Monday, October 24, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Muse"

“Muse” is Joe Menosky’s swan song for Star Trek Menosky has been one of my favorite writers for the franchise. He specialized in high concept stories that did not always work, but when they did, they were thought provoking experiences. I count ’Muse” among one of his best efforts. I like it not only for its quality, but for the subtle tweaks at how the series has been dumbed down more than it should have in order to fit in with network television.

I had not considered external factors affecting the series when watching VOY in the past or reviewing it now. My general assumption has been that syndicated series are considered lesser shows--aspiring writers are advised sending a spec script for syndicated series to a prospective agent is the kiss of death--but perhaps the red headed stepchild status of syndicated series applies only to the business end. Is there more creative freedom to explore tough issues and bend the rules/ Maybe so. I doubt anyone would argue network series like VOY and ENT surpass the syndicated TNG or DS9. Higher budgets, more expensive advertising, and network interference must lead to a “safer” product being put out there.

Such seems to be the underlying message of “Muse.” Menosky sounds as though he regrets being subdued by the format of the television format, wherein each act has to have a certain element in order to progress the syory predictably and a needed bit of drama at which to cut to commercial. There is no room to experiment. As I have noted above, experiment with stories is what Mrnosky is all about. If nothing else, at least we know now why television is so formulaic. There is a formula to it that every wannabe writer must learn.

To the story: Torres and Harry have crashed the Delta Flyer--speaking of formulaic-- on a planet that resembles a cross between ancient Greece, though not absurdly enough to fit in with some of the sillier TOS planets that are way too much like Earth. Harry jettisoned an escape pod and is missing for most of the episode. Torres is unconscious for eight days, which sounds very bad, but this is VOY, so she is perfectly fine. She is discovered by a playwright named Kelis. Somehow, he accesses the ship’s logs to learn all about Voyager and the crew. From what he learns, he writes a hit play. When his matron demands another, Kelis mines Torres for more ideas in exchange for his gathering supplies she needs to repair the Delta Flyer.

There is a war brewing in the backdrop. Kelis believes the people’s minds can be turned away from the prospect of fighting if his play can convey that love and peace should win out over the fear and hatred currently running through the people. Torres is skeptical such a thing can happen. When tensions are about to boil over into a war, the last thing people care about is love. The negative emotions are too strong. Kelis partially agrees, as does the Wise Old Man of the acting troupe. They both concede contemporary writers adhere to the same old, same old in order to manipulate the audience into feeling certain ways rather than challenging them to come to conclusions themselves.

What is funny is how Kelis’ play in progress resembles VOY as a series, warts and all. Janeway and Chakotay are thrust into an implausible romance devoid of any emotion, which is exactly what the romance would be like, contrary to those fans clamoring for it. The actor playing Tuvok resents the emotionless part because it limits his range. The audience might think he is a bad actor because of how dry the character is. Janeway is on a quest to murder the Borg Queen in a brutal act of revenge in which she does not care who is injured in the process, yet tosses her plan aside in the end when one suspects it might be wise to go through with it. Because, you know, Janeway is crazy. The play is presented as absurd because Kelis is not getting it right according to Torres, yet he is actually spot on.

If there is any problem with “Muse,” is is the ending in which Torres herself improvises the conclusion to the play, beaming out at the last moment in a dazzling display. The smash ending presumably convinces the people to silence the war drums, but I am skeptical there is enough juice in order to accomplish that. It is left up in the air, so I suppose it is reasonable to assume it did not, but that preventing the war is an issue that matters only to Kelis. The play’s the thing, so to speak.

“Muse" is a very good episode. I have a hunch Menosky might have been given more freedom to make it that way since it was to be his final script. There are no explosions, gun battles, weird aliens, or an angst moral dilemma. There are not even a whole lot of science fiction elements. The episode is almost entirely Torres and Kelis working through their respective tasks while relying on each other for aid and insight. It is a breath of fresh air among many really bad, clichéd episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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