Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Gravity"

“Gravity” is the second VOY episode written by Nick Sagan, son of Carl, and the first in which he has top billing, so one would assume the pointless techno babble and high concept science will now take a backseat to realism. No such luck, folks. Sagan may be the first voice aliens will hear from the Voyager II probe (“Hello from the children of Earth”) but he was also a writer for Captain Simian and the space Monkeys, so one should get one’s hopes up too much.

“Gravity” continues the fifth season trend, for better and for worse, of character driven stories spotlighting on an individual suffering unusual emotional turmoil at the end of which nothing more is ever said of it. So far, we have had torres unable to deal with the massacre of the Maquis, neelix traumatized by the wartime death of his family, Tom moved to ecoterrorism because of his love of the ocean, and the Doctor unable to come to terms with allowing one patient to die in order to save another under circumstance impossible to save both. If you want to count Janeway suffering a broken heart because of betrayal, feel free, but that is the least convincing of the motif as far as I am concerned. When it comes to romantic relationships, Star trek fumbles the ball pretty much every time. But “Gravity” is as close to success with the concept as it as come in a while.

Tuvok, Tom, and the Doctor are on a shuttle mission when they get caught in a gravity well--a sinkhole in space--and crash on a deset planet. Lots of other ships have been caught in the sinkhole, so there are plenty of marauders to fend off. The two befriend a woman named Noss, played by Lori Petty, after took saves her from a group of attackers. She begins developing feelings for him, which he struggles to resist.

As a matter of dramatic convenience, there is a discrepancy between the passage of time inside the sinkhole and out. Tuvok, Tom, and the doctor feel like they have been stranded for two months while only two days have passed for Voyager, so even though the ship is still searching for the away team, they assume they have been abandoned. Because of the ”abandonment,” Tom nudges Tuvok to pursue a relationship with Noss in his usual ultra sensitive way (“You’re never going to see your wife again, anyway. If she is as logical as you are, she’ll agree.’) and surprisingly, Tuvok struggles with the idea.

Tuvok’s struggle with his emotions is the crux of the story. Voyager comes up with an easy plan to beam them out once the away team has been discovered, so the drama of the rescue has to be manufactured. It is, badly. Nosh has been on the planeyt for fourteen years protected by a force field the marauders have just now, a few minutes before a beam they do not know is coming, decide to attack her shelter. Oh, yeah, the sinkhole is finally able to collapse, too. The collapse will kill everyone inside. After at least fourteen years of no problems. Bad luck truly does follow the Voyager crew around.

While took will admit he admires Noss’ ability to survive in such a harsh environment, he will not admit he has developed an emotional attachment for her. She reminds him of a girl he knew in his youth for whom he nearly lost his mind. To forget her, he lived with a philosophy master for months in order to learn to control his emotions. Presumably, that is the Vulcan equivalent of joining the Foreign Legion. He is having a difficult time suppressing his attachment for Noss now. After their rescue, he melds with her so she can understand how he felt before she returns to her home planet.

I have made no secret I think Tuvok comes across as a jerk. In some ways, he is even worse than those far out of character Vulcans on ENT. Any attempt to soften him up is welcome. Yet I think this could have been done much better. Lori Petty is not exactly the actress I would choose for a love interest for Tuvok. She is ingrained in my mind as being a free spirited hippy or pun. Considering her acting career has stalled as she has aged out of those types of roles, I am probably not alone in thinking that. Sure, there is an opposites attract factor at work, but this pairing is far too polar opposite to be believed. There is no chemistry between Petty and tim Russ. Like many Star Trek romances, we are supposed to believe an emotional bond exists because the writers say it does. They put forth a noble effort here, but it is a no go.

I will give “Gravity” points for exploring Tuvok, but there are so many things about the potential romance that could have been done better. As soon as the romantic angle became obvious, I started speculating on far better actresses to pull off the role of Noss than Petty. Then I nized it, because usually a soap opera star or otherwise unknow gets tapped for these things. But the point stands-Petty was miscast. The rest of the drama was so stereotypical of these types of stranded in a hostile environment conditions that if one was asked what was to come next, anyone who has watched any television at all could guess they will be attacked by the bad guys at the last minute and saved just before the sinkhole collapses. Nevertheless, ’Gravity” at least makes an effort to distinguish love from sex, so it earns a point for that. Noty much else, though. In fact, I suspect the Doctor was added to the script as an afterthought in order for Robert Picardo to add some color to it. He does little than quip some one liners. That do not amount to much.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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