Friday, June 1, 2012

Classics: Voyager 1:4 - Phage

Overall Rating: 7.0

OK...this is a passable effort with a few shortcomings that one can live with early in a series.

Plot Synopsis:

A full description is available at Memory Alpha as usual - enjoy!

The Skinny:

There is actually a lot to like about this episode of Voyager.  For one thing, it does better than many first season episodes at recalling the many potential pitfalls of surviving in unfamiliar territory with limited supplies.  We see several members of the crew taking steps to adapt to life on a ship with power problems and a lack of friendly allies to offer aid.  Kes volunteers her services both as a nurse and a counselor for the EMH - their bond will be one of the bright spots in the series until her departure in three years.  Neelix, converts Janeway's private galley into a mess hall and chef station to offer prepared meals to the crew using the raw materials they can scavenge or grow so they don't have to rely as often on the replicators.  The Doctor begins a process of adapting to his new life as a fully realized CMO.  Chakotay comes up with the clever idea that captures the Vidian organ thieves, out-maneuvering Janeway (which can only help when he starts pushing for ideas that are "off book" from his Maquis officers).  Torres comes up with the idea of using a back-up impulse generator to power a dilithium refinery (many of Janeway's people are proving to be better at cannibalizing ship systems when necessary).  In terms of establishing the many challenges the crew now faces, this episode does a fine job.

For another thing, the episode highlights the danger this particular crew faces in not knowing the locals.  Someone who knew of the Vidians and their methods for evading capture and stealing body parts undetected might have been a little more wary about walking into a trap the way Neelix did.  Although...wait...didn't he claim he knew a lot about the people in this sector?  He reminds me of the kid begging to pitch in little league who literally cannot throw a ball over the plate no matter how hard he tries.  Gotta love Neelix's good heart and enthusiasm for his new life, but doesn't seem to know much that could actually help Voyager, now does he?  At any rate, this is going to be a recurring theme on the show - Voyager is two steps behind the rest of the quadrant and her crew will need to learn quickly who they can trust and who they can't, not to mention adapting to many new enemies.  This part of space is, evidently, a little short on raw resources.

And of have to love the humor attached to the early Doctor.  I love this exchange:
PARRIS: Holographic lungs?  But holograms are just photonic energy, Doc, there's no real matter there!
DOCTOR: *slaps Parris*
That kinda stuff just KILLS me. :)  Ole Doc EMH is nothing if not succinct and efficient.  Some of Neelix's odd behavior while trapped in the modern tech equivalent of an iron lung was amusing as well.  The whole insane jealousy toward Tom thing aside (that is just annoying and will continue to be annoying until Kes finally dumps Neelix).  The interpersonal banter was even pretty solid in this episode.  Janeway and Chakotay gently arguing over how to handle Torres and her zany ideas, Tuvok actually being kind of funny while pointing out how predictable Janeway is, Neelix practically burning down the galley while trying to show off his cooking chops.  All good stuff.

Now...for the problems.  Other than Neelix being a bit overplayed (I get that he's supposed to be a good kid, but basically still a kid emotionally...immature and eager to please - but some of the antics go a little too far toward being irritating, rather than sweet), the main problem I had with this episode was the timid conclusion.  We get to the critical point in the plot where it turns out that Janeway has to decide who to kill and who to save...and Janeway (a) chooses wrongly (assuming that she had no idea the hidden option three was available) on a moral level and (b) then gets away with it thanks to the magic arrival of said option number three.  What crew would trust a Captain who had the guy in her custody who JUST STOLE YOUR LUNGS!...and then let him go unconditionally?  What Captain would have any right to serve if she did NOT fulfill her military contract and zealously defend the lives of her people.  Janeway basically declared with her choices that Voyager is a nice juicy meal ticket for anyone in need of fresh meat.  That doesn't fly with me.  I don't care what concerns you may have about not wanting to become a killer to stop a killer who is only trying to save himself.  You're alone in this quadrant of space and you don't have replaceable crewman to toss at problems.  They need you to defend them, even if it means sometimes compromising your principles.

But...that objection aside, there's a way to make the left-wing Trek moralists AND the DS9 realists happy, so...

Let's Go With It!

If you wanted to get away with keeping Neelix alive without killing a helpless Vidian - and I can understand if that's your position, especially in episode four of the show's existence - perhaps Janeway could have been intelligent enough to do something like - oh, I don't know - hold the Vidians until they came up with a way to save Neelix.  I'm not even asking her to think of the bloody obvious (she saw the report on the Vidian scanner technology, she knows these guys are medically advanced) and order them to fix Neelix up.  No...I'm asking her to hold them hostage until they come up with the bloody obvious way out. :)  Just saying...Janeway could have been a little tougher on the Vidians and gotten a better message out and Voyager would have been safer for it.  Or...Janeway could have had the intelligence of a twelve year old and figured out that the Vidians might have another way to save Neelix.  Either way, I'd have been satisfied, even if you didn't want to go the Mad Cap'n Benji route and have Janeway hit the Vidians with their own device and steal the lungs back, and then transplant one of their lungs into the other (you two can share a pair, right? :) ).

Writing: 8.5

Actually...apart from the weak climax, this script is pretty snappy and pleasing, as far as I'm concerned.  The plot is interesting, the people are lifelike and worth watching, and the humor largely works well.  Even the technobabble is acceptable.

Acting: 6.5

Some of the acting is a little over the top.  Ethan Phillips (who we love) overdoes the crazy a bit and Kate Mulgrew (who we also think is an outstanding actress most of the time) overdoes the emotion in the unexciting climactic scene.  Otherwise...the performances are a little uneven, but not alarmingly so.

Message: 6.0

This one fails to deliver much of a message to write home about, since the ethical dilemma is skipped in favor of the convenient wonder-cure.  It doesn't seriously annoy me...yet...but this will unfortunately wear thin in a bit as it starts to become a pattern.

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