Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Scientific Method"


Air date: 10/29/1997
Teleplay by Lisa Klink
Story by Sherry Klein & Harry Doc Kloor
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"You are security chief. Don't 13 department heads report to you every day?
"Well, then straighten them out."
"Shall I flog them as well?"

— An on-edge Janeway and a sarcastic Tuvok

Nutshell: Sporadically amusing and sometimes even entertaining in a sophomoric kind of way, but mostly just bad.

Well, here's hoping that "Scientific Method" fulfills our Fun With DNA [TM] requirement for season four, just as "Threshold" did for second season and "Favorite Son" did for third season. It's somewhat worrying that Voyager would supply its inept DNA episode this early in the season, for there's a long way to go. There had better not be another one.

Why do the writers do this? The DNA mutation premise makes for incredibly contrived and weak drama (or is that "drama"?)—and has become one of the most dreaded of Voyager cliches. I'll admit this installment is probably one of the more tolerable examples of playing with DNA (especially when "Threshold" and "Favorite Son" are the other noteworthy alternatives), but probably only because it abandons the DNA mumbo-jumbo to turn to another—if only slightly better—story premise. The sickbay scenes with Doc explaining his "startling" findings are thoroughly worthless and extremely tired—I found myself saying "No, no, please no" to my TV set through most of these scenes (especially the opening of act two when we find out Chakotay has suddenly aged to an old man, at which point I wanted to throw objects at the screen). Who in the world finds this sort of stuff genuinely interesting? Remotely believable? At all insightful or relevant to the characters in any way? Not me, times three.

How goes the game known as the "plot" this time around? Well, it's funny, because the plot runs around like a decapitated chicken nearly as bad as "Coda" did last season. It jumps around, disjointed, shifting narrative focus all too frequently, as if it were written piece by piece by a committee and thrown together with total disregard to any kind of aesthetic story structuring. It's strange, because this quality of jerry-rigged plotting typifies many of the really bad Voyager offerings. In such cases the story can never decide which characters are important and which aren't; rather, it just tosses everybody into the mix and gives them a few key actions and then shoves them aside when they no longer serve a convenient purpose. These aren't people—they're plot pawns.

The episode's first act is its best, centering around the relationship between Paris and Torres. The story depicts them as rather juvenile. They can't keep their hands off one another. They make out in public locations, trying and failing to remain hidden and discreet. (Tuvok catches them in the act of a PDA, which is good for some laughs.) There's a two-minute scene in a turbolift where Tom and B'Elanna discuss entering the briefing room separately, as to avoid suspicion. Too bad their behavior has been so adolescent that everybody already knows about them anyway. The scene where Janeway busts them for their behavior was both appropriate and fun ... the only problem is that the whole premise is so sophomoric. (And, at that rate, I probably mean high-school level.) I'll admit that it's reasonably amusing, as are other parts of the show (which I'll get to in a moment)—but it's also lowbrow and dumb. And if you think about it, you begin to wonder if the characters would really do what the story has them do.

But never mind; that's only act one. (Indeed, the most watchable scenes are the ones featuring Tom and B'Elanna that bookend the episode, probably because (a) the scenes actually exist in normal reality, and (b) they maintain a believable chemistry with a sarcastic edge that has typified the two characters' friendship in the past.) Act two is when the show really begins to take its unfortunate form, beginning with the DNA stuff (which is truly awful) before turning on a dime in act three and getting a little, though not a whole lot, better. It turns out the mutations are being caused by a race of aliens who are walking around the ship conducting bizarre medical experiments, using some sort of phase-cloak technology to hide themselves. I won't go into the way Doc discovers this crucial information—it's far too elaborate and mired in technobabble to waste words in describing.

Suffice it to say that Doc has to hide out in the holodeck to avoid deactivation by the alien intruders. He then contacts Seven by tuning into an audio implant in her brain, then recruits her in an effort to quietly and carefully investigate the alien threat. The aliens could be anywhere, so Seven has to begin the secret assignment alone.

There are a couple neat ideas in here, like Doc's "retuning" of Seven's optical implants so that she—and she alone—can see the cloaked aliens. At this point the story shows signs of becoming interesting, as it reveals the aliens are everywhere, following the crew around and studying them like lab rats. I also somewhat enjoyed the effects of the alien experiments on Janeway: They give her headaches and increase her stress level, wondering where her breaking point is. This causes Janeway to be short-tempered and on-edge throughout the episode. Kate Mulgrew's performance is engaging and believable. But it's also ultimately futile, because then I have to ask myself why such characterizations can't be caused by a real-life situation instead of a goofy, contrived premise.

And so on. The interest of Seven's quiet search isn't allowed to build for more than a few minutes before the alien plot is uncovered and the narrative careens off in a new direction. That direction is an attempted and failed diplomacy when Janeway tries to reason with one of the uncovered alien intruders. It turns out these pesky people are studying Janeway's crew in the interests of important medical research, never mind that the lab rats are mutilated or killed in the process. And, of course, because these are Hard-Headed Aliens of the Week [TM]—Voyager cliche #2 for you—everything Janeway says falls on deaf ears. Ultimately, we get Janeway's, "Sorry. These lab rats are fighting back," a line that seems wanting to scream "TAGLINE! TAGLINE!" so bad it's merely hokey. The alien responds that if they don't get cooperation, "The entire experiment and its subjects will be terminated."

Terminated? But of course, they say. Screw it, I say. "By the numbers," can you say? "FORCED CONFLICT," per se?

By miracle, this scene avoids turning into a lame 20th-century allegory on the morality of using research animals, something that it very seriously looked like it was going to become. At least the creators dodged that bullet.

After the negotiation attempt, Janeway watches one of her crew members die because of side effects of alien research, which fuels the fire inside her ("This ends right now!"), driving her over the edge into a manic take-no-prisoners, I-have-had-enough attitude. The captain locks in a course straight toward a pair of binary stars, refusing to budge until the aliens leave, period. The aliens, not willing to call Janeway's bluff, take the hint and leave. This finale is more energetic and madcap in nature than the show probably deserves. And I must admit that I actually enjoyed Janeway's role as the badass of the week. Mulgrew proves engaging, even if completely insane. But, again, the ending proves entertaining in only the most sophomoric of ways. I cheered the destruction the bad guys' ship because I didn't like their smugness and wanted to see them get their just desserts. Beyond that I probably couldn't care less about any payoff in the plot.

At the very least, "Scientific Method" seems to have learned from "Favorite Son" not to take itself too seriously. While I wouldn't call this a comedy, I would say that at least some of it is tongue-in-cheek (like the scene, for example, where mutant-Chakotay and mutant-Neelix sit in sickbay trying to one-up the other in the tale of who is worse off). That makes it at least bearable, rather than almost completely unwatchable, like "Favorite Son" turned out to be. I hate the fact that the plot is so hopelessly transparent and stupid that it knows nothing that happens within itself really means anything ... but at least it's honest enough to admit as much.

Next week: Part one of the anticipated "Year of Hell."

Previous episode: The Raven
Next episode: Year of Hell, Part I

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34 comments on this review

Immanuel - Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - 9:53pm (USA Central)
I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. I've always liked "Scientific Method" and I'd give it solid 2.5-star rating.

I honestly don't mind the DNA Hijinks here. Now, if the *whole episode* focused on this aspect of the plot, with everyone getting a different makeup job, I wouldn't be defending it.

And I agree that the genetic experiments on the crew were way over the top...a little subtlety would've been an improvement.

But the visuals of these "cloaked" aliens studying the crew were fantastic. It's a really cool and original concept. And I have to say that I adore both Badass Janeway and Death-Cheatin' Janeway, and this episode features both of them. :-)
Bill T - Sun, Jan 6, 2008 - 6:28pm (USA Central)
Agreed with Immanuel - this should be much higher than 1.5 stars, more like 2.5-3. Your comments about this being a "DNA episode" are fairly unfounded. It was certainly used, but is mainly just a plot-enabling device, and far from being the heart of the episode.

If I had any criticism, it would be the strong similarity to the TNG episode "Where Silence Has Lease" (which you gave 3 stars by the way) - another where aliens treat the crew like lab rats. Particularly the part where the powerless captain sees the death of the nameless bridge officer, flips out and takes an extreme course of action to stop it.

Anyway, 9 years later and the essential story still works, probably as well as "Silence", but with a new twist. Seeing (through Seven's eyes) interphasic aliens roaming the ship, watching the crew haplessly go about their routines as bizarre experiments are run on them, and Seven's required dispassionate reaction to it all - very smart, and creepy. And of course, "Captain Insaneway" comes out in full force here (with an actual REASON for her insanity this time!) and it works brilliantly.

A lot of the banter/dialogue is actually well written (unusual for Voyager) - the pairings of Tuvok/Janeway, Seven/Doctor, Chakotay/Neelix and Paris/Torres, all mostly successful and at times brilliant. The juxtaposition of horror and comedy is also unusual and well done. I can't help but chuckle at the dialogue for the Chakotay/Neelix sickbay scene, even though I usually don't like their characters, and Tuvok's comments were some of the best. "(Reckless was) a poor choice of words. Clearly it was an understatement!"

And the ending, the climactic "screw YOU!" to the villains of the hour is a vicarious experience for most, I would imagine. Who hasn't felt powerless like that at one time or another? "I don't think you realize - you are NOT in CONTROL HERE ANY LONGER!"

Very fun, lots of replay value. One of the better episodes.
Daniel - Fri, Feb 1, 2008 - 5:08pm (USA Central)
I didn't like the first half of this episode, but the crew's reactions to the aliens in the second half, and especially the part where they almost destroy the ship, completely redeems the episode.
Stefan - Fri, Mar 7, 2008 - 6:49pm (USA Central)
This was a fine episode, except for the Animal Rights Propaganda part of the plot. This is made clear by Captain Janeway's reference to the crew being "lab rats."
Dirk Hartmann - Sat, Apr 26, 2008 - 5:35am (USA Central)
I agree with everyone here. This episode deserves something like 2 1/2 to 3 stars. The DNA stuff was only mildly distracting this time. There were so many aspects of the show that were done *right*. For example, Seven walking through the corridors finding the aliens conduct experiments on the unaware crew ... after all these years, I still get the shivers thinking of that scene.
indijo - Sat, May 24, 2008 - 4:55pm (USA Central)
I'm a big fan of the variable permutations and possible uses of cloaking technology, and this episode appears to present a unique variation, so i liked it. I give it 3 stars. I loved the way the Doctor and Seven exposed the aliens and the way Janeway suddenly decided to eliminate them.
Damien - Sat, Mar 21, 2009 - 11:50am (USA Central)
I have to echo the other posters' opinions – I too thought it was a very good episode, worthy of three stars. I didn't have a problem with the DNA thing, as it really wasn't important at all. In the Trek universe you expect to see people being taken over or transformed into something else, and back again, so no biggie.

The central notion was pretty cool – that the crew were being experimented on without their knowledge and seeing them walk around with all manner of contraptions strapped to their person without them being aware was very cool.

The main problems I would cite would be the rationale for these experiments in the first place. How would an alien species gain useful medical knowledge to benefit their own species by experimenting on a totally alien species (humans) which would have a totally a different physiology and psychology?

And why would they be so intransigent and threaten to kill everyone unless they cooperated? Why not just leave after being found out? I guess no drama in that...

I always enjoy seeing Tom and B'Elanna together and I loved them here too. The 'sophomoric' aspects of their relationship didn't bother me at all, in fact, it was somewhat of a highlight. What new relationship doesn't at times go through such a stage, regardless of age? It was fun and nicely done. So overall, a fine ep.
matt - Thu, Apr 30, 2009 - 7:46pm (USA Central)
I think Janeway's solution makes up for the other shortcomings in the episode. It always reminds me of Picard's solution in Where Silence Has Lease where he also decides the only way to defeat an evil enemy who has complete control over your ship is to risk sacrificing your entire crew. An elegant and moral solution to what appears to be a hopeless impossible situation.
John Pate - Wed, Jan 20, 2010 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
I enjoyed it, a lot of fun. I liked the binary pulsar. The real plot flaw was that the aliens would surely have sabotaged the Doctor very early on in the proceedings, way before the events depicted.

Jeri Ryan was awesome, as ever.
Nic - Fri, Feb 5, 2010 - 10:28am (USA Central)
Why is an allegory on animal research "lame"? My one problem with this episode is that the allegory isn't given the attention it deserved. Animal testing is a very serious debate that has been going on since the 19th century. I particularly like mark Twain's quote "I am not interested to know whether Vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't. The pains which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity towards it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further." Of course, no TV episode could ever top H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" but it would have been nice too see episodes like this one and "Nothing Human" have more resonant dialogue.
Dan - Tue, Feb 22, 2011 - 12:22am (USA Central)
This was a good episode jammer. Perhaps you should watch it again
Captain Jim - Thu, Apr 7, 2011 - 11:16pm (USA Central)
Yeah, I'm with the majority of those who have commented before me. This was a great episode. There have been a lot of stories of UFO aliens doing secret experiments on human beings in the 20th century and I thought this episode was a great take off on that. Sorry, Jammer. You're right on so often, but when everybody else seems to disagree with you (as here), I'd say that makes you wrong.
John - Thu, May 19, 2011 - 10:13pm (USA Central)
Can't be with you on this one Jammer. This was one of the season's best. Easily 3.5 or 4 stars here.
Destructor - Wed, Jul 6, 2011 - 1:48am (USA Central)
I quite liked it- it certainly doesn't deserve 1.5 stars, Jammer.
Carbetarian - Thu, Aug 4, 2011 - 12:38am (USA Central)
I can't believe so many people liked this episode! Jammer, I completely agree with everything you said in this review. This episode was totally sophomoric and lame. I stopped paying attention after Chakotay started whining about his hair loss in sick bay.
Josh - Wed, Oct 5, 2011 - 4:57pm (USA Central)
I agree with many of the other posters - the premise may be stupid, but it's entertaining in a crazy nonsensical way. The character moments are amusing and well conceived.

Having said that, the scene where the crewmember dies on the bridge had me shaking my head. She's in cardiac arrest and Janeway does a few ineffectual chest compressions (less than 10 or so!) and calls it a day. There's no crash cart on the bridge? And the Doctor doesn't do anything?? I should also mention that "hypertensive shock" is an oxymoron.

Still, fun episode!
Jay - Sun, Dec 4, 2011 - 3:13pm (USA Central)
Pretty much TNG's "Schisms" again.

This one is about as good as that one, I'd give each probably 2.5 stars.
chris - Fri, Mar 30, 2012 - 9:38am (USA Central)
A great and fun episode, with some nice lines, especially the "reckless" dialog between Janeway and Tuvok, just after the Voyager escaped the binary system.And yes, I cheered when I saw the alien ship exploded.

Jeri Ryan was a great add to the show, her character is way better than Kes.

I so much love Voyager! :)))
Justin - Wed, Apr 11, 2012 - 11:43am (USA Central)
I'm tired of these "high concept," boring, boring, BORING technobabble plots. I'm also sick to death of Bad-Guys-Of-The-Week aliens who have no motivation other than "because we can."

And no, this episode isn't as nearly as good as "Schisms," which was a good psychological thriller that built a fair amount of tension. Also, the aliens in "Schisms" were mysterious and seemed a genuine threat. Their motivation was curiosity about a realm of space they had never encountered before. "Scientific Method" was simply ludicrous. It relied too much on tired Trek cliches, cartoonishly evil bad guys, and PFTTB (Plot Furtherance Through Technobabble).

If it weren't for "Captain Insaneway" it would be almost completely unwatchable.
Paul York - Sun, Apr 22, 2012 - 2:25am (USA Central)
Star Trek is at its best when it is asking tough ethical questions, so I have to strongly disagree with the writer of the above blog that the comparison with the ethics of animal experimentation is "lame." It is anything but. Experimentation on humans is equally morally wrong as experimentation on non-humans, and this episode -- like TOS's pilot and the TNG episode with Riker's re-attached arm -- is very profound as a statement on a form of evil that human beings still engage in, but should not. As Janeway says in this episode, humanity evolved enough to see that it is wrong to exploit other beings. This is also why Riker, in TNG, at one point tells an alien race that humans no longer eat animals. The moral lesson of this episode is very important and not to be taken lightly. I think episodes like this one are among the best that ST has to offer. The idea that humanity could and will evolve morally, as well as technologically, is very much a part of the attraction of the show.
milica - Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
I have to disagree with you Jammer - as most posters here I liked this episode.
Bryan - Wed, Oct 3, 2012 - 4:32am (USA Central)
Another disagreement here- I liked this episode as well. Kinda wondering why most hostile alien episodes on this site get bad reviews?
TDexter - Sat, Dec 1, 2012 - 2:18pm (USA Central)
This episode was classic pulp sci-fi and highly enjoyable. I would have given it a higher rating. It reminded me of "They Live" (the 1988 film with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper). It was by no means original or thought-provoking--but so what?
Corey - Mon, Feb 25, 2013 - 4:43pm (USA Central)
Jammer, I believe this is a great show - 2.5/3 on your rating scale. What makes this great, is not really what the aliens are doing but rather the crew's reaction to it. I liked a lot of the characterization and dialog, and Tuvok's and Janeway's dialog right after the aliens left was just priceless. While Chakotay aging and the restore exactly as he was, was a stretch, there's plenty of precedent for it in TNG.
Jo Jo Meastro - Sun, Apr 7, 2013 - 12:40pm (USA Central)
I must agree with many of the above comments who say this was a good episode. It was a pulpy story delivered with a healthy doze of fun and coolness. Deep? No. Something we'd want to see every week? No. But fun every once in a way? Yes, in my opinion! Oh and the Torress/Tom scenes were sparkling with great chemistry and an interesting devolopment.

On the whole its like TNGs' Conspiracy; its awesome, bad-ass and a joy to watch for a change of pace from the normal Trek. If I had any complaints for Scientific Method it would be that perhaps there was room for even more fun and invention. And the ending (while mostly satisfying) is a little too much like Where Silience Has Lease.

I enjoyed it, 3/4 from me!
Lt. Yarko - Fri, Jun 21, 2013 - 12:52am (USA Central)
HAHA! I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who shouted "F*CK YOU!" when that ship exploded. That scientist lady was a jerk. There has been no more satisfying enemy death in trek.
ian - Thu, Jul 25, 2013 - 1:35am (USA Central)
What happened to the alien in the brig? did they beam her into space or just into one of then exploding ships.
The episode is a very lame animal rights episode because no self respecting scientist would damage their own experimental creatures this way, most experiments involve trying to find cures, not tortures. The very few that do involve harsher methods usually efforts are made to minimize pain and more and more we are moving away from it. The fact on not eating animals is rather lame since animals eat other animals. As Spock once said we all live on death, even vegetatrians.
skadoo - Tue, Oct 8, 2013 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
I really didn't like this ep and agree with most of Jammer's statements. The whole who's the bigger old fart contest between Chakotay & Neelix was annoying and not funny. The aliens "because we can!" reasoning was BS, why kill everyone if they won't acquiece? That's because they weren't conducting any valid experiments they were torturing the crew! And Janeway as a scientist should have called them out on it, it was obvious. How could the data be valid if they are of a different humanoid species and their sample size is so damn small. They show a different experiment/apparatus on each crew member, how did they plan on filtering out possible variables, etc. You can't compare anything if it's just a one off. The Janeway/Tuvok interaction in the beginning was great (shall I flog them as well?). But the Captain flying the ship at the pulsars - pfffft. Why not just set the auto-destruct sequence? It's a lot easier to undo when you get them the hell off your ship and less risky too. And I agree with someone earlier that the Doc would have been deactivated earlier on by the aliens so it was pure plot device to have him be OK. It did facilitate his interaction with Seven and the whole tuning her borg devices which was interesting. I need to dig up the TNG episode referenced but I suspect that when I do I'll hate this ep even more. At least Kate Mulgrew, Robert Picardo & Jeri Ryan put in great performances. Robbie Duncan McNeil & Roxann Dawson did a good job but the sophomoric stuff was a little annoying and I think nibbles away at my respect for these characters. Nice to know it was mainly out of character stuff for a reason.
Looper - Thu, Nov 14, 2013 - 2:32pm (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer that the end conflict seemed awefully forced. What's the motivation for killing everyone if they won't submit to these experiments? Perhaps it would have been more plausible if that alien woman had looked a little less human. She just looked too "reasonable". She even says to Janeway something like: you're a scientist just like us, so you should understand. WTF?

Seven's involvement was the best part. Oh, and that massage from the doctor. Janeway was hilarious.
Corey - Tue, Apr 22, 2014 - 6:41pm (USA Central)
I'd give this 3 and a half stars. Voyager's 4th season may be the most consistent season of Trek ever.
Vylora - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
Entertaining, engaging, at times funny as hell. A high-concept episode of Voyager that actually works. The aliens were too stubborn for my taste but at least they had motive for what they do (as very clearly stated in the dialogue). Perhaps their stubbornness came from some sort of inherent belief that they are above it all, so to speak.

Craftily written dialogue and nice pacing round out this effort. I felt that the involvement of multiple cast members made it seem truer to an ensemble style episode rather than being aimlessly scattered. Certainly there was a bit of cliche ST to it but it was a fresh-enough perspective to make it all worthwhile.

Surprisingly good showing.

3 stars.
Guru G - Sat, Oct 18, 2014 - 8:24pm (USA Central)
Wow. Reading this review in 2014 and shocked. Scientific Method is my favourite Voyager episode of the entire series. Script plot acting special effects - all top notch. So glad I stayed away from organised Star Trek fandom back in the day. I just paid my $19.95 each month and opined on the episodes myself. A much better way!
Peremensoe - Sat, Oct 18, 2014 - 10:17pm (USA Central)
Hey GG. We're not exactly organized, round here. Jammer's just this guy, see, who reviewed Trek episodes, and these other folks drift by, and sometimes have ideas too. Who were you paying $19.95 to?
Charles - Sun, Oct 26, 2014 - 5:28pm (USA Central)
Love this episode. Deserves a 3 or even 4 stars rating. The "msytery" aspect is really good, and goes on for an appropriate length of time, until we get the "reveal" - both visually striking and clever. I'm happy it wasn't another of those "space anomaly does something weird to the crew". And it justifies why all of their symptoms were different...

Also, I don't see why the animal rights allegory is a problem, on the contrary. It's a very, very valid point that should have been made even more prominent. Yes someone (millions?) are benefiting from it but those who are suffering don't have a choice in the matter and they're not benefiting.

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