Friday, January 25, 2013

Classics: Voyager 3:20 - Before and After

Overall Rating: 4.3

This episode has a fatal flaw that ruins an otherwise interesting (albeit fluffy and high concept) idea.  IT MAKES NO FRACKIN' SENSE!!!! :)  Curse you, Kenneth Biller!

Plot Synopsis:

Memory Alpha has the details.  Let's just say that if you can figure out what actually happens in this episode and make it fit together even a tiny bit, I'll buy you a drink.  You'll need it after all of that work.

The Skinny:

Let's do this "blow by blow" again like I did with Rise, because my reactions were, I believe, hilarious, if you would have been there to observe.  I am not tech-savvy enough to do video reviews, or I'd start with this episode and become science fiction's answer to the Angry Video Game Nerd (youtube search that moniker if you are curious).  This episode, frankly, pisses me off like very few others.  It is representative of everything that is great about science fiction's big ideas and the unique freedom you have when you aren't bound to Earthly realities...but everything that's oh so wrong with Voyager's particular approach to telling imaginative stories.

The episode begins with 9-year-old Kes in a bio-temporal chamber (I really hate it how, when Voyager writers want to sound smart, they just invent a new portmanteau of two sciency words and expect us to be wowed).  The EMH zaps her wiht it to "force her cells into an earlier state of decay."  Holy crap!  That makes ZERO sense!  Cells decay because the genome begins deviating as the protective layer of cholesterol at each end of our chromosomes wears away and exposes the DNA to free radicals.  I can envision a treatment that would restore those protective caps and forestall FURTHER aging, but what degradation that has already occurred would not be undone.  If the EMH wants to extend Kes's life, he'll need to fix the damage that has already been done - she's already one foot in the grave at her current level of damage, you idiots!

And this treatment begins, Kes's consciousness begins to jump backwards in time.  And here's where it REALLY starts to get wacky.  At her first jump point, she claims to remember nothing of her life.  If she has no experiential memories due to whatever this bio-temporal bullshit did to her body, then how does she know how to talk?  Why isn't she basically a baby in an old woman's body like we see with dementia sufferers in the real world?  The EMH even says that she's lost over 99% of her memory engrams.  Though it's never explained how the heck that is possible and when we figure out why she's going backwards in time, it makes even less sense that her memory would be erased and then rebuilt.

She jumps a couple more times, and we learn what her life has become.  Tom Paris is her husband because B'Elanna died during "the year of hell."  Ooooh...that sounds NEAT!  Neelix became a security officer (he'd better have matured some before that day).  Harry Kim wound up marrying Kes's daughter with Tom and having his own kid (umm...ew?).  The stuff that gets revealed here is absolutely fascinating and very creative. No doubt about that.

But...then the EMH decides to try to keep Kes in temporal sync with the rest of the ship by erecting a force-field in Sickbay.  And in this scene, Biller blows up his only escape route away from criticisms that the plot makes no sense.  Fans defend the concept by claiming that Kes's consciousness is going backwards disconnected from her body, and that, therefore, the lack of memories is a result of that disconnect and not whatever is occurring to her body physically.  But in this scene, her temporal disconnect is MANIFESTLY PHYSICAL.  They try to keep her grounded but her body begins to vanish after very physical symptoms like a drop in body temperature and the sensation of losing consciousness.  So no...this is not just her ethereal self that's making the's her physical body.  At which point, the entire episode collapses into a pool of WTF juice.

The whole story revolves around Kes having chronoton radiation in her body from exposure to a Crenim missile leaking chronotons during the year of hell.  These chronotons somehow "reactivate" when 9-year-old Kes is hit with the technobabble machine, causing her to lose her temporal tether and start jumping backwards in time.  But why would temporal displacement cost her her memories?  And why would her 9-year-old body grow down to younger and younger forms?  And why would the backwards journey include having her physical body replace the physical body of the Kes that existed in each time step?  And why would those jumps continue into an era BEFORE her radiation exposure during the year of hell if she's jumping into a body that has no chronotons in it?  No matter how yoiu try to put these puzzle pieces together, they make ZERO sense and it is only going to get worse.

But...damnit if they didn't also put in interesting character moments - Tom reacting to B'Elanna's death and Kes being there for him despite her current problem, Kes re-learning to love Tom so we can see how it would be plausible, the impact of the year of hell on Voyager's crew.  This is just the problem though!  Voyager's staff was FILLED with great ideas but they never brought these ideas to full flower, either because management was too timid and too afraid to take risks, or because the staff writers weren't up to the challenge of writing something worthy of the idea, or because the staff was overworked and not given adequate support from Paramount.  Whatever the case may be, this story...and all of the character snippets and interesting revelations about the various time both interesting and depressing.  It doesn't wind up mattering in the long run, the lesson Kes learns is frivolously tacked on at the end, the plot engine is TOTALLY ILLOGICAL and the script itself is really...really sloppy.  Kenneth Biller is just not a good writer...I have no idea how he made a career of it.

So Kes continues jumping back...through the year of hell and to a point where she can figure out the chronoton signature she needs and the EMH can devise a treatment.  While she's on the operating table, the treatment seems to be working but she jumps back before it can fully work...and then rapidly jumps all the way back to the moment of her own conception.  They show her birth, then her in the womb, then her disappearing completely.  And then it starts rolling forward again.  WTF?  And you know what?  This change in direction is NEVER EXPLAINED!!  She jumps back to the bio-bed and the EMH reports that the treatment worked. her body DIDN'T vanish?  It was there the whole time being treated while she went backwards in spirit only??  THEN WHY SHOW HER DISAPPEARING IN PREVIOUS SCENES????  Seriously...what the hell were you THINKING, Kenny?!?!

Oh...and then we get a cutesy end scene in which Kes, now back in the present, somehow has all of her normal-sync memories back along with the snippets she picked up while she was going backward in time from her 9-year-old dying self.  If backward-traveling Kes has no memories except the ones she picked up while actually experiencing the world on her trip back through time, then how the flying crap did she get her experiential memories up to the moment of her being cured back while still keeping all of those backward-traveling memories??  EXPLAIN, KENNETH!  EXPLAIN!!!!

I remember liking this episode the first time I watched it, just because it was refreshing to see the authors thinking about what lies in store for Voyager in the future and proposing that maybe everything won't be hunky-dory. does NOT hold up to repeated viewings.  The more you try to understand what you're watching, the more you realize you're watching absolute SHIT on a stick...dripping from the stick and into your eyes.  I wanted to have something positive to say...but all I can really do is get pissed off because once again, most of Voyager fandom just nodded along and whistled a happy tune.  They say things like "oh you just have to not think so much and enjoy the creative ideas."  I like using my brain and I hold my entertainment media to a higher standard.  You Trekkies are supposed to be intelligent geeks.  Why do you let them ram a shit sandwich down your throat every week and pretend it's ice cream?


Let's Go With It!

It would have taken all of two hours of pondering for even Corky Biller - the special savant of the Voyager short bus - to think of a better way to do a story like this.  You want to see Voyager's future, have Kes at mortal peril (or at least leave us thinking she's in danger) and give her a reason to learn that she must seize the moment and make every day count?  Don't go backward, then forward...go forward and then backward, dummies!  Wouldn't it have been cool if present-day Kes got a treatment from the EMH that was designed to slow her aging process and let her live longer than 9 years and the procedure had an unintended side effect of throwing her conscious mind out of temporal sync and sending her hurtling forward through time toward the moment of her death?  Rather than showing us at the very beginning that, 6 years from now, Voyager will be humming along just swimmingly and then revealing that there were bad moments along the way, maybe you should show Voyager progressively getting its ass more and more kicked by various horrible bad guys and her friends and crew-mates dying one by one.  As she goes forward, she picks up new experiences in that forward-moving timeline and we get intermittent cuts back to the present where the EMH explains what he's trying to do to save her and bring her back into temporal sync.  But we, the viewers, still get to see that there is the looming threat of "the year of hell," that Voyager barely escapes this but then gets its ass kicked by the Hirogen, and then the Borg, and then whatever else you want to invent.  That many along the way die.  And that they are eventually forced to abandon Voyager and trade for alternative transportation...whatever cool hardships you want to propose!  This is your chance to make us revel in how dangerous this journey could theoretically be and get us to appreciate how the crew will only form tighter bonds of family through any ordeal.

Then the EMH in the present can pull her back just as she's about to get lost completely (say if she jumps beyond a point where her body is alive, her consciousness will be lost in the ether of time forever!) and, having just lived a scary life in fast-forward, she can return to the present eager to warn the crew about potential future threats, seize every moment to its fullest, work on her mental abilities with that much more fervor, etc.  That story practically writes itself, Kenny!  WTF were you DOING with your piece of crap version?  You can accomplish everything you want by going forward in spirit, rather than going backward in whole body.  You know the funny thing?  If they wanted to send Kes backward so we could learn about her past...why didn't we spend more than 1 minute in her childhood past??  What the hell was the point of doing it the convoluted way if you don't even take advantage of Kes's past?

Move her FORWARD.  Let her keep her memories and add new ones.  Let us see a possible future for Voyager that we may not like.  And let us speculate with avid excitement as to how Kes's warning will affect the future timeline.  Doing it the reverse way takes all of the suspense out of the story and makes it VERY difficult to give it logically coherent form.

Writing: 0.0

I'll give whatever credit this deserves for its creative idea to the message score...I want to absolutely PILLORY Mr. Biller in the town square for treating his fans like utter morons and for the fans accepting it and begging for more.  This episode is among the stupidest things Biller ever wrote...its promise is completely wasted by such lackluster execution.

Acting: 7.5

I wanted to be happier about the acting - there were lots of nice moments, but we don't linger in any moment in time long enough for the events to sink in, have a significant impact on the viewer or on Kes, and thus, there's not much the actors can really do to get this story to work.

Message: 4.5

Normally, I'd start with six points and move up or down based on my alignment with the message of the episode and my decision as to how well that message was executed.  Here, there really isn't a message other than the tacked on BS in the final scene, so it moved down from 6 to 2 just for pissing me off.  And then moved back up to 4.5 for some of the nicer character moments they did take the time to show - particularly Kes's value to the crew.  The show did try to humanize our heroes a bit and that's the only think stopping me from giving this a much worse score.

No comments:

Post a Comment