Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 2/3/1999
Teleplay by Nick Sagan & Bryan Fuller
Story by Jimmy Diggs and Bryan Fuller & Nick Sagan
Directed by Terry Windell
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"There has to be something out there. Shuttles don't just vanish into thin air." — Janeway (and we won't even touch that one)
Nutshell: Pleasant enough, but not much in terms of lasting impact.
"Gravity" is a good example of fifth-season Voyager. It held my interest, it's handsomely produced, and it's a fairly enjoyable hour. It also stands alone in a vacuum, separate from everything else.
Now that we're at the halfway point of the season, I'm feeling the need to comment on the bigger picture. It's pretty simple: Voyager's season has been engaging, keeping me interested in the crew and the stories (so far, this season has proven to be Voyager's best). The writing is generally pretty sharp, and we've avoided the bottom-of-barrel installments that have at times made Voyager notorious. My next question is, what's next? Are we just going to float out here in random respectable plot-land forever, or is there somewhere the ship and series actually can go?
I wonder, if I were the producers of Voyager, if I'd even care at this point. They've apparently found a rhythm, and they're apparently comfortable with it. And their ratings, I'm guessing, are better than they have been in quite a while (although that's just a guess). The stories seem to be working more often than not. And unlike many past seasons, I don't feel Voyager is mediocre Trek; I feel that it's pretty entertaining, if derivative in numerous ways.
At the same time, I wish the writers would follow through—something they seem to feel is completely unnecessary. I wish they would take risks—something they also seem to think is unnecessary. I wish they wouldn't settle for the conventional solid story when they could push for the unconventional solid story instead.
"Gravity" is a good example of what I'm talking about. All things considered, it's a pretty respectable hour that uses its characters sensibly, but it's not particularly memorable, and it relies on the most fundamental of the fundamentals. One of those fundamentals is the Shuttle Crash Setup. Another is the Venture Into a Character's Past. Another is the Weird Spatial Anomaly. And another is the One-Hour Romantic Theme. That's quite a number of Trekkian standbys to find in one episode, but, lest you think standbys can't be executed well, "Gravity" manages to assemble the pieces into a whole that makes a surprising amount of sense—although it does have some rough spots.
The Shuttle Crash du jour involves Tuvok and Paris ("I told you we should've brought the Delta Flyer," Tom offers helpfully), who have been sucked into a "subspace sinkhole" where escape would be impossible even if their shuttle hadn't been totaled. Realizing they may be stranded awhile, or forever, they try to make the best of a long-term survival situation. Fortunately for them, they have Doc's portable emitter. Of course, if being stranded forever really were to be the outcome here, Voyager would find itself in dire straits the next time there were a medical emergency.
Not to worry: Even though Tuvok and Paris find themselves living two months on this planet, the cleverly scripted properties of the Weird Spatial Anomaly ensure that time passes more quickly inside this subspace sinkhole than outside, meaning that while two months have passed for Paris and Tuvok, only a day has passed for the Voyager crew members, who have launched a rescue plan involving precise use of the transporter.
The crew's rescue operation is complicated by the appearance of some aliens who are determined to seal off this sinkhole in order to prevent more ships from being lost into it. They're scheduled to begin tomorrow. Janeway would like just a little more time to prepare her rescue efforts. Will the aliens grant this request? Don't make me laugh. These are Uncooperative Aliens of the Week (not to be confused with the slightly more extreme Hard-Headed Aliens of the Week, who would probably open fire on Voyager rather than just cutting off a communication effort).
Meanwhile, on the planet, Tuvok and Paris are befriended by a woman named Noss (Lori Petty), who has been stranded there "for 14 seasons." Their initial meeting is a little bizarre, involving some unnecessary silliness with the universal translator. (The language barrier itself is a decent idea, but it's dismissed so early on that it becomes a non-issue.)
It's not long before the Romantic Theme appears, where Noss begins to fall for Tuvok. Of course, as a Vulcan, Tuvok cannot accept her love and pushes her away. This forms the basis for the Venture Into a Character's Past, as flashbacks of Tuvok's youth reveal a young Tuvok (Leroy D. Brazile) trying to rectify an emotional control problem with the help of a Vulcan master (Joseph Ruskin). Tuvok had been smitten by infatuation at a young age, see, bringing forth that schism between discipline and emotion that we suspect all Vulcans (and not just the half-human ones like Spock) have. This ties into the main plot, see, where Tom confronts Tuvok for not letting go of his discipline and his marriage back in the Alpha Quadrant, as being stuck on this planet forever may present little alternative.
But we must ask—how long will the Doctor last solely on his portable emitter? It must have one hell of a battery.
Okay, so I'm a little heavy on sarcasm here; it's meant more in jest than in disappointment. The way these routine elements come together isn't really bad at all. It's just that routine maneuvering sometimes leaves little to ponder afterward.
What works best here is the analysis of Tuvok as a Vulcan. It's plausible and true to his character, and it's nice to see Tuvok open up (with some prodding) his feelings to Tom. On the other hand, the topic of repressed romantic feelings in Vulcans is nothing new; we've seen it several times through Spock, in TOS episodes ranging from "The Naked Time" and "This Side of Paradise" to "All Our Yesterdays." "Gravity" provides pleasant reinforcement material for a Voyager audience. As a Tuvok episode, it's decent, but it also might've dared to challenge the our typical assumptions of Vulcans by asking if Tuvok's 50,000-light-year-distance from home might alter his perception just a bit.
Which brings us to the topic of Pon Farr: That seventh year is coming up pretty soon, no? (But I digress.)
One aspect of the episode that works is the chemistry between Tom and Tuvok. Tom's forceful attempts to prod Tuvok into a relationship with Noss might at times seem a little extreme, but so is the situation. Robert Duncan McNeill and Tim Russ work well together outside the normal ranks.
What doesn't work are some of the scenes involving Noss. The chemistry between her and Tuvok never entirely reaches a convincing stage, and it's difficult to understand how she comes to develop feelings for him. Also, some of Noss' gestures and speech patterns are a little, well, strange—and not in any way that the story seems to intend. Lori Petty's voice is not what I would call typical in the Hollywood arena, but the performance isn't consistent and at times I wasn't sure what to make of it. Scenes like the one where she explodes in rage ("I hate logic!") are jarring in their strangeness, and not jarring in a particularly effective way. Other scenes seem to come across more "normal."
What does work, fortunately, is the payoff. A scene in the transporter room where Tuvok and Noss part ways is pleasant because it brings Vulcan intimacy to the material in a way that is both plausible and quietly moving. When Noss says "I understand," we understand, too.
"Gravity" is an episode that doesn't demand high praise. Nor is there much to object to. It has its interesting moments as well as its derivative ones. I propose now that Voyager has found a good rhythm for this season—but that it needs to shake things up a bit to unleash something fresh.
Next week: Voyager gets ate, and must be saved by Seven.