Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Extreme Risk"

**

Air date: 10/28/1998
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Look, we could spend weeks trying to solve this, but we've got a ticking clock. Engines are working, weapon systems are on-line—I say we launch now and hope for the best."
"Mr. Paris, that is perhaps the most illogical statement you've ever made."

— Paris and Tuvok

Nutshell: Sigh...

There should be a special category for episodes that get your hopes up and pique your interest before suddenly thudding to the ground and becoming disappointments. In fact, let's go ahead and create such a category for the sake of discussion. And while we're at it, let's go ahead and put an episode in this pigeonhole—maybe even an episode like, say, "Extreme Risk."

"Extreme Risk" proves all the more frustrating because it has the potential to be good but settles for so much less. I'm not talking plot-wise, because the plot is extremely middle-of-the-road sort of material. What could've been memorable here was the character work—more specifically, character work centering around Torres, who, on a writer's good day, has the potential to be one of the ensemble's best and most complex characters.

Unfortunately, "Extreme Risk" looks like it was written on several good days, followed by an awful last day. The treatment of B'Elanna ultimately frustrates this viewer, who thinks characters need to be complex on a consistent basis rather than a random basis—even if that consistency only spans one entire episode (though I would hope it would span many more).

This episode is a sort of mysterious character analysis that looks at Torres and establishes a problem, and slowly works into the circumstances to reveal what is obviously a deep-rooted psychological barrier that she is trying to overcome but not succeeding in doing so.

Let's just get to the point—B'Elanna is disturbed. She's distracted, apathetic, and distant. She manages to perform her duties, but barely. And she sure isn't going out of her way to take the initiative on anything. Meanwhile, she spends every free moment in the holodeck, running dangerous simulations with the safety measures disabled. The crew is taking notice, to be sure: Janeway and Chakotay lead the initiative in finding out what's wrong with their chief engineer.

Why is this all happening? Well, that's the story's central issue, which brings up some interesting possibilities. In a key sequence, Chakotay confronts Torres over her behavior and demands an explanation about a violent program featuring old friends from the Maquis days. The confessions come pouring out: It turns out this all goes back to "Hunters" from last season, where B'Elanna learned about the elimination of the Maquis. She has since been in denial over the slaughter of one of her most important families ("I've lost every family I've ever had," she notes), which has taken its toll on her.

There's some promising stuff here. For one, I found the way Chakotay dealt with Torres to be very effective—reminiscent of his "Maquis alternative approach" from way back in season one, applied when typical action didn't get the job done. Chakotay grabbing Torres and physically dragging her through her holodeck simulation to get at the truth was both refreshing and believable. It utilized the history of these two marvelously, as well as showing that the news of the Maquis' destruction had a significant impact on Torres.

Unfortunately, this material is severely undermined in several ways:

1) First and foremost is the episode's annoying final act, which is so painfully shallow that it manages to neutralize all the interesting character material that came before. It's one of those action devices that gives Torres an opportunity where her engineering skills are desperately needed. The curves the writers throw at the end are laughably obvious and lacking in sophistication. B'Elanna is practically playing MacGyver, concocting forcefields out of phasers in order to save the day.

2) There's the fact we haven't seen a single shred of evidence concerning Torres' distress since the news broke in "Hunters." As a result, a lot of this feels conjured for the sake of one story rather than a believable outgrowth of the character. Now, I'm not asking for extensive, perfectly documented webs of characterization and plot, but I do ask that a character's self-destruction make sense rather than coming completely out of left field. If this has truly been eating away at her for weeks or months as the story tells us, why didn't we see the slightest trace in any episode previous to this one? This alone might not bug me so much if it weren't for my third point.

3) Since, based on the sledgehammered-home happy ending, all of this will be neatly put behind B'Elanna after the screen fades to black, why does the episode treat this as a complicated, troubling issue that she will have to slowly work at to overcome? What I particularly found ridiculous was Chakotay telling Torres that she'd have to "give it time"—and that "time" apparently turns out to be about 30 seconds. It just goes to show what MacGyver day-saving techniques will do for your deep-rooted psychological troubles when combined with a healthy serving of banana pancakes.

And about the episode's plot—who really cares? It's certainly not off-putting (Janeway benefits from some good no-nonsense moments), but it's pretty thin. It involves a Voyager probe getting stuck in the atmosphere of a star where the ship cannot venture to retrieve it. A Malon crew (the toxic-waste dumpers established in "Night") also wants this probe. Naturally, they feel they can take whatever they want, making them another entry in the lengthy list of Hard Headed Aliens of the Week [TM]. The plot becomes a race between the two crews to build a shuttle capable of surviving the atmosphere. This gives rise to the notion of Voyager's new "Delta Flyer," a super shuttle designed in part by Paris. Aside from serving as an excuse to build the Delta Flyer for use in future episodes, and to provide Torres with a chance to save the day, the plot is actually little more than filler in my book.

It's too bad—Roxann Dawson does such a good job portraying her character as dispassionate, vacant, and buried in repressed emotion, performed in believable and often subtle ways. But the writing can't back her up, and instead sends her character in directions that are never entirely convincing, erasing all promises of consequence by the end.

Next week: Chakotay has a date with an 8472.

Previous episode: Drone
Next episode: In the Flesh

Season Index

30 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - 6:52pm (USA Central)
One of the things that really bothered me about this episode--aside from what Jammer already pointed out--was Neelix' clueless reaction to B'Elanna's emtions. He is constantly prying into people's personal lives if they show the least bit of discomfort, yet when she comes to the mess hall and behaves distracted, vacant, and despondent, all he does is replicate banana pancakes.
Markus - Sun, Jul 26, 2009 - 3:29am (USA Central)
But one good thing remains: Two weeks ago I first trief this recipe for banana pancakes with cream cheese and blueberries for breakfast. Absolutely amazing, tastes even without putting something on it. Never heard of those pancakes before!
Mal - Thu, Feb 18, 2010 - 1:56am (USA Central)
pancakes!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgalX6GEV3M
John Pate - Thu, Feb 18, 2010 - 5:50pm (USA Central)
The hour we saw spanned events over several days. The past events they discovered had been going on some time but had heretofore not been germaine to various scenarios we'd seen. It worked for me.
Michael - Mon, Jun 28, 2010 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
You know what, I could've done without the whole "disturbed Torres" tripe. Dealing with emotional scars should be done on Oprah, not Star Trek. But let's agree to disagree.

One thing that REALLY peeved me off about the Delta Flier was Paris's 20th-century-Earth nonsense. He build parts of the helm based on Capitain Proton straight out of the 1930s. WTF?!? Do today's N.A.S.A. engineers build space shuttles featuring technology from the days of Joan of Arc!? Why this harking "back" to the 20th century Earth? Why no obsession with the 15th century Volcan or 22nd century Earth? Ah, that would take a bit of creativity and imagination! Much easier to just get Paris to poke around a 1950s hot-rod in a 1950s garage (q.v. one of the episodes from Season 4). It's sheer laziness on the writers' part.

And a post-scriptum: Harry "Who??" Kim's middle name should be "There's-Some-Sort-Of-Dampening-Field-Around-It." Honestly, in every other episode, when he yet again manages to NOT be able to beam someone or something, that's the phrase he utters *GROAN*
Procyon - Mon, Aug 23, 2010 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
What really irked me was near the end, when Chakotay says to Janeway that the Malons have trouble getting their shuttle-craft out of the gas giants atmosphere, then they smile/chuckle and depart immediately.
Isn't there a real chance they will die there if they can't get out.... and then they even chuckle at it? That's not very starfleet of them.
Nathan - Mon, Nov 7, 2011 - 1:00pm (USA Central)
Was that Wesley's repulsor beam from "The Naked Now"?
Elliott - Mon, Nov 14, 2011 - 5:08pm (USA Central)
I too found the MacGeyver scene all but ridiculous--clearly meeting some producer's (ahem, Berman) standard that the DF needed to be shown off. However, I find your assessment of Torres' emotional recovery a bit faulty. I've known a few people who've been in emotional ruts, bordering on suicidal behaviour. While, of course, no one recovers instantaneously from that kind of depression, there is usually a turning point, a very sudden one in fact, which brings them "back to life."

The goofiness of Torres' epiphany means the deduction of at least half a star to be sure, but the idea behind it is not unworthy and it really gave Dawson a chance to shine as usual.

High 3 stars from me.
Nic - Thu, Feb 16, 2012 - 7:46am (USA Central)
Yes, it would have been more interesting to see Torres' mysterious behaviour from "Hunters" onward (similar to what they did with Dr. Franklin's use of stims on Babylon 5), and have the solution come gradually rather than suddenly.

But you gotta love Tuvok's one-liners!
Rosario - Tue, Mar 27, 2012 - 1:39pm (USA Central)
As to the continuity, I'd guess that this was the writers way of trying to explain Dawson's very limited screentime and occasional absences (due to her pregnancy) within the show.

That's all I'll stand up for. This episode was pure drivvle.
Justin - Sun, Apr 29, 2012 - 11:26am (USA Central)
I can't bring myself to dislike this episode, because self-harming is a worthy subject and Roxann Dawson's performance is excellent.

The ending, however, does bother me a great deal. In taking on an issue as serious as self-harming the writers also took on the social responsibility to treat that issue as realistically as possible. Which they did fairly well up until the MacGuyver/banana pancake ending.

I have 3 teenaged daughters and self-harming among their peer group is quite common. One of their friends is actually in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital because she self-harms, and her recovery will depend on a lot more than Mom's home cooking. It will depend on many factors, not the least of which are love and support from her family and friends as well as a commitment on her part.

There's no quick fix to this sort of thing and "Extreme Risk" does a disservice to its audience in even remotely suggesting that there is.
Keiren - Tue, May 8, 2012 - 3:49am (USA Central)
Hmm...i didnt like this one, but I will say, why cant you just enjoy the hour that is on without over analysing??

Its a decent hour, things will happen off screen, this is the story that has been told competently. Maybe we should look at it this way, instead of the writes not continuing the story in late episodes, we should use our imagination for ourselves?? Rather than being spoon fed everything....

Im not necessarily an advocate of this, im just playing devils advocate and seeing if anyone might agree with that...?
Elphaba - Sat, Oct 13, 2012 - 1:36pm (USA Central)
The main problem with this episode and, indeed, Voyager as a whole, as well as most Star Trek that takes place on a ship (i.e. not DS9) is that pretty much every episode is self-contained. You can do an episode with character development or have an interesting person pop up but that person and that character development will be gone by the next episode. And that is simultaneously its biggest problem as well as one of its strengths. Because every episode is self-contained, a new viewer can come in and watch it without having to have seen any previous Star Trek (with the possible exception of The Best of Both Worlds and some others), thus exactly what a studio wants to boost the ratings. I think it's no coincidence that shows like Battlestar Galactica and DS9 had lower ratings in their initial runs because they have a long running story. It's difficult for new people to come in and watch an episode so producers don't like those types of shows.

However, this episodic format is not necessarily a bad thing. Look at Doctor Who. Look at Firefly. But Star Trek more often than not has episodes that are so self-contained that when you try to tell a serious story, it's all erased by the next episode. And that is extremely frustrating for long time fans. And that's the main problem with this episode. It introduces a problem that we've never seen before and solves it within one episode. The reason DS9 worked so well was that it introduces problems that didn't have such easy solutions. We didn't get an easy resolution to our problems at the end of each episode.

That's not to say that ship themed Star Trek doesn't have some incredible stories, it does. Star Trek has some of the greatest stories I've ever witnessed. But the main problem is that all of those stories are so self-contained that you don't have to have seen any other stories to watch them.
Jay - Sat, Oct 20, 2012 - 12:04pm (USA Central)
Ideally they wouldn't have wanted to wait so long after Hunters to deal with this, but I imagine Roxann's pregnancy had more than a bit to do with it. You can't exactly do an episode like this and use the creative filming they used in the second half of Season 4.
Jay - Sat, Oct 20, 2012 - 12:17pm (USA Central)
And I found it a little strange that the Doctor could determine that a wound was healed "with the skill of a first year nursing student". All that's involved from what we've seen is waving a contraption over a wound that apparently emits some sort of healing beam.
Jay - Sat, Oct 20, 2012 - 12:41pm (USA Central)
Am I the only one that found it odd that the Delta Flyer breaches on a bulkhead, when there are all those...windows? Even if they're transparent aluminum, they would still have to be the weak spots.
Jack - Sat, Mar 9, 2013 - 6:40pm (USA Central)
It's hard to reconcile Torres' behavior here even with the two previous episodes...she figured prominently in Drone and seemed just fine...and interested in the idea proposed in that episode that would become the Delta Flyer. And before that, the long duration that Voyager was in the void area in "Night" surely would have seen Torres' issue come to a head at that time. As someone said above, the reason they couldn't do this episode in a timely fashion is because Roxann was pregnant, but that being so, they really missed their window of opportunity for this to make any sense...they just should have given up on the idea.
W Smith - Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - 1:43am (USA Central)
The last scene in the Delta Flyer with the crew handing off components for Torres to play McGyver was painful to watch. It would have been better for Torres herself to scramble putting it together while the other crew members keep the ship from blowing up. Still would have been weak, but watching each crew member playing hand-off the gizmo was silly.

Agree 100% on the writers' laziness in making Paris a 20th century tech and culture fan. Why did they have to pander so? It's such lazy writing and a slap in the face to Trek fans who watch the show to explore different cultures, not to be reminded of the time we are currently living in. Like the other poster said, make Paris a fan of 22nd century Earth, or medieval Vulcan, or Renaissance Cardassia, or whatever else.

One of the big problems with Voyager is its vanilla writing. The writers relied on cliches and tropes, rather than trying to stake out new ground. What a missed opportunity and eventually it poisoned the franchise to where we have no Trek on TV today and a new film series that has erased the canon and become a space action saga.
William B - Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - 6:03am (USA Central)
@W Smith and Michael, in all fairness, pretty much all Trek shows have the problem with characters loving 19th-20th century Earth, especially the next generation-era stories. Why is Picard in love with 1940's detective stories, Riker with 20th century jazz, Data with late-19th-century Sherlock Holmes, Troi and Alexander with the "ancient West" (mostly 19th century America)? Why did Data choose "Joe Piscopo" as a hacky 1950's-ish comedian to learn humour from? Sisko *and* Kassidy are crazy about the dead sport of baseball, Bashir with 1960's spy stories, Bashir & O'Brien with the Battle of the Alamo from the 1830s, and everyone loves 1960's lounge music, not to mention that the Prophets apparently chose 1950's sci-fi pulp to inspire Benjamin in "Far Beyond the Stars." Even the Napoleonic uniforms in "Hide and Q" are 19th century. There are exceptions in terms of references to Earth's past outside the 1800-2000 range, mostly Shakespeare. But it is hardly a Voyager invention to lean on the 20th century as inspiration.
William B - Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - 6:08am (USA Central)
Of course, I do agree that Paris getting the idea how to build the Delta Flyer from 1950's hot rods is a silly conceit. But that's a more specific problem than the criticism of characters loving 20th century Earth too much (and the not-that-far-off 19th).
Grumpy - Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - 4:55pm (USA Central)
"...pretty much all Trek shows have the problem with characters loving 19th-20th century Earth..."

As a tangent, I'll mention that lately I've been tempted to compile a supercut of Trek scenes where characters express fondness for the past. Starting, for instance, with Samuel Cogley's book fetish in "Court Martial." Rather than illustrate the writers' laziness, the motif could be read as portraying a futuristic longing for old ways.

I'm throwing this supercut idea out there because I probably won't actually get around to making it. But anyone who does a video essay on this topic now has a starting point with William B's list of examples.
Jo Jo Meastro - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 6:40am (USA Central)
I just wanted to add I agree with Elliots' comment about the way people suffering from depression can often turn that corner to break out of the numbness quite suddenly, depression is like a endless cycle of days when you can keep your head above water and days when you just get swallowed whole. I fortunately don't speak from personal experience but a lot of people close to me struggle with it so I understand it all too well. The episode did a respectable job in protraying the numb emptiness, if the ending had been more subtle and done more to suggest the every day struggle even on your good days; this may have been worthy of more praise. In all honesty they should have at least given the issue an entire episode, something akin to DS9s' Only A Paper Moon, the writers would be on to some powerful relevant stuff (which is what Star Trek is all about). Another thing, the Doctor really wasn't much help to Torress at all, I would have thought he'd be there for his patient a lot more instead of being so distant and
Jo Jo Meastro - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 6:57am (USA Central)
*unhelpful. The same can be said for Neelix, you'd think from what he went through in Mortal Coil would make him the perfect candidate for helping Torress through her difficult time. The rest of the crew at least have the excuse of not understanding and being too caught up in the mission, the more I think about it the more convinced I am that this needed at least one full episode in order to adequately cover such a relevant and important issue. It would be like trying to seriously cover a cancer story in a subplot, then abruptly ending it with "good news the alien of the week cured you!" *roll credits*...
Lt. Yarko - Thu, Jul 25, 2013 - 2:28am (USA Central)
Exactly, Jay. If micro-fractures don't occur in transparent aluminum, why don't they just make ship exteriors completely out of transparent aluminum?

@Procyon: I really laughed at the end.

Janeway: And the Malon?
Chakotay: They're a little preoccupied. Seems their shuttlecraft's having a problem climbing out of the gas giant's atmosphere.

As they smirked at each other, I half expected Janeway to say, "Well, f*ck them! Get us out of here, ensign! Warp two."

I imagined Voyager going in and just blasting the struggling shuttle and the freighter to bits. Now that was a funny thought.



Domi - Fri, Aug 9, 2013 - 2:08am (USA Central)
I liked this episode a lot. I thought B'Elanna's mental health state was handled so much better by the script writer's than Janeways depression/guilt in Night.

Some problems though-built a new shuttle in a week? Who are they kidding? The writers seem to have poor attention to detail.

Another thing is that the writing has seen a gross lack of subtlety in every episode so far this season. It seems the writers think the audience won't get their concepts unless they shove them in their faces over and over. Just one example from this episode is the incessant warnings from the computer about how dangerous it is to turn the holo safeties off. There are many other examples from this and the previous two episodes but I don't feel like enumerating them. I'd think writers of a sci-fi show would hold their audience in higher regard.
Mike P - Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - 12:52am (USA Central)
" Am I the only one that found it odd that the Delta Flyer breaches on a bulkhead, when there are all those...windows? Even if they're transparent aluminum, they would still have to be the weak spots."

" Exactly, Jay. If micro-fractures don't occur in transparent aluminum, why don't they just make ship exteriors completely out of transparent aluminum?"

Actually Jay and LT, transparent aluminum is not that unrealistic or far off, and would resist fracturing. As most people know carbon under extreme pressure creates diamond. But not as many know aluminum oxide under extreme pressure creates sapphire, which is nearly as hard. There has been a lot of R&D into creating sapphire windows for high heat and high pressure applications.

So "transparent aluminum" windows in space craft is not far off, and while it can resist fracturing, I'm sure it wouldn't be suitable for the entire Air (space?) Frame where weight savings and even a degree of flexibility are needed.
Nick - Wed, Nov 6, 2013 - 6:02pm (USA Central)
Next time the Borg attack, have Neelix replicate a huge batch of banana pancakes, is there anything they can't solve?
R. - Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - 10:46pm (USA Central)
This episode was written by someone with the screenwriting expertise of a first-year film student.

Roxann Dawson was its only saving grace.
Paul - Thu, May 15, 2014 - 8:41am (USA Central)
Jammer nails the review here. This is classic episodic Voyager, where we're supposed to believe there was setup to a big problem (setup that we didn't see) and that the big problem is still big even though it will be solved by the end of the episode.

Also, the fact that a crew with such limited resources (at least, based on the first couple seasons and some later episodes) would have the ability to build (essentially) a runabout? Where did they come up with the warp core?

The crappy thing about this series is that, other than Garrett Wang, all of the actors are pretty good or very good. I actually think some of the series's best moments come from Beltran, who is all but marginalized in the later seasons. Picardo was great, Ryan was good and even Mulgrew -- who had to deal with terrible writing for her character -- was a trooper.

I realize that Voyager was really before the serialized drama revolution that came with "The Sopranos," but it's still amazing that the premise of this series was used so poorly.
Jeff - Fri, Dec 5, 2014 - 4:43am (USA Central)
To Keiren. Yes, I'm with you on this one. The episode we see is not the whole story. Just because the episode ends with Torres eating banana pancakes and smiling does not mean she has finished being depressed; it only means that she has begun to deal with the problem. Just because the previous and following episodes do not mention her depression does not mean the depression was not there; she could have been dealing with it without the camera being on her. Voyager supposedly took place over 7 years which works out to over 6000 hours. Of that we see
170 45-minute episodes, a total of about 125 hours which is less than 2% of 6000. As Keiren says, can't we imagine the rest for ourselves?

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