Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Good Shepherd"

***

Air date: 3/15/2000
Teleplay by Dianna Gitto & Joe Menosky
Story by Dianna Gitto
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Shockwave approaching! Contact in four, three, two, one..." [nothing] "...more or less." — Celes

Nutshell: Fresh and entertaining on the whole, but where's the ending?

The opening teaser sequence of "Good Shepherd" begins with a CG shot that starts from outside the ship and tracks in on Captain Janeway in her ready room. The sequence ends with a parallel shot that tracks out from a window way down on deck 15, where a lone crewman looks over an order on a PADD that has just been handed to him. The order has traveled from the top of the chain of command to the bottom, while we've watched it travel from channel to channel. It's a fresh and interesting little sequence, and it sets the stage for "Good Shepherd," a fresh and interesting show.

"Good Shepherd" isn't exactly of the dramatic caliber of TNG's "Lower Decks," but the ideas are similar. It gives us the workings of the starship Voyager from a different perspective, from those of crewmen who see the higher-ranking officers as intimidating bosses rather than friends or acquaintances. Funny, how I just mentioned in my review of "Ashes to Ashes" that we're never permitted to see this perspective. I guess it's better late than never.

The general idea here is that three members of the Voyager crew have "slipped through the cracks" of the Voyager family. They're misfits of sorts, whose work performance isn't the greatest. They've been noticed because they don't fit the model. In five-plus years, none of these three has been on an away mission.

Janeway's idea is to play the "good shepherd" looking out for some members of her flock that have gone astray. She decides to try bonding with these crew members by assigning them to an upcoming study mission on the Delta Flyer, which she is commanding.

What makes this episode a pleasure is that it gives these three young crewmen interesting, quirky personalities. We have Mortimer Harren (Jay Underwood), an abrasive fellow who detests space travel and would rather be on a stationary study post "re-postulating the origins of the universe" (in Torres' words). There's Tal Celes (Zoe McLellan), a Bajoran woman whose technical skills aren't the best, which prompts her to constantly agonize over her weaknesses. And there's Billy Telfer (Michael Reisz), a wide-eyed hypochondriac who scans himself with a medical tricorder in the early a.m. hours, hoping he can call in sick to avoid his away assignment. (There's also a bit part here for Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, as Crewman Mitchell. His part is irrelevant, but as a Rage fan, I just had to make mention.)

Once the story puts us on the Delta Flyer, the routine mission of course turns unroutine. The plotting is nothing worth writing home about—involving some "dark matter" lifeforms that run into the Flyer and cause problems and damage. (And don't even bother asking me about the plausibility of dark matter as applied here, because I haven't a clue about the physics.) But what this plot does do is serve as a capable device for revealing the characters' personalities. The dialog and the character interplay are very nicely written, with a natural ring.

Harren's haughty coldness is perfectly conveyed—being just forceful enough without going too far as to be implausibly off-putting. Make no mistake: This guy would like nothing better than to be left alone, and he has very direct—and acerbically amusing—lines for letting other people know that. (When Janeway comes to deck 15 to recruit him for the mission, he asks her, perhaps not unreasonably, "Are you lost?" Janeway obviously hasn't been on this deck for some time.) We learn that Harren never had any desire for space travel, but got assigned to Voyager as a one-year temporary prerequisite that became a long-term mission when the ship was thrown to the other side of the galaxy. I enjoyed the way he'd turn Janeway's efforts to "help" him into proof that she truly has no idea who he is or what he wants. (Janeway calls him by his first name and he responds, "My mother didn't even call me that.")

Celes is a more vulnerable person with understandable self-doubts. She strikes me as a credible average person who isn't up to a job that demands more than average, rather than the perfectly skilled problem solver that most people on Voyager seem to be. Her confession that she crammed her way through Starfleet Academy shows an honesty and an awareness of her limits. She has a discussion with the captain that almost hurts to hear: She knows she doesn't have the skills to make it on a starship, but being trapped in the Delta Quadrant has given her a job she probably couldn't sustain under normal circumstances. ("I don't deserve to be on your ship, captain," she says. "And I'm not really a part of Voyager. I just live there.") Particularly interesting is the fact that she's Bajoran and her awareness that her getting through the academy was probably made somewhat easier by "sympathy votes" based on Bajor's unfortunate situation.

Wide-eyed Telfer is a bit goofy—he talks a lot and he's afraid of anything he can't see that might possibly infect him with any symptom. This would probably be the reason why the lifeforms choose him when they decide to temporarily abduct somebody to their realm and then return him carrying some sort of parasite. Telfer doesn't have the built-in depth of Celes or Harren, but he's likable enough and gets some interesting interaction with the other characters.

In the middle of these personalities is Janeway, trying to remain as accessible as possible. Mulgrew turns in a pleasant understated performance that blends Janeway's roles of leader and confidant into a human persona who can either be firm or easygoing depending on the circumstance. She provides a solid anchor for the episode. It's good work.

Do you even care about the weird dark-matter lifeforms? I didn't, and I don't think the creators cared much either (otherwise they might've actually revealed what they wanted). The aliens exist to provide a little mystery, put our characters in jeopardy, force them to think their way out of it, and give the visual-effects team a chance to blow something up real good (in this case the rings around a gas giant).

Where "Good Shepherd" stumbles is in its lack of a satisfactory conclusion. The show comes screeching to a halt almost immediately after the jeopardy crisis is resolved, which sits strangely considering how well we've come to know these three new characters. It's almost as if the writers ran out of time and had to forego the typical extended dialog wrap-up we often get for these sort of stories ... which is exactly what this episode needed. In reality, Joe Menosky says that wasn't the case—the swift ending was intentional—but I think it would've been better to get a more concrete idea of the direction these characters might've been headed after this adventure. Considering they get such a nice setup and such compelling dialog through the story's action, it seems wrong that they don't have a voice after the mission has ended. It feels incomplete and that's a shame. Janeway's little wrap-up speech to Chakotay is far too obviously scripted and not particularly useful.

But I still highly recommend a bulk of "Good Shepherd." It's a break from the routine, and the casual dialog is skillfully conceived. We come to understand these people and their personalities, problems, and quirks, and we grow to care about them. The episode has the right approach, emphasizing character interaction and discussion.

Next week: A rerun of "Barge of the Dead," still the season's biggest winner in my book.

Previous episode: Child's Play
Next episode: Live Fast and Prosper

Season Index

37 comments on this review

EightofNine - Thu, May 1, 2008 - 5:21pm (USA Central)
I found the ending to be a bit... egh. From Celes' 'we've never amounted to anything on Voyager, but we can here!' to Harren's ultimate change of heart, it was all a bit predictable and clichéd. Instead of going for an offbeat, just plainly antisocial character with Harren, they just reduce him to 'the lonely guy who finally stops hiding from the world'. Too bad. I did like the whole Deck 15-bowels-of-the-ship idea and decor though. All in all it's a well thought out episode with a rather iffy ending. It's a shame that you don't really care for the characters, as we'll probably never see them again.
navamske - Tue, Sep 16, 2008 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
I think there's a pretty egregious violation of established canon in this episode. Without exception, everyone who talks to Tal Celes or who refers to her uses the name "Celes." As we learned from Ro Laren and Kira Nerys, what we would think of as the Bajoran last name is actually the first name -- or, rather, the more familiar name. It's conceivable that Billy Telfer could call his friend "Celes," but it seems unlikely that Janeway would get that familiar with her right away, or that Seven would use the familiar name.
EP - Fri, Mar 6, 2009 - 11:13pm (USA Central)
This episode might have made sense in season 1 or 2, but not in season 6. These "misfit" crewmen have survived the Caretaker, the Kazon, the Hirogen, the Borg, Species 8472, the Ankari, more Borg, Borg disconnected from the Collective, then baby Borg, then more Borg...well, you get the idea. And they still can't get it into their thick heads that they need to ship up?

Also, it presents Captain Janeway in a terrible light: that she can't even maintain basic discipline on her ship (which also runs completely counter to Captain Ransom's statement in Equinox, Pt. 1), and that she would tolerate these slackjaws without imposing any sort of corrective discipline. Instead, the episode portrays her in her "aw shucks, Ma Bell" routine where she trains her subordinates by treating them like misbehaving children.

The writers tried to duplicate the success of TNG's Lower Decks, but instead, they only managed to piss me off. Aye carumba.
Banjo - Sun, Nov 22, 2009 - 11:22am (USA Central)
I really liked Harren as a character. Frankly, I'd rather see the likes of "edgier" characters like Harren, Carey, Suder, etc. as a member of the *regular* cast than some of the bland, dull "feel good" folks we got in Voyager.

Other than that, this episode once again makes me hate Janeway (pompous, deluded, idiotic, take your pick) and the "Good Shepherd" stuff was sickening (the opposite of what we got in the - IMO - very good 'Lower Decks' of TNG).

Oh yes, and the is no ending, is there? Just Janeway's delusional ramblings. Also, it's a shame we'll likely never see these three again after all that... heaven forbid we have any sort of continuity or continuing characters, eh?

Final observation I'm surprised doesn't annoy more people... why the HECK do they need to physically CARRY the orders on a Padd from one end of the ship to the other?! Can't they use the comms? Or the computer? Or anything?! Oh, I noticed on the Flyer Janeway tells Celes to upload her tricorder info into the computer... and Celes seems to be punching it all in MANUALLY! I guess there is no wireless in Voyager's tech. Or intercoms.
Ben Masters - Sat, Apr 24, 2010 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
One of the best lines, I thought, was when Janeway got mad at Harren for shooting the alien:

Janeway: "What the hell is wrong with you!"
Harren: "It was trying to kill us!"
Janeway: "You don't know that!"
Harren: "We were at risk!"
Janeway: "I gave you a direct order!"

Don't know why I liked that exchange, but I did.
Michael - Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - 10:26am (USA Central)
This is a good episode, particularly because it focuses on fresh yet relevant characters, is fast-moving and does not philosophize too much. Harren is especially engaging and makes a nice difference from the usual "Dr. Phil Collective" identikit crewmembers.

Two things, as others have mentioned: It comes WAY too late in the day and it's difficult to believe that there are still "misfits" on the ship never previously identified, after everything Voyager has been thru. Secondly, the ending is poor, not so much because it's cliched, as EightofNine said, but because it is rushed, and leaves many questions unanswered and the whole conundrum of the show unresolved.

Three stars is perfect.
Cloudane - Wed, Mar 30, 2011 - 2:44pm (USA Central)
Nifty opening and teaser direction. Bit of a change from the usual fly-by and seemed to hint that something special was coming (it didn't, but then after the past few episodes anything decent is special I guess).

Love the concept, as something that hasn't really been done before (Lower Decks yes, but pretty different really).

I actually liked Janeway in this episode. For once she's balanced to an almost Picard-like level: caring and kind, but firm when she needs to be. This Janeway is far better than the battleaxe we are often faced with.

For the most part the misfits were interesting and it felt worth watching an episode about them. I thought yellowshirt was a bit too much of a brat sometimes though - credit where it's due to Janeway for her patience, as I'd have had the sarcastic and abrasive little turd dangling out of an airlock...

Final Fantasy VI + Voyager combined in-joke: This time Celes couldn't get a Locke.

Spot the mouse pointer moving around the LCARS interface in the escape pod. Um?! :D

All in all pretty good. It used Voyager's premise to its advantage, which I always enjoy. Three stars seems absolutely right.
Kieran - Tue, Apr 12, 2011 - 5:13am (USA Central)
I didn't really get Janeway having a go at Harren for "murdering" the lifeform. Surely if it had accessed the environmental controls it would have killed them all instantly (regardless as to whether that was its intent)?
Jay - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 1:31pm (USA Central)
I kept trying to imagine these characters (particularly Herrin) in the predicaments that we saw earlier, like "Year Of Hell" and "The Killing Game".
Iceblink - Tue, Sep 6, 2011 - 5:00am (USA Central)
Another enjoyable episode, kind of hybrid of Lower Decks and Learning Curve. I agree with two points noted above: this ep would have been better suited to the first 2-3 seasons. The entire crew has been through HELL by this point, these guys 'wetness' seems a bit unlikely given this. And yes, it was a gigantic damp squib of an ending that wasn't dramatically satisfying. We needed to *see* some change in these characters as they returned to the ship to make the journey worthwhile, not just a glib comment by Janeway. It was as tough the writers ran out of time.

I enjoyed the guest characters though - so much so I kind of wish they could be grafted onto the main cast. There are so many pointless 'hangers-on' in Voyager's main cast of characters. I'd happily dispense with Harry, Neelix, Chakotay and Tuvok in order to make way for someone like Harren, who struck me as the most potentially interesting of the three. Even Celes and Billy had a freshness about them that could have reinvigorated the series a bit. I'd love to see them in the series again...but I know that's 99.9% unlikely (forgive me if I'm wrong, I don't think I've seen any Voyager beyond this point).
Jay - Sun, Sep 18, 2011 - 10:39am (USA Central)
The "specifications" that Seven entered ino a pad for Celes to take to Torres...couldn't they have been transferred directly to he in engineering via the computer?

Reminds me of the original V series where they had this advanced technology, but messages were always being delivered to Diana and the others in person, and on actual paper notes.
Aldos - Wed, Sep 28, 2011 - 8:51am (USA Central)
For the most part I liked this one, mainly because it's one of the rare anti-liberal episodes in the Star Trek universe.

Haran's explanation of how it's his genes that determine who he is not where he grew up as well as Celes's about how she knows she doesn't belong in Starfleet and that she got in only due to sympathy votes are blasphemy on liberal-dominated TV.
Jack - Sat, Feb 18, 2012 - 9:21pm (USA Central)
Janeway claimed that she'd memorized the entire layout and schematics for all of Voyager before taking command, but here she needed to be told to turn left instead of right...
Cappo - Fri, Mar 16, 2012 - 3:14pm (USA Central)
@Jack That *was* 6 years ago, and she's probably never been there in person in all that time.

My nitpick is this: When does how much anti-matter remaining determine the *top speed* a ship can go? (Or shuttle, in this case.)

Combined with how often they're looking for more dilithium, I'm starting to wonder if the writers got the two mixed up. And after burning food in a replicator, I think the writers forgot how the ship works.

Or they just don't care.
Captain Jim - Mon, Apr 23, 2012 - 10:47pm (USA Central)
Like Iceblink, this also reminded me of Learning Curve. Eh, it was okay; certainly a change of pace. I didn't really find it all that exciting, though. I probably would have given it two stars.
Locke - Tue, Jul 10, 2012 - 9:14am (USA Central)
The thing that bugged me in this episode was the way the alien being shot was just glossed over in one exchange. Given the federation morality, I'd expect that vaporising a probably sentient lifeform with fairly little cause would be one of the most heinous crimes a starfleet officer could commit. I'd expect instant court-martial actually. What, aliens that don't look humanoid are ok to vaporise point blank when they seem a bit threatening? it's just a little annoying to Janeway for 20 seconds but no big deal? I don't buy it, they bend over backwards to avoid harming even clearly hostile aliens all the time, but this one was exempt because it wasn't human enough to make a big deal over?... can you imagine if a random crewman got twitchy and just fired a high setting phaser at an alien on the bridge who got a bit shovey with Chakotay or something? it seems so out of place to me.
Cloudane - Tue, Jul 10, 2012 - 10:00am (USA Central)
>"Final Fantasy VI + Voyager combined in-joke: This time Celes couldn't get a Locke."

And then Locke posted. My day, made.
Locke - Sat, Jul 14, 2012 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
Ahah, it's even better that my nick is actually taken from the FF VI character, rather than all the other Lockes around XD... AND I noticed the Celes thing when I read the review (having forgotten her name).

Locke - Sat, Jul 14, 2012 - 3:37pm (USA Central)
This episode really is strange, it has no final act as Jammer said, it's just 4/5ths of a story.

Jay - Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - 2:00pm (USA Central)
I didn't really get a sense that there was no ending...the sickbay scene was sufficient.

What were you looking for, the scene to last until they "came to", and dramatically pondered the first day of the rest of their lives?
Take it easy - Thu, Jan 3, 2013 - 1:47am (USA Central)
I agree with Jay about the ending. Harren went into action instead of just being a theorist. Celes took responsibility when she refused to just escape and Telfer got better after the alien incident. I liked the way there was no separate scene to explain it.
Take it easy - Thu, Jan 3, 2013 - 2:16am (USA Central)
Agree with some of the comments here.

1. No need to take all 3 newbies in one away mission.

2. Surprised Janeway didn't know the way to a particular area.

3. Janeway seemed to be overly upset when the alien lifeform is killed (true to Trek philosophy though).

Cloudane - Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - 3:05pm (USA Central)
Rather late response, but yay Locke actually being named after Locke XDD

Just saw this again on CBS, or half of it anyway. Forgot about the mouse pointer appearing, but spotted it again! Hilarious blooper.

Agree with my own assessment of Janeway as pretty decent in this one.

Yellowshirt guy was still insufferable. I think he needs more than this mission, he needs a good slap. He makes early Squall (FF8) look friendly and extroverted. The other two weren't too bad, they were a bit loser-ish for people who've been on the ship for 6 years but they pulled through. That guy though, ugh.
Arachnea - Mon, Jan 28, 2013 - 3:54am (USA Central)
I liked this episode, though it would have fitted better in the second season. What bothers me is the idea that the captain doesn't know her small crew: they're less than 150 and have lived together for 6 years !

The other thing I find awkward is about Seven. Has she become the efficiency officer ? If I were a crewman, moreover a Starfleet officer with years of training, I'd be pissed to know that a former Borg has that much influence. In addition, I'd resent her "I'm superior and better than you" attitude. I'd have understood if she had asked a private meeting with Janeway to complain, but here, it looks like a formal senior officer's meeting.

Granted, that's a nitpick about an otherwise very enjoyable episode, but it's something that's always bothered me.
Leah - Tue, Jul 9, 2013 - 7:48pm (USA Central)
Hey, Jay Underwood! I remember him from that TV movie series, "Not Quite Human," where he ironically played an android who wanted to be human. Kinda wish he was playing that role here after watching this character. I get that it takes all kinds but seriously...would a guy like this have even made it into Starfleet? And Captain Janeway is WAY too lenient with his constant mouthing off. I don't remember him asking permission to speak freely. She's still his captain for pity's sake! Picard would have cut the little puke down to size in a few seconds for insubordination like that.

Also, the other kid is more of a hypochondriac than Barclay and he went 6 years without this being brought to light? Barclay's idiosyncrasies were called out a very short time after he came on board and that's on a ship with a complement of over 1,000 people, where slipping between the cracks would be easier to do. I am in full agreement that an episode like this would have been far more suited to season 1 or 2. I didn't hate it but I didn't love it either.
Jo Jo Meastro - Tue, Aug 6, 2013 - 11:48am (USA Central)
Season 6 had been great all round for its first half, then it seemed to get a little stuck in a rut with one too many bad episodes and an very uneven quality...but this one was good Voyager, almost refreshing after being a little deflated with the season for a while.

It was very solidly made and I loved the fresh, mismatched, quirky characters who made the story work that much better (it would have been very dry if it had just been the regulars solving yet another crisis without a unique hook or a hint of freshness).

I got a kick out of the impressive space visuals, although I think a good old fashioned slime-drenched prop would have worked better for the dark matter creature!

I liked the characters and I liked this fun, little unconventional Voyager adventure. 3 stars from me, I'm glad to finally be a little more positive about the second half of season 6 for a change!
azcats - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 12:30pm (USA Central)
I know we got to watch the 3 black sheep grow, but i did think there should have been a last scene with the 3 members, but i guess the writers couldnt think of a good one.

mostly, cause we wont see these 3 again.

Harren's character was a hoot. i kept thinking,"how can you talk to a captain like that." but dang it was fun.

it had a 4 star start..but i think it ended with 3.
Niall - Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - 5:51am (USA Central)
For all its belated good intentions, this one's a dud in my book. The 3 new characters are crudely drawn stereotypes - more caricatures than real people - and the actual plot concerning the dark matter centipede or whatever it is that invades the guy's body and then can somehow interface with the ship's computer systems just by sitting on the console is laughable B-movie shlock.

As others have pointed out, it comes far too late in the day, and we've never seen these characters before and never do again. The fact they could still be this incompetent, neurotic and attitudinal by this point in the series beggars belief. It's a small ship.
Susan - Tue, Dec 3, 2013 - 12:25pm (USA Central)
I'm still trying to figure the ending part where Janeway says to Harren "You made a mistake, don't make another one!" What exactly was his first mistake? Following her order? Was it a mistake to decide not to stay with the rest of the crew to protect her, after she ordered them to leave anyway? First she orders them to leave, then when he does she calls it a mistake? Or am I missing something else?
Elliott - Tue, Dec 3, 2013 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
@Susan: phasering the dark matter centipede was his first "mistake". The biggest issue with this episode is the pacing, whereby the events and logic of the last act or so are so crammed that one has to fill in many gaps. I believe this also accounts for Jammer's impression that there was no ending; it's there, but the lack of screen time requires one to infer a lot about what might have transpired offscreen.
Nick - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
To those who don't like the ending, I think it was perfect. Firstly, a lack of denouement allowed the time for the extended dialogues between each of the yellow shirts, ie. more backstory. We the audience already know that all the characters were rescued, so it wasn't necessary to show them again.

Lastly, due to the character's collective experience in the shuttle craft, we can all infer that they have indeed changed, and will not be quite so isolated from the rest of the ship from this point onward.

The episode was also a great character study for Janeway, allowing her to display different aspects of her leadership philosophy.
Amanda - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 12:34am (USA Central)
As I stated in Equanox comments, This episode would have had my attention more if it had some of Ransom's crew rather than nameless fools we never heard or wonder why they are still misfits 6 yrs later.
Nic - Mon, Mar 10, 2014 - 9:46am (USA Central)
I’m glad Voyager did its own « Lower Decks », and this is certainly one of the better efforts of the season. I have no problem with the ending; Telfer gets some closure, while Tal and Harren pretty much stay who they are. It feels just about right.

The problem is that three new characters appearing out of nowhere at this point in the series is implausible. It was okay on the Enterprise-D because it was a big ship and personnel transfers happened all the time (and there was Sito, whom we had seen before).
Nathan - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 8:10pm (USA Central)
Not a bad episode, just bad timing to be in season 6. Amazing that Janeway allows the attitude of Harren. No other Captain in Trek would tolerate such behavior. Its an insult to the viewer that such poor use of them chain of command is not followed.
Ric - Mon, May 26, 2014 - 11:51pm (USA Central)
Not a bad episode at all, although a bit too formulaic for my taste. I certainly do not agree that this episode sort of didn't have a proper ending (and it kind of shocks me to read someone asking more of an ending than it had). But I wholeheartedly agree that this is just a pale incarnation of TNG's "Lower Decks". Still, with such an unusual structure it still felt like a breeze of fresh air.
Sean - Thu, Jun 5, 2014 - 12:57am (USA Central)
I'm not terribly fond of the way Janeway treats her crewmen like children. These people are adults, they deserve to be treated as such. They're not behaving properly, they should be disciplined accordingly. They should be treated like adults, not frightened children.

That said, I did like Janeway's trying to understand them. Several moments between them worked for me. It's a shame they're never going to be seen again. The standard for Voyager, obviously.

I'm also not a fan of the "good shepherd" routine, again implying that Janeway is a parent and the crewmen her children that need to be rescued. It makes her seem like a self-righteous ass.
domi - Sun, Jun 29, 2014 - 10:30pm (USA Central)
I found the guest characters annoying and unsympathetic. Once the stage was set, the rest of the show was dull, predictable, and again cliche ridden. Hypochondriac gets infected with an alien centipede? How appropriate. He shouldn't worry though, it probably means him no harm and seeks peaceful coexistence.

By the way, you don't get to be captain of Starfleet's newest ship without knowing the deck plan. Even if she didn't before, she had 6 years to become familiar with a whole 15 decks. Come on. I know that scene was meant for comic relief, but this stupid writing makes Janeway look bad.

The only thing I liked about this episode was the brief exterior shots at the beginning and end. I remember them doing this occasionally in the first couple of seasons, then they seemed to forget about it? It's a shame this effect wasn't used more.

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