Nutshell: Not consistently riveting, but reasonable—and with a good ending.
Boy, I'll tell you—I'm fairly sure I'm going to lead a violent revolt against those preview people one of these days. Not only did they all but give away some of "Day of Honor's" key emotional moments, but they did it with an abundance of silly cheese. Enough already. Week after week we're treated to pretentious, superficial nonsense with Big Words™ and phrases like "You won't believe...". But my complaints are futile, for looking back on reviews past, I now see that I began my review of "Warlord" with almost identical comments. That was a year ago, so why am I still wasting my time?
Forget the preview. "Day of Honor" is another quiet, reasonably entertaining Voyager outing that displays a television series going through (we hope) a healing process. The episode is nothing on the scale of, say, "Scorpion," but shows like "Day of Honor" are exactly what Voyager needs right now: small, understated stories that simply work.
That's not to say "Day of Honor" is great, because it feels a little too "standard issue" at times and has its share of shortcomings. But I'd rather see a few problems within some fundamentally solid shows than the major strokes of misguided-ness that characterized much of seasons two and three. And considering how impacting the emotional payoff of this episode is, the wait is well worth it.
The plot is not audacious, but it serves its purpose by allowing the characterizations to prevail. The day is B'Elanna's Klingon "Day of Honor," and it's a really lousy day. First, she's late for her shift. Then Chakotay assigns Seven of Nine some tasks in engineering. Torres isn't happy. She doesn't want "the Borg" walking around her department. Chakotay all but orders Torres to deal with it—and like it.
To get in touch with the Klingon culture that she has always repressed, Torres tries to engage in the Day of Honor ritual (and I appreciated the consistency of the "pain sticks" test from way back in Worf's TNG days). The result is a holodeck fiasco that puts her in an even worse mood.
Set in the background are two other plot threads that eventually come into play with Torres' personal issues. The episode is set in motion when Voyager happens across a race called the Cataati. They're a devastated people of dwindling numbers whose population was mostly assimilated by the Borg. They're starving, dying; their technology is failing them. They don't have the energy supply to sustain their remaining ships. They need help—and they won't hesitate to ask for it.
Question of the week: If you're already short on resources (as the Voyager crew is), at what point do you deny people who are in even more need? It's certainly a relevant issue, and the story handles it capably, proving that Borg stories are reliable even when they're only indirectly about the Borg.
Let's face it: The Voyager crew may have to ration its food supply and replicator usage, but everyone has clean clothes, plenty to eat, and excellent medical care. The Cataati have none of this in abundance—they're fighting for mere survival. And the one who speaks on the Cataati's behalf doesn't mince words; you have so much, he remarks, and we have so little—so surely you can help us out and give us some of yours.
Janeway agrees, and gives the Cataati all the extra supplies Voyager can spare. But it simply isn't enough for them. There are no miracle cures to poverty, even in the 24th century. And it's not surprising that the Cataati turn to treacherous acts when they don't get what they need. If I may make a 20th century observation, this is comparable to the impoverished turning to crime. These people have nowhere to turn, so they do what they feel they must, and Voyager ends up in the middle of a confrontation.
I only wish the guest actor who played the Cataati negotiator had been more effective. There was something about his performance, particularly during the initial contact scene, that seemed very ... off-kilter.
The other plot centers around Voyager's experiments with transwarp technology and Janeway assigning Seven of Nine (who agrees to be called "Seven" for short) duties in engineering to facilitate these dangerous experiments. There's a lot of repressed hatred toward Seven by members of the crew; Torres wants nothing to do with her, and even Janeway is suspicious when the experiment goes wrong. One exception is Paris, who offers his help in what is obviously a difficult transition for Seven. Paris' sentiment is sincere, although the story also indicates that Paris may have an interest in her that goes beyond simply helping her. Still, his reasoning for wanting to help Seven—the fact that "we all have a past" that we're trying to escape—makes a lot of sense given his own history. I always appreciate when writers acknowledge the fundamentals of their characters in subtle ways like this case. It makes the people more dimensional.
Seven's issues are relevant, though nowhere approaching the power of her role in last week's "Gift." Prejudice is never a simple topic, and it's probably not going to prove simple in Seven's case either. "Day of Honor" scratches at the surface without delving too far into the issue. One interesting notion is the way Taylor's script makes Seven so emotionally detached from the mistrust around her. She analyzes the situation and discusses it with Janeway in a calm, Borg-like monotone, but she doesn't respond to it emotionally or get angry when suspected of sabotage. It's a believable and interesting approach, although I don't think it really gives Jeri Ryan much of a chance to demonstrate an acting range.
While we're on the topic, much has been made of Ryan's addition to the cast. Some have said the producers wanted to add an actress with a great body simply to boost ratings. I'm still reserving judgment to that end, but I will admit that her costume this week seemed to go out of its way to highlight all those curves. I only hope that some of the more cynical attitudes toward Ryan don't turn out to be correct ones, because I still believe this character has a lot of promise. It would be a shame to have her reduced to eye candy alone.
But where was I? This story is really about Torres, and it works on a number of levels. The plot takes some turns that make this the "worst day of her life," ending with a mishap in the transwarp experiments and leading to the topper catastrophe-of-all-catastrophes for a chief engineer: the ejection of the warp core. Torres and Paris then have to take a shuttlecraft to salvage it. The Cataati get there first, however, and steal it. Torres and Paris attempt to stop the Cataati, and their shuttle is destroyed in the process. (Shuttle loss #2 of the season for those who wish to keep count.)
Torres and Paris suit up and beam into space just in time to witness their shuttle explode. I'll admit that this is a fairly contrived way of getting these two characters alone together to finally drop their walls of pretense and talk. But it turns out to be surprisingly effective. Even powerful.
For one, the space setting is utterly convincing. It's not every day that Trek does space walking, and this proves a refreshing change of pace with a genuine sense of ominous silence and uneasiness. The special effects are believable, and the setting wonderfully captures the sense of B'Elanna and Tom being alone in a vacuum, with only their space suits as their mode of survival.
Naturally, the oxygen supply is damaged and the two find themselves with only a half-hour air supply left. They know they stand a good chance of dying before Voyager can find them. So all that remains is a dialog—what they believe may be a final dialog—between two people who have had a sexual tension for some time now. What really, really works here is the way these discussions are so firmly grounded in what we know of the characters. Particularly with B'Elanna, the setting allows us to learn something new about her that we hadn't considered before, while still remaining true to what we do know. She admits her tendency to "push people away," and she regrets it. She has always been running from the Klingon in her, and now she feels she has been a coward her entire life. We feel for her.
And her regret that she is going to die without a shred of honor—and more, that this is the first time in her life that such a prospect has actually bothered her—is fascinating, well-written character material. Torres has always been one of the ensemble's most interesting people, and "Day of Honor" highlights why. She's complex and multifaceted. She's vulnerable, but she masks her vulnerability under acerbic sarcasm and cynicism. (I don't mean to slight Tom, because Taylor's script utilizes his persona very effectively, too, but this is B'Elanna's show, after all.) This is all interaction that comes across much stronger on the stage than on the page.
And in the eleventh hour, when oxygen was all but gone and rescue seemed beyond hope, and when B'Elanna struggled to utter those three words to Tom, it was genuinely moving—a lot more powerful than the cliché I thought it could've been. A big part of the credit goes to the standout performances—Dawson and McNeill both deliver characterizations that I believe rank among some of their best work on the series. But a part of it is the way the dialog beforehand leads up to this moment, making the payoff both credible and compelling.
Where things go from here I will not predict. As always, we'll just see how the writers handle it. I'm glad they decided to take a risk and bring this out into the open; now I can hope to see it put to reasonable use in the future (certainly, I hope, better than Worf and Dax on DS9 has been handled so far).
Would only all Trek romances be handled with such attention to subtle emotional states and character foundations, we'd be in good shape.
Next week: Chakotay apparently gets pulled into a war of some sort—but, more importantly, the preview didn't treat us to Big Words™!