Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Classics: Voyager 2:1 - The 37s

Overall Rating: 5.5

Timid, tepid, and artistically vacant, but otherwise harmless.

Plot Synopsis:

A description can be found at Memory Alpha's episode page.

The Skinny:

The episode begins with...something utterly ridiculous and impossible (to get the viewer's attention!).  This seems to be how many Voyager episodes begin in the pitch room.  One of the Voyager writers will pitch an idea that begins with something like "1937 icon Amelia Earhart...IN THE DELTA QUADRANT ALL THIS TIME!!  How is THAT possible?!" or "What if the ship suddenly twisted in on itself along some unseen dimension?" or "What if various parts of Voyager were stuck in various different places in time?"  If the producers think the pitch sounds eye-catching and exciting, it gets green-lighted without any consideration for whether something is actually feasible and the writers, pressed for time to make their zany idea work, figure "meh...it's science fiction, I can hand wave the parts that don't make sense or we can't actually afford to film!"  In this case, we discover the '37s by stumbling on a fully functional 1937 Ford truck.  Fully function because somehow, in a machine that is DEFINITELY not airtight (by design - the engine wouldn't run if it couldn't breathe), there is still water in the radiator, gas in the tank and oil in the crank shaft.  In the vacuum of space.  I swear to you people, if I wanted to make Voyager's writers sound like uneducated morons, I literally could not make up crap like this to pin on them - it wouldn't even occur to me that writers on a SPACE OPERA wouldn't know that water evaporates in the void of space.  I mean...this wasn't even NECESSARY bullshittery since Paris knows enough about cars to know what things he'd need to replicate to make it work.  You could have had him say he PUT water in the radiator, gas in the tank and oil in the crank shaft before firing up the engine...they didn't make crap up to make an impossible plot point occur this time...they just...fucked up on basic science that even a FOURTH GRADER can grasp.  Welcome to American public education.

Once we get to the real plot concept - this idea that an alien race abducted hundreds of humans from Earth in 1937 to use as slave labor in the Delta Quadrant - they have my attention in a much more positive way.  That is until they turn Earhart's copilot into a drunken, gun-toting moron (people like that would not be allowed to fly even in 1937, Hollywood!), Earhart into a sterile, uninteresting Mary Sue for Jeri Taylor and the rest of the '37s into something completely inconsequential.  The dude who was flying Japanese zeros against American targets says such groundbreaking things as "you're all speaking Japanese!" and "There are many Japanese here, I could be very happy."  JUICY!  And racist too, not that such a racism charge would be inaccurate for WWII era Japanese fighter pilots.  They revived eight of the '37s and I can only barely recall that one of them was an African-American farmer (it was his truck they found in space)...the rest...who knows?  They hardly ever say anything.  It's as if the writers thought that the idea of having characters fro 1937 would be cool and then took no time at all to think about what those characters should be like, what conflicts they should have with each other and with the Voyager crew, what their displacement in time would mean to them, etc.  I ripped apart TNG 1:21 for its temporal elitism, but at least each of the 20th century characters was actually a character and they spent some time trying to show those characters coping with their new surroundings.  And that's just layer one in the wuss cake.

We encounter humans on the planet with the 37s (leading to a spectacular battle sequence for no reason at all other than to make sure there were explosions and phaser blasts for the trailer), and learn that they are the descendants of other humans stolen from Earth in 1937 by a race known as the Briori.  Who were, apparently, smart enough to build a ship that could fly at BREAK NECK speed to Earth, steal humans there, fly them back, and then use them as slave laborers, but not smart enough to prevent them from getting the guns and throwing them out.  And...not smart enough to get reinforcements, come back in much bigger ships with much bigger guns, and get their slave labor force back.  Their name is mentioned, they never came back...and um...that's all.  THAT could have been a cool story to delve into, but...that would have been a lot harder to script out, so screw that!  We have an even better story about how the 37s and their descendants persevered and built a world to be proud of!  Oh wait...we never get to see your cities...it all happens off camera.  I guess they couldn't budget the money for a few cool mat paintings and some sparkly sets of shops or museums.

And then...we get to the real point.  This...is the final burying of any ship-wide Maquis/Starfleet tensions.  Janeway offers them a chance to stay on this paradise-world and not one single crew member chooses to stay behind.  Because Jeri Taylor can brook ZERO disagreement with her fiat that Janeway is the PERFECT female Captain.  Not the homocidal maniac (Suter), not Seska's best buds on the ship (who doubtlessly two months earlier thought Janeway was a capricious, unfair dictator - typical Starfleet (the word spat like a curse), NO ONE wanted to stay behind.  Got it, guys.  All discord = OVER...the whole premise of the show has now been fulfilled other than getting home.  Guess we're done with anything that might have actually been INTERESTING about the whole Maquis connection.  That was fast.  And rather uninteresting.  And rather timid.  *heavy sigh*

I may sound like I'm ticked off and hated this episode with a passion...but as my rating above reveals...I didn't HATE this episode...I just didn't care.  It's boring, it's safe, and it's harmless.  And that's all it is.  It could have been so much more - and here's how.

Let's Go With It!

I actually enjoy temporal displacement as a means to explore various contemporary or historical issues or facets of human nature.  I wanted to like this one...but they did none of that.  The '37s were only here as window dressing to (a) get the attention of the audience and (b) give the crew a chance for permanent shore leave that they could turn down to give Janeway a victory and a vote of confidence.  The title of this episode is "The '37s" - is it too much to ask that it...um...be about the '37s?  I mean, for crying out loud, it's AMELIA EARHART!!  And a Japanese fighter pilot she was SPYING ON!!  And a black farmer still suffering from discrimination and share-cropping!  And an Indian woman wearing a lower-caste sari (implying that she was likely very poor and not well treated by men, given cultural memes of the day).  I don't have to work very hard to come up with ways to explore the kinds of historically relevant conflicts that could arise here.  Or on the former Briori prison planet where human slaves of all persuasions banded together to repel their oppressors but still would have had lingering 1937 contextual memories to draw on when designing their brave new world!  The whole planet should have been on display, describing, perhaps, past warfare, current prosperity and lingering conflict, and the potential damage the arrival of '37 classics like the Japanese Zero-man and the American spies might do to their fragile balance.  Rather than inventing yet another Utopia to offer the crew just to give Janeway an ego stroking she definitely does NOT need, why couldn't we have THOUGHT the planet was a paradise, only to discover that there were big problems just under the surface?  C'mon...don't make Amelia blinkin' Earhart WINDOW DRESSING for a Janeway fangurl to masturbate on paper over her icon.  I mean...WOW...show some damned respect.  Do a TINY bit of research into who this woman was and try to portray it on screen.  Make it INTERESTING!  That's all I would have needed.


Writing: 4.0

They really didn't pull out all the stops here...there is little in the way of creativity or new content to think about, and the ending is horribly convenient and unearned.  A big "we all love you, Janeway!" story is needed only after the crew faces some real adversity and Janeway's leadership keeps them together.  If this was a fifth season script...maybe I could buy the need...but here, it just feels pointless and rushed.

Acting: 6.5

The main cast does a fine job here...but the guest cast is very weak - then again, they weren't given much to work with.

Message: 6.0

Sadly...there is no message to be found here.

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