This is, IMHO, the first truly GOOD episode the Voyager crew produced. A strong overall showing marred only by the lack of creativity demonstrated in later episodes.
A summary of this effective mystery can be found at Memory Alpha.
You know what happened? The main writers were out of time and ideas (already!) and they had to fill a week with a guest writer and a guest screenwriter. That is the only possible explanation for why this episode didn't blow. :) Paul Coyle and Chris Abbott should have been on the full time staff, apparently. You know your team is bad when you're hoping for the second stringers to get more playing time (as a fan of the erstwhile Seattle Mariners, I should know). There is very little I would complain sharply about with regard to how this story was told. I actually have more complaints about SFDebris than about the episode itself (as some of you may know, he's a favorite of ours for science fiction criticism and entertainment). Many of the things he decided to make fun of while reviewing this episode worked just fine for me - especially Neelix's small roll in it and the awkward half-romance (half because it was one-sided, which made sense to me).
So let's do a little bi-play here (no, not the menage a troi kind...get your minds out of the gutter!). SABRMatt vs. SFDebris!
Round One: Neelix as despotic ruler of the food stuffs!
- SFDebris: Stupid Neelix Moment awarded to his overreaction to Seska stealing mushrooms for a special soup. Seska picked those shrooms...shouldn't she have some right to make the food she wanted with them?
- SABRMatt: He was right to be pissed...why should Seska and Chakotay get special food while everyone else suffers the harsh realities of leola roots and tree fungi? Just because Seska picked the mushrooms with the soup mind doesn't mean she should get exclusive access...this is a ship in the wilderness trying to survive. If everyone got to keep and eat the food they picked, half the crew would starve.
Round Two: Where'd THAT romance come from?
- SFDebris: Then Seska comes up behind him and starts pawing at [Chakotay], which makes perfect sense given all of that history we've seen from...uh...the thing with the soup.
- SABRMatt: While I would agree that it's lamentable that we haven't seen more interactions between the Maquis crew (the writers having chosen to make this a fully Starfleet crew and focus on external, rather than internal, sources of conflict...*sigh*), it makes sense that we wouldn't have seen much on their history because, as Chakotay later explains, that history was in fact HISTORY...they didn't get along and now, out of the blue, Seska is attaching herself to him again because she doesn't have many options...or perhaps because she feels she needs the love of a man in a high place to protect her. Either way, the awkwardness of this moment and its sudden appearance make sense to me.
We do seem to agree that the mystery elements work well, with the audience being unsure who was the real undercover tradesman until the very end and the hammer drop making the crew look shockingly competent, which is cool. What's even cooler is that Seska's motivation for helping the Kazon Nistrom with Federation technology was pretty logical and, frankly, shows a huge flaw in Janeway's thinking, to date. Not only does she get on Janeway's case about blowing up the Caretaker Array (which more people should try, since it was in fact, an idiotic decision), but she points out that Janeway's been trying to go it alone because everyone she meets wants to trade technologies and her almighty principles won't allow it. Here's something for you to mull over, Janeway. Routinely, Starfleet convoys have carried nidustrial and food replicators to alien worlds to offer humanitarian aid. Notice that the technology the Nistrom wants is humanitarian. They just want not to go hungry or thirsty anymore! What do your almighty ethics say NOW? Maybe you should think about trading a replicator to EACH sect. That way you're not influencing a war.
There's no doubt in my mind that Seska went about this the wrong way and has now seriously limited her options. Without access to Voyager, she has nothing of value to offer and there's no reason for the Kazon to treat her well. She also picked her ally very poorly. This particular sect is known for its brutality and the Kazon, as a species, are bad with women. But she's given a reasonable chance to explain her position (and it's a position that needs to be explained). The later versions of Seska (who appears to be a simple homocidal maniac with a jealous desire to hurt Chakotay for spurning her advances, not to mention being converted back to her Cardassian body) is decidedly uninteresting by comparison. If you wanted her to be a lasting threat to Voyager, you could have made her go nuts, but we needed to know why, because she clearly wasn't nuts in this or previous episodes, but that isn't this episode's fault. That character thread could have been very interesting, so...
Let's Go With It!
Seska is forced to beam to the Nistrom ship at the end of this episode, now that she's been flushed out of hiding by Janeway's crack investigative staff. Maybe we could have seen more of her interactions with the Kazons from this point forward. We could have watched her learn a valuable lesson about how to pick allies as she got tortured and had to do unspeakable things to stay alive in such a brutal culture. We could have watched her go slowly insane while Culluh planted the idea in her head that she was a fool to trust Chakotay (as a way to get into her pants perhaps?). If we could have seen and understand her motivations better, the episodes in which Voyager encountered her in later seasons would have made much more sense and been far more interesting to watch. Which could possibly have helped us forget that we were still dealing with the Kazon two years after arriving in this mysterious new land in a show that promised new wonders every week. *sigh* Oh what could have been...
Actually, as mystery scripts go, this one was near feature caliber and carries little of the dead weight technobabble and stilted speechifying by Janeway that blows up most other Voyager scripts. This one is fun to watch and actually makes sense.
Some of the acting was uneven...I never really bought into Martha Hackett's rendition of Seska, and Robert Beltran had the opposite problem...he was always too calm considering that one of his closest friends was being accused of being a traitor to Janeway.
On the other hand, the potential message here - that a simple ethical playbook doesn't work when you aren't attached to a paradise as your home base - should have been in play more often on Voyager.