Saturday, January 12, 2013

Classics: Voyager 3:17 - Darkling

Overall Rating: 5.6

I think I understand what they were trying to do, but I don't really understand why, and I don't think they did it very well.

Plot Synopsis:

Doc + Legendary Historical Figures = MADMAN!!  The full explanation is here, thanks to Memory Alpha.

The Skinny:'s what I think the writers (Joe Menosky and Brannon Braga) wanted to do with this episode.  They had an idea that the very qualities given to the world's greatest historical figures that made them special also frequently made them unsavory up close.  Vincent Van Gogh had an ability to see the rapturous beauty of emotions and evoke that beauty on the canvas, but he possessed that ability at least in part because his brain was wired differently...the same wiring that made him commit suicide for being in constant psychological pain.  Cyrano De Bergerac was known for a side-splitting sharp wit that could cut a man to size, but that same temperament made him miserable in his personal life.  Mahatma Gandhi was a great peacemaker and spiritual leader, but he was also self-destructive in the extreme and all too willing to sacrifice himself at the slightest provocation.  The point is...if you tried to select the personality traits you admired in the greats of human past and cobble them together into a whole person, you would fail, and the resulting creature would be fanatical and insane (fanatical because greatness requires dedication beyond simple effort, insane because this new person would be in constant conflict with him/herself, with fanatical urges to act in a thousand different ways at all times.  The EMH has begun to desire to better himself - a noble sentiment - but, because he is a program and the way programs adapt is by absorbing more programming, he could very well go about it the wrong way (just as physicalists tend to approach life bleakly when they start to believe that they too are stuck as who they are, preprogrammed from the start).  What horrid creature would emerge, Hyde-like from the EMH if he attempted to merge history's greatest thinkers, philosophers and artists into his medical database?

It's a worthy idea.  The problem is...they inexplicably told this sort of psychologically heavy story by creating a technical explanation for why the EMH's plans fail, a technical solution, and an alternate personality, rather than an altered one.  That doesn't make much sense.  If you want to show how choosing history's greats to directly emulate might be a bad idea (as opposed to being the best authentic YOU you can be), why create an alter-ego?  Why not show how those fanatical personality traits slowly overwhelm the doctor's more ordinary and stable personality, causing him to become increasingly insane as the episode progresses - just slowly enough that he doesn't even realize that something is wrong with him until he's killed someone and kidnapped Kes?  The way they did it makes the episode BORING...because the character that becomes the bad guy here is explicitly NOT the doctor, and the path to restoring our EMH is clear - remove the offending personality subroutines - checkmate.  And pointless.  I do not suspect that if we tried to directly absorb our favorite qualities in Abe Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Dianna Ross, we'd end up with multiple personalities vying for control of our bodies.  See...the way they did it is not relevant to the human condition and I have no reason to invest.

I've already hinted at my solution, so...

Let's Go With It!

Rather than a BS technobabble answer explanation of the problem and an instant cure, I would have the Doctor slowly go mad as new impulses pull him in multiple directions and urge him into doing things he would never have considered doing himself.  I would have him try to rationalize his first evil deeds - you could even have a cool ethical battle between the EMH and Janeway over whether he has the right to fundamentally change his psychological profile on a whim and risk the ship's only qualified surgeon before his behavior gets too erratic.  You could then solve the problem by wiping out the extraneous subroutines - leaving the original doctor to grapple with the guilt over what he'd done, and the lasting effects his changes may have had on his personality.  And beyond that, we could spend less time doing boring shit on the planet and more time dealing with Kes's increasing certainty that she needs her life to change and grow beyond her duties on Voyager and seeing the EMH's reaction to these revelations...while going mad, he could take this as a personal attack...cling to her (by kidnapping her) because he needs her in his life, kill her love interest, etc...and that would be motivated by WHO THE EMH IS INTRINSICALLY.  See how that makes this episode a lot scarier and a lot less dull?  The normal EMH wouldn't go around killing people to get his way, but those are his real feelings amplified with ruthless ambition, unyielding stubbornness and fanatical devotion to cause.  That is not only a suspense thriller about the dangers of being untrue to yourself - it's also a direct character study of the EMH.

Writing: 6.0

Nice try...but there are large structural flaws with this script that prevent me from giving it a better than par score here.

Acting: 4.0

Sorry Mr. Picardo, but I have to ask...why does every Trek actor seem to think that playing a different character necessitates the use of a radically different voice and deeply exaggerated gestures?  Also...why did you feel the need to wear prosthetic teeth and contacts that made you look like an anime villain?  I cannot take you seriously when you act like this.

Message: 6.8

They had the right idea (to thine own self be true), but they whiffed on delivering it in a way that would really sink in.

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