Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Random Thoughts"

Sometimes screencapping these episodes is more than half the fun.

“Random Thoughts” is an interesting, though flawed episode that brings up some interesting ideas, but cannot quite decide what it wants to be. In some ways, it is a commentary on the negative influence of violent images on a person’s psyche. In other ways, it appears to be a morality tale about the use of narcotics, or perhaps the futility of the drug war. Kenneth Biller wrote it, so you can be certain of two things. One, there is a profound message within and two, Biller is such a poor writer, you cannot find said profound message with both hands and a flashlight.

Voyager meets a race of friendly telepaths called the Mari. They are a bunch of pacifists who have largely expelled violent thoughts from their minds. It is a serious crime to think violent thoughts. Anyone caught doing so is given a specific kind of lobotomy which removes those particular thoughts. It does not seem plausible that the crew would risk beaming down to such a planet considering how uncontrolled the random thoughts of humans can be, but there you go.

A merchant named Guill senses some extreme hostility buried not too far from the surface in Torres--surprise, surprise--and sets up an ’accidental’ encounter between her and his buddy, Frane, wherein Frane steps on her foot to elicit a violent thought. Unfortunately, Klingon emotions are a bit too strong for the weak-minded Mari. The thought prompts Frane to beat a man to a bloody pulp. The head of police, played by B’Ehtor herself, Gwyneth Walsh, discovers the thought came from torres and prepares her for the line item lobotomy.

Tuvok, who has until this point been an admirer of the mari justice system, starts his own investigation. He eventually uncovers the plot point I mentioned above. There is a black market in dark thoughts in which Guill is a major player. Guill becomes fascinated at the prospect of experiencing the dark thoughts vulcans possess, but a mind meld proves those thoughts are too much for him. Tuvok subdues guill, exposes the black market trade, and saves Torres from having her memories wiped.

So what is ’Random Thoughts” about? It might be able how television and movie violence affect susceptible minds, particularly children. The mari are definitely a weakened lot if the stray thought that torres wants to punch a guy from stepping on her foot can prompt a man’s beating and later, an unintentionally hilarious bit in which an old woman stabs a merchant to death from dropping fruit she was buying. The mari are so hopelessly impressionable, using them as a commentary an the influence of violent images on people’s psyche is too over the top to be taken seriously. It could also be a comment on the futility of the drug war. The Mari have banned violent thoughts, so people trade in them illegally. The illicit trade prompts violent crimes. With Biller writing the episode, you have no idea which is the message, if either is. For all I know, “Random Thoughts” is a warning to respect other cultures and a remembrance of Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy. Joseph Kennedy was attempting to save face for his family by eliminating her antisocial behavior.

In all seriousness, the episode has flaws. The chief of police goes on and on to Tuvok about her enlighten culture wherein no one has aggressive thoughts, yet she becomes visibly angry on several occasions. The policemen dragging Torres to the lobotomy chair had to cuff her and fight her the whole way. Surely they were not thinking and sunshine and roses for the duration. Or that could be subtle commentary, too. The ruling authority can indulge in violent thoughts, but they subdue any citizen who does as well. It is just not that clear.

“Random Thoughts” is passably entertaining, but it wants to be far more. I would not bother looking for any deep thoughts within it, but it is a good outing for Tuvok’s Sherlock Holmes skills. Vulcan’s playing detective are a minor running theme in Star Trek. while spock has always done it best, Tuvok is no slouch. If you can figure out what the episode is about otherwise, do enlighten me.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

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