Monday, January 28, 2013

Classics: Voyager 3:22 - Distant Origin

Overall Rating: 8.3

I know what you're doing there, Braga...oh I know.  This is supposed to be a shellacking of the Galileo case and of religion in general...I didn't miss that.  BUT...I also don't care.  Lucky for you, it's a really well done episode.

Plot Synopsis:

The details are here, but let's just get down to brass tacks.  This is one of Braga's usual "what if (insert cool sounding ridiculous idea)" pitches that just happened to actually work.  What if dinosaurs had evolved, fled Earth, traveled to the Delta Quadrant, and then forgotten how they got there?  Sounds like a neat idea...plays like one too despite being completely impossible.  The rule of cool applies here, so STFU you nerds that insist on ruining my fun by pointing out when something is completely impossible! :)

The Skinny:

In all seriousness, I am the first one, usually, to blast away at story ideas that make no sense internally if the story is not engaging or the execution of the idea is obviously sloppy and bizarre.  But here's the thing...this one may be based on an idea that simply is not possible, but it has an internal logic and consistency that you rarely find on Voyager and that smacks of (gasp) research and careful plot blocking before the script was penned!  Braga?  Write like a pro??  Vot next, Voyager doing an episode where Janeway is wrong?

The initial idea may be impossible in the world of facts, but this is science fiction and the goofy first idea evolves into an intriguing, compelling story that is well written, beautifully acted and impressively shot.  I'm almost speechless!  I said almost...the post isn't over! :)

Let's start with the artist rendering of the evolved Genus Hadrosaur.  Face it, folks, they did one hell of a job with that.  The Voth really do look like what I'd picture if I dreamed of a dinosaur that grew a large brain and developed the body parts necessary to build technology.  They even picked the most plausible base to the Voth family tree - the Hadrosaur (commonly, velociraptor) was in fact a highly evolved, very intelligent, and a ruthless killer when his genetic line was crushed by the K/T extinction.  This being a Braga script, I would have expected him to mistake an alligator for a dinosaur and suggest that tourists in Florida were getting eaten by the Voth as recently as the 20th century.  But no...he actually comes up with the most plausible explanation for how the velociraptor could ahve evolved and left no trace on Earth.  The K/T extinction event could have spared a few critters on an island continent which was subsequently subducted beneath Eurasia or India and lost forever.  Look, it's a HUGE stretch, but if you're going to do a virtually impossible story, you have to TRY to give us a ledge to climb out on with you or we're just going to get annoyed.  They did that here.

And then...they created a nice parable to the time of Galileo and the dangers of letting doctrine and demagoguery get in the way of truth (and progress) and virtue of speaking truth to power.  And better still, the made the adversary a legitimate threat (instant Voyager ass-kickage, right down to us coming up with a genius plan and having them effortlessly thwart it without even moving...that was pretty cool!) and gave their spokeswoman a believable and almost understandable reason for being so ruthlessly adherent to doctrine and so willing to be unethical to uphold it.  That's right - the bad guy is given a chance to speak, and what they say makes a sort of sick sense!  How many bad guys on Voyager have a motivation deeper than "we like to kill stuff for sport?"

But I think what I like most about this episode beyond the gorgeous make-up and set/lighting/camerawork is the dialogue during Gegen's trial.  Particularly Chakotay's speech.
ODALA: We are not immigrants!  I will not deny twenty million years of history and doctrine just because one insignificant saurian has a theory.  One last time...could you be mistaken.
CHAKOTAY: It's you who's mistaken, Minister.
ODALA: What?
CHAKOTAY: You accuse Professor Gegen of allowing his desires to cloud his objectivity, but aren't you guilty of the same charge?
ODALA: I am not on trial here.
CHAKOTAY: I understand that, but in a way, some of your beliefs are.  How you see yourselves, how you look at your place in the universe.  Those beliefs are very much on trial here.  And this isn't the first time.
ODALA: What are you saying?
CHAKOTAY: I've had some opportunity over the past few days to learn something about your culture.  Your greatest accomplishments.  Consider the breakthrough into transwarp.  In incredible achievement.  But your ancient doctrine predicted enormous disaster if it were even attempting.  That held your people back for millennia, until one brave scientist took a chance.  They succeeded.  And your society entered a new age of exploration.  And your doctrine was changed accordingly.   I know from the history of my own planet that change is difficult.  New ideas are often greeted with skepticism, even fear.  But when those ideas are explored, progress is made.  Eyes are opened.
ODALA: When I open my eyes to this...theory...what I see appalls me.  I see my race fleeing your wretched planet, a group of pathetic refugees crawling and scratching their way across the galaxy, stumbling their way into this domain.  I see a race with no birthright, no legacy.  That is unacceptable!
CHAKOTAY: I see something very different, Minister.  An ancient race of saurians - probably the first intelligent life on Earth - surrounded by some of the most fearsome creatures imaginable.  And yet they thrived!  And when their planet was threatened with disaster, they boldly launched themselves into space!  Crossing distances that must have seemed overwhelming, facing the unknown every single day.  But somehow, they stayed together.  They kept going...until they found their way to this quadrant, where they laid the foundation for what was to become the great Voth culture.  Deny that past...and you deny the struggle and achievement of your ancestors.  Deny your true origins on Earth...and you deny your true heritage.
OK...I'd just like to point out two awesome things about this.  One - they gave Chakotay some good lines for once and put his Native American status to good use (holy crap!!  It wasn't even racist!!).  Two - a scene that well written came from the computer of Brannon Braga.  No...friggin...WAY!  OK, I know Joe Menosky helped, and some of his scripts have been solid, but everything Braga touches usually turns into a mind-fuck, whether intentionally or otherwise, and this entire episode made perfect sense, flowed beauituflly, and offered challenging, well-crafted dialogue to stimulate the mind and provoke real discussion among the fans.  How is that even possible??

The only things I didn't like about this episode (other than the sideswipe at religion implied within that I'm just going to ignore for my own sanity) were moments involving Tom and B'Elanna flirting.  Voyager is no different than other Trek series...romances never work well within.

Writing: 9.0

Well-written, well-directed, and just generally awesome all around - what else can I say that has not already been said.

Acting: 9.0

Henry Woronicz (Gegen) and Concetta Tomei (Odala) were particularly good from the guest cast, and Robert Beltran did a credible job with his rare big moment in the son - he was, once again, a tad more low key than I'd have liked in such an intense courtroom sequence, but not offputtingly wooden.  Side note - I enjoyed Kate Mulgrew's handling of her battles with Haluk aboard Voyager.

Message: 7.0

I don't disagree, in practice, with the message that truth is more important than doctrine and blind belief...but I can't get too excited about it because I don't see the inherent conflict between faith and science that is constantly implied on Star Trek.  Nonetheless, I won't penalize them for doing this one because it wasn't a blunt 2X4 bitch-slap like it can be on Trek.

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