Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Classics: Voyager 3:7 - Sacred Ground

Overall Rating: 4.0

An episode with a lot of potential dashed by an identity crisis and a heavy dose of Hollywood ignorance.

Plot Synopsis:

The bizarre details of this episode can be found at Memory Alpha - don't say I didn't warn you.

The Skinny:

Normally, when we get to the "Let's Go With It" portion of these Voyager posts, I begin by accepting the plot premise and then find ways to better communicate that premise, increase the dramatic tension, do something useful with the characters, involve other plot elements, close plot holes etc.  But with this episode, I cannot grant the plot premise because Lisa Clink and Geo Cameron (the writers of this screenplay and story concept respectively) didn't have any idea what their story concept was.  Here's how I think it went down.  I think Cameron pitched an idea about Janeway - consummate scientist - being forced by circumstances of dire import to take part in a decidedly unscientific spiritual journey culminating in a leap of faith and, perhaps, gaining an insight into the value of spirituality as a compliment to her scientific pursuits.  This idea, incomplete as it may be, did have potential, but two very common Hollywood problems killed it and managed to insult both scientists and the religious faithful simultaneously.  Which is a nifty trick, but rather in the infamous vein.

The writer (Lisa Clink - who also penned the dull and pointless episode "Innocence") confused religion with science ENDLESSLY - with characters saying things like "You believe in science, don't you?" (as though science was a religion and not a process-based scheme for seeking out the objective truth of the universe) and "You must prepare yourself for your journey before you can seek the spirits..." (as though religion were a process involving discreet steps on the path toward spiritual understanding and the truth of the universe and not the state of having faith in the unproven truth you KNOW to be...well...true!)  When you see lines like that in a Hollywood production that is trying to delve into the divide between religion and science - even one that thinks its trying to argue that some balance between spiritual and scientific thought is necessary - you know that the author does not understand either faith or science.  Which is an unfortunately common trait among Hollywood writers.

Ms. Clink then makes the mistake of undermining her leap of faith with a scientific explanation.  If Janeway's takeaway from all of this is supposed to be that taking a leap of faith is sometimes the better approach than proceeding only on provable scientific hypotheses, then why did the story prove her right all along?  She started the episode saying "I believe that if you look hard enough, you will be able to find a perfectly reasonable scientific basis for all apparently supernatural moments that become the basis of any religion."  She then spent 40 televised minutes marching through a series of meaningless tests she imposed on herself only to realize that the right answer was to take a leap of faith...and then after she does this, the EMH pops on screen just long enough to say a bunch of technobabble bullshit that completely explains why the supposedly meaningless ritual actually was important and why her leap of faith worked at all.  That doesn't make any sense.  But I'll tell you why Clink did that.  She did that because she doesn't believe her own spiritual mumbo jumbo.  She's one of those people who calls herself "spiritual, but not religious," because it sounds cool at parties but actually means "entirely secular and, at best, agnostic."  So she wrote in the explanation so that she, herself, would be satisfied that she was not committing heresy against "science" (that nebulous Hollywood religion of science, mind you, not real science, which her "explanation" violates like a naive prom date).  It all makes sense, and Janeway's earlier statement was right.'s still good to be "open minded" and take a leap of faith every now and then, even though if you studied a problem for long enough, you'd find the answer scientifically.

A tip for writers.  If you don't believe in something, don't write about it.  And if you don't understand something, the same advice applies.  Science is a process, religion is a state of being.  You may need a process of acquiring knowledge to practice your faith, but you cannot be religious without first having faith in something.  And while it is true that some scientists get tunnel vision and treat their field like a religious doctrine, complete with unbending belief in things that can be and are disproved unequivocally (see: climate scientists and radical anthropogenic global warning), one does not "believe" in practices it.  When one begins to "believe" in science, one is no longer a scientist, but a believer in scientism (a religion, despite the absence of deities).  Now...if the episode was about Janeway's flawed scientism trumping her good scientific judgment, that would have been cool.  But it wasn't, because it proved her right, and her leap of faith would more accurately be described as a leap of desperation (nothing to lose...Kes is about to die, so might as well try something crazy!).  If the episode wanted to be about the fundamental truth that science will never prove or disprove everything in creation and that we need to have fundamental beliefs in order to function, that would have been cool, but it wasn't, because at no point is true religion actually practiced and at no time is Janeway's bold supposition questioned.  Which means...this episode was about NOTHING.  It was new aged Hollywood bullshit, and I'm not dumb enough to fall for it.

I'm both a practicing Catholic AND a scientist.  I believe that the scientific method is a great way to understand objective truth within the confines of this universe, and I believe that not everything about our existence can be observed in that manner.  The two things are not mutually exclusive, so it annoys me that people think they should be at adds...but it annoys me even more when the two sides of the supposed argument are portrayed so wrongly that I am doubly insulted to have such straw men foisted on me.

Let's Go With It:

The episode could have been bearable if the entire fifth act had been reworked so that the show made some kind of coherent argument and so that Janeway actually learned something from the whole experience.  If it's meant to culminate in a leap of faith, then don't have Kes on the brink of death - she's just locked in a coma forever, and Janeway wants to take a huge risk because she believes that the spirits will not harm her.  And for God's sake (for lack of a better phrase!), do not have the Doctor explain the miracle away with technobabble bullshit.  Just let it BE...let Janeway walk away with Kes and wonder how on Earth she got to the place where she had enough faith that she could take such an irresponsible risk and never know why it worked.  If it's building toward the conclusion that Janeway was a "scientism" disciple and not a scientist, then let it end with all of her scientific efforts in vein and Kes on the brink of death until the spirits themselves decide to relent.  Let no one have an explanation, and let Janeway come to the realization that is titanically arrogant of her to assume that EVERYTHING is fixed to the laws of physics and chemistry and biology and nothing is beyond the reach of science.  Let her seek Tuvok's counsel...he is a man of logic and science...but he also practices a spiritual life that includes a belief in katras and an afterlife.  Let Tuvok suggest that Janeway think long and hard about whether it logical to assume that in something as vast as the universe, there is nothing beyond her ability to comprehend.

Writing: 5.0

It's fluffy, but some of the symbolism, dialogue, and plot pacing elements keep you watching until the let down of the climax.  Four halfway decent acts, one LOUSY one.

Acting: 6.0

Kate Mulgrew was OK - albeit a bit on the overly dramatic side in places, but the guest starts were HORRID.  So...I can't get too enthused.

Message: 1.0

I don't like being insulted...I really don't like being doubly insulted...I despise being doubly insulted by someone who thinks she's more enlightened than I am when, in fact, she's completely clueless.

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