Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 3/19/1997
Written by Lisa Klink
Directed by Marvin V. Rush
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"What's your next trick, Harry? Pull a shuttlecraft out of a hat?" — Dumb line spoken by Chakotay (although it could be a worthwhile skill given Voyager's shuttle loss tally)
Nutshell: In a word: "Dumb." Silly, pointless, and implausible to the extreme. Not completely unwatchable, mostly because it's so darn laughable, but this is some bad science fiction.
I want to extend my congratulations to the Voyager staff. They have come up with yet another claim to fame: They have created perhaps the longest streak of consecutive bottom-of-barrel episodes by supplying the back-to-back-to-back offerings of (1) "Darkling," a superficial, one-joke, pretentious hour of substance-free plotting; (2) "Rise," a horribly executed, by-the-numbers "adventure" outing; and now (3) "Favorite Son," an utterly predictable paradigm of pointlessness, characterized by some of the most sickening displays of shallow silliness since DS9's "Let He Who Is Without Sin...".
Since there's plenty bad to say about "Favorite Son," let me go ahead and discuss the few good elements to get them out of the way. First, this episode started out okay. I have no real objections to the first two acts. These acts, of course, focus on the "hints" of the premise; they lead up to the story that will eventually follow. In short, the early passages demonstrate Harry acting weird. He fires phasers on some aliens called the Nizari with no apparent justification, yet he's absolutely sure they were hostile and had planned to open fire on Voyager anyway—and later he is proven right. Further, the region of space Voyager is travelling through feels very familiar to him—he is certain he has been here before. He also has weird dreams and develops a strange "rash"—neither of which can be coincidental to his bizarre insights.
"Favorite Son" director Marvin V. Rush—a regular director of photography for Voyager who also directed last season's "The Thaw"—shows some panache in some of the early scenes. While this episode didn't have the bizarre visuals that allowed Rush to show off the way "Thaw" did, he still exhibited some camera angles (particularly some low-angle shots, use of rack focus, and some surreal qualities in the dream sequences) that managed to be interesting without being distracting.
Unfortunately, that's about all I have to say in praise of "Favorite Son." The rest of the episode did fairly well for making itself one of the laughingstocks of the series.
The "premise" is another one of those devices that drops a "major character revelation" upon us and hopes that we'll take it at face value and ponder it for a few minutes. In this case, Voyager ventures into a region of space that Harry is sure will provide safety from the pursuing Nizari. This area is inhabited by the Taresians, a race of friendly-seeming aliens (who are entirely too human-looking for the sheer convenience of the plot) with a population that is 90% female. The "major revelation": Harry is really a Taresian himself, driven by instinctual urges to return home.
According to the Taresians, Harry was conceived on Taresia and his embryo was then taken to Earth and used to impregnate a human woman without her knowledge. (How Harry's embryo was taken to Earth is never explained. Apparently the Taresians have very fast ships.)
So what exactly is the problem with the way "Favorite Son" unfolds? In a word, everything. This premise allows for more Fun With DNA [TM], as Harry begins transforming into a Taresian a la the "Threshold"-esque idea that rewriting DNA can do whatever an episode requires. When Harry and the Voyager crew are greeted on the Taresian homeworld, there's a standard, interminable stretch of dialog that explains "everything"—and, unfortunately, every guest star portraying a Taresian delivers a perfunctory, sub-par performance.
One fundamental problem with the "revelation" aspect is that, really, it's inevitable that it will all be undone by the end of the episode. Or, in the case of "Favorite Son," not even the end of the show; the story only goes for about 15 minutes after the "revelation" before it's reversed by plenty of Doc's technobabble—who explains that Harry is the victim of some sort of virus that was set by the Taresians to rewrite his DNA. Why? Because they need to trick him into living with them so he will add to their gene pool. Honestly, who really thought that the writers would go through with the story that Harry is an alien? (Heaven forbid, that would have consequences!) I didn't buy it for one second. I was just waiting for the scene where the creators would let themselves off the hook. And the scene I envisioned was straight out of the Voyager textbook and as predictable as I could've imagined—maybe even more so.
Ask yourself, what is the point of doing any of this? The real story is not about how Harry reacts to being told he isn't who he has always thought he is. No, the show only spends about five minutes on that, and those five minutes aren't really even effective. Rather, this story is simply about following the dumb plot machinations of Harry on a world full of women who try to coax him into their trap—and it's about as transparent and shallow as it can be.
Lisa Klink's monotonous teleplay proceeds into redundancy with one boring sight after another in which Taresian women massage, caress, and kiss Harry. The intention here, I think, was to add a sensual, seductive feel to the episode. Unfortunately, the portrayal here is simply bad. The story supplies these scenes in such excess that everyone comes off looking silly, and the whole thing gets very old very fast. Maybe if I had believed for a microsecond that Harry might actually fall into this trap then I would've been more open to it, but the execution was just too corny and uninspired to work.
"Favorite Son" also treats us to plenty of cliches. Ws. Within the episode there's an obligatory Alien Ritual Scene, as well as plenty of Stock Battle Footage and Hard-Headed Aliens of the Week. These are typical Trekkian devices—and I'm willing to accept them as such and I will praise them when they're used effectively. But here they just sit idly.
The plotting-by-the-numbers documents Harry's realization that his situation is not as it seems. Before long he learns that he is a victim in a scheme where he must be slaughtered and used for his raw cells, as one Taresian explains he must die because Taresian women "must enucleate a large number of cells to gather enough genetic material to ensure conception." Yeah, whatever. How awfully convenient for a jeopardy premise. The actress who informs Harry of his fate speaks this line like a robot. Further dialog suggests that Taresian men are so rarely born that Taresian women must create compatible mates from males of other species. My question: If these Taresians are really this desperately in need of reproduction, just how did they survive long enough to develop their own solution to their problem—the supposedly awesome feat of genetic engineering? If they are such geniuses of genetic engineering, why can't they control the X and Y chromosomes and give birth to more men?
And more questions: Just how did the Taresians know Harry was from a place called Earth? Why would the Voyager crew buy into the Taresians' story so easily? One would think Janeway, or somebody, would be suspicious of a race who claims to carry an embryo 70,000 light years to conceive a child—especially considering this child conveniently gets stranded in the Delta Quadrant so that he can meet his creators. No one bats an eye at any aspect of Harry's predicament—making it feel just as falsely manufactured as it truly is.
I also don't care for the idea that the Taresians genetically pre-program their offspring to hate the Nizari. Does this strike only me as counterproductive to solving a long-standing conflict? Still, how would even this lead Harry to be so sure the Nizari are about to fire on Voyager in the opening minutes of the show?
On its own banal terms, what this story ultimately comes down to is the attempt of a society to convince an individual into believing a lie by supplying a large amount of contrived persuasive evidence. This is a firmly established storytelling device, but I don't think I've seen it carried out with as much cheese as "Favorite Son" lays on. For a far superior example of such a story on Trek, see DS9's "Second Skin."
I really hate to be trashing Voyager like I have been recently. (Honestly, I don't have an axe I need to grind upon the series. I'm just trying to think about the show critically from week to week.) But the last three episodes have been so bad that I really have had no other choice but to derive enjoyment out of doling out really low scores and appropriately harsh wording.
I'm very worried about the future of Voyager. I won't say anything else about it at this point; we'll just have to see how things go the rest of the season. But any optimism I had for season three turning around the disturbing slump that season two began officially ends here.