Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 1/15/1997
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Robert Picardo
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Hi, my name's Harry read-me-like-a-book Kim."
Nutshell: Nothing earth-shaking, but a pleasant outing, and with a good ending.
There's nothing particularly special about "Alter Ego." It's a routine episode with a routine plot. Just about everything done here has been done before on The Next Generation in a similar fashion. Still, "Alter Ego" manages to work for me anyway, because it's quiet about what it does, makes good use of the characters, has a high amiable factor, and, best of all, ends on a good note that is 100% Star Trek in its character outlook.
"Lightweight" would be a good word for this installment, but that should be taken as a compliment—if it had tried to punch more buttons of intensity it probably wouldn't have been successful, because the routine nature of its storyline suits it much better to characterization than to plot. Coming from scripter Joe Menosky—often renowned for his weird concepts on this series as well as TNG and DS9—"Alter Ego" is a surprisingly restrained outing.
As the episode opens, we learn that Harry is having a problem controlling one of his emotions. Specifically, he has fallen in love at first sight with a holodeck character named Marayna (Geordi LaForge syndrome perhaps?), and now he needs Tuvok to help him overcome his distraction—the Vulcan way. (Speaking of Vulcan ways, or, perhaps more specifically, Tuvokian ways: An example of Vulcan pride appears in an absolutely hilarious line from Tuvok, which harbors a touch—make that a ton—of superior attitude. When Kim calls Tuvok's game of caltoe the "Vulcan chess," Tuvok dryly replies, "Caltoe is to chess as chess is to tic-tac-toe." Ouch. I was laughing hard on that one.)
For Harry's benefit, Tuvok prescribes an immediate termination of all holodeck activity involving Marayna, heavy concentration via isolation, and plenty of serious meditation. Harry goes along with it as long as possible (fifteen minutes). By coincidence, that same evening there is a shipwide gathering on the Neelix resort holodeck program that everyone is planning to attend. (My question: who's left running the ship?) When Harry doesn't show up, Paris goes looking for him and tells him that there are easier ways of forgetting about holodeck women than sitting in the dark in Vulcan meditation.
Sound lightweight? Almost trivial? Perhaps, but it proves surprisingly entertaining. What makes these scenes interesting is in the way they're performed. Every episode of Voyager features some sort of problem that the crew has to figure out or overcome, and in the process of working these problems the personalities can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Well, the beauty of "Alter Ego" is the way it allows the characters to work their own personal problems rather than simply the mechanics of alien threats or spatial anomalies. I'm not saying that Voyager should do "Alter Ego" every week, but every once in a while is certainly nice. I enjoyed watching Harry and Tom break out of their bridge personalities in favor of something more fun.
That, of course, isn't to say there's no plot here, because there is—although it's a mostly a story combined from parts of old TNG stories. Specifically, Marayna (played with amiable although not quite compelling charisma by Sandra Nelson) becomes intrigued and interested in Tuvok after she meets him at the party. It takes very little time before it's obvious that there's more here than meets the eye. She wants Tuvok's affections, but Tuvok is unwilling and unable to give her the emotional ties she wants.
A series of plot twists ensues, in which Marayna is revealed to be sentient and cleverly escapes the holodeck by making use of Doc's portable emitter and surprising Tuvok by waiting for him in his quarters. Tuvok is not receptive. Disappointed and angry, Marayna threatens Voyager by seizing control of the ship's computer and disabling the engines, which could spell trouble as Voyager is in the middle of investigating a nebula.
Haven't we seen this story before? Of course: way back in TNG's "Elementary, Dear Data" and its follow-up, "Ship in a Bottle." Plotwise, this story can't hold a candle to those classics, especially the latter, and it seems pretty blatant the way Joe Menosky recycles the initial idea for the concept. That's not a terrible thing—"Alter Ego" does take the fresh perspective of focusing on the human angles rather than the "nature of existence" arguments revisited. And at the same time it's also gracious enough to acknowledge its predecessor in a briefing scene when Chakotay casually mentions that a similar occurrence happened under Picard on the Enterprise-D. And last, and most importantly, the ending takes a twist that makes the episode much more emotionally engaging, effective, and somewhat more original. (More on this later.)
Let's begin with the characterizations. In "Alter Ego" the important thing to keep in mind is how the issue of romance is based on a mental connection rather than just a physical one. After DS9's amusing but superficial "Looking for Par'mach in All the Wrong Places" and its horrendously awful follow-up "Let He Who Is Without Sin..." it seemed that the only romances present in the Star Trek universe were comprised of hollow collections of clichés and sophomoric jokes. But "Alter Ego" has a mind and heart, and shows that Trek can do romance stories with deeper meaning. Marayna's attraction to Tuvok is based on how mentally interesting she finds him. She enjoys talking with him because he can think, and because he has such wonderfully logical insights about the world. And as a loner herself, she finds his attempts to isolate himself to be of common interest.
To say Tuvok is completely unreceptive would be wrong. True, he doesn't see romance on the emotional level that Marayna does, or as a human like Harry would, but he can and does appreciate the fascinating time spent with an intelligent companion that proves surprisingly intriguing to him. Tim Russ, as usual, is the perfect Vulcan personality, but I think he deserves some extra recognition here, because many of the sequences in "Alter Ego" are more complex than they initially appear, because Tuvok is not as simple as he seems. His fascination with Marayna's presence of mind is beyond the usual Tuvokian qualities the series typically utilizes. But, at the same time, it's perfectly logical and in character and never once overstated in performance, because Russ hits the notes perfectly.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Harry's situation. Once Harry finds out Tuvok has been spending time with Marayna, he's angry and jealous—which is somewhat understandable given the story's setup. The episode overplays this aspect, however, and Harry comes off looking overly emotional and wrong-headed in an arising conflict that's just too forced to be believable. (Tuvok on the other hand, remains perfectly in character, trying to calm Harry with a tone of voice that almost reaches into desperation, but just far enough and without overstepping the bounds. Kudos.) The plot doesn't need this element to work. The distracted Harry who wanted to get over Marayna fit the show well (especially given that it provides the priceless line, "Hi, my name's Harry read-me-like-a-book Kim"). But presenting this jealously angle only pulls the show that much closer to cliché territory. The scenes between Tuvok and Marayna are the true selling point; Harry's problem ultimately becomes a distraction. Fortunately there isn't too much screen time devoted to it.
Turning to the ending, some of the gags used to get there are less than stellar, but the show's quick pacing allows us to forgive some of the hokiness. I could've done without the silly "action" fight on the holodeck once the crew realizes that Marayna's holodeck image is simply being used like a puppet from an alien in a nearby space station (a twist that makes the recycled premise feel a little less recycled). The subsequent Voyager-in-jeopardy idea is nothing at all new (although the special effects are decent). But when the show ends, ask yourself, would Marayna really be so ruthless as to strangle B'Elanna and destroy Voyager if Tuvok denies her?
No she wouldn't, and no she doesn't, because the ending paints Marayna, this isolated alien, as simply a lonely person who got caught up in something so diverting as the Voyager holodeck after her curiosity led her to hack into the Voyager computer. The best part about the ending is its sense of quiet, rational behavior. (That's why, in retrospect, Marayna's needless, violent posturing doesn't really fit the character—unless she's pulling the bluff of all bluffs, which doesn't really fit the character either.) Marayna is not some evil entity out to capture a starship. She's just a regular, lonely person with a situation that can be understood—that of someone who has fallen in love with another who cannot, because of his own complex situation, return her feelings. The final dialog between Tuvok and Marayna is simple, sensible, humanistic, and involving. Works for me.
Whether you enjoy this episode or not may very well depend on your mood. If you want something fresh, exciting, and important to the development of the series, you aren't going to find it. But if you sit back, relax, and just watch the characters do their thing, and allow yourself to get caught up in Marayna's plight, you'll probably find it much more enjoyable.
Previous episode: Fair Trade
Next episode: Coda
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44 comments on this post
Mon, Aug 4, 2008, 12:48pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 13, 2010, 10:44pm (UTC -5)
"The final dialog between Tuvok and Marayna is simple, sensible, humanistic, and involving. Works for me." Well, that's kinda interesting, given that neither one of them is human.
Wed, Dec 14, 2011, 7:23am (UTC -5)
As for Harry Kim, again, his characterization in this episode is just terrible. Madly in love with a hologram and then he wants to learn how to purge all emotion?! How is that a reasonable response to his problem? Not to mention he goes through the whole episode acting like he's never been in love before or been attracted to anyone before. Very disappointing.
And I never thought this before, but last night as I'm watching the party sequence my thoughts went to the starship Equinox, also in the Delta Quandrant getting the snot beaten out of ship and crew where as Voyager is having a luau.
And finally, Janeway can say she merely invited Tuvok to the party, but it sure sounded like an order to me.
Fri, Jun 22, 2012, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jun 17, 2013, 12:51am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jun 27, 2013, 7:42pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Jul 27, 2013, 12:10pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 10, 2013, 8:41am (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 2:17am (UTC -5)
Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 8:52am (UTC -5)
A holodeck simulation can give you anything you want exactly the way you want it. Getting used to that could hamper people's relationships with real people. With a holodeck character, everything goes as you want it, but a relationship with a real person takes some work and compromise. Your holodeck lover won't mind if you're out every night at the bar with your friends, the holodeck lover is available for what you want 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on your schedule. It would be surprising if more people didn't fall for holodeck characters. Perhaps by the 24th century, they have become more sophisticated about relationships.
Thu, Jun 26, 2014, 9:47pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 10:24am (UTC -5)
The close up shots of Voyager inside the inverse nebula was absolutely gorgeous, too. Kudos to the SFX department.
Sun, Jun 21, 2015, 6:44pm (UTC -5)
Captain James T. Kirk: "Spock, you want to know something? Everybody's human."
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 8:47am (UTC -5)
I thought Tim Russ was outstanding.
I thought Kes looked unhealthy and uncomfortable in her bathing suit.
I thought B'Elanna looked more than healthy in hers :-)
I liked the Moriarty discussion and I liked it even more that this episode ended up not being a copy of TNG's 'Ship in a Bottle'.
The ending was awesome.
Solid Trek here.
Sat, Dec 26, 2015, 7:14am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 28, 2016, 8:45am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 4, 2016, 6:36pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Aug 23, 2016, 5:40am (UTC -5)
I thought it was a holodeck episode. Turns out it's just a repressed alien. (**)
Mon, Jan 30, 2017, 1:59pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Mar 13, 2017, 1:08am (UTC -5)
Personally, I would prefer if they didn't add the twist with the alien and just ahd the episode be a characer drama with Tuvok and Kim. No need to add baddie of the week and "female stalkers are jsut misunderstood" trope.
Wed, Jun 7, 2017, 6:35pm (UTC -5)
This episode actually reminded me of one of my favorite TOS episodes "Metamorphosis". The ending is well done in both episodes. Both are exemplary of Star Trek in many ways (unlike say TNG's "Conspiracy"). Both are well-done Trek romance stories - intelligent and not cheap/physical nonsense.
My criticism would be of Wang's portrayal of Harry Kim - very wooden. But I thought Russ's performance of Tuvok had a great deal of integrity to being a Vulcan. He continues to impress as a Vulcan - much more so than say Blalock as T'Pol from ENT.
This is a good character episode and it tied the nebula phenomenon with the lonely alien story reasonably well.
Agree with Jammer that there's nothing earth-shaking here but it's a solid story with a nice ending and. Rates 3 stars for me.
Thu, Sep 28, 2017, 11:28pm (UTC -5)
And then the episode goes Fatal Attraction. It's not convincing here because we only got one real moment between Tuvok and Marayna -- the big conversation the luau night -- along with the brief introduction scene and then a small moment the next day when Harry walks in on them kal-tohing. It's a bit of a nightmare for Tuvok -- he lets his guard down just a touch, and then the woman comes at him and insists they have a real connection, and there's just enough truth in it to make it difficult. But she goes too far, too fast, and she just clearly makes herself seem delusional. If the episode had built it more slowly, and had allowed Tuvok a slightly greater indiscretion, something she could point to with more confidence.... Really the whole ship-in-jeopardy plot could have been excised and the episode would have been superior; I'd prefer it even if Marayna, say, stalled the ship to keep Tuvok nearby for longer.
But yes, the final moments between Tuvok and Marayna were lovely. I like the way Tuvok leaves implicit that her actions seemed delusional and dangerous, and then reasons from that not that there's something fundamentally wrong with Marayna as a person but that she has had her perspective warped and broken by loneliness. And her response to Tuvok was also lovely. Tuvok reaching out to Harry at the end is a moment I'm very fond of, too. The way kal-toh works in this episode is interesting; Tuvok plays it alone because he believes that no one else is his peer (he doesn't even bother tying to ask Vorik), but he does end up jumping at the chance to play it with a holoprogram, as long as he can be assured she isn't real, and thus cannot be any threat to his carefully cultivated sense of solitude, which he uses to protect himself from feeling the full weight of the absence of his family. There is an element of attraction to Marayna which is, we can be sure, not present with Harry, but the fact that he wanted that connection is something he could only find out by finding he wanted it with someone he believed he would be able to delete from his life at a moment's notice. The show didn't often do right by Harry, but I appreciate that Tuvok recognized that his almost mechanistic response to Harry's problem (and his dismissiveness at the idea that Harry could have fallen for a holoprogram), as well as his smug dismissal of Harry being anything like his friend.
2.5 stars -- interesting except for the Fatal Attraction middle bit. A good episode for Tuvok.
Thu, Nov 2, 2017, 4:04am (UTC -5)
Why do the aliens need to have someone sitting in the middle of this nebula all by themselves to preserve it? That was wierd. And why would a nebula controlling machine be able to tap into an alien computer and completely take over the holodeck and all of Voyager's systems?
Also I'm getting sick of the inertial dampers failing, since that is supposedly what keeps them from dying every time they move the ship basically, but apparently they don't need them at all, because nothing every happens when they fail anyway.
I didn't like Kim's part in the whole thing, I think that was completely unnecessary. It could just as easily have been only about Tuvok, which would have made it a better episode, I think.
2 1/2 stars.
Mon, Jan 1, 2018, 2:53am (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 24, 2018, 1:19pm (UTC -5)
The last five minutes of the episode were very nice and almost redeemed the nonsense the preceded it.
Rating: 2 stars
Fast Forward Rating: Fast foward through the first 40 minutes and then enjoy the last five.
Sun, Jul 22, 2018, 3:42pm (UTC -5)
Once that scene concluded all I could think was "Just delete the girl from the holo-program... problem solved"
The sheer irrelevance of the Kim story, combined with the fact that it already done better on TNG, made this episode really frustrating.
Mon, Oct 1, 2018, 4:02pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Oct 23, 2019, 9:20am (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 17, 2020, 10:18am (UTC -5)
This is VERY different from Spock. The secret to why Spock (and Data) worked was NOT because they had no emotions, but because they had little to no egos. Emotions did overlap some...but the ego was the key to why these characters work or don't. Tim never figured this out. He was constantly "protecting himself" and his ego with his deliveries which was in stark contrast to Spock/Data who content to be oblivious to attacks on their identity. Characters without egos are a rare delight in science fiction and they make a scene uplifting. We needed more of them in Voyager. The best we would get would be 7 of 9 who would appear later in the show.
Sat, May 2, 2020, 12:46am (UTC -5)
I'm amazed at the number of Voyager episodes I never saw or just plain forgot.
The guest actress was Phyllis No. 2 on the Young & the Restless. I liked her. Best scene: the Hawaiians attacking the crew.
Sat, May 2, 2020, 3:21am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 13, 2020, 9:47am (UTC -5)
I'm not sure how I've missed this episode all these years? But like @Sarjenka's Brother, I have absolutely no memory of every watching it.
Which made watching "Alter Ego" this evening - for the very first time, a real treat!
Like @Lt. Yarko, this is easily the most I have ever laughed with a Voyager episode. On the level of sheer fun, I'd put this one up there with "Future's End Part I".
One new thing that re-watching Voyager after all these years has given me, is an appreciation for just how well the show sets up the Paris/B'Elanna coupling over the years. There are small flirtations a few times here and there. Then, I think it was at the start of Season 3, with "The Swarm" when we get some real honest-to-goodness (and fun) flirting. So to see the Lower Decks vulcan (Vorik) cock-block Paris at the luau was absolutely hilarious.
Watching this episode for the first time now - after movies like Joaquin Phoenix's Her (https://youtu.be/6QRvTv_tpw0) have been made, also makes Harry's reaction to crushing on a holodeck character more understandable. Harry had studied the TNG Moriarity situation at the Academy. Maybe, @William B, Harry also knew about the Minuet gambit the Binars pulled on Riker? Maybe Harry's reaction to falling for a holographic woman was actually prudent?
Finally, let me echo what @Jordi Bosveld said at the top. When both Tuvok and Harry say "no" to that lovely hololady who wants to join them at the end of the show, I for one burst out laughing :-)
Fri, Jul 31, 2020, 11:11pm (UTC -5)
*of playing a board game
Sat, Aug 22, 2020, 5:25pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 11, 2020, 3:11pm (UTC -5)
The Voyager has encountered another unique space phenomenon. Immediately, the difference in tone between the way Janeway and co. approach this “inversion nebula” and the super novae from “The Q and the Grey” is stark. Where one was gratingly boisterous and syrupy, the other is invitingly sober. This scene seems to strike the right balance between genuine, optimistic scientific curiosity and emotional restraint that personifies the Star Trek ethos regarding space exploration. It may seem like a triviality, but to me it makes a tremendous difference in the episode’s tonal appeal.
Speaking of emotional restraint, Harry is uncharacteristically distracted at his post when Janeway orders him to tech the tech. They continue the thematic place-setting:
“JANEWAY: Astro-theory never predicted this would be so lovely. Beauty and mystery, a tantalising combination.
PARIS: No argument here. Right, Tuvok?
TUVOK: I am fully capable of appreciating this phenomenon without the extraneous sentimentality humans find so necessary.
CHAKOTAY: Being moved by an emotion isn't always extraneous. Sometimes it's the whole point.
I wonder where this is going...well for now, our next stop is Tuvok’s quarters. Ensign Distracted Face visits the unsentimental Vulcan while he plays with a ball of paper clips. He explains to Kim that these paper clips are actually a Very Smart Vulcan version of chess and Kim reveals something actually kind of startling; he wants Tuvok to teach him to purge his emotions.
KIM: I also know that Vulcans use certain techniques...
TUVOK: The t'san s'at, the intellectual deconstruction of emotional patterns.
KIM: I'm willing to learn.
It turns out Harry is in love with a hologram called Marayna. Hoo boy. There’s a lot to talk about here. First, let’s discuss Harry. His few featured scenes in Season 2 did manage to contextualise his social awkwardness and reveal that he tends to gravitate towards relationships with damaged people, like Paris and Torres. His ersatz romance with Libby in “Non Sequitur” was so tepid compared to the infinitely more compelling hurt-comfort homo-eroticism in “The Chute,” that these seem almost comical in juxtaposition. And of course, there’s his fear of infantilisation memorably portrayed in “The Thaw.” While the idea of purging all emotion because you’re in love with a hologram may seem like an extreme response, there’s something familiar in Harry’s desire to re-invent himself like this. As far as he knows, falling “in love with a computer subroutine,” as Tuvok bluntly puts it, is another symptom of his own immaturity, that thing that he’s so afraid makes the captain and the rest of the crew baby him. So he takes this as a sign that his own emotional problems run deeper than developing a misplaced crush. His desire to try on Vulcan spiritual philosophy is quite a bit like folks trying out fad religions like Kabbalah, or western Buddhism, or even Scientology. It’s a quick fix for a profound spiritual crisis.
On the other hand, the word choices around Tuvok’s description of Vulcan philosophy hearkens back to the more interesting parts of “Innocence.” Whether it’s fear of the Morrock or desire for holo-love, Vulcans learn to objectify their emotions and thus prevent them from affecting their decision-making or general sense of well-being. This is a double-edged sword, as we saw in the first scene. Any degree of emotional control means limiting your own potential to enjoy life in particular moments. Pure Dionysiac excess is a like the inversion nebula, quick to burn itself out. And Vulcan emotion is similarly potent stuff; so Tuvok’s choice to live so far down the spectrum of emotional control may be excessive by our standards, but it still relevant to us. The Vulcan version of humanity (remember, all races in Star Trek are aspects of the human condition) is a useful tool to have in the box, assuming we aren’t ready to flame out entirely.
And we have to mention that the “character falls for a hologram” thread is something that takes us all the way back to “11001001.” Riker, per his idiom, wasn’t going to let any social stigma around fucking a subroutine get in the way of Number One, but he ended up being let off the hook by the revelation that Minuet’s remarkable personality stemmed from the Binars’ interference. Still, although her programme was more advanced than what the Federation should have been able to conjure, she wasn’t any less an artificial being who stole Riker’s heart. But as the years went on, we saw the Enterprise create Moriarty, a remarkable facsimile of Leah Brahms, and eventually a new emergent species of artificial life in, um, “Emergence.” It was the Doctor’s feelings that were given attention in “Lifesigns;” Pel’s were addressed by Kes, but as an especially compassionate and open-minded alien, her perspective can’t be taken as typical. Our best gauge for contemporary social standards regarding developing feelings for holograms is probably the problematic story between Geordi and Brahms in “Booby Trap” and “Galaxy’s Child.” The only thing which seems to justify Geordi’s feelings is the conceit that holo-Brahms’ personality is based on a “real” person. I think it’s pretty fair to assume that the nonplussed look Picard gives him when he interrupts the brainstorming session in the holodeck is a typical response one could expect. Given that, Tuvok’s incredulity and Kim’s embarrassment seem to fit right in here.
Act 1 : ***, 17%
Tuvok begins by cataloguing Harry’s feelings, objectifying each emotional facet of Harry’s response to Marayna. The poetic nuances of attraction and romance are to Vulcans like the life-cycle of a fruit fly: small, simplistic, and readily comprehensible.
TUVOK: Does your daily routine seem somehow empty, perhaps even ludicrous?
TUVOK: You are experiencing shon-ha'lock, the engulfment. It is the most intense and psychologically perilous form of eros. I believe humans call it love at first sight.
Interesting, amusing and insightful all at once. When Tuvok is given this kind of sharp dialogue, it really shows off the appeal of the character. The pair enter the holodeck, where of course the resort programme is already running, with Neelix doing his thing. I don’t know if it’s Picardo’s direction (this is likely given the tone established in the teaser) or a reflection of the character’s new-found security within the Voyager family after “Fair Trade,” but his effusiveness doesn’t have nearly the same grating insistence that is typical for him. He’s still exuberant and all that, but there’s something more human and less performative about Phillips’ delivery. I’ll take it. It turns he’s planning a “Polynesian style” lu’au for this evening. Uh huh. I don’t know why they couldn’t just go with “Hawaiian”--it seems like in their attempts to be more inclusive with this stuff, the writers just trip over their own low-key racist dicks.
Anyway, Marayna finally appears, returning from giving Kes a hydrosailing lesson. Hydrosailing is one of those realworld things that sounds like a Trek writer trying to make a normal activity sound more futuristic than it is. Tuvok declines her offer to join a volleyball game and instead invites the hologram to join them for a chat. Marayna demonstrates that she can manipulate Harry’s hormones and feelings with nary any effort as a single feel of her knotted leg muscle is enough for Harry to give Tuvok a pleading look to rescue him from his own erection. The dialogue continues to be amusing, with an almost Laurel and Hardy charm.
MARAYNA: So Vulcans don't hydrosail, and they don't have friends?
TUVOK: We have fellowships and associations, but without the emotional dimension humans experience.
They’re called away to the bridge and on the way, Tuvok tells Harry that his emotions are “as formulaic as a mathematical equation.” Harsh, but fair.
KIM: It's all so predictable.
TUVOK: That's just what I've been trying to get you to perceive. To the trained Vulcan intellect, intense romantic love is nothing more than a set of stereotypical behaviours. Not having our discipline, typically, humans are swept along by the process until it ends.
It’s hard to argue with this. You don’t have to have a strict Darwinian take on sociology to appreciate the fact our experiences have a cyclical, patterned, almost inevitable quality to them. That’s why we can be moved by the lives of strangers or fictional characters. Reconciling this truth with what Chakotay said earlier, how the emotional responses to stimuli, no matter how formulaic, are entirely the point, we can really appreciate the value of the Tuvok character in this series. TOS had Spock of course, but Spock’s story was about the struggle between his Vulcan and Human selves. Data on TNG aspired to experience the emotions Vulcans deny themselves on purpose; another tortured soul of sorts. Tuvok by contrast seems perfectly content with himself. Tuvok is aspirational, in much the way Picard was (c.f. Data’s and Spock’s conversation in “Unification’). His discipline and stoicism afford him peace and purpose. We by contrast subject ourselves to these repeating patterns of behaviour. Some days, this can be a Kafkaesque nightmare of pure nihilism. Other days, it’s like reliving treasured memories. We can’t become Vulcans, but we can certainly emulate them.
The pair walk onto the bridge and enter the related B-plot. Janeway has pulled the Voyager close to the inversion nebula to see whatever special process keeps it from burning itself out first hand.
Act 2 : ***.5, 17%
Seeing the phenomenon up close convinces Janeway that it’s worth a more thorough investigation. If they’re very lucky they may discover how to design their consoles not to explode when their shields graze a meteorite. In the meantime she passively suggests to Tuvok that she expects him to attend Neelix’ culturally-disrespectful lu’au this evening.
We get an interlude where Tom and B’Elanna run into each other on the way to said lu’au, initiating their “I’m a big white nerd” and “I’m too hot for you, gringo, but I’ll probably settle anyway” flavour of flirtation. It turns out Harry has decided to skip the occasion, so their chaperone is going to be Vorik instead. Tom won’t be kept from his true love, however, so he bids Torres farewell with a knowing wink (after sizing up her bathing suit) and leaves her to fetch him.
Harry is in his quarters keeping himself distracted with Vulcan meditations. So, I think the Bashir/O’Brien relationship is well-utilised most of the time and I enjoy their friendship. But I often have to roll my eyes with their dated and toxic inability to express unveiled affection for each other (“Hard Time” excepted). While Paris has a little snicker at Kim’s odd behaviour here, his next instinct is to ask his friend about his feelings, diagnosing immediately that Harry is in pain and wanting to help him through it. Tom also knows Harry so well that he’s already determined the cause of Harry’s problem. And he’s a little hurt that Harry chose to seek Tuvok’s counsel instead of his best friend’s. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but the only other regular male-male relationship that demonstrates this level of open intimacy I can think of is Data’s and Geordi’s friendship. I don’t discount that, but Data’s android nature gives the writers a bit of a pass; his anatomical gender is a product of his creator’s ego more than anything endemic to himself. Harry and Tom seem to be able to be open and caring about each other’s feeling without any gay panic. I know I make jokes about it because, damn it, Star Trek needed a gay couple before it became fashionable, but I do think the dynamic that exists is under-appreciated.
Anyway, Tom has a more human solution to Harry’s dilemma.
PARIS: We have all fallen for a holodeck character. It happens. You deal with it by staying with your normal routine, not by hiding out in your quarters.
Personally, I think a little of column a and column b is in order, but Harry is frustrated with his lack of progress and would rather spend some time with his friends and so agrees to replicate himself his own hideous Hawaiian shirt and attend the lu’au.
At Disney’s Moana Experience or whatever, we find most of our regulars enjoying themselves--the EMH is kissing holo-ladies (thank you Mr Director), Janeway is on Chakotay’s arm--while Tuvok meanders about unimpressed. He refuses Neelix’ offer to wear a lei. Again, Neelix is himself, but he isn’t pushy or self-important about it. He respects Tuvok’s refusal, even though it disappoints him, and then moves on to something else. Tuvok prepares himself for an evening of testing his Vulcan patience but is surprised to see Marayna in a corner playing with the Vulcan paper clips. Hmm.
He approaches her and Vulcan-splains her error in trying to play the game like a human.
TUVOK: Kal-toh is not about striving for balance. It is about finding the seeds of order, even in the midst of profound chaos.
She decided to teach herself to play specifically to provide Tuvok an opponent. This is “perceptive” as Tuvok admits, but not outside the bounds of a well-programmed hologram designed to entertain guests of the resort, is it? But her perceptiveness cuts much deeper.
MARAYNA: I think you're tying to isolate yourself and make a public protest at the same time...You didn't want to be here in the first place. Being the only one without a lei sets you apart from the others, allowing you to symbolically maintain your solitude. And since everybody can see that you're the only one without a lei, you're letting them know that you'd rather be somewhere else.
TUVOK: Your logic is impeccable.
...which is Vulcan for “dat ass.” Marayna then removes her lei, a symbol her of solidarity. She too would rather be somewhere else, it seems.
Meanwhile, Vorik has taken the liberty of booking a table for himself and Torres, to both her and Paris’ surprise. I’m sure this is a love triangle we will never revisit. Anyway, this leaves Tom free to dine with Harry, but the latter is too distracted by the sight of Marayna to enjoy himself and, sensing he’s hit the line, Tom backs off and lets him retreat back to his quarters.
After the party, Tuvok and Marayna are still deep in conversation on the holodeck. She demonstrates a keen insight on the foundational principles of Vulcan emotional suppression, citing the “illusion of control” over such phenomena as the tides and the currents of the sea. It’s simultaneously intellectual, probing, and poetic, a classically Vulcan combination of attributes while still delivered with a certain degree of personality that allows Marayna to be her own unique character outside of the Vulcan paradigm. The episode quite efficiently shows us why both Harry and Tuvok would be attracted to this person. Marayna escalates to the point where she’s pawing at Tuvok in a way we would expect to end with a passionate kiss. Tuvok returns this gesture with a promise to “perhaps” return the next day. For a Vulcan, this downright sensual behaviour.
Act 3 : ***, 17%
The Voyager’s investigations have confirmed the existence of a dampening field of some sort keeping the nebula from blowing itself up. It seems as though there’s a “feedback loop” by which the chain reactions trigger the creation of the dampening effect, finding, you might say, “the seeds of order, even in the midst of profound chaos.” A still-distracted Harry is assigned to work out and replicate the mechanics of this phenomenon with the deflector dish which, remember, can do anything. Having acquired the necessary data, Janeway orders Tom to resume their course home, but he encounters a problem.
Assuming the nebula is affecting their systems somehow (genre-savvy, aren’t they?), the la’au gang work to track down the issue in Engineering. Harry demonstrates feminism by repeating back Torres’ diagnosis to her as though he hasn’t heard a word she said, which, he hasn’t. Under Picardo’s restrained direction, Dawson really excels at channelling Torres’ acerbic nature into an EMH-esque dry humour that helps carry the scene. We feel sorry for Harry, but avoid an emotional pile-on because Torres isn’t angry or disappointed with him, she teases him because she cares about him, echoing the Harry/Tom scene from before. It’s a subtle bit of characterisation, but this whole script is about those subtle moments.
KIM: What did Tom say to you?
TORRES: Not a single word. I saw the way you were looking at Marayna yesterday.
KIM: Hi. My name's Harry read-me-like-a-book Kim.
She tells him to sort himself out before he accidentally ejects the warp core. He decides the best place to start is to confront Marayna on the holodeck. When he arrives, he discovers that she’s already running and mid-paper clips with Tuvok, who has apparently made good on his promise from the previous evening. Upon discovering the two of them together, Harry is incensed bordering on enraged that Tuvok would betray his trust like this. What I like about this is that it hearkens back to Janeway’s infamous line from “Prime Factors”; “You can use logic to justify almost anything.” In a rules-lawyer-y way, Tuvok is *justified* here; Marayna isn’t a real person; Vulcans don’t engage in sexual relationships with real people the way humans do anyway; the only thing Tuvok has done with this non-person is play some paper clips and chat; ergo, Tuvok has done nothing wrong. However, Tuvok has shown that he understands human emotions to the extent that he’s able to catalogue them like species of insects. Maybe he shouldn’t *have* to care about Harry’s feelings here, but to assume he wouldn’t have expected them is dishonest. No, Tuvok has put his own interests ahead of Harry’s emotional needs. And that is by no means a crime, but it is, to a degree, selfish. But Harry and Tuvok aren’t really friends, are they? So it’s okay not to consider the feelings of a non-friend? Well apparently not, as Tuvok is so desperate to salvage their relationship that he deletes Marayna without a second’s pause to prove just how much he doesn’t care about her to Harry. This fails to appease Harry for now, but it excellently unfolds the complexity of this situation. We are able to see the layers of Tuvok’s character, the loneliness William B expounded upon in his comment and the fragility of his ego, without violating the Vulcan-ness of his characterisation the way, say, “Meld” did. In most Vulcan stories, we have to un-Vulcan our character(s) in order to get a the juicy bits underneath (“Amok Time,” “Sarek,” “Meld,” etc.). The fact that we don’t go there in this story is a testament to Joe Menosky’s skill as a writer. Very often the spectacle in his stories overshadows the subtlety of his characterisations. I’m glad he’s given a chance to shine here.
Meanwhile, the Voyager is still stuck inside the magic nebula and Torres is more convinced than ever that a computer malfunction is to blame. She’s able to get the aft thrusters working well enough to push the ship clear by tomorrow, which appeases Janeway. It turns out this computer malfunction has a name as Tuvok returns to his quarters to discover Marayna playing paper clips. She has avoided deletion, downloaded herself into the Doctor’s mobile emitter, and cheerfully parked herself here. Well that’s a bit of a yikes.
Act 4 : **.5, 17%
TUVOK: I deleted you from the holodeck.
MARAYNA: But you only did that for Harry's benefit. I know you wanted to keep seeing me. I like Harry, but you're different. You're not like anyone else...You're like a new world to me, Tuvok. I want to know everything about you. I didn't realise how lonely my existence was, and I can't go back to the way things were, not without you.
Again, the script clings tightly to its characterisation. Tuvok is intrigued by Marayna, and by her apparent sentience, but doesn’t hesitate to call for security at this violation of the established order. The chaos has been exposed and, however tempting it may be to ride the wave, it’s time to close this particular door. Marayna, however, becomes a bit unhinged at this betrayal and shuts off the intruder alert by an apparent act of will, revealing a troubling degree of autonomy for this sentient hologram. Marayna’s schizophrenia is a disappointing and rushed element to this otherwise subtle story. It’s not exactly out of bounds, but it is out of step with what we saw of her and Tuvok on the holodeck. Then again, all we’ve seen of her so far is getting exactly what she wanted, first from Harry and then from Tuvok; all the attention she desired was pretty much immediately rewarded. So, yes I find it too broad for my tastes, but it by no means breaks the story either.
In the conference room, the crew discuss this issue. Chakotay brings up Moriarty and Harry admits that this now eight-year-old event from “Elementary, Dear Data” is something they teach at the academy. Tuvok admits to the crew that her motivation is likely her feelings for himself, while the crew respond, Harry buries his head in his hands and Janeway sizes her old friend up, somewhat amazed at this news. Again, it’s all about the subtlety, this time in the direction. Harry’s story hasn’t been forgotten and neither has Janeway’s and Tuvok’s friendship, it’s just not being delivered to the audience on a silver platter. Anyway, their working theory is that instead of Marayna having been conjured by a slip of the tongue from an overzealous chief Engineer, the (presumably now-corrected) holodeck has given rise to a new intelligence by virtue of some mysterious property of the magic nebula. Janeway looks Tuvok straight in the eye and tells him to resolve this situation “one way or another.” In other words, she lets her friend know that he has shown her his cards; if this issue is being perpetuated by a, shall we say, untoward relationship between himself and this person, then he had better handle it better than he has handled his non-friendship with Harry.
The gang goes to the holodeck to confront her and are met by the gentle Hawaiian music of the resort programme. As they mill about the flowers and ocean air with phasers out, the discontinuity of the tone creates a creepy atmosphere, as Paris directly points out. Torres accesses a control panel and discovers that the holodeck is actually being tapped by a signal from outside the ship. Immediately upon making this discovery, one of the hula girls begins strangling her with a lei, all while wearing her Disney Resort smile. The other holodeck characters keep Paris and Tuvok busy, too, creating a macabre tone that reminds me of the horrific heights of “The Thaw.” Eventually, they’re able to break free of the holodeck, but the nebula scornfully responds by lighting up around the Voyager, causing damage. Marayna makes contact with the bridge and demands that Tuvok return to the holodeck she’ll, you know, destroy the Voyager. This is...too much. Too TV trope-y for what had been such a nuanced character story.
Act 5 : ***.5, 17%
Tuvok enters the resort and examines a discarded mask. Does this mean anything? Nah. Marayna greets him, convinced that, having removed any prying eyes and outside expectations of behaviour, the two of them can consummate their relationship and discard the masks, if you will. While they chat, the crew is able to relay a transporter beam along the alien signal and beam Tuvok to her location. In response, the plasma streams start to really burn up, lady-rage metaphors that they are. Chakotay notes that the shields are down to 47 [duh] per cent. Thank you, sir.
Tuvok materialises aboard an space station and discovers the real Marayna, a heavily prosthetic-ed alien about to destroy the Voyager from her control panel. She has begun an ignition sequence, her passions having boiled over into a homicidal fit of pique. Tuvok is forced to rely on his understanding of their relationship and her emotions (which he failed to do with Harry) to try and talk her down. We learn that, for some insane reason, Marayna’s people have allowed her to live alone in this station for who knows how long, containing the inversion nebula so that they can enjoy its beauty. While this is a little contrived from a , world-building perspective, it does make for a nifty metaphor about emotional labour, the hidden cost of seemingly effortless beauty. And this ties in nicely with the earlier discussion about loneliness and emotional control, that is an illusion, but a compelling, thrilling, beautiful, purpose-defining illusion nonetheless. We learn that part of what made Marayna so perceptive about Tuvok’s unspoken motivations for self-isolation at the lu’au was recognising a similar motivation in herself.
MARAYNA: I watch the ships when they pass by. They don't even know I'm here...I prefer to be here, alone...I never expected to find something as diverting as your holodeck. I never expected to find you. You are like nothing else I've ever encountered.
She is, in essence, letting us in on part of what’s going on under the surface with Tuvok; he watches the crew evolve, things like Tom’s and B’Ellana’s flirtation or Harry’s infatuation and makes a point of letting everyone around him know how much he doesn’t give a fuck. But when something “diverting” comes along, such as an insightful hologram who sees through his defences, those deep currents of Vulcan emotion are nigh impossible to contain. In retrospect, Tuvok’s seemingly innocent interactions with Marayna on the holodeck reveal a well of pain. For a Vulcan to engage in any behaviour due to something like loneliness is actually remarkable. Again in retrospect, if we examine Marayna’s change of tone in Act 4 from the perspective of someone who’s been living in complete solitude for god knows how long, it’s far more understandable.
Marayna casually admits to examining all the little details of the lives of passing aliens. That’s...creepy, but it’s not too dissimilar from Tuvok’s taxonomical evaluation of Harry’s feelings. Much like how the Ferengi have dozens of words for “rain” because their world is inundated by it, Vulcans have all these detailed words describing emotional experiences because they are inundated by emotions. You might call them neurotic by necessity.
More immediately, what Marayna expresses here when she tells Tuvok that she can’t be without him is, to me at least, a very special feeling of having found a person who truly understands you. When I think back on all the one-off Trek romances we’ve seen, this is believable for that reason. It’s not unlike Commander Darren and Picard from “Lessons.” When someone “gets” you, it’s difficult let it go.
TUVOK: I must admit, I have found our conversations stimulating. Your insight and intelligence, fresh and unexpected. In other circumstances, I would be willing to spend time in your company, to continue to share knowledge and ideas...I do not have a complete understanding of emotions, but I believe that if you truly care for me, you will not pursue this course of action.
And so let him go she does, but not before a final reckoning. As he beams away, she asks, “will you always be alone?” And all he can do is scrutinise her wordlessly as he dematerialises.
The brief epilogue sees Tuvok begin to answer this question. He decides to reconcile with Harry, promising to teach him how to play paper clips. Much like how the game itself is described, this strikes an unexpected balance in the story’s approach to emotions and relationships. Instead of dismissing Harry’s distress as pathetic, Tuvok is willing to be a little vulnerable with him and invite him into his frame of mind more intimately. Maybe there’s still some room for Harry to adopt Vulcan objectivity, but there’s also room for Tuvok to develop meaningful relationships outside of the isolation he’s restricted himself to thus far.
Episode as Functionary : ***.25, 10%
The fourth act was a bit disappointing as I watched as it seemed like the subtlety in characterisation had been chucked for broader strokes. The ship-in-danger angle still is less than stellar to be certain, but the final conversations recontextualise those moments in such a way as to make some of the contrivance more understandable. It’s tough from a rating perspective because I can’t un-feel my irritation with those scenes just because I understand them better, hence the odd score. As a Tuvok story and as a Vulcan story, this is top shelf. We get a pretty thorough insight into an often inscrutable character without introducing a gimmick into the plot. The B story is of course a metaphor for issue under examination within the A story, which keys us in to how to read between the lines. I like how the crew assumes the nebula is naturally keeping itself from burning out, but in reality, that process is intentional and artificial, just like Vulcan discipline.
Tuvok is somehow able to be a dynamic character without at any point violating his Vulcan nature, and Russ delivers as usual. There’s only one scene in the whole show that can be seen as superfluous, the brief interaction between Tom and Torres in the corridor. But this conversation is useful to the series at large, serves as a contrast for the way more conventionally emotional people interact regarding a budding romance, and segues effectively into the following scene with Harry.
The test is going to be whether Tuvok is truly impelled to develop meaningful relationships with the rest of the crew. What is to become of his loneliness? His invitation to Kim at the episode’s close suggests the beginnings of something here. We shall see.
Final Score : ***
Mon, Feb 8, 2021, 10:08am (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 10, 2021, 11:58am (UTC -5)
What struck me most about this episode is that it's that rare thing: a good Kim episode.
I could have done without the "action climax" and "villain of the week" - too often Trek finds the need to insert "action" into a plot that would play better as straight drama - but other than this, Kim and Tuvok's quiet scenes together were often special.
I also loved scenes in which the gang gather for a holodeck party. There was a real sense of camaraderie in these early scenes.
Sun, Jan 2, 2022, 9:22pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Mar 25, 2022, 10:19pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Sep 24, 2022, 10:25pm (UTC -5)
4 stars just for that.
Sat, Jan 21, 2023, 9:12pm (UTC -5)
Loved it, super entertaining!
Poor old Harry lol.
Mon, Apr 3, 2023, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Sandra worked steadily from 1990 to 2016 and has 44 credits as an actress on IMDB. As someone above noted, she appeared in 116 episodes of "The Young and The Restless" from 1986 to 1999. Ms. Nelson is just another of those journeyman ("journeyperson"?) actors of which the Trek franchise has made good use. She showed up in a minor role ("Tavana") in DS9's "Soliders of the Empire."
I liked her performance here. I also think her appearance bears a resemblance to Elizabeth Montgomery (a/k/a Samantha of TVs hall-of-fame entry "Bewitched").
Thu, Apr 20, 2023, 11:23am (UTC -5)
Universal translator? Sure.
Warp travel? Yeah, ok.
Replicator tech? Hey, why not?
Transporter tech? When in Rome.
A piece of equipment that constantly breaks down and endangers the ship/station and its crew seems like a liability. I mean, in this episode it’s high jacked by an outside power and used to threaten the ship! The downside to this thing FAR out ways the benefits of neelix having a luau. I would have imagined that after the enterprise produced a sentient moriarty, a memo would have gone out federation wide to shut those freaking things down!
Tue, May 2, 2023, 3:04pm (UTC -5)
Still, I liked this episode. Tuvok gets the girl that Harry pines for is a great premise.
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