Sunday, September 18, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Latent Image"

I have such mixed emotions about “Latent Image.” I want to like it because of the earnest effort at discussing the philosophical themes of individuality and living with a literal life or death decision. But two problems arise. One, these themes have been done far better in past Star Trek and two, there are too many implausible events needed in order to set up the discussion. The only aspect of “Latent Image” that saves it is, as he so often does, Robert Picardo, who plays the conflicted Doctor perfectly.

While taking full body scans of crewmembers, the Doctor discovers a surgical scar on the back of Harry’s neck. It is from within the last two years, but harry claims to not remember having an operation. The Doctor, the only one who could have performed surgery, does not, either. With Seven’s help, he retrieves memories of a shuttle mission eighteen months prior in which he, Harry, and a not long for this life Jatel were attacked. The doctor does not know Jatel. The rest of the crew claims not to, either. The doctor suspects the ship was attacked some time ago, and the attackers erased his memory, along with everyone else’s, to cover it up. For the first two acts, the audience suspects he might be right until he discovers Janeway deleting the memory files associated with his discovery.

The truth is the shuttle was attacked eighteen months ago with the three on board. The Doctor’s ethical program was damaged, while Harry and Jatel were mortally wounded. Their nervous systems are deteriorating so rapidly, the Doctor only has time to save one. He chooses to save Harry, someone he knows well, over Jatel, an ensign he has only met once before the shuttle mission. Once his program is repaired, the doctor cannot live with his decision to save his friend over a stranger. Pondering how and why he made that choice crippled his ability to function, so Janeway ordered his memory of the incident erased. Now she is going to do it again to keep him from becoming paralyzed over his choice again.

This being VOY, Seven is the catalyst for changing Janeway’s mind on the issue. We were doing so well here for a stretch with not making every episode about Seven’s quest to regain her humanity. At least in this case, the motif fits well. Seven is confused why it is moral to erase the doctor’s memories without his consent. Janeway replies that the doctor is no different than a replicator. When broken, they both need to be fixed. No one seeks out the replicator’s consent to do so. Seven wonders, since she is part machine, will Janeway force her will on her, too. The answer is yes, and soon, but Seven response convinces Janeway to restore the Doctor’s memory and let him work through the consequences of his decision to save Harry instead of Jatel. Which he does, and we never hear anything else about this again. Because this is VOY.

Let us get the contrivances which kill the episode out of the way. Who is this alien who attacked the shuttle? We have never seen him before. We do not know his motivation for launching a deadly attack. It is pretty convenient he has a three barrel gun that can hit each target individually. They should have taken four people on the mission so one could have overpowered the alien. How do you erase the entire existence of jatel so the doctor will never find out about her? Did Janeway forbid her name from ever being spoken? Knowing her, maybe. But everything had to be erased--service record, medical files, photos--all of it. How likely is all that just because the Doctor had a meltdown over the consequences of his actions? Not very, and the implausibility nearly kills the episode.

Something else that does not help is how much better explorations of individuality and freedom of self-determination were done on TNG with Data. There is nothing really profound here that changes Janeway’s mind. She just suddenly decides after talking to seven that bad memories are as much of a part of a person as the good times. They have to be dealt with, not ignored. I do not usually defend janeway when she forces her will on someone else, but I actually think her replicator analogy is more sound than deciding a hologram, who happens to be the only Doctor, should be given psychotherapy instead. I will concede one point--the scene in which Janeway and Torrws are approaching the Doctor in sickbay where they are about to perform his lobotomy has a palpable air of sinister dread. That scene nearly convinced me Janeway’s changing her mind was correct. I felt sympathy for the Doctor as a sentient being, not a hologram that can be altered on a whim.

The only thing that saves “Latent Image” is Picardo. His fourth act meltdown over why one makes the choices one makes in situations is incredibly moving. I think if the writers had taken out the cover up aspects of the story, which are too ridiculous for words, and just had the moral dilemma of how to deal with the doctor’s newfound ethical issues, “Latent image” would be a classic. Alas, I can only recommend it for Picardo’s performance.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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