Nutshell: It looks good, but the needle on the think-o-meter maintains a level very near zero.
Roxann Dawson is an actress of enormous appeal: edgy, attractive, energetic, convincing—and projecting lots of intelligence. It's too bad the stories can't dig deeper into her character in a quest for finding something new. The latest B'Elanna vehicle, "Juggernaut," seems for the most part pitched to a crowd that doesn't want to be bothered with thinking about anything unfolding on the screen. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, because "Juggernaut" exploits Dawson's talents nonetheless, even if in primarily superficial ways.
This is the type of episode that's all atmosphere and minimal substance. With perhaps one key exception, what substance we have is mostly unmistakably obvious, with the lesson telegraphed far in advance.
But that doesn't really matter too much, because "Juggernaut" is an hour sold almost completely on performance, direction, and production values. The only real mystery here: How did it require three writers to come up with such a bare-boned story?
"Juggernaut" isn't bad; it's just really, really simple. It's B-movie action/adventure, with 20th-century themes that look like they were purchased at a bargain store. Maybe I'm somewhat spoiled right now with the deeply layered story arc of Deep Space Nine currently unfolding, but I think Voyager can dig a little deeper than this.
Here lies the epitome of safe, mainstream appeal. Maybe that's why it was made. Episodes like this make my job as a reviewer a cake walk. I'm scarcely inspired to think about what I've seen (what you see is about all you get), so all I really need to do is react. My reaction is something along the lines of, "Nice sets, nice dirt, nice grime, nice smoky atmosphere." And, of course, "Nice job, Roxann Dawson." Dawson gets a chance to look real cool and badass-esque this week.
Anyway, to get the big gripe out of the way, I must ask: What the hell are the Malon doing out here? Shouldn't they be about 25 years behind Voyager's present position? Supposing they do have some form of ultra-fast travel—which given past stories doesn't seem at all likely—why don't we hear about it? I'm not trying to nitpick, but the presence of the Malon not only seems incredibly dubious, but is indicative of a thinking pattern that is frighteningly similar to encountering the Kazon again and again during season two. One of the biggest appeals of season five is that we got two giant leaps closer to the Alpha Quadrant, instilling a sense of progress in the series. Now all of a sudden the writers bring back the Malon, so what am I supposed to be thinking? That 25 years is just a joke to be utilized when the producers feel like it? (Grrrr.)
Putting aside the continuity holes, however, the episode does manage to make the Malon somewhat more interesting than past episodes ("Night," "Extreme Risk") have depicted them. These toxic-waste haulers, labeled none-too-happily "the scourge of the quadrant" by Torres at one point in the story, take on a certain depth here, mainly because the story has the Voyager crew working with them rather than against them. The Malon here are more fully defined people instead of cheap sources of conflict.
The lead Malon survivor, Fesek (Ron Canada), offers a sympathetic and fairly interesting persona as a laborer who doesn't particularly like the fact he has to haul around toxic waste to earn a living, but simply accepts it as a simple fact of life (as well as all the permanent damage his body takes because of radiation poisoning). The Malon come across as a well-intentioned but flawed society with a toxic waste issue that unfortunately seems to earn them that reputation, "scourge of the quadrant." They dump their waste, but try to do so safely, in isolated areas of space. Internal to their society, there are those who sacrifice their well-being—the "core laborers," who work so close to the reactor that they're likely setting themselves up for an early death—for the benefit of the "greater good," hence the appropriate issue of the "juggernaut."
The main premise is one of those race-against-the-clock machines: Malon ship experiences mechanical catastrophe; Malon crew is mostly killed; Voyager crew happens upon crippled Malon ship, rescues a few Malon survivors; Malon tell Voyager crew that Malon vessel will blow up very soon, laying waste to massive areas of space; Voyager crew—led by engineering whiz Lt. Torres—must help quickly defuse Malon reactor before occurrence of big explosion.
The rest of the story comprises the away team walking, crawling, or running through Malon tunnels in an attempt to shut down the reactor (via loosely story-defined "checkpoints") before it blows. There's a twist: A creature might be looming in the tunnels. No maybe about it—one of the team, an ill-fated Malon that should've been wearing a red shirt—gets attacked (to death) by this "creature." We don't get a good look at the creature, of course, until the end, when the "creature's" identity wraps up the story (more on that in a moment).
Aside from the simple mechanics of the plot, the central character story is about B'Elanna's emotional control problems. A scene early in the episode has B'Elanna being counseled by Tuvok on the finer points of meditation, etc., as Tuvok plays Yoda and offers B'Elanna insights like, "The rage within you runs deep."
This isn't bad, but it's about as subtle as a brick—to the face. The whole characterization is written and played up to an obviousness that requires very little effort on the part of the viewer. And we can tell far in advance that Torres' anger—which can also provide "a source of strength," as Tuvok says—will be used later in the story on the hardware side of the plot (as a source of strength, naturally).
Character-wise, haven't we been here, and done this? Why is it we suddenly have B'Elanna unable to control her emotions, in an overstated manner that seems to regress her character back to season one? I like B'Elanna's fire, but it's much better utilized as an aspect of the character (like her fury concerning the genocide cover-up in third season's "Remember," for example) rather than the embodiment of it.
Also, something in Dawson's contract this season apparently says she must remove layers of clothing every time she becomes the anchor of a show. (Pleading guilty, I'll note the trend, but I won't complain about it.) It's nice to have female-driven action out here in TV land, but given the character's history, couldn't this be worth more? I suppose my biggest complaint is that we don't get enough B'Elanna episodes, and I hate to see the few we get devoted to almost completely hardware-driven stories.
Synopsis of the hardware aspect of the story would be relatively pointless; one can't convey atmosphere in a review (at least not in a way that would be worth the space devoted to description). Suffice it to say the corridor-traipsing is sufficiently well executed for what it sets out to do. The ending has all the major characters trapped in the reactor room while the "creature" is zeroing in on them ... as Seven, back aboard Voyager, monitors a viewscreen with the floor plan of the Malon ship denoting the location of Our Heroes and the "creature" in a cinematic statement obviously inspired by Alien and a dozen other movies.
The "creature" turns out to be not a creature but a core laborer who has gone insane with a quest for vengeance and has sabotaged his own ship, with the new intention of killing everyone on board the vessel and blowing it up. I have mixed feelings on the monster turning out to be a disgruntled crewman. On one hand, it's not very interesting; but on the other, it does make the juggernaut theme more solid.
That brings us to the hour's one moment of genuine thought—the moment where B'Elanna is the last line of defense between the core laborer and his plan to blow up the ship. The obviousness of B'Elanna's temper protecting herself and her shipmates follows the pattern along the obvious line established early in the episode, as she beats him into submission and is able to delay the ship's destruction. However, the consequences of the violence are briefly considered before and after the fact. B'Elanna tries to first reason with the core laborer before resorting to the necessary violence. And after the crisis is over, there's a good scene where she goes back to her quarters and ponders the unfortunate nature of having to resort to anger and violence—something I imagine she hoped to avoid when she started the mission.
Other than this one scene, most of the plot is mechanical A-to-B plotting. Still, though, I found "Juggernaut" appealing for all the superficial reasons it probably set out to be. The production values made for good, grimy eye-candy, and Dawson is extremely watchable in a physical role, where ultimately she's fighting off toxic-waste Malon baddies with a pipe. If I'm going to see characters in a potboiler story like this, B'Elanna is a particularly good choice.
I'm a B'Elanna fan. I think she's the most unjustly underused character on Voyager's ensemble (opposed to Neelix, who is generally a more justly underused character—but that's just a cheap shot that I couldn't resist). I was looking forward to "Juggernaut." Dawson doesn't disappoint. Nor does the atmosphere. But the overall simplicity of the story doesn't give the character what she's due.
Next episode: Seven takes some lessons on romance.