Star Trek: Voyager

"Natural Law"

2 stars

Air date: 5/2/2001
Teleplay by James Kahn
Story by Kenneth Biller & James Kahn
Directed by Terry Windell

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"It's not like you to be on the fence." — Janeway to Seven

In brief: Not unpleasant, but incredibly uneventful and content-free.

With only a few hours of screen time before Voyager closes shop, it seems beyond odd that "Natural Law" is what we get as one of those final hours. Apparently nearly everything that needs to be resolved on this series will be resolved in the two-hour finale, because you'd have no clue we were anywhere near the end of the series based on watching this episode. "Natural Law" — while not off-putting — is astoundingly nondescript, bordering on pointlessness, with a central issue that's barely given enough time to emerge as an issue.

What's on the screen isn't bad per se. But it's easy to avoid wrong-headed scenes when you take a stand on nothing and have virtually no story. There's simply so little on the screen. Most of it is like a documentary of two people walking around a forest and interacting with other people who, apparently, are mutes. "Natural Law" supplies four acts of that kind of setup before delivering a final act of half-hearted arguments that don't seem like they care much at all about taking any sort of stand. Maybe that's because there's simply nothing here to stand on.

We've also got a B-story about Paris getting a speeding ticket in the Delta Flyer and forced into traffic school, where he's the student of a stodgy driving instructor (Neil C. Vipond). Hello? Why is this worthy of screen time? Sure, there's mild amusement to be found in seeing Paris — whose primary character trait through this entire series has always been Ace Pilot — being told by his instructor that he's "on [his] way to becoming an adequate pilot." But this sort of plotting only fuels my argument that Voyager's writers have all these characters and resources at their disposal to tell great stories ... and yet they deliver trivial nonsense like this. Half the Voyager audience could've written this subplot.

The main "plot," such as it is, has Chakotay and Seven crashing their shuttle into a cultural preserve on the planet of the Ledosians. The Ledosians are a space-traveling, technologically advanced society, but inside this preserve is a primitive culture known as the Ventu, who live in isolation. They are protected by a massive energy barrier that was enacted centuries ago by an alien culture to protect the Ventu from the Ledosians, who had begun extending hostilities in an attempt to conquer them. The barrier is tenacious, to say the least; all attempts by the Ledosians to remove it have failed, and the technology continues to operate after centuries of non-maintenance. Find me any technology with that kind of reliability, and I'll buy it, no matter what it does or what it costs.

Most of the show sits and watches while an injured Chakotay tries to communicate with the Ventu while Seven looks for shuttle debris that may aid in her and Chakotay's escape from underneath the energy barrier. The Ventu never speak, and apparently communicate only with sign language. These scenes are palatably handled, sometimes with the aesthetic sense of silent cinema, but there's not much content behind them. They exist as atmosphere under the "seek out new civilizations" clause of the Trekkian mantra. And that's really all there is to the episode.

I might be willing to deal with four acts of repetition if the final act went somewhere interesting. It doesn't. Seven devises a way to bring down the energy barrier so she and Chakotay can be beamed out, but this allows the Ledosians to promptly send in research teams to study the Ventu. The Ledosians, it would seem, now intend to assimilate the Ventu into mainstream society. The question is whether or not that's a good thing. The Ventu, while primitive, are a resourceful bunch with a respect for the land, and a living piece of history.

The episode sees this as a Prime Directive issue (which is, of course, a Trek cliché), and Janeway's ruling is that the technology that's keeping the energy barrier deactivated must be removed since it belongs to Voyager. Sensible enough, but there's no real argument or debate here that exposes any intriguing angle or issue; it's addressed in about 60 seconds and the story marches on. For something that's supposed to be at its core, the story sure doesn't seem to care one way or the other. (Eventually the script has the Ledosians attack Voyager, which proves the writers ran out of ideas.)

The irony, of course, is that the energy barrier itself was created by aliens who didn't have their own Prime Directive type of policy; they interfered by stopping the Ledosians from attacking a culture on their own world. This is an irony the story apparently doesn't even recognize. Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of any of this is supposed to be.

The pleasant saving grace in "Natural Law" is in the way the story depicts our characters' interaction with the Ventu. Chakotay's attempts to communicate are patient and sincere — as is Terry Windell's direction over these scenes — and the reference to Chakotay's anthropological background is welcome. Even Seven, initially unmoved, ultimately can't help but deny that the Ventu are fascinating people, even if they do not have any sort of technological understanding.

But as for the story, this review would be remiss if not to ask: What story?

Next week: Farewell, Neelix...

Previous episode: Friendship One
Next episode: Homestead

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70 comments on this post

Tue, Mar 10, 2009, 11:01pm (UTC -5)
Eh...I'll still take one of these anthropological Treks over anything like "Spirit Folk" or "Fair Haven" any day of the week.

Although it was terribly out of character for Seven to be kind to the offer of the Ventu's gift of the blanket, it was nice to see, all the same.
Wed, Sep 30, 2009, 3:00pm (UTC -5)
Another badly-handled Voyager episode that tries to ignore the ethical issues it raises, preferring to make rather simplistic assumptions. Most prominent is the almost complete lack of consideration of the impact on the Ventu - is it better to preserve a way of life at the likely expense of avoidable suffering of the individuals? (how many of us would like to try surviving a stone age lifestyle, and would escape it if we could?) Parallel with that is the apparently automatic assumption that the Ledosians are completely in the wrong, and it seems deliberately written to portray them as being so.

This could've made an interesting episode in the middle of Voayger's run if it was much better written. As it was, and at the time, the two stars are deserved. It's enough to make me wonder if they'd gone with a script written for an earlier season.
Mon, Apr 26, 2010, 5:31am (UTC -5)
"Chakotay Goes Native (again)"

It's a wonder Big Chief Running Sore Chucky stayed with Voyager for 7 years - He's always bigging-up people in loin-cloths and the like.

In a word - BORING
Wed, Jul 21, 2010, 9:10am (UTC -5)
^^ hehehehehe Jason

But, but, but... Acoushla Moya is perfect! He is (1) a Native American - satisfying the "token minority" requirement, (2) into spirits, meditation, yoga and all that bullshit - satisfying the New Agey neo-religious "enlightened" requirement, and (3) sensitive and principled (except when it suits the plot to pad the episode with a few minutes of perfunctory tiff with Janeway about something trivial), but (4) manly and bold, in a true Native American way, when circumstance call for it. He's perfect!

Honestly, I didn't mind him most of the time though never found him to be much of a protagonist. But when he would start that mystic meditation crap ("Acoushla Moya, we are far away from the plains of the buffalo") or when he'd begin holding forth about cultural/developmental relativity (wearing a loincloth is just as "valid," if not even more so, than carrying a tricorder), I really felt like daisy-cutting him.

He's been pretty much a nonentity, though not quite to the extent of, say, Harry "Can't-Get-A-Lock" Kim. LOL!!

As far as the episode: Unremarkable in every respect. O.K. and watchable but too "native," cliched and inconsequential.
Thu, Aug 12, 2010, 5:02am (UTC -5)
For me, the underlying purpose of this story is to help connect the dots between Chakotay and Seven : In "Unity," Chakotay is simultaneously given privy to a collective consciousness and a sexual memory of it; in "Scorpion," it is he who invades Seven's human mind to distract her from her Borg imperative, and is the first to see her human past. Because he possesses qualities so foreign to her, spirituality, patience, platitude, we see some conflict between them, "One Small Step," and finally, we have seen how naturally this conflict has given rise to a crush "Human Error." All of this will culminate beautifully in the series finale. Seven has the chance to admire in practice the virtues of Chakotay's character and he has the opportunity to see a long-dormant side of her which is in many ways more human than even "Unimatrix Zero." Nothing could top the Torres/Paris love story to be sure, but as a much more subdued and interwoven thread, this is a necessary puzzle piece in their story. Also, the larger story pits the culture war of the Ventu's planet as a macrocosm of the cultural tension between Seven and Chakotay--which in their case is also sexual tension. The B plot with Paris and the drivers' training was pretty stupid if vaguely funny. Points off for that nonsense.
Thu, Nov 4, 2010, 6:06pm (UTC -5)
I somewhat agree with all the criticism this episode gets, yet I still found it pleasant, and I was never bored. I would much rather watch this one again than "Friendship one". I'll take indigenous mutes any day over crass and irrational morons.

If this show was rated purely by watchability, logic dictates that this is a three star show, since "Friendship one" got two and a half stars.
Mon, Apr 11, 2011, 1:12pm (UTC -5)
I found this more "quiet" than "uneventful" but the line can be pretty narrow.

It was no "Darmok" but their way of communication was interesting and different enough to make Chakotay's interaction with them worth watching.

Less developed but very pleasant cultures are one of the older Trek staples seen more in TNG, and I have always liked those when used well. Here there was little in the way of "use" for them but I felt drawn in to the endearment that even Seven got into with them. It was just very pleasant really, a change from all the usual Delta Quadrant hostiles.

Perhaps it's the benefit of hindsight (knowing that Voyager is the last we'll see of the 24th Century Trek universe, aside from Nemesis) but I appreciated such a quiet and subtle look at the Prime Directive and general spirit of the era before it ends.

As for the B plot, yeah fairly pointless, though I have to admit as predictable as it was (extremely), I got a kick out of Paris having to put his foot down and have the instructor clinging to something :)

Erh, 2.5-3 stars in my world. FAR from action packed, but very pleasant and Trekky so I have to hand it that.
Paul York
Sat, May 12, 2012, 5:04am (UTC -5)
Jammer: "The irony, of course, is that the energy barrier itself was created by aliens who didn't have their own Prime Directive type of policy; they interfered by stopping the Ledosians from attacking a culture on their own world. This is an irony the story apparently doesn't even recognize. Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of any of this is supposed to be."

Actually the Prime Directive was created to protect primitive societies from industrial societies, not safeguard presumptuous claims of ownership over resources and lands and subjugated peoples. Thus the aliens in fact do recognize and respect the intent of the Prime Directive in this case, and the point of the episode is to challenge the arrogance of those who presume that more complex technology equals superiority -- Seven assumed this and she was proven wrong through her experience. Colonialism has always asserted itself through resource extraction and "study" by anthropologists or conversion by missionaries or assimilation by those who want to bring "progress" to indigenous peoples. The episode is a morality tale against colonization and destruction of wilderness. The aliens and Voyager were enlightened; the technological society of that world was not. Voyager protected the Prime Directive by not allowing them to usurp and exploit the natives and the wilderness. It's unfortunate that Earth's remaining wilderness areas could not be protected by an unassailable energy field like the one shown in this episode.
Thu, Aug 2, 2012, 12:29pm (UTC -5)
I used to consistently defend Voyager episodes, but this one was hard to take. I want endings, resolutions, not recycled faux native cultures. I groaned every time I heard the wood flute, knowing they were once again reducing Chakotay to a cliche. Prime deflective.
Sun, Oct 7, 2012, 4:33pm (UTC -5)
Even though I completely agree with what Elliott stated this episode was a little boring for me because I did not sense any chemistry between Seven and Chakotay. I try to use my imagination and pretend there is chemistry for the plot's sake but as a couple they are so boring.
Tue, Jul 2, 2013, 3:59am (UTC -5)
I was intrigued by the depiction of the "primitive" culture but I agree that plot seemed to be treading water for most of the episode. The missed opportunity to explore the complexities of the Prime Directive is disappointing.
Mon, Jul 22, 2013, 2:02pm (UTC -5)
Meh. Yeah, not the kind of episode that should be so near the end.
Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 9:46am (UTC -5)
the lack of comments shows the lack of excitment that this episode generated.

i agree with michael.

1.5-2 stars.
Fri, Oct 4, 2013, 8:19pm (UTC -5)
Definitely siding with EP on this one... and this episode, clunker or not, is far better than "Jusice" (the TNG episode with the Edo and magical god thing that protects them and is never explained... at least "Natural Law" didn't borrow other aspects from that story...)

I just saw this episode for the first time.

It has potential, it's conceptually true for TREK, but the slow pacing - which feels natural and right for the story - somehow doesn't work.

Janeway applauds Chakotay at the end, even though what he and Seven did violated the prime directive (a law that Janeway would sternly upheld in the past and still does by and large).

Tom Paris' subplot may have helped the story's pacing if his scenes were more evenly spaced.

It's unfortunate that the primitive race was protected by a force field that never gets explained (e.g. motivations for it being put there to begin with.)

It's awesome how Chakotay and Seven work together, but even better is when he questions her reasoning - since she was brought into a more technologically advanced collective but later separated from it.

And the more advanced race - it's a little heavyhanded that they come across like typical European venture capitalists. Ironically, that aspect hasn't dated and feels far more creepy in 2013 than it did in 2001. But it's still heavyhanded (but most drama is.)

So much potential yet so ultimately shallow a story.

Paul York's comment is pretty great as well - to protect from more industrialized nations (or all involved to some level, technically.) It's similar to the concept of a republic style government - where the minority can be protected against the majority.
Jo Jo Meastro
Sun, Oct 20, 2013, 8:05am (UTC -5)
The only saving graces here are the impressive visuals, the nice bonding between Seven and pure raw nature woven with subtle hints of a Chakotay romance bubbling beneath the surface, and the pleasant depiction of a primitive alien society.

Other than that though; it's all a bland retread of what we've seen before. It only further grinds Chakotay down to a one-note, boring, under-written character despite his likably gentle nature.

The whole story just doesn't flow very well, which has a devastating impact on such a bare-boned plot. One too many times I found myself looking at my watch and yawning.

If there had been more firey or indepth interactions between Chakotay and Seven along with an unusual twist to the material (for example have monologue webcam-style personal recordings from both of them privately airing their most guarded feelings and thoughts scattered throughout); it might have really brought it to life.

But as it is, it was hardly worth the time.

A bland 2 stars is about right.
Thu, Feb 6, 2014, 2:59pm (UTC -5)
As it was written, this episode was incredibly insipid, so I completely agree with most people here.

What could have given this tale a little more oomph would have been a fleshing out of WHY the ancient aliens decided to protect these native people's from the dangers of 'progress'...Star Trek waded into this territory with The Paradise Syndrome - wherein the ancient benevolent aliens constructed an asteroid defense system for the natives. Rather incredible to consider a classic Trek from the 60's had more plot layers than this updated version. There moral impetus for Janeway to 'preserve', or rather condemn the natives in their state of perpetual ignorance is presumptive at best and an abuse of the Prime Directive at worst.

Considering all the damage Janeway has wrought while interfering with dozens of species, as the Federation inexorably expands further into the delta quadrant, they will have many unintended crimes and consequences to answer for.

Basically, the episode was a wasted opportunity for something more profound. 1/5.
Fri, Feb 14, 2014, 11:03pm (UTC -5)
Leave it to our crappy writer's to put chakotay with a strong female opposite alone and trapped on a planet to force a romance yet again. Maybe Janeway shoulda had him sign a sex permission slip right along with harry in episode Disease.
Sun, Mar 2, 2014, 3:57pm (UTC -5)
Not too much more to say that hasn't been said, but I did like the twist at the end (with the civilized aliens encroaching on the primitives) and how Seven came to realize there was a beauty and simplicity to them that challenged her presumptions.

For a Trekkie, I'm terribly skeptical of technology and feel that it brings a lot of harm (along with, undeniably, a lot of good) and that it's right to examine whether we are better off with or without. There were hints of that theme in this episode, and I appreciated that.

It was pleasant enough, but not what I'm wanting in the home stretch of the series. That really bothers me—so little of the last 10, or even 5, episodes, had anything to do with wrapping up the series (I would say that only "Homestead" did, and only for one character).
Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 2:48pm (UTC -5)
This episode reminded me of Doctor Who's first story: An Unearthly Child. This episode isn't any good for the same reason that one isn't. Watching indigenous people run around being all primitive is not fun much less interesting. And watching our characters pal around with them is pretty dull. Since we all know how this is going to go.

Also Borg don't trip.
Sun, Oct 12, 2014, 7:35pm (UTC -5)
I agree with duhknees: The whistle-y Indian music was annoying and unnecessary. Every time I heard it I felt as if the writers were saying, "See, the Ventu are a metaphor for Native Americans. Get it? GET IT?"
Fri, Nov 21, 2014, 11:11am (UTC -5)
Sean - "Also Borg don't trip."

Thank you!! That whole scene took me right out of the episode (not that there was much going on there anyway).

We see Seven tripping, hair all disheveled, falling on her face, dropping the tricorder, sitting on a rock looking all forlorn and shivering...

Really? REALLY???!!!!

Is she a teenage valley girl lost in the woods or a freakin' BORG?? They made the best badass on the series look like a damp dishrag. Talk about lack of character consistency.

K, I'm over it now.
Fri, Dec 12, 2014, 10:45pm (UTC -5)
All of you who criticize this episode have standards which you expect the episode to comply with, and you don't like the fact that it doesn't comply. There wasn't enough sexual tension between 7 and Chakotay to satisfy you, the wood flute music was too much of a cliche for your standards, the energy barrier protecting the Vintu didn't make sense to you. Can't you appreciate the subtleties of that relatonship, the beauty of the music, the possibilities of a technology beyond your understanding, just for how they are presented?

I really appreciated the personal growth that occured in Seven -- from the bitch who would not go to the trouble of signalling good-bye, to the woman who stood up for the rights of the Vintu to keep their culture. The bond between the teenage Vintu girl and Seven was beautifully expressed -- from Seven shivering in the cold to Seven appreciating the beauty of the waterfall along with the girl. Voyager, more than any other Star Trek series,
affirms the power of female solidarity -- though most of the male audience overlooks or laughs at this message.
Dave in NC
Fri, Dec 12, 2014, 10:53pm (UTC -5)
I haven't seen this one yet, but I have to reply to your point about Chakotay's Pan Flutes.

It is cliched and a bit racist to bust out the Zamfir whenever Chakotay gets "spiritual". I'm not sure at what point Hollywood composers thought pan flutes were appropriate for scenes involving Native Americans (Poltergeist II, perhaps?), but at this point, it is lazy and eye-roll worthy.

PS- Pan flutes are native to Europe.
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 1:09am (UTC -5)
I lol'd when Chakotay said he had mapped the area and then pointed to his little sand scribbling of a circle with a squiggly line through it and a rock on the side. Cartography has gone to crap in the future apparently.

Jeff, I think you're taking things too seriously and making some strawman arguments here. Just because people find the episode bad or lackluster doesn't mean they're misogynistic. It just means...they don't like the episode.
The Grand Danton
Thu, Jan 7, 2016, 10:23pm (UTC -5)
This episode is just another nauseous Hollywood pro-Native junk.

This episode is a cheap imitation of Avatar without the special effects.

Fri, Mar 18, 2016, 4:59pm (UTC -5)
Meh episode. - Normally 2 stars, but I'll give it 1.5 for being put at the end of the series. With such a good Season 7 overall, this was a complete waste.

I would have liked a twist ending here, where we find out that the Ventu were actually Quarntined by the alien race to protect the Ledosians. When Seven brings down the barrier, the virus is unknowingly released into the Ledosian society, and they immediately start getting sick. Of course, Voyager would've helped them, and provided a cure, but the twist would've granted an extra star.
Diamond Dave
Fri, Mar 25, 2016, 7:47am (UTC -5)
In its own way as formulaic as the last outing. At least this takes a more contemplative attitude than normal, although the big guns are busted out in a standard actioner toward the end - another fairly standard cliche.

While I thought most of the episode was just Chakotay doing what Chakotay does, the Seven storyline held a bit more interest. It doesn't do anything that badly as an episode, but it's not really that good either. 2 stars.
Sun, Apr 17, 2016, 2:41am (UTC -5)
There's this weird cognitive dissonance in this episode that no one seems to have picked up on, where on the one hand, Voyager makes a point of humbling itself before the rules and regulations of host species and even Tom is forced to keep in check his arrogance about being such a great pilot that he is above all standards of scrutiny. But towards the end, when the crew of Voyager must decide how best to 'un-break' the prime directive, it puts them in the awkward position of playing God over all involved parties and arrogantly overruling the intentions of the host species and breaking lots of their rules because Voyager presumes to know what's best for all.

The irony is that retroactively adhering to the letter of the prime directive can be as wrongheaded as breaking the prime directive in the first place, such as when 'undoing the damage' contradicts its essence of non-interference and precautionary principles that form the very rationale for having a prime directive. This means that sometimes it may be better to leave after breaking open pandora's box rather than sticking around to meddle with all the pieces. The Voyager crew doesn't seem to get this though, and readily uses its directives (the omega directive included) to rationalize their superior position and enforce their all-knowing judgements.

When the crew reveals their hypocrisy, we see right through Voyager's policy of deference to alien customs for its patronizing undertones, particularly when Tom breaks away from his punitive flight test to carry out his covert mission to forcibly transport the Ledosians around and his instructor's "Oh, you're so failing now!" is played for laughs. The Ledosians and their customs are made to seem comically insignificant when contrasted to Voyager's loftier principles and more pressing concerns, so the matter of the host's sovereignty being violated is swept under the rug and doesn't evoke any scrutiny.

So now, whenever Janeway reminds her crew that they must defer to local alien customs, we know why she rarely says it with a straight face, but rather with a slight smirk of condescension.
John C. Worsley
Wed, Jun 22, 2016, 6:47pm (UTC -5)
Agree with all the criticisms. Weird, demeaning condescension to primitive cultures once again with Chakotay, schizo respect for the host society one second, then overruling it arbitrarily the next. Wildly oversimplified baddies at the end... and deciding what's best for everyone while sanctimoniously declaring "who are we to know what's best?"

Also apparently the Borg never assimilated a species that ever cooked or had to keep warm. "An exothermic reaction!" Yes, Seven, we call it fire!
Wed, Jul 6, 2016, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
Well, I enjoyed this one.

Sorry :-)

Nothing lost, nothing gained really. Just an enjoyable hour of TV.

... aside from 7's trip :-)

B story was just funny... had to get Tom out there in the flyer to save the day you know :-)

I do think we saw some nice chemistry between 7 and Chuckles.

2.5 stars.
Sun, Jul 31, 2016, 11:00am (UTC -5)
Main plot:Seven and Chakotay crash land in a barrier that keeps a primitive tribe from interacting with their more advanced brethren(I remember their leader saying they were like evolutionary ancestors to them)Chakotay who by this point is just a walking Native american stereotype bonds with them while flutes play in the background. He bonds with them and we get several scenes of them teaching him their sign language(I guess their not evolved enough to speak) Seven tries to find a way to contact voyager while one of the female Ventu stalks her. inevitably Seven loses some of her equipment and becomes lost only for that one girl to show up ad help her. Chakotay learns that the male villagers are getting Tattoo's to imitate him and he seems flattered,until he see's a female has tied a piece of metal above her eye to look like Seven. obviously Seven takes down the barrier and contacts voyager, but not before a Ledosian expedition shows up lead by a guy so smug happy and annoying I wan to punch him. Seven asks what they will do with the Ventu the guy answers the way anyone would expect. "We will give them education infrastructure and medicine" Chakotay being a native american stereotype is horrified.

Usually I would immediately consider Chakotay an idiot but I will admit It would be hard for a stone age culture(that can't even speak)to adapt to a space faring civilization. The first generation would be confused outcast their children included. but they could still benefit from medicine and new idea's like more efficient farming techniques or how to treat serious illnesses.
I wonder if Chakotay would still talk about how great and perfect these primitives are if we saw a 2nd Ventu tribe that they were at war with.

Seven and chakotay talk about the possibility of the Ventu benefiting from the Ledosians and chakotay says no. They convince Janeway to remove the transmitter keeping the barrier opened. The Ledosians start a fight and it falls to Tom who is still in traffic school to destroy the transmitter and beam up the expedition.

Side plot:Tom ends up in alien space traffic school and has to contend with a strict teacher. This plot is entertaining at times and of course it connects with the main plot.

2 Stars an Average episode of Voyager.
Sun, Sep 25, 2016, 7:03pm (UTC -5)
Despite Chuckthemagicdragonkotay, the episode didn't suck
Thu, Apr 13, 2017, 5:03am (UTC -5)
If I were the Ventu, I would be quite upset... Why is progress bad? Longer lives, more convenience, more interesting things to do. Basically the Ventu have been denied the progress that their planet has made - they basically live in a petri dish!

I guess Janeway's decision basically leaves the status quo in place, but really I think the Ventu would have been better off outside the bubble. Janeway & co basically put them back in prison and tried to make it sound like a good thing.
Wed, Jul 19, 2017, 11:46am (UTC -5)
I really agree with Cloudane; I like this a lot more than the consensus, for me it's a solid 3. They picked the right two characters for this story. The slow pace is warm and refreshing. For audiences outside North America there aren't any issues with Chakotay's "stereotypical" portrayal either, just as it wasn't really a problem at the time the episode was made. The jeopardy climax goes a little too far (the aliens immediately firing on Voyager) but Paris breaking off his test to save the day as the elderly instructor protests is hilarious. I enjoy Natural Law for what it is - a well-executed quiet, warm, gently comic ep. I have no issue with its placement a few episodes from the end of the series either. It was clear by this point that Voyager by and large wasn't a continuity show and wasn't gonna do what DS9 did at the close of its run.
Reuben K
Tue, Aug 1, 2017, 1:26am (UTC -5)
What I appreciate about Seven's character during the final season is that she often became the opposition voice - putting forth a point of view that ran counter to the one that was either the point of the episode, or the main argument put forth by a major character. This was especially poignant in Repentance. No judgement, just highlighting that no one side has a monopoly on logic or morality. (That is, of course, what makes a dilemma a dilemma. Otherwise it's just a propagandizing morality play.)

So comes the moment when Seven talks about the Ledosians helping the Ventu with technology, infrastructure and education. Chakotay objects to this:
Chakotay: "Can you honestly say you know what's better for them?"
Seven: "...No, I can't."
Janeway: "Then what do you think we should do?"
Seven: "I am uncertain."
Janeway: "It's not like you to be on the fence."

That last bit with Janeway seems to be meant to solidify the idea that she doesn't have strong moral or logical reasoning to back up her statement. And this is where I lost my @#$% when watching this episode. This is the kind of scene that ideologues construct in which they think they've scored some sort of moral and intellectual point that silences the opposition to some humble state where there is no adequate reply to maintain their position. Bull$hit. What Seven should have said was:

Seven: "Commander, can you honestly say that YOU know what's best for them?"

I would love to see that smug face struggle to say 'No' when it's so obvious that he does think he knows what's best for someone else. That he knows how another culture, on another planet, should (or should not) develop. That he should be able to dictate how and when a culture, not his own, should or shouldn't be exposed to other things.

But don't worry, the writers covered for this obvious hypocrisy by making it obvious that these people don't suffer or have to work really hard to survive. They have herbs and poultices that heal bone micro-fractures in a matter of days! Wow! they don't need antibiotics or alcohol! Who needs hospitals? And with that magical barrier, they never have to deal with dangers or the threat of maturing into an advanced race on their own. Thank the gods for the powers of writing in excuses into the script. Yes! For the sake of someone else's ideals and values, the Ventu must stay at their technological level. So enlightened!

They're basically living in a terrarium mean to keep them the way they are. Forever.

Seven's reply of not being sure is the most honest answer, but it's used here as a kind of agitprop for the morality of Chakotay's position.
Thu, Aug 24, 2017, 1:28am (UTC -5)
A few problems for me about this barrier thingy.

This barrier has been up for a few centuries. 'It was erected by aliens hundreds of years ago' is what they say in the show.

Seven busts a hole in the thing within approximately 5-10 seconds of learning of it's existence, by simply adjusting the frequency of the shuttle phasers, and then in one day figures out how to shut it down completely using a deflector dish and whatever 'components' she found from the shuttle. And she wasn't even using nanoprobes or borg tech. It was something similar to something species 312 did sometime or another. And of course Voyager figures out how to shut it down themselves in about 15 minutes. Yet this equally advanced race on the planet with the barrier hasn't been able to figure out how to even make a hole in it in hundreds of years? OK then.

And the Ventu are supposedly the Ledosians 'evolutionary ancestors. Our living history' as the ambassador says. They have been locked in this bubble for a few hundred years. They CAN'T be evolutionary ancestors. That's absurd. A primitive tribe living in the Amazon aren't human's evolutionary ancestors. Maybe if they had been locked up in there for 500 centuries, but not just hundreds of years ago.

If they ARE evolutionary ancestors, that means this one group of Ventu lived in the forest for thousands and thousands of years before this barrier went up? They never evolved, but the rest of the planet did somehow? It would be like a tribe of Homo Erectus living in a jungle somewhere on present day Earth. Makes no sense.

Also this barrier is invisible, so the 2 groups could have easily communicated with each other. Just because I'm on one side of a pane of glass doesn't mean I can't figure out a way to talk to someone on the other side. Gee, maybe try that sign language the Ventu use.

Also, the Ledosians fire on Voyager and take out their transporter, and only the transporter. That's some good shooting. Where exactly do you need to shoot on the outside of Voyager to selectively disable the transporter?

And the whole episode is meaningless in the end because the Ledosians ended up scanning Seven's barrier takey downy thingy, and will probably be able to build one of their own, like they should have been able to do by now anyway.

But at least we got another message crammed down our throats. Indigenous people have rights too. Yay! Thanks Voyager!

And the Paris flight school stuff was just stupid and unfunny.

1/2 star
Thu, Aug 24, 2017, 8:49am (UTC -5)

Good points, but for some reason I still enjoy watching this one. :-)
Sun, Sep 17, 2017, 3:17pm (UTC -5)
I almost developed a bit of a soft spot for this episode but thinking about it more critically, I'm generally agreeing with Jammer's points. "Natural Law" is a rehash of the Prime Directive theme although the issues aren't well addressed. I liked the slower paced parts with 7 and Chakotay interacting with the Ventu and I thought the natives were well portrayed and concocted with integrity.

The barrier in itself is a convenient plot device -- how it exists over part of the planet and keeps out Ladosians from another part of the planet, and exists for centuries without fail is quite amazing. In any case, it is correct for Voyager to get rid of its interference and have the barrier as it was with the Ladosians unable to contact the Ventu. After all, that's how they found the planet. The ending scenes with the starship battles do give the writers an easy way out rather than address the PD issues.

As for the B-plot with Paris and flight school -- that didn't generate any laughs on my end but it is useful how it ties into Voyager's final solution for resolving the problem.

One thing I'd disagree with Jammer on is -- yes, the end of the series is near for Voyager and you wouldn't know it with this episode, but so what? That shouldn't be a detractor for what this episode is trying to do. Yes, it doesn't do it very well but not because of the series' imminent end.

2 stars for "Natural Law" is my rating -- I didn't find it boring, but it wasn't good. It was pleasant to watch and the musical score with the woodwind instruments gave the appropriate feel for the Ventu. The Ladosians attacking at the end just came out of nowhere and felt odd. But what's the right answer here? Should the Ventu be allowed to develop and should they have a barrier around them? Some interesting questions were left unanswered and here I don't think that's a good thing.
Tue, Oct 3, 2017, 2:47am (UTC -5)
A simple, beautiful episode. The story is straightforward, clear, succinct and plainly poetic. It's also filled with the best Star Trek ideals. Well done.
Tue, Oct 3, 2017, 3:04am (UTC -5)
By the way, though in essence the story is simple, I liked the complexity in the moral ambiguity of the central conflict as well. This is a well rounded, well developed episode.
Tue, Oct 24, 2017, 6:44pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Eli, a pleasant and enjoyable episode about exploration (albeit unintentional) and understanding. Friendly aliens are always good to see in Voyager, and though it's a missed opportunity for a follow-up to Human Error, I enjoyed the combo of Chakotay and Seven exploring the alien culture and making friends. I really liked this one.
Sat, Oct 28, 2017, 11:02pm (UTC -5)
How the hell did chakotay get a leg fracture? At no point do we see any reaction that would suggest this, then after transporting he suddenly has it? Can transporting from a moving vessel to a stationary plane impart kinetic energy to the body? Annoying that a plot device wasn't even set up properly.
Fri, Feb 9, 2018, 3:07am (UTC -5)
The Ventu's word for goodbye is the same as the fascist salute from the Terran empire. Throughout the episode I kept thinking the Mirror Universe Terrans were going to show up.
Prince of Space
Mon, Feb 26, 2018, 3:48am (UTC -5)
Pretty goofy episode, really. Not nearly as goofy as some of y’alls complaints about it, but that’s the Internet for ya. haha
William B
Mon, Apr 16, 2018, 12:26am (UTC -5)
As Voyager is wrapping up, I feel like there is something lopsided in these episodes; Author, Author followed by Friendship One and Natural Law feels like a writing staff awkwardly cramming all their material into one episode (A,A) so that the audience can comfortably skip the next two in repeats. It's not that F1 and NL couldn't have been engaging, but they both seem lifeless to me, and the philosophical and character material feels warmed over.

So in NL, the "it is important to explore and be open" lesson imparted from Chakotay to Seven is a repeat from One Small Step. I like Elliott's suggestion above that it is a continuation (and bridge to Endgame) but Seven and Chakotay's initial positions don't seem to me to be informed either by Seven's Human Error experimentation or the One Small Step bit. In any case, while Seven learns the value of looking at waterfalls etc., I can't help but point out that Chakotay was totally in the wrong, responsible for their crash, contaminating the Ventu culture with his tattoos and doing nothing about it, etc., and then Seven blames herself for the possibility that the Ledosians might break the energy barrier. Not a problem if Chakotay hadn't stranded them! In any case, the portrayal of the Ventu honestly reads to me as condescending, as with a lot of the indigenous peoples things on the show, but having the Ventu also be nonverbal serves as another way for the show to steamroll over their perspective and avoid having to actually explore what they might really want in the name of having Seven admire their purity. What do these people *want*, what do they really think of their visitors, do they have hopes and fears beyond being an object lesson for Seven of Nine? Might they want to do an anthropological study of people descended from *their* ancestors? They are props, not people, and it makes me cynical about the episode's celebration of them.

The "moral dilemma" is hastily thrown in at -- I checked -- 36 minutes into the 44 or so minute show. Given that they were already contaminated by tech and tattoos, and by the interference of Species 329 or whatever back in the day, it might have behooved someone to mention that they could consider asking the Ventu what they want, even if there are also possible arguments against it. I don't really strongly object to leaving the energy barrier as they found it, but the only meat in the episode would seem to be whether that is the right decision. Also omitted is explicitly noting the irony that Seven had this amazing life changing experience of spending her spring break with the noble Ventu which will look great on her med school application or whatever, and she and Chakotay affirm how great it was for them, but they of course deny the Ventu's actual relatives contact with them. There is something touristy about Seven's thanking Chakotay for crashing them into this civilization because of how much she got out of the experience, and it is especially noticeable because they recognize the potential for exploitation in "anthropological study"; for Seven to say, "otoh maybe it wasn't worth that girl getting zapped nearly to death for me to Grow As A Person" might have helped.

The Tom plot was a lot of nothing, except maybe a meta comment to the audience. Patience. Don't think you can skip to the ending, even though you know all the beats to this story already and nothing is happening.

I dunno. I guess a high 1 star? I am especially frustrated with this type of show so close to the series' end.
William B
Thu, Apr 19, 2018, 6:12pm (UTC -5)
Seven episodes, ranked for quality and Seven-ness:

Dark Frontier
Someone to Watch Over Me
Survival Instinct
Child's Play
The Omega Directive
One Small Step
Hope & Fear
The Gift
Scorpion II
The Raven
Infinite Regress
Body and Soul
Human Error
Scientific Method
Unimatrix Zero (I actually think this two-parter is worse than many of the eps below, but the Seven material isn't bad exactly)
The Voyager Conspiracy
Natural Law

Obviously a lot of winners in this list -- though I think that her best material was in s4-5 and that there's a bit of a drop-off in the late-era Seven shows (my five least favourite uses are in the last two seasons), though even there mostly the Seven stuff is misguided or boring rather than outright bad. Dark Frontier is an episode where the Seven stuff works almost perfectly for me and it's the other elements of the show (Janeway) that hold it back from greatness.
William B
Thu, Apr 19, 2018, 6:19pm (UTC -5)
Chakotay episodes, ranked (by quality and Chakotay-ness):

Scorpion (as much about him as Janeway)
State of Flux
Distant Origin (great though Chakotay's role comes late in the ep)
Year of Hell (subplot sorta)
One Small Step
In the Flesh
Tattoo (interesting but ultimately doesn't work)
Waking Moments
Natural Law
The Fight

They sort of forget to give him decent stories as the show goes on, and he doesn't really work out as a character, but he does end up being important in most of the two-parters -- at times it's almost like after season two he only exists for a handful of eps a year, and then in the big two-parters, which have mixed success. I'd actually say looking over this list that his episodes come off looking okay overall, though I think the show doesn't use him that effectively most of the time.
Fri, Jun 22, 2018, 2:28am (UTC -5)
Except for all the back-and-forth Chakotay's doing over exposing the Ventu to technology, I kind of like this one but I can't review it since it could never have happened. So they use the phasers to punch a hole in the energy barrier and crash the shuttle on the barrier, but while the shuttle blows up into a thousand pieces, it's still transporting them to the surface safely ? Give me a break. This episode ended with the intro. Time for Janeway to accept her losses, grieve over Chakotay and Seven and resume course to the Alpha quadrant. The end.
Sun, Aug 12, 2018, 6:11am (UTC -5)
It drives me crazy when some crappy little ship from some crappy little planet fires on Voyager, with full shields, and conveniently disables the transporters in the first shot.

They then do this AGAIN with the Delta Flyer.

Fri, Oct 26, 2018, 9:14pm (UTC -5)
Transporting off the shuttle to avoid the crash - good idea, though how they managed to be standing so straight during transport made no sense. But, but, but:

What do they grab for emergency supplies? A medkit? No. A standard, pre-packed survival kit that surely all shuttles have? No. A beacon? No...

an empty box. Very convenient - exactly the right size and shape - for picking up loose tech debris as it turned out, but surely the most useless possible item they could have grabbed.

Those com badges are surprisingly flimsy, too, as well as being easily snatched as always.
Thu, Nov 15, 2018, 1:48pm (UTC -5)
A gentle little episode. It held my interest. I guess I'm more like Chakotay than Seven.

I thought we had some parallels going on here:

--The techie Ledosians vs the nature loving Vintu

--The intense, cybernetic Seven vs the spiritual, low key Chakotay

--The rule bound bureaucratic instructor vs the free spirited spirited Paris.

How fast should you take that curve? When is it worth it, to stop and watch the waterfalls? Should you reach out and touch the shiny light?

This sort of question is in nearly every scene in the episode. Technology is protecting the Vintu. Technology could be their downfall. The Vintu's home is truly beautiful and beauty is worth savoring, but Chakotay's need, to do just that, gets them into this mess. Etc.

Among other things, I thought the ep definitely was meant to tie Chakotay and Seven together a bit more before the ending of the series.

Sweet little ep, nicely done for the most part.
Wed, Dec 19, 2018, 11:30am (UTC -5)
I kind of liked this episode had a bit of an Avatar vibe.
Seven looks awesome outdoors in natural light with her hair down. Just sayin.
Sean Hagins
Mon, Dec 31, 2018, 7:17pm (UTC -5)
Well, I didn't finish reading the reviews because they almost universally were exactly the opposite of my opinion. I really liked this episode! I understand Simon's comment: "how many of us would like to try surviving a stone age lifestyle, and would escape it if we could?", but as Picard said in Insurrection, every time a superior technological race moves a more primitive one, they suffer. Maybe not right away, but just like with the First Nations of North America, the aliens with tech (I forget their name) wanted the land, and would eventually get to "relocating" the Vintu. Maybe they wouldn't actually exterminate them, but it would be to their determent. Something that shows this to me is that even though they bemoaned being more aggressive centuries ago when the barrier was put up, right away they attacked Voyager when they thought they could keep them from transporting their beacon (or whatever it was that kept the barrier down)

They said they only attacked the transporter to prevent loss of life, but what about that cute transporter chief who was in the episode earlier and had one line. She's probably dead by now! (And, I would say the same thing if she wasn't pretty). I'm sure that the alien's gov't would persuade the people that it was "in the national interest" or whatever to take further action, and before you know it, poof! No Vintu-or at least a severely diminished race.

I think this was a very good parallel. Yes, it was hundreds of years ago that the First Nations people were herded into reservations (the 19th century), but let us pretend a barrier was over North America all these years, and it came down now. I can assure you, greedy people (and nations) would still invade to "help these poor primitives" and "reluctantly" have to take their land "for their own good"

And a lighter moment was Paris' driving test! HA! I don't know why so many hated it, it was FUNNY! The sarcastic instructor reminds me of a history teacher I had in grade 10! Yes, he was biting, but he made his point without disciplining more than the pride. It was also fun to see Kim get a few digs in (as it usually is Paris teasing him)
Sleeper Agent
Fri, Feb 7, 2020, 3:09am (UTC -5)
Way too little substance for the amount of screen time. It was nice and cozy, but served poorly as anything but filler. It's a shame we don't get more when we're so close to the finale.

1,5 Stars.
Cody B
Fri, May 15, 2020, 3:48am (UTC -5)
Middle of the road episode but on the better side of it. I think this would have been much better as a half hour episode but the were forced to pad it out with fifteen more minutes it didn’t need. There’s only so many ways you can show seven and chakotay interacting with tribal people and then voyager discussing how they need to rescue them. I think they could have gave the comedic Paris b plot a little more screen time but it still would have been just padding out time. All things considered it’s a decent episode though
Thu, May 28, 2020, 5:04pm (UTC -5)
"Why didn't our sensors detect it?" I think that's a good question, especially considering how often that line gets used. I think my Samsung smartphone could probably detect a massive energy barrier. Maybe they should have written a story about sensors.

I'm leaving this snore-fest half way in - and I love Chakotay and Seven. As for Paris, I was hoping that the penalty for reckless piloting was execution.
Life is too short for predictable plots. I like SF because it's unpredictable and gives a sense of wonder.
Thu, Jul 9, 2020, 5:16pm (UTC -5)
Story alludes to colonialism and destruction of natural resources. This is hard for white people to understand.
Dave in MN
Thu, Jul 9, 2020, 5:35pm (UTC -5)

racist statement.

I'm not sure why it's ok nowadays to stereotype an entire race, but it's very ignorant and completely antithetical to what Trek stands for.
Cody B
Thu, Jul 9, 2020, 10:08pm (UTC -5)
@Dave in MN

Probably written by a white person who thinks they “understands THEIR (non whites) side of things”. Irony is race is on their mind much more than the people they deem the enemy.
Sat, Jul 18, 2020, 9:32pm (UTC -5)
As I've always said, every good episode of television should wait until the last 7 minutes to introduce the main conflict. This is about as pedestrian as they come, but I agree that the communication scenes were nicely handled, even if Chakotay seems a little too relaxed about the whole 'exposing ourselves to a promative society' situation.
Sat, Jul 18, 2020, 9:36pm (UTC -5)
*primitive. Damn.
Chris Varentrek
Fri, Jul 31, 2020, 3:13am (UTC -5)
@John C. Worsley
> Also apparently the Borg never assimilated a species that ever cooked or had to keep warm. "An exothermic reaction!" Yes, Seven, we call it fire!

I had a different interpretation of this that I really like! What's interesting is that the exothermic reaction is what was used to START the first. Instead of a flint stone or friction based bow drill. It just so happens that two local plants have some component in them that violently exothermically reacts with the other. (perhaps like how metallic sodium reacts with water). That does seem like it could be a very unusual thing.
Thu, Dec 10, 2020, 1:37am (UTC -5)
Nothing sums up voyager more than this review. There is so little character development that this episode could have been in season 4. You could insert this into s4 and show it to a first time viewer and I would bet money they wouldn't notice a goddamn thing.
Fri, Feb 18, 2022, 11:36am (UTC -5)
It's another shuttle crash episode that goes nowhere and does nothing.

Where are all these shuttles coming from? Why is no-one alarmed at how many they are losing?
Tarkelian Tea
Tue, Mar 8, 2022, 10:50am (UTC -5)
Why in the world didn't the writers take advantage of Chakotay and Seven being marooned to build their relationship and show them coming to care for and appreciate each other on a more intimate level? I might actually have bought into End Game's use of their so-called relationship then. But for the nth time, VOY is all about the wasted potential.
Mon, Mar 21, 2022, 7:30am (UTC -5)
I'm having a hard time deciding if the comments section is more racist than the episode or vise versa!

William B hit the nail on the head. The central problem of this episode, which makes Voyager hypocritical (without exonerating the Ledosians either), is that the Ventu are never asked to give their opinion. The Doctor has been shown to be able to learn to communicate with nonverbal species much more quickly than the rest of the crew (see "The Void"). Together he and Chakotay could have explained the pros and cons to the Ventu and asked their opinion on whether they wanted the barrier to go back up. If the episode hadn't wasted so much time on the Paris B Plot, you would have had plenty of time to work that in.

In defense of Janeway, I would like to point out that this is actually a point of continuity with the last episode, "Friendship". Just last week she saw what damage sharing Earth's technology with other planets could do. It makes sense that she would decide to pull the deflector out in this episode. Given the Ventu's disparity in space technology with Voyager, I think she would have done this even if it had no effect on the barrier, for the sole reason she doesn't want a repeat of "Friendship" where humans have to share some of the blame for what happens after their technology is left unsupervised on an alien planet.
Paul H
Mon, Sep 19, 2022, 3:29pm (UTC -5)
Sean - "Also Borg don't trip."

Oh, okay. That scene was so badly shot that my first thought was that the native girl who was crushing on her and clearly following her had brought her down with some kind of bolo or something. But, no, it turned out 7 had just tripped in order to make her lose her tricorder, so that native girl who was following her could make her a fire and lend her her spare blanket.
Tue, Nov 8, 2022, 8:30am (UTC -5)
I think this is a homage/parallel to TNG’s Journey’s End.
Thu, Mar 30, 2023, 3:50am (UTC -5)
I like the general idea but the execution is very superficial. A crash, a little wildlife, a bit of action and then the usual seven/Janeway talk in the end. Feels like going through the motions. The only thing I enjoyed was seven of nines dialog.
Thu, May 11, 2023, 10:06am (UTC -5)
Did anyone on voyager think to ask the vintu what THEY wanted? They seemed pretty intelligent and reasonable, perhaps they deserve a say in their own fate? The condescension of voyager and the ledosians negotiating the future of these people without their input really bugged me. There’s a presumption at the core of this episode that people living at a Stone Age level of social/technological development are in some kind of paradise-like state of being. But I think if the very real possibility of you dropping dead at, like, 26 from gum disease or something was part of your daily landscape you might reconsider just how magical that existence really is. I’d at least want to give the vintu the option.

It raises the question of just how arbitrary the warp threshold is for determining first contact according to the prime directive. Why warp? Why not metallurgy or radio tech or atomic energy or just fire? In the case of the vintu, I got the impression that they’d be able to handle an influx of knowledge into their lives, so why deny them that? Seems like there should be some element of cultural/philosophical analysis in the PD, a kind of “rationality threshold”, not solely bound up with tech development.
With that in mind, I hated that that vintu guy smashed Chakotay’s com badge. That’s not a normal reaction, particularly coming from a people shown to be generally curious and cooperative. I would have accepted guarded wonderment, but not outright violent panic. That was a writers projection of the “backwards native” stereotype.

Anyway, like all voyager misfires: cool idea, shoddy follow through.

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