Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Bliss"

The basic premise of VOY--encountering strange new worlds and civilizations by necessity, since the ship is lost far from home--has inspired many to say the series is closest to TOS in natures among all other Star Trek. The comparison has been apt in many other ways, too, not the least of which has been goofy plots that would barely pass muster in the ’60’s. If you have been steadily reading my reviews, you have a good idea how well I think they fly in the ’90’s.

“bliss’ is a decent example of a TOS episode transferred to the ’90’s. More specifically, it is “The Immunity Syndrome.” you may recall that episode features a giant ameoba that consumes ships and must be destroyed. That is pretty much “bliss” with the edition of some heavy Moby Dick allegory with the alien of the week. Oh, and in the kinder, gentler Al Gore environmentally conscious ’90’s, they cannot kill the creature even if it is eating the ship with all hands aboard. They have to make it barf. Really.

Do not get the impression I do not like this episode. There is a lot to like here. Along the same vein of ”Bride of Chaotica,” the episode is goofy fun that neither you, now the cast take seriously. At least you should not. Virtually none of the story elements are original. There are some gaping plot holes, too. But Lord help me, I think I am getting used to the idea that is the best VOY can do, so I just go with it.

The ship runs across an anomaly that turns out to be a wormhole leading directly to Earth. The odds of finding something like that are infinitesimal, so the crew greets the discovery with skepticism. However, they slowly begin to come around, and when they receive letters from Starfleet in response to a provbe sent in, they buy it hook line and sinker. We begin to realize something is up because the letters tell the crew everything they want to hear--Chakotay has been pardoned, tom’s father is not a jerk, Janeway’s fiance after Gilligan and the Skipper helped the bride escape after she got cold feet (I kid, I kid) and the Maquis are still alive--and everyone is a completely uncritical cultist over the prospect of going home.

Only Seven, the doctor, and Naomi are unaffected. The crew swiftly acts to shut off the Doctor’s program and stymie seven in her subsequent effort to shut down the engines. The doctor is a hologram and Seven is a borg, so that explains why they are unaffected by the creature’s mind control, but no explanation is given for Naomi. The writers needed some excuse to get the plucky kid to further bond with Seven, so--boom--she is unaffected. Which is actually fine with me. Naomi provides some sweet and funny moments as she both follows seven orders at times and clings to her like the scared little girl she is at others. For once, Star Trek does a kid right after the entire crew, with the exception of them, is rendered unconscious. Not habit forming, I am afraid.

Naomi is not enough to bounce ideas off, so when the ship enters the creature in spite of Seven’s efforts, she beams over the occupant of another ship trapped inside to help. He is Qatal, played by W. Morgan Sheppard, father of Mark. Mark Sheppard will appear in the seventh season himself, but he is always going to be the bitterly sarcastic Romo lampkin from Battlestar Galactica to me. Qatal is the Captain Ahab to the creature’s Moby Dick. The final two acts of “Bliss” are given over to long monologues about the damage the creature has done in his 39 years of pursuing it, the thousands of lives lost , and the need to kill it in order to escape. But he assures all parties he is not obsessed. He is the stereotype of every grizzled old sailor out there. No surprises, but still amusing.

It is Watal who urges them to kill the creature, but the revived doctor assures him the federation does not do anything like that anymore. I could almost picture janeway waking up and saying, “I do,” before the doctor bonks her on the head to knock her out for contradicting him. That might violate the do no harm thing, though. There is not much of a moral debate. They make the creature bard them up, then establish a beacon which warns other ships to stay away. The episode ends with Watal rentering the creature in his ship to either kill ort be killed. We are not shown which.

There are three problems with “Bliss.” One, the creature is said to not be intelligent. It acts only on higher instinct. This point is brought up for the blink and you will miss it moral debate over whether to kill it. But how does a creature without intelligence influence the crew so easily? How does it fool the sensors into showing it is a wormhole/? How does it know to stop Seven and the Doctor’s efforts to keep the ship away from it? That is some higher instincts there. Two, how can every system be rerouted to engineering for Seven to run the ship completely with ease? Does Voyager even need a full crew? Finally, Naomi has a gash on her face from the bumpy ride when the ship is swallowed. The doctor never even mentions it, much less seals the wound for her. It is a minor quibble, but it bugs me regardless.

In spite of the flaws, “Bliss” is a fun episode. Again, if you do not think too much about it. There is not much original about it. A lot of things do not logically add up. Yet there is still a big entertainment factor. Any story centered around Seven and the Doctor is generally worthwhile. Naomi is even growing on me here. I have to recommend “Bliss’ in spite of itself. It is a better episode than it has any logical right to be.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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