Friday, September 23, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Disease"

“The Disease” is one of those truly awful VOY episodes in which I wish I could have sat in on the pitch session so I could see for myself whether the powers that be genuinely thought this was a good idea or if they were trying to kill the show so they could move onto a better project. The episode’s plot can be summed up in four words which should never be strung together: Harry gets an STD.

Casting aside for a moment the sheer stupidity of that idea, I have have two major objections in addition to it. One is the inspiration for the episode. It originally aired in late winter 1999. This is shortly after the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal wound down with Clinton avoiding a conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. There is no direct commentary on the scandal in “The Disease,” but the timing is certainly not a coincidence. The other reason is the backdrop of the story. Voyager is aiding a generational ship, which is a fascinating staple of science fiction ripe with story ideas. But the generational ship has to take a backseat to Harry contracting a venereal disease. It is kind of like the writers said, “Let’s come up with a really good idea, then toss it aside in favor of a Porky’s movie.”

The voyager crew has been helping a xenophobic alien species known as the Varo with rebuilding their engine on their ship. The varo have been traveling for four hundred years. In that time, they have built onto their ship as needed in order to house their growing population. For whatever reason, they decided to add on in a a straight line, so cracks are also starting to form under the pressure. Or so it seems. There is actually a separatist group at were who is tired of living isolated lives, so they have manufactured a synthetic virus to eat away at the ship in strategic places in order to break it apart in separate ships so everyone can go their own way. But do not concern yourself with all that static. The episode is not about the illogic of xenophobia or allowing freedom of self-determination. It is about you know what.

Harry has fallen for a Varo named Tal in the two weeks he has been working on the ship. One night, in the heat of the moment, they sleep together. All of the sudden, it is a serious violation of the rules for a Starfleet officer to engage in a relationship with an alien even though it has been done numerous times before, including several times on VOY with impunity. Where did this rule suddenly come from? Wherever it originated, Harry knows of it and tries to cover up his affair, but cannot because the symptoms of his STD become too obvious to conceal.

By the way, this is the girl with whom Harry slept, Musetta Vander:He has taste, I will give him that.

The doctor is required to report the disease to Janeway. She comes down hard on him with an official reprimand and an order to break off the relationship. Both Harry and tal know their relationship will last only a few days anyway. They have a conversation about how they are going to go their separate ways regardless of their love for each other. In spite of that, Harry has a childish tantrum at Janeway for ordering him to break off the relationship. What right does she have to control his romantic relationships/ Well, according to Starfleet regulations, total control. She enjoys wielding it, too.

Tal turns out to be the leader of the separatist group, so all of harry’s insubordination--and there is more than one incident after the first sexual encounter--is all for naught. She forgets him and heads off to perform the formerly forbidden task of studying nebulae. (I looked it up. Spelled right, darn it.) Harry mopes, and Seven learns a lesson about love by indifferently observing his pain. *Sniff* It is so beautiful.

What an awful episode. Kenneth Biller writes yet another cellar dweller. There is absolutely nothing about this that explores Harry as it was obviously intended. He comes across looking like an immature teenager rather than an edgier man now that he has disobeyed orders over a woman. Even after that, I think the biggest sin is the wasted generational ship conflict, which probably would have made for an interesting episode itself, was an afterthought to break up the whiny Harry and his social disease saga. What a waste of time. This is why Garrett Wang stayed, but Jennifer Lein had to go? Seriously?

Rating: * (out of 5)

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