Sunday, January 20, 2013

Classics: Voyager 3:19 - Favorite Son

Overall Rating: 4.7

Some fans think of this as one of the all-time worst attempts at high-concept Trek...I think it was actually a good idea, but not explored from the right angles and with the cheeze factor (as opposed to cheesiness, this episode was so cheesy it jumped into artificial cheez-whiz territory) at intolerable levels.

Plot Synopsis:

This link will spoil all of your fun and reveal the shocking conclusion to the episode.

The Skinny:

The original idea was not indefensibly bad.  (ducks shower of paper cups and D&D miniatures)  WHOA, my fellow nerds...chill and let me explain. :)  Let me put you into the shoes of young Ensign Kim.  From his own words, he describes a set of parents who, during his childhood, held him up as something truly miraculous and beatific.  "The miracle child" who would one day restore balance to the shields, young Mr. Kim realizes, at an early age, that he's shy, intelligent, but not in a spectacular way, and not remarkably gifted in any marketable skills other than loyalty and eagerness.  He's a good guy, but not smooth with the ladies and hardly command material - not ambitious enough for that.  He takes his first posting after the academy, where, by all accounts, he was an excellent, hard working student who achieved nothing significant other than perfect attendance and the world record for longest consecutive brown-nosing.  That posting is as a run of the mill tactical officer aboard the USS Voyager, Captained by Catherine Janeway - a domineering, uncompromising authority figure who notices you only when you piss her off.  You think, "Well it's a two year tour of duty and then I'll put in for a transfer to someplace where I might have a chance at advancing through the engineering ranks."  And then Voyager is thrown 70,000 light years from San Francisco, meaning you're going to be a boot-licking Ensign until enough people ahead of you DIE.  That's're only hope for a future career with any significance is to see your best friends die until you're the last man standing.  I have a thought.  Might not this Harry Kim, whose life is limited to alien dalliances that end badly every. single. time!...and a dead end job under a Captain with no interpersonal skills and a bad temper, yearn for something to come along and define his life as having special significance as his parents said so often in his formative years?

It is worth exploring, at the very least, how Kim feels about his place on Voyager and what he would give up to have a place with more distinction and power.  There's just one problem.  Although snippets of the show's dialogue pay lip service to this core character study, the bulk of the story skips past this entirely and devotes needless excess energy to the over-the-top antics on the planet, the pointless space warfare, and the lewd sexual innuendo.  It plays more like a bad Roddenbury story from the days of TNG season 1 or TOS - it's more about the cheap, giddy little thrills than about the deep psychological needs Harry might have that Turisians could attempt to "fill" in order to ensnare him.  In a bit, I'm going to explain exactly how I'd have done this story, but first, I'd like to point out the inconsistencies in the story-telling that reveal how ill-conceived it was.

  • I mentioned before that the dialogue does hint at reasons why Kim might initially be suckered in by the Turisians.  He's not just in it for the hot babes...he wants to be adored the way he was as a child and be made to feel important - and let's face it...the crew of Voyager has not done a good job of making him feel needed - especially not his Captain.  Although this is touched on, and although Kim appears lured into their web, as soon as they try to get physical with him, he becomes the heroic underdog, immediately sensing foul play and desperately attempting escape before being pulled out by Voyager.  Why would the same Kim who might get lured into their trap so immediately foil that trap?  SFDebris humorously observes that every time Harry gets near sex, he panics and heads for the exit.  He is certain that Kim is sexually depraved and confused about his orientation only because Voyager writers, in trying to give Kim virtues, always seem to make him behave in ways that aren't terribly natural when it comes to sex.  This is one of the examples he chooses.  I don't think it's depraved to run away from female sexual aggressors if you're not into playing the submissive role, but the incongruity remains.  One minute, Kim is loving the high life on Turisia, the next minute, he's fleeing the advances of women who seem to be offering him even HIGHER life.
  • The Turisians' story is so ill-conceived that there's no way in hell that anyone should believe it - not even if there seems to be evidence corroborating that story.  Really?  They have the technology to send people 70,000 light years away and they expected the men that came back to be of child-bearing age?  And Harry just happened to get transported to the right quadrant of space and on the right vector that he would pass by their system on the way home - you know...that place he's been desperate to get back to until now?  Sorry...but if this is a story about Harry getting snookered by a bad con game due to psychological needs that are unmet on Voyager...then why does the entire rest of the crew fall for it until they talk with the Turisians' mortal enemies?
  • What kind of species would need to "nucleate a large number of cells" to achieve conception?  And why would this species survive the evolutionary process at all?  I'm calling bullshitsky on that theory.  Our science has determined that a population sees subzero growth rates when the male/female balance is off by as little as 10%.  That's why we are so alarmed by the feminization of fish in our coastal waters (the possible result of artificial estrogen being pumped into the oceans from our sewer systems after women take massive doses of birth control pills).
  • Here again we see a bad use of the concept of "genetic memory."  While we do find that babies have the capacity to instinctively know how to swim  and the like, there is no evidence that genes control the formation of detailed experiential memories.  Kim could not be made aware of Turisia through a retrovirus.  Again...I call bullshit.
But this could have been a much more effective story without changing the core elements, and here's how.

Let's Go With It!

I am going to keep the themes - women using sex appeal to lure men into a Venus Fly Trap, the exploitation of psychological needs to get us to accept things that a rational person would not, and the exploration of Harry Kim's Napoleon complex.  This is how you do all of that without introducing improbable biology, inconsistent plot devices that leave people with whiplash and corny, over-the-top antics that don't belong in a high school screenplay.
  • The episode begins with Harry Kim feeling a sense of deja vu, as occurred in the real thing.  Kim can't explain it, but he's having disturbing dreams about his parents, only this time they look alien and so does he.  After a series of strangely familiar star systems, he forcibly alters Voyager's course and locks out the command codes with an encryption that will take hours to break.  Janeway confines to Sickbay and he goes willingly, and while there, they discover the same pattern of alien skin markings as in his dreams.
  • Voyager then arrives at Turisia and Kim, as if driven by instinct, beams himself to the surface.  As soon as he goes down there, a shield goes up around the settlement and Voyager is cut off.  None of them have any idea what is happening below, but they begin investigating the symptoms the EMH discovered, including evidence that his memory was altered and those mysterious skin lesions.
  • On Turisia, Kim comes out of his trance and tries to contact answer.  He is met by a welcoming committee and they explain that he is finally home.  They sell that hilariously bad cover story and Kim doesn't buy it at first, but they seem harmless, so he decides that the best bet would be to talk to more of these people and try to get more information.
  • On Voyager, the EMH has poured over records from recent away missions and determines that the only time Kim was unaccounted for was on one particular planet.  He now believes Kim's skin lesions were the cosmetic affects from a crafty retrovirus that eluded the ship's biofilter and seemed to only attack skin, producing a specific pattern of coloration changes.  If they're going to get answers, they need to go back there and poke around.
  • Back on Turisia, Kim begins a very skeptical interrogation of some of the natives - especially the men, who seem few and far between.  The elder women invite him to a celebration in his honor and he obliges so as not to get in trouble with the locals.  They treat him like a king and he admits that if their story were true, in some ways it would be a hell of a lot better than what he had on Voyager.
  • Voyager returns to the scene of the crime and discovers evidence of energy signatures identical to those found on the planet where Kim is now trapped.  They go further into a planet-hell style labyrinth and find a lab with sophisticated neural scanning equipment and genetic samples, including some from Mr. Kim.  Convinced that Kim is under attack, they speed back to Turisia - Janeway having ordered Torres to work on a way of bringing down their shield.
  • On Turisia, Kim explains his familial history to a curious native woman with whom he has hit it off.  They spend the night talking and she very sweetly convinces him that he is important to their people and that he owes it to himself to explore their culture further.  He even gets to observe a marriage ceremony (most of which we do not need to see) between three Turisian women and one recently arrived man.  She explains that Turisia suffered a genetic calamity some years back that destroyed most of their male gene pool and now male chromosomes are rare.  Kim and others like him returning from afar are needed for the survival of their species.
  • Meanwhile, Voyager returns, ready to come in guns blazing and is met by a very toothy Turisian ship - the jig is up and a fight ensues.
  • On the surface, with no clue what's going on above, Kim starts to fall for this Turisian woman and the two get a bit physical.  She invites two other women with whom she is close to join them for a marriage ceremony - Kim balks, saying he isn't ready to go that far.  Then the party is over and he realizes that this is a trap.  He can't believe he's been played by this woman who seemed so sincere, but they come after him.  It turns out that Turisian society was crippled by a costly war those many years ago and the women blamed the men for the violence.  They killed most, kept a few for breeding purposes, but needed a wider gene pool to continue propagating the species.  So they built a few outposts to scan alien vessels for viable genetic matches.  Kim was one of the "lucky" ones.  They gave him a cosmetic condition to make him believe he might be Turisian, altered his memory with a trigger program conditioned to bring him to Turisia and sent him back to Voyager unnoticed.  And now, they'll have their way with him, conduct the ritual mating and kill him for his trouble, since men are a mortal threat to their perfect society.
  • Just when it looks like he's about to get clubbed to death, Voyager breaks through the shield and beams him away.
  • After they escape, Kim explains what happened to Tom and Paris calls him an idiot.  It's not the job that makes you important - it's not being worshiped as a God or handed a pack of women or given a feast in your honor that makes a man fulfilled.  It's the company you keep and the friendships you cultivate.  They head off to the mess hall to celebrate his safe return and Kim learns something from the experience. how you do this kind of story.  I'll let the readers decide if they agree.

Writing: 1.0

HORRIBLE, sloppy writing is what really dooms this episode to the D pile.  It's not insulting or entirely inane, but it's way over the top, filled with contradictions, bad science and bad characterization, and it doesn't do what it set out to do.

Acting: 7.5

On the other hand, Garrett Wang doesn't do a bad job with the role he's given and the leading Turisian guest stars are at least somewhat believable despite the bad plot.

Message: 5.5

They had an opportunity to send a message about the real measure of a man and about the dangers of giving in to sensual pleasures over a life of substance...but they whiffed on both counts, and I have to ding them a little for this total failure.

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