe that was her plan all along. Her blood thirst is nigh unquenchable.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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