When you get right down to it, this episode doesn't work because its characters aren't interesting enough.
Memory Alpha to the rescue!
Offer a member of the crew a choice - to stay in the universe to which they belong, in which they are stranded on the ship of the damned, intimately tied to the fates of 150 people who have become like family, or stay in an altered reality where you're safe and home and have everything you wished for on Voyager, but live with the guilt of having abandoned them to their fate. It's a potentially interesting story idea, but, the star of the play is...Harry Kim. *sigh*
You can't make a character interesting without giving him screen time, so you can't fault them for trying to breathe life into his character, but the problem is...nothing in this script is distinctly Harry, because Harry's character began life as utterly nondescript and has yet to make headway on that score. This script needed to tell us something we didn't know about Kim...something to give us a new appreciation of his personality...something to help us root for him. It didn't. I'll grant it a few positive points - Garrett Wang and Jennifer Gatti (Harry's fiance Libby) actually had outstanding chemistry together (it doesn't hurt that Wang is pretty attractive and Gatti is a stone cold hottie). The alternate version of Paris is considerably more interesting than the one we know on Voyager. The technobabble is kept to a minimum until the final battle/chase sequence and, at that point, you can tune it out if you don't want to hear nonsense.
But the primary sin of the episode is that it spends so much time obsessing over a non-existent bromance (this reality has them never meeting) that was never earned in the first place (they became fast friends in the pilot for no apparent reason at all and Kim's interest in Paris was never explained), and nowhere near enough time focusing on the choice Kim has between the life he's always wanted and the one he's made for himself on Voyager. In fact the whole "Maquis spy" action excuse is in there only because Kim inexplicably seeks out rebel Paris's help to steal a shuttle prototype. In essence, this story delivers only the Kim we already know on Voyager - the one who seems repulsed by intimacy with good looking women and prefers a bromance with a guy with whom he has nothing at all in common. The Kim we get here cares only for Voyager after a well-done (but all too brief) exploration of his relationship with Libby. The Kim we know on Voyager is fucking boring. I'm sorry...he makes no sense, he doesn't do anything on his own, and he seems to have no identifying personality characteristics. If you're going to do a character episode - give your lead some character.
Once the personal plot fails, all of the technical problems and plot holes start becoming obvious. A short list of the "WTF??" moments include:
- Why would the Federation need a big, clunky, tamper-prone leg collar to track Kim's movements when he could just as easily be implanted with a tracking chip?
- Why wouldn't the Federation conduct any of the medical analyses that Kim suggested and with which he offered to fully cooperate? A simple DNA test would reveal that he is Kim. A scan of his memory engrams would reveal that his mind has not been tampered with (in the universe that brought you the season 1, episode 7 false memory implant story where the EMH could easily see where the false memory was hiding). Heck, the TNG episode Parallels (season seven - WRITTEN BY THE GUY WHO WROTE THIS EPISODE!!) made it clear that if you were not in the correct universe, you would be able to see a drift in your personal quantum bullshit field...why didn't they scan for that? His story was easy to at least partially confirm. His long-time colleagues seem irrationally attached to assumptions and suspicions given that all Kim did was access the personal records of Star Fleet officers on a ship currently SEVENTY THOUSAND LIGHT YEARS AWAY. I guess the Maquis must have a trajector now or one of those Iconian gateways.
- How would Paris know that Kim was in trouble? What, does Starfleet post their investigation reports on the nightly news? His arrival is very VERY convenient, if you ask me.
- Also...given that they know where Kim is located when he tampers with his giant ankle bracelet, why don't they just LOCK ON to his comm badge (which he is still wearing!) and beam him to a holding cell? Did they just forget that they have the ability to beam people up as well as down? LOL
- The thing that makes the time stream spit Harry back into his own universe is to beam himself into space. Um...in the reality he left originally, Voyager was trying to beam him away...he wasn't beaming himself away. Which means the conditions were NOT identical. So...yeah. I call BS. Again.
The fact that I noticed all of that is a tribute to just how dull the character stuff us. Because I let DS9 get away with silly technical gaffes and discontinuities (minor ones) and Starfleet security being incompetent at its job if the rest of the plot is awesome. Take "Darkness and the Light" = the very VERY pregnant Kira personally cripples five guards and is only stopped when she goes into premature labor. I know Kira has the female equivalent of diamond-hard testicles, but c'mon now! :) But we just laugh that off, because the rest of the story is engaging and believable. Not here...here these problems are annoying and distracting because, let's face it, why should I give a flying crap what happens to Harry Kim? What has he done throughout the entire franchise to date that warrants my loyalty?
Obviously, I'd have done a few things differently, but let's grant them their main plot concept - it had potential, after all.
Let's Go With It!
There are two choices that make sense here.
- Center this story around Tom Paris (personal redemption story) or B'Elanna Torres (choosing to give up the life of the Maquis now that she's seen how the other side lives with an honest perspective) or Chakotay (similar to B'Elanna only a bit more personal - Janeway needs his help, perhaps he feels like he's making a sacrifice because he respects Janeway too much to abandon her). The differences would even make more sense...the time stream tweak could have caused the Caretaker's impulse wave to scoop up Voyager while merely deflecting the Maquis ship harmlessly out of the badlands. Just a thought. Any of these would provide you with deep personal conflict and the potential for lasting character growth - and any of these could have been centered on a person we already find far more interesting than Harry Kim.
- Keep the focus on Harry Kim - the goal being to flesh out his real character and force him to sacrifice what he really wants to help his friends. Perhaps we do see the shabby alternate Paris, but he doesn't help us. He stays a lost cause without the Voyager incident and Kim chooses to save him over clinging selfishly to his own happy ending. That would be quite a statement about where Kim places duty and loyalty on his list of priorities. Healthy or not, it would at least be interesting.
The other idea would be to push this story back a few years...wait til we have more invested in the Voyager plot and then take it away from us...put more at stake that way. Any of those options would need to be applied for this to have any chance to be anything other than dull filler material.
Brannon Braga needs to research his own darned episodes and stay consistent with himself. I gotta ding him a tad on an average quality script for the lack of mastery of logic. I also feel I should dock him some credit for failing to come with dialogue worth my attention and for completely failing to teach us anything new about Harry Kim.
Jennifer Gatti was a firecracker of hotness, but also a pretty convincing actress - Garrett Wang was a tad flat, but rescued by Robert Duncan McNeil.
Half-point off for the apparent message being...BFFs are a product of fate, not social skill, maturity and common interests. Kim and Paris are best friends because...the universe says so!!