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William B
Thu, Oct 19, 2017, 10:37am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S4: Scientific Method

Consensus is that Jammer underrates this one. I guess I sort of agree, but only sort of. I like this better than (from later in the season) Concerning Flight and even Waking Moments. It has zip and energy and I think it's fun to see cranky Janeway, horny Tom & B'Elanna, and spy Seven. I actually dug the scene of Chakotay and Neelix comparing their respective ailments, too, although I find this exchange funny for the wrong reasons:

NEELIX: If anything, I look like a Mylean. They occupy a region of space near Talax.
EMH: Interesting. Do Talaxians and Myleans share a common ancestry?
NEELIX: Not that I know of.
EMH: Do the two races ever intermarry?
NEELIX: Yes. As a matter of fact, my great grandfather was Mylean.

Neelix, please, be smarter.

The plot doesn't really add up to that much, though, and indeed the whole thing feels disjointed. The idea that the Doctor makes sure Seven doesn't tell anyone about his findings -- that Janeway et al. are being experimented on -- is strange, given that I don't quite know why the aliens wouldn't discover that Seven is on a secret mission, and Seven exposes one of the aliens anyway, albeit in desperation. The extreme-risk-low-odds ending is also both dumb and implausible and also weirdly goes against the "metaphor" (quotes because it's pretty thin) of animal experimentation; so I guess a rat can get out of being experimented on by running into a burning building, huh? Anyway, it might have made the "message" aspect of the show stronger to at least imply what it was these tests were being used for, beyond some sort of generic endurance hazing ritual; and yeah, the aliens' half-hearted defense of their actions seems to make it an "issue" episode without bothering to examine whether the analogy actually fits (e.g. the Voyager crew is sentient, etc.). Oh well. Anyway, I actually still probably give it the same rating as Jammer, because it is a mess and its virtues don't really balance it out, but I don't quite have the same negative opinion based on the review. (I think I'm maybe just a little more willing to give low ratings generally.) 1.5 stars, sure.
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William B
Thu, Oct 19, 2017, 10:19am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S4: Random Thoughts

The big, glaring, distracting problem of this episode is that at no point does Janeway simply ask the Mari to let B'Elanna go back to Voyager and let Voyager leave. It's possible the Mari would have refused, but the argument Nimira keeps presenting is not even that B'Elanna needs to be *punished* as that future crimes need to be prevented and that her violent thoughts cannot be allowed to continue affecting their society. Fine! Let her leave! Nimira seems to find *punishment* to be barbaric, and so it is not even a "we have to obey local values" issue -- it seems that her values would be entirely consistent with letting B'Elanna simply leave provided that she didn't return to pollute their culture any more. Of course no one mentions it, because then either there would be no story, or Nimira would come across as too unsympathetic. Seven is, of course, correct in the final scene with Janeway, not so much about whether they should stop and interact with cultures they pass through, but in the question of whether they should actually have someone (Tuvok, presumably, but maybe sometimes-ambassador Neelix, or command officers Janeway or Chakotay) read the rulebook of planets they are stopping at to check if there are any rules that will lead to the crew being executed, incarcerated or violated as punishment. I get that there are some edge-case ambiguities in laws, and sometimes things are so "unthinkable" that they wouldn't bother to codify them in laws, but I feel like "thinking violent thoughts is a crime punishable by space lobotomy" is something that could plausibly have come up.

Putting that aside, though, I think the episode works overall quite well. The way the episode examines the unintended consequences of different laws is really plausible and perceptive, and the basic notion -- of whether "violent thoughts" should or can be outlawed -- is compelling and well executed. "Violent thoughts," here, I think is an exaggeration/metaphor; for our non-telepathic society, substitute violent speech or art, or anything that can plausibly lead to second-order violent outcomes and people hurt and damaged. The idea here that people are extremely sensitive to any ideas that pass their way, and that it's better to control ideas than to control actions themselves, is compelling and makes sense, with the telepathy of the Mari a stand-in for the various ways (subtle and not-so-subtle) that ideas can be transferred and harmful ideas can spread. B'Elanna as the representative for "violent thoughts (art, words, etc.) are fine (or at least, should be non-criminal), violent actions aren't" posits that a person is responsible for their actions only, whereas Nimira as the representative for the Mari points out that violent thoughts (art, etc.) make violent actions more likely, and both are correct, though (of course) I (and the show) agree much, much more with B'Elanna. The second-order consequence that banning violent thoughts outright creates a black market because of the bestial nature of humans (sorry, humanoids) and the fact that we still crave a certain rush from violence even if we don't wish to participate in it, and maybe ESPECIALLY if we don't want to participate in it and if we want it as a replacement (and violent-thought voyeurs like the ones we see in this episode seem to mostly be seeking the thoughts themselves and not to do violence, which is only an unintended consequence) is also totally believable and meaningful and it's an investigation plot where the resolution to the "crime" ends up being genuinely thematically interesting. (Compare to Ex Post Facto.) It's also a good Tuvok episode (which I believe are rare in s4-7), bringing up the violence of his thoughts again (Meld) while hinting at his mixed reaction to extreme (excessive?) control, including thought control. He's got a violent enough temperament, deep down, that he is not so sure that making violent thoughts illegal and purging them is such a bad thing, but he ultimately comes to respect B'Elanna for having her own internal controls rather than imposing societal ones. The contrived aspects of the set-up keep this from being a great episode but I think it's a good one. 3 stars.
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William B
Thu, Oct 19, 2017, 10:02am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S4: Concerning Flight

Janeway: "This is Leonardo da Vinci we're talking about. Simulation or not, he's one of the greatest creative minds in Earth's history." Oh, great. I'll remember that next time. "This is Napoleon Bonaparte we're talking about. Wikipedia article or not, he's one of the greatest military minds in Earth's history. I'm sure I'll be able to conquer the world with it in no time!" In all seriousness, this episode was dreadful and the worst of the season so far, despite John Rhys-Davies' (and Melgrew's and Russ') amiable performance. The mugging, which affects some but not all systems at random for what the plot needs, is there only to set up the Janeway/Leonardo stuff, but that is all painful to watch, which seems to be intended as a tribute but ends up making Leonardo da Vinci look like an idiot throughout. Oh, so he believes this is all America, does he? So he gets shot straight through but doesn't have to find out why and accepts it, huh? So much material comes down to Janeway trying to convince Leonardo to stop asking questions and to accept his limitations, and I'm not sure why we need to see the Leonardo hologram learning that he's out of his depth. The big emotional flight at the end is maybe meant to be some sort of cheer moment, but I'm not sure that "Leonardo da Vinci's flying machine succeeds, based on Janeway's advice to him and based on 24th century alien ultralight materials" is all that meaningful, especially when the cheer moment seems to be around proving that Leonardo da Vinci *was* smart, after all. Thanks, but I think we knew that. For comparison, Doctor Who's episode featuring Vincent Van Gogh (spoiler) managed to have an uplifting (if bittersweet) ending of having Van Gogh realize that he would eventually be appreciated, and it's given weight because of the tragedy of his life, and it's particularly about appreciation that actually happens, because of work he actually did, rather than an elaborate "well, I bet if he were alive in the future and had a cool best friend and had access to future tech he'd be able to accomplish his goals!" wish-fulfillment stories. Janeway should have just turned the damn mobile emitter off, of course. It's too bad John Rhys-Davies didn't get a better vehicle, I guess (and when I say "vehicle" I don't mean that glider). 1 star.
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William B
Thu, Oct 19, 2017, 9:52am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S4: Waking Moments

With this ep, on the other hand, I feel like there is very little to say. The only attempt to make the nightmares character-specific was in the teaser, and even there we only reiterated some common fears of the characters (of humiliation, Tuvok; of her crew dying because of her, Janeway; of...Seven making out with him? that's a nightmare?, Harry; and of...flying?...not flying well?, Tom) without much development. After that, the episode is only noteworthy for the are-you-in-or-out-of-the-illusion? tricks, and those can be very good (see: Ship in a Bottle, Frame of Mind, Projections) but here are just drawn-out and largely pointless. Maybe a better villain would have helped; these creative genius aliens seemingly take over waking people by putting them into a mass dream state where they...take them over. Great. In fact even on this plot's own terms it's hard to say what the aliens actually want -- they don't actually want to take over Voyager, obviously, because Voyager only finds them when Chakotay wakes himself up and recommends to look for the tech readings, and so what was their goal anyway? Maybe to protect themselves, but how would simply putting the crew into sleep and leaving the ship out there forever not lead to reinforcements coming and eventually someone getting through before sleeping? We get to see sights like Janeway and Tuvok ignoring the phaser blasts of the enemies through sheer Power Of The Mind, but the aliens who live in sleep state are cowed by Janeway and Tuvok's phaser rifles. The episode's climax is so limp that when it cut from Chakotay's threat back to the Doctor's log on the ship, I had assumed initially that it was the Doctor making a "we're three minutes away from the five minute mark and still no word from Commander Chakotay" entry.

On the plus side, I love Seven of Nine's distraction. "ENSIGN KIM, IT IS YOUR FAULT WE HAVE BEEN CAPTURED," in a full "HOW DO IMPERFECT, NON-COLLECTIVIST HUMANOIDS BEHAVE? BY IRRATIONALLY ARGUING!" voice. Perfect. And some of the moon imagery is cool. That's about it. 1.5 stars.
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William B
Thu, Oct 19, 2017, 9:42am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S4: Mortal Coil

I've fallen pretty far behind, but I wanted to talk about this episode. So, in the comments a few people have pointed out that we hadn't heard about Neelix's belief in the Great Forest before, or even that he has (religious) beliefs. It's also been suggested that Neelix's crisis of faith is not all that plausible a "crisis of faith," because most people of religious faith would not let their faith be shaken so easily. I can see both points, I can, and I'm willing to grant the possibility that this episode doesn't work as a meditation on religion per se. However, to me, the central element of what goes on with Neelix isn't the loss of faith in God or Gods, but is very *very* specifically focused on the loss of his family. That is something we've known about Neelix since Jetrel, and it's made clear in Jetrel and Rise (e.g.) that this is a core aspect of his character and one of the central reasons he does what he has. So rather than looking at religious belief as a whole, it's focused on the specific role that belief in heaven (or equivalent) plays in helping people cope with tremendous loss, particularly in the absence of enough in this world to help them come to terms with it. The tragedy of what Neelix experienced when he was younger combined with his relative isolation among the crew -- no one else can understand what he's gone through, and he's the only Delta Quadrant native on the ship (besides, notably, Naomi) -- mean that this story makes perfect sense as a Neelix one, to me, not because of the religion but because of the under-processed loss he's experienced.

Neelix's behaviour here seemed so consistent with what I knew about him, to me, that I had to go back and check the Rise transcript to confirm that he didn't specifically mention anything religious/spiritual when describing his sister Alixia. What he actually says is that he talks with her (and the rest of his family) every night, and I think I had mentally added that he does so in a kind of prayer in ways consistent with his beliefs, though checking it Rise doesn't make this idea explicit and so it is a bit of a retrospective element of this episode. And so, okay, yes, the episode certainly goes out of its way to sell Neelix's connection with Talaxian customs (through the festival week material and his statement about the Great Forest to Naomi), in ways that previous episodes didn't, which smacks of contrivance. And yet -- we know that Neelix has mixed feelings about his homeworld from his own unresolved feelings about the war; we know that he loves Talaxian spices and that suggests some desire to continue to link to his cultural heritage; in Day of Honor, he told B'Elanna he's generally a fan of traditions. And in the scene with Naomi, I can understand why he'd open up to a child about his beliefs in a way that he wouldn't to a crew largely composed of adult largely secular scientists. Even there, though, the specifics of his belief don't seem that important to me for the story: what's important is the idea that Neelix had found a belief system which gave him hope that he would see his family again, and that the pain of losing the notion of ever seeing them again would send him into a huge crisis, and make him not want to continue living. It just makes so much sense to me that Neelix would have patched himself together, imperfectly, to deal with his huge war-trauma of the loss of his entire family, and his eventual separation from everyone of his own kind; with Kes' breakup and her leaving entirely, he loses his last connection even to anything near what he considered home, as well as the possibility of romantic love and maybe even a family (which he did consider forming with Kes back in, ack, Elogium). Things just keep being taken away from Neelix, and several episodes (Jetrel, Fair Trade, Rise) make clear that his cheery exterior cannot really hold indefinitely, and that there is an abyss of sadness inside. I'll add that the nanoprobes element, and the total unfamiliarity of Seven of Nine and Borg technology, further cause alienation of him from his own body, which remains the last element of him which remains of Talax/Rinax (and of his family), so that in bringing him back Neelix feels that even his own body has betrayed him.

I don't think of Neelix's suicide attempt as being contradictory to his wanting to be a part of the Voyager family, or of his panicky actions in Fair Trade to maintain his place there, either. Neelix *does* eventually listen to duty (to Naomi) as a reason to stay in this world, after all. But he also indicates part of the problem when he says that that Neelix has already died. Neelix's varied roles for the crew depend on him keeping the faith, keeping a cheery exterior, and if he can't do that, what use is he to them? This is a self-centred perspective, because of course people don't *only* value Neelix because of his upbeatness (and in some senses would value him more if he were a little less obnoxiously upbeat), but with his family being taken from him *again* and the reality of his loss (and loneliness) hitting him, I think he really can't imagine having to live the life in the identity that he's formed for himself on Voyager. To give an example, if Neelix really could not shake his despair, what use would he be as a babysitter to Naomi, who would surely sense the sadness under his exterior and learn that the universe is a horrible place, and not one that it's worth fighting to stay in? Even after Fair Trade, Neelix still doubted his usefulness constantly, just in a different key, and I think in his grateful suicide note we get the sense that he values what the crew have done for him, but does not *really* believe that he's going to be missed all that much, and just hopes that maybe they'll have fond memories of him. Even Janeway's telling him "you won't get off that easy" and keeping him on the ship in Fair Trade could be seen in retrospect as an act of pity. Neelix knows that they mostly don't take him seriously, and there are all kinds of signals throughout the episode that despite his hard work, most of the crew does take him for granted. More to the point, I think Neelix understandably thinks that they don't really understand him, and can't really understand or support him in his recognition of what his family's death -- and of his newfound realization that maybe he won't ever see them again, in any form -- and why he so readily jumps to turning inside himself, lying to others, and eventually breaking down and lashing out. There's a parallel to O'Brien in Hard Time lashing out at Molly, but here Neelix lashes out far less -- in his yelling at Seven -- but I think that Neelix feels a similar brokenness in himself after that point, and no longer believes himself to be the person the ship needs, and so feels he has nothing to live for.

Chakotay's reaching him at the end is contingent on someone showing real need for him, but even that need is selfish, and there's a sadness to Neelix having to put aside his own despair purely because he's needed by others, and not because he wants to continue; but the ending, in which Neelix tells Naomi the story again, manages to recast the (apparently literal) belief that he will see his family again into a myth which he passes down to comfort a child who is scared of the dark -- a metaphor, of course, for us being afraid of what it is that lies for us in the unknown. Naomi invents monsters so that Neelix will come to save her from the dark (the void; nothing; death) and give her comfort by telling her stories; what adults have to do is to learn to tell themselves the stories, and to maybe half-believe/half-not-believe them.

I guess I will say that making Neelix's role as godparent to Naomi central to the episode maybe is a bit of a cheat since *that* hadn't been established in previous episodes (or even Naomi's name), but to the show's credit, Voyager *does not* drop this element of Neelix's character. I also think that it does seem plausible to me that it could work its way into one of Neelix's amorphous "duties," and also that since we see Neelix with less frequency than we see the other main characters, that we might not have known about it before now. As far as the content of Neelix's crisis of faith being largely ignored in upcoming episodes: well, I'll wait and see. (SPOILERS: I think Homestead maybe pays some of this off by showing Neelix finding other Talaxians who have suffered similar losses? But then again, maybe not. I forget.) Other aspects of the show are sometimes obvious -- I found Neelix's vision quest to be a little too rote, for instance, and I find Samantha Wildman's showing up in the transporter room after Neelix doesn't answer his commbadge for a minute to be very obnoxious -- and so I don't think this is a full classic. But I think it's a really moving character tale about a maligned and often mis-handled character. 3.5 stars.
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William B
Wed, Oct 18, 2017, 11:36am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Third Season Recap

There are some other s2 eps I really like, but yeah, s3 has some real standouts. I wouldn't say I like or even am neutral on Darkling/Rise, but I don't think they're close to the bottom of what s2-3 offer, especially s2. It's remarkable how much of an improvement S4 is; I'm nearly halfway through and I'm really digging it, though it's still inconsistent. Ds9 6/Voy 4 was a good year for Trek.

I hope you do pick up your reviews! I can't wait to read what you say about Profit and Lace.
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William B
Tue, Oct 17, 2017, 2:18pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Third Season Recap

Well, it's that time again. I haven't written up a lot of the episodes this season but my watching continues apace so I might as well share some ratings. As always, provisional, etc. Difference with Jammer's ratings in parentheses.

Basics, Part II: 1.5 (-1)
Flashback: 2.5 (-0.5)
The Chute: 3 (=)
The Swarm: 2.5 (-0.5)
False Profits: 1 (-0.5)
Remember: 3.5 (=)
Sacred Ground: 2 (=)
Future's End, Part I: 3 (-0.5)
Future's End, Part II: 2 (-0.5)
Warlord: 2.5 (=)
The Q and the Grey: 1 (-1)
Macrocosm: 1 (-0.5)
Fair Trade: 3 (=)
Alter Ego: 2.5 (-0.5)
Coda: 1 (-1)
Blood Fever: 3 (=)
Unity: 3.5 (=)
Darkling: 1.5 (=) (I said 2, but I basically don't think this episode works)
Rise: 1.5 (=)
Favorite Son: 1 (=)
Before and After: 3.5 (=)
Real Life: 2.5 (-0.5)
Distant Origin: 4 (+1) (I might go down in rating on this one to 3.5, but I think it does mostly work very well)
Displaced: 2 (=)
Worst Case Scenario: 3 (=)
Scorpion: 4 (=)

So overall the season average is a touch lower than season 2, and so is pretty bad. But that doesn't give a good sense of the season overall. I agree with Jammer's assessment that it wanders aimlessly and inconsistently for the first 2/3 and then hits a real low point with the Darkling/Rise/Favorite Son triptych and then has a remarkably strong finishing string of episodes; I can't quite "recommend" Real Life but I thought it was still very well executed, and so the only weak ep in that run is Displaced. It's a really strange season, in that the characters who were at the bottom of interest in season two (Kim, Neelix, Kes, Chakotay) got good vehicles (The Chute, Fair Trade, Before and After, Unity) and my favourite characters (Tuvok, the Doctor) only had some near-misses (Flashback, Alter Ego; The Swarm, Real Life -- RL is the closest to one I'd actually recommend, but not quite). I end up feeling good about the season mostly because of that last run of episodes, and because the show seems to have at least dropped some of its more annoying elements (the Kazon, mostly) and seems to have picked a direction for some of its characters (the Tom/B'Elanna thing, in particular) that makes some sense. But really, looking over the season pre-Before and After, I feel like a lot of the shows could have been dropped quite easily, and some were actively harmful.

I feel vaguely depressed looking over the shows in the first 2/3 of the season, because even the ones I like leave me with trepidation; Remember and Future's End I are great shows but feel a bit like dead ends that don't quite contribute to the overall narrative (notably, the mobile emitter doesn't even show up to the much-worse Future's End Part II), which is not a problem with those episodes but does mean that they don't really raise my overall feelings about those eps much higher. Of the other eps I like (2.5+), Flashback seems to coast on nostalgia, The Chute and Warlord seem to lack a strong enough ending for their central characters, The Swarm has some good character moments with the Doctor but feels vaguely like wheel-spinning, over-investing in the tech side of the dilemma when there are no consequences to come from it. So that basically leaves Fair Trade, up until the Blood Fever/Unity set of two episodes which does seem to reinvigorate the show in ways that have real impact, in terms of characterization, relationships, reintroducing the Borg as major villains.... It immediately gets shot down by the triptych of doom but I kind of still see BF/U as a turning point in the season even more so than B&A-and-after. (I will add that I think the run from The Q and the Grey to Favorite Son as a whole has 10 episodes, 6 of which I gave sub-2 star ratings to -- and BF/U is in the middle of that! What a crazy season.)

I'm partway into season four now and I think that it's a big improvement, for what it's worth.
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William B
Tue, Oct 17, 2017, 1:56pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S4: The Gift

Right, so, I guess I think that the Kes stuff in this episode almost worked, but mostly fell flat. It's nice that we got some goodbyes to some extent, and the final scenes with Janeway and Tuvok were effective -- especially that rightly-praised final shot of Tuvok. The Kes/Neelix resolution didn't work as much for me and I'm sad that there wasn't more with her and the Doctor, though at least they did have a few moments together (with the "I haven't seen you much lately" moment). Mostly though Kes' transformation felt mostly arbitrary; yes her powers have been hinted at for a while, and also yes she accessed her powers more in the previous episode by telepathic communication with Species 8472, but it doesn't seem as if the events of Scorpion were sufficient to suddenly transform her so completely (and so far beyond even where Tanis was in Cold Fire). There's a bit of a Wesley-in-Journey's End vibe here, where it's clear that the transformation is happening now because the character's story is ending and that's that. On the plus side, this episode has more and better character interactions than Journey's End did, but on the minus side whereas JE had to wrap up Wesley's story in one episode given that he hadn't been on the show in two years, it doesn't seem fundamental that the writers couldn't have had Kes' powers (and her control over them) growing over the end of season three. That her powers quite suddenly become uncontrollable to the point where she phases out of space makes it seem as if they are almost imposed by an outside force, which is worrying for a number of reasons.

I do appreciate that they paired the Kes story with the Seven one by having the two plots complement each other in some way; Janeway even lampshades it with the "I have an Ocampa who wants to be something more and a Borg who's afraid of becoming something less" line. Maybe the most important element here is that Janeway's indications to Seven that she will let Seven make her own decisions once she believes that Seven is no longer under external influence from her Borg programming/brainwashing gets bolstered by the fact that she does respect Kes' reasons for leaving. It makes Seven's plight clearer to look at the transcendence that Kes gains access to, and what Seven sees herself as losing.

As for Janeway's behaviour toward Seven -- the way she elides Seven's wishes -- I think it makes character sense and I see Janeway's point, and Seven's as well. Jeri Ryan and Kate Melgrew sell the scenes, and there's a really interesting question here about how to deal with people who are freed from an oppressive system but don't actually want to leave. Where Janeway becomes especially frightening is when she plays Borg-esque lines -- "You must comply," "You can't resist it" -- seemingly with the express purpose of using Seven's Borg programming to bring her in line with Janeway's own thinking. It's something where the justifications Janeway can provide are understandable, but there is still an open question of whether it really is necessary to push Seven so hard against her will into accepting a life she does not want. Here I think that having other characters voice reluctance with Janeway's methods more strongly -- probably Chakotay or the Doctor -- would have made the episode stronger; I know that we're going to come back to this material and the question of what (if anything) makes Janeway's manipulation of Seven "for her own good" different from the Borg Collective, and so I don't mind that it goes unresolved, but I can't really imagine Chakotay and the Doctor *not* having stronger feelings or hesitancy or objections to what Janeway does. The ridiculous suit the Doctor cooks up for Seven (with heels!) is, I know, largely a function of out-of-universe concerns but it is a bit hard to take and it undermines the good intentions we're supposed to accept from him.

I think I'll go with 2.5 stars on the whole. A disappointing but not terrible departure for Kes and a dramatically explosive but not wholly satisfying introduction for Seven's integration into the crew.
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William B
Mon, Oct 16, 2017, 1:06pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Worst Case Scenario

Along with most, I dug the first half (two-thirds?) of the episode before the Seska reveal, and then soldiered on through the final half (third?) garnering some amusement but feeling frustrated. The first section really was a lot of fun, both in seeing B'Elanna and Tom's reactions to the program spinning out and then especially the Tuvok/Tom disagreements; my favourite moments are the ones actually that suggest Tom and Tuvok's different views on storytelling, first being Tom's exasperated "Who writes this stuff?" when he finds out that the "holonovel" contains an extended sequence where the protagonist has to hang around in the brig for some indefinite length of time due to the author's apparent commitment to realism, and Tuvok's shocked "That is a very implausible development" when Tom suggests that Janeway retakes the ship and executes the mutineers. Both are hilarious, and they also get the meta points about the war we can imagine behind the scenes between the artistic impulses toward logical development and (partly network-dictated) excitement and plot twists. The too-many-cooks scene in the mess hall was indeed a highlight, and it suggests how fun it can be just to see these characters hanging out with each other (and again works on the meta writing-a-story frame). I haven't read about the history of this episode, but I can imagine it basically starting with the writers wondering what a Maquis-takeover story would have looked like in season one, and the different impulses to take this alternate-Voyager story in different directions being mirrored by the crew's reactions.

I have to say, though, even there, the episode leaves me feeling a bit disappointed, because the obvious question seems to go unasked. Jammer points out how funny Tuvok's reaction is when Neelix has some ideas about the Neelix character (and it is), but really, Neelix is expressing what should be a very obvious reaction: why, exactly, did you write me this way? Is this what you think of me? Chakotay makes a reference late in the story about not wanting to be the villain next time and they all laugh, but I feel like this is really the core issue that this group of people would really be thinking about. Tuvok, who is committed to character consistency and verisimilitude, apparently created this simulation because he viewed it as plausible based on what he observed of those around him. And he *was on the Maquis ship*. The curiosity early on could maybe have curdled once people realized it wasn't intended as escapist fare but as a training exercise based on what Tuvok saw as a plausible outcome. Shouldn't Chakotay and the other Maquis wonder what this implies about how Tuvok sees them -- and there's also the open question of whether Tuvok is in some way right. Did Tuvok see something in Chakotay in the others in those early days that even they didn't see in themselves? And is it possible that they've even *lost* something, in the process of being "domesticated" by Janeway? Tuvok suggests that this story is potentially dangerous and Janeway tells him to lighten up, and that they need outlets, and I think they're both right. I don't really require that tempers get raised very high, but I would have loved to see some kind of reevaluation where Chakotay and B'Elanna realized how much things have changed since they first got on the ship and dealt with their mixed feelings about Tuvok's portraying them (especially Chakotay) as smart and competent but disloyal antagonists. The story can be not-dangerous because the time for this possibility of a mutiny has long passed, but even *that* is interesting and I would have loved to see it discussed. That Tuvok had Chakotay say that they aren't going to stop and investigate every spatial anomaly was a scream, and even suggests that Tuvok could imagine some possible objections to Janeway's command decisions. There's just so much room here for further exploration besides the initial shock/thrill of the scenario and then the "writing decisions" meta stuff, as great as those were.

The good thing about the Seska-ending is that it ends up kind of bringing in more levels to the "writer meta" model: Seska plays the heavy because Voyager episodes "need" conflict and danger, and so we get a contrived writer who wants to kill off the characters, the writer-as-sadist, contrasted with Janeway the writer-as-benevolent-god who tries different contrivances to help the characters because the writer also cares (and needs the characters around for next week). It's still cute on a meta level, and I like how there's a vague suggestion that even character consistency and logical progression (Tuvok) and excitement and entertainment (Paris) end up getting shunted aside in favuor of pure character torture (Seska) and deus ex machina resolutions (Janeway), which is itself a kind of cute Voyager meta-commentary on some of the less-than-stellar episode endings. That's not nothing. And yeah, the scene with the Doctor and the nitric acid is funny, and Tuvok's successfully deploying the exploding phaser rifle is good too -- in that it follows from Tuvok's character and so is true to his writerly philosophy. But still, yeah, this makes no sense with what we know about Seska the character, and even if we accept Seska-the-evil-holodeck-demon as premise the neverending toying with them and the necessity of, apparently, her following the ever-changing rules of her own program just comes across as absurd. Not great. Mostly though it's a disappointment because the false-jeopardy is less interesting than what we had seen before, and we don't get either a resolution to the interior-story of the mutiny nor, really, to the philosophy-of-writing conflict between Tuvok and Tom.

So it's kind of a disappointing ending but it's still an entertaining episode overall. 3 stars.
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William B
Mon, Oct 16, 2017, 12:49pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Displaced

The initial idea here -- the slow replacement of one population by another as a form of conquest -- is an intriguing one with some Earth-historical parallels, and there's a kind of pleasant mystery to those opening scenes. I also like that the Nyrians see themselves as benign conquerors and provide hospitable environments for their subjugated populations. This is one of those moments where I could see a TOS or TNG ep having the Nyrians pontificate about how they read human (or Klingon, etc.) history and they are much less bloody than conquistadors of old. But after the cool premise and mildly interesting set-up the episode just sort of stalls. It's not really credible given the set-up that the crew would be able to retake Voyager at all, really, and the routine plotting that's involved is neither believable nor interesting. Of note is Janeway's willingness to threaten torture/execution (hard to read putting the Nyrians in the freezing cold otherwise) to get her ship back, but even that happens so quickly that it's hard to know what to make of it. The episode is still worthwhile for the Tom/B'Elanna interactions, which manage to make an interesting bit out of a small tiff which they reasonably don't let ruin their duties but doesn't really get resolved until Tom supports B'Elanna through the snow; there's a kind of general picture in these episodes of Tom being the one to support B'Elanna rather than the reverse, so it'll be interesting to see how/whether they develop into a more equal partnership. I think the idea, though, is that Tom has some similar issues to B'Elanna, but which are less severe, giving him the insight into her that he needs. Anyway I guess it's not bad (Tom/B'Elanna, first act or two) but it's very forgettable. 2 stars.
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William B
Mon, Oct 16, 2017, 12:43pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Before and After

I think this episode works for me especially well for two reasons. One is that I think it does something akin to Innocence, but applied to a main cast member: because we follow Kes' life as it travels in reverse (and because Kes herself does the same), we look at the life cycle anew. The rise-and-fall structure of a life, where personal power and vitality peaks somewhere "in the middle" after a slow rise and preceding a slow decline, has a symmetric quality. Kes' lack of memory at the end of her life and gradual building up of an identity as she moves backwards in time connects with the way people's memories gradually fade as they enter senility. But there's also the way people's treatment of Kes changes; as both senior and child (with her father), people refuse to take Kes' dire (and accurate) reports of what's going on with her seriously, even her most beloved people. This episode is also one of the few that actually makes use of Kes' abbreviated lifespan to tell a story. It might have been cooler, had (SPOILERS) Lien stayed on the show, to actually show this Ocampa-generational transformation over the seasons rather than over an episode, but here the shortened timeframe emphasizes the shortness-of-life even further, where Kes' whole life flashes by *for Kes* in a handful of days, shortening her already brief lifespan to a few flashes. As with Remember Me, where Beverly's personal experience (which is linked to aging) goes misunderstood by those around her (apparently), the way in which the severity of Kes' plight is either ignored or, when Kes gets to her maximum vitality, imperfectly understood by those around her is kind of moving. Most people live more than nine years (more than a few days), obviously, but the way everyone else's lives seem to stand still while Kes zooms through is kind of touching, as if only Kes is sufficiently enlightened to be aware of her mortality, and cannot quite convince anyone around her of the scale of it while they deal with the problems-of-the-week (month, year [of hell]) which are all important, too. Given that Kes (again SPOILER) is about to leave the ship, this also suggests an alternate life, the kind she could have had, and it's wistful for that reason, particularly coming so soon before her actual departure. The Tom/Kes chemistry is really effective, and does make me wonder whether that relationship could have gone somewhere, but it works here as a might-have-been. The Doc/Kes material throughout is also touching, particularly the opening/(ending) "you're my dearest friend." I like that Kes really does become the master of her fate here, where her ability to explain her situation to those around her gets stronger and stronger, and she is the one to take the heroic and painful risk of measuring the temporal phase variance thing from the Krenim torpedo.

The episode overdoes the technobabble, and the recapitulation of the plot of the episode gets tiresome after a while. And yeah, the ending doesn't seem to make any sense. Somehow the procedure "finishes" on Kes in Year Three after a while, while Kes is herself spinning backwards in time, until it finishes and she snaps back? What? I think maybe had the episode incorporated Kes' telepathic powers in some way it would also have been stronger and felt like a more complete grace note for the character, and that might have also papered over some of the open questions on a plot level. But I still like it a lot. 3.5 stars.
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William B
Tue, Oct 10, 2017, 11:54pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Real Life

See my exchange with Peter above for a bit on how I read this episode. Watching it again, I ended up liking it better than I thought I would; I had remembered the family post-Torres' modification as being way too over-the-top to be believable, but while it's still extreme, there was some nuance and individuality in the way the three family members reacted to the Doctor's attempts to bring order to them that slowly won me over. The culture-clash idea with Jeffrey, the Pareses Squares material with Belle and the conflict over how to manage the household with Charlene end up feeling pretty real. The performances are good, Picardo especially being wonderful as always. The ending with Belle actually does end up being moving.

But there's a kind of open question to all of this: how real is this family supposed to be? The Doctor is starting to see himself as something like a "real person," with his own internal life (sentient). He makes himself a family, and it's hard to tell throughout the episode whether he considers them as real as him or not. You can maybe play this as a metaphor for a controlling head-of-the-household type who patronizes his wife and kids but doesn't quite see them as real, and the episode plays that idea for comedy, but mostly the problem becomes acute once Belle gets injured. B'Elanna only just modified the program, seemingly to prove a point (something like the "point" Kes proved by daring the Doctor to go through flu symptoms in Tattoo) that the Doctor's program lacks verisimilitude. The Doctor doesn't bother trying to fix Belle's life-threatening injuries by reprogramming the simulation, which surely the crew would do if the Doctor suffered some sort of head injury in a holodeck program or the equivalent. So he doesn't consider her real. Even if we assume that he can't fix her by reprogramming for some other reason, when Tom tries to sell the Doctor on returning to the program, he doesn't say "Well, aren't you abandoning your wife and son?" No one acts as if they believe they have independent existence or feelings or have a right to their own lives. So it seems we really are supposed to take as given that these people aren't actually real and their only importance is how they lead to the Doctor growing. But of course, in a real family you *have to* remember that the other people in the family are people who need to be treated as such, whose feelings matter not just by how they impact you, and so on, and that's not an insignificant thing that can be swapped out.

So the main way that the Doc stuff can work is if we take it that this is a practice run of some sort -- that this is "art," a kind of open-ended holonovel or Sim-based video game where he gets a chance to experience a family in order to gain understanding. He can't shut it off when his "daughter" dies because then he'll miss out on the catharsis and growth from getting narrative closure. And maybe he learns a little something about what Real Life is like. The question, as Peter asked, is why this is important for him. Dealing with loss? Relating to the crew? It's really not clear. The B'Elanna intrusion seems to suggest something; B'Elanna gets angry that his family is too perfect and modifies it to be more "realistic," and what she comes up with is some sort of probability algorithm that leads to one of the kids being dead within a week, which I think is a higher death rate than most families, last I checked. B'Elanna had an unhappy childhood where she probably courted danger and also dealt with Federation/Klingon culture clashes, so I'm not so sure that the additions in the program were totally random and not somewhat plucked from her own experience; it seems that she wants the Doctor to understand that what he's getting isn't a real family, but that real families are awful. It's only Tom who turns it around and suggests that dysfunctional and tragic families can still be uplifting. And those tell us something about B'Elanna and Tom (respectively) and where they are in their lives. The Doctor maybe could learn to relate better to the others on the ship, and maybe even to glimpse a little about what life is like. Maybe he'll have a real family someday, even. But it's unclear what the Doctor learned here from the simulation, and if he even knows that there's a difference between the "real life" where you go through your daughter's death for personal growth points and the real life where you live through bad things because you have to, and because other people genuinely need you to. I enjoyed the episode and so I want to try to believe that the Doctor did understand the difference, or that at least he will understand the difference, but I don't really feel sure. The problem maybe comes down to the show's vacillation on the Doctor's overall status; the Doctor doesn't quite see himself as real, and so he doesn't quite see his family as real either, and/but it's hard to figure out what that means for him.

The subplot was forgettable and the only thing of note is how badly Janeway's vague sense that maybe they can extract energy from the eddy anomaly worked out.

A high 2.5 stars; I could maybe be talked into going higher if what puzzles me about the Doctor-family material as concept could be worked out.
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William B
Sat, Oct 7, 2017, 10:16pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Favorite Son

This episode is terrible and I won't rehash all the reasons given above. I normally wait until the end to rate, but yeah, 1 star.

I'm glad Harry mentioned the Sirens at the end, because the Odyssey references here seemed pretty clear -- not just the Sirens, but also the Calypso section. (Disclaimer: I have only passing familiarity with this stuff so don't claim any real expertise.) Since Voyager is an Odyssey story, it makes sense to do an episode about the temptation from "magical" seductress(es) to quit the voyage, I guess. As with Non Sequitur, the episode's failing as a character piece is that it seems as if Harry is being "tempted" to give up on his life on Voyager, and he rejects that temptation, but we don't really learn anything about Harry in the process. In NS, it was never clear whether he was tempted to stay at all or not from the writing and performance, and if so how (emotionally) he overcame it. Here there's a similar thing where lots of badly-acted but good-looking women ply him with massages and the promise of polygamy but Harry doesn't particularly care, which we can mostly attribute to him at least not being that much of an idiot to fall for the obvious trap, even if it's touch-and-go as the episode opens, with the whole crew falling for this obviously implausible story until the enemy aliens say they've heard rumours that those Taresians are kinda shady, at which point it takes the Doctor five minutes to disprove the Taresians' story.

Anyway, the one thing that seems to tempt Harry for real is not so much sex as wanting to feel special. A roomful of attractive women insist that he's special while he has dreams of his mother and Janeway-as-mother scolding him. Harry is floating along without a strong identity and doesn't understand why he deserves the privileges he's had -- which basically comes down to a happy, untroubled upbringing -- especially when he compares to Tom or B'Elanna. There's maybe potential there. But it's not in this episode. I think the Harry problem is partly mirrored by the writing staff -- they really seem to struggle to figure out what to do with this guy, and Harry's own wondering if there's anything special about him (which I take to mean not just impressive, but worth noting at all) is seemingly the best the creative team can do at this point.
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William B
Wed, Oct 4, 2017, 10:09pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Darkling

Oh yeah, on that "is evil more fundamental than good? is good more fundamental than evil?" discussion -- I think I just forgot it even happened, because it kind of seems to be unrelated to the things the episode does (kind of) well. This episode isn't very good generally but it maybe would have been improved by splitting the different plots into different episodes or providing more focus.

I don't want to armchair teleplay write too much, but I think dropping the whole "historical figures" thing and having the Doctor just do some other upgrades to his program that leads to him attempting to murder the person trying to take Kes away, and realizing that this means that he wants her to stay, might have made the emotional content that kinda-sorta works to shine through in an actually believable package. We could even see the Doctor attempting to make the modifications as a displacement exercise because he wants Kes to stay -- and so imagines that if he can change as fast as she does, she won't get bored being his student. I guess the good-evil stuff works a bit with the overall question of selfish/selfless -- Kes and the Doctor both have to weigh their own needs with the ones of those they care about in the episode -- but most of the Great Figures Of History or good/evil stuff are way too far from being related.
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William B
Wed, Oct 4, 2017, 10:03pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Rise

I agree that the episode has bad guest actors and the direction seems to be off as well. There is very little effort to actually make us care about all the plot shenanigans. As a random example, one of the characters get poisoned and there's a dramatic act break, so that we're clearly set up for what looks like a drawing room mystery added on top of a disaster scenario -- you're trapped inside a box WITH A KILLER; think And Then There Were None or Tarantino's recent Hateful Eight. But then Tuvok, the security officer, doesn't make any effort to find who did it, and the episode just waits around until eventually the killer just reveals himself by pushing Tuvok off and then holding a phaser to everyone. Relatedly, Tuvok and Neelix are our protagonists, but they do no actual figuring out for the whole asteroid/murder/etc., with the only exception being that Neelix decides they should check the roof because that guy said "the roof." So most of the plot is just "Neelix gets lift thing to work, and then some other times stuff happens," which itself wouldn't be terrible except there is a lot of "stuff happens" going on, which doesn't end up telling us much about how they react.

Anyway the Neelix/Tuvok stuff has moments. There's a problem here which I think is common in a buddy movie/conflict episode, where both characters seem to be somewhat exaggerated in order to make them butt heads more. I know he was dealing with children there, but the Tuvok in Innocence seemed to recognize that sometimes you have to actually talk to people to reassure them rather than just scowl at them, and so his complete opposition to Neelix doing any morale boosting in their precarious, life-threatening situation is over the top. Neelix, meanwhile, apparently lies that he used to work in magnetic tethers when he...built models? But anyway, the big moment where Neelix insists that Tuvok is dismissive of him actually did work for me, because Neelix is basically correct; Tuvok *does* condescend to him and resents him. And we know why: Neelix invades his space. Neelix imposes. Tuvok's dismissiveness of Neelix went back to Caretaker, and it's not wholly actually the result of Neelix's flaws -- Tuvok's disgust at the idea of Neelix wanting a bath in Caretaker suggests a lack of empathy, I think -- but a lot of it is that Neelix is not that far from the holodeck character version of him Tuvok created to strangle in Meld, that Neelix will absolutely not allow Tuvok to keep the distance Tuvok wants. The episode then maybe feels a bit unbalanced; Neelix is "right" but the reasons for Tuvok's behaviour go uncommented on. I think maybe "childish" is the wrong way to describe Neelix stopping the tether, because I do understand that Neelix believed it was for the best, but it's also insubordination and Tuvok is probably too lenient on him, given that Neelix insisted that he wanted to be on the security team. But the scenario is also somewhat contrived, because for Tuvok to be so dismissive of the idea that the dying man who had a secret and was poisoned over it might have been correct strikes me as, yeah, illogical. (Say what you will about Ex Post Facto, but I miss the Tuvok who wanted to solve mysteries.) I hasten to add that if Neelix hadn't stopped the tether car, leading to Tuvok going on the roof and getting shot and then that guy holding them hostage, etc., they also could have just continued going up, gotten in contact with Voyager, and have them scan the roof for anything that might be worthwhile, and the timing would presumably have worked out for Voyager to still get the information on the enemy shield harmonics sooner -- so even in the episode's frame, I'm unconvinced that Neelix was "right."

Anyway, I get it, I do. Neelix is intuitive, has a lot of skills but little discipline, is really focused on people; Tuvok is logical, has highly specialized skills but not quite as much varied experience, and is focused on ideas. They are bound to disagree, and you can see the general shape of the disagreement here. The fact that I can sort of see both of their points of view on some issues is a mark in the ep's favour, and I also get how, in a disaster scenario, people's natural inclinations can become excessive. So yeah, Neelix slacking off for half the time to help the strangers around him feel better and Tuvok telling people to stop feeling anxiety but barring any other steps to help people feel better so they don't go stir-crazy are both "bad" but are both related to good impulses. I just felt like both were a little too unreasonable, compared to how they're normally written -- well, Tuvok anyway. The episode also gestures to some Galileo Seven stuff where Tuvok's authority keeps getting questioned by that one guy, I guess.

Still, I was kind of with the Tuvok/Neelix stuff until toward the end, when Neelix gets injured, and he's apparently ready to...give up? Die? And then Tuvok gives him a bit of a pep talk about his sister, and then Neelix gets up and he's totally fine and then they make the rest of the trip, and Neelix even stands around making jokes on the bridge when they get called up. I'm not sure exactly how they could have sold that Neelix was that close to losing consciousness completely and then gathered himself together, but they really didn't do it here. And then we have one of those endings where the beam-through-shields has to be broken, a rushed plot ending, and then that last scene where we get what seems to be an attempt to imitate a TOS making-fun-of-Spock ending which falls completely flat. These last few minutes really turned me from not liking this episode to seriously disliking it, even though some of the previous Neelix-Tuvok scenes were okay.

Points for Neelix's scene talking about his favourite sister, though. I probably will agree with the 1.5 star rating.
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William B
Wed, Oct 4, 2017, 9:40pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Darkling

So, I read Jammer's review and many of the comments, in particular Elliott's; while his take on Voyager is sometimes controversial, it is usually illuminating. So I sort of agree with Elliott's points about Kes here. I also went back and rewatched the end of Warlord to see that, yes, indeed Kes looks at Neelix with something like disgust. I feel like I got the gist of Warlord as an episode to force Kes to question her assumptions about herself (especially knowing where her story was going) but I was unconvinced by the ending, but I might have to revisit that. Anyway, I feel sort of similarly here. I agree that Kes' having some wanderlust and wanting to get off the ship makes a lot of sense, and the crew's protectiveness toward her -- refusing to let her change, partly because she is (by pure biology) predisposed to change much faster than they are -- also does. Lien does play Kes as significantly older and a little more jaded, and she seems in the early scenes not to be "in love with" that guy (though he at least claims to be in love with her) as seriously considering if Voyager is all that she wants out of the whole rest of her life. So we know SPOILER that she's leaving soon, and so the ending where Kes decides to stay in some ways doesn't even "have to" lead to Kes providing a fully convincing argument. There's a sense in which it's sort of a patch -- a band-aid placed on an open wound, but which really can't be cured until Kes actually lives her own life. Her relative lack of concern about the guy she was going to run off with (I'm not saying she doesn't care about him, but she's not that broken up) tends to show that he was mostly a means to an end, to try to start actually living separately.

And in that sense, I get the sense that Kes is almost humouring the Doctor at the end. Maybe she does believe that the Doctor is concerned about her, and that others' concerns about her are justified. But the Doctor also basically went berserk over the possibility of her leaving. I can't decide whether it's a deliberate omission or not that no one mentions the most likely explanation for the Alternate Evil Doc to insist on kidnapping Kes to prevent her from leaving: he cares about her, she's the best friend he has, and he doesn't want to lose her. The Doctor imagined Kes as his wife in Projections, after all. And I think *maybe* Kes intuits that on some level (I don't mean using psychic powers, but ordinary psychology) and recognizes that she's needed, and, like the nurse she's trained to be, does triage: the Doc goes mad at her leaving, so she stays, and even finds ways to describe it in terms of satisfying her needs, rather than the Doctor's (and, indirectly, the crew's). But it can't last forever.

That read is consistent with the episode but isn't really what I'd call "put forward" by it, so I'm left sort of on the fence about what we actually see. The goofiness of the Hyde persona is pretty heavy and there are lots of ridiculous elements pretty much throughout. The Doc plot reminds me a bit of some of those Data stories on TNG where Data upgrades himself and then some unexpected impact happens (A Fistful of Datas; Phantasms, though admittedly there the "upgrade" was more natural) and it hits some of the same notes; there is something good but also something dangerous about a person who constructs their whole identity from the ground up. And I do like the idea of showing that there is a kind of balance in many "great figures," and that in trying to become a Great Man the Doc starts to both take on their dark sides and also to develop a kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch complex. It's kind of neat, too, that after all the "great men had dark sides" stuff, Kes manages to find evidence of good within the Hyde persona (it's a sort of yin-yang thing, a part of good in evil and a part of evil in good), though it doesn't really work and they have to get beamed up from the cliff.

Anyway, I agree with Jammer about what the episode seems to be doing and maybe with Elliott in what the episode is maybe suggesting for moving the characters around -- and I can't quite decide how to evaluate it. The larger discussion of how much credit to give to the script versus performances is the type of thing I think about, and it's particularly noticeable with Voyager where there often seems to be "text" and "subtext" at odds and it's very hard to tell how aware the various writers were. Anyway. This isn't a good episode but I guess I like it a bit better than Jammer -- 2 stars.
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William B
Sat, Sep 30, 2017, 1:59pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Blood Fever

This is sort of silly, and certainly can be described as "problematic," but I enjoyed this one a lot. I was laughing, actually, through most of the episode, but while the episode isn't *exactly* a comedy, I think that I was still laughing more with than at it. It's an absurd situation, but one which, in some weird, twisted ways, still has a lot of resonance for "mating practices" in our world. I like that it's a remix of sorts of Amok Time (which I love), but one which manages to be consistently surprising while (mostly) adhering to the rules laid out in that earlier episode, and furthering a major character relationship arc in the process.

Vorik's assault on B'Elanna: I think the episode makes clear that Vorik was in the wrong, and he gets a comeuppance of lots of pain, being given a beatdown from B'Elanna twice. Vorik's behaviour here seems to be a satire (albeit a somewhat sympathetic one) on an angry, horny nerd, who has no idea how to deal with the sexy feelings he has. He is so sure that his hot coworker is right for him that he eventually goes to force, and then after being pushed down he continues to be convinced that she's the one for him. However, it's also clear that his actions are partly the result of a culture that has completely avoided any kind of instruction on how to deal with his feelings constructively. If we take Tuvok (and Spock, etc.) at their word, the idea here is that Vulcans *really can't* deal with these feelings more productively, but I tend to side with the Doctor here and think that Vulcans' refusal to even talk about it, leaving the pon farr completely shrouded in secrecy largely even from the Vulcans who are about to go through it, is a big source of their problem, particularly when any element of their careful secret social structure breaks down, as we see here (with Vorik's absence from the homeworld). Apparently, Vorik didn't even know for sure that he was going through the pon farr early on, but only suspected based on his total inability to control his behaviour. Conversely, the Doctor's belief that he can cure Vorik's physiological AND psychological condition with a masturbatory fantasy is a bit of a satire on the idea that all biological impulses can be simply substituted away. The Doctor makes things worse by providing an outlet that "cures" Vorik but only leaves him more dangerous, when it seems as if he should have continued to be confined to his quarters.

The B'Elanna/Tom material throughout is good. I like how B'Elanna's initial explosions of anger partly function as metaphor for a person's inability to understand their own reactions of anger after a sexual assault. I like that the situation presented creates a kind of ambiguity, where Tom basically *does* have licence to sleep with B'Elanna, and she may even need it, but he still takes the high road and hopes they can get back to Voyager without B'Elanna having to have the memory of being compelled by some externally-forced Vulcan biology to sleep with him. It's very funny in a weird way for Tuvok to tell Tom that he has to do so, at the end, and that Tom does agree there, because, yes, in this bizarre, exaggerated situation, her having sex *is* life or death. I could see the argument that the episode shouldn't have gone there at all -- when people are drugged against their will, which is the closest approximation I can think of for what Vorik did to B'Elanna, there really isn't a situation in which the drugged person needs to have sex or die (and, well, actually, that "sex or die" never happens, except on a species level), but I think the episode spent enough time having Tom recognize that B'Elanna's not in her right mind before getting to the point when the alien sex blood fever takes over enough to dismiss with usual human priorities and to go to a more general "humanistic" (humanoid-istic?) recognition that in life-or-death situations, you do what you can to save a person's life, no matter how weird. (Though, of course, it should have been made clear to Tom that he had the right to say no.)

The final moment in the turbolift between B'Elanna and Tom is wonderful. Under other circumstances, Tom basically saying, "I know that your claim that what you said while drugged by Vulcan sex biology was false is a cover-up" would be annoying, but here I think he really does get through to B'Elanna. Deep down, I think that even if B'Elanna *didn't* have any feelings at all for Tom, she would *still* be more embarrassed about her Klingon strength and emotional intensity showing than about having (falsely) revealed feelings while trying desperately to have sex. I think Tom knows something about shame, if not on the same level as B'Elanna, and recognizes that in her, and I think that's part of why he got on some level that she really, *really* would feel ashamed of herself the next day if they had had sex, and would not easily be able to write it off as some weird SF thing (the way Tom and Kathryn could easily write off their mutant hyper-evolved salamander babies).

I do think that the B'Elanna/Vorik fight was a bad idea. On a plot level, Amok Time really did suggest it had to end in death, or at least *apparent* death. I guess Vorik does look pretty beat up, though. And as someone pointed out above, what exactly would have happened had Vorik won? Even if we assume that Tuvok has non-humanistic ideas surrounding pon farr, Chakotay (actually in command) should never have allowed this, at least not without making clear that B'Elanna doesn't actually *have* to beat Vorik up to win her right to not "be his mate." Even if Chakotay and Tuvok had been phaser-stunned by Vorik (and he had been beat up more badly) the ending might have worked better, since it makes sense to end the episode on a big fight given the pon farr resolution options mentioned. But it's true that the episode seems to play the fight as some sort of "Vulcan tradition" thing when the reality is that B'Elanna has to fight so she doesn't get raped. Truth be told, most of these problems are present in the implications back in Amok Time, but they're more explicit here. The fight passes quickly and we also know that he is in some senses not responsible for his actions because of the extreme SF Vulcan pon farr blood fever madness conceit, but here the episode drifts out of the funny-ridiculous absurdist area where most of the ep works to something that is much more disturbing, if taken seriously.

The Borg reveal is exciting, but I'll also add that it's pretty funny and appropriate to end *this* episode with the Borg, because in a way the whole pon farr craziness is about the best argument *for* the Borg you can think of. If this madness is how these puny biological beings perpetuate the species, maybe the Borg aren't so bad. (I kid -- but I do think it's kind of neat.) The ep has problems but 3 stars.
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William B
Sat, Sep 30, 2017, 1:16pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Coda

I also agree with RandomThoughts above that it's aggravating that Tuvok's Vulcan poetry led to Neelix suggesting Janeway rearrange his schedule to force him off the next Talent Night. I was livid when that happened in the teaser and I almost couldn't get past it for the first half of the episode. Neelix has been badgering Tuvok constantly, in increasingly annoying ways, to get him to open up, and then the moment Tuvok does, Neelix goes behind his back to his captain and closest friend to exclude him from opening up ever again? And we went through Alter Ego, with the revelation that Tuvok actually needs to open himself to others, and then he gets immediately shut down? I feel like the joke here is ripped from Data's Ode to Spot poem in TNG, but the important things are that, first, people really were trying to meet Data halfway, and second, Data was constantly attempting to connect to others and participate in crew events, and there are many instances of his doing so and not being shot down over it. It makes Neelix look really terrible, and to some extent Janeway too, since her "request" for him to attend the luau in Alter Ego was taken by Tuvok as an order (and Chakotay, for ragging on him in the shuttlecraft). I feel like this was meant as a throwaway joke rather than a demonstration that these characters are jerks. Though yes, Chakotay's line about the apple-phasering is great and the episode's highlight (besides maybe B'Elanna's speech), and Janeway doing a dying swan dance is appropriate foreshadowing for the theme of the episode.
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William B
Sat, Sep 30, 2017, 1:09pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Coda

I don't have much to add to what's been sad above; count me among the haters. There's no reason to do the time loop stuff at the opening to the episode; it doesn't really soften Janeway up for believing she's dead, and it's not convincing as a programming error for the alien's simulation in Janeway's brain. Even if the latter were true, it ends up being very boring, and of course has no resolution when it gets dropped midway through the episode. The second half is marginally more substantive, and I do like B'Elanna's speech (though, sadly, I couldn't get into Harry's, and just mostly felt embarrassed for him -- and I'm not convinced that that's not how the rest of the cast felt), and there's some material on Janeway-the-skeptic, Janeway-the-fighter, Janeway-the-scientist. But man, why exactly would Fake Ghost Dad have Kes sense Janeway if he's trying to convince her she's totally cut off from them? And I have always found it intensely frustrating that Janeway walks through Kes, Kes suddenly senses Janeway, and then Janeway never passes through Kes again. Come on, TRY IT! If there's a deeper meaning here, it's probably something about the temptation to give up and give in to death "before one's time," to lay down one's burdens, but the episode doesn't particularly play this angle. Fake Ghost Dad doesn't even particularly make any real pitch besides "trust me, it's great"; imagine at least one scene of him saying, "Think, Kathryn, no more pain. No more agony wondering if they'll ever get home. Come to me and you'll be outside time -- you will be able to see what happens to them, and they'll join you when it's their time. The loneliness, the despair, the constant doubt, the daily grind of living up to a hundred and fifty people's expectations and worrying that you'll fail them. My last years as an admiral took their toll on me, and I didn't even understand it until I died." It would have backfired, of course, but it would have at least played into the fact that we *know* a part of Janeway wants off the ship (Resolutions) even as the larger part of her wants to stay. 1 star.
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William B
Sat, Sep 30, 2017, 1:00pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Fair Trade

A strong Neelix show. I think the demonstration of his feelings of usefulness early in the episode were strong, and it's too bad that they couldn't acknowledge his breakup with Kes to make his feelings of being adrift even more grounded. It makes sense that Neelix would view his position on the Voyager as being conditional on his being useful, and it even makes his brief foray into Investigative Journalism retroactively less unbearable to recognize that Neelix believed he would have to consistently prove and re-prove his utility. He was, after all, only allowed passage in Caretaker because of his value as a guide/cook etc., and his cooking is something that even he has to know is not really universally well-received. The episode's title suggests what Neelix is thinking about - he's thinking in terms of economics, that Voyager provides a place for him proportionate to what he can offer them, rather than the idea of (as Janeway says at the end) a family, where his place is (mostly) unconditionally secured, and the "fair trade" is that Neelix will do his best for them. The crew's casual acceptance of Neelix as one of them looks to him like disinterest. And of course Neelix is from a destroyed homeworld and lived life as a scavenger for decades, finally finding love and then stability. He's lost the love (via Kes) and so what of his stability? The way Wixiban plays on Neelix's fears is generally impressive -- I like the way he suggests he'll reveal to Voyager Neelix's past, as a particular example. And I think that it's clear why Neelix fears being kicked off Voyager and being left without a place to go -- Wixiban's precarious deal-to-deal living is a difficult existence anyway, and Neelix has grown unaccustomed to it, and is now far from a place where he knows enough to get along. His actions throughout the episode follow logically from character and his fears, even as he gets himself deeper in. The episode is a bit like DS9's Business as Usual, from around the same time, with the notable difference that Neelix really is absolutely attempting to maintain his standing among the crew and betrays them for *that* reason. And there's also an implication that Neelix sees Wixiban as who he would be without Voyager, and he now seems to regard Wixiban (willing to do shady narcotics deals and lie about them) with some mixture of pity and contempt, and thus is afraid of becoming that person again. I like that Wixiban both plays the devil on Neelix's shoulder throughout the episode but also turns out to be loyal to his friend in the end.

I'm a bit unconvinced by Neelix's solution on plot terms -- would the station owner really let Neelix and Wixiban deploy a plasma leak in his cargo bay? If it was a secret part of their plan, how could they be sure that they won't get thrown into cryogenic suspension for endangering the station? But I like the general idea of Neelix deploying his wiliness to solve a problem that he fell into due to Wix's deceptions. As for Neelix's "Shoot -- you'll be doing me a favour!" moment, I read it as Neelix not actually trying to die, which would have been very out of character since that would lead to Wixiban's death too, even if Neelix is that desperate, but of him using his (real) desperation to prove to the bad guys more effectively that he's telling the truth and not bluffing -- to show that he is willing to die, and using his sadness to do it. The last scene between Neelix and Janeway is great, and I appreciate that she could see from his willingness to leave the ship without a fuss (and his risky, self-sacrificial behaviour in trying to get Paris and Chakotay released) that he was fully sincere about not making the same mistakes again. I love her little smile at the end.

So I like it a lot. Is it 3.5 stars? I'm going to say no. I think that the episode is a little thin, with too many variations on the same Neelix/Wixiban scene of Wixiban telling Neelix he's in too deep now. It's not quite gripping enough for the subject matter. But it is very good. And as I said I'm a bit taken unsure about the plotting at the end. A high 3 stars.
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William B
Fri, Sep 29, 2017, 2:09pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Warlord

I wrote a comment but I must have accidentally closed the tab.

Anyway, the short version is, I like it pretty well. It's goofy, especially Tieran's attempted seductions (especially in such rapid-fire order), and the plot is nondescript. But Lien is *fun*, and goes all out and risks looking ridiculous, and manages to carry off a fun, self-aware, manic performance. The interesting character beats come down to the way Tieran makes use of Kes' powers, and the ease with which he does so suggests that this could be what Kes does if she wants to. Kes' eventually coming forth in Tieran's mind to say that she will become as ruthless as him points to the big conflict: will Kes eventually become tempted to use her power to dominate, as Tieran does? Is it necessary to become Tieran in order to defeat him, and to take back her body? The contrast between ancient Tieran and Kes-of-the-nine-year-lifespan reminds us how desperately people are to cling to their *long* lives and how little time Kes has to get what she wants out of life, and how much of Kes' time *now* is devoted to being the helper/nurse/good girlfriend who puts others ahead of herself. Tieran's sex-and-murder spree is a signal to Kes that she doesn't *have* to just be the quiet person she is now, but she also genuinely doesn't want to become like him. I think the episode would have been stronger if they played up the angle of Tieran and Kes' identities bleeding into each other even more than they did, and additionally I think the ending is pretty pat -- after Kes' exclamation that she will become as ruthless as him until she drives him out, the ending is basically just that Paris' away team penetrates their defenses and boom, over. I think the idea is that Tieran was too distracted by Kes tormenting him to properly prepare; my wife pointed out that there's a Macbeth flavour to Tieran's gradual disintegration -- with Kes, inside his head, playing a role somewhat like the ghost of Banquo, and maybe along similar lines we can probably read the disintegration of Tiernan's outside as mirroring the disintegration inside his mind; Tieran ignores reports from his advisers because he needs to CELEBRATE HIS VICTORY which he needs to do because Kes is driving him mad. Still, the rescue (as with any of the plotting involving Voyager vs. Tieran, really) comes off as a letdown, only mildly compensated by Kes destroying Tieran by identifying him having jumped into another body.

It is funny that Tieran apparently couldn't bear to be around Neelix for even one more day, and risked exposure to dump him. It is even funnier that (SPOILER?) apparently Kes just...let the breakup stand? Or something?

I'm almost tempted to go for 3 stars because this *is* really entertaining and there's some implied good material for Kes, but I'll probably stay at a high 2.5.
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William B
Thu, Sep 28, 2017, 11:28pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Alter Ego

While not starting with the most thrilling set-up, this episode almost worked for me. Unlike many above, I don't think Harry's over-the-top reaction of wanting to purge all emotion because he had a crush is wholly ridiculous in context. And nor do I think his reaction to Tuvok playing kal-toh with Marayna is that extreme, either, because it seems at least partly clear that he was right about Tuvok -- just that Tuvok was unwilling to admit that he was intrigued by the holodeck character enough to feel mildly ashamed and to want to hide it. The key is that they do think she's a holodeck character, and that makes the difference. Admittedly this episode drafts a little off 11001001, but I think it's important that people have certain expectations for holodeck programs, and are a little floored and taken aback when the holograms seem real enough to fall for. (See how Minuet deeply surprises both Riker and Picard.) With Geordi/Leah, we saw something a bit different, in that Leah was a constructed image where Geordi easily transferred his infatuation from the program to the actual person. What Harry goes through here is a shock that he *should not have fallen in love with a hologram, because she's not a person*, and while we don't see the specifics of what Harry and Marayna's interactions were like, I think it's implied that Harry is partly questioning his sanity. Surely a hastily-programmed extra in a resort couldn't be the charming, intelligent woman he sees when he looks at her, and so his emotions must be completely out of whack. I think that's also why Marayna is able to get past Tuvok's defenses early on. If some crew member started psychoanalyzing Tuvok, I think he'd be prepared for it; Marayna manages to find a way to pierce his mental protective shell, so to speak, by showing dazzling insight that she shouldn't have. And yet she doesn't do anything that is impossible for a computer to do -- just unexpected -- and he finds himself intrigued, particularly by the "riding the waves of emotion, believing oneself in control but it being illusion" bit. There's a tension here between what is, I think, a real attraction -- not just to Marayna but to the very idea of actually confronting the limitations of his emotional control -- and the conscious knowledge that she is only a hologram, and thus nothing he experiences can be real. And so through Tuvok's insistence that he's totally under control to Harry and the way he violates the rules he sets up for Harry himself, we get the impression that Tuvok is both less fully controlled and also more driven by fears (fear of exposure?) than he seems. He's also lonelier, and he deals with that loneliness by isolating himself and attributing it to Vulcan discipline. The episode even uses Vorik, who not only seems very willing to participate in the program, but also seems to be ramping up to hit on B'Elanna more explicitly, to show that what Tuvok suggests is purely a matter of Vulcan philosophy is maybe more complicated and more about Tuvok himself. Harry's role in the episode is mostly to set Tuvok up, admittedly, but I think the way in which Tuvok treats Harry's problems (and his suspicion that he's losing his mind at how real he finds Marayna) tells us about how Tuvok chooses to believe in his own superiority as a way of avoiding genuinely dealing with his loneliness and alone-ness. I also think that Tuvok's going to meet Marayna again, to play kal-toh, *is* a sign that he's started to let his feelings for her develop, but that he can rationalize it as being purely above-board and not at all a betrayal of his wife, himself, or of Harry. And of course Tuvok is correct that he did nothing wrong, but it's sort of a sign of his logic failing him that he would be willing to go and play the "is to chess what chess is to tic-tac-toe" game with what is *supposed* to be a holodeck program, who should have already raised alarms by being more observant than one would expect. (Who programmed her?)

And then the episode goes Fatal Attraction. It's not convincing here because we only got one real moment between Tuvok and Marayna -- the big conversation the luau night -- along with the brief introduction scene and then a small moment the next day when Harry walks in on them kal-tohing. It's a bit of a nightmare for Tuvok -- he lets his guard down just a touch, and then the woman comes at him and insists they have a real connection, and there's just enough truth in it to make it difficult. But she goes too far, too fast, and she just clearly makes herself seem delusional. If the episode had built it more slowly, and had allowed Tuvok a slightly greater indiscretion, something she could point to with more confidence.... Really the whole ship-in-jeopardy plot could have been excised and the episode would have been superior; I'd prefer it even if Marayna, say, stalled the ship to keep Tuvok nearby for longer.

But yes, the final moments between Tuvok and Marayna were lovely. I like the way Tuvok leaves implicit that her actions seemed delusional and dangerous, and then reasons from that not that there's something fundamentally wrong with Marayna as a person but that she has had her perspective warped and broken by loneliness. And her response to Tuvok was also lovely. Tuvok reaching out to Harry at the end is a moment I'm very fond of, too. The way kal-toh works in this episode is interesting; Tuvok plays it alone because he believes that no one else is his peer (he doesn't even bother tying to ask Vorik), but he does end up jumping at the chance to play it with a holoprogram, as long as he can be assured she isn't real, and thus cannot be any threat to his carefully cultivated sense of solitude, which he uses to protect himself from feeling the full weight of the absence of his family. There is an element of attraction to Marayna which is, we can be sure, not present with Harry, but the fact that he wanted that connection is something he could only find out by finding he wanted it with someone he believed he would be able to delete from his life at a moment's notice. The show didn't often do right by Harry, but I appreciate that Tuvok recognized that his almost mechanistic response to Harry's problem (and his dismissiveness at the idea that Harry could have fallen for a holoprogram), as well as his smug dismissal of Harry being anything like his friend.

2.5 stars -- interesting except for the Fatal Attraction middle bit. A good episode for Tuvok.
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William B
Thu, Sep 28, 2017, 11:04pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Macrocosm

The episode's set-up is kind of similar to Genesis, which isn't a good sign, but I'm going to go on a limb and say that Genesis is actually more entertaining. Braga should just stay away from biology entirely, I guess, though the most obvious problem with the "macrovirus" is of course basic physics -- of how exactly a virus can grow linearly in length in time without any food, as happens behind the force field in sickbay. But okay, fine, I guess changelings seem somehow to change mass on DS9. I guess the broader point is that this is all dumb, but also to no purpose. The early scenes were maybe mildly creepy, but went on forever before anything happened, then we have that horribly out-of-place flashback which killed the episode's marginal momentum, and then we have that ending, the only pro of which is that we get to see the annoying holo-characters in that resort program get killed. And the Tak-Tak just blow everyone up because of the virus, huh? Anyway, whatever, moving on. 1 star.
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William B
Thu, Sep 28, 2017, 10:59pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: The Q and the Grey

There are some potentially interesting ideas here. I like the idea of following up to Death Wish (which I liked). The idea of having a messiah-baby is not itself terrible; this crisis was precipitated by one of the ostensibly immortal beings dying, and so having a new life be created to recreate the Q into a non-stagnant society can work. I'm very skeptical that what the Q really need is a dose of human values, or that Q would ever think that, but even this I could maybe have taken in as some sort of buy. I find the notion of Janeway being a godmother kind of cute, and I like the last scene as a result, despite myself. Suzie Plakson is always a joy to see, and there's a bit of an acknowledgment of her previous roles as Klingon and Vulcan on TNG. Still, this is terrible. Even on these terms, we are given no detailed explanation of the fractures within the Continuum besides a few rumblings about individuality, nothing of the sort of grounding that Quinn's desire to die gave. We have no idea what the consequences of Q's rebellion are and whether, if we take Death Wish seriously, the whole universe could be destroyed by completely upending the Q social order. There's only the faintest indication of what human values the messiah baby is supposed to bring, and, more importantly, no indication of why the messiah baby is enough of a draw that the "Confederate" Q side will lay down their arms.

All of this is in a package where the first half is puerile stuff which trashes Q the character and the second half is a dull war story which trashes the Q as a concept. Q has often been "immature," but his puckish behaviour in TNG was generally about undermining Picard's pomposity; here it seems as if we're to accept that Q really is a douchey guy who just can't get in a girl's pants and that's all there is to him. Even when his "real reasons" are revealed, we're still left with scene after scene of the "mine's bigger" type stuff. As for the Civil War material, look, Earth history has always been a part of Q-the-character's schtick (and was part of Trelane's as proto-Q back in The Squire of Gothos) -- the 21st century show trial in Encounter at Farpoint/All Good Things, the French field marshal stuff in Hide and Q, the Robin Hood thing in Q-Pid (an episode I blow my credibility by kind of liking -- though it's worth noting that even there, Q specifically frames the adventure as something he is doing for Picard, rather than something he expects to reveal about his own nature), even the "goo" scene in All Good Things -- but it was always specifically in the frame where Q tells humans about their own existence, and not the other way around. The abstraction of the Continuum to the abandoned farm in Death Wish was effective as a *single scene*, but the extended material here just goes on and doesn't have anything to say about what it actually would mean for beings so far advanced to have a Civil War: it's just the American Civil War, with Q bullets instead of normal ones. And the Voyager crew rushing in to save the day with Q weapons is one of the dumbest moments in this series so far. So Suzie-Q's trick to get them into the Q Continuum with technobabble gave them all guns, huh, and it was enough to also overwhelm the entire "Confederate" Q forces, huh? And the Voyager crew may be humanoids, but they are using Q weapons? Yeah, I'll watch out for the next time a human war is ended when a bunch of ants come marching out with rocket launchers. None of this makes sense and it's all boring, to boot. 1 star, alas.
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William B
Thu, Sep 28, 2017, 1:40pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S2: Second Season Recap

Sorry that should read Projections: 3.5 (-0.5). I do go back and forth between 3 and 3.5, as you can see, and I just forgot to change the difference until I pressed the button....
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