Star Trek: Voyager
"Worst Case Scenario"
Air date: 5/14/1997
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Alexander Singer
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"All I'm saying is that there is room in every good story for a little bit of passion."
"You know, maybe you're onto something. I could add a steamy love scene between the Starfleet conn officer and the Maquis engineer."
"Oh, that's realistic."
— B'Elanna and Tom, discussing story ideas
Nutshell: Quite a bit of fun, but not nearly everything it could've been. The first half is superb; the second half is too typical, but features some clever ideas.
"Worst Case Scenario" has stretches of brilliant comic originality, and it could've been a real classic. I recommend this episode as it is anyway, but it could've been much more effective if it hadn't turned toward the more outlandish holodeck madness in its second half. By being more outlandish, "Worst Case Scenario" ends up, really, being all the more typical. But this is a good episode nonetheless, with some very clever scenes.
The first half of the episode is superb, as we're introduced to a brewing Maquis mutiny that turns out to be a holodeck simulation written by an anonymous author. Torres stumbles across the buried holo-novel while doing a routine purge of old files in the Voyager computer system. The program depicts a mutiny led by Chakotay and Seska, and is cleverly introduced. The show makes it appear as if the mutiny is really happening; Chakotay lets Torres in on the secret in the episode's teaser, and all hell breaks loose before the end of act one. Biller's script, however, subtly lets on that this is not really happening. Without completely giving away his hand, he drops hints, such as indications that this is early in Voyager's history (hence Janeway's reference to Chakotay taking command of the ship for the "first time"), and indications that this exists outside of reality (Chakotay inexplicably calling Torres "ensign").
It's the "what if" story of all "what if" stories on Voyager: What if the Maquis had really decided to take over Voyager back in the days of crew volatility? How would they have done it? Biller's script is interesting, because it plays with some of these questions, and even though it's obvious this is a simulation and not a real mutiny, the way events unfold still manages to be intriguing.
I also appreciated that Biller reveals the mutiny is really a holodeck simulation by the end of the second act. (It would've been fatal to play the joke as if it were real through the entire episode.) The story then begins asking who wrote this holo-novel and what their intentions were. And this is where "Worst Case Scenario" peaks in storytelling interest.
It's hard to keep a secret on a ship as small as Voyager, so it doesn't take long before half the crew is aware of—and individually participating in—the mutiny simulation program. The twist is that because of the controversial nature of the premise, no one wants to admit they're playing it. Janeway brings up the issue in staff meeting, where it's revealed that Tuvok wrote the simulation as a "worst case scenario" security training exercise. He had deleted it—or so he had thought—but it ended up getting buried in the system.
Now the holo-novel has a new meaning: Tuvok believes it could have a negative impact on the crew and the way they see each other. But Janeway disagrees. Being stranded in an isolated community means creating your own literary culture, so what's the harm in this self-depicting story of the crew if it's merely used for escapist entertainment?
Tuvok's holo-novel doesn't have an ending; it's incomplete, leaving everybody "hanging by a thread," as Paris remarks. Paris decides that he will pick up where the story left off and write his own ending to the story. In the episode's best and funniest scene, Paris begins brainstorming ideas in the mess hall, much to Tuvok's dismay. Paris' new ending: Janeway retakes the ship and decides to execute the mutineers. Tuvok's response (annoyed and shocked in a Tuvokian kind of way): "That is a completely implausible plot development."
Tuvok believes a story's events must flow from the actions of a character's established past. Paris thinks that if there's one thing that makes a story interesting, it's "unexpected plot twists." The beauty of this scene is the way it nods to the (extremely general) devices of writing a real story—like, say, a story for Star Trek: Voyager. I couldn't help but get the feeling that this scene was approaching elements of a self-parody.
The scene gets funnier when Torres enters the picture and tries to convince Paris and Tuvok to add some "passion"—to which Tuvok responds that they're not writing a "romance novel." Paris responds with a comment far more hilarious—because it's simultaneously obnoxious, sarcastic, and timely considering the past few weeks of Tom and B'Elanna's flirting.
Heck, even Neelix worked in most of his scenes, even if it was for the wrong reasons. Although I hate to say that it's a result of the character's own transparency, the way he makes story suggestions about his own character leads to moments of hilarity, because it displays other characters refusing to take him seriously. They just ignore his goofy remarks because they're not too important—which is surprisingly funny. When Neelix makes a suggestion "about the Neelix character," Tuvok can only dryly respond, "How surprising." I don't know why I found it so funny, but I did. I think it was Tim Russ' delivery of the line—I was just laughing so hard. (In a similar scene at the end of the episode, Neelix begins talking and all Captain Janeway can do is roll her eyes toward someone else in a look that screams of amused exasperation. I liked it a lot. Mulgrew, in fact, was a lot of fun to watch in this episode. Her expressions of restrained sarcasm and the laid-back attitude were thoroughly enjoyable.)
But I digress. It's around here that "Worst Case Scenario" becomes what might as well be a completely different story considering the massive shift in the direction of the narrative. The first half of the show is about the holo-novel and what it could mean to the crew. From here I hoped we would get more comedy continuing along the lines of what we'd already had. My hoped-for ending to the episode would've had Tuvok and/or Paris write the end of the program as planned. Then based on the story created, the crew would've been enlightened by the ideas that were conveyed. Perhaps Tuvok would've been proven right and the results of the story's mutiny would've challenged assumptions within the ship's crew, whether that be amongst the Starfleet crew, the Maquis crew, or both. Or subsets of either. I'm not saying the result would've had to lead to dissension or animosity. But it could've been funny, interesting, or even powerful.
No such luck.
Instead, we're given an all-too-typical "holodeck runs awry" paradigm, in which Tuvok and Paris become trapped in the holodeck (with the safeties off, naturally) because Seska had found and reprogrammed the simulation before she left the ship two years ago. She had set it to seal the holodeck and send her captors through a game of hell the next time it was accessed for a rewrite.
One thing that strains credulity is the reasoning behind Seska's preprogrammed takeover of the holodeck. In a word: Why? What possible motive could she have for this type of extreme programming effort? Pure sadism? Sure, Seska was deceitful, but I doubt she would take the effort to reprogram a holodeck simulation so that, in the unlikely event that Tuvok might reopen it for modification two years later, she could obtain some sort of elaborate revenge against him.
But I probably shouldn't ask such logical questions in such a preposterous plot. This half of the episode, though dramatically inept, is surprisingly entertaining. It's a series of set pieces featuring witty, sadistic humor, in which the Seska hologram sends Tuvok and Paris through a number of not-so-fun games. The "good guys" of the simulation aren't of much help—the holographic Janeway comes to the rescue with a phaser-rifle, which, due to Seska's manipulations, is prone to "malfunction." Janeway aims the phaser at Seska, pulls the trigger, and ends up vaporizing herself.
Still, my favorite (and I do mean favorite—it's so funny) is when Paris goes to the simulated sickbay to treat a wound for a simulated, safeties-off phaser shot. The Doctor of this sickbay isn't very nice. First he "treats" Paris with 20 cc's of nitric acid, and then he literally hurls Tuvok and Paris out of the sickbay. It's quite a scene—a mini-classic in my book.
Although I really could've done without this standard "crew members in jeopardy" motif, there's enough clever zip in this plot to make it worthwhile. One interesting idea is that in order to keep Tuvok and Paris from getting killed, Janeway and Torres must frantically alter small details in the program—changing the characters' personalities, adding convenient items to aid in crises. I rather liked the idea of Janeway as the literal deus ex machina.
Through all this, Martha Hackett's Seska still wears the evil grin better than anyone on the series I've seen. Her death this time around was much more interesting to see than her demise in "Basics, Part II," as Tuvok tricks her into firing a "malfunctioning" phaser. Still, Seska often suffers from the Fallacy of the Talking Killer—that is, all she has to do is order her followers to pull the trigger and she wins, but instead she delays just long enough (She says, "Fire on my order." Why "my order"? Why not just "Fire"?) to give Tuvok and Paris (and Janeway and Torres) time to act. Ah, well.
The two halves of "Worst Case Scenario," when you think about their intentions, are two completely different stories merely using a common plot device. The first half poses the question of what impact such a controversial holo-novel could have on the crew. The second half abandons all answers to those questions and becomes a thin, albeit fun, plot involving holodeck jeopardy. Overall it works surprisingly well, but it could've been so much more if it hadn't been so dumbed down.