Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"In the Flesh"

***

Air date: 11/4/1998
Written by Nick Sagan
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"The last 8472 I met tried to dissolve me from the inside out." — Harry in "understandable skepticism mode"

Nutshell: Derivative of classic Trek in many ways, but it still manages to work reasonably well.

Fifteen years ago, I might have called "In the Flesh" an allegory on current times. Aired in 1998, however, this episode feels more like a thinly guised contemporary history lesson—a throwback to a recent era more suited for allegory by the TOS style of storytelling.

With its obvious parallels to the Cold War, "In the Flesh" is a TOS episode if I've ever seen one. Given the sociopolitical atmosphere of today, the episode's intentions feel strangely dated. And given how much TOS I've been watching lately, I've taken on a new appreciation for Trek stories that tackle real issues in the context of sci-fi premises—provided they're done well. A subtext usually can't work unless what's on the surface also fares well.

That probably goes double for "In the Flesh," which is all the more dependent upon what the surface story is about, simply because the subtext lacks the immediate relevance it seems to need. It's one thing to talk about the Cold War during the Cold War. It's another thing to talk about it some 10 or so years after it has ended—and even longer since it was at the height of its urgency. It's not commentary anymore; it's retrospect.

Never mind. "In the Flesh" is a workable, though not stellar, Voyager outing that provides a meditation on the theme of mistrust, where neither side can bring itself to trust the other. In this case, it's humanity (or at least the Voyager crew) versus Species 8472, whom the Voyager crew finds manning a Delta Quadrant outpost whose inhabitants have taken human form and have artificially duplicated Starfleet Headquarters down to its last detail to use as some sort of elaborate training facility. They've even duplicated the legendary Boothby (Ray Walston), Starfleet Academy's head groundskeeper (TNG fans take note).

The episode does a fair job of evoking a sense of mystery; at first I thought Chakotay was on the holodeck or something. As the story continued and it became obvious this was more than the average Trekkian illusion, I was intrigued. When Chakotay and Tuvok are forced to bring one of the alien impostors (Zach Galligan) back to Voyager, the unveiling of that mystery is handled reasonably. Some brief touches of understandable paranoia, like Janeway testing Chakotay to be sure he's the genuine article, help move things along. Doc's method of revealing the man behind the mask, however, feels a little too much like DNA magic.

But never mind again. "In the Flesh" is plot-driven for much of the way, as Chakotay poses as one of the impostors so he can "keep a date" with Commander Relanna Archer (Kate Vernon), a faux human who might offer some insight into the alien plan. Archer is no fool, however—she's on to Chakotay, even though he plays a smart game.

It's nice to see Chakotay in action again, and it's particularly nice to see him in a plot that doesn't turn out to be "Unforgettable, Part II," despite the trailer's attempts to make this show look like an episode where "Chakotay unwittingly falls for 8472 in disguise." Rather, the story displays Chakotay being subtle, smart, and sensible in his choice of words and methods of investigation—which is a refreshing change of pace for a character who, in my opinion, too often doesn't get nearly enough to do.

I honestly don't have much more to say about the plot, because I don't feel the need or desire to recap everything blow by blow. Suffice it to say that the investigation and the conflict that arises when Chakotay is exposed and captured makes for a good view. It's not spectacular or earth-shaking, but it's quietly involving on a plot level.

The episode's latter passages are about the aforementioned theme of mistrust between human and 8472. Janeway wants her first officer returned to her, but the 8472s want to interrogate him. They're convinced Starfleet is planning some sort of strike, so they themselves are planning for the worst. The irony, of course, is that neither side wants war, but neither side can immediately bring itself to invest in trust, either.

Eventually, Janeway hammers out a meeting with the 8472 leaders, where an open dialog can be started. This meeting is dramatically successful, if for no other reason, because of Ray Walston's line delivery and his character's mince-few-words approach to verbal negotiation. I can't remember a character I've seen where Walston didn't play this type of personality, and that's probably because he's good at it. (One might as well use what one's got.) While this is an example of the actor being the center of attention more than the character, I do think Walston manages to capture the fear manifested as anger and distrust that an 8472 might understandably have.

Bringing a more understandable agenda—one based on fear—to 8472 in this episode seems to me like a sensible notion. The overlarge and less-than-interesting threat of "purging our galaxy" is something that can't continue to work outside the confines of "Scorpion," so moving on to make 8472 a group with whom negotiation is possible was the only alternative if they were to be used again. I'm glad to see "In the Flesh" accomplishes this. On the other hand, one of 8472's appeals was the fact they were so non-human, so different in physical concept, so alien. Now we have 8472s taking human form, chatting with Janeway in such humanistic terms—which is so humanly typical of Star Trek that I almost want to condemn the banality while I praise the idealism.

The mild allegory on the nuclear weapon scare is a little too obvious at times, including one scene where Janeway says: "Somebody has to take their finger off the trigger. It might as well be me." At least she said "trigger" instead of "button."

On the given terms, however, I'd like to point out that Sagan's script missed an opportunity by not addressing the simple issue of what the 8472s call themselves. "Species 8472" is a Borg name, and I tend to think removing that designation might have been a proactive dramatic device toward conveying the peace and understanding that "In the Flesh" so doggedly wants to promote.

Overall, I'm giving "In the Flesh" a guarded recommendation. The show is entertaining by its own merits, and the messages are of classic Star Trek idealism. When you scrutinize, you will see that it's more a rehash of themes that have been visited many times over than it is a fresh take on such material. But ... I suppose there are worse things in the world.

Next week: The Delta Flyer crashes. I guess it had to happen eventually. I just didn't figure it would be so soon...

Previous episode: Extreme Risk
Next episode: Once Upon a Time

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23 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru - Thu, Jan 17, 2008 - 12:59pm (USA Central)
Well, I really liked this episode. Three stars are ok, although I wouldn't have minded a three and a half either! ;-)
navamske - Fri, Sep 12, 2008 - 6:56pm (USA Central)
"'In the Flesh' is plot-driven for much of the way, as Chakotay poses as one of the impostors so he can "keep a date" with Commander Relanna Archer (Kate Vernon), a faux human who might offer some insight into the alien plan."

The character's name is Valerie Archer.
BlinD - Sat, Oct 3, 2009 - 7:15pm (USA Central)
sorry but voyager managed, in this episode, to take possibly the best alien species created and turned them into tree hugging peace loving douches. from laying waste to borg planets to this. i HATED this episode when i first watched it and still hate it now. a 'date' with species 8472...what utter nonsense
John Pate - Fri, Feb 19, 2010 - 4:55pm (USA Central)
Voyager does classic Trek and it worked well. I like this a lot.

And in 2010 there's talk of a new Cold War. Everything old is new again.
navamske - Thu, Jul 22, 2010 - 4:31pm (USA Central)
I agree with BlinD. Species 90210 may have been cool at one point, but they really jumped the shark in this episode.
Cloudane - Fri, Nov 26, 2010 - 3:01pm (USA Central)
A fairly interesting episode and it does make me appreciate Voyager as a TOS of the 90s.

I think even Janeway cracked a smile in this episode (for the most part up to now this season she just seems to have looked fed up and curtly barked a few orders)
Iceblink - Mon, Jul 25, 2011 - 4:10am (USA Central)
I find it impossible to buy the basic premise here - that Species 8472 has gone to all the effort of recreating Starfleet command in such impeccable detail and disguising themselves and behaving EXACTLY as humans. I didn't believe a word of it. It stretches credibility to breaking point and beyond.

Even if we accept that 8472 can make themselves look like humans, I found it impossible to believe they could so easily behave so human (the fact Chakotay even romances one of them was quite cringeworthy). I just didn't buy it! The episode was interesting and intriguing, but I couldn't get over my fundamental lack of belief in the plot.

As with many Voyager episodes, I get the impression that Braga and co like to come up with high-concept hooks for their episodes that sound really cool (aliens recreating Starfleet headquarters in a prelude to invading the alpha quadrant!) and then try to flesh them out from there, even when the logic simply doesn't fit.
Angular - Tue, Oct 11, 2011 - 12:01pm (USA Central)
I don't agree with Icebling, I think that the fact that Species 8472 is so different and that we as viewers know almost nothing about them gives the premise some credibility.

One of the few things we know is that Species 8472 are highly intelligent, so it's not unthinkable that a part of their mind can effectively become human - in other words they are extremely good at role-playing.

The rest of their psyche might be so alien that it doesn't really translate all too well into our universe, which cuts it off from their new "human side". Communication with the Voyager-Crew is only possible in "human" terms.

It is like when one side learned the language of the other perfectly, while the other side remains totally ignorant.
Jay - Sun, Jan 15, 2012 - 11:08am (USA Central)
Hard to believe that if some 8472 had trouble holding their human form while alive, that the one they captured could do it even after it died.
Nic - Wed, Mar 7, 2012 - 3:12pm (USA Central)
Ah, how simple life would be if all military conflicts were caused by misunderstandings and paranoia, and all that was needed to resolve it was for both sides to sit down and talk for five minutes.

This is a good episode that could have been a great one if the solution hadn't been as clear-cut at the end, e.g. if some 8472 were still not ready to trust us humans. And I completely agree that we should have found out their real name.
Justin - Sun, Apr 29, 2012 - 12:10pm (USA Central)
I have to agree with BlinD and Iceblink. The Cold War allegory was all well and good, but I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy this episode.

They took the extremely interesting, mysterious, and menacing Species 8472 and effectively neutered them with this story.
Elliott - Mon, Apr 30, 2012 - 8:25pm (USA Central)
I think they would have been better to either leave 8472 alone and not have more stories about them, or to be slow and cautious in their deconstruction of them like they were with the Borg. While I agree with the sentiments of this episode, I have to say I don't find them particularly genuine or convincing here. It's more about goofing around with Chakotay and "look, Starfleet HQ" than it is substance. Archer's change of heart in the conference room was cartoonish.

The idea of enriching the species' motivations beyond "you will be purged" to "we are paranoid xenophobes" was a good one, but one episode is not enough to accomplish this, especially when the focus is on other topics so much of the time.

2 stars I think.
Justin - Mon, Apr 30, 2012 - 10:45pm (USA Central)
Though, I have to admit that Pon Farr night at the Vulcan nightclub sounds like fun.
Zane314 - Wed, Oct 24, 2012 - 6:50pm (USA Central)
Yay, Ellen Tigh!!! Great to see Kate Vernon in a pre-BSG role.
W Smith - Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - 2:51pm (USA Central)
As others have said, it was an interesting premise for perhaps another alien species, but made no sense for species 8472. Why couldn't they have been kept truly alien and different than all the other species? And then, if my memory is correct, we never hear from 8472 again in the series. The world the writers are creating has to be logical and consistent even if it is science fiction; otherwise how can they viewer suspend disbelief?
Sintek - Mon, May 20, 2013 - 7:25pm (USA Central)
"It's Ponfarr night at the Vulcan nightclub." is still the best and most perplexing sentence ever uttered.
Domi - Fri, Aug 9, 2013 - 2:00am (USA Central)
In the bar scene where Valerie and Chakotay meet, after one of the extras "reverts", she discusses how hard it is to be human, and "that's why (she) reads their books." But she was reading a Vulcan book, not a human one.

I too was frustrated how Species 8472 was "neutered", as one reviewer above wrote. The episode was well executed and enjoyable despite a major flaw in its concept. If it had been a novel species instead of 8472, it would have been more believable. 2.5 stars
Tomy - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 11:05am (USA Central)
I saw this when it aired..I think I was around 15 years old at the time. The whole idea that those massive inter-dimensional aliens could take a magic hypospray and become human struck me as...dumb.

Still does.

Voyager has a knack for neutering effective villains that borders on the disturbing.

Then there's the contrived plot. So Voyager locates this bio-dome just in the nick of time, huh? How lucky for Earth.

I guess species 8472 was just stuntin' with the whole "we will purge your galaxy of life" line.
Tomy - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 11:08am (USA Central)
Another thought..imagine how great Voyager could have been if the Borg loomed as a constant threat. I mean TNG's Borg, not Voyager's Borg. Aside from a few close calls with cubes, the Borg should not have been in the show at all..they should have only lurked in the background as an ever-present potential catastrophe. Sort of like how the Kazon were in the first season.
T'Paul - Tue, Sep 17, 2013 - 2:25pm (USA Central)
Looks like Voyager is damned if it does, damned if it doesn't...

Let's just accept it then as TOS of the nineties.

What was wrong with having a species imitate humans to figure out who we were and understand us? Besides, another shapeshifting alien wouldn't have been incredibly interesting, and it still keeps the Borg on the outside, that is, good humans, good 8472, bad Borg, some credit is deserved for maintaining trek ideals.

Plus it was a good use of Boothby and the other admiral, and an insight into us from the outside.

Evil aliens is only fun for so long, which is precisely why the Borg lost their edge - you just can't do evil forever.
Hook-Up - Thu, Feb 27, 2014 - 8:23am (USA Central)
I am watching the whole series on DVD now and I am almost finished.
I had the same feelings for this episode as "BlinD".
Why do you turn species 8472 - in my eyes the best invention of VOY - into a bunch of TeleTubbies???

It's so bizarre .....
What a waste!
Maybe they were to expensive to visualize ... so they couldn't use them anymore in there "normal" shape - but turning them into this .... a shame!
Eli - Fri, Feb 28, 2014 - 7:06pm (USA Central)
I thought this episode was very successful! A great demonstration of Star Trek idealism.
NCC-1701-Z - Thu, Jun 12, 2014 - 12:34am (USA Central)
I had no idea Kate Vernon, aka Ellen Tigh from BSG, was Valerie Archer here till I read this review! My, how people change. (Then again I didn't realize Magneto and Gandalf were played by the same person in their respective franchises till about a month ago.)

Great ep, probably in my top 5 VOY eps. I feel that this ep, along with "Distant Origin", "Living Witness" and "Memorial" are the Voyager episodes which best represent Star Trek idealism.

(Irrelevant note: Pon farr night at the Vulcan club sounds fun. ;) )

4 popcorns.

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