Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"The Killing Game"

Part I: **1/2  Part II: **

Air date: 3/4/1998
Written by Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky
Part I directed by David Livingston
Part II directed by Victor Lobl

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"One day the Borg will assimilate your species, despite your arrogance. When that day arrives, remember me." — Seven to Hirogen "number two"

Nutshell: "Excessive" barely begins to describe it. This is overblown anarchy. And the story ultimately has nothing to show for it.

There's a part of me—the part that goes to see movies like Independence Day merely to witness entertainingly large-scaled destruction and mayhem—that enjoyed portions of "The Killing Game." Unfortunately, this is not the part of me that I consider my most socially responsible part, nor is it the part of me that typically writes these reviews week after week.

"The Killing Game," particularly its second half, is one of the most anarchic episodes of Star Trek ever created. It's not just anarchy in the sense that there's war and violence running amuck everywhere on board the starship Voyager; it's also anarchy in the sense that the plot is composed of what seems like thousands if not millions of disconnected little pieces trying to come together to make some sort of sense.

It's futile.

I'm rating the first part higher than the second because it doesn't push so hard as it unfolds and because it proves to be an adequate (if hardly compelling) setup for the premise. Its easygoing pace is refreshing and movie-like. And David Livingston seems to enjoy taking his time to focus on the little details of the French Resistance/World War II holodeck setting.

As for the second part ... well, that's when most of the anarchy sets in, turning the net result into a far-too-extreme two-part Voyager "event." Part two is, frankly, off its rocker—aimless and ill-conceived, yet somehow still moderately watchable and not completely horrid.

I'm not going to explain the plot in any sort of chronologically ordered detail, because there isn't really much "plot," per se, beyond the rudimentary frame for the action. As the episode opens we learn the Hirogen have taken over Voyager. Suffice it to say that the Hirogen leader (Danny Goldring) wants to learn some things about his "prey" by putting them into violent holodeck settings to see how they react. Furthermore, everyone involved is at the mercy of a neural device that makes them believe they're whomever the Hirogen program them to be. Therefore, everybody actually thinks they're the characters that they're playing.

This strikes me as a canned plot method for role-playing in a 20th-century setting, almost as if the Voyager writers decided they wanted to do "Far Beyond the Stars" for themselves. Unfortunately, the setting is put to very little dramatic use; instead, it merely becomes a wind-up toy. Most of the characters play various people in the French Resistance, residents of a town occupied by a Nazi presence. The town is on the verge of invasion by the Americans. You'd think with a premise like this there'd be room for some social relevance. But this story instead turns into a collection of bright ideas, with the crew members' identities changing on a moment's notice (under circumstances that would take far too long to explain), holodeck safeties being disabled, and, finally, the notion that WWII actually spills onto the decks of Voyager when the Hirogen lose control of their controlled situation. (They had installed holo-emitters on various decks of the ship—although why is never quite clear.)

Of course, there's also the bright idea of making Neelix a Klingon for his bout of role-playing in a second holodeck setting. I have no comment other than, "uh ... no." (Conversely, I thought Janeway's brief turn as a Klingon in the opening minute of the show was quite a bit of fun. I didn't even realize that it was Kate Mulgrew until after the Hirogen said, "Janeway requires medical attention.")

Meanwhile, the episode goes on to lay waste to half the ship for no other reason, I'm guessing, than because the creators felt they could. Only in "The Killing Game" will you see the holodeck wall blown apart, exposing multiple decks of the ship to the people inside the holodeck. Only in "The Killing Game" will you see Janeway blow up sickbay with a holographic bomb based on WWII technology. And only in "The Killing Game" will a group of holographic Klingons save the day by charging across from another holodeck simulation to slaughter the simulated German army.

Is this interesting to watch? Well, maybe for a while, but not for the length that it continues. Talking about it is kind of fun, just because it's so bizarre, absurd, and overlarge—or perhaps it's interesting to discuss for the same reasons I might be excited as I explain to my friends a car wreck I had just witnessed.

The fact of the matter is that watching this becomes tiring and eventually quite boring. By the time the latter stages of the second episode were rolling around, I was sick of the bloodless, pointless gunfights between the fictional armies. The whole exercise became ludicrous. Why was it happening? For some sort of dramatic purpose or storytelling point? No. It was happening because the contrivances of the plot made the holodeck break down so that it couldn't be stopped. Why couldn't the simulation simply be turned off? Because the commands were off-line, that's why. The fact that "the plug can't be pulled" is a very flimsy device to base the a story around, but that's exactly what "The Killing Game" does.

This is merely more fourth-season Voyager "fun." And it's shallow and inept. There really isn't much of a story here. It's just set piece after set piece, with a half-finished theme about Hirogen existence shoehorned in between the plot advances. The tragedy of it all is that the Hirogen theme was the only part of the show that really had any sort of emotional resonance. I found the Hirogen leader to be the story's sole interesting character. His methods were brutal and exploitative, but he had an urgent purpose for what he was doing. He was fascinated by the fantasy realm of the holodeck and what it could mean for his people, who are threatened with extinction as a result of their inability to change. Unfortunately, he goes the way of Ensign Suder—frustratingly knocked off by the writers to give rise to a "tragic" moment, abandoning all potential for him to teach his fellow Hirogen anything that would make them more interesting to us as viewers. He's killed by one of his own men, a casualty of his unconventional thinking. I guess it works in the sense that he's a victim of his own society's problems, but that doesn't change the fact that his death is based on plotting by the numbers.

There are also moments when this episode tries to thematically connect the Hirogen to the Nazis (both are groups who prey on others, but for different reasons), but it's unfortunately lost in a sea of madness, and relevant only for its obvious plot value: to turn the Hirogen number two (Mark Deakins) against his commander.

For good measure, the finale has Janeway being hunted through the Voyager corridors by the evil Hirogen number two. I thought the way she gained the upper hand on him was kind of clever, though part of me wishes Janeway had unloaded four or five shells into the evil Hirogen rather than just one. But that's probably the same part of me that revels in seeing New York City incinerated by a flaming alien fireball (see Independence Day example above).

So what happens when the moment of crisis is over and the holodeck armies vanish? Chakotay says, rather unceremoniously, "It's over. Let's go." I couldn't help but laugh at the anticlimax. Half the ship was lying in ruins, yet the characters just log it as another day at the office. And speaking of days at the office, raise your hand if you think the fact that "the damage to Voyager is extreme" will mean a damn thing beyond the one sentence that was used to acknowledge the fact. (You, in the back—put your hand down. You obviously weren't listening to a word I just said.)

Lastly, the truce at the story's end between the Voyager crew and the Hirogen isn't believable. It comes out of nowhere, half-explained in Janeway's log narration that the standstill in the fighting has provided the Hirogen with no other option. This strikes me as inconsistent with everything about the Hirogen we've learned. With the Hirogen leader dead, there's no dramatic basis for the truce to even happen, so the fact that the remaining Hirogen accept Janeway's peaceful resolution is nothing more than arbitrary.

As brain dead as "The Killing Game" (particularly part two) is, I didn't quite loathe it. I certainly didn't like it, but as an elaborate two hours of "fun" it manages to work in stretches, even though it's hopelessly nonsensical if you stop to think about it.

Ultimately, "The Killing Game" is a Holodeck Runs Awry paradigm—an oft-dreaded TNG cliche reconceived and ante-upped by Voyager. But because Braga and Menosky didn't seem content with only one cliche, they had to throw in a change in time periods, lots of crew members behaving as other people, an alien takeover premise, lots and lots of holodeck gags, gunfire, Jeri Ryan singing, explosions, double-crosses, Hirogen politics, more gunfire, and plenty of general mayhem. It's ... just ... too ... much.

The result is a disjointed, nearly incoherent mess. A mess that doesn't add up to mean much of anything. The more I think about my ratings, the more generous they seem. But I'm not going to change them, because this is an episode that demands to simply be viewed and then not thought of the slightest bit afterward. The technical credits are impressive, if that's any consolation.

So, goodbye, Hirogen. You're another Trekkian alien race for the books, and you won't be particularly missed. You got to appear in five episodes, but you're still nothing more than another entry into the log of Stock Delta Quadrant Aliens.

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38 comments on this review

indijo - Tue, Jan 1, 2008 - 5:33am (USA Central)
I'd like to know exactly how a race of Hunters not the least bit concerned in anything but hunting prey and killing them for trophies, ever managed to tackle enough math and science to develop technology for traveling in outer space. Now, that's a story waiting be told.
mlk - Fri, Jan 11, 2008 - 3:24pm (USA Central)
Well I hate to agree with evil nazi aliens but that guy who threatened Neelix is my hero
Dirk Hartmann - Fri, May 2, 2008 - 5:43am (USA Central)
I think that this probably could have been a great single hour episode. They just threw too many things into this two-parter. Especially dropping the whole "Klingon" part would have given the story a lot more focus. In the end, I still liked it for the St. Clair restaurant scenes alone.
Dan - Sun, May 4, 2008 - 11:07pm (USA Central)
This episode was crap. This show was crap. Everything about this show just reeked of bullshit and other assorted piles of shit.
Bob - Thu, Jul 17, 2008 - 3:25pm (USA Central)
What is it with bad episodes of Star Trek and Nazi aliens???
Bella - Fri, May 8, 2009 - 2:04pm (USA Central)
Actually, the reason they're installing all the holoemitters it mentioned: they want to extend the holodecks.
Abhiroop Basu - Wed, May 20, 2009 - 9:32pm (USA Central)
Another "holodecks can do anything you want them to" episode. Really annoys me everytime I see the things in the holodeck being able to basically become 100% real (once the safeties are off of course - why would you even have this option? Who in their right minds would want to switch of the safeties?)
Jay - Sat, Aug 1, 2009 - 11:25pm (USA Central)
Neelix did make an awful Klingon...he looked much better as a Ferengi in "False Profits".
Nic - Wed, Sep 23, 2009 - 9:30am (USA Central)
You were wrong, Jammer: the Hirogen did return, albeit three years later.

I think the problems with this episode are the same problems that were present in "Our Man Bashir": that the plot is so OBVIOUSLY just a contrived means to get our characters to do things they wouldn't normally do. And While "Our Man Bashir" was a copy/parody of James Bond, this wasn't really a copy of anything, which really made it quite refreshing. Plus, Jeri Ryan sings! Isn't that worth an extra star?

And I'm so sick of people complaining about the damage to Voyager being too easy to repair. DS9 was attacked by an entire fleet of Klingon ships in "The Way of the Warrior" and never looked worse for wear, nor was it ever mentioned that they needed outisde help.
Gretchen - Fri, Nov 13, 2009 - 11:58am (USA Central)
Nic,
In "The Way of the Warrior," we saw Starfleet ships dock at DS9 after that battle, so we can assume they were able to offer any repair work that was needed (even if it wasn't mentioned on screen). TOS & TNG often did repair work to their Enterprises off-screen as well, because, like DS9, the audience knew they had access to Federation supplies.
Voyager did not, so that's what makes it a series-wide plot hole.
Michael - Sat, Jun 19, 2010 - 4:57am (USA Central)
I'm just watching Voyager again and got so put out by this pile of crap that I had to find a place to vent.

OMG, a WW2 setting. How convenient. Not the 100-year war, not the Crusades, not some ancient battle between the Egyptians and whoever, not some fray on Vulcan... And Paris, of course, knows AAAAAAALL about WW2. How many of us would be able to know WTF is going on in the Crimean War if we were transported there? And Seven, when her neuro-whatever implant is removed, has no idea who the Nazis were, despite her encyclopedic knowledge of all assimilated facta. A Klingon Neelix. An Allied "captain" Chakotey. I guess we should be grateful that this time he didn't bust out his mat and rocks, and started doing that "acushla moya, we're far from the spirits of our buffalo" bullshit.

Forget the plot and the premise and all; the bottom line is: WTF is a sci-fi series doing even mentioning, let alone basing TWO episodes on, the World War Two?!? I want Star Trek to be about the future technology and exploration, not repackaged conflicts from centuries previously (Civil War and the Q, anyone?) or flirtatious games between Paris and Torres or Neelix/Seven/Kim/The Doctor "finding" themselves.

Speaking of the Doctor, whenever I remember that Schweitzer/Schmalus phase of him, it just cracks me up no end!!

To conclude: When the plot makes it necessary to go back in time or refer to history, can it possibly NOT be 20th century Earth???

O.K., rant over. But you'll be hearing from me again, I suspect. I'm only down to season 4!
Ryan - Sun, Aug 29, 2010 - 6:04pm (USA Central)
Why Nazis? Easy, as characters they are regarded as safely evil. Nearly everyone regards them as indisputably "bad" guys. Voyager as a show wants you to have that crystal clear evil upon which to focus.

Can you imagine a similar story line assembled around jews & muslims, or perhaps Vietnam?
Jake Taylor - Thu, Feb 10, 2011 - 7:36pm (USA Central)
I agreee this episode was very poor and the resolution made no sense. Especially the end when Harold Kim blows up all the holoemitters and then bad guys and guns disappear, but the hologreaphic world they are in is still there. I was expecting they drop down at least 6 feet or more to the floor of the deck, depending on where they were standing on the street. Either way this ending was just plain awful. Awful to begin with and more awful to end. 1 star, one.
Captain Jim - Tue, Apr 19, 2011 - 10:33pm (USA Central)
I'll agree that these episodes weren't that great, and certainly didn't warrant a two-parter. However, whereas Jammer seemed to prefer the first episode, I thought the second part was better. IMO, the first part just dragged something unmercifully and didn't seem to be going anywhere. At least we got some action in the second part.

One redeeming aspect of part one, though. I did enjoy Jeri's singing. And it was nice to see her with her hair let down too.
Destructor - Sun, Aug 7, 2011 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
Watched this last night and laughed the whole way through. Yes, Jammer, it's FUN. It's fun! All of your reviews for Voyager seem to revolve around the fact that it's not the show you wanted it to be. But I'm not sure that means you are judging the show on it's merits. Being 'fun' is actually a big plus sign in my book. No, it's not as quality as DS9. But it sure is fun. I like fun.
Elliott - Fri, Nov 11, 2011 - 1:06am (USA Central)
You people are so jaded.

Let's see. Remember that early scene when the Hirogen number 1 and their doctor discuss the possibility of Janeway being aware of her identity through her persona as the Klingon?

That is the crux of the episode(s) and fits perfectly in with Voyager's (real) premise. There are some issues with the execution (see Chakotay's reaction in part II), but the strength of this episode has to do with the strong identity of these archetypal characters. This show KNOWS it's mythology, and so it puts a myth inside the myth, framed within the admittedly fun historical context of WWII France.

As it is Star Trek, there is also the connection drawn between the Nazis and the Hirogen, but it's not so black and white as you paint it; what the Hirogen have lost is identity, focus, greatness. The Nazis, however evil, were certain of their divine purpose. It is the intrinsic nature of purpose, based on mythical archetypes which gives Star Trek and Voyager its identity, which fascinates the Hirogen number 1 and represents a hope for his people who have lost their culture. Culture. That is what the mythos of things like Star Trek provide a society. I could keep going on this vein of intriguing ideas which this episode generates. And those ideas are fresh with each viewing. That means, to me anyway, that it's a success of Star Trek episode. It is far from perfect, but much of the "excess" is so palpably enjoyable (see for example Doc and Neelix cheering on the attacking Klingons) it's hard to find fault with the superficial nature of these minor plot elements.

Part Ii is a bit of a disintegration, and the ending is, well, weird. I can see giving part II 2.5 stars and part I 3 or 3.5. Much like TNG's "Unification," Part II abandons a great deal of the philosophical headway made in part I.
David H. - Thu, Jan 26, 2012 - 12:18am (USA Central)
Agreed, Elliott - geez, you'd think everybody hated this show the way some of these reviews read. These kinds of shows are a treat for the cast and crew, and offer fans a new perspective on familiar characters. The holodeck is the means of getting the pieces in place. I personally prefer not to obsess about the capabilities and limitations of this fictional technology. I accept it as a means to an end, and I think once they established the WW II setting the story was entertaining and, as Elliott observed, had a message that was clear (no anarchy that I can see, Jammer) and classic 'Star Trek.'
V - Fri, Jan 27, 2012 - 1:07am (USA Central)
@indijo

Ever heard of "german ingenuity" WW2 the nazi technology was superb for a bit and honestly had great ideas. The problem was they tackled it all ideas at once. While USA picked a couple of ideas only and then kept making it better and better. At some point USA caught up with the germans tech wise and help win the war. In essence the Hirogen would've been the most tech advanced in delta quadrant if they weren't hunting. But that doesn't mean that the human way of progress (cooperation and peace) is the only way - in fictional universe look at klingons. Warlike but with warp tech. Honestly a lot of scientific progress happen faster during war or threat of it... Hirogen are hunters. They need to be tech savvy to prey in the first place-just like invention of spears, cannons, guns, etc. to "hunt".

So to your question, yes very possible.
Mister P - Wed, Apr 4, 2012 - 2:01am (USA Central)
I enjoy reading these reviews, but I don't understand the rating system. How does "one of the most anarchic episodes of Star Trek ever created" get 2 - 2 1/2 stars? A "not completely horrid" episode should get less than 2 stars.
Justin - Sat, Apr 21, 2012 - 7:02pm (USA Central)
It's because of episodes like this that the trite phrase, "jump the shark" was ever coined.

Voyager did indeed jump the shark here. "The Killing Game Part II" is Voyager's version of Happy Days' "Hollywood, Part 3 of 3."
duhknees - Wed, Jul 4, 2012 - 12:54pm (USA Central)
I don't know that I'd give these episodes any more stars, but I would like to agree with those who see the episode as fun. I also think it's very Trekkian, with its portrayal of the good guys as cleverly subversive, always the rebels. Americans have always pictured themselves as underdogs, fighting for freedom. We're at our best when we're captured, behind the 8 ball. Hence Hogan's Heroes, Star Wars, and characters like Han Solo, John McClane. Hell, Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis wouldn't have careers without that character. Science fiction is not about science; it's about people, society, politics, philosophy, religion, just hidden in an unfamiliar but safe world of the future.
Elphaba - Wed, Oct 3, 2012 - 6:53am (USA Central)
You people need to lighten up and get that stick out of your ass. This episode was fun. Pure and simple. Sure it could have been done better as just one part, but it doesn't matter. The French resistance scenario was fun to watch. I enjoy these holodeck episodes for their entertainment value. Sure they create false conflict, but seeing our characters in these holodeck situations makes for a nice break from the sci fi action. I thought the same thing for Our Man Bashir and Badda-Bing, Badda-Boom.

No, Voyager is nowhere near as good as DS9, but it really does have its moments, and I think this was one of them. It's just a fun holodeck episode, and I don't think it pretends to be anything more. Just take it at face value and enjoy it for what it is.
Bryan - Thu, Oct 4, 2012 - 6:11am (USA Central)
Agree with Elphaba- Actually been saying that all along. Seems some people want to analyze more than enjoy and that begs the question: Is it always so horrid when the show wants to give the viewers something entertaining and other than the norm? I'm more surprised by posts saying how much this show stinks and how they hate it- why watch it then? And why come to a review site on the show and post about it? I never liked DS9 and even though I've watched quiet a few episodes ( I'm trying to like it Lol) you won't see me go to a review site on it and state how much I hate it. Lighten up people.
Bryan - Thu, Oct 4, 2012 - 6:13am (USA Central)
Yeah yeah I know- people have the right to post whatever they want. I'm just boggled on why they would watch a show they hate?
Latex Zebra - Fri, Jan 4, 2013 - 10:47am (USA Central)
I hate top agree with Elliot... Just kidding.

I like both parts of this. Good, big boombastic fun.
W Smith - Mon, Apr 1, 2013 - 1:36pm (USA Central)
That was simply awful. I like fun, but I can't totally turn off my brain to have fun. The plot holes and increasing ridiculousness of the conflict's nature on the ship and holodecks were painfully obvious and made the episodes silly and empty. Why would the Hirogen need to declare a truce? They had the upper hand clearly and four other ships surrounding Voy. It was an insultingly pat ending.
Adara - Wed, Apr 3, 2013 - 4:02am (USA Central)
The thing that bugged me most about this episode was why did Harry Kim set a 9 minute countdown? Why not just destroy the holographic weapons right away?
Michael - Sat, Apr 6, 2013 - 3:16am (USA Central)
I'm a little annoyed at how freely Janeway was handing out Starfleet tech at this stage. In season one, she could have avoided all manner of mayhem with the Kazon if she'd offered up a replicator or two, but then it was all 'death first before we destroy your culture with tech you're not ready for'. Now she literally says, "Here's a free holodeck DIY guide...if you don't want it, meh, just hang it on your wall." a few eps back, she wanted to trade isolinear computer chips for some weapons upgrades. Plus we have seen in the dinosaurs episode that Voyager has been leaving tricorders and other junk behind like a trail of freaking breadcrumbs. WTF, Janeway?!
Zephram Cockring - Thu, May 23, 2013 - 10:33am (USA Central)
Not to mention the thin white line of semen extending from the holodeck ejection ports, leaving a trail hundreds of light years long.
navamske - Sun, May 26, 2013 - 11:15am (USA Central)
Hey, the mid-twentieth-century German-occupied French village looks exactly like the town of Fair Haven! What were the odds?
Lt. Yarko - Mon, Jul 1, 2013 - 1:18am (USA Central)
Was that Jeri Ryan actually singing? (shudder) Something was way wrong with it. It was like each line was worked on and recorded separately. The vibrato was extreme. Weird.

This was a painful episode to watch. I didn't buy that the Hirogen would do any of this even if one of them was going through a sort-of enlightenment. "I feel like our way of life will get us nowhere." (sensible.) "So, let's violently abuse these humans over and over again " (huh? some renaissance.)

And there goes Elliott again. When everyone else in the world doesn't like a star trek episode that he likes, there is just something wrong with them. In this case, we are "jaded". (snicker) Look, I can enjoy a crappy Star Trek episode like anyone else. But this one was was just too disjointed and unbelievable. That's it. I didn't like it. Deal with it. Now to part 2.
Lt. Yarko - Mon, Jul 1, 2013 - 2:39am (USA Central)
Part 2: Inconceivable and downright boring. So much effort put into it for no payoff at all. Depressing. And B'Elanna's pregnant belly was a hologram? Attached to her body? (sigh)
Jack - Thu, Aug 1, 2013 - 4:48pm (USA Central)
@ Lt. Yarko

Yeah, it's ludicrous that a holographic could be projected into B'Ehlanna that perfectly stays aligned as she moves. I guess they improved the technology since Neelix had to stay perfectly still to maintain a holographic lung in place.
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 8:32am (USA Central)
I think people have overlooked the positive message here... that a Hirogen (a previously 2 dimensioned alien if ever there was one) seeks to advance his species by moving the hunt to the holodeck...

Gives us some more depth on Hirogens, shows them interested in learning about their prey's culture and mindset (which is why we're in WWII).

And I think Neelix as Klingon was amusing.

This was a good, message-based episode.
Nick - Mon, Oct 28, 2013 - 1:56pm (USA Central)
Just one tiny small plot hole...WHERE WAS THE REST OF THE CREW? How many died? Nevermind, hit the reset switch, just another day in the alpha quadrant.
Jay - Thu, Jan 9, 2014 - 9:34am (USA Central)
@ Nick...

Indeed...Naomi Wildman springs to mind here. Was she fighting toddler Klingons, or just left to starve to death in her quarters?
Amanda - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 6:44pm (USA Central)
Nick, I believe the rest of the crew was stated by a Hirogen to be under lock and key (the ones who weren't maintaining ship or on holodeck.) You saw some in sick bay too. A crew compliment in the end would have helped the viewers. Example in the Captain's log it would have been a good time to along with "Damage to Voyager has been extreme" she did mention losses on both issues but it was flat.

I enjoyed this episode but I remember when this first aired " how many times are we going to do the almost lost my ship routine?
And WHY give technology away when you miraculously manage a cease fire without that on the table? *face palm*

Peter Konrad - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 5:04am (USA Central)
This reviewer has made a conscious effort to avoid understanding what the episodes are about.

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