Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 2/7/2001
Teleplay by Mike Sussman & Phyllis Strong
Story by Larry Nemecek & J. Kelley Burke and Raf Green & Kenneth Biller
Directed by Terry Windell
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I was hoping our daughter would be special, but I never dreamed she'd turn out to be the Klingon messiah." — Paris
In brief: A mostly aimless story with the usual Klingon mumbo-jumbo.
"Prophecy" has the names of six writers on it, which might explain why it seems to go off in six directions in the course of an hour. What the heck is this really about? This has to be the first Klingon show in which a bat'leth battle between two combatants ends when one of the warriors collapses to the ground due to illness. This facilitates the story wildly heading off in another direction, but at least now I can say I've seen a Klingon fall ill while swinging a sword.
The story is a hodgepodge stew characterized by a lot of portentous prophecy dialog. We've got (1) Klingons in the Delta Quadrant; (2) Torres' unborn baby elevated to the level of messiah; (3) ancient prophecies open to the widest of interpretations; (4) Neelix and Tuvok as roommates; (5) Harry being granted the interspecies sex-acts license he didn't get in "The Disease," except that he doesn't want it this time; (6) ideological friction; (7) a deadly genetic disease and the search for its cure; (8) a bat'leth battle (not) to the death; (9) the search for a new homeworld; (10) a Voyager takeover scenario; and last but not least, (11) Neelix getting some action. Yes, that kind of action.
This looks like it was once three (or nine) stories before being grafted together into one. Even Klingon cultural expert Ronald D. Moore probably wouldn't have been able to make heads or tails of the story drafts.
If I had to pick an episode this best resembles in its overall attempt (emphasis on "attempt"), it would be DS9's far-superior "Destiny" from 1995. Interestingly, the casting directors managed to hire for their main Klingon guest star here a guy who sometimes sounds a lot like Avery Brooks, but I digress; I've fulfilled my DS9 comparison quota for the day.
The episode pays homage to the most implausible yet reliable Voyager cliche, which is that anything or anyone from the Alpha Quadrant, if allowed to wander long enough in the Delta Quadrant, will inevitably run into Voyager in the infinite vastness of space. In this case, a Klingon vessel that has been on a holy mission for generations opens fire on Voyager (because the Federation is the Klingon Empire's sworn enemy according to the timeline this ship's crew is living by).
After the initial phaser-firing, Janeway invites the Klingon captain, Kohlar (Wren T. Brown, the guy with the Avery Brooks voice), aboard Voyager, where Kohlar sees a pregnant B'Elanna Torres. He is immediately convinced she is the Kuva'Mach, a prophesied savior of his people. Subsequently, Kohlar self-destructs his own ship on a leap of faith in order to force Janeway to beam his crew aboard Voyager so they can follow the Kuva'Mach. Quite a leap of faith, that.
Or maybe not. It turns out Kohlar has his own doubts, but he doesn't care; his intention is to end this drawn-out holy mission and find a new homeworld for his crew. He believes B'Elanna — whether her child is the Kuva'Mach or not — can be the symbol that will lead his people into a new era.
There are, of course, skeptics among the Klingons. One is T'Greth (Sherman Howard), who is dismayed to learn the alleged mother of the Kuva'Mach is only half Klingon, and the father not at all. You'd think people like T'Greth would've grilled Kohlar a little harder on the facts before helping him blow up their own ship, but never mind.
"Prophecy" is first and foremost a dialog episode, but it doesn't carry the weight it needs to be a good story. Most of the prophesying and Klingon mumbo-jumbo is overly generic. There's no sense in the language that there's much of an actual prophecy here we're supposed to be listening to or figuring out. Kohlar wants B'Elanna to help him avoid dissent by playing along and using wide latitude to interpret the prophecies so they fit her life. But really, this was more interesting when it involved Sisko and the Bajoran Prophets on DS9, where it felt like it mattered.
We also have our fulfilled dose of male posturing and testosterone. Eventually T'Greth challenges Paris to a battle to the death (what else?) to prove he could be the father of the Kuva'Mach. Paris glares back menacingly to prove he's a real man. Haven't we been here and done this enough times? Janeway forbids a death match, so instead it's agreed that it will be a non-lethal knock-down contest. (I guess that's slightly new for a Klingon story.)
About this "non-lethal" battle with "blunted" bat'leths — I'm with Doc: Sharpened or not, if you're swinging thin, heavy sheets of metal full-speed trying to hit another person, you'd better be prepared to lose part of your face.
Like I mentioned, though, the fight is interrupted when T'Greth collapses because of a disease known to these Klingons as the Nehret, which affects mainly the elderly. They all carry it, and it's transmittable only to other Klingons, meaning B'Elanna and her baby now carry it. My question is, how many problems does this story really need?
Before it can finally find an ending that hints at some sort of storytelling purpose, "Prophecy" first turns into a free-for-all that betrays all signs of a show desperately seeking to appeal to a general action audience. I was growing restless by the time T'Greth decided the Klingons must seize Voyager for themselves. I guess the writers just ran out of ideas.
The reason for the violence is that T'Greth's faction needs a ship to continue this holy mission. There's some fun with transporters when T'Greth's followers beam Voyager crew members down to a planet to get them out of the way. Janeway: "Cut power to the transporter." Paris: "Can't." I'm not sure whether it's refreshing or lame that the writers don't even bother anymore with a technobabble reason to explain why transporter power can't be cut. It just ... can't. We then have a phaser-fight on the bridge, which I suppose is mandatory for any Extreme February on UPN.
All problems are all solved when Doc realizes that antibodies from B'Elanna's part-Klingon baby can neutralize the Nehret, which in turn convinces T'Greth that the baby is indeed the Kuva'Mach. None of this is particularly riveting (and it does resolve everything pretty easily), but the story does at least demonstrate the point that a sign does not have to be magical to be meaningful.
Before arriving at this point, the overall problem with "Prophecy" is that the narrative is a mess. The plot careens off in too many different directions. Is this an action episode, a philosophy show, a Neelix sex comedy, or what? There are too many pointless elements and they all seem disruptive. The gold of this story (as well as its title) is obviously in the prophecy. But it's hard to take it seriously because the dialog is flat and disconnected and the Klingon stuff is too derivative. And the ship-takeover ploy is simply gratuitous.
For a story to work, it must convince us that it knows what its point is. "Prophecy" spreads things out and tries to do a little of everything. In the process it ends up doing surprisingly little.
Next week: The interstellar Roach Motel.