Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Darkling"

*1/2

Air date: 2/19/1997
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Directed by Alex Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Everyone seems to be treating me like I'm still a child. I'm three years old now. If I'm attracted to someone it's my business, not the whole ship's." — Kes

Nutshell: Sparsely amusing but mostly just rambling and pointless. Near-zero substance.

"Darkling" is about as superficial as they come, but unlike the also-shallow "Blood Fever," there's no reason for any of the events here to happen, nor the possibility of consequences to emerge from any of the characters' actions. Things simply happen because the writers apparently thought they would be "fun." Whether that's intended fun for them, for us, or for the actors I'm not really sure, but I am sure about one thing: You can't base an entire episode on one silly (and I do mean silly) concept lacking all dramatic relevance and expect it to sustain an hour.

There's not really a story here—it's simply a premise that can be explained in a single sentence, which is then used for wackily glib characterization: Doc tries to expand his personality by using data from holodeck characters, but when his program malfunctions, an "evil" personality emerges and terrorizes Kes.

Mired in here is a theme about Kes reaching a "crossroads" in her life (she has fallen in love with this week's friendly, all-too-human alien and considers leaving the ship to pursue a relationship)—a storyline that doesn't have nearly the genuine emotional sense or time devoted to it that it demands. There's also a "mystery investigation" plot angle when Kes' new boyfriend (Lee Smith) is injured after being pushed off a cliff by a shady character in a hood.

Well, no points for guessing that it was Evil Doc that assaulted him—if, for no other reason, because the previews gave away that Doc was going to be a bad guy this week. (Although, more amusing is the hypothetical situation that this hooded character is really a jealous Neelix stalking his ex-girlfriend.)

Speaking of Neelix and Kes, "Darkling" finally confirms that the confusing "breakup" in "Warlord" was actually not a side effect of the alien possession of Kes' body. In retrospect, the handling of the whole idea is poor; then again, I really don't care, because it also means I don't have to sit through any more silly scenes between the two characters.

The episode follows by-the-numbers plotting as Doc switches between Jekyll and Hyde while his program malfunctions for reasons Torres can naturally explain with her technical prowess. (The Hyde, if I may say so, is Doctor Hyde—quite handy with the hypo-spray, to which Torres can later attest.) There are some surprisingly amusing, mildly macabre moments within the confines of the script's banality, as Evil Doc cripples Torres with some creative uses of sickbay drugs. And the episode's best scene features Evil Doc's trek from the sickbay to the holodeck—simply allowing us to watch his quiet, repressed insanity in the everyday situations of walking down the corridor and riding in the turbolift. Paul Baillargeon's ominous score sets the mood wonderfully.

Unfortunately, this idea doesn't have far to go. It doesn't take long before the mild amusement of Evil Doc's unstable mindset begins to run out of steam, and we're then treated to the standard plot device of his kidnapping Kes. Evil Doc beams himself and Kes down to the planet surface to await transport off the world for motives that are never clear. There are indications that Evil Doc feels compelled to "protect" Kes from something, but Menosky's script never bothers to explain why.

I don't have as much problem with the pedestrian plot as I do with the fact that every idea within it contains virtually zero substance. Just about everything Evil Doc does and says is meaningless. None of the dialog reveals any relevant character insight or theme. And don't even try to label the scene in Byron's bar where Kes and the Doctor discuss the benefits of "good" as decent writing or character depth. It's not. It's a pretentious smattering of false positive emphasis, as if a pile of "Roddenberry values" were stacked next to a barrel of TNT and left to explode onto the television screen. (One of my friends sarcastically commented that, by coincidence, his next psychology paper was concentrating on the exact topics Kes was discussing. I wished him good luck.)

Likewise, if we're supposed to take Kes' character arc seriously, then there needs to be a point to it. We all know she won't leave the ship anyway, so unless the writers devote some time to analyzing what Kes' options are and the relevant benefits and regrets each would bring, there's really no reason to bring it up. Unfortunately, this story is ultimately not about Kes. Once the writers introduce the topic of her dilemma, it's quickly abandoned in favor of the "crew member behaves erratically" paradigm. Kes' problem is short-changed to the point we don't care; all that remains are its uses in the plot machinations and a standard tack-on in the episode's coda explaining "why" she has decided to remain on board Voyager. Not good, folks.

The ending contains a nifty special effect: when Doc throws himself and Kes off a cliff, Voyager beams them up as they're falling to their doom. Unfortunately, this fresh visual hardly justifies the rest of the hour. The implications of Evil Doc's final actions sums up just how unfocused the entire show is. It tries to be "fun," yet it contradicts any possible theme of Evil Doc trying to "protect" Kes.

Menosky seems to enjoy episodes where characters act outside the normal range of reality (TNG's "Masks" and DS9's "Dramatis Personae" come to mind). But with "Darkling," Braga and Menosky have nothing substantial upon which to form any fresh ideas. Menosky's use of "evil" as a theme is merely perfunctory. The result is a story that rambles with no discernible direction. Doc's interactions with the crew are limited, missing opportunities that could've been interesting. And the few times his personality does switch between Jekyll and Hyde aren't used for any dramatic effect but simply for the convenience of the plot.

The overall product seems to be little more than an excuse to give Picardo some varied "acting" scenes, some of which work nicely, others which fall flat. Sure, Picardo may have had fun, but that's not much of a rationale for an episode.

"Darkling" is watchable, but nothing more.

Previous episode: Unity
Next episode: Rise

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22 comments on this review

mlk - Sun, Dec 23, 2007 - 12:56pm (USA Central)
The Mikal race or whatever they're named look exactly like Bajorans, did they run out of ridged foreheads and had to reuse ridged noses?

Also it's too bad they didn't film Neelix getting heartbroken or something with Kes breaking up.
EP - Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - 11:21pm (USA Central)
Another holographic malfunction?
Aye...carumba...

Brannon Braga is the Adam Dunn of Trek - he either hits a home run or strikes out looking.
Elliott - Mon, Oct 31, 2011 - 4:43pm (USA Central)
"We all know she won't leave the ship anyway, "

Uhuh.

I think you're underestimating this one, Jammer. I see very clearly here the continuing development of Kes into a character who has to leave the ship in "The Gift." She is no longer the child that Doc or the rest of the crew want to see her as--in Ocampa terms, she has aged almost 30 years since "Caretaker"--that's a lot of growth to portray, and Lien does it wonderfully.

You're going out of your way to take every little detail of the scripts and blow them out of proportion as to make them into clichés--Kes doesn't "fall in love with" the traveller character--she's just attracted to him--it's reasonable and understated--as is her overly defensive attitude--she is establishing her adult identity against her mentors as much as she is being swept away with emotional intrigue.

Voyager's multi-episode/season arcs are confined almost exclusively to characterisation. Because of that fact, you've lost, it seems, all faith in the series developing over time. Will we see these aliens again? Nope. Do I care? Nope. The character ramifications will extend through until "Fury" however, 3 years later.

The Doc side of the script was hardly deep, but it was relevant to his ongoing self-improvement and very, very entertaining given Picardo's delivery--the early scene with Torres in the sickbay where he's suggestively asking if she feels "good" is a scream.

Regarding the so-called TNT/"good" debate at which you scoff: you label it "pretentious" without explaining why. Your criticism smacks of classic 20-something hip pessimism which demands one role one's eyes at the very notion of altruism or social evolution. Grit and evil seem to automatically provide one with more compelling characterisations. This is an assumption you frequently take at face value in your reviews without bother to explain why. It's lazy and I don't accept it. I'm not saying that the conversation was extraordinary, but your dismissal seems rooted in personal beliefs about right and wrong rather than an objective review of the dialogue.
David - Thu, Dec 15, 2011 - 12:54am (USA Central)
Yeah, what Elliott said. This wasn't a classic but 1.5 stars? It's 2 or 2.5 anyway, just for Picardo diving into the evil doctor persona.
Ghostwheel - Fri, Mar 23, 2012 - 11:08pm (USA Central)
Love Picardo's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" performance!
Justin - Sun, Apr 1, 2012 - 12:35am (USA Central)
I almost completely agree with this review. This is an awful episode. The Kes story is boring and the "Evil Doc" story is preposterous. The only thing that makes it watchable is Picardo's performance. That, however, is not reason enough to watch. This is one to avoid. Voyager's worst since "Threshold."

@Elliot, virtually all of your posts smack of pedantry, egoism and yes, pretentiousnes. Stop trying to impress everyone with your Trekkier-than-thou analyses.
Elliott - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 12:51am (USA Central)
@ Justin :

This is at least the 4th time you've accused me of being pedantic on this site. I think that you mean to imply I only respect an episode of Trek if it glorifies so-called Roddenberrian ideals. Well, this is untrue; if I complain about the subject it's usually because something in the episode challenges those ideals in a stupid and unconvincing way AND is either ignored or praised by the review.

I do not think very much of this episode, but it's not as bad as Jammer makes it out to be. A portion the review concerns itself with a feeling of pessimism and peevishness against admittedly, half-assed arguments about altruism. The alliteration was unintentional.
Justin - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 5:01pm (USA Central)
No Elliott, I mean that you are pedantic in almost every sense of the word. Let's examine it, shall we?

A "pedant" as described by Dictionary.com:

1. a person who makes an excessive or inappropriate display of learning.

2. a person who overemphasizes rules or minor details.

3. a person who adheres rigidly to book knowledge without regard to common sense.

OK, so we're both clearly guilty of #1, but in regards to #'s 2 and 3:

*You show varying degrees of contempt for any episode of DS9 that even slightly strays from your view of the "Roddenberrian Ideal" (and some that probably don't).

*You counter criticism of VOY when it clearly deserves it. See your above comments.

*You insist on the correct usage of the word, "premise" and refuse to accept popular usage.

*You use umlauts in words that have two vowels in a row like "coöperate" and "coëxist"

Now all that may make it seem like I think you're a total jackass. Not at all. I think you're a good guy, but like Dr. Noonien Soong you are often wrong.
Elliott - Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - 9:47pm (USA Central)
I show contempt, even hostile contempt for stupidity. Voyager has lots of stupidity as do all the incarnations of Trek. Strangely enough DS9 rarely show as much ineptitude except when it comes to arguing those Roddenberrian ideals and religion, two of the three aspects of the show which set it apart (the other being the serialisation, at which it excelled). That is why my hostile DS9 comments tend to focus on those points. Truly. I think BSG was a wonderfully crafted show which did everything well DS9 attempted including arguing those ideals well. Though the ending was surprisingly utopic... Let me repeat; this was not a good episode, but some of the criticism in the review I think are unwarranted. I don't think that's "overemphasising minor details". Just the opposite in fact. Here's some pedantry for you: they are called umlauts in German (voiced around) but in English, they are called diereses. By the time (as a teen) I learned that this was an old fashioned means of writing prefixes to words beginning with vowels, it was a habit I didn't care to break. I'm certain I'm wrong more often than not, which is a fun little paradox, but I try hopefully more often still not to talk out of my ass. For the record, I'm sure you're a nice guy too and should we ever meet in person I bet we'd enjoy overanalysing an episode of trek together.
Justin - Sun, Apr 29, 2012 - 3:24pm (USA Central)
A habit you didn't care to break?

Sorry, but I have to call bullshit.

First, let's get it out of the way that "umlaut" *is* in the English dictionary. It's also more commonly used than "diereses," and a far sight less silly sounding. Don't even get me started on "diphthong."

Now, I could see your point in regards to your own handwriting, but to create an umlaut over a vowel you have to use an Alt-Code in Windows or an Accent Code in Mac (or HTML where appropriate). In other words, a lot of extraneous typing.

Therefore, in order to type "coëxist" on a Windows keyboard you'd have to type the following characters (sans dashes):

c-o-Alt0235-x-i-s-t

That seems more like a habit you STUBBORNLY REFUSE to break...
Elliott - Mon, Apr 30, 2012 - 8:17pm (USA Central)
@ Justin : I use a mac, meaning creating diereses requires hitting 2 buttons, command + u.

And because I'm sure this is a point worth belabouring, an umlaut in german is about the simultaneous creation of two vowel sounds (open e plus the written letter, also open), diereses in english (and spanish, by the way) are used to denote the separation of vowel sounds (yes, the removal of the diphthong), like in the name Chloë (pronounced CLO - EE, not CLO).
duhknees - Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 10:03pm (USA Central)
Very entertaining. I've taught English for 35 years, but I have never heard such an impassioned discussion of diction and punctuation. And to think I found it on a Star Trek fan site.
I thought Jammer got it about right. I laughed several times, but not in a good way.
Elphaba - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 5:07pm (USA Central)
This episode isn't bad. Don't see why you all keep harping on it.

Also why oh why is there a big debate of punctuation? Isn't language relative and constantly changing? Why does it matter? There's really no "right" answer when it comes to language, just arbitrary rules of the time and place you're in.
Kristen - Sun, Feb 3, 2013 - 1:48pm (USA Central)
Another wonderfully smarmy a**hole seduces a woman in the Trek universe. Seriously, how is it that so many Trek writers can think that these characters aren't just disgustingly gross?

Let's review. There's the smarmy administrator dude that Deanna Troi falls for in the genetically engineered society. And the massively smarmy secretly telepathic negotiator who rubs her feet. Ewww.

Then there's the smarmy Trill body-jumper that Doctor Crusher--or should I say Doctor Beverly--falls for. So reliant on smarminess is she, in fact, that she can't stay in love with him when he's in the body of a decent-seeming lady.

There's the super-smarmy Vedic dude, who Kira falls in love with. And a second, slightly less smarmy resistance fighter dude she falls in love with after the smarmy Vedic dies. (Who, remarkably, is the same actor who played ANOTHER smarmy dude that Doctor Crusher fell for. But she was under a sort of cosmic spell, so we won't count that one.)

On Voyager, we see Captain Janeway fall for that smarmy holodeck dude whose children she's governess to. And she even seems to almost fall for the smarmy slicked-back hair dude that won't help Voyager blip themselves home on the we're-just-after-a-good-time planet.

Then there's Riker...who's just smarmy every time he's around a woman. I love the man, I do. But introduce him to a female character, and he's like a walking ad for Drakkar Noir.

Can the writers not imagine that a woman can fall head over heels in love with emotionally normal men? Do they all have to seem like bad romance novel heroes?!
Jo Jo Meastro - Mon, Mar 18, 2013 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
I've been quite enjoying season 3 so far and under the surface I see developments which I find very promising, like the hints at meeting the Borg and just in general enjoying the show even if its nothing especailly deep or ground breaking.

However, when I came to this trilogy of such low rated episodes I feared my enjoyment of the show will come screeching to a halt for a while. I've endured it and thankfully it seems I'll now be rewarded with an above average episode as the light at the end of the tunnel.

On this particular episode, it was a bit flat and revolved around a gimmicky one-note premise which only had a handful of note-worthy moments. I think Picardo made much of the material better than it really should be. I can't say I hate the episode, but most of it is forgettable and stretches its already thin premise to the point of collapse.

Thanks to the before mentioned handful of note-worthy moments and Picardos' touches of humour and charm given meritt to a at-best routine routine story...I'd give it a 2/4.
Michael - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 3:21pm (USA Central)
By Jove, another instance of the comments being far more entertaining than both the episode and Jammer's review (sorry, Jammer!).

@Elliott: The dieresis is used in French, not Spanish.
Elliott - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 3:46pm (USA Central)
@Michael: in English, the diæresis, in French, la tréma, in Spanish, diéresis. All are functionally and orthographically identical. Sp: vergüenza, güiro, etc.
T'Paul - Wed, Sep 11, 2013 - 1:31pm (USA Central)
Haha Kristen!

Although I think Vedik Bareil doesn't deserve to be on that sorry list of supposedly irresistible Star Trek love interests.

In this one I did enjoy evil Doc. Perhaps Hyde would be a good name for him? (And Jekyll for his saner counterpart)
T'Paul - Wed, Sep 11, 2013 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
Plus I thought the facial and physical expressions of evil doc were excellently done.
T'Paul - Wed, Sep 11, 2013 - 3:12pm (USA Central)
Finally, I agree with Elliott... I think the so-called pointless Kes plot has to be revised in the light of future episodes.

I believe that in fact VOY is perhaps better than any other incarnation of Trek (at least as good as DS9) as far as character growth over the very long term.

It seems that VOY gets judged before its arcs are over... it receives a sarcastic remark in the middle of its arc, whereas the other series (especially one in particular) would at least receive the benefit of the doubt, or credit or praise, or at least judgement would be reserved until the arc was over.
Kevin - Wed, Dec 25, 2013 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
This was a bad episode. Picardo's portrayal of the evil Doc was actually quite chilling, but the script just wasn't there to bring it home. This could have been one of Trek's better forays into horror, but the writers just phoned this one in.
Ric - Tue, Apr 8, 2014 - 2:43am (USA Central)
I think Jammer is quite fair in this review. This episode is really bad from the beginning to the end. I only think that Jammer put too few attention to the ridiculous Kes and Neelix break up. Ok, I understand that Jammer (and many of us) does not care about this couple, and about Neelix in general.

I myself have always found the couple to be really strange and unfitting. However, one thing is to like or dislike characters. Another is to not address importante issues from an episode or a season/show arc. The confirmation that Kes and Neelix broke up in this very odd and poorly handled way a few episodes ago was really surprising. It does not make sense, and desserves a lot more criticism, to have a couple of characters be developed across episodes, to have their love relationship developed and even become central for their characters portrayal, and then have everything changed and relationship abandoned without more dramatic consideration on screen. Not a dialog? Not a tiny moment when we see Neelix's side on this? Breaking up in a scene out of nowhere, in an episode that makes it looks like Kes was just being controled by an alien?

My gosh, this is what I call handling a show really poorly. It does not matter how much I like or dislike Neelix and Kes. It was so poorly done that when Kes started to show atraction for another guy in this episode, I was thinking for a few minutes whether I have missed something, or changed episodes' order. My mind just couldn't recall that scene from "Warlord" to be something serious.

Bad horrible, with the final point to a horribly handled situation. One and a hald stars is more than enough.

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