Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Nothing Human"

**

Air date: 12/2/1998
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Ethics are arbitrary." — Krell

Nutshell: An interesting episode that specializes in pulling the rug out from under itself. I like the arguments quite a bit, but I take great exception to the methods used to present them.

The setup: The crew beams an alien creature aboard Voyager just before its damaged ship explodes.

The problem: Soon after, the injured creature attacks Torres, using her as a "life preserver." It physically latches onto her body, and if it's not removed, Torres will die. Doc can't treat her, because he doesn't have the necessary specialized knowledge of exobiology.

The possible solution: Doc looks through his medical files and finds a Cardassian database on exobiology, and creates a holographic simulation of Doctor Krell Moset (David Clennon), a Cardassian specialist who can treat Torres.

The complication: A moral dilemma arises when the crew learns Krell was present during the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor and had tested many of his theories on live Bajoran subjects.

Maybe the creators decided to disregard caution—and even common sense—in their plotting of this episode, hoping this story could sustain itself with the central issue of controversy that arises with Krell's presence. They were half right. I liked many of the story's arguments a great deal; some genuine thought went into Jeri Taylor's script. But there are also some egregious lapses in judgment, and I don't think the episode survives its plot shortcomings. The drawbacks run so deep here as to make the central situation fundamentally flawed, which infects the rest of the episode. I'm not even sure where to begin.

Actually, I am. Let's start with Krell. I have a big, big problem with the exceptionally casual creation of a such a perfect holographic rendition of a real person, replete with surgical skills that would normally require years of acquired experience. In a word: how? Granted, DS9 has Vic Fontaine, who borders on sentience and has extraordinary social abilities, but it was said in dialog that his was a "very special program"; as such, I'd imagine it was created with a specific intention in mind by trained programming specialists who required great time, care, attention, and testing to get it right. The same goes for Doc's own program; he was the product of extensive research and development by Doctor Zimmerman. Doc's knowledge and technical abilities required a great deal of complexity in his technological makeup—just look at third season's "The Swarm" for plentiful evidence of such.

But here? Harry and Doc spend a few minutes in the holodeck, give the computer a few broad commands, and presto—Krell in the flesh, a surgical assistant who can supply Doc with the assistance he needs to save B'Elanna's life.

Absurd.

First of all, this opens an enormous can of worms (which will undoubtedly be ignored outright). Think of all the implications (the story certainly didn't): If a crafty ensign and a holographic doctor can just throw together a few data files to make a carbon copy of an actual specialist, why do we even need people to run starships? To put it another way, if Torres is lying in sickbay dying and the ship needs to be saved with a technical engineering procedure, Harry could just go into the holodeck, slap together her logs and published knowledge and a few personality files, and then ask this hologram what needs to be done to save the ship from the spatial distortion of the week. According to the logic of this episode, it would work.

Secondly, this idea goes against mostly everything we've been told over the years about the limitations of holograms. (Okay, except maybe "Concerning Flight," in which Doc's holo-emitter became a vessel for the life knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci. Please note that I didn't give that episode a positive review either.) And because this episode isn't about the nature of a hologram's existence (it's just an annoying incidental as far as the episode is concerned), then it's obvious that Krell's existence was nothing more than a device to bring about the central moral dilemma. As a result, this to me seems as arbitrary and magical as the much-feared "Fun With DNA" syndrome, which really rankles.

Third, the episode doesn't even seem to know what really makes up "Krell the hologram," and quietly concocts his nature in whatever convenient way suits the story. There's a great deal of greyness to exactly what data this hologram is comprised of. Just how much actual personality information was in the real Krell's data files, and why would it even be there? Personally, I don't think it should be there.

Why does this bother me so much? I'll tell you why. It's not simply that I don't buy the plausibility of such a perfect holographic likeness (which I don't), it's that the use of the hologram is a sneaky way of avoiding the real ethical issue here—especially considering the story at one point tells us that the Krell hologram isn't programmed with knowledge of the atrocities the real Krell committed. (Conveniently, he's programmed with all of Krell's surgical knowledge, opinions, personality, and so forth—but no memory of being a "bad person." How very nice.)

The real issue here is whether or not medical knowledge obtained through inhumane methods is morally right to use to benefit another. On more than one occasion, "Nothing Human" does a reasonably good job at tackling this question. There are several interesting arguments between Doc and Krell about ethics (leading to Krell's most intriguingly troubling line, "Ethics are arbitrary"). But the problem is, by putting so much ambiguity in the nature of Krell, the story often doesn't seem to know whether the other characters object to the idea of using his knowledge, or if they simply object to the idea of Krell himself.

What if Krell's medical database had been downloaded into a hologram of a Starfleet doctor? The answer: No one would have given it a second thought. We wouldn't have Torres' general prejudice against Cardassians setting up the unease. We wouldn't have a convenient Bajoran crew member (where did he come from, and where has he been for the last four years?) recognizing Krell as a mass murderer from the Occupation days. We wouldn't have Harry and Seven researching the databases to find out where Krell and his research came from and if crimes were in fact committed.

In short, the characters would be using the knowledge without knowing where it came from. And why should they know where it came from? If the data is in the Starfleet medical database, then one would think it's generally accepted as fair use by the Federation. While I find it generally unlikely that such a Cardassian database would exist in Starfleet records given the time frame of the Cardassian Occupation (that is, it ended only a few years before Voyager was lost in the Delta Quadrant, and at that time Cardassia wasn't on the best of terms with the Federation), if we grant that it did come to be part of the Federation's medical knowledge, the unspoken message here is that the databases are full of procedures that could've been obtained anywhere at any cost. Does that mean the Voyager crew needs to research every medical procedure and ask where it came from? I tend to doubt it, and the story also seems to doubt it, if we're meant to take anything Krell says to heart—but it's one important question that is never asked directly.

The episode's attempt to have its cake and eat it too leads this story into an analysis of mostly Krell the man, who, if you stop to think about it, isn't really part of the issue at all. He's just data that was assembled into a hologram who obviously isn't regarded as a real person (because, for one, his fate is entirely subject to Doc's decision to pull the plug after it's all over). As a result, I see Krell as an object of convenience in story terms. It's much easier to hate an evil man than an obscure memory of a possibly evil event or faceless data obtained at an unknown cost.

Now, I'll admit that may be part of the point. It sometimes takes drastic circumstances for us to realize the gravity of a moral issue. And Krell's dialog about using something—even if it goes against our morals—when we need it is all good for the sake of the argument.

Watching "Nothing Human," I'm reminded of third season's "Sacred Ground," which was full of ambivalence and tough questions without answers. The problem with that episode, which is also the problem here, is that the story wants to bring up issues and not address them in realistic terms, but instead only on extremely specific, uniquely plotted terms. Buried in this episode is lots of good ethical debate, but it's bogged down by an overabundance of technical side effects. The real question (i.e., what are the ethical implications of using this medical knowledge?) is at times lost in a sea of plot-rigged conditions (e.g., the amount of Krell's memories that are programmed into the hologram, the fact that a Bajoran officer happens to recognize Krell, the convenience of the central source of conflict being a hologram that can be deactivated at will, etc.).

And given that I'm against the idea of this hologram as a foundation of the story in the first place (which alone is almost damning enough to the episode), that doesn't leave us in great shape, despite the fact there are some admirable scenes in the crew's debate of the issue.

Near the end, Janeway makes one of her patented controversial decisions. I found this decision interesting, but ultimately not enlightening. She says, in a nicely written scene in the briefing room where everyone is arguing the issue, that she can't let her crew member die—she has to make the decision based on what's best for Voyager. She says she accepts all moral consequences of accepting Krell's help—that the procedure will be performed and that "we'll deal with the moral ramifications later."

All fine and good (especially the revisited notion about doing what's best for Voyager), but does Janeway (and hence the episode) really end up dealing with the moral ramifications? I don't think so. The first thing Janeway tells an angry B'Elanna after the operation is, "We have to put this behind us," even going so far is to order B'Elanna to move on. That's pretty extreme and controversial (and interesting as a result), but is it enough? No. It can't simply end there. Yet it does ... especially considering that all will almost certainly be forgotten by next week.

It's funny, because "Nothing Human" feels like a sudden attempt for Voyager to try winding back the clock to the Voyager series of yesteryear—back when "the Starfleet way" was often held in question given the nature of the Delta Quadrant. Unfortunately, such aspects of Voyager have been dead and buried since season two, and a resurrection of them here seems a little forced. Also, Janeway's decision doesn't seem to be consistent with such moral decisions she has made in the past, like her decision in "Prey" to potentially sacrifice the entire ship rather than see an 8472 killed. I wonder what kind of stir-up this episode could've been if there really were room for conflict on Voyager (which as we all know there isn't—the crew is just one big happy family).

All in all, "Nothing Human" is a real frustration. It's a story that has ideas that stand out as deep and provocative, but it doesn't know how to convey those ideas effectively. The result is an unsteady, unfocused clash of ideals that is sometimes entertaining while other times simply infuriating. There's certainly respectable ambition here, but that ambition doesn't net a successful result.

Overall, I'm rating this episode as mediocre. It's based upon a massive flaw that permeates the whole story. But it does have value because, like the "Tuvix" debate, it's something with complexities worthy of discussion. I could probably discuss them for days. I like that this story incited some reactions in me. I just wish I didn't have to completely throw conventional wisdom out the window while deconstructing the plot in searching for the truth.

Next week: Star Trek: Waterworld.

Previous episode: Infinite Regress
Next episode: Thirty Days

Season Index

54 comments on this review

mlk - Thu, Jan 17, 2008 - 2:21pm (USA Central)
That was so stupid not wanting to get operated because he's a hologram of a evil guy.
EightofNine - Mon, Feb 4, 2008 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
The 'convenient' Bajoran is crewman Gerron, one of the Maquis members. He was introduced in 'Learning Curve'.
Paul - Tue, Feb 5, 2008 - 12:56pm (USA Central)
How about Torres' body and uniform being in perfect condition after the alien who was forcefully attached to her and hijacking her respitory system - was removed?
TH - Thu, Mar 27, 2008 - 3:42pm (USA Central)
Not to oversimplify, but how much effort would it have taken for the Doc to say "computer, change physical paramater: species to human" when it was brought up to him (during its creation) that people might have a problem with a Cardassian?

I agree with you; this is the one random time Doc can't just "read up" on whatever he needs to know, and creation of the hologram goes insanely easily. One blip and then the next attempt and he's perfect. Consider in one of the episodes where Doc goes away for a while (Message in a Bottle, or Life Line? I don't recall which) Kim and Paris go about the "simple" task of creating a new Doctor so that Paris can get out of his temp medic job, and it basically blows up in their faces, [I'll forgo the questions on why 24th century starships don't have copy-paste for him] it was insanely easy here; though I should note that there is plenty of historical conflict on this - Geordi created a fairly good Leah Brahams hologram back in the day, but at least he had to actually tell the computer what information to use to form her personality and information... it's hard to distinguish between the Leah hologram being an instant creation engineering database person and the Doc being a complex and arduous to create medical database person, and then Krell being once again a simple easy to create biology database person. Where is the line drawn?

That said, even if Doc was too naive to change the hologram to a human before all this starts, I don't see why they couldn't still do it to eliminate Tores' resistance after she objects. "We did some more research and we found a human biology expert!"
Stefan - Thu, Mar 27, 2008 - 8:59pm (USA Central)
In addition to the comments made by TH, I want to add one thing: B'Elanna's ingratitude. Her life has been saved and she acts like Captain Janeway did something horrible to her. If she really felt that way, she could have simply taken a phaser, set it to kill, put it to her own head, and then fired. Of course she doesn't do that, so how upset is she really?
EightofNine - Thu, Mar 27, 2008 - 9:43pm (USA Central)
Yes the fact that they didn't just change the Cardassian appearance is a bit odd of course, to say the least. And the quick-setup-hologram. And the Doc's sudden data limit. Oh well, contrived forced conflict but it was decently executed, so I won't complain that much!
Pauly - Sun, May 18, 2008 - 5:52am (USA Central)
It wasn't Gerron, it was Tabor, and he popped up again later in "Repression".

I love Janeway at the end of this one, basically saying, "Get over it #@#!". Torres always one of my favourite characters, but she really pissed me off here.
Deathcrow - Sat, Jun 7, 2008 - 7:45am (USA Central)
They can make a 100% accurate hologram version of the Alien by a simple command from the doctor, but then they have to CUT the hologram open to find out how it looks inside (and make wild speculations while doing so). The hologram even suffers from pain, so the computer even understood the nervous system!!!

At first Doc couldnt make ANY clue out of the creature, when scanning it with his instruments, this makes him look like a total idiot.

Doesnt that sound stupid to anyone else here?

Adding all the other inconsistencies mentioned by others here this episode is definetly way below 'mediocre'...
grumpy_otter - Tue, Jul 29, 2008 - 6:08pm (USA Central)
I am surprised that neither Jammer nor previous commenters have noted that the ethical dilemma presented in this episode is a real one--shall the data collected by the Nazis during their horrifying experiments be used? The answer is not simple and is argued to this day.

I think the Voyager writers must have been inspired by this particular issue--but I agree that the presentation was ridiculous. The possibility of a thoughtful exploration of the subject was undercut by the many stupidities of the episode.

The crucial question, in relation to the tortured subjects of the Nazis or the Cardassians, is one the episode ignored entirely--what would the victims want? Would they like their deaths to have some meaning, or would they feel their suffering is being exploited?

Once again, Voyager fails to even attempt an answer.
Nick - Tue, Aug 26, 2008 - 9:58am (USA Central)
So using the logic of this episode, if it were a Klingon doctor who they were getting the insight from, would everyone be so angry? Oh wait, I am sure the Klingon doctors never did anything like use live patients for subjects.....
John Pate - Tue, Jan 20, 2009 - 11:29am (USA Central)
This one was a "miss." Although the issues they were raising were potentially interesting they were obscured rather than illuminated by the SF trappings which made it a rather pointless exercise. Probably doubly pointless because, back here in the real world, people may pretend to be arguing about these moral dilemmas but they're carrying in practical fact as if they aren't there.
EP - Sat, Feb 28, 2009 - 2:02am (USA Central)
What grumpy_otter said.

The idea is interesting but the 47 plot contrivances needed to make it happen makes the "allegory" portion of the script rapidly turn into the "-gory."

At least the actors give it the old college try. At least we didn't run into another spatial anomaly.

But man, was that alien beetle prop totally lame.

Chris - Thu, Apr 2, 2009 - 9:19pm (USA Central)
I assumed they used the same technology the Doctor used in Darkling, and Janeway used last season...creating a hologram of a famous person extrapolating from all available information. It's not unprecedented.
Abhiroop Basu - Wed, May 20, 2009 - 9:25pm (USA Central)
@Chris:

While it is certainly not unprecedented to create a hologram like that, and it is arguable relatively easy to create it, but look at all the gaping holes.

1. How on earth would they have such technical information about Krell? I mean at best they'd have his medical information (even that is doubtful). As for creating other characters I guess the argument is that the characters we see are extrapolations of characters. So, for example in "Concerning Flight" the Da Vinci character is not ANYTHING like the real Da Vinci as we don't have accurate records of his personality. All we have are his paintings, inventions, etc. So, I guess it could be argued that Krell's personality is just one that is programmed by Harry (albeit it is done very quickly).

2. If they can create one hologram why don't they have a whole medical team? Or equip other regions of the ship with holo-emittors and create another crew. I accept this would take a lot of energy but would it not be useful to have a Capt. Kirk and all his experience? Or just a hologram in important parts of the ship, so that if something happens (e.g. life-support fails) there is a backup. There have been many times where the doctor has been essential because he's not human and not limited.

3. A general critique of hologram tech is "the safeties are off". What? How on earth could a simulated projectile cause injury? THis is the most contrived invention. Remember from First Contact where Picard shoots the Borg with a tommy gun. Very cool scene but highly implausible. If you get shot by the holographic bullet wouldn't it dissapear as soon as you leave the holodeck? This is another argument that can be used for the action sequences in "The Killing Game".

Anyway holo tech needs to be taken with a big grain of salt.
Ken Egervari - Sat, Oct 31, 2009 - 1:22pm (USA Central)
My biggest problems with this story are quite similar to our resident reviewer.

I frankly don't understand how they made a hologram as sophisticated as the doctors in such a short time, especially when the show has established a premise that it is not trivial technology. Even in DS9 we are given a glimpse of how much work is needed to create a hologram of such capacity. I'm not buying the premise of this episode.

Even more bothering, and this is something the review does not mention, is why all of a sudden did they think about creating a hologram for THIS procedure?

This is the most baffling thing. How many times have we seen this type of patient need "emergency" treatment. Why didn't they make holograms for those episode too? Oh... that's right! You just needed an evil cardassian hologram for this episode!

I actually liked the debate questions between the doctors, and among the crew. I also agree with the reviewer that the show completely downplays the drama and trivializes it. Seriously, if I were Belanna, I'd be pissed to. She has every right to be. And frankly, if this show were modeled after real people, Belanna might be pissed at Janeway for awhile.

Also, didn't we just do an episode where the all the maquis died? The maquis were fighting... who? Oh... that's right - CARDASSIANS. Do you not think some of that might get thrown into the mix? I mean her meltdown just happened only a few episodes ago... and it's not even mentioned here. I think a real person would react much more strongly here.

Of course, Voyager is just filled with puppet characters for the most part, with near zero continuity between the events that happen to the characters.

And you are right - we never got an answer to the debate. None whatsoever. They completely cheesed out on these questions, thus trivializing the only good part about the show.

Purely rubbish if you ask me.
hobo - Fri, Nov 27, 2009 - 4:59pm (USA Central)
I just finished this episode, and it still bugs me how hypocritical the Voyager crew is. Any crimes that the entire Cardassian race may have committed in the past pale in comparison to what the Borg have done. Yet that's never stopped Voyager from benefitting from Seven of Nine's technology and expertise.
Will - Sun, Nov 29, 2009 - 4:04pm (USA Central)
Ugh, awful episode. Y'know this is Roxann Dawson (B'Elanna Torres)'s least favourite episode. I see why.
Petey - Thu, Jan 28, 2010 - 9:19pm (USA Central)
"If a crafty ensign and a holographic doctor can just throw together a few data files to make a carbon copy of an actual specialist, why do we even need people to run starships?"

We don't. In the future humans are no longer slaves of technology. Just because we can do a thing does not mean we must do a thing. Ie, just because we can have robots flying ships we don't do it, what would the humans do?
The joys of a capitalistfree society - people do what they want.
DeanGrr - Sun, Feb 21, 2010 - 11:36am (USA Central)
With Voyager (and Scifi in general) I try to be generous in my suspension of disbelief, and focus on enjoying the ethical debates and emotional interactions of the characters. My enjoyment of this episode came from 2 sources:
1. Krell Moset's character was charismatic and chemistry with the Doctor was great. The Doctor really wanted to overlook/deny any faults in Krell. I enjoyed how Krell could be likeable and yet his actions detestable, which rings true to real life at times.
2. Krell's argument at the end about throwing ethics out the window when the need is great enough rang true, despite the Doctor's determination to wipe Krell's program. It seems fair to use this research if the victims (or their families) were willing to give meaning to their deaths and save future lives, but Krell should not be rewarded. The knowledge can do good, just like Seven's knowledge from the Borg, but how it was obtained was by harming others against their will.
Peronal rating: 3 stars
Paul - Thu, Feb 25, 2010 - 6:38pm (USA Central)
Well pointed out about hypocrisy. As Seven admits in the previous episode no less, 'I've helped to assimilate thousands of individuals', but no-one bats an eyelid. The only one with consistent views is Torres, who hates Seven as much as that Cardassian. (but then i think Torres hates everyone, even Paris).

I suppose it's different if you can build weapons based technology on the deaths of millions rather than life-saving strategies based on the deaths of hundreds.

I did like Janeway's comment, 'still seems to be some demons in here, hope that stuff works'. Hey, she can't be perfect in taking 'controversial' decisions. Didn't Picard violate the PD about 21 times or something?

Note on Picardo. Excellent acting, makes me laugh out loud.
Michael - Wed, Jun 30, 2010 - 9:56am (USA Central)
Well, the episode itself was pathetic, for reasons others have so ably enumerated. But the ethical dilemma is very interesting, and I was particularly intrigued by what grumpy_otter said.

Half my family was murdered by the Nazis; my father was saved from a concentration camp at five minutes to Twelve. Yet, I have no problem Nazi medical research - whatever methods it was obtained through - being used for good today. I reckon saving lives, including those of the very same people they tried to exterminate, is the best revenge (insofar as it's meaningful to talk about revenge against something/someone which doesn't exist any longer). Does it really make more sense to lose even more lives? Besides, who is to say that, between the original unethicaly discovery and the controversy erupting, a bona fide scientist would not have made the same discovery? This is just throwing the baby out with the bath water.

As far as choosing to die rather than be saved using unethically-sourced research, I don't get it: What/whom are you protesting against? What/whom is that "protest" designed to hurt?

I would have no problem electing to benefit from the Nazis' science-related discoveries; and would dedicate a portion of my saved life to fight against neo-Nazism and all forms of fascist totalitarianism. What good would I be to anyone if I was dead???
Elliott - Fri, Aug 27, 2010 - 11:48pm (USA Central)
Okay, unusually for Jammer, I think a lot of things went over his head here.

First the issue of the hologram's creation: 1) remember Dr. Leah Brahms, Enterprise D's designer whom Geordi fell in love with via holodeck recreation? We see in a followup episode, that of course the holo-Brahms, in spite of its realism and ability to help save the day, is not a real person like the genuine article when we actually meet her. Why, just because Krell is charming and jovial, do we take him to be at the same level of complexity as the Doctor? I do not. He is programmed with a specific function and medical knowledge, not the kinds of adaptive and heuristic abilities of the Doc, and a superficial politico-image personality which is actually thematic to the point here. 2) We have seen the advantage in TNG and VOY of harbouring historical people in holographic shells which in some way represent them (Data might call it "an ineffable quality"). Dr. Zimmerman, the Vidiian woman whom the Doctor revivied, for example. Krell is no more absurd a creation than any other holographic character. Hell, Moriarti is far more ludicrous an invention, and one could easily argue his conjuring is a plot device.

Okay, onto the meatier dilemma; the isolation of this incident in the database. Continuity issues are irrelevant unless they interfere with character development (which they sometimes do, but not here--how much knowledge of Cardassian medicine Voyager possesses or not affects no one's character). Now, the ethical point of the episode is not nearly so clearcut as much Trek can be--which is why it puzzles me Jammer doesn't dig it--while the point is definitely made (by Krell) that if the crew were to investigate its own medical knowledge, even or especially that derived by humans, it would find a similarly bloodstained history--thought not connected perhaps to events so recent and relevant to characters whose lives were directly affected by the events. So what is the solution? None is offered; as Janeway says, "You're both right." One cannot deny the ethical questionability of using Krell's research, but to second guess it at the cost of Torres' life sets a precedent of inaction in an almost infinite number of situations--ethical stagnation. Janeway's choice is to be amoral and save her crewman. We are reminded here of "Tuvix" where an equally difficult and unsolvable ethical situation required Janeway's controversy, but here the ethical situation is much closer to our reality.

As an episode, we have lasting and thematic character development for the Doctor and between Janeway and Torres (quite a feat considering the latter spent most of her screentime covered by a rubber lobster). It is not perfect to be sure, but it is a successful and meaningful episode--and I think the number of comments on this very page is evidence of its ability to make people think--which I believe is a central criterion to Jammer's quality control.
Elliott - Thu, Dec 2, 2010 - 12:09am (USA Central)
One comment about people's comparison with the Borg: the Borg are not evil, they don't make decisions as a people or debate ethics, that act on pure agression and desire; Arturis in "Hope and Fear" compares them to a force of nature, and I think he's right (at least until VOY deconstructs them with their analysis of the queen). One cannot feel moral objections to a force of nature.
Jay - Sun, Mar 6, 2011 - 2:43pm (USA Central)
How convenient that suddenly there's a Bajoran aboard. One that doesn't want to work for Seven because B'Ehlanna dooesn't much like her (how'd he get into Starfleet with that 'tude?), even though the obvious goal is to help Torres survive...bad, bad episode.
Elliott - Sat, Apr 16, 2011 - 2:35am (USA Central)
Just watched this one again...let's see so

We've got a fascinating and complex moral issue, we have efficient and well-paced plotting, we have absolutely brilliant acting and subtlety written dialogue, we have beautiful scenes and camera work, we have believable and poignant character interactions, we have a balanced and meaningful distribution of rôles amongst the cast, we have an issue which is both unique to the Voyager situation and one which deals directly with the circumstances of home (the alpha quadrant)...yes I can see why this is such a terrible episode...
Essentially every piece of technology in all incarnations of Trek are absurd depending upon one'e level of technical expertise. I could (and have) successfully convince someone of how warp drive is possible, but try that on a physicist. To complain about "magical" technology here is a non sequitor. It's all magical, it's there to make a point, not convince us of its own plausibility.
The man was Cardassian not to evoke in us a natural prejudice against him (that's for B'Elana and Tabor)...we, being the progressive Trekers we are, force ourselves to be openminded--Okay, he's a Cardassian, one shouldn't lump him together with those Guls who ran the camps, he's just a doctor. And such a nice guy--The point of all this is to narrow the focus upon the actual moral issue more than most other situations would allow for. We see the characters getting wrapped up in histrionics and racial issues as most of us would, but we are left with the pure ideas presented. Very nice. The episode doesn't take a stance on the issue, which is not only fine, it's preferable. Janeway said it, both perspectives are right depending upon the circumstances, which in her view as captain must incline towards survival. Now, I know there have been instances where Janeway chooses to sacrifice (potentially) her ship and crew for a moral stance, but in those cases, the ethics weren't at all grey as they are here.

You complain that the issues from seasons 1 and 2 don't appear enough, then when they do, you complain that they have been "buried"--I've said it before, the issues are continued from seasons 1 - 7 extremely well, just not the way you or others would have wanted them to be. That doesn't make them wrong or superfluous, you just don't agree.

3.5 stars
betterthanuall - Thu, Jul 21, 2011 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
you guys need to get lives. i love star trek as much as the next guy, but the guy who wrote this is trying his best to sound intelligent, and failing. what he's coming off as, is an arrogant high school geek. it's fiction, meant for entertainment to get ratings, to bring money to the network. if the idiot author or anyone who posted feels they can do better, move to LA and try to get a job writing scripts, producing television, or directing specific episodes. don't try and arrogantly insult someone fora job done bad, when you couldn't even match their current skill, nor would you evern know where to begin. settled.
Iceblink - Fri, Jul 29, 2011 - 11:55am (USA Central)
"Janeway to Kim: beam the creature off B'elanna!"
"I'm having trouble getting a lock!"

Given the amount of times Kim is unable to get a transporter lock on someone/something, I begin to wonder - does he even know how to use a transporter?
onan - Sun, Aug 28, 2011 - 2:35am (USA Central)
I'm watching this episode again, and the issues that bother me with it still bother me. I was hoping to google around and make sure I wasn't the only one, but from what I've read, no one has. I'm willing to accept the "instant perfect hologram" thing, they've done it all before in other Trek series. I'm willing to ignore a lot.

3 things bothered me that no one seemed to mention:

1. The first one was sort of touched on by other people saying "Why didn't they just change the physical parameters?", but let's take this one step further: How can anyone, let alone Torres (chief engineer and someone intimately familiar with advanced holographic technology due to repairing and upgrading the Doctor) not be able to separate a graphical representation and reality in her mind? Yes, I would find a holographic hitler as a nurse to be distasteful, but whatever, it's not hitler. It's tractor beams and force fields manipulating medical instruments. Everyone in the future knows this. Tom Paris knows this and even tells Torres it doesn't matter, but for her it does. For the Bajoran, it does. They shouldn't need to change his appearance because they're all "evolved" enough not to be spooked as easily as birds by a metal owl.

2. There is a REMARKABLE lack of urgency during this episode. Harry and the Doctor goof off while programming Moset, making small talk, introductions, all while their crewmate is dying in the infirmary. Time spent by the doctor trying to get this hologram made and supervising the creation could easily have been spent studying up on those same databases, especially when the most qualified person to make a hologram was laid out in a biobed.

3. This is my biggest issue with this episode, and no one has even come close to pointing this out: The database used in this episode was the EXOBIOLOGICAL database. While Krell may have been a war criminal who experimented on innocents, he came up on this search for his additional expertise in NON-HUMANOID EXOBIOLOGY. Any advances he made curing diseases were moot. The reason the doctor needed him was because the doctor very logically isn't programmed with information about non-humanoid species because he generally doesn't need to treat them.

Simply put, none of the research they ultimately deleted was gained at the expense of dead bajorans during the occupation.

Exobiology is a field Moset studied in and *contributed to* independently of his immoral acts. Hitler was a talented artist. Should we demonize art out of respect to the crimes committed by Nazi Germany? If Einstein had been a mass murderer, should we as a result completely abandon any field Einstein worked on and start from scratch? It makes no sense, and is completely irrelevant.

For Janeway to allow the deletion of such critical information from their databases (not just limited to known species but presumably heuristic routines used when encountering unknown lifeforms) is completely unacceptable. Especially considering the situation they face encountering nothing BUT the unknown day after day on the way back to the Alpha quadrant, abandoning that data is effectively suicide.

Fortunately nothing is ever truly deleted, and I'm sure she quietly went back and restored the databases from protected backups after the fact, so the mission wouldn't be compromised and her crew could get the warm squishy feeling of doing the "right thing". Win/win. That, or just rely more heavily on the borg databases with truly independently discovered conclusions about the same information.

Jay - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 1:10pm (USA Central)
Excellent point, onan. And along those lines, Janeway readily harvests Borg technology left and right, all with no expressed concern for all of the horrors the Borg have exacted on not just one other race, but countless ones, some of which actually did have something to do with the specific technologies utilized.
Angular - Tue, Oct 11, 2011 - 3:55pm (USA Central)
Scientific data don't have a moral qualifier. It makes no sense to delete data that could potentially save countless lifes because of the way they were obtained.

This only changes if the use would somehow make new atrocities possible, e.g. by facilitating funding for new unethical research.
Nathan - Tue, Nov 8, 2011 - 12:40am (USA Central)
The basic argument of those who don't want knowledge gained by unethical practices used is that setting aside such knowledge is a deterrent to future researchers who might be tempted by unethical practices in their own work. It's like how in the U.S. the police can't use evidence obtained illegally. You can argue that since it's already been obtained it does no harm to use it, but that just sets the stage for future abuses. (Personally I think the benefit of using such medical knowledge outweighs possible future cost, but others disagree, hence the debate.) The episode certainly did not go into any of this.

A few more things:
Harry and Neelix would have died were it not for Doc's use of Borg nanoprobes. Which the Borg developed for the purpose of assimilation.
Leave it to Voyager to give us a boring Cardassian :)
Nathan - Tue, Nov 8, 2011 - 2:21am (USA Central)
I forgot to mention that this sort of deterrent is also touched upon (again rather badly, IMO) in TNG's "Half a Life".
Will - Thu, Nov 10, 2011 - 4:28pm (USA Central)
I personally think the moral issue is a straightforward one. It is hugely unethical to experiment on unwilling individuals, but it makes little sense to not use the information found after the fact. To not do so would make the suffering of those patients completely pointless. If the information determined from their suffering could be used, as least some good would have come out of a terrible crime. Throw that information away, and they died for nothing.

Tuvok pointed out that using the information would validate the methods used to obtain it, however if those that commit such acts are still given the equivalent to the society's highest punishment (i.e life imprisonment), possible perpetrators would still be dissuaded.
Destructor - Thu, Jan 19, 2012 - 10:45pm (USA Central)
I think it's foolish to condemn this episode on technicalities. It's about medical ethics and it's an issue it explores extremely well. I'd give this 3 stars, easily.
Captain Jim - Fri, Mar 9, 2012 - 10:03pm (USA Central)
"I'm against the idea of this hologram as a foundation of the story in the first place."

And that pretty much says it all. It's obvious that Jammer never got any further than that. Sorry, I can't sympathize. So much of what's done with holograms on this and every other ST show is pure fantasy, it seems silly to argue about it here.

I completely agree with what DeanGrr and Elliot say above. An excellent episode dealing with moral ambiguities. Three and one half stars.
Nic - Wed, Mar 21, 2012 - 8:47am (USA Central)
You make some VERY interesting points, Michael. I am strongly opposed to the use of non-human animals in any kind of scientific research [though some uses are worse than others -- see "Draize test"], regardless of whether this research saves human lives or not. The other species inhabiting this planet are not ours to do with as we please just because we can. I am very careful not to buy products from any companies that test on animals, because I fear that by doing so I would be encouraging further research. But there is a difference -- Nazi medical research is not still going on, so as you say, we probably aren't encouraging further such research by using that knowledge.

Anyway, being written by Jeri Taylor, this episode does suffer from Janeway is Awesome [TM] syndrome. Janeway violates Torres' rights as a patient, and then she doesn't even apologize, she just says "we have to move on" and gives Torres a condescending look when she understandably lets out her anger.

The final scene is also problematic. The Doctor refuses to listen to Krell when he rightfully asks "Where was your conscience when B'Elanna was dying on that table?" As Jammer said, the episode tried to have its cake and eat it too by using the knowledge to save Torres and then deleting it out of "good conscience". We viewers know very well that there won't be an episode in the future where they would once again have needed that knowledge to save someone and then have to face the consequences of the Doctor's decision here.
Justin - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 3:52pm (USA Central)
The plot contrivances, while mildly annoying, are not why I consider this an only slightly better than mediocre episode.

I simply find it silly that people would wring their hands and torture themselves with guilt over using knowledge that may have been obtained by unethical means. If the knowledge is available and can be put to good use (i.e. saving a life) it should be used. If said knowledge was originally obtained unethically and you want people to know about it you have what is called a teaching moment. Educate people. If it's a medical treatment, name it after the victims instead of the doctor. Tell people what happened and why it should never happen again, but don't deny them treatment. And certainly don't deny yourself treatment because you feel guilty about suffering you didn't cause and had no control over.

The fact that this kind of thing is a real controversy says something about the human condition and how we often have an irrational relationship with our own guilt, even if and sometimes especially when that guilt is compassionate in nature.
Justin - Wed, May 2, 2012 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
I changed my mind (again). I can't fault the episode on its ability to entertain just because I disagree with the ethical viewpoint behind the ending. The best episodes of Star Trek always invoke deep thought. This one is no different in that respect.
Paul York - Tue, May 8, 2012 - 7:08pm (USA Central)
The Cardassian makes a factual error when he says that Starfleet / Earth science was advanced by animal experimentation in the past. No it wasn't, since experiments on non-humans is not predictive for humans (the non-homology argument put forward by Dr. Ray Greek in his many books on the subject). He makes an interesting point worth pondering when he rationalizes experiments on humanoids by referring to animal experimentation. The Doctor makes the false distinction between human and non-human "people." In fact there are many non-human people in Star Trek and also currently on Earth. Levels of intelligence and technological sophistication should not matter if a creature is sentient. If it did, then technologically superior highly intelligent alien species would be morally justified in experimenting on humans. Since we know they are not, it also stands to reason that humans are not morally justified in experimenting on non-humans of any kind. The Doctor actually recognized this when he insisted on saving the parasitic alien creature, whom he knew to be sentient. Rats and mice are also sentient and thus equally deserving of moral consideration. I wish Star Trek had explored this important issue a bit more closely, since it was brought up, and that the Doctor had argued that the Federation no longer performed barbaric experiments on animals (a fact we are made aware of in TNG, and in the episode where Janeway argues with a vivisector in the brig whose species is conducting multiple experiments on the crew). As for the ethics of using Krell's knowledge, obtained as it was through torture, I'm not sure how that applies to the exo-biology he is using to treat Bellana, since that creature's physiology is so radically different from a Bajoran's. However, it is good that the ST writers raise this question, as it is important one.
Nathaniel - Wed, May 9, 2012 - 12:06pm (USA Central)
@Paul York
You are quite wrong. Animal experimentation is done because it often is generally predictive of human response to treatments and medicine. Not always, but generally.

One of the biggest reasons rats are so popular for medical studies is because their digestive tract has a high similarity to humans beings. Thus drugs and chemicals ingested by them often have similar effects on their physiology as on ours.

Something that you should also consider: Virtually every treatment and medicine made today, yesterday and in the last 100 years was tested first on animals. If it doesn't work on animals, it never makes it to human trials. So those who advocate for halting animal testing are demanding that all testing be stopped. No new treatments, and no new medicines.
Will - Tue, Jun 26, 2012 - 11:54am (USA Central)
The moral arguments in the show are really annoying. Whether or not the Krell hologram should operate on her, or exist on the ship long-terms is a fair question, but proposing to delete the findings of research is just stupid. I can understand the pain associated with such things, but it seems obvious that to delete the few positives that came out of the horrors the man committed only serves to remove any possible meaning the deaths he caused. At least that Bajoran could say, "Yes, that man murdered my grandparents, but at least some small shred of good came from it." Delete those findings, and nothing changes except that his grandfather's death becomes 100% meaningless. He's still dead, and the tragedy still occurred.
Grumpy - Thu, Jul 19, 2012 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
In some ways, the story would make more sense if the hologram angle were dropped entirely. Suppose it was originally about a visiting alien scientist (not unlike Jetrel) brought in as a consultant. But how would our heroes know about his past atrocities, and why would they care? To solve that problem, the Cardassian was added, with more dramatic responses from the crew, despite the plot holes.

However, according to Memory Alpha, the Cardassian angle was the original premise and the rest of the story grew from there.
Elphaba - Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - 1:27am (USA Central)
Just because knowledge was obtained through less than legitimate means it doesn't mean we just toss the research. Deleting it is absolutely silly. If it works, it works. It doesn't really matter how we came about that knowledge.

If we came about the knowledge that plants produce chlorophyll for instance by cutting open humans and plants, observing them while they were alive, we wouldn't toss that research because that is simply the way plants work. No matter how we did the research the result would still be the same because that's just the way the world works.

To say that we came about this research through immoral actions doesn't really mean anything because we could simply repeat the experiments without the immoral parts and it would come out the same way because that's the way the world works. Deleting the research is just saying "We're not going to acknowledge the way the world works in this particular instance because we found out how it works in an immoral way." Which of course is silly and stupid.
dale sams - Thu, Dec 27, 2012 - 8:06pm (USA Central)
The only way this ep works is to make it actually *illegal* in the Federation to use the holographic info. Sounds silly but it also sounds like something the Feds would do.

Subsequent problems like why is the info in the databanks would have to be worked around.
skadoo - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 8:44pm (USA Central)
I agree with just about everyone but want to bring up a couple of things no one has mentioned.

I would have liked for Janeway to have alluded to all of the folks who have died since she's been Captain and make that factor in to her reasons. "Dammit, I don't like it either. But if I can help it I'm not loosing another crew member!" Or something. I agree with her that Voyager needs B'Ellana. Even if it means that she treads all over her rights in this case. Captains have to make tough decisions. Which also bugged me that she put the decision to keep or ditch the Cardassian on the Doctor's shoulders. She should have made the decision, period. End of story. But she also owed B'Ellana an apology. Something on the lines of "I'm sorry. But sometimes I have to be your Captain and I can't be your friend." Heck they could have had B'Ellana walk out mid apology and you see Janeway regret that she's hurt her Chief Engr. It could have been a relationship that took the rest of season 6 to repair.
Domi - Wed, Aug 21, 2013 - 10:14pm (USA Central)
I am not sure why Jammer is so bent out of shape regarding the creation of the holographic Krell. There is a huge amount of precedent for programming and creating complex holodeck characters out of thin air. Two offhand examples are seen in "The Thaw" (in which a fake Janeways is 'programmed to respond the way the real Captain Janeway would'), and "Worst Case Scenario", in which basically the whole crew is recreated. Oh, I should also point out that "Alter Ego" implied that apparently holograms and sentient life forms are essentially indistinguishable. Actually, these ideas were established in TNG when Geordi recreated Leah Brahms and Data recreated Sigmund Freud, among others.

So by this time in the series I just take it for granted that holographic characters can be created from nothing. The Doctor constantly reminding everyone how complex his program is could be taken as another example of his pretentiousness. The episode in which Kim and Paris try to create a new Doc, and he just ends up reading the encyclopedia, was actually an exception to the rule.

So with that out of the way, I will give my thoughts on the episode: cliches and bad acting in the first half, but the rest was interesting and innovative. The Moset character was captivating. You don't hear lines like "Ethics are arbitrary" in Star Trek every day. I was also as stunned as The Doctor at how hypocritical Krell was in citing the Hippocratic Oath.

What I want to know is how the *** this life form jumped right out of a force-field. Never explained. I also find it odd that this alien is apparently impervious to force-fields yet it is vulnerable to a holographic scalpel!

On balance, I think it was a good epside, and would give it 2.5 or 3 stars. I could see why Roxann Dawson hated it, though. She spent the entire episode with that HIDEOUS thing on her.

Oh, and the name of the episode is a brilliant double entendre.
Mike P - Sat, Aug 24, 2013 - 12:58am (USA Central)
@Peter York
" Rats and mice are also sentient and thus equally deserving of moral consideration"

While any living creature should be due certain moral considerations, your statement that rats and mice are sentient is an error that animal rights folks constantly make. Non human animals are obviously alive and conscious ie: they are aware of and react to their surroundings, but because they are still slaves to instinct, they are most definitely not sentient.

Sentience by definition, requires several factors. A sentient being must be self aware, must be able to perceive their own mortality and must also possess a sense of altruism, or in other words, that there are things bigger or beyond themselves that are worth sacrificing for. And they definitely must have free will, and are not controlled by ingrained instincts. Despite popular belief, Humans don't even possess a true survival instinct, let alone any others. Our altruistic nature suppressed our survival instinct long ago. Involuntary nervous system functions, ie: breathing, heart beat etc are not instincts.

As an example, the fact that any non human animal mother, in the face of starvation, would eat the last bit of food and let her offspring starve or even eat those offspring to stave off starvation, proves they are not sentient. A human mother would never conceive of such a thing, and that is because humans and humans alone on this planet are sentient. She would sacrifice herself for her children every time.

Now there are a small number of non human animals on earth that can be considered semi-sentient. Dolphins, chimps and even some octopus have some level of self awareness, ie: some experiments have shown they can recognize themselves in a mirror. Dolphins also have demonstrated some level of altruistic behavior ie: recognizing drowning humans need help and keeping them afloat. But because these animals have not evolved to the point where the are totally free of the controlling effect of instincts on their behavior, they can still not be considered fully sentient.
Tom - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 3:49pm (USA Central)
@Mike P

You can't make that claim. Elephants are definitely sentient, as are guerrillas and to a lesser extent, chimps.

The mouse and rat claim is out there but all mammals have some level of self-awareness. The only people who still say otherwise are the ones with a financial stake in the matter, their cronies and well meaning people who are simply misinformed.

T'Paul - Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - 10:32am (USA Central)
Yep, once again, really inconsistent reviewing from Jammer as far as Voyager goes.

There is a huge amount of precedent for this use of holograms in Trek.

I fully agree with Elliott and Onan and others.

Vic Fontaine's presence on DS9 is defended by Jammer because someone says "he's very special". The Geordi-Brahms episode gets 3 stars. For God's sake, Nog even lives with Vic and does his accounts, but that's OK.

The Cardassian doctor can't be a medical expert because he's a hologram created of the fly, but Brahms can be an engineering expert despite being created in an equally improvised way and also being the basis for the episode?

This episode explores an issue, doesn't do so in a black and white way.

The only arbitrary thing here is the nitpicking, which unfortunately isn't applied evenly to all the Trek series reviewed here.
T'Paul - Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - 10:35am (USA Central)
*off the fly
Kempt - Thu, Oct 10, 2013 - 3:23am (USA Central)
I bet if The Doctor was given the amount of time on his own that it took to recreate a whole nother hologram complete with personality and then the time for it to recreate a whole nother medical lab, he would've easily been able to improve his surgical abilities from the initial forecast "irreparably damaged system" to the eventual outcome of "severe nervous system trauma".

So this entire episode was a futile exercise just to remove the two letters "ir".
Caine - Mon, Nov 25, 2013 - 9:02am (USA Central)
I'm in two minds about this episode.

On one hand I think it's a good example of what Trek does best: tackling big ethical and moral issues, making valid arguments for both sides, letting the answer be up to the audience(regarldess of the chloice our main character ends up making).
The execution is great - the dialog is really well written, the delivery by the actors is passionate and emotionally engaging (not something Voyager usually does well).

On the other hand ... contrived plot with huge holes and character discrepancies and .. well, stuff that just plain doesn't make much sense at all.

I understand when people say "don't let details that dont make sense spoil the rest of the episode for you" - and I wish I could follow that advice to just shut out those details.
I love the taste of a good moral dilemma presented with good dialog, but ... when delicious strawberries a presented on a plate of faeces, it kind of ruins the whole dish for me, no matter how much I like strawberries.
Trent - Sat, Feb 8, 2014 - 8:24pm (USA Central)
Agree with Elliot; and what fine camera work and choreography!
Ric - Mon, Apr 21, 2014 - 2:14am (USA Central)
"If a crafty ensign and a holographic doctor can just throw together a few data files to make a carbon copy of an actual specialist, why do we even need people to run starships?"

Thank you very much for this perfect piece, Jammer. You are 100% right. How crappy a plot excuse/device has to be, so people would complain regardless of how deep is the moral debate that comes ahead? Wait, I agree that we should not let small plot holes to divert us from the main stories and deepest debates that Trek can offer. Sure. But let's not go to the other extreme as well. Sorry, in telling a story, it sometimes becomes pretty damn important how the story is told. Especially when it affects the universe where the show operates in. Jammer is right. If it were so easy to create operating holograms, there would be no reason for Starfleet not having a lot of holo-people working around. It does not matter whether in TNG or any other instalment Trek has delivered other holo-absurdities. Nor it matters if what came later was good. I am fully capable of recognizing a very good episode moral question and execution while criticizing a major plot absurdity.

And so, now turning to so-called moral issue treated by the episode. I loved the debates! The scenes between The Doc and the Cardassian, the debate between Parris and Chakotay, Torres' anger on the captain... were all amazingly good! Very powerful moments. I could also understand the reaction of the Bajorian, and even Torres’. But in the end, although it made total sense for me to debate on whether or not the data from the Cardassian should be erased due to moral considerations, debating on even treating Torres felt forced and artificial. What sense does it make to condemn a patient because the needed knowledge to save him/her was acquired under faulty ways? What is the fault of the current patient? It is nonsensical at the context it was presented. Also, I though odd that the moral decision was just put in the Doc's shoulders. The captain got a bit lazy, Hugh? Even though, I am happy the episode brought all that to the table. And it was mostly solid and certainly touching and powerful. In the end, an episode that deserved far far more than the 5/10 that the two stars sort translates into. Strongly underated.

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