Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 10/25/2000
Teleplay by Mark Haskell Smith
Story by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Winrich Koble
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Let me get this straight: You've gone to all this trouble to program a three-dimensional environment that projects a two-dimensional image, and now you're asking me to wear these [3D glasses] to make it look three-dimensional again?"
"Great, isn't it?"
— B'Elanna and Tom
In brief: Why make this episode? The story's destination is woefully contrived and completely pointless.
"Repression" is an hour of television that goes to great (and unlikely) lengths of plotting to accomplish basically nothing. It's one of the most artificial, pointless Voyager exercises in recent memory. I'm trying to think what the creators thought they were onto here by putting a story like this into production, but I'm at a loss. When the whole point of a show like this is to be a contrived mechanical exercise and absolutely nothing more, what exactly are we supposed to take from the experience?
I'll tell you what I got: a cynical nod to the existence of a universe beyond Voyager's current mission statement (whatever that is) — specifically, a shallow, retroactive acknowledgement that the Maquis crew members, once upon a time, existed. The trailers for "Repression" alleged that there would be mutiny. I wasn't fooled, but I didn't think even a fake mutiny plot would be this starved for justification.
I've complained in the past that Voyager tends to come up with plots that are at the expense of the characters. Well, "Repression" ranks among the most egregious examples — an episode where the plot steamrollers right through the characters, who are nothing more than hollow vessels to be moved around by totally artificial, manufactured circumstances. Ostensibly, this is a Tuvok vehicle (one of the show's most overlooked characters), but Tuvok is just a writer's toy here — his Vulcan mind powers are used to service an absurd plot while the character itself might as well be wallpaper.
In a nutshell, the premise for the episode is what I'm terming "remote-controlled mutiny by proxy." Please do not laugh (yet). A Bajoran maniac in the Alpha Quadrant sends a hidden message in a letter to Tuvok which subconsciously triggers buried brainwashing that was therapeutically programmed into Tuvok seven years ago when he was an undercover infiltrator of the Maquis. This prompts Tuvok, unaware of his own actions, to engage in a mission to mind-program other former-Maquis members of the crew to seize control of Voyager. Yes.
It begins as an investigation story when members of the crew are mysteriously attacked and left comatose. Doc can't explain the comas. Tuvok takes on the assignment of figuring out who attacked the victims and why. Admittedly, the one thing of value to be taken from the episode is the idea of Tuvok facing the frustration of an investigation full of dead ends. Of course, it turns out he's investigating his own attacks and unaware of it, but that's a "twist" that is surprisingly obvious from the outset. The writers, fortunately, don't keep the "character unwittingly investigates his own crimes" angle a huge mystery for so long as to completely sabotage the show. But not to worry — they sabotage the show with the rest of the plot.
As for the flow of the investigation, I won't get into details except to note that Tuvok's suspicions of Kim, as well as others, are pretty thin: If everyone with any kind of emotions is a suspect, how can an investigation possibly narrow down to find the perpetrator? Another clue involves a stored "afterimage" in the holodeck, which shows the mystery figure attacking one of the victims. I thought this visual clue wasn't nearly masked enough for the audience; I could almost tell it was Tuvok, though I already had my suspicions.
The investigation scenes are actually not badly handled for the most part. But once Tuvok realizes he's the culprit, the plot is pretty much a downhill slide. The question for Janeway is why Tuvok assaulted these people, and what's the significance of all the victims being former Maquis. The plot is obvious to us well before it is to Janeway & Co., and the Idiot Plot syndrome in action here revolves around the fact that once the comatose characters awaken, no one suspects that they might have been compromised the way Tuvok was. Shouldn't they be confined until the captain can get to the bottom of things? (Of course not, because then how could they take over the ship?)
By far the biggest question I had was why in the world the Bajoran maniac, a guy named Teero (Keith Szarabajka), would even want to have the Maquis crew members seize control of Voyager in the first place. Dialog and flashbacks reveal that Teero was a Maquis fanatic who wanted to use extreme, experimental methods to further the Maquis cause. One of these methods was brainwashing/mind-programming. He had discovered Tuvok was a Starfleet officer infiltrating the Maquis. Rather than exposing him, Teero programmed Tuvok to be his secret weapon at some later date. That date is today, seven years later, and mayhem ensues. There are scenes where Tuvok and Teero face off inside Tuvok's hallucinations as Janeway tries help Tuvok regain focus of his mind. Such scenes are marked with plenty of urgent shouting, etc., but none of it can overcome the banality of why it's all happening.
I'm sorry, but Teero's motives here are beyond any sense of a useful purpose and venture into flat-out stupidity. I don't buy for one second that Teero is going to go to the trouble — nearly four years after the Alpha Quadrant Maquis have been wiped out — to send a message to Tuvok, who's on a ship 35,000 light-years away. What can he possibly get out of it? What purpose does it serve that helps any Maquis or former Maquis in any way? The answers are nothing and none, so the story just supplies "he's fanatical" as the lame explanation. No. That's a cheap cop-out, not a motive. Since obviously Voyager's Starfleet and Maquis officers are not going to go at each other's throats under any normal circumstances (despite the trailer's attempts to convince us to the contrary), the only possible reason for us to care about this story is if the motivation of the character pulling the strings from afar has any sort of impact. It doesn't, so we don't care. It's a writer's wave of the hand, and frankly it's pretty insulting.
The other big annoyance here is the writers' presumption that a Vulcan mind meld is equivalent to flipping an on/off switch in someone's brain. Based on what he's able to accomplish here, Tuvok should be registered as a very dangerous weapon. He melds with several Maquis members of the crew, including key people like Chakotay and Torres, and when he "activates" them, they suddenly become pro-Maquis and anti-Starfleet. "He's simply helped us remember who we are. We're Maquis. We've always been Maquis," says Chakotay. Sure. Just like that. (My, how handy a plot device the mind meld is.)
And yet, the way the episode plays it, these people seem to know what they're doing and why. They aren't robots; it's more like their actual attitudes have been changed to make them different people. Unanswered is whether they know right from wrong or are struggling with their sudden change in mindset, or if anyone cares about the betrayals after the madness has been magically set right with reverse mind melds in the lame, simpleminded conclusion. No matter — in reality there are no answers to such questions because the script is just jerking characters around to falsely manufacture a mutiny plot. It's almost as if the trailer about the mutiny was written before the episode, and the writers did whatever they could to concoct a story that would get them to this final act, no matter how implausible and lacking in motivation.
This episode is, simply, a crock. It's an over-plotted, under-thought, meaningless hour-long contrivance — all concept, no content. A hundred things happen in this episode, but none of them matter. It's depressing to watch so much plot written to advance a story to an end point that is so fundamentally false. Really, I doubt a mutiny on Voyager could've rung true in any conceivable form. A real mutiny would've been interesting years ago, but today it would've been just as inappropriate as "Repression" stands. So the question is, why pretend this could actually be a real issue on this series today? The writers must think we're a whole lot dumber than we are. Now there's a surprise.
Next week: Doc vs. an alien HMO.