Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 3/18/1996
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Mr. Kim ... we're Starfleet officers; weird is part of the job." — Janeway
Nutshell: A great technobabble show with plenty of excitement. It's too bad the extreme but ultimately inconsequential damage to the ship prompts complete incredulity.
At the end of "Deadlock" when Harry calls his experience through space, time, and subspace weird, he sure isn't joking. The situation the Voyager crew faces in this episode is substantially strange. It's yet another high concept outing from the mind of Brannon Braga, who has supplied several labyrinthine stories in the far reaches of physical, temporal, and spatial manipulation this season. From "Projections" to "Non Sequitur" to "Threshold" to "Deadlock," Braga has displayed a constant affinity for spewing new technical gobbligook and conjuring fake new scientific theories out of thin air.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. "Projections" was absolutely riveting. "Threshold" was absolutely ludicrous. "Deadlock," ranks nearby the former rather than the latter, featuring an intriguing premise, though not quite up to par with "Projections" in story strength or plausibility (if such a term can be used), but very well done nevertheless.
The plot: Unbeknownst to the crew, the mysterious properties of a plasma cloud replicates the Voyager such that there are two ships with two crews, both exactly the same, occupying the same location in space at the same moment in time. The only thing separating the two ships is a "spatial rift," which seems to link the two Voyagers together on deck 15. Under details that I refuse to go into here, one Voyager severely damages the other with "proton bursts" in an attempt to recharge their own warp core. Even more intricate details brings one of the Voyager's crew to realize what has happened after Kes crosses through this rift—that the ship has been duplicated—and before you can say "huh?," Janeway and Torres figure out how to get a communication signal through subspace to the damaged Voyager. Now it's a race against the clock to figure out how to converge the two Voyagers before both are destroyed.
Baffled? Well, at times, this can be damned confusing—and you can bet there is an ample supply of technobabble used to explain all this. But like DS9's "Visionary" last season, this episode goes to show that tech-laden plots can be very good if done properly and supported by a cast and crew that knows what to do and how. Not to say that Braga's script isn't adeptly written for the most part—it is—but the execution is what really stands out here.
David Livingston surely had his hands full with the dual shooting of Voyager realities and overseeing the reams of technobabble. (The actors also deserve a lot of credit for making the non-stop jargon sound believable.) But Livingston does all this and makes the show an intriguing mystery with plenty of excitement. In fact, "Deadlock" opens and closes with pulse-pounding intensity that is virtually unmatched by any Voyager episode to date. It wastes no time in its early minutes, beginning with jarring urgency and breakneck pacing, featuring some chaotically impressive photography as the ship is ripped apart. Surprising events like Ensign Kim being sucked into space and the unfair death of Ensign Wildman's newborn baby demonstrates a pull-no-punches grimness that proves quite compelling. Meanwhile, the bridge catches on fire and is evacuated in a scene that borders on the apocalyptic.
Once the two Voyagers realize their nature of coexistence, the time comes to repair the damage, and the fascination level is one-upped with scenes of Captain Janeway talking to herself over a viewscreen and, later, face-to-face.
The technical solution theories are, of course, absurd, and they involve such complicated fictional science that the characters always seem on the verge of spraining their tongues as they talk about using the main deflector dish to realign divergence fields and what not. If this technobabble wasn't so well performed, I would probably be complaining about it for months.
And just when you thought the two Voyager crews had their hands full trying to fix the phase-shift variance to merge the ships into one again, the episode throws more blood-boiling thrills at us when along come the Vidiians, looking for unwilling organ donors. With the Voyager's weapons unusable, they are easily able to tractor and board one of the Voyagers. However, the Vidiians are unable to even detect the existence of the other one.
The Vidiians' assault on the one Voyager crew is almost unsettling. Again, they come across as they did in "Faces": vicious and merciless, shooting down everyone in sight and extracting their organs without so much as a second glance. Outnumbered and outgunned, Janeway does what she has always vowed to in such a circumstance—arm the auto-destruct sequence. She orders Kim to take Wildman's baby to the other Voyager (they are both alive on this Voyager, and Janeway thinks it's only fair to replace the fatalities experienced by their counterpart). Kim surprises two Vidiians in sickbay (who have already begun their harvesting experiments on Wildman) in a nicely-done scene where he phasers them both and then finds the Doctor hiding behind his desk with the baby. Kim heads off to deck 15 to travel through the spatial rift.
Meanwhile, as the Vidiians walk onto the bridge to seize the ship, Janeway stands up and has just a few choice words for them—which she says with almost a smile: "Welcome to the bridge." With that, the Voyager explodes, taking the Vidiian ship right along with it, in a spectacular pyrotechnic spectacle that had me almost cheering. It's a guilty pleasure, I'll admit—seeing the Vidiians finally put in their place—but a pleasure nonetheless that is long overdue considering how the Vidiians wantonly ignored Janeway's stern warning she issued in "Phage," the first Federation/Vidiian encounter.
The details surrounding this ending, however, bring up perhaps the most perplexing questions about the situation. How is it that both Voyagers could detect the Vidiian ship, but only one could physically interact with it? Is the other Voyager in an alternate reality? Why can't the Vidiians detect it? How is it protected from the explosion of both its counterpart and the Vidiian vessel? If somebody explained this to me, would my head blow up?
I'm not sure, but I don't really care either. The raw energy of this episode makes it a winner, and, by the end of the show, everything feels like it more or less adds up in its own bizarre way, even if my brain doesn't want to buy it. Braga shows the talent, I guess, for making things clear and confusing at the same time. Livingston shows the talent for turning it all into a gripping hour of science fiction.
Still, the episode really only works on its adventure level. If you consider the long-term effects of the episode, they're shoved under the carpet with painful blatancy. The biggest flaw in "Deadlock" is the fact that Voyager's severe damage will undoubtedly be repaired by the beginning of the next episode, never to be heard of again. When Tuvok delivered the lengthy damage report early in the show, there was a sense of uneasy helplessness. After all, there are no repair bays or starbases in the Delta Quadrant. Yet the closing of "Deadlock" would have us believe that Voyager is a completely self-sustaining starship and there's nothing to worry about.
If you think about it, this defeats many of the dramatic elements of the very core of the series—which is definitely not a good thing. Such damage to the ship should not be treated lightly on Star Trek: Voyager. Remember the concern expressed in "Learning Curve" over the damage to irreplaceable gel packs? It was a big deal. Yet in "Deadlock" half the ship is hanging in ruin, and by the end of the episode it's hardly an issue.
It's too bad the issue surrounding Voyager's damage is so uncertain. The rest of the episode is terrific.