In brief: A reasonably entertaining romp, but it bears almost no scrutiny.
So, here we have Voyager's penultimate episode, and what is it? A routine kidnapping plot. Why this and why now?
On the other hand, why not this? Voyager has proven long before this week's "Renaissance Man" that the show is rarely about its characters or bigger picture but instead about its stories. And aside from last week's "Homestead" where we actually had some sort of closure for a character, the entire wrap-up for everyone and everything is going to apparently take place in the final two hours of the series.
On some level, sad as it is to say, this episode is a microcosm of much of Voyager's legacy to the Trek franchise: It's a reasonably entertaining action plot that has no lasting significance whatsoever. The Doctor is a great character who seemed to get the perfect final focus episode with "Author, Author," which followed his theme — that of wanting to be more than his programming — to a logical conclusion. But for the purposes of character theme, "Renaissance Man" is at best simply redundant, a routine action storyline that exploits his technical abilities and not so much his personality.
At one point, disguised as Torres, he runs sideways up a wall and flips right over Tuvok, grabbing the phaser out of his hand. I've never seen Doc pull a Matrix-like move like that before, but then why did I need to?
The framework for the story is a contrivance and a cliche: In the midst of an away mission, Janeway is held captive by two thieves from the "Hierarchy race" (see "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"), who say they will kill her if Doc doesn't return to Voyager and find a way to steal its warp core and bring it to them. Doc must then impersonate other members of the crew, starting with Janeway (adjusting his holographic appearance at will) and working on down from there.
It's probably a good thing this is the end of the series, because that's a pretty damned flimsy premise. It's the sort of thing that deserves to be banished to the land of sitcom fodder. Only a nitpicking jerk would bother to question whether the Hierarchy aliens should be here, at the very least 5,000 light-years away from where we last encountered them. Yadda, yadda, yadda; blah, blah, blah.
It's worth noting that even the goofiest and shallowest of premises can be made palatable with decent execution, and we get that here, which makes "Renaissance Man" a fairly enjoyable hour of silly plotted mayhem instead of brain-dead drudgery. Call it enjoyable, silly, brain-dead mayhem.
This is an episode sold on amusing little moments, not iron-clad logic or solid storytelling. For amusing moments we have ourselves a scene where "Janeway" is on the bridge and begins talking to invisible voices in her head, which prompts MST3Kings of, "Well, Janeway has finally completely lost it." There's something hilarious about it, while at the same time weird and offbeat because we don't initially know what's going on (the plot begins as a series of subtle mysteries that are gradually revealed to us).
The gimmick is that the Hierarchy guys are constantly monitoring Doc's actions, so he has to do the entire operation in secret, undermining his crew's own attempts to catch on to him. This must've been justified by all sorts of end-vs.-means discussions in story staff meetings, since the whole exercise is absurd and exists simply so that Doc can run around impersonating people.
Honestly, is this plot even worth discussing at any further length? I doubt it. There's nothing significant about it, no issues to ponder. It's a romp, plain and simple. On that level it can be fun, like when Tuvok finally catches on to Doc's game and tries to subdue him: There's a point where Tuvok chases Doc into the holodeck and finds a room filled with holographic Doc clones, which is an amusing visual that fits the action relatively well. Clever, and appropriately goofy.
I also liked the way the unconscious bodies started to stack up, making Doc's task harder. He has Chakotay and Harry stashed in the morgue while also running around impersonating Janeway and Torres. At one point he has to pretend to be Tom's wife, which is your Classic Awkward Situation™, although one wonders if all plot devices are recyclable; Doc earlier this year had to pretend to be Seven in "Body and Soul."
The two Hierarchy guys (Andy Milder and Wayne Thomas Yorke), one nice and one mean, are low-rent pseudo-villains that don't honestly seem capable of carrying out their threat of killing Janeway if Doc fails his mission. These guys are devices of the plot and nothing more, but then the whole episode is a massive plot device — including the use of the warp core as this week's McGuffin, which is hauled around from A to B in order to move the people from A to B. Meanwhile, Doc's abilities here open a can of worms that, fortunately, might not get very long to squirm seeing as the series is basically over. (In particular, I'd like to know how he is able to activate his emergency command subroutines and take control of the ship's command codes solely on his own volition, without any sort of authorized transfer from the captain or first officer. Perhaps because neither is present?)
My griping makes it sound like I didn't enjoy "Renaissance Man," which isn't entirely true. Like many Voyager outings, it proves that a fast-paced episode where the plot moves effortlessly along can hold interest when lesser execution might've led to an unpleasant slog. By the time the show got to Doc's deathbed confessional, I was chuckling too much to feel annoyed. Little of the plot is believable in retrospect, but it has the will to carry us along for the ride with some snappy dialog, a few technical twists that are mildly clever, and actors who are convincing in the middle of a world of absurdity.
Come to think of it, this episode may be even more of a microcosm of this series than I thought. Maybe it's appropriate as the penultimate outing of Voyager after all. But, then again, it must mean something when the most appropriate story for Voyager is one that doesn't begin to unlock the true potential at hand.
Next week: Time travel, Klingons, and Borg. It's all here for Voyager's series finale.