Star Trek: Voyager
"Body and Soul"
Air date: 11/15/2000
Teleplay by Eric Morris and Phyllis Strong & Mike Sussman
Story by Michael Taylor
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"We're both reasonable people. I suggest a compromise. Your vessel will escort us through Lokirrim territory. That way you can keep an eye on us, make sure we don't reactivate our holodecks. The other alternative is, we destroy your ship." — Janeway-style negotiation
In brief: Enjoyable. Not deep, and the plot is primarily a means to an end, but there's nothing really wrong with that.
It looks like it's that time of the year — time for the highest of high concepts. "Body and Soul" has what must be one of the most brilliantly simple high concepts in many a moon. How is it nobody on Voyager's writing staff thought of this episode before now? And if they or someone else already had, how could they possibly have been sitting on it for so long?
In the tradition of shows like "Infinite Regress," the story is this year's edition of Jeri Ryan Uninhibited. Ryan is an actor afforded few opportunities on Voyager to go bananas, but when she gets one, look out.
The basic premise is something so goofy and yet somehow so plausible that it makes perfect sense: Doc's program gets transferred into Seven's mind, and Doc takes over her body. The net result, essentially, is that Jeri Ryan plays the part of the Doctor. She gets Robert Picardo's role, and runs with it.
Something like this can be very good or very bad. Executed badly, it can be an embarrassment. Played correctly, it can be a lot of fun. "Body and Soul" is largely an example of the latter. Seven of Nine is so self-inhibited that you wonder if Ryan would get tired of the character's limitations. Perhaps an opportunity like this might seem like a vacation at work.
Of course, something like this could not happen because the characters wanted it to happen, so we have the plot force our characters into a situation where they must improvise the measure. In this case, it seems that the Delta Flyer has wandered into a territory of space inhabited by the Lokirrim, where holograms are assumed to be hostile members of a rebellion (they are referred to as "photonic insurgents"). Of course, I must ask why it would be assumed by any reasonable society that all holograms are automatically insurgents when they could just as easily be technology attached to those not involved in the conflict (as in this case). For that matter, why assume that just because certain biological materials could be used to make bio-weapons, they necessarily will? Because such an assumption must be used to justify our characters being taken prisoner, that's why. No matter; we can grant the story these silly details in the interests of its premise.
So the Delta Flyer is tractored into a shuttle bay and Harry and Seven are thrown into the holding cell on a Lokirrim vessel. Unbeknownst to the Lokirrim crew, Doc has actually been uploaded into Seven's mind to hide. If he's caught he'll likely be decompiled. Hmmm — in a society where holograms have apparently taken on a subculture of their own, there's no trial or hearing, and simply on-the-spot execution? Perhaps that's part of the problem with Lokirrim society.
Never mind. It's perhaps best to put such questions on hold, since similar themes may resurface in the upcoming "Flesh and Blood," a storyline two episodes down the road that will involve holograms as a central issue. For now, "Body and Soul" concentrates on the idea of Doc taking over Seven's body.
Some of this is quite funny. Take, for example, the cheesecake scene. One might not think that eating a piece of cheesecake could be the source of so much amusement, but here it is, simply because the person experiencing the consumption of cheesecake has never eaten anything before. And even worth a smile is the reaction of Ranek (Fritz Sperberg), the captain of the Lokirrim ship, upon tasting this cheesecake (apparently it truly is a good piece of cheesecake), which is the first of several bribes Doc/Seven feeds Ranek in an attempt to gain his trust.
As for the drunk scene — well, I'm always a sucker for a good drunk scene, and when you consider that Ryan is playing the part of Doc and then adding on top of that the fact Doc is drunk and trying to carefully manipulate Ranek, you've got yourself a situation that's as entertaining as it is silly, with layers to it that would require an actor be brave to underplay, and even braver not to.
Ryan's performance is not one that holds back in favor of subtlety. She goes for broke. And of course she does, because that's the point. Doc's persona is built upon outgoing expressiveness, cheerful narcissism, and sudden ventures into melodrama. It's fun to watch because of the weirdness of the given situation, and fun because we try to picture Picardo playing the same notes, and realize that he pretty much would be. Doc isn't subtle, so therefore neither is Ryan's performance. But it contains a working knowledge of the full extent of Doc's body language and speech patterns, and on that level there are subtle nuances to note. The rendition is excellent.
Doc is having a blast experiencing life in a real biological body, right down to the simple sensation of breathing air. The catch, of course, is when he learns that Seven has been aware of everything he has done while occupying her body. When he returns to his mobile emitter several times through the episode, she expresses her displeasure regarding his "overindulgence." This eventually leads to the best character discussion in the show, when Doc answers with a counter-argument. Given the circumstances, I'm with him: "We're quite a pair. Me, trapped by the limitations of photons and force fields. You, by a drone's obsession with efficiency. You'd make an excellent hologram." Life includes stopping to indulge yourself, otherwise what have you enjoyed when it's all over?
Oh, yes — Harry has the part of straight man to the lunacy, playing for reaction shots to Doc's personality as magnified through a situation that has Doc even more exuberant than usual.
Do you care about the plot? I'm not sure whether it's a credit or a demerit that the writers decide to play the alien plot more or less straight. Granted, it's not the least bit heavy, but nor is it completely irreverent; the writers permit a halfway serious issue involving the nature of holograms in Lokirrim society to creep into the narrative. Such scenes ground the scenes respectably in a normal reality. This episode could just as easily have gone for zero seriousness and been a comic role-playing free-for-all. I honestly don't know if that would've been better, worse, or neither.
But what we have isn't bad. The Lokirrim people are not depicted as one-note villains and instead more as people trying to do their jobs and follow the rules, screwed up as those rules might be. And it's nice that the resolution ultimately comes down to an agreement and some respect.
In the meantime, worked into the plot is a would-be romance, where Ranek tries to put the moves on Seven, much to Doc's dismay. The idea is obvious but mildly amusing — though wouldn't trying to woo your prisoner be a court-martial offense for a starship captain?
The other key interaction here is between Doc/Seven and Jaryn (Megan Gallagher), one of the ship's officers. Doc obviously has a bit of a crush on her, though the whole idea seems like an afterthought.
Really, the whole story could've been an afterthought. This is the sort of show that is more concept than content. What happens is far less important than how the actors convey it. It's a like a technical experiment. It is not inspired — and given the premise, it could've been — but it's at least entertaining.
There was a Voyager episode a few years ago about body switching called "Vis A Vis." It was a superficial, mechanical bore. Given the right situation and actors, a high concept like this can be fun. "Body and Soul," while hardly groundbreaking, works as a solid hour that should keep you interested in the dynamics on display.
Next week: Harry Kim takes command. Uh-oh.