Saturday, July 7, 2012

Classics: Voyager 1:14 - Jetrel

Overall Rating: 8.3

SFDebris was astoundingly too hard on this one, IMHO - but as a stand-in for DS9's Duet, it falls well short.

Plot Synopsis:

A full description can be found here, thanks again to Memory Alpha.

The Skinny:

I really shouldn't keep doing this, but this episode is so strikingly similar in tenor and style to the DS9 masterpiece "Duet" that a direct comparison feels appropriate.  In Duet, the mass murderer who turns out to be a heroic figure is actually a filing clerk, but pretending to be a man who killed with malice and quite personally in cold blood - motivated only by abject racism and greed.  Here, the mass murderer who turns out be a heroic figure is a scientist who developed a particularly brutal weapon of mass destruction - he's more analogous to figures that, today, are held up as heroes in the sciences at large - the inventors of the atomic bomb.  Their creation ended a war that could have killed many millions on both sides, as Jetrel's did.  We're just seeing it from the perspective of the Japanese (Neelix representing).  Both men are wracked with guilt over their side's ugly military conquests, but no real information is given about who started the war between Talax and Haakonia, nor to we know anything about the conditions of the war, other than that the Haakonians were winning and that it would have been millions dead if the war continued.

In Duet, the heroic Cardassian Maritza plays the role of the sociopath Gul Dar'heel - whose speeches bombastically portray utter evil in an attempt to make the audience (a) understand why Bajorans have such hatred for the Cardassians and (b) come to respect Maritza when his true identity and motives are revealed.  Here, Jetrel spends half the episode defending his role in ending the war...and then half the time begging Voyager to help him ease his conscience.  That doesn't make very much sense the way it's presented.  He seems to be sending mixed messages and it's harder to identify with him as a result.

In Duet, the big lesson is that you can't assume a man is evil just because he was present when great evils were being done.  Unfortunately, the lesson in this episode of Voyager would seem to be that when you attempt to hit the "undo" button on your mistakes, you need to make sure you have the science right before you go for it, lest you come up short.  If the lesson had been something like "when you undertake an effort to end a way that will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, you CAN'T undo have to be able to live with your decisions and take responsibility," I'd have been MUCH more gung-ho.  This would seem to be a case of Voyager taking the slightly easier path once again.  Jetrel's efforts are not successful, but the effort seems to be what the writers wanted to be extolled (complete with technobabble and near-miracles).  This ending deprives the episode of much-needed gravitas and leaves it standing as a merely "good effort."  The solution to make this good episode even better should therefore be obvious.

Let's Go With It!

This episode...with perhaps some suggestions from the director to dial down the yelling on Ethan Phillips' part early on...was fine right up until the attempted "reset button" technomiracle.  The solution was to eschew this in favor of the Voyager crew confronting Jetrel about his motives, learning how crazy they were, and then having to explain to both Neelix and Jetrel why (a) it would never work and (b) it's a bad idea to try to raise people from the dead in this manner.  The final scenes should have been about Neelix coming to terms with and finally accepting the death of his family on Rinax and...perhaps even more of the scene in which Neelix forgives Jetrel for his role in those deaths when his madness is laid bare - a bit more to focus on that very Christian realization that it isn't whether someone deserves forgiveness that matters but the capacity of a man to offer it freely.  What they did, instead, robbed us of any chance to really feel for either Neelix or Jetrel when the plan didn't work.

Writing: 8.5

There are long stretches of this script that feel like they could fit beautifully into the DS9 canon without skipping a beat (congrats to Jack and Karen Klein for THAT...that's meant as a big compliment...and similarly, the general story idea by James Thornton and Scott Nimerfro is a good one).  I just think the end limits my ability to be openly enthusiastic.

Acting: 8.5

Ethan Phillips does a very good job for most of the episode, though there are a few moments where he slides off into hammy scene chewing.  However, I would say that James Sloyan hit his marks nicely and Jennifer Lien was fabulous.

Message: 8.0

They TRIED for the "don't assume your enemy is evil" message, but this story doesn't sell it as well.  They TRIED for some message about being willing to sacrifice to achieve greater good, but that isn't the right message here.  They even TRIED to send a strong message about the value of forgiveness, but we only got one quick scene with no evident consequences.  Personal responsibility would be a much better way to bring this one home, IMHO.

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