Thursday, February 12, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 1b)

Season 1a -- Season 2a

Voyager picked things up a little bit in the second half of its opening season, but it still feels like the early “finding their way” seasons that Trek series always seem to go through. And, as they round out the shortened season, we get a deja vu feeling like we’ve been here before, be it in a political episode dealing with past war crimes like we saw in DS9, or training raw recruits like they did in STNG.

Episode 9 “Emanations”

The story is pretty straight forward: Kim gets switched with someone from another… dimension(?), area of space(?), during a transporter mishap (that plot again) and has to be rescued. However, the implications here are interesting. Turns out, the people from the other… place are sending their dead to “heaven.” Only the Voyager crew are finding their dead bodies on an asteroid. Then, to make it even more ethically and philosophically interesting, the “dead” are only dead because the process is killing them. Most would die anyway, but some are sent away as a matter of convenience.

Unfortunately (or obligatorily) the show opts to cop out on taking a position. They clarify that the dead could still be achieving a heaven, spiritually speaking. (One thinks that a true-blue “Roddenberry-ite” would cynically shout that death is the end.) I would have liked a more provocative signal that there is something beyond scientific materialism at work.

And, interestingly, Trek again takes a very pro-life stance. This time in the face of euthanasia. They do that a lot.

Episode 10 “Prime Factors”

When a hospitable culture (Trek tends to define every alien race as having a monoculture built on a single factor: miner-race, hostile-race, profit-driven-race, etc.) invites the crew to visit their planet, Kim discover that they have a technology that could shorten the homeward trip tremendously. However, this planet has strict rules about not sharing their technology. Their own “Prime Directive.”

One plotline explores Janeway’s attempts to persuade the leaders to loan them the technology. We see where that story is headed early on. This planet is really less concerned with hospitality, and more interested in Voyager as an entertaining novelty. However, the Maquis on Voyager are keen to get the tech by any means necessary. Tuvok sees Janeway’s ethical struggle and decides the logical thing to do is to releave her of her quandary, get the tech, and help the crew. In the end, no one thought to check for compatibility issues.

This is almost a compelling look at the precedence ethics takes over convenience, but the fact that things do not work feels like a cheat. The crew here is good in spite of themselves.

Episode 11 “State of Flux”

The Maquis conflict bubbles up again when it becomes clear that someone has been leaking technology to local aliens. This episode is mostly about flushing out the culprit, and not terribly hard to figure out.

Episode 12 “Heroes and Demons”

Voyager makes that classic Trek mistake (that they themselves have already done once in the short lifespan of the series so far) of thinking that something is just a thing to be studied, and not potentially an intelligent life form. In this case, things get “real” in a holodeck game of Beowolf. Fun ensues when the Doctor is the only person who can help the ship.

Episode 13 “Cathexis”

This is Trek doing that Denzel Washington movie, “Fallen.”

Episode 14 “Faces”

Torres has her Klingon and Human “sides” split. Don’t even try to understand how that works, because it doesn’t. (What effectively happens is she is killed and new purely klingon and human clones are formed in her place. And, since the Klingon side dies and her human side has to undergo genetic manipulation in the end, it is a huge stretch that we have the same old Torres going forward. But, like I said, don’t think about any of that.)

Some of the stuff in this episode is truly shocking. (A face-off moment in particular!) But what is most shocking is the way this episode takes the always uncomfortable hints of racism that Trek indulges in in its simplistic handling of alien differences.

Episode 15 “Jetrel”

Neelix is forced to interact with the scientist who invented the bomb that killed most of the life (including his family) on his planet. In predictable fashion, he learns that the monster is not just a monster; he has a soul and guilt. That monster also learns that there are some things that you can’t make right or redeem no matter how hard you try. Forgiveness is not earned, it is given.

Episode 16 “Learning Curve”

The Maquis continue to be a problem, and Tuvok thinks he can help them learn to toe the line. The truth is that they do need to learn to work as a team, but it also turns out that Tuvok needs to learn something as well. This borders on “After School Special” level of preachiness.

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