Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Classics: Voyager 1:9 - Prime Factors

Overall Rating: 6.8

They chose the wrong fulcrum around which to split the crew.  And...for a second time in 4 episodes, it's a "how will they get screwed out of going home" plot - this is bad precedent.

Plot Synopsis:

The description can be found here, thanks to Memory Alpha.

The Skinny:

I just have one question for the writers of Voyager: why would Maquis crewmen be in a big hurry to get home?  Think about this for a minute.  When they get home (at least this early in the game), Janeway can't exactly cut them loose to do more terrorist attacks on Federation targets.  She doesn't have that kind of authority.  They're all trapped on Voyager.  The minute they reach Federation space, every Maquis officer is getting tossed in the brig and turned over for trial.  Out here in the Delta Quadrant...they're free, part of a crew, they have friends, a shared objective, and a second chance.  So why...I ask you silly writers...why would Seska, Torres and the other Maquis officers want any part of getting home right now?

Now I know what you're thinking if you watched the episode.  You're about to say to me, "Hey, moron...they devoted a whole scene to Seska saber-rattling to break Janeway's rules to get home because the Maquis are still involved in a war and have friends in danger in the DMZ!  Seems alright to me!"  I get the logic - even fighting some very long odds, the Maquis crew should theoretically want to get home and get back in the fight.  But...they're not going to get into ANY fight.  They're going to stand trial and serve a few to many years in prison for their actions...unless of course Janeway would like to violate her orders from Admiral Hanson and let the people she was sent out there to hunt go free.  Maybe you can convince a Federation jury to let Chakotay and Torres off with a slap on the wrist for some of their heroic deeds helping out the Starfleet crew of Voyager, but most of the ordinary Maquis soldiers are going to prison.  Especially the likes of Seska (who has gone out of her way to make trouble and sew dissent).  So no...that dog won't hunt.

Which forces me to conclude that, once again, while I love that the writers are looking for wedge issues to turn the officers against each other and that they're willing to show Starfleet officers breaking their own ethics in the name of getting themselves and their friends home, I think that I am always going to find it hard to believe that the Maquis personnel are any more likely to cause trouble over getting home than they are over disciplinary actions or duty rosters.  Beyond this problem, I find it somehow exceedingly pleasing that the bad guy of the episode is a hedonist and that his character flaw is precisely that he only cares about his own pleasure.  Remember on TNG how there were whole episodes declaring hedonistic cultures "enlightened" - remember "Justice" and "Let He who is Without Sin" on DS9?  At least the Voyager writers blow that horse shit away like dust in the wind.  It is axiomatic in the real world (the one absent the meddling of Gene Roddenbury and his rigid, closed minded view of virtue) that hedonists are, by definition, selfish and small-minded.  On that score, "Prime Factors" has it dead solid perfect.

Obviously, since I like both of the key pieces that went into the pitch for this episode, this one could have worked so much better than it did, so...

Let's Go With It!

I would have liked, once again, for the episode to focus more exclusively on Harry Kim.  The kid who's young and eager to please, but who also has a soon-to-be-fiance waiting for him on Earth and who could have been portrayed as feeling deeply overwhelmed by Voyager's predicament and the responsibilities now being given him.  He's 22...he's just out of the academy...you don't think he might make some questionable decisions in a desperate attempt to get everyone home so he could disappear into ship assignments that are a bit less risky for a while?  Kim should have been the one to sneak off and get the trajector, not Tuvok...or if you wanted Tuvok to do the "logical" thing and go behind Janeway's back, Kim should have been the one saber-rattling for that action and leading the team in Engineering...hell you could have had the Maquis fighting to STOP he and Kerry from installing the device (to avoid jail) if you wanted Maquis conflict.  Frankly, however, I believe the reason that the people involved in the illicit trajector test were primarily Maquis was because Voyager's staff didn't want to make the good guys look too nefarious.  That will kill you in my eyes...the unwillingness to show the human frailties of your heroes.

However, the biggest problem with this script is not who made the trade for the miracle device or who wanted to get home the fastest.  The single most annoying thing about this episode is that Janeway's position is viewed as the utmost in wisdom and that the technobabble is the only thing that stops her from looking completely wrong (AGAIN!).  A culture as selfish and depraved as this one has no right to withhold its assistance from the people of Voyager and we are under no obligation to avoid making a fair trade to get home - the Prime Directive doesn't apply here since the thing we're offering is not dangerous to them and the thing they're offering cannot possibly be used in a dangerous way by us...and I have serious doubt as to whether that "canon of laws" even exists or whether that was just an affectation to keep Voyager around.  The fact that the device was incompatible with Federation technology is that magic "third option" that vindicates Janeway without taking a firm moral position.  Fie, I say.  It is folly!  For this episode to work, we must embrace the possibility that Janeway might be wrong...during her confrontations with Torres and Tuvok, her authority over the ship was what was at stake, not her moral certitude.  She should have been willing to admit that Tuvok's position was not without merit, but that in order for them to survive, she needed him to be more open with her and for everyone in her employ to respect the chain of command.  Instead, we get the principle players admitting THEY were wrong without justification and Janeway asserting MORAL authority.  This is why she comes to be known in Trek fandom as somewhat of a tyrant...the female "role model" who is only virtuous by declaration of the writers, not in actual deed.

Writing: 6.0

There are chunks of this script that feel REEEEALLY forced (like the girl getting ready to drop trow for Harry Kim on Alastria and Kim not even being remotely thrown off by it...or like the awkward conversations between Voyager's crew and the pleasure planet's residents)...and there are plot elements that seemed rushed or not particularly well thought out.  A good plot pitch is once again cluttered by poor execution and moral dogmatism.

Acting: 8.5

On the other hand, Kate Mulgrew puts in a fantastic performance and practically carries the (often forced) dramatic tension throughout the hour, making the episode appear to almost work despite its' weaknesses.

Message: 6.0

The nuclear "magic third option" rears its ugly head once again as Janeway avoids culpability for yet again screwing over her crew in service to her almighty principles...but at least they got it right with their hedonists. When virtue is synonymous with pleasure, then there is no true virtue.  Trust me...I've seen it first hand in the spectacular moral failings of my own friends (and my younger self).

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