Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Basics, Part II"

**1/2

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.

Previous episode: Basics, Part I
Next episode: Flashback

Season Index

24 comments on this review

Nic - Wed, Oct 28, 2009 - 10:19am (USA Central)
Too true. I read somewhere that in Piller's original teleplay, the baby's father WAS Chakotay. The baby died, while Seska survived and escaped. That might have been better
SpideyTerry - Mon, Aug 23, 2010 - 4:57am (USA Central)
Yeah, I had read (in the last day, as a matter of fact) that Piller revealed in a chat different intentions - the baby was indeed Chakotay's, the baby would die, and both Suder and Seska would survive this two-parter. Memory Alpha has the transcript with the details: memory-alpha.org/wiki/Memory_Alpha:AOL_chats/Michael_Piller/pillrcht.txt

Interesting stuff. Who knows if it all would've worked, but the changes certainly didn't benefit this episode and the two-parter as a whole. Picardo and Dourif were solid, though.
navamske - Fri, Sep 24, 2010 - 10:04pm (USA Central)
I never really liked Fresca, but I thought it was cool that they were able to bring her back a couple of times through the magic of holotechnology and time travel, especially because we didn't expect to see her again. If she had survived "Basics II" and escaped the ship, I think it would have been too much like Vader's just happening to be off the Death Star when it blew up: "Yeah, we're gonna see him again."
Jared - Mon, Oct 25, 2010 - 10:23am (USA Central)
Paris: "I do know what makes an interesting story & that's unexpected plot twists."

Oh, you mean like, Paris & B'Elanna hooking up, Kes getting kicked off the show rather than Neelix, Harry leaving his beautiful fiancee for no reason yet going apesh!t over being apart from the chick in "The Disease," 7's parents knowing about the Borg years before "Q Who," and (the biggest doozy) Paris & Janeway having sex after going Warp 10 in "Threshold."
Yeah, Voyager was full of unexpected plot twists, wasn't it?
Jared - Mon, Oct 25, 2010 - 10:24am (USA Central)
Sorry, I meant to put that on the "Worst Case Scenario" board and accidentally hit the link to this one.
Matthias - Mon, Aug 22, 2011 - 9:52am (USA Central)
Actually, there was one scene of genuine character development this episode and that's when Cullan tenderly scoops up what he still thinks is Chakotay and Seska's baby and walks off with it. I'm almost sad we'll never see him again just when he finally exhibits something beyond cartoon villainy.
chris - Thu, Mar 8, 2012 - 3:25am (USA Central)
Poor Hogan!

1) Why did he have to call Neelix "yes sir"? Since when Neelix had been a Starfleet officer?

2) And why the hell didn't Neelix stay and collect these damn bones and been eaten himself instead of poor Hogan?

And of course, the biggest question still remains alive: Why, oh why, had Janeway and Chakotay to go after Seska's baby, putting in risk the whole crew and their starship? Bad writing... :(
Justin - Tue, Mar 20, 2012 - 11:53pm (USA Central)
Having the baby not be Chakotay's was one giant copout by the writers. And it made his vision-quest converstion with his father completely meaningless.

The episode could have played out exactly the way it did except Doc never tells Seska it's Cullah's baby and Cullah leaves it behind in the Captain's ready room once he finds out Seska's dead.

Then Chakotay could have raised it - either by himself or with Janeway's help. Or B'elanna's. How interesting would it be for two Maquis to raise a half-Cardassian child? Answer: very - IF the writers and producers had the balls to explore it instead of playing it TV safe.

Blech.
Bryan - Fri, Sep 28, 2012 - 4:23am (USA Central)
Both the first part and second part were ok to good but I must agree that killing off Suder was pretty stupid. An excellent character that was more worthy than being just shot in the back. Kinda reminded me of the lame death of Capt. Kirk in, Generations. I would have loved to have seen him more in upcoming episodes and if he were to eventual be killed off, I would hope that it would have been much better than what this episode had to offer.
Paul - Mon, Dec 3, 2012 - 11:03am (USA Central)
What's depressing is Voyager, arguably, got less ambitious after this episode and after the second season.

I'm in the extreme minority, but I like second-season Voyager (as a whole) better than any other season. It's the only time when the creators decided to deal with the central premise of the show. There were a LOT of problems ("Deadlock" is still inexcusable and "Threshold" was ridiculous).

The problem with season two is that the creators got gunshy about this kind of storyline because they picked bad guys who were kind of stupid. Had the Kazon been more interesting -- and they could have been, with just a few tweaks -- the second season would have been pretty good. Had a few details not been reset, the second season would have been very good.

But instead of making the continuing storyline concept work, the creators went for less continuity. The "Hunters" arc was especially bad and the Borg were so badly neutered.

For the rest of the series, the best we could hope for with Voyager was a good one-off episode every now and then. The continuing arcs were really bad after season two and the lack of resources/struggle to survive wasn't done with much authority. Even lines like Janeway's from part one about not having torpedoes to waste are gone from the later seasons.
Arachnea - Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - 4:36am (USA Central)
I was very angry with the deaths of Hogan and Suder. I like to see familiar faces, recurring characters and Hogan's death was senseless. As for Suder's, it's a shame because of the wonderfull arc they could have done with him. Not only was the character interesting, but the actor was stellar !

I also don't understand why the captain would make Neelix or Kim leader of a team. Agreed, Neelix knows a lot about basic survival but he's not an officer. And Kim is just an ensign, there are many on the crew who outrank him.

What redeems this episode are the doc and Suder. Too bad, it had a lot of potential.
Arachnea - Sat, Jan 5, 2013 - 1:18pm (USA Central)
"Agreed, Neelix knows a lot about basic survival but he's not an officer."

Like what? He wasn't able to make fire, didn't know there are bugs under rocks you can eat - and this is important - Wasn't able to keep anyone alive! His stupidity got Hogan killed (his death BTW proved he was 100%ˇright in Alliances) and partially caused conflict with the natives. The asshole would get himself killed if Chakotay wouldn't come to save his ass.
Joe Joe Meastro - Fri, Mar 1, 2013 - 8:22am (USA Central)
Does Suder kind-of remind anyone else of Barclay; in terms of his facial features and his neurotic, nervous body language? He just had a Barclay look to him hehe.

I did love the adventurous spirit of the episode, taken on a 'fun' level rather than on a serious one because as Jammer rightly says the plots' conclusions were never in doubt.

I'm in two minds about the death of Suder and the fiery conclusion of the Kazon arc. There was a nice irony in the fact Suder dies in a pretty glorious bloodbath after all of his efforts to become a peaceful person, his end has a twang of tragedy in it. The same with Seskas' death leaving Culluh to care for a baby he might never know is the father to.

Perhaps the writers should have went all Blakes' Seven on our asses and upped the tragic/ironic/grisily/dark ending to epic proportions! Or maybes that's just me revealing my inner Suder *gulp*!

On the whole, a cool 2-part adventure even if it fails to be anything particularly spectacular.
Lt. Yarko - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 1:36pm (USA Central)
Wormtongue dies again! Poor Brad Dourif. Because of his unique look he always gets cast as the psycho evil dude since all the way back in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. He is so good at it though. This is actually the first time I have seen him as a sympathetic character, and, yeah, he was the only character I cared about in this two parter! Tragic.

One thing that annoys me is, how did Paris survive? I guess just not showing it is enough of an explanation? And did his original plan make any sense? In the middle of a battle in which Voyager is already half-way to dead he is going to take a shuttle to go get someone to help? Huh? Voyager would be taken and long gone by the time he even got to the Talaxians. I know that this was just a way to get Paris off the ship to save it later, but it just made no sense to me.

I really have a lot of sympathy for the writers of shows like this. They have to try to come up with original epicness regularly and fit it into a very limited format. It's no wonder that a really good result is rare.
AwfuL - Wed, Sep 25, 2013 - 10:28am (USA Central)
I noticed a problem at the end - Paris and the Talaxians beam onto the bridge, with Culluh still in the Ready Room where he found Seska and the baby. He then orders the Kazon to abandon ship, but he has no way of actually leaving the Ready Room other than through the Bridge.

I guess he could've beamed onto an escape pod but they should've at least shown the beam out.
Elliott - Wed, Sep 25, 2013 - 11:58am (USA Central)
@Awful--it's not terribly important, but there is another door to the readyroom which leads off to a corridor to deck 2.
Caine - Sat, Oct 19, 2013 - 7:45am (USA Central)
Story A: Crew on the planet.
Awful ... just awful. Pointless and boring.

Story B: Taking back the ship.
Pretty entertaining, but with lots of missed opportunities for thrills and excitement. If we'd followed Suder more closely around the ship - hiding from the Kazon, killing one of them etc. - it could've been excellent. Instead we get lots of "this is what happened" explanations.
This, to me, is a trait of the series - not showing key dramatic moments, but having the characters explain that it simply happened (or just skipping it altogether), then quickly moving on. It's terribly bad drama and horrible storytelling. A good example is the ending of an episode - how many episodes have ended without addressing what ended up happening with big chunks of the main story? It just seems so sloppy and messy.

Not a terribly riveting episode in my eyes. But, then again, I'm afraid not many Voyager episodes are. There's just too many gaping plot holes, nonsensical decisionmaking and bad, bad writing/directing/editing of the stories to really ever make the series good. To me, that is.
Travis - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 7:04pm (USA Central)
Chris, it's even worse than that. Neelix was made a team leader because of his "survival skills" which have never been seen. Neelix told Hogan to collect the bones because they might be useful (true); however, he neglected to notice they were at the mouth of a cave which usually means a predator that ate that creature. Later in the episode Chakotay tries to make nice with the natives by speaking calmly and acknowledging they can only understand his tone and not his words. What does Neelix do in this tense situation? Gets right in their faces and starts yelling. Not to mention the Kazon became Voyager's enemies only because Neelix started a fight with them in the very first episode!
Paul - Fri, Nov 8, 2013 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
Watched this two-parter again last night. It might be the single most frustrating example of Voyager. And not just because it used the reset button, but because it was used SO BADLY.

Think about it: Culluh and Seska get Voyager, finally. The Nistrim is apparently able to repair the entire ship relatively quickly and know how to run it (hard to swallow, but maybe Seska prepared them well enough). Then, they dump the crew on some planet.

If you were the Kazon, what would you do next?

I'd set course for my nearest base where I'd dissect Voyager for all its secrets. I'd make sure that whatever happened to the ship that the Nistrim would have replicator and transporter technology. I'd make sure not to delay, for fear that another sect or maybe even someone like the Talaxians the Trabe or the Vidians, would try to take Voyager from me. And, I'd certainly make sure the four ships that helped attack Voyager would be with me at all times.

What do Culluh and Seska do?

At warp speed, they head for some unknown destination. They must either not have gone very far or moved very fast, because Paris and the Talaxians are able to catch up with them. Granted, Suder and the doctor disable the warp drive, but it takes them a while to do it. And, without the four Kazon ships that attacked Voyager (or the four others that retreated in part one) they're an easy target. Why not keep their strength in numbers?

WTF.

Meanwhile, why are the Talaxians so OK with helping Paris? The Kazon are known for being ruthless and they hold grudges. Even if they like Paris's plan, aren't they worried about retribution? Granted, Voyager apparently gets out of Kazon space after this episode, but the Talaxians have to go on living there. Honestly, this might have made more sense if Neelix were with Paris.

Also, it's amazing that the Kazon don't put up more of a fight when Paris and the Talaxians board the ship. Culluh orders everyone to abandon Voyager, but he must know that his 80-plus crew could put up a fight. Culluh's been trying to capture Voyager's technology for nearly two years. He gets it, and then gives up so easily?

Lastly, it seems like Voyager gets back to Janeway et. al pretty quickly. So, either Seska and Culluh were dumb and didn't make it very far or a lot of time passes between Chakotay saving the native woman and when Paris flies the ship back to the planet.

Some of the reset stuff at least makes logical sense (like the stuff with Seska's baby) even if it doesn't make a lot of sense in a dramatic way. But, like so much of Voyager, there's not enough logic or continuity.

What a waste.
inline79 - Thu, Dec 26, 2013 - 9:59pm (USA Central)
The death of Hogan hit me.

Not that I was bawling on my couch, but more that I was disppointed that this "small" crew of ~150ppl, which seems so intimate, gets so few recurring characters to make it feel intimate. Hogan was one of those - and yes, he looked like a nice guy to have a synthale with.

Look at the list of recurring characters on Mem A's wiki/Recurring_characters

And see how few Voyager recurring characters have more than just a handful of episodes compared to people like Yeoman Rand, Leeta, or even Spot the Cat. They didn't need to have entire episodes dedicated to them, but just seeing some of the same faces regularly would have helped add to the feeling of being "lost" with these same people.

PS. Farewell Mr. Piller!
Dave in NC - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 12:45pm (USA Central)
Why would they kill off Souder and Seska?!?! The two best guest actors on the show (my favorites, anyways) and they both get offed . . . this has to be the worst decision the producers ever made.
Vylora - Sat, Aug 23, 2014 - 11:11pm (USA Central)
Entertaining and visually well done. My issues with part one effect part two but this does seem more like its own entity overall. I agree with Jammer that everything that transpires in front of us actually feels more manufactured than organic. I could almost hear the wheels turning as it progressed.

As a wrap-up to all things Kazon it could have been better, but then the quality of writing concerning the species was never that good to begin with. So, unfortunately, as it stands, that means what we got here is to be expected based on everything before it. Kind've makes me sad. At least we are finally done with being near the "heart of Kazon space" (whatever) after months of warp travel.

2.5 stars.
stallion - Tue, Sep 9, 2014 - 2:29pm (USA Central)
It's interesting to see that by season 3 Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise were all force to shake up their shows. They obviously decided just like Deep Space nine did to move a more stand alone adventure show. Maybe Trek would had been a lot more easier on the creative staff if they had to produce 13 episodes a season instead of 24. After completing Battlestar Galatica Ronald Moore did comment on how grueling is was doing TNG to produce over twenty episodes a season. Manny Coto did comment on how tough it was on Brannon Braga to produce season worth of episodes.

With the exception of Darkling, Rise and a few more epsidoes I don't mind season 3. I understand how upset fans when Voyager abanadon 80% of it's lost in space premise.
navamske - Sat, Sep 13, 2014 - 8:20pm (USA Central)
@ Arachnea

"And Kim is just an ensign, there are many on the crew who outrank him."

Yeah, why is Kim always at the staff meetings with "the senior staff"? Maybe because he's a bridge officer?

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