Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Lifeline"

The final two seasons of VOY could fairly be titled Star Trek: Seven and the Doctor for how often episodes center on them. Generally speaking, Doctor-centric episodes are a notch above, since Seven is often tacked onto someone else’s story unnecessarily while the doctor is a well-rounded character who carry an episode himself. A primary case in point is “Lifeline,” wherein the Doctor’s “family” appears.

Thanks to Barclay, who makes a return appearance, Starfleet and Voyager can now exchange data in a large stream once a month. One of the messages received by Voyager is Barclay informing the Doctor his creator. Dr. Zimmerman, is terminally ill. Perhaps the Doctor’s experiences in the Delta Quadrant have given him some insight. The Doctor believes seven’s Borg nanotech can cure him--see how Seven gets marginally tacked onto any story/--so he talks Janeway into transmitting his program to the Alpha Quadrant so he can treat Zimmerman personally, believing he is the only one who can effectively perform the procedure.

Zimmerman is not thrilled to see him. The EMH Mark One, the only one which have Zimmerman’s personal appearance, are obsolete has medical personnel and have been reprogrammed to clean garbage scowls. Zimmerman has taken an emotional hit to know his greatest accomplishment has gone from providing emergency medical care across space to scraping grime of old barges, all with his face. The Doctor is a reminder of his disgrace. He does not want to be treated by a reminder of his shame.

“Lifeline” is all about the personality clash between the Doctor and Zimmerman. They act exactly alike, so they bear witness to personality flaws and are resentful. No one wants to see their flaws firsthand. Their interactions are humorous and very well done considering Picardo is playing both characters. They engage in wild hand motions, hand off objects to each other, and perform as though they are two different actors there. It is easy to take for granted, but one actor portaying two characters interacting simultaneously through the magic of special effects is not easy to do, particularly when the script calls for high emotion from both. I give high marks for icardo, as well as Dwight Shultz and Marina Sirtis, whose Troi character is added to the mix in the third act, for handling the scenario as well as they do. Let us face it, neither are master thespians under normal circumstances.

The subtle connections between characters is a nice touch. Zimmerman has surrounded himself with holograms, including a pretty young blonde named haley, while eschewing relationship with real people outside of Barclay. Barclay himself has struggled with relationships with real people, often retreating into the holodeck for safety. The two are kindred spirits who empathize with the other’s emotional issues, even if Zimmerman refuses to admit it and Barclay is likely unaware that is the key to their relationship. The Zimmerman/Barclay interactions are as well done as the father/son relationship between Zimmerman and the Doctor as it warms during the episode.

The cure works for Zimmerman in an almost incidental manner. The fact he could be cured is never a matter of drama. It is all about the relationships. Once in a rare while, VOY has forgone slam bang action for a small, personal story and produced a winner. It is a shame the series could not have done it more often. It might be looked upon more favorably these days.

I have to note with bemusement a bit thrown in regarding the now forgotten all but forgotten Maquis element. One of the messages received from Starfleet is one to Janeway from an admiral concerned about the “Maquis situation.” Starfleet assumes there is still an enormous amount of tension between the crewmembers because of divided loyalty. Janeway and Chakotay literally snicker over it, then run off to have lunch together. The sequence is such a goofy way of admitting the conflict that was supposed to run through the entire series has not really been factor since the first season. Voyager might as well be a lost vessel manned by nothing but Starfleet personnel.

Another note--Zimmerman says he has not left Jupiter Station in four years. That means his last trip away was likely the DS9 visit in which he interviewed Bashir for the EMH Mark Two. Leeta broke his heart then by choosing Rom over him. That is enough to smash any man’s ego worse than having his likeness serve as loewly janitors. Or having your masterpiece creation upgraded to look like Andy Dick. That has to hurt, too.

“lifeline” is one of the best episodes of the sixth season. It is probably on a lot of fan’s top ten, maybe even top five lists of the best episodes of the series. I will not argue with anyone who thinks so, but I still do not believe it merits four stars. It drags in places. For instance, Troi is added to the episode solely because there is nothing to bridge the third and fourth acts. She is completely irrelevant afterwards.. Does it not seem unhealthy for Barclay to cling to her as a crutch for every problem he has? Regardless, Picardo saves the episode by superbly acting against…himself. I almost regret we never got the chance to get him and Brent Spiner in an episode so we could have the doctor, Zimmerman, Data, lore, and Dr. Soong all in one. No Arik, though. He and his band of augmented. Van Halen groupies are best forgotten.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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