Monday, September 12, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Once Upon a Time"

“Once Upon a Time’ has a lot of strikes against it right off the bat. For one, the story centers around a child. The running theme from TOS on has been that Star Trek does not do children well. Go ahead--name an episode revolving around children that was good. Two, the main character featured is Neelix. That is never a good sign. Finally, the story centers around a child perhaps facing the death of her only parent. Not a new concept for Star Trek, mind you, and such stories have taken some dark turns. But “Once Upon a Time” does not. Its tension never gets off the ground.

I have to express an added disappointment with that. While I think any episode centering around children is already going to be weak, “Once Upon a Time” was written by Michael Taylor in his first script for VOY. Taylor penned ’In the Pale Moonlight,” which is my favorite Star Trek episode of the modern era, if not ever. He also wrote a number of other solid DS9 episodes mostly centering on a Min character dealing with death on his or her heart, so I expected more from this one. It is too…trite.

The Delta Flyer crashes while attempting to avoid an ion storm. It gets buried under tons of rock that shield it from Voyager‘s sensors. Tom, Tuvok, and Samantha Wildman are on board. They only have a limited amount of life support left, so the search for them is frantic. It is neelix’s job to keep Naomi, Samantha’s young daughter, occupied during the search. He decides, because he was traumatized by losing his parents in a war as a child, to not tell naomi what is really going on. She finds out anyway. She is angry with Neelix for deceiving her, but her mother is soon rescued, so it does not have any long term consequences.

There are a lot of elements which are meant to be far more poignant than they come across as being. Naomi and Neelix spend a lot of time in a holodeck program with two storybook characters which are Naomi’s favorites. Their adventures symbolize the innocence of childhood interrupted by some really tragic events. But hey, there are a lot of children’s book and films in which really bad things happy. I am either too old or too cynical to have enjoyed these segments. Neelix remembering the trauma of losing his parents takes up so little time, it is difficult to grasp the emotion behind it. The main drama has a tough time resonating as well. There is never any doubt the Delta Flyer will be safely recovered. It is so assured, the last messages to family recorded by Tom and Samantha are laughably banal. These are your loved ones you are saying goodbbye to, people! Try to go behind television platitudes.

‘Once Upon a Time” has its heart in the right place, but nothing else is. There are too many elements that I am supposed to care about, but the material will not rise to the level to make me do so. How can I sympathize with Naomi when I know her mother is going to live? How can I symphonize with Neelix when he barely reacts to the memory of his parents’ deaths? How can I fear for the trapped shuttle crew when their last messages to family are the equivalent of, “so long, and thanks for the fish?” The answer to all three questions is I cannot. I expect better from Taylor.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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