Overall Rating: 8.8
Holy CRAP! A GOOD Kenneth Biller script! Actually...if you pay attention, this one suffers all the same flaws as other Biller scripts, but the unique nature of the plot renders those flaws non-critical and Biller finds his sense of humor...so...good on him!
Memory Alpha has the details. Tuvok manages to do something that the entire ship enjoys, not to mention display some genuine emotion (namely pride and frustration...LOL), and Seska returns from the grave to f*** it all up. :)
There's about a ten-minute part of this episode that is among the funniest things Star Trek has ever done (how Biller managed this feat is beyond me...his command of characters is usually so poor that attempts at character-driven humor are intolerable). I definitely laughed out loud and heartily several times in a row after the holonovel became public knowledge and the senior staff was forced to discuss it and before Seska's booby-trap program started. Tom Paris blithering on about wanting some totally implausible action, Tuvok quoting the dictates of Vulcan poetics, Torres and Neelix wanting to insert Mary-Sue characters, quibbling about their role in the simulation, etc, and funniest of all, the EMH showing up when you least expect it to offer his BRILLIANT suggestions for altering the program and Tuvok flatly transferring his program off the holodeck...comedy gold. I kid you not.
Here's the thing...this episode is riddled with all of the usual cheap gimmicky "gotcha games" that fill Biller scripts and usually annoy the crap out of me. Red Herring teaser? CHECK (you think it's a real insurrection, but it's on the holodeck) Inane technobabble-driven late plot twist solved by technobabble resolution? CHECK. Cheesy semi-romantic banter? CHECK-O-RAMA. But you don't actually mind it this week because the pacing is appropriate, the tension is believable (even the red-herring is semi-plausible as all characters appear to be acting consistently in the general, if not in the specifics of their actions), the humor is earned and genuinely funny, and the gimmicky technobabble is not overly explained. They give you an answer you can accept and then they hang a lantern on their deus ex machina stuff, rather than trying to pretend everything isn't perfectly convenient like usual.
In short...This Kenneth Biller script works because he's making fun of his usual patterns instead of taking himself too seriously. It's a bit like Stargate SG-1 writers making fun of the tropes and crackier elements that they usually take for granted in episodes like Wormhole X-treme and Citizen Joe. Whether he INTENDED to make fun of himself is an open question...but it works for me, so it gets a good score. :)
I can't ignore the large helpings of cheese and bull-droppings in the script...it's just as fluffy and nonsensical as any Biller script. But I don't find the flaws annoying this time because of the light-hearted tone and the real humor...so I can't get too testy over them either.
Even Martha Hackett - with whom I was never impressed - does a nice job here, I think because instead of trying to play a complex real person, she's playing a purely evil avatar. The EMH as Dr. Evil was also fabulous - the flat, calm, rational delivery of the nasty nitric acid injection and "proverbial salt in the wound" lines were actually chilling! And for once...FOR ONCE...they gave Tim Russ something to do besides deliver wooden, emotionless tactical updates...he got to show a more Nemoy-esque balance of calm rational demeanor and thinly buried emotion. And he proved he could do it too!
Captain Janeway said it best. "With all due respect, Mr. Tuvok...lighten up." The same goes for the fans from time to time. This episode sets out to be fun and enjoyable and the writer made a real attempt to entertain the fans, rather than just spit out the usual dreck and collect a paycheck. Bravo.