It's the epic confrontation - the battle between Jeri Taylor's obsession with harlequin romance novels set in a bygone era and her desire to depict Janeway as a strong female leader! Which will emerge victorious? I'm on pins and needles waiting to see whether the tall, dark and handsome Chief Broadshoulders of the once proud Hollywood Bullshitaquois nation can wear down Captain Sheera's defenses in this pristine (and then suddenly dangerous...and then suddenly pristine again) wilderness and melt her hard, fearsome warrior exterior to find the towering inferno of feminine passion beneath the surface. It's so cliched and cheesy that I can just SEE the steamy cover with Chakotay's nipples showing for the ladies. But...the script gets flipped when...Janeway does NOT give in to Chakotay's advances. Wait, what??? What kind of harlequin romance novel IS that anyway? Damn it, if we're going to do this plot, then I want my cliche steamy sex scene...maybe they can get the monkey to spank Janeway's naked butt while she rides Chakotay like a prize stallion. Yeah! Or have another random PLASMA storm (WTF??) hit the planet in the middle of their passionate love making so the earth can literally move for Catherine, hm?
Can I let you folks in on a little secret? I love a woman in uniform, and despite my general tendency to think that Janeway was written with WAY too much certainty to truly represent Trek's best attempt at a strong female lead, I had a tiny...almost irrelevant...teensy-weensy little gigantic thing for Janeway before the arrival of Seven of Boobs...er...Nine - Seven of Nine. Yes...I am still a guy. :) So...along with a lot of other repressed nerdy Star Trek fans, I admit to spending the entire episode praying Janeway would let that towel slip when she got out of the bathtub and let Chakotay mount her like a thoroughbred before the Kentucky Derby. Yee-haw!! But...with maturity and a serious relationship of my own to reflect upon (I can almost feel my fiance's hand whacking me across the back of the head), I watched this episode again for the review and...damn it if I STILL wasn't rooting for a little action. I have to ask myself...why would I spend so much time on this blog talking about how annoying I find it when they feel the need to hook every potentially interesting woman in the show up with some stereotypically macho-looking guy for a roll in the hay within the confines of a 45 minute story, only to find myself really wanting to see Janeway play that exact roll here?
I believe I have the answer. Chemistry. Kate Mulgrew gets a lot of grief from SFDebris for playing Janeway with this ruthless sort of vibe, and Robert Beltran gets it from EVERYONE for playing Chakotay with a sort of wooden blandness that doesn't work most of the time and only seems fake. But in this setting and story...Beltran's very understated performance seems like a man trying to give his de facto life partner a chance to come to terms with her predicament rather than overwhelming her with big emotions. And Mulgrew's fierce exterior does in fact melt away when her scientific agenda is destroyed, leaving something softer and more human. I know it's cliche...I understand that this story has no repercussions after it ends (because this is Voyager - the land that continuity LITERALLY forgot), but accepting it as it is...it works for me. And when Janeway lets down her guard with Chakotay, the next step is NOT a steamy sex scene...and despite my baser desires for such appeasement of the sexual tension (and there is tension here), I like that, too. Maybe they would have eventually bonded in that way...but their courtship was interrupted by the return of military ranks and the realities of a forlorn quest to get home, and there isn't time for Janeway to fraternize with a subordinate...and that is far more realistic (and mature) than any tawdry sex story would have been.
And you know what? The second part of this story works too. Tuvok demonstrates that he is quite capable of being a firm, successful commanding officer, and (this is rare) Tim Russ plays the emotionally suppressed Vulcan with a nice mix of subtle emotional cues hidden behind the logic, rather than playing him as though he had no emotion at all. And the characters who come forward to ply Tuvok into taking the one action he does not wish to take (contacting the Vidians to get help treating Janeway and Chakotay against Janeway's direct order and his own better judgment) are precisely the correct ones to choose. First, it's eager young Ensign Kim, who is, underneath it all, TERRIFIED of this voyage and needs the assurance of a stable command structure. Then it's Torres and Kes - each of whom have personal relationships with one of the two stranded officers. Then Kim returns with a real plan of action...and finally the entire senior staff. And guess what? Tuvok was RIGHT...the Vidians do try to screw us over and we are lucky to escape in one piece. And during that crisis, he skillfully evades the Vidians and assists the Doctor in acquiring the antiviral agent, leading a confident bridge crew to the successful rescue of their senior officers. Voyager's crew demonstrating...loyalty, compassion, COMPETENCE? (that element will be missing in the next episode) Yep...this is a well-written episode and Taylor deserves a lot of credit for taking a cliche and turning it into a very good Star Trek episode with all the trimmings.
My complaints...I don't understand what the purpose of the monkey was, why Janeway's research had to be destroyed for her to give up, and why there wasn't a tag scene in which Chakotay asks to speak with Janeway in private and lays out the cards and Janeway is forced to turn him down...or at least some hint that this very moving and personal experience that these two shared has had any impact on the way that they interact with each other once they're back on board? I could also gripe about them leaving a whole shit ton of valuable resources on the planet or raise my complaint yet again that if the Vidians are such excellent doctors, it strikes me as odd that they haven't found any cure for the phage...but those would be nitpicks. This episode is stronger than people give it credit for and it deserves better than a full on nit-picker's guide treatment. I think it would have been better to clip out the crap with the monkey and the random plasma storm, focus on Janeway's coming to accept her loss and grow more intimate with Chakotay (emotionally intimate...no dirty jokes, please!), and then what the two of them do with their feelings when they return to Voyager...but other than that, this is a good story...although it is definitely fluff.
A few of Jeri Taylor's random extra scenes that serve no purpose prevent this from getting a feature score for the writing, which is otherwise quite good.
I give this one a TON of credit on the acting front...a fluff piece really needs to be well acted, whether it's a romance or a comedy or a story of personal discovery. This one was fantastically acted all around.
As I said...this is a fluff piece that isn't looking to accomplish anything long term and the message score must reflect this reality.