I'm beginning to think the Delta Quadrant is the character on Voyager that most urgently needs development. One thing that is beginning to frustrate me about the series is how little the USS Voyager is finding in the vast unknowns of this new territory. Don't get me wrong. The series is doing a fine job of developing its personality and cast. But one thing it hasn't done that it should've by now is take advantage of the fact it has alienated the TNG/DS9 lore in favor of lore of its own.
Instead of a story that in some way develops the Delta Quadrant, we get "Learning Curve"—a basically lightweight Trek outing with a decent A-story and a fairly flat B-story jeopardy premise. Tuvok is placed in charge of putting four insubordinate former-Maquis officers through a basic Starfleet attitude training. Meanwhile, the ship's bio-neural circuitry begins malfunctioning when it literally catches a virus.
It's another nice vehicle to see Tuvok in action, though his character doesn't benefit much in terms of meaty development. His trainees prove willfully stubborn. They didn't ask to be integrated into a Starfleet crew, and they feel justified in continuing to do things the "Maquis way." Starfleet/Maquis conflict is a relevant issue that hasn't been looked at since "Parallax" and it's nice to see that not everybody has fully accepted the situation.
Included in the "Maquis way" is an unwritten rule that removes retreat as an option in battle situations—a definite rule that Tuvok has to remove from their thinking patterns. When he tests them in a holodeck Kobayashi Maru type simulation, they go up against insurmountable odds and die. "At least we went out with our phasers firing," comments Henley (Catherine MacNeal).
However, I question Tuvok's initial methods for breaking in these trainees. He treats them like teenage cadets at the academy. He makes Chell (Derek McGrath) run laps around the cargo bay and degauss the transporter room by means of the slowest method available. It seems like pointless punishment used for comedy rather than a realistic procedure in light of the extreme situations facing the Voyager.
On the other hand, I see no reason why these Maquis officers are so adamant to make the worst out of a bad situation.
It is reassuring to see Tuvok question his own methods. Neelix helps Tuvok realize that his inflexibility, in addition to the Maquis', doesn't make the situation better. This leads Tuvok to attempt to get to know Dalby (Armand Schultz) by playing the pool holodeck program—a scene that ends with realistic results.
This story works fine despite its lightweight nature. Unfortunately, there's also a fairly laughable jeopardy premise in which the ship's bio-neural gel packs begin malfunctioning. The only storytelling point in this plot is the further conveyance that being far from home will continue to have a serious impact on the ship and crew. When these gel packs are damaged, they cannot be repaired. They must be replaced, and there is a limited backup supply of only 47 of them.
The Doctor discovers that the gel packs have a bacterial infection that is destroying them. As it spreads through the ship, systems begin failing like crazy. Tuvok discovers that some cheese Neelix has sitting out in his galley possibly contains the bacteria growth.
Excuse me? A plot in which cheese is the culprit? They're saying that if cheese is left out on the Voyager, the ship's gel packs will come down with a disease? This plot revelation belongs up there with Tuvok's dog/witness in "Ex Post Facto."
And with all the system failures the malfunctions cause, is it too much to ask why the Doctor wasn't affected by them? Maybe that would prove a little too inconvenient for the lazy plot, but it is a valid point to address. No power, no Doctor.
As for character development, Janeway's holodeck novel is not doing the job. It has no relevance to anything on the show. I need to see Janeway interacting with her crew on a personal or social level. She said herself in "Caretaker" that she needs to take time to get to know the crew better. The writers need to find something to do with Janeway apart from commanding the ship, and the holodeck is not the answer.
All in all, "Learning Curve" is an entertaining but underwhelming show. Time to move on.