There have been a few bad episodes thus far...and trust me...there are some REALLY bad ones to come. But this is Voyager's first official CLANK.
The plot summary to this bizarre hodgepodge of a television show can be found at Memory Alpha here.
My significant other would no doubt try to rationalize some of my artistic comments that follow, so I'll argue with her here, just for fun. The bottom line is that you enter this episode thinking, "Oh, this could be an interesting character piece with a fascinating, albeit high concept, premise!" and then you get a really bad impersonation of a Tom Clancy or Sue Grafton novel with all the cliches and none of the logic, and worse, they don't even use their story to make any kind of statement about Parris and his character flaws that got him into trouble. It all just stinks of laziness spoiling a good pitch. Some comments on the incredibly lazy artistic work that went into shooting and decorating the episode.
- Your initial premise calls for Tom to have gotten slightly giggity with a BIRD. Yes, the alien species we're dealing with here is supposed to be avian, at least in their genetic history. That could be cool and really unique except that Tom is supposed to have had romantic sparks with one of them. The South Park episode involving the "Chicken F**ker" comes to mind. And then there's the vomiting and the nightmares and the cold sweats. Yeah. EW!!!
- And even if you want to overlook that and say "well they're evolved into sentient beings so that makes it OK," you made your bird people look like normal (though fashion-illiterate) folks who have been partially melded with Foghorn Leghorn in the same device used in "The Fly." Why did you do that? Why would a bird-like species evolve to grow human hair or get clear, supple mammalian skin or lose their beaks! Where are the wings? Why is their avian city on the ground and looking pretty much like just about every other mat painting ever seen in Star Trek establishing shots? If you dumbed down the bird part of the characters to make it more relatable and to make us believe Tom could actually bone one of them, why make them avian to begin with? Just to be 'clever'? That ain't clever. That's just bullshit.
- No doubt, my adorably charitable girlfriend would right now be saying, "well it's a TV show on a limited budget and there's only so much they can do." True. SO WHY WRITE A STORY THAT INCLUDES ELEMENTS YOU CAN'T DO?! :)
- Why is the show called "Ex Post Facto?" In latin, that means "after the fact" and in legalese, it means being convicted of a crime that wasn't a crime when you committed it. Clearly, murder is a crime at all times so the legal meaning blows up, and the literal one could refer to the lasting punishment they delivered, but um...the story isn't really about that, though the pitch might have been. It's a basic police procedural in space and the characters are interchangeable. (my lovely partner would likely agree on this point, though say the title isn't that important, so we'll move on)
- Why is the memory implant shot in black and white? I hear tell that they were trying to do a send-off to film noire, but they never do any of the other things that are associated with that style, the rest of the episode isn't shot like film noire (other than the inclusion of really REEEEEALLY cheesy dialogue from the wife of the murder victim that sounds like a high school creative writing student's attempt to mimic the original genre), and the black and white memory makes no sense. Why would a life-like memory from a dead man not look like what the man supposedly saw? While we're at it, that isn't how the human brain works. When we recall a memory, it doesn't play on our eyeballs like they were a film projector. It's more ethereal than that. You can program a mind (in theory) to replay a memory, but the person will only be THINKING it...having little flashes of it...not seeing it play like an episode of Voyager on their corneas.
- Why include a subplot about an alien war that we're trying not to get involved in so hard that we sent an away team in a shuttle first before we march right into said conflict when things go wrong? I don't think that element added anything...seemed more like filler with some good action shots for the promo to me and the spy tie-in that resolves the plot feels tacked on and superficial.
- Was it really necessary to make the punishment fatal to Tom to get the point across that it really sucks to be him right about now? I would have preferred that they focused on the psychological impacts...those can be just as fatal as some technobabbled explanation about incompatible brain engrams. I could go on, but I think you all get my point. This feels like a script with six writers (actually only two) and no clear goals or reasons to exist other than to try to be "artsy" (and fail at it).
Those are the artistic/logical type questions. Now's where things get serious. On this one, I won't be play-arguing with my sweetheart, because I suspect she would agree with me and wish they'd make a different choice. Tom's involvement with Mrs. Wren (oh wow, that's an obvious last name choice...get it...bird species, wren...har dee har har!!) goes well beyond acceptable conduct for a Star Fleet officer. He never would have gotten accused of murder if he hadn't put himself in the position of being suspected and any good Captain would read him the riot act and punish him severely for his misdeeds. But Janeway, who is supposed to be the paragon of 2300s morality in the Roddenbury vision, completely ignores the ignoble behavior of her bridge officer and confidently declares that he is clearly innocent and they're gonna prove it before she's even heard his whole story. Philandering with another man's wife, even suggestively and entirely with words (or, in their case, lip locking) is wrong and most of us still know that. Tom has no excuse and he needed to learn from this incident. He's a pretty boy here in the early episodes, so it makes sense that he might not have appropriate self control, but there's no point in highlighting it if he's not going to be forced by painful lessons in his life to wise up and behave like an adult.
But...as I said before, the initial pitch had promise if they'd chosen to spend less time trying to be avante garde and more time working on their characters, so...
Let's Go With It!
I've hinted at the solution to this episode - I think it had a ceiling of "strong early-season stand-alone episode" and not feature status, but they could have put forward something far more interesting and less corny if they'd just done what all professional writers are trained to do in the service of their works. They needed to stay focused on how the premise serves the characters and why they were choosing to tell this particular story. The exact same premise (guy sees a murder he didn't commit through the victim's eyes over and over as punishment for a crime he didn't commit and his crew mates must prove his innocence before that sentence condemns him to insanity or even death) could have been perfect for these early episodes if and only if the story was about Tom Parris. Not the Baneans and their war, not the finer points of jurisprudence, not the style of the filming or the peculiarities of the alien species, and certainly not about Janeway (who, incidentally, has more time on screen than Parris).
Focus on Tom...his guilt over whatever role he might have played in his own frame-up, his attempts to show bravado in the face of such a brutal punishment (because I think the real Tom would have tried to soldier on and act like he could handle it before eventually breaking down), his becoming convinced that he WAS guilty (the power of memory to persuade us of the truth of untruths (see: hypnosis and implanted memories, as well as false eye witness testimony in court based on limited, fragmented memory)...anything that involves Tom and his character flaws and virtues. Anything that gives us a reason to become more interested in Tom Parris. Because this story doesn't do that and is therefore pointless and frustrating.
The dialogue is banal and maudlin from the word 'go.' The filming and artwork in the episode is cluttered and distracting. The plot goes nowhere - this one is really...really bad.
McNeal doesn't play anguish very well, nor does the guest star playing Ladelle do film noire inspired quasi-romantic whining in a way that redeems it at all, The rest of the ensemble is competent, but uninspired.
Getting involved with a married woman on an away mission that is delicate, involves the safe repair of our only f***ing engine, and treads lightly around an ongoing WAR? Not a problem for Janeway. But God help you if you get between her and her morning coffee. You don't even want to know what she does to people who disobey a direct order to her face or even consider saving millions of people from annihilation if it might violate the Prime Directive! Let's just say, she must have a collection of keepsake genitals under her ready-room desk.