Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Classics: Voyager 1:11 - Heroes and Demons

Overall Rating: 5.0

When I watch this episode, I don't get the feeling that I'm watching something produced by utterly incompetent or lazy writers the way I will in some other Voyager flops...and I understand why they chose to do this kind of story...but it just isn't interesting enough to work for me.

Plot Synopsis:

The events of this episode can be found here, courtesy of Memory Alpha.

The Skinny:

Time for a rant.  In science fiction (and entertainment in general), internet culture has coined a phrase for explaining when we're willing to tolerate illogical storytelling or bad science when watching something - it's called the "rule of cool."  Simply stated - if something is sufficiently cool (and thus we want to see it happen), we will forgive the creative license required to make it possible.  This is important to understand because it is the guiding rule behind use of the Holodeck in any and all Star Trek storytelling.  The Holodeck is completely illogical - the Star Trek technical manual attempts to make sense of it and fails miserably.  As it is explained in the TNG pilot "Encounter at Farpoint," the Holodeck is a room lined with reflective mirrors and and photonic emitters that create illusions of light and that seem infinite and real.  Later, the clarification was added that in fact it's not simply a hologram as we know of it today, but some combination of transporter technology and holographic projection that allows light (energy) to be converted into matter, but only in a special room where that energy can be sustained using magnetism.  Step outside the Holodeck and you don't have magnetic cohesion, and all of your matter goes back to energy.

If you're lost, you're not the only one.  The writers of TNG saddled the show with a concept that doesn't make much scientific sense and whose rules are damn near impossible to stick to if you're a writer because you can't have drama in a place where nothing can hurt you and everyone is programmed in a way you can predict ahead of time.  It was conceived with a big wink - the writers knew that the Holodeck would never make sense and firm rules could never really be established.  It was an excuse to have radically different settings for dramatic presentation - to keep the show fresh by offering different scenery.  IMHO, it was an unnecessary creation, since you can get different scenery in oh so many other, more believable ways.  But we can live with the Holodeck and all of its bad logic for two reasons.  One, it allows for storytelling where the scenery is just a foil - an excuse to examine our real characters' minds in imaginative settings.  Two, it allows for some really cool ideas like: Vic Fontaine as Station singer (yes...I'm one who thinks Vic was cool and enjoyed seeing him), Data vs. freakin' MORIARTY!, an examination into addiction in the mind of a deep introvert with social anxiety (Barkley), Bashir as 007 while a real secret agent mocks from the sidelines...things you can do on the Holodeck that it would be hard to get away with in other settings.

The problem arises when you start using the Holodeck for no good reason to tell stories that either don't need to be told or could be told in ways that make more sense just as effectively.  It gets even more annoying when the use of the Holodeck is completely illogical and a really stupid excuse has to be made up to justify ever turning the damn thing on.  On Voyager, they're constantly worried about being short on power and they get around the obvious problem this causes for writers who want to use the Holodeck to do period pieces six times a year by saying that the Holodeck runs on a totally different power source that is incompatible with the rest of the ship.  Now I ask you, who the flying hell would design a ship that way??  Oh and...power is power, jackasses!  If the Holodeck grid cannot be interfaced with the rest of the ship, how can it ever be recharged??  Besides, we know that on TNG and DS9, Holodeck/Holosuite power is drawn directly from the main power conduits and frequently, this connection is directly relevant to the plot (like in the TNG episode where the Holodeck is the brain of the living Enterprise as it creates a new life form).  Why would Voyager be any different?

And that brings us, finally, to this episode.  I have just one question - why Beowulf?  OK, I lied...I have two questions - why Beowulf and why Harry Kim as damsel in distress?  Why would Kim be playing THAT holonovel.  I suppose it could be interesting to find out that Kim likes medieval war stories and wishes he was some gallant warrior when in fact he's a small Asian nerd who's good at science...but that is never addressed.  Kim was playing Beowulf - is never seen doing this, his motivations are never explored.  They (the writers) just wanted to do Beowulf with the EMH as the hero.  Because the setting is not cool, the plot is not unique (or even worth telling in this form, really) and the characters are not crucial to the story, all we are left with is the cognitive dissonance of knowing that the Holodeck makes no sense - and now, we are painfully aware of how little sense the EMH's very existence really makes.  I don't think you want to go there, writers.

If I could get past that problem, we have the roots of a good character piece involving the Doctor learning to grow beyond the confines of his base programming and become more human, and his scene with Kes is, in fact, well-written and acted and enjoyable to watch, but the whole thing feels weighed down by the contortions they needed to go through to explain the "science" behind why this was all happening, and by some REALLY bad acting in the portrayal of the Beowulf story and anything you might have gotten from the character stuff is hard to really get excited about.  I wanted to like this episode - Robert Picardo is awesome and his character is generally well-written - heck, I'm a Kes defender and have always enjoyed her use as the Doctor's confidante, but we spent five minutes trying to explain why a photonic life form would be hijacking our holodeck, why our people would have been converted to energy, etc, and I just lost interest.  Beowulf isn't 'cool' in Star Trek.  It doesn't belong there; that's not what we're looking for in our science fiction.  Especially acted this poorly with absolutely no real action to speak of (they did Beowulf without any actual fights with mythical demons...LOL) it doesn't work.

As noted, though, we do need to see the Doctor take on new challenges and, given the limits of his presence (a situation the writers remedy for him in the fourth season with the arrival of the mobile emitter, thank goodness), and that could certainly have been done here without the use of the holodeck, so...

Let's Go With It!

Why would a photonic life form latch onto a cheesy holonovel to exact his brutal vengeance for us kidnapping its buddy by mistake?  Couldn't it attack Sickbay?  I mean, couldn't the life form have shown up in Sickbay and forced the Doctor to learn to communicate with it?  You could have had it invade Kes's mind and enter a battle with her for control of her body.  Or something that would insert some real jeopardy into this story that we'd actually care about.  I'll grant you, you'd have to work a lot harder to make that into a forty-five minute episode, rather than having stupid filler material from Beowulf Lite to pad out your script, but it would have made more sense.  If you absolutely had to do a holodeck story, couldn't we have given the photonic life form a personality?  Couldn't he have become a human bad guy so that he could communicate with us and couldn't we have, therefore had a more interesting story to watch?  I mean that version would still feel like an unnecessary holodeck plot to me, but at least we'd have more to keep our attention than the EMH getting it on with Freya.  Sheesh.  I'm grasping at straws here, because I think the whole concept of this episode was inherently flawed.  There's gotta be a better way to get the Doctor more action.

Writing: 3.0

Take old English myth, remove all interesting or epic qualities, insert modern character and sci-fi technobabble plot we've seen before.  LAZY script, guys.

Acting: 6.0

Robert Picardo always puts on a good show as does Jennifer Lien...but the rest of the show was filled with rank amateurs doing the high school production of Beowulf.  UGH.

Message: 6.0

Any good vibes I could have gotten from the EMH learning that if he wants to be treated equally, he needs to be alive (including facing hardships) are dashed by the cheesy Hollywood smooch and the baloney plot about the photonic life forms.  If they just wanted the life forms released, couldn't we have done that from Engineering without sending the Doc back in with a light bug in a jar?  That feels like poorly executed moralizing to me.

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