Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Classics: Voyager 3:11 - Macrocosm

Overall Rating: 2.0

The ghost ship trickery and wide-angle close ups work for a time, but nothing can hide a really REALLY stupid idea executed inexplicably poorly from a technical standpoint.  This reaches grade four TOS special effects warning - issued only when doomsday ships look like lit cigars or flying creatures look like styrofoam rocks...or it looks like Janeway is stabbing a teddy bear with her finger rather than a giant virus with a knife.

Plot Synopsis:

A virus evolves the capacity to grow at physically impossible rates using humanoid tissues to somehow mass-replicate its RNA sequence enough to create a multi-celled beast that, for reasons no one can possibly fathom, looks precisely like a 1960s era alien crab person but somehow develops wings and flies no matter how big it gets.  Memory Alpha has the graphic imagery of this incredible Hindenburg of an idea here.  I mean...just LOOK at this thing and then feel free to speculate as to how many different drugs Brannon Braga was on when he pitched this one, let alone wrote it.

The Skinny:

The following are the fourteen major scientific fallacies and galactic scale plot holes contained within these 42 minutes, in no particular order:
  • A virus is nothing more than a simple strand of RNA...it is one cell, and does not have any jabbing weapons or snot-flinging arms.  It is a piece of genetic code and nothing more.  It attacks our cells by inserting itself into the nucleus of a cell through the cell membrane and overriding the functions of the nucleus to print more virus RNA instead of the host cell's DNA.  Even if it were somehow possible for the virus to mass-replicate its own RNA and form a multi-cellular structure through meiosis, there's no way the RNA could provide a blueprint to an organism that looks like someone's insanely inaccurate conceptual model of a virus.  RNA doesn't do jobs that complicated...it lacks the genetic complexity to do the number of jobs it would need to do.
  • But it not possible for RNA to organize into a multi-cellular structure - it remains microscopic because RNA isn't complex enough to do things like creat cell membranes or instruct a organelles to perform vital functions.  RNA is the biological equivalent of command line computer code...a set of simple instructions incapable of expanding beyond what it is programmed to do.
  • While we're on the subject of viral evolution, there no chance that a virus could ever display primitive intelligence either.  But in this episode the macrovirus somehow is complex enough to have instincts (such as bunching the crew for later consumption), employ battle strategy (sneaking up on Janeway while on the bridge as if on tip-toes), and intelligent flying (you never see the virus accidentally bump into walls or other obstacles even though it supposedly navigates with infra-red and the walls will be the same temperature as the air).  All of that is completely beyond the realm of the possible.
  • When Janeway enters the ship, she cannot localize the viruses...why?  She supposedly needs the main computer to scan for them, but a medical tricorder quickly observes that Janeway is infected once she reaches sickbay, so, clearly the things are detectable with the instruments Janeway had when she arrived.
  • After destroying the macrovirus mega-bugs in the holodeck, the aliens attacking Voyager say the ship is "purified."  Um...what about the BILLIONS of microscopic airborne viruses that were supposedly on the sihp??  The Doc clearly said the virus was airborne, right?
  • The transporter buffer is a system that stores the energy of a life form in mid-transporter as data in case something goes wrong - allowing the user to rescue an exact copy of the user if their pattern is lost from main transport or if something goes wrong with the beam.  Somehow, however, the macrovirus bugs that hitched a ride with the EMH migrated from the transporters to the bioneural gel-packs in the mess hall.  How in the hell did that happen?  They're just DATA when in the buffer.
  • Back to the macrovirus.  It's a lot to swallow to imagine the microscopic strand of RNA evolving a way to get big and organized in a hurry, but it's even more difficult to believe that it could invent a way to change the cellular structure of its host to create a non-bleeding hole that allows for the escape of macrovirus bugs and downright impossible to believe that a person so afflicted would survive the transformation!  Yet somehow, the crew is all accounted for at the end of the episode.
  • What the flying hell happened to Neelix?  Why was he taken away by the macrobugs...evidently dragged, leaving a trail of boogers?  The episode never again refers to Neelix and we are never told where he went.  Um...explain, Braga...EXPLAIN!  Not only does it not follow from previous events that the bugs would have the capacity to take Neelix anywhere, but it doesn't make scientific sense for a virus to have any interest in moving its host - it should have simply pumped Neelix so full of RNA that he dissolved into a puddle of boogers and bugs, every one of his cells ruptured and spewing virus material.
  • I udnerstand why a holodeck character would emit heat (light is converted to heat when absorbed by the surrounding air), but I don't see how it follows that this would jeopardize the EMH.  The bugs might appear, but he is able to control whether he is transparent or solid (they've already shown us that)...he should be able to pass right on through them, other than his mobile emitter, which, presumably would need some part of his arm to remain solid.  What, he's not capable of ducking and dodging his way through them?  They looked pretty slow and unimpressive to me.
  • And...why is Janeway knocked over by one of them?  They can't weight very much...they're about the size of a human head, and even if the boogers that they're filled with are dense, that limits their mass to 10 kg or so.  Sorry, I don't see how that whole fight sequence makes any physical sense.  I don't even understand why the things would react to be stabbed.  It's a gigantic bug of RNA and boogers and some sort of casing that can fly...a puncture wound only works if the thing can bleed out or if there are vital organs to hit, but that was not established by the episode.
  • I have a crazy question...how would a virus be able to sense someone's infrared signal THROUGH A DOOR OR A WALL????  Why were the macroviruses able to realize that the EMH and Janeway were in Sickbay or that Neelix and Janeway were in the turbolift?  And for that matter, why were they attacking the EMH outside of his shuttle when he took refuge there?  None of that makes any sense.
  • If main power was offline and key systems were shutting down, how was the shuttle able to enter a shuttle bay?  They forced their way through a sealed shuttle bay door, but the doors outside and the atmospheric shields still worked?
  • They got a distress call from the miners in which they complained of a nagging virus that was stopping production.  Clearly, no one thought it was deadly or gigantic-bug-producing at that time.  Then three hours later, the mines are deserted but for one schmoe on the brink of death whose body releases macrovirus bugs while the EMH looks on.  So...the things were capable of growing at the rate of about an order of magnitude per minute.  Shouldn't they have been VISIBLY GROWING by the time Janeway got there?  Shouldn't they have become the size of Mothra and be too big to fit through doors anymore?  I mean, what...does their growth rate start impossibly fast and then taper off to nothing when they reach teddy-bear sized?  Why??
  • Oh and...they supposedly sealed off deck two when the mess hall was breached and stopped a ship-wide outbreak.  Cool.  But then, when the bugs got huge, they managed to punch their way through containment shielding (let alone bulkheads thick enough to keep a ship pressurized if the neighboring decks are breached)?  How, in all of the universes and all of the parallel dimensions did I get stuck watching a show written by a man stupid enough to write that?  It's almost enough to make me question the existence of God.  (Almost...don't worry, Lord...I held onto my faith...barely)
Those are the big mistakes.  There are lots of little ones too...primarily on the production side.  They gave this episode only 6 days to shoot instead of 7, so there are fewer POV changes, less conversational panning/cutting and less time and energy put intopost-production editing than normal.  They were also experimenting for the first time with fully realized alien life forms rendered entirely in CGI.  Incredibly, these bizarre, fake-looking mutant diatoms from the planet WTF gave the producers the confidence to allow Jeri Taylor to write in a much cooler-looking and more believable adversary - species 8472.  But let me tell you...these bugs looked really..REALLY bad.  And they didn't have enough experience yet to know how to block fight scenes with a CGI menace, because all of Mulgrew and Picardo's tangle's with macrovirus ghosts looked incredibly stiff and mimicked.  It was like watching teenagers trying to copy a WWE cage match (IOW...a copy of a hilarious forgery that looks obviously faked to begin with).

The bottom line - this thing is both really sloppily written and really poorly rendered...and all of that is on top of a really implausible idea that, frankly, takes me beyond the point where I could accept what they're selling.  I am willing to suspend disbelief for a LOT of implausible stuff - I'm a sci-fi and fantasy fan and enjoy a wide range of impossible stories, as long as they are internally consistent and the story is good.  But this is just too ridiculous and too sloppy to qualify.  And, to be quite honest, I cannot think of a way to revive it without changing the premise from macrovirus to alien parasite (at least then, the pseudo-intelligence, rapid growth, and extreme contagiousness of the invaders would be just possible enough not to lurch me out of the story.

Writing: 0.0

Ship-wide contagion has been done to death in Trek, and this is easily the worst version all around.  At least the TNG flop "Genesis" was internally consistent and lacking in gargantuan plot holes.

Acting: 4.0

I'm giving Mulgrew and Phillips as much credit as I can, but you've got to do better when you're fighting an imaginary monster...that blocking was awful.

Message: 2.0

I would normally be forced to give an episode like this a six since it has no message of which to speak...but I'm downgrading this one because the rest of fandom likes it too much and because Voyager's staff thought they did a great job.  We should never tolerate bad writing, incomprehensible, poorly researched science, and sloppy production values like this, and, in my own small way, I would like to send THAT message to fandom.

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