Nutshell: Not bad, but not consistent or challenging enough to net a recommendation.
"Think Tank" is a fairly enjoyable hour that's halfway effective, but shows Voyager making compromises with itself. It reveals a surprising amount about what works about this series and what doesn't.
This episode works as a reasonable TOS-like entertainment that pushes the buttons on the control panel labeled "ESTABLISHED PLOTTING LORE," and comes off as something watchable. Where the episode suffers is in its use of so many plot elements that aren't developed to their full potential; the episode refuses to dig deeper for something more challenging, which is ironic considering one of the episode's main themes is about seeking out challenges.
When it comes down to it, what is this episode all about? Well, several things. It's about establishing a set of aliens who are different from the average Delta Quadrant Joe. It's about turning the tables in a way that gives the deserving people their just deserts. It's about outsmarting the smart guys. It's about putting aside hostilities with the "bad guys" to work toward a common goal. It's even about Seven of Nine's sense of self-purpose.
Fine and good. I'm glad it's about all these things. What I'm frustrated about is that it's not about any of these things enough. "Think Tank" is amiable, but too tame on each of its levels.
The title comes from a group of very smart aliens—perhaps smart to the point of arrogance—who roam the galaxy and solve problems. What they ask in return for solving your problem is ... ah, but there's your source of conflict.
Janeway has a problem. Voyager has suddenly found itself on the run from the Hazari, a race of bounty hunters hired by an unknown third party. Chakotay muses: Could the contract have been put out by the Malon? The Devore? I suppose it's nice to hear these names again. Or, on second thought, maybe not. Didn't we leave the Malon some 10 or more years behind us because of the events of "Timeless"? And an additional 15 because of the events of "Dark Frontier"? Heck, at this point, maybe the Borg should be considered as a group that might send bounty hunters after Janeway & Co.—they might have better luck.
Anyway, surrounded with nowhere to go, this "think tank" offers Janeway a way out. The think tank in question is comprised of numerous aliens, most of them more "alien" than the typical new-Trek alien tends to be. That is to say, most of them are weird-looking props, which serves to enhance the TOS feel of the show. That's fine. I like the idea of something different from the typical routine alien that Voyager has served up through most of its run—even if it is a hunk of rubber in a bubbling water tank. And the idea here—that of a group with the ability to solve problems because of their cooperative telepathic link—is a potentially interesting concept.
The spokes-alien for the group is Kurros (Jason Alexander, in a role that's about as far away from George Costanza in temperament as he probably can get). Kurros makes his offer to Janeway, but what he wants isn't something Janeway wants to give up: namely, Seven of Nine.
The real gold in "Think Tank" (or, at least, the gold before the story decides to run with its other plot elements) lies within the choice Seven must make. Kurros' offer is a genuine one, and an intriguing one: He offers Seven the opportunity to join his think tank community.
The questions here are somewhat interesting on character terms: Given Seven's mental abilities and the expansive knowledge she gained as a Borg, is she capable of more than what her role on Voyager offers? Kurros asks the question flat-out: Is where you're at a challenge? Are you realizing your potential? The knee-jerk-reaction answer seems to be no.
I appreciated that this episode had Seven question her role on Voyager (if only briefly), and I liked even more that Janeway gives Seven the choice to leave Voyager if that's what she wants to do. The prospect of becoming useless or squandering one's own potential is a frightening one (as another recent Trek example, I'm reminded of Kor from DS9's "Once More Unto the Breach" earlier this season), and Seven's role on Voyager, essentially running routine errands (as Kurros sees it, anyway), could be construed as quite a waste. Questioning one's role in life strikes me as a logical direction for Seven to go in her ongoing quest for individuality.
Unfortunately, this story element is cast aside as an incidental before it's all over, and the "action" quickly takes control of the helm. (At one point, an entire planet is blown up here as an impetus for a tactical moment, bordering on needless spectacle.) Seven declines Kurros' offer. Not surprisingly, Kurros isn't the type of guy who takes no for an answer.
Fortunately for "Think Tank," the think tank isn't quite so boring as to turn to outright force. Instead, Voyager simply finds itself on its own with the Hazari fleet closing in. The twist, of course, is that Kurros and the think tank have manipulated the whole game from square one: Unbeknownst even to the Hazari, they were the group who hired the Hazari to track down Voyager in the first place. Why? Because they at some point became aware of Seven and decided they really wanted her to join them. Why? Because she's "unique." If that motivation satisfies you, great. If not, you're probably as frustrated as I sometimes got during this episode.
I did appreciate that, for once, the "bad guys" turn out not to be as hard-headed as Voyager baddies often are. The Hazari are actually willing to listen to Janeway's negotiation attempts, and it's through this dialog that everyone learns the think tank is the player manipulating the entire game.
Therefore, the plot ultimately becomes a game of wits. The mission: out-think the think tank.
One might think this would be a difficult challenge that would be fun to watch unfold. But the biggest problem with this episode is that the think tank isn't as smart as they purport to be—either that, or the writers weren't thinking on levels high enough to be worthy of such a "brilliant" think tank.
Personally, I found the game of deception and wits to be much more skillfully pulled off in "Counterpoint." In that episode, the audience wasn't in on the tricks and deceptions until after the game was played; as a result, the twists were more satisfying to watch unfold. Suspense here is never really an issue because Janeway's Brilliant Master Plan is mostly revealed in dialog beforehand. All that's left are the game's nuances, few of which come off as particularly surprising.
Supposedly, the whole issue comes down to one of "cheating" the game (which naturally demands us to think of Kirk's solution to the Kobayashi Maru puzzle, but never mind). My question: If the think tank is so smart, why didn't they anticipate Janeway's course of action? I mean, it's not that brilliant, really. I suppose there has to be a line drawn somewhere in order for Voyager to outsmart the bad guys, but the game doesn't quite get off the ground before it's all over.
On the story's less-than-challenging terms, I enjoyed seeing the tables being turned at the end, so that Kurros and his smug think tank find themselves under attack by the Hazari whom they deceived.
Still, the better part of me must ask whether such evolved, intelligent beings are simply being wasted by being plugged into a plot that once again makes the human sensibility the benchmark of morality while absolute intelligence merely corrupts absolutely. And, of course, the Hazari, being the violent mercenary type, don't hesitate before turning their collective firepower on the think tank, who are simply getting what they deserve. I guess it would be too much of a drag to approach the episode on more thoughtful terms, where the moral questions of power and responsibility are approached with a complexity that necessitates more than a few clever tricks and a lot of weapons fire.
Yet somehow, through all of this, I was reasonably entertained. I wanted a lot more, yes, but the story as pitched isn't bad—just an unsurprising underachievement ... standard fare executed with reasonable skill and not a whole lot of imagination.
But I want a challenge, and I hope this series tries something more risky before the season is over. The Delta Quadrant is feeling pretty stale these days. I hope the Paramount think tank will come up with something fresh.
Upcoming: Reruns. See you in four weeks, sooner on the DS9 side.