Sunday, October 2, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Equinox, Part I"

“Equinox, Part I” serves as the fifth season finale. It has the title by default, because there is little to no reason why one would care to see the resolution to the cliffhanger. Maybe I am jaded about such things at this point, but the episode features the most unexciting cliffhanger in VOY’s run. Dconsider how lackluster VOY is in general when assessing the value of my opinion on the cliffhanger’s quality. It is now widely known part one was written without the conclusion in mind. Such as happened on Star Trek shows before with mized results, but this time there is a definite ambivalence on the part of the writers. Whether it is the result of tensions on the set or a fear VOY is abut to be cancelled, I have no idea.

The end result is a shame because the premise brings up many interesting questions and possibilities for future changes. Voyager discovers another Federation ship stranded in the Delta Quadrant. The Equinox is a smaller vessel designed for research. It has few resources for long term survival and little weaponry to defend itself. The Equinox crew has had to survive alien attacks and other hardships similar yo Voyager, but with far less capabilities. Hence, the crew has been more desperate and willing to bend the rules in order to survive.

When Voyager discovers the Equinox, it has been heavily damaged by an attack from one-dimensional aliens. Perhaps because of the relief at meeting another federal vessel, no one on Voyager questions why the aliens might be attacking. They all go on salvaging the Equinox and devising a defense against the aliens which are literally eating away at their shields.

It is not until the fourth act we learn the Equinox discovered the aliens by chance and realized they could be converted into an energy source which allowed the ship to travel thousands of light years a month. They have killed scores of them in an effort to get back to the Alpha Quadrant. The aliens have been attacking the Equinox and now Voyager defend themselves.

Once the truth is discovered, Janeway confines the remaining Equinox crew to quarters, but they are rescued by their EMH, whose ethical subroutine has been removed so he will not object to performing the matter to energy conversion on the aliens. He has stolen the doctor’s mobile emitter, in case you were not certain that all the EMH’s ethics were removed. The Equinox crew escapes after a short firefight with the enhanced shields Seven had been working on and strand Voyager without defense as they fall under attack by the aliens.

“Equinox, Part I" introduces two interesting elements, and then squanders both of them.: the ethical question of what is a justifiable action in the name of survival and how can the addition of new crew members with shadier morality enhance the show’s drama? The latter is not addressed within the episode itself, I have to address it anyway.

First, the ethical question Ransom, captain of the Equinox, has had a far more tumultuous time of it than Janeway. He has not had the resources to protect his crew, so he has steadily lost crew to attacks. They have even faced starvation since their ship does not have replicators. Voyager is a luxury liner compared to the Equinox with its replicators, holodecks, lots of space to move around, and plenty of weapons to defend it. Ransom has literally faced the question of whether it is moral to steal a loaf of bread to keep from starving to death. Needless to say, Janeway sits in judgment.

Ransom brings up a specific Starfleet regulation that a captain is to use any justifiable means necessary to ensure the survival of his crew. He believes killing the aliens in order to get his crew home before they starve to death is justifiable in the sense sacrificing a few aliens is a lesser evil than allowing his crew to die. Janeway does not agree, which one has to find at least a bit hypocritical. She has, in just one incident, allied herself with the Borg in order to ensure safe passage through their territory. In return, she has helped kill far more of the Species 8472 than the aliens Ransom has killed, and her actions enabled the borg to continue assimilating species. We know from encounters with subsequent survivors of borg attacks entire species have been nearly wiped out, but Janeway has little concern her decisions lead to genocide. The survival of her crew was important enough to her that the ends justified the means.

The moral issue becomes murkier when you consider the nature of the aliens Ransom is killing for energy. They appear to be more animal-like than anything else, with instincts rather than intelligence and no language. How do you differentiate aliens from animals? Would that make a difference in the first place? I do not want to get into an animal rights debate, but I am one who believes it is fine to use animals for food, clothing, labor, and medical experiments. It is not moral to use animals for fighting, bestiality, and perhaps more frivolous experiments like cosmetic testing. In the broadest sense, this is how I define the God mandated stewardship over Creation. Within that scope, I am not certain Ransom has done anything immoral. This aliens look and act like unintelligent lizards. They certainly are not Klingons, Vulcans, or Cardassians whose human qualities would insist on moral considerations. But when we are talking about aliens, who can differentiate between the more humanlike and the rest? Whatever reason we feel animals are lesser beings we can utilize--lack of intelligence, lack of civilization, no opposable thumb, no soul, whatever you choose--how would the rationale apply to aliens/ Neither Ransom, nor Janeway discuss the issue. These aliens could be the equivalent of mosquitoes for all anyone knows, but Janeway thinks they are more valuable than the crew of the Equinox regardless of their status and that she has killed definitely higher beings on behalf of her crew’s survival.

The second issue can be addressed in shorter terms. (You are welcome.) The guest cast is quite good. The whispery voiced John Savage, who plays ransom, is billed as a special guest star, is obviously not an option to be integrated into the Voyager crew when it is all said and done, but the other prominent Equinox crewmembers are. Titus Welliver (Silas Adams on Deadwood and the Man in Black on Lost) is an old flame of Torres’ who makes her light up more than Tom does, so there is a potential love triangle. Rick Worthy (the Cylon Doctor from Battlestar Galactica plays a science whiz. Olivia Burkeland (Okay, she is a soap opera star like many Star Trek guest stars. She played a murder victim in The Lovely Bones with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Surely that counts for something.) is a sweet woman in over her head who is wrestling with her conscience over her part in killing the aliens. Any one would make a nifty addition to Voyager with new tension that has been missing since all parties forgot half the crew is Maquis. But no such luck. The powers that be would have to actually care about the show in order to plan a big chance like that.

There is not much to “Equinox, Part I” The story is not exciting. The moral issues are not explored. The cliffhanger involves Janeway shooting an alien. I am from the south. Shooting critters is nothing new, much less thrilling enough to end a season on. I have a difficult time offering an honest rating since I already know the payoff in the sixth season premiere does not elevate this episode, but the potential is there if you have never seen the conclusion. I am going to award it a watchable rating because it is thought provoking in spite of itself. A better writer could have integrated some of the issues I wrote about above into the script to make it more interesting, but the script it what it is--just sort of there.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

No comments:

Post a Comment