Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Alice"

**1/2

Air date: 10/20/1999
Teleplay by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
Story by Juliann deLayne
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Stay out of this, B'Elanna!"
"Or what? You'll sick Alice on me again?"

— Paris and Torres, a lovers' spat for the books

Nutshell: Not bad—just really, really average.

I don't have much interesting to say about our friend "Alice." It's the sort of middling plot-based story that just doesn't demand a great deal of discussion. There aren't many themes that are sufficiently interesting to dissect; there are no real insights or implications to ponder; there are no real surprises; and unlike the previous four episodes, I didn't get the sense that the characters were the important aspect of the story, because it's the plot that's piloting this ship.

"Alice" is, however, a competent, watchable hour-long exercise with a few interesting moments as well as some questionable ones. This sort of story might best fall into the genre of "sci-fi procedural." It's not quite engaging enough to be labeled a mystery. Not boring enough to be labeled a failure. "Alice" so much tempts me to offer up a non-reaction reaction.

More than anything else, "Alice" seems to demonstrate that Paris is not all that complicated a character like Torres, the Doctor, or Seven. If we take "Alice" as any indication, Paris is a "pilot." Who else is he? Who knows? This plot seems to see him as one of those guys who equates what he does with who he is. Okay, fine. But in an episode that's about mental manipulation and, apparently, personal inner desires, you'd think maybe there'd be more to find out about this guy.

The story uses elements of Paris that are in line with what we know of him, but the story doesn't go anywhere new with them. In accordance with episodes like "Extreme Risk," "Vis A Vis," or even (dare I mention it) "Threshold," this episode sees Paris as the Expert Pilot, a guy whose dream in life is to attain some sort of pilot's pinnacle of the aesthetically perfect flight.

This time Paris finds himself falling in love with a run-down old shuttle that a merchant is willing to unload for a reasonable price. Paris is certain: Inside this little relic is the potential of an ultra-maneuverable dream machine. In keeping with ancient naval tradition (and in pushing the foreboding factor), everyone calls this ship "she." Paris eventually names her "Alice." Alice is equipped with an advanced neural interface that connects directly into the brain, allowing the most efficient of all piloting methods: you think what you want and it happens.

Well, the alarms should be going off by now; any Star Trek premise where a piece of technology is being hooked directly into a character's brain is all but guaranteed to turn into a bizarre, hallucinatory mind-takeover plot. "Alice" is no exception. It's an average take on the material. This isn't new stuff, but it's competently put together. Competent, not inspired.

Alice is a weird beast. The camera bears down on the shuttle ominously, and soon we realize that it's somehow alive ... sort of. The idea reminds us of Christine. Is Alice evil? What is Alice doing to Paris?

The second question is perhaps the more easily answered. Paris develops an obsession to make repairs and bring Alice's systems on-line as quickly as possible. Every moment of his free time is spent on the restoration project. And soon we see that he begins hallucinating; Alice becomes personified in the form of a mysterious woman (Claire Rankin) who talks to him constantly, reminding him that the most important thing in his life now is preparing for their first flight. Before too long, Paris is disobeying orders and stealing components to get Alice up and running.

Most of "Alice" is clear-cut plotting setup, but there are some attempted character themes that find their way into the story. Of course, one is the Paris/Torres interaction, which follows more or less expected, but not wrong-headed, lines. Torres objects to being ignored; Paris, under the spell of the addictive Alice, thinks she's overreacting and brushes her aside, without even realizing it.

As Paris' behavior continues to venture into the obsessive, Torres is finally forced to confront him about it. At this point we get a horror-movie-inspired sequence in which Torres becomes locked inside the shuttle and the computer vents the atmosphere, nearly killing her. This reality check prompts Paris to try to give up his obsession, but Alice won't let him—threatening to, well, blow up his head if he doesn't do what she wants.

So now it's time for the questions: What is this shuttle? Is it sentient? The episode seemingly writes it off as a "complex computer program," but there are sketchy head-scratchers, like why anyone would build a shuttle that actively tries to recruit its own pilot (and is looking for the perfect "compatible" pilot, for that matter), and harms anyone who refuses. The episode also isn't sure whether Alice is truly in control or simply causing Paris to act out his ultimate piloting fantasy. There's a reference made to the myth of Icarus (one of Paris' favorite legends, it seems), followed by the Trekkian Icarus equivalent of Paris and Alice setting course for a dangerous spatial phenomenon. Why? Is this Paris' vie for flight perfection? Alice calls this phenomenon "home," but what does that mean? The story doesn't tell us.

There seems to be a sort of "Halloween tale" motif here—where the story is full of mysteries and weird unknowns that are supposed to pique the imagination—but it's only sort of half-effective, and sort of unfulfilling.

For that matter, I find it a little tough to swallow that Paris' brain was "altered" in a way that makes him seemingly communicate with the shuttle computer. The story calls it a "hallucination," yet one gets the impression it goes a little further than that considering the shuttle tries to suffocate Torres on its own accord. (How would killing Torres help Alice's cause, anyway? That to me seems like a guarantee for an instant investigation that would keep Alice from getting what it wants—its tandem flight with Paris.)

I have mixed feelings about the performances. I liked some of the quiet scenes between Paris and the Alice-image. McNeill does a good job with the thousand-yard stare into space as he recites his Quiet Meaningful Dialog about the ultimate flying experience. (The sentiment itself isn't as captivating as it wants to be, but the delivery is pretty good.) On the other hand, the key Paris/Torres scene after the attempted-suffocation episode was hammered too hard with histrionics. (The histrionics are understandable, but the scene feels off-kilter.)

In the end, the story executes well enough to hold its own and temporarily (key word: temporarily) suspend our disbelief. But analysis reveals too many unanswered questions, too much nonsense, and not enough worthwhile character insights. The Paris/Torres relationship in particular seems to end up as potential gone unrealized; their interaction could've been really good, but is instead only adequate. I also must voice the lack of satisfaction in learning that most of Paris' early decisions weren't even really motivated by actual characterization but rather the forced circumstances ("It's like I was sleepwalking").

As I write this, there's a Conan O'Brien rerun on TV. To borrow a phrase I just overheard, I'll say that "Alice" is okay television—but it's certainly not "compellivision."

Next week: A rerun of the Epic Voyager Telefilm [TM], "Dark Frontier."

Previous episode: Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy
Next episode: Riddles

Season Index

15 comments on this review

Jeffrey - Tue, Dec 15, 2009 - 5:17pm (USA Central)
The very first time I saw this episode, once Paris and Alice reached that nebula (or whatever it was) and he asked Alice what it was I just knew she was going to answer "Home."

I have no idea what it means either. I'm assuming Fuller and Taylor thought it sounded cool, but it doesn't make any sense.

Michael - Wed, Jul 7, 2010 - 10:55am (USA Central)
It's a pretty good episode. Nothing about it makes any sense whatsoever but it's fast-moving, snappy and fun.

Harry "Can't-Get-A-Lock" Kim couldn't get a lock, again; and that AFTER he had been unable to seal the shuttle bay doors. The rogue vessel is outwitted by "distracting" it, which is funny because even 20th century computers can multitask; though maybe that ship was built by Apple (q.v. iPhone without the multitasking ability). Paris commits multiple breaches of StarFleet and criminal law but retains his rank and position, rather than have his ass thrown in jail.

Ah, good old Star Trek!
Tony - Sun, Sep 5, 2010 - 12:06pm (USA Central)
Chakotay: "We already have a full complement of shuttles."

Undeniable proof if ever there was any that this ship is somehow able to replicate shuttles (must be those gel packs)
navamske - Mon, Oct 4, 2010 - 7:28pm (USA Central)
"This reality check prompts Paris to try to give up his obsession, but Alice won't let him -- threatening to, well, blow up his head if he doesn't do what she wants." That would be, from her point of view, kinda self-defeating, wouldn't it?

It really defies credulity that Abbondanza (the Silik guy) would mention the Haakonians and Neelix, who was right there in the room, wouldn't go, "Wait, WTF?"
Cloudane - Fri, Feb 11, 2011 - 7:59pm (USA Central)
Running commentary time!

1) Loved the opening chit chat with Tuvok

2) Voyager has a full complement of shuttles? COUGH COUGH COUGH hahahahahaha

3) He's living next door to Alice? Who the f--- is Alice?

4) What's with the awful 70s / Kerr Avon outfit...

5) I'm glad they didn't smash that bottle on her hull. That would've been rude.

6) I'm sure I've seen a slut-ship before. Ah yes... Andromeda

7) How does a guy and a ship... Uh... Actually after a picture of a guy with a Land Rover I saw once, never mind.

8) Paris does not suit a beard. Definitely not a Riker.

9) Oh I see, DS9 is over, let's get some Ferengi refences into Voyager :)

10) Darth Rommy: "Think of what you want me to do and I'll do it" - umm, self destruct, Tom?

11) You can distract a computer? Can't be a very good multi-tasking OS.. Alice must run on Windows...

12) Kaboom. Are we done with daydreams now?

Fun episode actually... At this point Trek had boldly gone everywhere and often run out of ideas, so something this unique is welcome. I had no real problem with it, and it was fun doing commentary.
Iceblink - Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - 6:47am (USA Central)
Like a couple of others have noted, Chakotay's line that "we already have a full complement of shuttles" elicited a reaction somewhere along the lines of: bwa-hahahahaha! That was definitely the most memorable part of this otherwise mediocre episode, which raised a lot more questions than it answered (that's sometimes not a bad thing, if the questions are intelligent and thought-provoking; these unanswered questions on the other hand stem from a rather half-baked plot that doesn't entirely make sense).
Jay - Sun, Sep 4, 2011 - 5:40pm (USA Central)
So Kim says to Tuvok here that "we know you were at least 100 when you reentered Starfleet (and Paris mentions that Tuvok's child was born during his 11th pon farr, which is 70 years after his first, which happens at, say, twenty years of age, and that child is now married, so their guesses were in the ball park, and Kim seemed to establish as fact that Tuvok is at the least 100 with that first line. But then later, in Fury, Janeway says in Tuvok's birthday that he is "almost to the triple digits".
V - Sat, Feb 4, 2012 - 11:12pm (USA Central)
Maybe it's because I was sleep-deprived when I was watching this but I thought the lover's spot, especially with Charming Happy-go-lucky Tom shouting and being so pissed, man-handling B'Ellana (Wow you're crazy to do that!) was so unlike him, just made him look way hot to me.
Just Another Trekkie - Sun, Mar 25, 2012 - 5:25am (USA Central)
Watching Tom and B'Elanna bicker every second they are together makes me believe Seven's assessment that romantic relationships are irrelevant.

How much longer can we suspend our disbelief in the supposed chemistry between those two--let alone the premise of genuine feeling?

Granted, they had some delightfully tense scenes in "Blood Fever" and the following episodes, but once their intimacy was no longer forbidden, it seemed to lose all excitement and spark.

I know, I know, I've seen the future episodes and I know how they end up... But still, I can never buy B'Elanna's commitment to Tom. It seems that she's always running off and being her charmingly self-destructive self at the drop of a hat, with little visible regard to Tom's protestations.

Anyone agree?
Justin - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 4:16am (USA Central)
I like any episode of Star Trek with John Fleck as a guest star. Put some latex on his face or give him pointy ears and you've got yourself a reliable alien of the week.
Alex - Fri, Oct 5, 2012 - 3:04am (USA Central)
I'm a tiny bit surprised that Jammer didn't mention some of the lame one-liners Harry had in this episode, since Jammer seems to enjoy pointing out how much of a chump Harry has become. I normally share this annoyance to the same extent, but Harry is particular pathetic in this episode.

The other thing I noticed is that the ending of the episode seems rushed, as if the producers had to cut out a bunch of scenes. For example, once Seven finds out about Tom's secret flight plan, the Voyager ends up on location in very next scene, even though it took a good part of the episode for Tom and Alice to get there. The "plot a course for the Alpha Quadrant" ending also seems a bit rushed somehow.
Jay - Tue, Nov 6, 2012 - 10:53am (USA Central)
This episode might have made sense two seasons earlier, but early in Season 5 Tom got to design and build his dream shuttle, so this makes a lot less sense here.
Nancy - Sun, Aug 11, 2013 - 4:11am (USA Central)
The story hooked me and I kept waiting for the reveal of the malicious alien... Only to discover it all was a hallucination with no real point except that the ship wants to get to a certain spot for some reason.

Disappointing. It could've been a much more entertaining show if "Alice" had been real with a motive that made sense. Without that, I'm left scratching my head.

PS I liked Paris looking a little scruffy.
azcats - Mon, Aug 12, 2013 - 12:57pm (USA Central)
I dont know if anyone caught this, or because i JUST saw TNG "Suspicions."

but i heard "metaphasic shielding" and it made me smile and Beverly Crusher helped Dr. Reyga (Ferengi) establish that a ship could fly into a star with metaphasic shielding.

anyway, i guess this episode isnt my favorite. we could all see where the story was going. no real mystery or memorable spots.

I give it a 1.5 stars
Nic - Sun, Aug 18, 2013 - 5:55pm (USA Central)
I too think you were overly generous with this episode.

As with most mind-takeover plots, this one could have no lasting consequences. As soon as the outside influence is neutralized, everything is forgiven. So it all rides on the execution. Unfortunately the execution here was sorely lacking.

The setup was long and uninteresting and the non-payoff was not nearly worth the time it took to get there. Unanswered questions are fine, but I couldn't come up with any plausible explanation for the 'revelations' of the final act, and I got a sense the writer's couldn't either.

As for the performances, I though McNeill and Dawson did okay, but Claire Rankin was terrible. Or maybe she was just doing her best with the material.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer