Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Live Fast and Prosper"

**

Air date: 4/19/2000
Written by Robin Burger
Directed by LeVar Burton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I make a better you than you." — Impostor Janeway to real Janeway

Nutshell: Some flashes of cleverness, but the story can't succeed as a whole.

At a few key points, "Live Fast and Prosper" successfully anticipates our expectations and then hits us with the "Gotcha!" There's a moment here when a woman, who is locked in the Voyager brig, takes Neelix by surprise and then escapes in the Delta Flyer, all too easily. At this point, I was furious. So sick am I of the cliche of the easy theft of a shuttle, which makes the crew look witless and inept. But then came the unexpected twist where not all was what it appeared to be, and ... they got me.

What's interesting is that I'm not sure whether this is effective because it's effective, or if it's effective because I expect that annoying contrivances will happen so frequently on this series. This gotcha scene can be analyzed on a couple levels. On one level, we have what is competent execution of audience deception. On a deeper, more ironic level, we have the writers possibly winking at us, acknowledging that, okay, the writing is sometimes contrived and cliche, we know it, and we're going to cleverly use that knowledge against you. I propose that it must be clever, simply because the mental review already popping into my head during the viewing suddenly found itself in immediate need of a rewrite.

So, then, at the very least, "Live Fast and Prosper" has a couple clever twists working in its favor. The question still remains: Is it any good?

I can't recommend it, because this is an episode that sounds like a fun idea but doesn't end up being as much fun as such a premise ("interstellar con artists impersonate Voyager crew members") seems capable of. Sure, this is a fluff episode, but it's got some annoying rough edges that should've been smoothed out, and too much wandering and not enough comic momentum. If you want comedy, go watch the far-more-fun "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy." If you want clever cons with substance behind them, go back to last season's believably grounded "Counterpoint."

The premise is simple: A small crew of con artists is posing as members of the Voyager crew and scheming gullible aliens into forking over valuables. How did they get in a position to pose as Voyager crew members? Well, it goes back to a recent away mission, when Paris and Neelix were on the Delta Flyer and came across the holy grounds of some clerics. These two "clerics" were really con artists, who came up with a story to sucker Tom and Neelix into helping them. They were aboard the Delta Flyer for a short time, during which they craftily downloaded the Voyager database in order to later assume their phony identities.

There are some decent ideas here, like the notion of Tom and Neelix feeling that they've "lost their edge" upon learning that they'd been had. Although many characters on this series are nearing the realm of lost causes, this story at least makes an effort, remembering that both Tom and Neelix were cynical types who'd come across their share of shady characters. The question they now ask is whether they're getting soft.

As I go off into a tangent that is certain to inspire annoyed "let it go" letters by those who are more optimistic about Voyager as a series than I am, I'll answer the question: Of course they're getting soft. How could you not when you're aboard the starship Voyager, which is a pristine palace that never shows a scar no matter how many battles it's been through? With an endless supply of food and energy and weapons despite the fact it's alone in the unknown? A ship that represents the Federation on its best day, even though it should be more like the Federation on a bad day, or even a crew like the Equinox?

More to the point, the question seems to be whether cynics are even possible in the Federation. When Paris boarded Voyager in the first episode, he was a cynic and an outcast. Time has molded him into a more respectable officer that embodies the good, virtuous Starfleet, as well as Janeway's idea of an inflexible Starfleet moral sensibility. The same goes for Neelix. Of course they're soft. They're Starfleet. Starfleet relies on trust and openness as an ideology.

Of course, that doesn't make you stupid or even gullible. Tom and Neelix were tricked—plain and simple—by people who apparently dedicate their lives to tricking other people. Hindsight is 20/20, and the con, involving a story with orphans, was effective probably because it was an appeal to their empathy. We're only human, and most of us have a soft side. My soft side resists (but relents to) the urge to call Tom and Harry chumps—not because one of them was tricked and the other is a goof, but because their idea of fun is picking on Tuvok by reprogramming his holodeck program. (I dare them to go pick on Torres or Seven of Nine—I bet they don't have the cajones.)

The main annoyance here is the show's reliability on stupid alien characters and moments of clunky plotting. An important plot allegation this episode makes is that the con artists are destroying Voyager's reputation by posing as them. But once Janeway & Co. are onto this scheme, this should no longer be the case, simply because Voyager is now aware of the phonies and able to get word out that these impostors exist.

But no. Instead, every alien the real Voyager crew encounters is a Hard-Headed Alien who refuses to believe that the impostors exist, and demands that Voyager return what has been conned from them. Watching these dialog scenes is not interesting; it's merely frustrating. I personally wanted to tell the first Hard-Headed Alien victim to wake up, smell the damn coffee, and get out of Janeway's face. (Hint: That's not the reaction the scene was looking for.)

A later scene has Voyager catching the impostors red-handed in one of their schemes while another alien ship has them locked in a tractor beam. The second Hard-Headed Alien victim won't hear anything Janeway says, and interrupts her constantly as she tries to explain the situation. Meanwhile the success/failure of tractor beams and weapons is used as a handy plot device that permits the impostors' ship to escape in a way that manages to make everyone involved look incompetent. (Hint: It's more interesting to see smart characters doing clever things, rather than having a mess that careens out of control because everyone is a bumbling fool using technology that fails arbitrarily.) If any of these aliens had an IQ higher than 75, and lower levels of testosterone, half the story's problems would be nearly instantly solved.

Fortunately, it's about this time the episode begins to show some cleverness. The tractor beam fiasco results in the capture of con artist Dala (Kaitlin Hopkins), who has been posing as Janeway. She's thrown into the brig, which leads to a pretty good Janeway vs. "Janeway" scene, which ends with a rather nice con on behalf of the real Janeway and Tuvok. (Tuvok's improvisations are particularly fun.)

It's at this point we get the Neelix scene with Dala that ends with an escape in the Delta Flyer and the twist I mentioned earlier. I won't go into the details, and for once I'm not even going to explain the way the plot pulls together in the end. Suffice it to know there is some more plotting cleverness, and that explaining it won't make this a more useful review.

There are also some subtle comic touches here that I can appreciate. One of them is the uniforms the con artists wear. They're not exactly the best-tailored Starfleet uniforms one has ever seen. And the con artists' combadges are oversized. The comic idea here is that these phonies have tailored the look of the uniforms as best they could with their stolen information. It's funny in that it reminds us of the die-hard Trek fan who tailored his/her own uniform to wear at a convention: You know what it's supposed to be, but you also know that it didn't come from the professionals at the Paramount costuming department.

Of course, humor like that is more fun to consider after the fact. While the story is unfolding it's simply not much of a factor. And other scenes that should be fun seem flat, like the scene where Tom and Neelix attempt to pull a fast one on Doc with the old "under which cup is the walnut" routine, which is done once early in the show and then again at the end, both times with thin and predictable results.

The show is sort of a muddle in tone. It wants us to take long dialog scenes seriously (like the scene of Neelix in the brig) before revealing that it's all probably just a con, on us as well as the other characters. In a way, I find that effective. There's almost a sense that we should just wink our way through the whole darned absurd Star Trek universe. But we never come to understand Dala as a character. She seems to be considering reform, then turns on Neelix in a way that makes her a con-to-the-end when it's really she who is being unwittingly conned. And then the story removes her from the plot using Doc in a way that is a nifty trick. But along the way Dala becomes a bland pawn to the plotting when she could've been an actual character.

The episode also tends to jump around from character to character with no big payoffs. The Janeway vs. "Janeway" idea seemed to be going somewhere, but then the whole thread is abandoned prematurely and we return to Paris and Neelix.

I also didn't understand the nature of the phony Tuvok (Greg Daniel). Just who is this guy when he isn't playing the role of Tuvok? There seems to be a buried joke in here saying that he has disappeared completely into his role-playing and refuses to come out no matter who is or is not watching. Even when he's just with his fellow con crew, he keeps acting sort of like Tuvok while the others drop the guise. What is this supposed to mean? It's a joke with a confused punch line.

All things considered, this is a middling fluff piece. I liked the skillful way the twists in the last act were presented, but apart from the clever twists we don't have a compelling core. And it's too evident that Robin Burger's script is smarter than any of the characters who populate it; the plot takes clever directions while the villains aren't nearly so clever as they probably should be. "Live Fast and Prosper" lives pretty fast. But it doesn't live with any depth or much credibility. And in the end it can't prosper.

Next week: Torres and Kim die, if you believe the trailers. The suspense is killing me.

Previous episode: Good Shepherd
Next episode: Muse

Season Index

39 comments on this review

IS - Mon, Oct 13, 2008 - 12:55am (USA Central)
Urgh, I'm getting *so* sick of these flops aboard Voyager. So she smacks Neelix, grabs his little weapon, shoots the security and manages to get to the shuttle bay without being stopped by anything? I guess in this case it was "supposed" to happen but this happens way too often.

"Security breach!" "They've bypassed security and encrypted it!" along with the good old dampening field or "interference" that render the transporters useless.

When the ships opened fire on Voyager and they were ready to beam em aboard, I was expecting it.. followed by Seven saying: "Transporters are damaged!".. I nearly bashed my head against the desk, but surprisingly they actually beamed one aboard.
Jay - Sat, Sep 5, 2009 - 4:37pm (USA Central)
Expanding on IS's comments, I sure hope they altered the phaser she stole from Neelix so it couldn't be set higher that stun...they had no way of knowing she wouldn't increase the setting to kill or even to vaporize. They had downloaded Voyager's entire database after all.
Plain Simple - Wed, Sep 23, 2009 - 12:55am (USA Central)
"I wish I could claim credit, but I am innocent." Ensign Kim with a surprising amount of character insight.
Zarm - Fri, Dec 4, 2009 - 12:03pm (USA Central)
I consider the Tuvok-actors 'punchline' to be a little less muddled than your review suggests- I got the feeling that this is yet another play on the Hollywood 'method actor' who gets so into his role that he starts to lose his grip on reality- just an amusing archetype for the humor value. The punchlines is that, for all of his efforts and his commitment, he can never be close to the Tuvok that the real Tuvok is, as evidenced by a single, decisive confrontation.

My take on it, anyway. I enjoyed that character, though agree with the flaws (hard-headed non listeners and an idiot plot especially) in the rest of the episode.
Jason - Thu, Apr 15, 2010 - 9:51am (USA Central)
Isn't the fake Tuvok played by the same guy who played Tuvix (Tuvok & Nelix mash-up), in one of the earlier episodes?
Michael - Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - 12:43pm (USA Central)
"There are some decent ideas here, like the notion of Tom and Neelix feeling that they've "lost their edge" upon learning that they'd been had. [...] The question they now ask is whether they're getting soft."

Uh, does anyone give a damn? I generally don't care for scenes (never mind entire episodes!) of people undertaking introspection of any sort, but in this case doubly so because I find both of these characters annoying for lacking any kind of personality. Neelix is like a bothersome fly you just want to swat away, and Paris is bipolar: Either a petulant kid or a bland automaton in the "Dr. Phil Collective." They're feeling insecure? *rolls eyes* Off-camera counseling is just the ticket... - OFF-CAMERA being the operating word.

Anyhow, I liked the surprising twists in this show, notwithstanding a few frustrating scenes ("Janeway's" escape and the obstinate aliens, for instance). I'd give the episode at least 2.5 stars.

Firestone - Wed, Sep 1, 2010 - 5:11am (USA Central)
Wasn't it obvious that the shuttle/Janeway-fake escape was anticipated and intended? I though so, especially as both Paris and the Doc are on board, plus the final shot of that part on the bridge.

@Michael: Yeh, a lot of people care about the characters, their problems and the story instead of just watching for the scifi action like you, as you clearly note in every single comment at every single review.
navamske - Sat, Oct 9, 2010 - 6:49pm (USA Central)
@Jason

"Isn't the fake Tuvok played by the same guy who played Tuvix (Tuvok & Nelix mash-up), in one of the earlier episodes?"

No. But that would have been hilarious.
Paul - Sat, Feb 12, 2011 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
Uh, does anyone give a damn?

Uh, YOU don't. But that doesn't mean that everyone else doesn't. Some people actually like stories with characters in that care about their motivations, and not just big sci-fi bangs.
Jared - Sat, Mar 12, 2011 - 4:04pm (USA Central)
Not too impressed with the security guard in the brig...he should have been watching Neelix and faux-Janeway like a hawk, not caught offguard. But since the whole escape was intentional I suppose it doesn't matter.
Cloudane - Thu, Mar 31, 2011 - 2:12pm (USA Central)
Pretty funny seeing the same "I hate anything that focuses on any character" grumbles over and over from Michael. Must have hated the first few seasons of DS9.

Entertaining episode but it does have the numerous flaws stated. Can't think if much to say about it, i guess because it's fluff. Nothing remotely special but not bad either - 2 stars is about right.
Kieran - Wed, Apr 13, 2011 - 4:59am (USA Central)
Funny how the Doc can be altered to look like fake Janeway when in another episode he didn't know how to give himself hair.

Decent enough episode. Could have been funnier, but for what it was, it worked. The fake Tuvok was quite funny in my mind.
Cloudane - Wed, Apr 13, 2011 - 7:22am (USA Central)
False limitations created by character design - they do create holes sometimes.

The same thing happens with Odo and the other changelings in DS9 - can't form a face properly (the excuse for giving them the "changeling look"), but no problem at all turning into some very intricate objects or even other people...
Iceblink - Wed, Sep 7, 2011 - 4:35am (USA Central)
This episode is pretty ridiculous. It should have acknowledged its ridiculousness and played it as an out-an-out comedy instead of trying to inject it with some seriousness, philosophising and character 'insight'.

Michael's repeated rants about hating anything to do with character focus are quite funny and of course I usually disagree (characters are the engine of plot), but here I'm in agreement, this wasn't the episode to try to put in some stilted 'character development', I'd much rather they'd made it funnier instead.

Sure, there are some amusing moments (and the best thing about the episode for me was the Tuvok impersonator who got totally carried away with his role - loved it). As Jammer said, the tone was uneven...in fact it was all over the place. Its mildly entertaining but weak. If you're going to do comedy, then go for it, don't water it down, otherwise it ends up being neither funny nor dramatic, just a mediocre 'thereness'.
Jay - Sun, Sep 18, 2011 - 12:04pm (USA Central)
Less than a minute before the "reveal" that Dala is actually the Doctor, we clearly see her left arm when she's leaning on the rockface, and there is no mobile emitter to be seen. Nice try, Voyager.
Angular - Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - 10:34pm (USA Central)
I liked the fake Tuvok for some reason. I find it believable that he fell in love with being Tuvok. He sipped too much from the root beer that is the federation :)
Nathan - Sat, Nov 12, 2011 - 4:47am (USA Central)
Is that what the slot in the confwrence table is for? :)
Nathan - Sat, Nov 12, 2011 - 5:06am (USA Central)
"Less than a minute before the "reveal" that Dala is actually the Doctor, we clearly see her left arm when she's leaning on the rockface, and there is no mobile emitter to be seen. Nice try, Voyager."

Right when she turns back into Doc you see her left arm; the obvious implication is that the emitter can hide itself in the hologram being emitted.
Justin - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 9:42pm (USA Central)
Warts and all, this is a fun episode. I'd give it 2.5 stars on the critical scale and 3.5 stars on the pure dumb fun scale.

And I lulz @ the Tuvok impostor. He's got great comic timing and his awe at finally getting to meet the real Tuvok has me in stitches every time.
Justin - Wed, Jun 20, 2012 - 11:40am (USA Central)
Impostor Tuvok: Logic dictates that neither one of us is at an advantage.

Real Tuvok: Your logic...is flawed.

LOLOLOL!!! The Vulcan equivalent of "Hasta la vista, Baby."
John - Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - 9:32pm (USA Central)
I really wish Star Trek had been able to embrace the power and quality you can achieve with humor. If they had done the occasional "balls out crazy" episode, I think things would have been very different for the franchise. For me, Stargate SG-1 struck a very good balance. And it lasted 10 years!
Billy - Sat, Dec 29, 2012 - 2:20pm (USA Central)
A fun episode. I loved the idea of the Voyager crew being impersonated.

Sintek - Mon, May 20, 2013 - 7:39am (USA Central)
Just thinking about the oversized comm badges and collar pips cracks me up. They are just the perfect size to be both understated and hilarious. Any bigger and they would have been too slapsticky. One of the best visual gags in any Trek comedy episode.
Leah - Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
Regarding the Tuvok impersonator: I LOVED this guy, he was great and very likable! And I thought it was pretty clear what they were going for. He's a fan-boy. Star Trek attracts fan-boys/girls by the droves and I saw this guy as a great little homage to that...he's the nod to the all the Trekkies and cosplayers. He loved the concepts of the Federation and the dignity of the character he was portraying so much that he preferred to live in that romanticized role. And it was pretty obvious why if you want to look past the surface; the other two con artists had no real respect for him and didn't value anything he had to say. Who in that position wouldn't want to assume the identity of someone brilliant and respectable?

What I really wanted to see was that translate into him being the one influenced to change. Given his level of admiration for the values of the part he was playing, I think it would have been very believable. Alas, his purpose was solely comic relief, for which he was still very effective nonetheless.

Moving on, I enjoyed the episode overall, despite a few nagging problems. And I want to add that I don't dislike Neelix. I like him far better after his dissociation with Kes. He can be a bit of a pest at times but his heart is usually in the right place and I actually liked his appeal to Dala in the brig. I kinda wish greater effort had been put into rounding out his character more, but that can sadly be said of many of the cast regulars. Ah, well.
tlb - Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - 6:50pm (USA Central)
What part of Voyager's database let the fake Janeway know that the real Janeway likes to put her hands on her hips?
azcats - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 3:50pm (USA Central)
I really like this episode. I do agree i think it is based on the "fans." the Tuvok character was strange, but once you realize he was "living" the character, for fun or for real, it goes pretty well.

@Jay..i think if they saw the mobile emitter, they might TOO, know it was not her. i am sure it was just not in an obvious place.

i love how everyone is picking on voyager writers about the incompetence of the crew EVEN when they are letting the person escape. and of course the phasers were only allowed to stun. geez...

i was fully entertained. so i give it a 3.5
tf - Wed, Aug 28, 2013 - 11:20am (USA Central)
i thought the fake tuvok just liked to stay in character to increase/practise his impersonation skill, and the other con-artists ,(who were comfortable with their impersonation skill level and didn't need more practise) understood this and so they didn't take issue with him impersonating, even when it was just the three of them together.
Lt. Yarko - Sat, Sep 7, 2013 - 10:41am (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer's assessment. I wanted to enjoy it, but I kept being interrupted by awkward moments.

I imagined this interaction:

Chuckles: OK. We need to allow her to leave but let her believe that she got away by getting the better of us. Let's plan that out.

Realway: Oh, that's easy. Just have the crew go on business as usual.

Chuckles: Oh yeah.

And, poor Neelix. He really had to take one for the team. Good thing she didn't break his neck or choke him to death or something.
SpiceRak2 - Sun, Sep 8, 2013 - 11:05pm (USA Central)
This episode was not my favorite. I had higher hopes considering that Levar Burton directed. He didn't have that much to work with, I guess. Still, there was some direction, at the finale that was clunky.

I was confused by the Fake Tuvok character until I read some of the other comments here. It makes more sense with the additional insight but I don't think that this character's motivation was so very obvious upon first viewing.
Chris P - Fri, Feb 7, 2014 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
More contempt from from the writers:

*Voyager comes across their quarry in a tractor beam, at the mercy of one of their victims*

*Janeway hails them but doesn't explain the situation to the larger ship, instead saying some empty lines until the other captain cuts her off. Convenient for the Story.*

*The other captain's ship - which needed Voyager's technology to fight its enemies - takes Voyager's shields to 62% in seconds.*

*Janeway responds by...taking out his tractor beams, thus letting the quarry escape? Convenient for the story.*

*Other ship shoots one more time and takes Voyager's shields to 41% and blows up the consoles in Voyager's bridge and takes out their tractor beam, conveniently for the story*

*Other ship's fifth shot takes out Voyager's transporters, conveniently for the story*

* "Get us out of here Mr. Paris" means Voyager can escape a battle by going to warp, despite not escaping about 55 other battles that they could/should have escaped in previous episodes. If the other ship simply didn't choose to follow then why not? They were wiping the floor with Voyager and Voyager just helped con artists escape. Convenient for the story*


The other ship's technology appears to be superior to Voyager in combat so what, in the schematics the con artists showed them, impressed them enough to trade resources for photon torpedoes?

Right now I'm paused at a scene where Neelix walked into the prisoner's cell while wearing a phaser dangling off his hip enticingly. I'm 99.9% sure that she is going to take it and stun him and the security officer outside the cell and escape. If she wasn't going to do this then the writer wouldn't have written in that Neelix would go into her cell with a phaser, because WHY THE FUCK DOES HE HAVE A PHASER IN HER CELL?

This is bad TV at its lowest. The contempt for audience intelligence that Robin Burger displays here is surprising, even in a series as poorly written as Voyager generally is. I think that being surprised at how bad something is (when you really wish it was good or even decent) hurts worse when you've already realigned your expectations to 'low'.
Chris P - Fri, Feb 7, 2014 - 1:38pm (USA Central)
...

My bad. She stunned the security officer first, and Neelix second.
Nic - Wed, Mar 26, 2014 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
What I remember most about my original viewing of this episode was that my Dad (who passed away this year) called the “twist” at the end of the fourth act, and I was angry at him for spoiling it. On second viewing, it seems painfully obvious—why would anyone walk into a brig cell with a phaser and leave the force field off? Another confusing aspect is why they needed Dala to escape in the first place if the Doctor was going to assume her role. Paris and the Doc could have just taken off by themselves and the rest of the episode would have played out the same way.

Still, I found the episode enjoyable. The premise may not have been milked for all the comic potential it was worth (it’s no “Tinker, Tenor”) but it had its fair share of laughs. As others have noted, I really liked how Mobar stayed in character (as Tuvok) all the time, even when no one outside of his group was around, and his “reverence” at coming face to face with the real Tuvok. You get the sense that he does this work not for financial gain but simply for the fun of it.
Nate - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 10:12pm (USA Central)
Cheesy fanboy or girl episode. The way this ep is written you would think a fan wrote it. I agree that if you turn off your brain and watch it as a spoof then just maybe its works.
Galaxy Quest was done better. Not that I don't appreciate it, TNG had Fistful of Datas, DS9 had Trials and Tribbles, but this was horribly predictable. This is the kind of episode that comes off like a blooper reel or the kind of parody you would see at a convention. Entertaining, yes but this is like watvhing Wormhole Extreme from Stargate SGt-1.
Ric - Tue, May 27, 2014 - 12:02am (USA Central)
Nice but flawed. Flawed, but nice.

The best part is the planned security breach. I don't know if that was the intention, but it certainly felt like an auto-ironic internal joke, considering how many annoying times this show has relied on infuriatingly stupid security breaches or non-security at all.

Cool.
domi - Sun, Jun 29, 2014 - 11:52pm (USA Central)
"They're hailing. It's...Captain Janeway."
"Our Janeway...or theirs?"

lmao.

Agree with Jammer and Chris P. about this episode's flaws. I also found the ending rushed and confusing.
Shaen - Sat, Sep 13, 2014 - 12:54pm (USA Central)
Ugh, Voyager really liked plots that revolved around unrealistically stupid and unreasonable people.
erm - Tue, Nov 11, 2014 - 6:36pm (USA Central)
wtf is this... i have found a website where someone is reviewing old star trek episodes. i like this episode just for the fake tuvok
erm - Tue, Nov 11, 2014 - 6:37pm (USA Central)
ps, wtf are you doing with your life
Elliott - Tue, Nov 11, 2014 - 6:57pm (USA Central)
@erm :

You do realise these reviews were written about fifteen years ago, right?

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