Archive for January, 2023

Trekaday 068: Persistence of Vision, Starship Down, Tattoo, Little Green Men, Cold Fire, The Sword of Kahless, Maneuvers

Posted on January 24th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S02E08 Persistence of Vision (2.5 out of 5 stars). Janeway, who has her hair back up in a bun, is ratty and, god help us, the Doctor prescribes an immediate visit to the Holodeck. There the Captain can lose herself in a Holonovel of such excruciating boredom that I assume the treatment regimen involves her passing out through aggravated tedium, which even the luminous Carolyn Seymour can’t elevate. Alas, the ennui can’t be contained and it starts spilling out to other areas of the ship. There’s a crumb of interest in watching Janeway handing over to Chakotay when she’s incapacitated, and there’s a little power in the final scene with Kes and imaginary Neelix. The Chakotay / Torres clinch however manages to weaken both characters. The Doctor has to watch a YouTube tutorial before he can help Kes reprogram the console.

DS9 S04E07 Starship Down (4.5 out of 5 stars). Frequent guest star James Cromwell turns up again, grousing about Quark’s various made-up tariffs and taxes. Before long, the Jem Hader are firing on the Defiant, which has to lurk in the atmosphere of a gas giant. Cue the kind of Das Boot claustrophobia we haven’t seen perhaps since The Immunity Syndrome in TOS, complete with Dax and Bashir on the wrong side of an emergency bulkhead (and presumably no way to beam them back to safety), Worf clambering about through the guts of the Defiant and Kira desperately trying to keep an injured Sisko conscious. This is a great lesson in how to write an episode of a case-of-the-week show for an ensemble. Here, pretty much every featured character gets a strong development of their character, or relationship with another key cast member, and yet nothing feels like it’s been discarded, upended or re-invented. Only Quark’s subplot fails to live up to the promise. The “Morn-is-a-chatterbox” running gag which has been hinted at for some time is now revealed in its full glory.

VOY S02E09 Tattoo (1 out of 5 stars). A scrawl on a desolate moon sends Chakotay into a flashback where his dad is teaching him about sacred lands. Although Janeway hangs a lantern on it, this is another ludicrous coincidence where one of a handful of people stranded thousands of light years away from home come into contact with something which is meaningful to them personally. Chakotay is such a resolutely dull character that even this enthusiastic burrowing into his past life and family culture does nothing whatsoever to bring him into sharper focus. And as tiresome as I find Kira bleating about “the Emissary”, this super-generic-sounding “ancient tribe” business is even more grating. In the B-plot, Kes teaches the Doctor about compassion by giving him COVID, which is… fine. Everyone else is firmly in TNG Season 1 all-business all-the-time mode. Even Janeway gets nothing to do.

DS9 S04E08 Little Green Men (4.5 out of 5 stars). Nog is off to Starfleet academy and is selling off his personal possessions. Meanwhile, Quark has come into possession of a shiny new ship, dubbed Quark’s Treasure and is turning Nog’s trip to Earth into a smuggling operation. But the craft has been sabotaged and Rom’s efforts to avoid disaster send them hurtling back in time – all three Ferengi wake up in an army base in post-war America, where talk of Roswell is already circulating. That’s an absolutely delightful premise for an episode. This is the “grim” Star Trek at its goofiest but also its most entertaining. They even remember that all aliens speak English only because a universal translator is in operation. Although I could have sworn that tech was built into com-badges, rather than being buried in the ear canal.

Once communications are established, the Ferengi counter the American Army’s wonderment at this world-altering event with a sleazy desire to flog off Federation tech for as much gold as they can carry. Only Nog is worried about damage to the timelines. Further complicating matters is the presence of Odo, who snuck onboard the ship. He and Rom hatch a plan which owes more than a little to an early draft of Back to the Future wherein Marty had to drive the DeLorean in to ground zero of an atomic blast. Eventually the Ferengi, and even the friendly humans, are forced to make up pulp science fiction nonsense involving mind control powers, death rays and the like. It’s a remarkable blend of influences that never fails to entertain.

There’s a nice nod to Past Tense (Gabriel Bell looks like Sisko). When Ferengi die they go to the Divine Treasury.

VOY S02E10 Cold Fire (3 out of 5 stars). This isn’t a two-parter, but it’s picking up story threads that go all the way back to the pilot, so we get a “previously on…” recap in any case. The remains of The Caretaker are doing the shimmy shimmy shake, raising the possibility that the other like being might be nearby. Once again, Voyager’s straight-line path home seems beset with treasures. Meanwhile, despite his patient psi tutelage, no amount of Tuvok digging into Kes’s mind can succeed in dredging up an actual character. Her education continues once a second array comes into view as Ocampan Morpheus shows here that there is no spoon. Eventually, “Suspiria” manifests as a meek blonde haired little girl and, in a Twilight Zone-style gag, appears to murder both Tuvok and B’Elanna, but don’t worry, they’re fine. None of this is bad, exactly, but it’s all hugely “so what?”, the television equivalent of a big shrug.

DS9 S04E09 The Sword of Kahless (2.5 out of 5 stars). I really should try and get over my dislike of Klingon mythology episodes. Actually, when I sat down and watched TNG from the beginning, very few of them were as dull as I feared. But my efforts to try and engage are not helped when the cast themselves can hardly bear listening to this gasbag warrior banging on about glorious battles and famous victories. Worse, the gasbag Klingon is toting a treasure map as if we didn’t have clichés enough to deal with. Elevating this slightly is the fact that the gasbag in question is the returning John Kolicos as Kor, but it’s still hard for me to be super-invested.

Dax, Worf and Kor follow the trail and (having reversed the polarity), like a triple-headed Indiana Jones, they come across the sacred bat’leth of legend, just as they hoped. Something about the lighting or the composition or the sound effects contrives to make the prop seem particularly plasticky and flimsy, which is a shame after all the build-up. Despite this, there’s plenty of double-crossing and malice between the two Klingons as we transition from Raiders to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But none of this really means anything, and despite excellent work from all three leads, the final act only reminds me of squabbling children.

Shaving technology appears not to have moved on much in the intervening centuries. Fair enough, I suppose. All these caves look the same to me.

VOY S02E11 Maneuvers (4 out of 5 stars). A Federation beacon lures the ship into a hydrogen cloud whereupon they are set upon by a particularly crafty Kazon ship which ends up boarding Voyager. The raiding party makes off with a transporter module, whatever that may be, which they think they’ll be able to integrate now that they have help from Martha Hackett’s deliciously evil Seska. I’d completely forgotten about this entire storyline – if I ever saw these episodes – and the turncoat Cardassian is rapidly becoming my third favourite character after Janeway and the Doctor.

Her wild-card energy raises the game of much around her. The business of the Kazon sects seems a bit more interesting this time round, a handy way of differentiating them from other more monolithic races, and a source of additional complexity, instead of simply allowing the Kazon to be whatever we need them to be this week. There’s even a bit of not-entirely-colourless off-duty banter from  B’Elanna and Chakotay (Chakotay!) And even at the rapid pace of shooting a new episode every seven or so days, director David Livingston finds the time to turn an ordinary-seeming walk-and-talk into a dramatic hand-held shot, showing off the extensive interconnected Voyager sets.

When Chakotay sets off on his own, in a vainglorious attempt to destroy the stolen tech, he seems a tiny bit more like the proudly rebellious Maquis leader we met in the pilot, and less like the blandly stiff career Starfleet woodblock we’ve been watching for thirty-odd episodes. He leaves a message telling Janeway not to come rescue him, but of course she does, on B’Elanna’s urging. The climax features some rather ropey plotting, as B’Elanna boasts that her unique Maquis skills will allow her to beam Chakotay off the Kazon ship as they whizz past at warp – following which they slow down before they attempt the rescue, and then bargain for the Commander’s return rather than using the transporter in any case. It’s Martha Hackett’s show though, and she’s fantastic.

Trekaday 067: The Way of the Warrior, Twisted, The Visitor, Parturition, Hippocratic Oath, Indiscretion, Rejoined

Posted on January 17th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S04E01-2 The Way of the Warrior (5 out of 5 stars). In his ultimate configuration, with four pips, a goatee beard and now shaved head, Sisko is hunting a changeling onboard the station. He has Kira at his side, and she also has a new do, making her look a little less Daniel Radcliffe and a little more Farrah Fawcett. The hunt is a training exercise led by Odo. Finally, the big bad of the series feels a little more tangible. The titles and theme music have been refreshed too.

There are a shit ton of Klingons on the station and among their number is Michael Dorn as Worf. His name appears in the opening credits before we see him – so we now have nine in our regular cast, including is-he-or-isn’t-he Cirroc Lofton as Jake. Feels like a lot. Speaking of which, Dorn will appear in the show for the next four years, racking up a total of around 280 episodes in the role, which is a Star Trek record. Does the show need him? Possibly not. Does it benefit from his presence? Assuredly. He makes quite an entrance, the camera travelling up from his boots, across his TNG-style uniform and tabard before revealing his face.

Switching back from Voyager is a tonic. The characters here are so much more individualised and rich. Odo and Garak can sit and talk and it’s fascinating. Kira and Dax can sit and talk and it’s fascinating. Sisko and Kasidy can have dinner and it’s… but, Odo and Garak, right? And the big political story – the Klingons plan to attack Cardassia because they believe that the Dominion already has a toehold there, and they are willing to do this even if it means ending their allyship with the Federation – is refracted through the characters, particular new arrival Worf who has to figure out whether he is a Klingon first or a Starfleet officer first. It’s rich, textured stuff.

It’s taken a while, around a year longer than TNG, but this feels like a mature and confident series, ready to tell its own story, well clear of the shadow of its progenitor (and thus free to help itself to one of that progenitor’s legendary characters). Klingon blood is much more red here than it was in The Undiscovered Country (“we never speak of it”).

VOY S02E06 Twisted (2 out of 5 stars). The episode opens with yet more Holobollocks as the crew throws Kes a surprise birthday party in that silly French pool room. I really struggle to care about the Kes-Neelix-Paris love triangle. Kes and Paris are so underwritten and Neelix is never more irritating than when he’s frustrated. Not invited to the shindig are humourless Tuvok and Kim who have a blue wibbly thing they need to deal with first. It’s a nice moment for Tuvok, who manages to grant Kim’s request without breaking the rules.

Kim encounters an officer we’ve never met before and they have a long conversation which is remorselessly just-the-facts-ma’am. It’s hard to imagine any other two characters in the franchise having such a meaningless, arid exchange. I swear if I showed that scene to someone who had never seen the show before then they would have no way of knowing who was the series regular and who was the anonymous guest star.

The main thrust of the episode is a riff on The House That Jack Built – the corridors of the ship rearrange themselves and the crew find themselves doubling back. Thanks to some creepy music and atmospheric direction, this simple (and delightfully inexpensive) device works reasonably well. So, yet again, we have an episode which is built entirely on its high concept, and which treats its characters as interchangeable pawns. That means we are invited to interrogate the concept and so we are forced to conclude that the ship can be turned into a sort of Möbius Pretzel and suffer no damage to its structural integrity. Uh-huh. Eventually the day is saved when Tuvok comes up with the brilliant stratagem of getting everyone to cross their fingers. There’s a flicker of something deeper and richer between him and Chakotay but it soon passes.

The episode ends with the anomaly having deposited a vast store of data into Voyager’s databanks. I can’t wait to find out what valuable information is there for them.

DS9 S04E03 The Visitor (5 out of 5 stars). Late at night, an old man who has pictures of Sisko and son on his desk receives a mysterious visitor. This is elderly Jake Sisko, a very good match for Cirroc Lofton. His teen ambition to become a writer, dismissed by me as being arbitrary and generic, is paying off in a small way. If this vision of the future is to be believed, Jake only wrote two books in his lifetime. He begins to tell us how his father died – when he was only 18!

Back in “our” timeline, Sisko père is battling a warp core breach and it seems as if he has been successful but then he is seemingly vaporised. He’s splintered through time, and the Klingons occupy the station, forcing Jake out. We see Jake’s home on Earth, his wife, Nog as a Starfleet Lieutenant. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a vision of a possible future on this show, and the uniforms even recall All Good Things, but it’s never been this emotional before. As with any event on this scale in an episode of a television show, let alone one predicated on time travel shenanigans, a reset switch is coming, but it’s almost unbearably emotional, as adult Jake sacrifices himself in order that his father can have a chance at life. Not only that, it seems clear from the final shots that although this version of Jake is erased from existence, Ben remembers everything. This is amazing, heartstopping stuff.

VOY S02E07 Parturition (3.5 out of 5 stars). Paris at his most punchably smug is teaching Kes how to pilot a shuttlecraft, but at least he’s differentiated from the rest of the crew, which is something. And it helps the somewhat tedious Paris/Kes/Neelix that Paris is coming into focus, especially as the purpose of this episode is to trap Neelix and Paris together on “Planet Hell” and have them resolve their differences, just as the problem of the unruly Maquis element was recently solved in Learning Curve. It’s almost as if the writers see their job as looking for potential elements of drama and writing whole episodes designed to iron them flat. I would have been looking for ways to heighten that kind of character conflict, so shows what I know.

But we do at least get an episode that’s focused on who Neelix and Paris are, rather than one which picks two characters at random and has them spout nonsense at a blue wibbly thing. (Neelix even says “Stop trying to impress me with your technobabble,” at one point, which made me laugh out loud.) Sure, it’s quite a well-worn trope – including in this franchise – to take a pair of characters, trap them in an isolated space and give them a moral dilemma to deal with. Here, even the cave sets look familiar. But it’s well-worn because it works, and Voyager perhaps should have been doing this kind of story sooner. Neelix’s jealousy is something I’ve struggled to care about, and Tom Paris’s rebellious nature was neutered almost immediately. But after a strong showing in an alternative timeline last week, Robert Duncan Macneill is beginning to show what he can do. While he’s still a long way from James Dean, he’s at least got more going for him than Kim and Chakotay and this plotline even gives Jennifer Lien a chance to act a bit.

Apparently, I’m supposed to hate this episode with its trite moralising and it’s silly rubber dino-puppet but I found that it gave me a few things which other recent episodes have sorely lacked. Janeway has a new shorter haircut which is an enormous improvement on the school marm bun she’d been saddled with earlier.

DS9 S04E04 Hippocratic Oath (4.5 out of 5 stars). Not for the first time, O’Brien and Bashir are stuck in a runabout together on a fairly flimsy pretext (their mission sounds like it could be handed off to a couple of Starfleet grunts, rather than requiring two of the station’s senior staff to take care of it). “Why can’t Keiko be more like a man?” fumes O’Brien, channelling Henry Higgins.

Despite there being no Dominion outposts for weeks, they crash land and are immediately imprisoned by the Jem’Hadar. But these Jem’Hadar are keen to break away from the Dominion and they want Bashir’s help to get them off the drug which they have been engineered to be dependent on. It’s a typically murky and nuanced premise from this show which keeps surprising me with its willingness to engage with the darker consequences of its concepts.

And while this doesn’t reinvent Bashir or upend our idea of who the young doctor is, this is Siddig’s best performance to date, free of a lot of the tics and puppyish jittering of Season 1. It is slightly surprising that initially Bashir is only focused on escape and doesn’t immediately try and convince O’Brien that they should stay and help. When he does, and has to pull rank to get what he wants, a strong episode becomes a great one.

In the B-plot, Worf has it in for Quark and cannot understand why Odo doesn’t have him behind bars. It’s fascinating to see Worf, whose devotion to Picard I consistently found so touching, dealing with a more pragmatic, less by-the-book Starfleet captain in Sisko. It’s also fascinating to see a “new” character get introduced not as having uniquely valuable abilities but rather coming in and screwing up what’s already there.

Most of the cast still pronounce the Ferengi’s name to rhyme to “fork”, except Armin Shimerman, who pronounces it to rhyme with “bark”. O’Brien’s destruction of Bashir’s experiment is a special effect almost unparalleled in its shoddy appearance.

DS9 S04E05 Indiscretion (4 out of 5 stars). Back for more is Roy Brocksmith, this time as smuggler Razka Khan. So is Hans Beimler of all people. Once booted out of TNG, along with writing partner Richard Manning, as Michael Piller’s new broom swept out the old staff, now he’s back and will contribute many more scripts as time goes in.

In this one, Kira is searching for a ship, the Ravinok, missing, and thought destroyed. As this was a Cardassian craft, the new civilian government wants to send an observer along with Kira’s expedition. Delightfully, this observer is none other than Gul Dukat. The danger here is that this will be another episode in which we hear endless stories about people we’ve never met, doing things we don’t care about, in places we’ve never been to. But the pairing of Dukat and Kira keeps the actual story where it belongs, between the on-screen characters, and these are two of the finest actors across the entire franchise. The combination of their fraught backstory and the skill of these two players makes a simple dialogue scene completely compelling.

When they find their quarry, director LeVar Burton makes the most of the location filming. The crashed ship looks very impressive. Even more impressive is the depth of feeling which Alaimo brings to the discovery that a Bajoran woman Dukat was in love with is among those buried near the wreckage. Humiliatingly, the Cardassian next gets a spine up his rear end and Kira has to hoik it out for him. They even end up laughing together. But the laughter sticks in Kira’s throat when Dukat admits that to preserve his Cardassian family he will have to murder his half-Bajoran daughter.

While the Kira-Dukat stuff is all pretty great, Sisko being afraid of commitment and screwing up his nice dinner with Kasidy is far less interesting (although Dax and Bashir ganging up on their captain is good fun). How is it than when dealing with the made-up conflicts of bumpy-headed space aliens, this series manages to be so detailed, specific and truthful, but when dealing with the personal lives of ordinary American humans like the Siskos, the writing degenerates into generic clichés?

It would dishonour Cardassian dead for Bajorans to see the remains.

DS9 S04E06 Rejoined (4 out of 5 stars). Successfully exploiting the possibilities of the Trill lifestyle for the characters (as opposed to just rehashing the biological details), the story has Dax required to share the station with her ex, a scientist named Lenara Kahn. The incel narrative that Discovery is Woke-ism run amok requires at the very least ignoring the fact that Jadzia is clearly a trans character, but the complicated history of the Dax symbiont allows this same-sex relationship to be explored without Rick Berman having an aneurysm, on the basis that when they were married, Dax and Kahn were a perfectly proper hetero couple as God and the FCC always intended.

While Kahn’s team is here to create the galaxy’s first artificial wormhole, the script is focused almost entirely on the relationship, and only cares about the technobabble a tiny bit more than I do. Rekindling past relationships is strictly taboo, something which it seems hard for Jadzia to keep in mind – she’s rather sweetly bashful and awkward around Kahn when they meet at the buffet table. It’s a new side of Dax and Terry Farrell is more than able to rise to the challenge.

The Trill taboo makes it easy to read this as a depiction of homophobia, which is very clever, adding a real-world resonance to the made-up society, but what really makes this work is the strong playing of Farrell and Susanna Thompson as Kahn. The adventure genre reasserts itself towards the climax, and the ending is never in doubt, so this slightly dribbles away at the end, but this still feels like a real love story in a way which so often evades this franchise – and they even manage a proper kiss!

Worf’s small talk and Quark’s befuddlement at conjuring tricks are the source of some amusement. I don’t know if the sleight-of-hand is a metaphor for Dax and Kahn’s hidden feelings, or for the scriptwriters hiding a gay storyline in plain sight, or just there for a bit of extra colour, but it’s fun either way.

Trekaday 066: The 37s, Initiations, Projections, Elogium, Non Sequitur

Posted on January 10th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S02E01 The 37s (3.5 out of 5 stars). “Follow that trail of rust.” In what feels like a real throwback to TOS, Voyager encounters an old red pickup truck floating in space, and its AM radio picks up an SOS distress signal. Paris has a convenient interest in ancient vehicles, which is what we’ll have to make do with until, or if, he develops an actual personality. This is all cheerfully ridiculous and the sight of the senior staff ducking for cover and Tuvok pulling out his phaser when the thing backfires is properly funny.

In another throwback, Janeway decides to land the ship when the transporters are technobabbled to death. It was the impossibility of landing the Enterprise every week on a TV budget which led to the invention of the transporter in the first place. And now, here we are, bringing her into land. The problems of the Maquis crewmembers having been solved at the end of the last season, there’s a renewed sense of confidence here, even if the main cast are still all-business-all-the-time, and the sight of Voyager squatting on an alien world as the crew wanders off is very striking.

The trail leads them to famed navigator Amelia Earhart and various other obstreperous Earth people, whose inability to deal with their situation immediately recalls Ralph Offenhouse and co. from the TNG episode The Neutral Zone. It’s ludicrous enough that the Enterprise would stumble across an old capsule from Earth containing three nonentities. It’s gigantically preposterous that hugely famous Earhart would be found by Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, but if you can swallow that, then the story skips along quite nicely, aided by some expansive location work and a lovely guest performance from Sharon Lawrence as Earhart. I rather hoped she’d stay onboard.

VOY S02E02 Initiations (2.5 out of 5 stars). Chakotay, who still has a backstory where a character is needed, is performing a not-made-up-sounding grieving ritual when the Kazan despatch a kid to take on his shuttlecraft and teach him a lesson. Having bested him in combat, Chakotay beams the lad aboard. Again, I don’t quite know why Janeway is indulging this when there are perfectly good Holodecks on Voyager (there are even other away teams busy with who knows what). When the first officer tries to drop the sprog off with his parents, the Kazan grab the shuttlecraft in a tractor beam.

“I’m a gentle man, from gentle people,” mumbles freedom fighter and anti-Federation terrorist leader Chakotay. The price for his freedom is to murder the boy, and he naturally declines, and the two of them ending up bonding on a booby-trapped moon. Throughout this, Chakotay – who was established as the Maquis captain – is nothing more than a Generic Starfleet Officer Who Does Everything By The Book. Swap him with Harry Kim or Tom Paris and nothing much changes. We do learn a bit more about the Kazan, but they largely come across as Diet Coke Klingons, obsessed with dying in battle.

MVP of this episode turns out to be Neelix, who engages in some entertaining brinksmanship with the Kazon, when given the opportunity to spend some time on the bridge. Ethan Philips finds a quiet authority which is quite a contrast to his usual puppy dog enthusiasm. Oddly, the mini-Kazan is played by Aron Eisenberg, a series regular in all but name over on Deep Space Nine where he plays Nog.

VOY S02E03 Projections (2.5 out of 5 stars). A shipwide red alert summons the Doctor who turns out to be the only crew member onboard. Janeway’s last log entry looks grim, and all escape pods have been launched. It’s a strong opening, playing into the extra danger implied by being so far from home. But when Torres shows up and the Doctor’s tricorder isn’t detecting her, I grow suspicious of her and her cock-and-bull story about Kazon attack fleets and a barely-contained warp core breach.

For very little reason, Torres tells the Doctor that he’s the one who’s going to try and solve the problem from the bridge, and that she has been installing remote projectors for the purpose. So I’m fairly certain that this situation is all a fantasy, but I’m still delighted to find an episode centring Robert Picardo and this is a version of one of those cover-of-a-comic-book episodes which were often a highlight of TNG.

At the midpoint, Dwight Schultz pops up (in the Voyager uniform) and explains that the whole series has been nothing but a Holodeck program. That’s more conceptually interesting, but we’ve moved from the high stakes of a Kazon attack which has crippled the ship, to the much lower stakes of there is no ship and nobody is in danger. Eventually the whole thing degenerates into a Russian doll of holographic let’s pretend, which even the Doctor describes as an “esoteric dilemma”.

The wholly insubstantial Doctor looks terrified when he thinks he is being ambushed in sickbay. Jonathan Frakes directs, and seems immediately at home in the Delta Quadrant, maybe because this is essentially a remake of Frame of Mind from TNG Season 6.

VOY S02E04 Elogium (3 out of 5 stars). Dashing, rugged Tom Paris is being nice to Kes which is driving Neelix crazy. Chakotay’s conversation with Janeway about intracrew “fraternisation” reminds us that she has a husband, Mark, who will give her up for dead if their journey home takes too long. It’s a chilling evocation of the reality of their situation, something which this series would too often rather – hey! Look! Kes is putting BUGS in her mouth. BUGS!

Meanwhile, Voyager is studying a swarm of space beetles, and lo! the two events are connected. Jennifer Lien has a rare opportunity to do more than smile wanly as she starts prematurely going through the Pon-Farr Elogium. Quickly, an intense medical drama becomes an academic and theoretical discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of Voyager becoming a generational ship, followed by an only slightly more intimate conversation between Neelix and Kes about whether he’s ready to be a father. Even Tuvok’s personal experience of fatherhood is presented in drily abstract terms.

The emphasis on sex and relationships is at least fresh, and Ethan Philips does great work, but Jennifer Lien is fighting an uphill battle against a script that gives her rituals and symptoms instead of a personality. It’s the Janeway/Chakotay scene that’s the biggest disappointment. There should have been a clash of conflicting leadership styles here. Instead we just get a slightly tedious ethics seminar between two rigorously reasonable adults. But, at least it’s trying.

VOY S02E05 Non Sequitur (2 out of 5 stars). In another cover-of-a-comic-book high concept opening, Harry Kim is in bed next to his fiancée, back in San Francisco, and like the classic nightmare, he’s got a big test and hasn’t done his homework. It’s refreshing to hear Harry run through the obvious solutions – is he on the Holodeck? Is this a delusion? – but reality persists and in this version it’s his old friend Danny who went on Voyager instead of him. As is so often the case with this series, the plotting is decent and the concept is fine, but the characterisation is woefully thin. This would play out more or less the same with Paris or Chakotay. Meanwhile, promising characters like Tuvok and Torres are withering on the vine. It’s significant that the reason for Harry’s predicament is a random accident. Deep Space Nine exists in a world of stories about people who make moral choices and have to live with the consequences of their actions. Voyager exists in a world of characters to whom stuff happens. It’s a big difference. Even Harry’s dilemma about whether to stay on Earth or go back to Voyager is barely given any screen time. Out of his uniform, Tom Paris briefly flickers into life, which is unexpected to say the least.

Trekaday 065: Jetrel, Shakaar, Learning Curve, Facets, The Adversary

Posted on January 5th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S01E15 Jetrel (3.5 out of 5 stars). Tuvok and Neelex are playing a version of pool which I am unfamiliar with, where Neelix is able to play a legal shot without striking a ball. Clearly if this rule was in effect, an immediate stalemate would take place where players would take it in turns to call “safety” and the barely graze the cue ball with their stick. But, this is the show which brought you “we sexually reproduce at the rate of one child to every two parents,” so I guess I’m not surprised. It turns out to be a dream sequence metaphor for cowardice or survivor’s guilt or some such.

A figure from Neelix’s past contacts Voyager. Dr Jetrel wants to talk to the Talaxian, despite (or because of) being responsible for the slaughter of 300,000 people. I’ve moaned in the past about being told things rather than being made to feel things, so it’s up to Ethan Philips to make this more than a story about people we’ve never met in places we’ve never visited, and he works very hard to pull that off – arguably too hard.

Turns out that being near the super weapon is enough to give Neelix fatal cooties (this is a riff on miners’ dust inhalation, or radioactive testing or some such) so we have yet another Voyager degenerative pathogen. Not yet six months old, this series is already recycling the same ideas over and over again. Still, I’d rather have an episode like this focused on Neelix (again) than on Chakotay or Paris or Kim.

And whereas Neelix’s medical misfortune is pure Voyager, the war-criminal backstory feels like a DS9 cast-off, but without the depth of history we’d get from Cardassia. What helps enormously is guest star James Sloyan (so good in TNG’s The Defector) who brings detail and empathy to his depiction of the conscience-stricken scientist, under some of Michael Westmore’s most haphazard foam latex. And Neelix’s confession towards the end is a nice twist. I wonder which of the five credited writers came up with it?

Jetrel’s bonkers plan to use the transporters to reverse not just death but total annihilation nearly works but not quite. It is thus completely abandoned, and no-one expends any further effort to refine the process.

DS9 S03E24 Shakaar (2.5 out of 5 stars). Kai Winn is one of the more nuanced villains we’ve seen in this franchise. Clearly she’s both in the grip of an ideology and seized with a lust for personal power, but she’s not nuts, she has a point of view which extends beyond her zealotry, and she can be reasoned with. But she is a nasty piece of work, no doubt about that, and having her heading up the Bajoran provisional government is not good news. It’s typical of the complexity and pessimism of this show that the good-guy Bajorans are being led by a hissable bad-guy.

Alas, Winn’s mission on the station isn’t all that thrilling (or villainous). It seems as if some farmers have half-inched some agricultural doo-hickeys and Bajor’s new number one wants Kira to go and ask if she can have her ball back. Naturally, their leader, is someone that Kira counts as a friend, which is why this is now her problem, but it takes about a third of the episode to get this far, and I don’t feel as if I’ve been promised a really juicy situation, only more people calmly talking in rooms.

Shakaar, the friend in question, is a kind of Diet Coke Kirk Douglas and his position is similarly underpowered. His reason for not sharing the equipment with the rest of the planet seems limited to “finders keepers” and the whole dilemma seems to overlook the fact that if they asked nicely, the Federation would presumably replicate as many of the damn things as they wanted.

Things ramp up a little in the final act, which sees Winn overreaching and Kira forced to return to her life of guerrilla warfare but it all feels a bit contrived and synthetic. The awkward peacemaking at the end, while continuing the low-stakes feeling, has a little more nuance to it, and The Wire’s John Doman adds class, but none of this feels essential, neither thrillingly dark nor goofy fun.

In the even less interesting B-plot, O’Brien is in the zone, until he isn’t.

VOY S01E16 Learning Curve (4 out of 5 stars). As captain, Janeway has to lead, educate, take responsibility for and be a role model for an entire crew. Naturally, when she needs to unwind, she chooses to cos-play as governess where she has to lead, educate, take responsibility for and be a role model for two obnoxious children – they do say a change is as good as a rest. As noted, I find Holodeck stories in general to be frequently lacking in interest, and totally out of place in the context of the premise of this series. It also – again! – has no further bearing on the plot. Instead, the Vulcan security chief who has decades of experience of training Starfleet cadets, has to take four particularly obstreperous Maquis crewmembers and try and pummel them into shape. Their unruly disregard for Tuvok’s rules and commands raises some interesting questions about the rule of law and where authority comes from.

As well as actually confronting some of the promises of Caretaker, this is our first Tuvok-centric episode and there’s a fascinating streak of naivety coming through which is helping to differentiate him from Spock (or Data). The question is whether the cadets will learn from the Vulcan or vice-versa, and I genuinely couldn’t call it. Not only that, but Neelix’s cheese has infected the bioneural circuitry and the ship is falling apart, so a lot of things I confidently said were going to be flatly ignored are being used to generate story. I don’t think the show can, will, or even should do stories like this every week, but I was beginning to think we’d never get it at all.

Season 1 wrap-up

  • A third show was a big ask, and – as I’ve noted – there’s a strong sense in this first small batch of stories (four were held over to kick off Season 2) that we don’t really know what makes this show work yet. It’s hard to do adventure-of-the-week when there’s no-one to send us on missions. It’s hard to raise the stakes when we can’t beat up the ship. No-one seems to want to do Maquis-vs-Federation stories very often, and when we try, it’s a bit half-hearted.
  • So, it comes down to the characters, and that’s problem number two. While Kate Mulgrew is outstanding as Janeway and Robert Picardo is wonderful as the Doctor, a genuinely new character, light years from Data or Spock, the rest are a plenty bland bunch.
  • There are definite signs of promise with B’Elanna Torres, Tuvok and Neelix, but Harry Kim, Tom Paris and Chakotay just Starfleet around interchangeably and Kes is defined only by how winsomely helpful she can be to other characters.
  • The season average is a pretty poor 2.77, about the same as TOS Season 3 or TNG Season 1. But I know there are better things to come.

DS9 S03E25 Facets (3.5 out of 5 stars). We haven’t forgotten that Nog is attempting to become the first Ferengi in Starfleet I’m pleased to see. It’s a fascinating way of differentiating what could be a homogenous parade of big-eared space capitalists and it helps to stitch them further into the fabric of the show. Meanwhile Dax summons the regular cast (plus additional Bajoran rando) and tells them she wants to borrow their bodies for a few hours. We take a brief pause for the opening titles and then the conversation continues. Normally this ceremony would be performed with other unjoined Trill, but they’re thin on the ground right now. Everyone volunteers enthusiastically, even Sisko who is due to embody the psychopathic previous host. Fun times.

This sounds like it should be right in my wheelhouse – character-based, and giving the rest of the cast a chance to show their range – but I have concerns, because Dax’s previous hosts don’t show themselves in Jadzia in any meaningful ways, and because those new personalities get imposed onto the host bodies, watching Nana Visitor as Lela or Colm Meaney as Tobin doesn’t tell us much about Kira or O’Brien – as fun as it is watching them explore different ways of being. (Delightfully, Odo starts to look like Curzon, as well as behaving like him.) And I’m struck that Jadzia doesn’t seem to remember basic information about her time in previous hosts. I thought the point was that she embodied everything that they were, as well as her own uniqueness. And that’s nearly fatal to the big dramatic turn of this episode.

It seems at first as if it’s Joran in the body of Sisko which is going to create all the problems. The issue of course is that while the commander can take control anytime he wants to, there’s no way to know for sure that it’s really Sisko and not Joran pretending. But this is a feint. In fact, the story is about Odo and Curzon choosing to remain as two minds in one body, so this does end up shining a light on Odo in a fascinating way, but as noted, how can Curzon reveal dark secrets to Jadzia, when until a few hours ago, Jadzia had access to all his memories and feelings?

Fermat’s Last Theorem comes up, but thankfully this time, the script is written in a post-Wiles world. Nog’s headpiece looks like it’s made out of tinfoil. Has it always been like that?

DS9 S03E26 The Adversary (4.5 out of 5 stars). Finally, our leading man has that fourth pip and can join the roster of Starfleet captains. He’s also in a TNG-style dress uniform and even Jake is allowed a sip of vintage champagne. (That’s enough.) His first task is to deal with a nearby coup d’état, which requires a show of strength from the Defiant.

In structure, this is a very TNG-feeling show. Our spaceship is despatched by higher powers to go and referee a power-struggle, but – uh oh – looks like something’s sneaked on board when we weren’t looking. But because this is DS9, we both have a significant tertiary character given a chance to shine – Federation security officer Eddington – and some fairly serious inter crew conflict as Bashir becomes accused of sabotage during the voyage.

Before long, the Defiant is under the control of one or more Founders who send the Federation’s most warlike vessel on an attack vector which Sisko fears will spark a war. His solution is to program the self-destruct while they try and track down the intruder and regain control of the ship. Some of the plotting here feels like it could have used another draft: since when does Starfleet take orders from passing random ambassadors, and was there really no way they could have made their intentions plain despite the sabotage? And, sure, this is nothing we haven’t seen before (on this show, and on other shows, and in movies) but it’s really hard to screw up the it-could-be-any-one-of-us and it shines a strong clear light on the characters: always a strength of this show.

Eventually, they track down the miscreant and there’s some heart-breaking stuff from Odo who’s forced to injure one of his own, having boasted about never firing a weapon or taking a life while acting as security chief. Despite some fairly basic direction, this is very strong stuff: tense, clammy, funny when it wants to be and once again demonstrating that once the Founders decide to act, the Federation are going to need to be ready.

Season 3 wrap-up

  • There’s a definite sense here of a show that’s maturing, as was the way with TNG – it seems to take three or so years, so I’ll need to be patient with Voyager. All of the regular cast are well-established now, with Dax casting aside any initial worries I had and Bashir settling in nicely. Only Jake is underserved, appearing in a handful of episodes and stuck in generic teenager plots which give Cirroc Lofton no opportunity to demonstrate any abilities he might have.
  • DS9 is also goofier than I remembered. Yes, episodes like Past Tense, Heart of Stone and The Adversary are fan-favourites but what other show could have attempted anything like Prophet Motive, or Family Business? The two strands come together in the Mirror Universe stories and if Through the Looking Glass wasn’t quite as strong as Crossover, it still gives me something I can’t get anywhere else in this era of the franchise.
  • The supporting characters are also fantastic. My heart skips whenever Andrew Robinson or Marc Alaimo’s names are in the credits, but we also have characters like Zek, Nog, Kai Winn and we can kill off people like Bareil which makes the stakes soar without anyone having to renegotiate any contracts.
  • Top episodes include: Second Skin, Civil Defense and The Adversary. No fives this year, and that’s reflected in the slightly lower season average of 3.37 (down from Season 2’s 3.62). Contributing to this were a couple of real stinkers early on: Meridian and Fascination, both about as dreadful as I can remember. But after that, there’s nothing below a 2 and I think only one of those.