Saturday, December 15, 2012

Classics: Voyager 3:4 / 3:5 - The Swarm / False Profits

The Swarm - Overall Rating: 6.0

While this episode is certainly not painful to watch, and while it features some pretty darned impressive acting by Robert Picardo and Jennifer Lien, it does not rise beyond dead solid mediocrity and will not leave a lasting impression on the viewer, other than perhaps disappointment when, after one episode, the EMH has all of his memories back and there are no lasting repercussions from his experience here.  The episode does, however, contain a few key elements that will be important to future Voyager installments...and all of them are obnoxious.
  • Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres have a scene in which Tom flirts with B'Elanna and she rebuffs his advances.  This marks the beginning of their relationship story arc, which will span the rest of the series.  Unfortunately, it also sets the tone for their romance.  The writers will now spend a full season gradually developing this thread in the most cliched and cheesy way imaginable.  They're going to go through all of the courtship stages common to Hollywood "adversary romance" stories.  First, they don't like each other, then they grudgingly respect each other, then one side decides they want more and the other side goes "ew!"  Then the aggressor will spend a long time trying to find an angle.  Then the other side will decide that maybe it's not such a bad idea, but by then the first side will have gotten tired of waiting and started dating some other person just to save face, and finally the two will be in some dramatic situation and be forced to admit their feelings for each other, leading to romantic bliss...and a chaotic, argument-fueled relationship complete with all of the usual points of friction.  *YAWN*  It's funny that I am the one saying this - I was actually a Paris/Torres shipper before they got involved, but the way they chose to go about forging a relationship made me want to crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment for ever rooting for those two kids to get together.  The scene from this episode is cringe-worthy in its predictable lines of bad, unfunny dialogue and forced acting.  There is so much cheese here that my arteries clog up a bit every time I watch it...and it's only going to get worse.
  • We are about to see a series of plots in which Janeway has to choose whether to make a lengthy detour to avoid a dangerous alien race or unappealing region of space...or risk her ship and crew to save time.  And every single one of those episodes will involve the same cascade of stupidity.  Janeway will conclude "well, we're in a HUGE hurry to get home, extra year is way too long to wait when you have 70 years of road to cover," they'lltry to trick/negotiate/tech their way through the obstacle, their trick will fail, the ship will almost get blown to kingdom come, they'll devise some technobabble bullshit to get out of danger.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  We've seen a few one-off episodes with this theme befor,e but this is the first in a long, practically unbroken string of episodes with this theme.  And only in the well-received two-parter, "Scorpion," did such a premise work.
  • The EMH decides, starting here, that he needs an eclectic array of hobbies to tolerate his time on the ship of the damned - and for some reason, all of those hobbies are in the realm of classical art (opera, dance, photography, musical instruments, etc).  I love his character and these diversions aren't bad things, per say, but I wonder why all of his passions seem to go in direction.  Couldn't he also take up white water rafting or Parisi Squares or something?
As to the bigger matter - the merits and demerits of the two main plots in this episode (which never mesh, leaving me to wonder why they're in the same story in the first place, and why the episode is named for the less interesting B-plot and not the character-driven A-plot?) - what can I really say, except "meh."  The alien bad guy has a creative and intimidating attack strategy, but if the way to defeat them is simply to figure out that their ships are interlinked and then manage to blow up one of them, they need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better power network.  The more significant plot has a fatal flaw.  The solution is both convenient and total.

There are no real consequences for the EMH, because, in the words of Robert Picardo, "There is a real desire on the part of the production team to keep every story contained.  They don't like to serialize much, so they couldn't really have my character struggling with memory loss for multiple episodes."  There's a word for an anthology series where the characters do not experience continuity (i.e. where there aren't long-term character arcs where people grow and adapt to new circumstances).  That boring.  Sorry, but if nothing ever changes and the "jeopardy" from any story can never have long-term consequences, why should I get invested at all?  The Michael Jonas plot was a little underdeveloped, but they had the right idea.  The decision to make this show a "bottle story" (no external settings that can't be CGI-generated, all internal) and then to keep all consequences of the action limited to inside that bottle means you can entirely skip this episode and never miss it.  And that means the episode cannot leave a mark on the viewers - especially viewers like me who like "big" stories with high stakes for characters about which I care.

If I were to do a story like this...I would make the B plot MEDICAL...something where the Doctor struggles to remain useful while his memories go and it tortures him because he knows this is what he should be doing and he can't do it.  And then I would make the A plot relevant long term.  Perhaps when he is re-initialized, he remembers the PEOPLE but his medical database is severely damaged and Kes must now teach HIM.  Or perhaps he realizes that his hobbies caused him to jeopardize lives and so he abandons them for a time and becomes depressed and isolated, forcing his friends to step up and encourage him to try again in future episodes.  My point is...why tell a story if you don't have a goal in mind?  Why put the EMH through a plot like this, only to have him forget it ever happened with no ill affects?  I would really like to talk to the Voyager production crew and ask them what they were THINKING in their aversion to serial plot arcs?  Their cowardice brings what could have been a very good episode down to a completely par, bland Trek episode.

False Profits - Overall Rating: 2.5


You know an episode is going to be bad when you can tell it was written for the purpose of saying one line...and the line that they want said isn't even a good one.  This episode was clearly pitched as, "What if the Voyager crew had to out-Ferengi the Ferengi?"  You know what's stupid?  Taking the worst ideas from DS9, and having a less-talented writer like Joe Menosky to write them for the Voyager crew.  I am not even going to propose a fix for this one.  My solution would have been for Janeway to phaser both Ferengis in the chest repeatedly until they were a bubbling pile of goo and then inform the citizens of the planet below that the Ferengi had all of their wealth stockpiled in their temple.  "You're welcome!"  I'd be OK with that.  This is a story that simply should never have been written in the Delta Quadrant...and frankly, the fact that the crew thinks the problem with it was that it was too funny/silly...speaks volumes for their contempt for humanity.  (I'm only partially kidding)  If this episode was "too funny/silly," I sure as hell didn't get the jokes.  There was nothing funny here...NOTHING.  It was contrived, lacking in logic, and just damned boring.  UGH.

You know...the most damning thing of all about this episode isn't even the stupidity of the Ferengi/Neelix exchanges or the mediocre "jokes."  It's the total incompetence of the Voyager crew.  How in the HELL did two unarmed Ferengi overpower Voyager's security teams?  How in the HELL did they SHOOT their way out of a sealed shuttle bay?  Their shuttle has weapons stronger than our shields??  And why oh why did they have a way to thwart our transporter technology in the first place, let alone why this was chosen as the reason the wormhole was unstable and unusable for Voyager?  You know what...I'm gonna break my own word above and give a more credible story that could almost have worked:

  • Voyager encounters the planet where the Barzan wormhole deposited two Ferengi several years ago. The Ferengi have conned the population into believing that they are Gods with their salvaged replicator and phase pistols and goofy-ass energy whips.  What's more, they've actually done SOME good things for these people, including instructing them on how to build better infrastructure, improving their education system with knowledge from their ship's computer, and instituting a standard currency. All in the name of increasing profits, of course, but this will give them ammo against Janeway later.
  • Janeway determines that it is wrong to leave the Ferengi to exploit a whole society and beams them away, but they make the case that their reforms have been good for these people and that the people will not react well to having their leaders taken from them.  Janeway is forced to admit that they have a point about uprooting their government on a whim and with no warning or consent of these people.  She must convince the Ferengi to leave willingly.
  • She sends regular Starfleet officers down there to talk to the people and make first contact - they are to explain that although what the Ferengi have done has had some benefits, they are also skimming a massive load of change off the top (in real material wealth, since it does no good to have coins when you can't trade with outside worlds) and taking advantage.  The people reject this interaction.
  • They then pay research the prophecy that foretold the coming of the great sages and determine that, in fact, it also foretells their departure.  They trick the Ferengi into bringing about some of the key signs of their departure.  The saga says the people will send their leaders back into the sky with a great roar of flames...and prepare to burn them at the altar.  Janeway then beams the Ferengi away from the flames so it looks like they evaporated.
  • With nothing to be gained by keeping the Ferengi, and nothing for the Ferengi to gain by returning to the planet, they take their repaired shuttle and fly off in a new direction.
Note a few key factors here.  There is no wormhole.  That wormhole was worthless because it jumped all over the place.  Kim can have tried to bring it back and failed because the former opening is just too unstable, but there's no need for a wormhole to make this story work.  There is also no need for Neelix to play a Ferengi and make an ass of himself.  That story element was stupid to begin with, and you can tell the story better if you spend more time looking at the impacts the Rules of Acquisition have had on this planet.  And, finally, there is no need for the Ferengi to escape to be rid of them...let 'em go.  And good luck finding somewhere else as vulnerable as here on your little Warp 4 shuttle.  We have some homeward traveling to do.  And, after all, they're not really guilty of any crime - they only did what their culture believes is the best thing both for themselves and this society.  A person who believes that profit is more important than anything else is not going to think of himself as nefarious for convincing a nation of people that he's right.

1 comment:

  1. Rational minds don't want to eliminate the Amish. But the insane have already tried. See the West Nickel Mines school shooting.