Star Trek: Voyager
"Basics, Part II"
Air date: 9/4/1996
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Sticks and stones won't break my bones, so you can imagine how I feel about being called names." — Doc to Seska
Nutshell: Some well-executed adventure, but the episode too often feels like a pre-determined, calculated exercise.
"Basics, Part II" is a show I tried to enjoy. And, at times, I did enjoy pieces of it. It's sort of a brainless adventure romp with some well-directed action sequences that hold reasonable entertainment value. Unfortunately, the problem with "Basics, Part II" is that it is merely the painfully obvious and predictable resolution of "Basics, Part I," a somewhat entertaining episode in itself that, nevertheless, probably should never have been used as a season cliffhanger simply because of how pointless the underlying premise is.
I mean, come on. Did anybody have the slightest doubt in their mind that Voyager would be retaken? That somehow Doc, Suder, Paris, and the Talaxian convoy would outsmart the Kazon with a clever plan? That the crew would not be marooned on the planet forever?
No, of course not.
Well, one reason the two "Basics" shows aren't all that compelling is that they don't really give us many character dynamics to ponder. "Basics I" gives us an extreme situation, "Basics II" quickly resolves it, and the two shows sit there and hope that we'll genuinely care about everything that happened in the progress.
Well, I tried very hard to put aside my cynicism and thoughts of how silly the first part's setup now seemed, and, for a while, it kind of worked. Like I said, "Basics II" has a number of worthwhile moments. In fact, part two is more fun than part one was.
The show picks up exactly where the first half left off, with the crew stranded on the planet, searching for food, water, and shelter. Some of the hassles the crew faces in its new planetary environment include a primitive tribe of humanoids whom cannot be easily communicated with, and a...well...monster that dwells in a cave and promptly eats Ensign Hogan when he ventures too near its habitat in the episode's opening minutes. (Hogan, who has been a reliable extra character in several past episodes, finally meets his now-obviously-always-inevitable demise. I couldn't help but chuckle at the fact.)
Meanwhile, Seska and Culluh set the ship on a course for who-knows-where (so long as destruction with their newfound arsenal is possible), distancing themselves from the planet. Paris turns out to be (surprise!) alive and well in his shuttlecraft and, with the help of the Talaxians, is ready to perform trickery to retake the ship. Doc tracks down Suder (who's been hiding in the ship's vents) and informs him of Paris' plan: Suder must go to engineering and rig the backup phaser couplings (or something) to overload so that after Paris uses his hotshot piloting skills to disable Voyager's primary couplings, the Kazon will overload and burn out the phasers the moment they try to return fire. The problem: Engineering is full of Kazon, and if Suder goes down there, he will have to kill or be killed.
The one character I did care about in both "Basics" episodes was Suder. Here is a guy who is completely torn up inside, and in order to do what is right for his ship and crew, he will have to resort to violence. Suder does not want to kill again; he has worked so hard to get where he is now—to a point where his inner demons have been nearly silenced and his lust for violence quashed. Brad Dourif again carries the role terrifically, bringing the sense of detached instability and personal torment to the character—a character that we can empathize with.
The Doctor also comes across as quite interesting in this episode. The situation gives him the chance to take initiative, and his acerbic, sarcastic responses to Seska's interrogations are always amusing, especially when he claims to be the sole effort against her plans.
So as the episode switches back and forth between the A/B-stories, the show gives us some decent, albeit derivative, action scenes. The best is a sequence where Chakotay, Tuvok, Neelix, Kes, and some unnamed crewmen are forced to hide in the monster's cave after they're chased by angry members of the primitive tribe. The monster, evidently a computer-animated creation, is an impressive special effects display. (No points, however, for guessing that it's one of the unnamed crewman who will be eaten by it, and not Chakotay, Tuvok, Neelix, or Kes.) And, of course, the respectable, even if predictable, Star Trek mentality dictates that the primitive tribe and the Voyager crew will eventually become friends once Chakotay risks his life to save one of them from falling into a pit of molten lava (Oh yeah, did I mention this planet has active volcanoes?).
The scope of the episode is impressive. The planet scenes are all shot on location, and every time the crew survives one crisis, there's another—progressing from the lack of fire and water, to kidnappings, to fleeing from angry tribes, to fighting big monsters, to leaping from rock to rock across a pit of molten lava. This planet has everything.
One thing, however, about "Basics II" that really began to annoy me was how carefully every scene seemed measured and calculated to resolve the setup pieces from part one. At times, I felt more like I was watching a pre-determined, pre-programmed exercise playing out than I was watching a real story unfold. The events are tidy—too tidy. "Manufactured" would be most accurate.
For example, after the Doctor's further examination, it turns out that Seska's son is not Chakotay's son, but Culluh's. That's a cop-out—a loose end from which the writers so easily let themselves off the hook. Here it is—the source of all the exposition that caused Chakotay to turn the Voyager into this trap in the first place—becomes an issue that, with a few lines of dialog, never needs to be addressed again.
And how about Suder? Here's the only truly interesting character we can care about, and after an eye-opening scene where he phasers a roomful of Kazon in engineering and completes his mission, one of the dying Kazon shoots him in the back and kills him. That made me angry, because it was so obvious and easy for the writers to do, sealing all options concerning what to do about his life sentence in his quarters. I somehow expected this all along, but I was hoping I might be wrong. I wasn't.
And Seska? She dies an anticlimactic and arbitrary death, apparently caused by injuries from the phaser overload. Considering her villainy, Seska's death is an event that just sits and shrugs. I personally think it would've been more interesting to keep her alive and have her caught by the crew where she would answer for treason. Nope. Wrote her out of the picture in ten seconds flat.
And the damage to the ship after all this? A non-factor (despite the fact that the overload practically made the Voyager look like it was on fire). Once the crew retakes Voyager, the ship, of course, looks practically like new.
Really, under scrutiny, Michael Piller's teleplay for "Basics" looks like little more than a machine that gives us all the parts in the first half, and then brainlessly assembles them in the second half. This is too bad, because "Basics, Part II" has many strengths, including some standout performances, one of Dennis McCarthy's better scores (even featuring some themes), good special effects, and a first-rate direction by Winrich Kolbe, who sets the show at a fast pace and uses some impressive photography and interesting camera angles on the locations.
I dunno. Perhaps this show and its abrupt wrap-up is all a statement that Voyager is moving on. "Basics, Part II" is reported as the last time we will see the Kazon (which is just fine with me). I suppose as wrap-up it works okay, but a less obvious and calculated approach might have been nice.