Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Vis A Vis"

**

Air date: 4/8/1998
Written by Robert J. Doherty
Directed by Jesus Salvador Trevino

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Are you intoxicated?"
"No, not at all. I was just exploring the replicator."

— Seven and "Paris"; the latter perhaps using a 24th-century drunk's denial

Nutshell: Fairly dull. The plot chews its way through an hour, but barely.

"Vis A Vis" is the epitome of Voyager mediocrity. It puts a 100 percent typical Voyager spin on an established storytelling device, moving through the plot with no real tension. There are some amusing lines and a couple interesting moments, but the show pretty much left me feeling that I'd seen another Voyager episode come and go—and nothing more. It was competently executed, I suppose, but that's probably the biggest tribute I can give it. When the credits rolled, I just sat on my couch and shrugged.

Okay, raise your hand if you didn't see this as Face/Off adapted to Voyager. That's funny—my hand is in the air. Why? Because Face/Off benefited from some emotional weight under its high-concept premise. The characters who switched identities in that film were forced to wrestle with the extreme and often terrifying consequences of accepting that identity. They found themselves inside the lives of other people and had to cope with troubling personal situations.

Voyager's take on this idea, on the other hand, is incredibly obvious—and incredibly glib. The premise isn't anything more than a means to drive an hour-long plot. And the plot is laid out ever-so-routinely on the ground such that it's like a trail of bread crumbs leading to its pedestrian finale. Follow it from point A to point B to point C, and you realize you're essentially being led down an obvious path to a payoff that has nothing to say. It's just another silly adventure, like much of this season of Voyager has been ... except that this time its characterizations are far too thin to allow the adventure to be much more than an exercise.

The plot brings this week's alien, named Steth (Dan Butler), into a tolerable but rather brainless story. Steth is something of a lone daredevil, always looking for something new in his life. He pilots an experimental ship that utilizes a technology called "coaxial warp," a means of travel that is incredibly fast—something Starfleet had apparently considered in theory but abandoned when it couldn't be made to work in practice.

The story's setup documents Steth's encounter with Voyager, who rescues him when his ship fails during an experimental test flight. With the help of expert pilot (and apparently newly skilled engine mechanic) Tom Paris, Steth works on repairing the coaxial drive. Paris takes a liking to Steth, in whom he sees part of himself—an adventurer and a risk-taker, always on the lookout for something new.

One of the big problems with "Vis A Vis," however, is the way Paris' character is utilized. Sure, we know him as the adventurous type, but there are character scenes in this episode that seem to have been scripted out of nowhere, covering ground that has been well traveled in the past. Suddenly, Paris has grown tired of his "boring, settled life" (though by the end of the episode, of course, he comes to grips with it), and he yearns for a change of pace.

I appreciated that Robert Duncan McNeill downplayed the obvious intentions of his character arc (indeed, his restraint manages to save the entire sentiment), but the story's notion is so blatant yet so ponderously conjured that it feels forced, as if the writers decided, "Hey, we need a Paris show, so let's make him bored of life on Voyager." It pains me that every Paris-heavy character analysis seems to deal with the same theme of "comparing where Paris' life was before he was part of the Voyager crew and where it is now" (including, yes, that horrendous installment known as "Threshold," as well as more recently in "Hunters"). And the resolution always comes out to be the same. You'd think by now the writers would have moved on, but instead we get yet another rehash. It's not bad writing, per se, but it's several steps shy of good, and given the "been there, done that" nature of it all, it's a perfect example of, well, Voyager mediocrity.

Then there's the early scene in the mess hall with Tom and B'Elanna, which simply had me scratching my head in confusion. B'Elanna was extremely cool-headed and reasonable about Tom being late for their dinner. Yet everything she says here is answered with Tom's wrong-headed histrionics. Why? To create a forced conflict between them that could be happily swept into oblivion by the final scene? If the reasons for his bad attitude had been supplied before the end of the show I might've been more receptive to it, but the reasoning was merely weak and arbitrary, if not nonexistent; the extremity of Tom's impatience just didn't make any sense.

But never mind. Plot is given the priority here more often than not, and as I was saying before: Face/Off. The gimmick of the week is that Steth is really a unique form-changing alien who can "overwrite" a person's DNA, taking a victim's body in exchange for his own. Boy, am I tired of "DNA can do anything" premises. It's a tribute to Robert J. Doherty, who wrote the episode, that he manages to keep the technobabble explanations to a minimum. Personally, I'd be content with no explanation, because sci-fi can sometimes be most convincing when the unknown is left to the viewer's imagination. But you know Voyager; they're never content to do anything without some sort of explanation, plausible or otherwise.

Anyway, I'm not all that concerned with "DNA overwrites" or "coaxial warp drives"; what makes "Vis A Vis" so bland is that the swapped-identity story is put to surprisingly little imaginative use. It's mostly reduced to stock cliches. Once Steth steals Paris' body and assumes his role on Voyager—leaving the real Paris behind, stranded on the coaxial vessel with no one aboard Voyager the wiser—the story becomes conventional and predictable. We have scenes of "Steth" wandering the ship—although it seemed he knew where to go and what to say far more often than he should've. We have the obligatory scene where "Steth" seduces B'Elanna—which is neither believable nor interesting, and doesn't come back to mean anything whatsoever later in the story. And, of course, there's "Steth's" improvisation when he's close to being found out; in a reasonably and deceptively executed scene, he switches Paris' body with the captain's.

But there's just no substance here. The story brings no attitude to the material; it just drops it in the audience's lap. There are no characters pondering their fates. No real consequences of Steth or Paris being genuinely confused or out of their element—except maybe for extremely brief moments where the real Paris realizes what has happened, and mentions to another alien who is in a similar dilemma (Elizabeth McGlynn), how much he wants to be back in his own body.

The story misses its biggest opportunity by keeping Janeway, who has been transferred into Paris' body, unconscious (and therefore out of the story) until after the alien body-switcher has been captured and everyone has been magically returned to their own bodies. Can you imagine the acting possibilities of McNeill playing Kathryn Janeway? That alone would probably have been more interesting than anything else in this episode.

The one saving grace in "Vis A Vis" is the use of subtle, effective comedy. There's one reasonably amusing scene of "Steth" looking for sickbay, as well as some good lines when he interacts with the Doctor and when he has a brief conflict with Seven of Nine (while slightly intoxicated). But most of it is depressingly by the numbers. After a mundane ending sequence that is terribly anticlimactic, the whole episode seems to write itself off as trite little lesson for Tom Paris: He should've spent more time with B'Elanna rather than working on his holographic 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. Only on Star Trek: Voyager will you get a lesson like that.

Next week: UPN has gotten in an awfully bad habit of showing promos for shows that aren't Voyager (Love Boat: The Next Wave, starring Spencer For Hire? Please. When will it end?), so I'm not exactly sure. I think it has something to do with the Voyager computer going on the fritz.

Previous episode: The Killing Game
Next episode: The Omega Directive

Season Index

17 comments on this review

mlk - Fri, Jan 11, 2008 - 9:13pm (USA Central)
That alien guy was a good actor, he really made me think he was Paris
indijo - Mon, May 26, 2008 - 11:02am (USA Central)
I liked the way the alien was thrown for a loop when the Doctor suddenly summoned him for duty in the sick-bay. Obviously, this is one minor aspect of life aboard Voyager which Paris never let him in on.
Ken Egervari - Mon, Oct 26, 2009 - 3:26pm (USA Central)
I agree with this review. The part that annoyed me the most was that tom suddenly needs a change of pace. It just comes out of nowhere. And yes, all the conflicts from that are forced... and we don't get a satisfying resolution to it all at the end. It's horrible.

The show would have been good if we had reasons for these behaviours. It would have been better if Tom had been acting this way for a few episodes prior at least. Although the thought of that sounds like a ripoff of when he already did that in season 2 to go undercover.

Which I guess leads me to your next point - this all covered ground. It sure is at that.

It's episodes like this that make Voyager the sucky series it is/was. I don't care about the face off plot device. For me, any well-written character story can work well if they do it properly. This show demonstrates them doing everything horribly wrong.

The only thing I'd change in your review is to give it 1 star. It's not even worth 2.
Michael - Sat, Jun 19, 2010 - 6:02am (USA Central)
*sigh*

Well, I knew what caliber this episode was going to be the minute the opening scene had Paris tinkering with an ancient automobile in a 1950s U.S. setting. I mean, there is a HUGE number of present-day astronauts with an interest in the 17th century who would know how to shoot a bow and arrow or how to shoe a horse, so it stands to reason that there would be one in the 24th century with an interest in 20th-century American cars. Lame and unimagiative beyond belief.

Voyager really sucks ass...
Michael - Sat, Jun 19, 2010 - 6:50am (USA Central)
Paris: An explosion will obliterate everything within a billion kilometers.
Acushla moya: Can we beam the pilot out?
Harry "Who?" Kim: Too much interference. (
Michael - Sat, Jun 19, 2010 - 6:51am (USA Central)
Paris: An explosion will obliterate everything within a billion kilometers.
Acushla moya: Can we beam the pilot out?
Harry "Who?" Kim: Too much interference. (== There's a shocker! Did this guy ever manage to beam ANYTHING ANYWHERE?!?)
Paris: The coaxical core is breaching.
Tuvok: We should vacate this area of space at once.
Paris: We can't just leave him like this!

So, according to Paris, saving one - potentially hostile - individual's life justifies endangering the lives of 150 (or however many crew members Voyager was down to by this point).

Who writes this stuff!?!
Nic - Fri, Sep 16, 2011 - 9:05am (USA Central)
Gotta love this series' complete disregard for continuity.

Paris: The worst thing we've treated lately has been an ingrown toenail.
Me: WHAT? Don't you remember that just LAST WEEK the entire crew was brutalized by the Hirogen?

And an honorable mention to the stupid line of the week:

Paris: Looks like a coaxial warp drive.
Chakotay: Coaxial what?

I can understand stumbling over "Coaxial", but come on, Chakotay, "warp drive"?
Jay - Sun, Sep 18, 2011 - 9:13am (USA Central)
SO is that forehead business like a second nose?
David H - Sun, Jan 29, 2012 - 12:06am (USA Central)
Nic - "last week" to you might be weeks or months on the show - not that hard to figure out, really.
Justin - Wed, Apr 25, 2012 - 9:48am (USA Central)
For a admittedly mediocre episode, it's still fun to watch. A couple of random thoughts:

That was a truly bitchen Camaro.

The Benthan ships were equally bitchen. These were still the early days of CGI being regularly used on Trek shows and it's fun watching the technology progress as I rewatch the series.

I wonder what happened to Tom's credit rating after he had his identity stolen.

Roxann Dawson was so obviously preggers that they all but stopped trying to hide it. I don't get why shows always try to hide pregnancies. Why didn't they just write it in that B'Elanna gets knocked up by Tom? They're such a great couple and it would have been fun if they'd had a shotgun wedding.
stargazer - Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - 5:08pm (USA Central)
Regarding Tom's function as Doctor's assistant... I never found it particularly convincing. Out of so many science personnel (blue uniforms), the ship's pilot has to be the Doctor's assistant? Hmm... Well, of course, Robert Duncan McNeill was among the main cast and that's certainly one of the reasons for this, but it wasn't quite convincing, especially considering the fact that there are other crew members aboard who are possibly more suited for the job.

If they had approached it more logically, and less practically, there would have been at least one or two assistants from the science division, i.e. those in blue uniforms, which we know there are plenty of on Voyager (among the initial 150 crew members), who would either permanently or temporarily provide assistance to the Doctor.

Nevertheless, it was sometimes quite entertaining to see Tom in a situation where he is forced to be Doc's nurse and be bossed around by him. :)
Lt. Yarko - Tue, Jul 2, 2013 - 10:13pm (USA Central)
This episode didn't make any sense. At first the Bad Guy was a shape shifter. Then he was a body snatcher? I simply couldn't tell what was supposed to be happening. Early in the episode the body that Tom ended up in kept morphing into the body of the female alien that showed up later. But why? That female body was obviously elsewhere in the cosmos with another person in it. So confusing.

And, yeah. Could the results be any less interesting? Usually body switching stories have funny consequences. NOTHING interesting happened in this episode at all.

I was really struck with how poorly the alien handled being in Paris' body. You'd think that if he had been doing this trick for some time, he could have been less of a doofus at it. How far did he think he was going to get trying to be the pilot of a huge starship like that?
T'Paul - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 9:06am (USA Central)
Woah, take it easy on the Voyager hate fest! Sure, this wasn't pure gold, but neither was TNG or DS9 in every single episode.

Tom's "sudden" existential crisis does have some background history in the character. Just because it's not "subtly" hinted at over 10 previous episodes doesn't mean it's not there.

And as for his interest in 20th Century cars, what, he has to be interested in something more high brow? Russian literature? Renaissance art perhaps? Leonardo Da Vinci like Janeway? Come on, we all have our interests... for example commenting on Star Trek pages from over a decade ago.

As for the story and the alien, well, not ground-breaking, but it did explore some interactions between characters, and as I said, not every episode can (or should) be pure gold.
Michael - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 11:18am (USA Central)
@T'Paul:
Paris's interest in 20th-century trivia is, from the 24th-century perspective, risible. It has nothing to do with being high-brow; it's to do with sheer probability.

Imagine a N.A.S.A. astronaut of today being a votary of 16th-century embroidery, to the point that he/she would be able to knock off a delicate lace tablecloth using the pattern unique to a mountain village in the Catalan region of Spain. Likely? Yeah. Right.

It's nothing but utter laziness on the scriptwriters' part. Because, naturally, if Paris's interests lay in something out of the, say, 22nd century, they'd need to use a lot more imagination to figure out what it is and how it might work. This way all they have to do is haul into the studio some old banger from the parking lot and smear some grease on Paris's hands and clothes. How novel...

I'll also make another, tangential, observation. You seem to have a chip the size of a hubcap on your shoulder. Let me clue you in on a couple of things. Firstly, this is not the website of Amnesty International. Secondly, just because people don't see things your way does not make them cryptofascists who latently condone racism, rape, bullying, etc. You need to chill and take a break from you "struggle" a la Che Guevara... - that is SO last century.

:)
T'Paul - Sun, Sep 29, 2013 - 4:50pm (USA Central)
Maybe if the astronaut was descended from people from that mountain village... Plus we know Paris is a pilot, and cars aren't too far removed as an interest from shuttlecraft...

I think a better analogy would be would an astronaut being interested in ancient theories about space or space travel, or even early aircraft? And I think the answer would be yes.

As for the chip on my shoulder... well, we all have a range of opinions, which we debate... no one needs to swallow mine if they don't want to, and neither are they fascists if they don't agree with me, I don't recall suggesting that. I try not to directly criticize people for their opinions unless I feel they need a civil rebuttal.

But I do feel honoured to have caught Michael's attention ;)
Dusty - Wed, Feb 5, 2014 - 8:52pm (USA Central)
Wow. This was not very good. I think two stars was being generous. Not only have we seen the body-stealing plot a thousand times before, this wasn't even an interesting version of it. Paris was unbearable in this episode (as himself and the imposter) and Torres should have known that wasn't him in the first five minutes. Which brings me to how dumb the alien is--he steals the body of a guy he barely knows and proceeds to act in the most suspicious manner possible, getting caught within a day. Oh, and let's not forget: Fun With DNA (TM).

And then there's Michael's point about Paris risking the ship and the lives of the entire crew to help one alien life form, which was badly written to boot. On the bright side, Dan Butler did a great job and the alien woman was played by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, a great actress and singer. She's on a lot of the Silent Hill soundtracks. :D
Ric - Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - 9:03pm (USA Central)
The plot is poor. In fact Paris' need for a change of pace was too sudden, flat and lazy writing. As lazy was the how idea of changing bodies as a way to see some fake character conflict.

Not to mention that once again, the security measures of Voyager are worth nothing. The alien can so easily access the central computer and a lot of bio info on Paris. Pathetic.

Oh, in a last note, the first scene of the alien-Paris and The Doc shows again that he is not very good in psychology...

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