Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Classics: Voyager 2:26 / 3:1, 3:2, 3:3 - Basics / Flashback / The Chute

Overall Comment:

These three episodes don't have a lot in common on the surface, but my common reason for being loosely unimpressed by all three is simple: they don't have a clear reason to exist and nothing is gained by watching them.

Basics, Part I
Basics, Part II
Overall Rating: 6.5

There's nothing inherently wrong with the script given the original story pitch.  In other words, if we have to have another damned Seska/Kazon vs. Voyager plot, this is as good a version of that idea as I can now imagine.  The problem all of the previous Voyager episodes, they never established why Seska and Chakotay should have such a bitter rivalry that we would need to see four different episodes in which they are personally feuding and dragging the Voyager crew into danger and a species as uninteresting as the Kazon back into our lives.  If they'd done a LOT more with the Maquis/Star Fleet tensions and had Chakotay side with Janeway (or be viewed to be siding with Janeway) and Seska lead the rebellion before escaping or if they'd had Seska get raped and tortured by the Kazon after being forced to flee by Chakotay or something of that nature, I would understand the personal bitterness.  But they didn't...and I don't.  And nor, apparently, does Robert Beltran, who demonstrates about as much emotion as a beetle in all of his interactions with Seska in Basics.

Other than that general complaint about the limitations of this story baked into the back-story (the failures of previous episodes), I am not NEARLY as hard on this as SFDebris.  Michael Piller is an adequate writer, and what he comes up with here does, in fact, flow well, keep you interested, and demonstrate high levels of competence and determination by both the bad guys and the good guys.  You have to appreciate that the Kazon are capable of executing such a specific plan, that Voyager's crew doesn't lose the ship due to incompetence (and, in fact, are holding it together until the rogue Kazon explodes), and that survival skill and pure force of will earn them back their home.  I guess the last major beef I have is that they settled the personal score in the least interesting way imaginable.  Seska dies from Star Fleet's finest exploding consoles - REALLY??  You made such a big deal about their rivalry...shouldn't Chakotay and Seska have had some kind of showdown?  And, oh...the baby's not his, so we don't have to care what happens to it.  And oh yes...Suder dies from a half-dead Kazon shooting him in the back...and Maje Cullah is never heard from again even though we killed his woman.  Not that I'm eager to see more of him - lord the Kazon are dull - but damn, talk about tying up loose ends in a giant hurry.

If I'd written this story, it would have had an ending commensurate with the effort they put into it previously.  The Talaxians would have rescued Voyager's crew and stormed Voyager in the final battle, Chakotay would have gone after Seska and the child, not realizing it wasn't his, Cullah would have tried to kill him and he'd have fired in self defense, striking Seska instead.  Cullah would have gone nuts and tried to kill Chakotay and he'd have been forced to kill Cullah as well, leaving the child without parents.  Voyager would have been forced to care for that child, and Suder would have died from a lethal radiation dose he had to take in order to manually shut down secondary power to weapons control.  We'd have spent far less time dealing with cavemen and far more time dealing with natural hazards on planet hell, and we'd have seen the EMH do something a bit more heroic than lie a few times and then get disabled.  But it's still not a TERRIBLE just doesn't stand out.

Overall Rating: 7.0

SFDebris discussed, at length, the difference between DS9's execution of the 30-year anniversary special mandate and Voyager's handling of it.  Since his points just about cover my complaints regarding this solid, but unspectacular episode, I will paraphrase them in bullet form.
  • In "Trials in Tribblations," the DS9 crew directly interacts with the nostalgic elements of the story, and several of the characters are given the opportunity to express their love of the period, the storied history of the franchise, and its legendary iconic heroes.  In "Flashback," Janeway gives a semi-nostalgic speech in which she accuses men like Kirk of being UNFIT for today's modern, more enlightened Star Trek (!), Tuvok barks at Captain Sulu about how illogical it is to care about your friends in harm's way, and one of the show's chief characters can only observe the events, rather than being pulled into them.  This demonstrates that DS9's writers really loved Star Trek and Voyager's writers did not.
  • The DS9 anniversary special featured a plot that could literally only have happened in nostalgic time - in the midst of a TOS episode that is much beloved by fans.  They did painstaking work to bring those scenes back and insert DS9 characters into them.  It was a very silly puff piece that allowed us to revel in the setting, since the setting was clearly the point of the celebration, but it was well written, technically masterful and captured the spirit of the original episode it imped (right down to the hilarious dialogue).  It made Star Trek wonderful and returned a sense of joy and imagination to the viewer.  The Voyager version was a standard technobabble plot that could have taken place with any character at any time - the nostalgic setting was an afterthought.  They gave Sulu a lot to work with and treated the setting with respect, but it was only there to satisfy the celebratory mandate.  Tuvok's role in the story was primary and the nostalgic elements were, at best, secondary.  The events of his nostalgic experience were far from universal in their significance.
  • The science in the Voyager piece made even less sense than usual.  How would a virus thwart the immune system by pretending to be energy?  That doesn't make any sense...matter can't pretend to be energy.  A memory engram in Star Trek is a collection of neural energy contained within our brain's neural network - I don't understand how a virus could act on memory engrams as a survival mechanism and I understand even less why it would choose a traumatic event to display to the victim.  As usual, Voyager's writers came up with a totally illogical way that they could "solve" the story's central problem with a magic technobabble answer, rather than do something interesting like...oh...have Tuvok recall a traumatic event on the Excelsior and be forced to confront the emotions he felt despite his Vulcan instincts or die from continued repression.  That's...lame.
The episode is well made and you can tell they were doing everything they could to produce something memorable, but Voyager's writers just don't "get" their viewers at all.  And it shows.  This goes from having the potential to be a franchise favorite to being just another episode.

The Chute
Overall Rating: 5.3

So very...very...boring.  The only good part of this episode is when Janeway learns that even men proven innocent cannot be freed from prison once convicted.  Mulgrew does some fine acting here and you FEEL how pissed off Janeway is (and with good reason).  And then, she goes all Janis (Portal joke) and threatens to turn the terrorists over to the butthole aliens (I'm not even gonna try to spell their actual racial name) if they don't assist in a prison break.  That part...I enjoyed.  The rest was...filler.  Sorry, but Tom and Harry in prison trying not to play "Who dropped the soap?" is not interesting to me.  Some crazy guy's manifesto about the purpose of "the clamp" isn't interesting either.  This story has no reason to exist and there's nothing that I can think of that can create a reason for it to exist.  Move along...nothing to see here.

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