Friday, January 23, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Emanations

Welp, I feel a lot of ways about Voyager's ninth episode. Emanations is pretty much an exploration of faith, life after death, and euthanasia. Voyager (still low on gas) believes they may have discovered a new element and head down to the asteroid where they're sensing it to check it out. The asteroid is chock-full of dead bodies and, before anyone can react, Harry Kim gets sucked through a subspace vacuole and winds up in an alternate dimension society where everyone thinks he's come back from the "next emanation" and it's a pretty freaking big deal since the "next emanation" is where their people go when they die.

First of all, I love the very premise of this one. A spaceship crew basically dipping their toes in another culture's River Styx is an interesting thing to do and I give them props for exploring both banks of that river--where do people go when they die/where do they think they go?  I think it's interesting that, out of respect, Chakotay doesn't want anyone to touch the dead bodies (though, even as an anthropologist, I feel like not letting B'Elanna scan the bodies with a tricorder is a bit much) and that Janeway goes along with him. This is a compassionate crew.

I think the culture Harry falls into (and subsequently turns on its head) is a tremendously interesting one and the man he meets and befriends, Hatil Garan, is sympathetically written and convincingly played. Actually, it's his story that gets to me more than anything else. He's had some sort of accident and become "a burden" on his family and they've decided (at a FAMILY MEETING) that he ought to just go ahead and pass on to the next emanation. Harry Kim is horrified.

This is the worst family meeting ever. I mean, I've been part of various dysfunctional families that tried to have meetings and they were awful--but this is worse. Families can make you depressed. It's a terrible thing when the people who are supposed to love you the most, the ones who are supposed to protect you and be there for you are the ones driving you to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. I've been there and it sucks. Thankfully, I never attended any family meetings where they all just looked at me and said, "I think it's pretty much time for you to get it over with."

That was a little heavy. Sorry about that.

The point though is that this episode is pretty heavy. Because, in Garan's culture, they really do believe that they really are going (their physical body and all) on to a better place. But, Harry Kim has been to the next emanation. He knows these folks aren't walking around and drinking tea and having a lovely time up there. They're corpses wrapped in cobweb. And when he (of course) blabs about how there's no afterlife, everyone gets a little worried and upset--especially the guy who's been convinced to kill himself.

Has Harry even been to Prime Directive School?


Anyway, this is a strong episode. It's a preview of the great, allegorical stuff Voyager will handle later.  It asks big questions, explores the debate, and leaves it open-ended so that we can continue to ponder the ideas later. In this case, pretty much twenty years later.

Other Great Stuff About This One:
-I love that when the previously dead Vhnori woman awakens the first thing she does is ask where her brother is. It's a sweet, subtle touch. Of course you would be expecting to meet previously deceased family upon arrival in the afterlife.
-The alien doctor is played by Jerry Hardin (AKA Deep Throat from X-Files) and his performance here is excellent. He brings a lot of gravity to this one without being over dramatic and flashy.
-Jeffrey Allen Chandler (who also guest-starred on DS9's "Facets") is also great as Hatil Garand. His believable resignation and then fear regarding the afterlife are believable and I find him incredibly sympathetic.
-Janeway has her one of her first mom talks with Kim and it's a really, really nice touch.
-Seriously though, has Harry Kim ever even heard of Starfleet? Why does he just instantly blab about this stuff? Is he really an officer? Did he sneak in here?
-This episode marks the first time Harry Kim would legit die on his Voyager assignment.





Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Ex Post-Facto

So it's the feather head episode. This episode... I'm always glad to put it behind me. I think Voyager has one of the strongest (maybe the strongest) freshman season of any Trek but there are still bumps in the road and this was always one of them for me.
Nope.

SITREP: Tom Paris has seduced a feather head lady with a yappy dog and then apparently killed her husband (a prominent scientist) in a jealous rage and has already been tried and punished at the commencement of the episode. His penance: Every 15 minutes Paris must relive the events of the murder through the victim's eyes. Janeway is out to prove his innocence so Detective Inspector Tuvok takes the case. Eventually everything is ok again.

The traditional Murder Mystery Summation Gathering
Here, I think, is my biggest issue with this one: It's just Riker. They've been hammering how rakishly Riker Tom Paris is since the pilot episode but I just don't buy it. I buy that Paris is a cocky scofflaw with a bad-dad-flavored chip on his shoulder--I just don't buy that he has "five girls back home" or that he seduces vapid, feather headed housewives wherever he goes. Not only does McNeil not really sell the sexual swagger and confidence the way Frakes did but the whole idea of it doesn't really feel fresh or interesting at this point.

Maybe that's because the entire premise for this one was a Riker-sode in TNG. In "A Matter of Perspective" Riker presumably murders a prominent scientist after seducing the man's wife. Data and Geordi take the case and then evidence is brought against him using the holodeck (rather than a mind meld) and he's eventually cleared of the charge.

Of course the ole' "I definitely did not murder that guy/gal!" episode goes all the way back to when Scotty murdered a belly dancer but then actually it was Piglet/Jack the Ripper. Even Dax is put on trial for a murder involving an affair in "Dax."

So, again, this is an episode that any Trek could have done and did do and if there was another Trek on right now it'd be a first season story. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with it. It's just that there's not much going on here that makes it feel special and unique and Voyager-ish.



My favorite stuff about this one:
-There's a really nice conversation between The Doctor and Kes about personhood and a hologram's ability to make his own choices.
-Using Maquis tactics to evade Delta Quadrant aliens is nice idea.
-Tuvok Holmes is fun to watch and I'd totally watch that spin-off.
-The added twist of "really Paris is being used an unknowing carrier of information for a spy" isn't a bad idea.
-Neelix has no clue what a mind-meld is. I find this absolutely awesome and hilarious. Nice touch, people. Give yourselves a pat on the back, whoever thought of that.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Voyager Re-watch: The Cloud

You know, I saw this one in its first airing and I still remember it. I don't remember the cloud or the coffee or any of the little touches that appeal to me as an adult. But I remember all this stuff about the animal guide.

Wait, let me back up. The Cloud is the 6th episode in Season One. Voyager has an energy shortage and they hope to grab some by zooming into a nebula and scooping up some omicron particles. Things go wrong. They have to fix it. Along the way, Janeway wishes the crew had a counselor to talk to about their separation from earth and Chakotay mentions (of course) that he talks to his animal guide and offers to teach the captain to get in touch with hers. Eventually they set everything right and get on their way with less energy than they started with.


I actually love this episode. It's fairly simple. There's no alien cast to deal with, no Delta Quadrant baddies trying to get all up in Janeway's biz. It's just this ship and this crew doing a very Voyager style mission. It shows early on that they can be scrappy and industrious without losing their moral bearing. It's like, have you ever been out of gas and had to scrape through the car, under the couch cushions, through your winter coat pockets, etc for loose change just so you could put enough fuel in the tank to get wherever you needed to go? I certainly have. And so has Janeway.

Picard certainly hasn't. If Picard ran out of gas (or turned into a Borg drone and slaughtered thousands) he'd get a free pass from The Federation/Starfleet. I mean, I love Picard. I've written here many, many times about my undying love for Picard. I'm just saying, he's never pulled out of the garage that he didn't have a full tank, AAA, and the latest GPS.

Anyway, my point is that The Cloud is a great example of what makes Voyager unique. They have no backup. They have almost no map. No one is coming to help them. They have to be industrious and creative and they have to do it all without being jerks. Which they do. In this one, when they punch a hole in the nebula and then realize it's actually a giant blob monster, they go back to fix it--at their own peril and expense.

The Cloud also comes with the added bonus of watching Janeway attempt to find her animal spirit. Oh hell this woman is so earnest. As a kid, I was ALL OVER this scene. I've mentioned before that when Voyager first aired I was fairly adrift. I felt unsure of everything, lost. Like Janeway, I jumped on the idea Chakotay was pitching. "Yes!" I said. "I need an animal guide!"

Sitting in my bedroom in Kentucky, I tried to do all the same stuff Chakotay walks the captain through but all I got was a replication of her scene. A beach. A rock. A lizard? (wouldn't it be hilarious if it had been a salamander?!?!) I mean come on. I could tell, even at ten, that this just wasn't working for me. I went on with my life without an animal spirit. But that's not to say I didn't take something spiritual from this episode or this series as a whole. I mean, I did learn to scrape through the couch cushions for loose change. Maybe that means Janeway was my animal spirit all these years.

Other bonus points for this go to the first mention of Janeway's coffee addiction and her utterance of the actual phrase, "There's coffee in that nebula!"

I also love that she talks about how she's always been comfortable with the distance normally kept between crew and captain but that she isn't sure it's going to work on this mission. It's not. Pretty much every senior officer will end up in her ready room spilling his or her guts to mom. That's ok, that's one of the other things that makes Voyager special.

This episode also includes some classic "not giving The Doctor any personhood" moments which always drive me insane but is such a big part of the show. They mute him though. Seriously. Mute.

Additionally we learn that Tom Paris' animal spirit is this French holodeck chick:



PS- I'd originally planned a much more coffee-intensive post but that didn't happen. Still, I went to all the trouble of taking an actual picture of my actual coffee so here:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Voyager Re-watch: Phage

Well, here we are, at the Phage. Guys--I'm gonna be honest here--I'm not super into the Phage. I tend to have a propensity toward nightmares and highly advanced aliens running around transporting the lungs out of folks' bodies just really wigs me out. Still, I think this disease--this culture ravaged by this disease--is an excellent running story for Voyager.


Here's the rundown: Neelix has been practicing his tricordering skillz so he convinces everyone to let him go on the away mission to hunt down some dilithium on a teensy planetoid. He's going around scanning things and suddenly his lungs are gone. They get him back to sickbay and the Doctor confirms it. Voyager tracks the warp signature of an alien vessel that had been in the area and finally finds the Vidiians who have super advanced medical technology but really questionable ethics when it comes to organ donation. Janeway wants the lungs back but they're already in some other guy so the Vidiians help The Doctor transplant one of Kes' lungs into Neelix.

There's a lot to love about this one (if it doesn't give you the scream dreams) including some excellent Doctor scenes. I'm fairly sure this is his first use of "I'm a doctor not a ___" when he argues that he isn't a decorator. This jokey dialogue is right beside an excellent bit between The Doctor and Kes about The Doctor's feelings of inadequacy and his fear of failure. Additionally, he smacks Tom Paris right in the face. He's having a big day.

This is a good one for Neelix too and (believe me I know I'm in the minority here) as much as I love the character that he grows to be, I cannot wait for him to get out of this jealous-of-my-girlfriend phase. So much of his good stuff in this one is overshadowed by the venom he has toward Paris regarding Kes. Kes who, by the way, ends up donating her lung to save him. As I watched this one, I couldn't remember exactly how Neelix got out of his predicament but I was really hoping Tom would donate the lung instead.

Anyway, the real shining glory of this episode is (what else) Janeway. Our fearless leader would end up giving many, many speeches to many, many hostile species but this is one of the very first and it's a good one:

"They may have found a way to ignore the moral implications of what you are doing, but I have no such luxury. I don't have the freedom to kill you to save another. My culture finds that to be a reprehensible and entirely unacceptable act. If we were closer to home I would lock you up, I'd turn you over to my authorities for trial. But I don't even have that ability here, and I am not prepared to carry you forever in our brig. So I see no other alternative, but to let you go…
If I ever encounter your kind again, I will do whatever is necessary to protect my people from this harvesting of yours. Any aggressive actions against this ship and its crew will be met by the deadliest force. Is that clear?"

The Vidiians' physical bodies aren't the only thing ravaged by the phage--their moral compass is also completely wonked up. They plainly state that they were once considered a society of intelligent explorers, artists, and thinkers. Now they do what they believe they must to survive and that means stealing from others what they cannot create and maintain themselves. Janeway's predicament is a classic Trek dilema but without any backup, in a tiny ship across the galaxy from anyone they know, her situation is unique. She feels sympathy for these people. She must do what she can to save her crewman but his lungs are already keeping another man alive. Her own ethics prevent her from simply taking back what she needs to save Neelix but she cannot let these people continue to harm her crew and she makes it clear that she'll protect them. It's a well-written, perfectly-acted scene and it sets a precedent for the ethical problems Janeway would continue to find herself in over the next seven years.

By the way, while watching this one, I ended up doing some quick watercolor stuff:

Also, I recently had a short, graphic essay published and I feel like I ought to let you know about it just in case you're interested. It's over at Neutrons/Protons.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Time And Again

Time And Again
Season 1: Episode 3

Alright now, this episode. I don't know. For some reason, this one always sticks in my head. Maybe it's the outfits. Maybe it's the plot. Maybe it's Janeway's glorious half-up, half-down mane.
Actually it's surely her hair. Look at it! Magnificent.
Time and Again is interesting for a few reasons. Mainly, it's the first really stand-alone, episodic, no-strings-attached story. And that's pretty important. Basically it's this: Voyager comes upon a planet where the native peoples have blown themselves to bits in a huge nuclear explosion. They go down to investigate because why not and Janeway and Paris get thrown back in time to the day before the explosion. The bulk of the episode is spent with Janeway and Paris walking amongst these doomed fools, trying to figure out a way back to Voyager whilst the crew simultaneously try to collect them and Kes has lots of psychic trauma because of all of it. At the end, they prevent the explosion and everything goes back to normal for Voyager.

There's no Maquis/Starfleet conflict. There's no "OMG look how far away from home we still are!" business. There's no "OMG look how close we're all getting because we're a family!" conversation. It's just a regular, run of the mill Star Trek episode. The plot from this one could easily be lifted and dropped into TOS, TNG, DS9, or Enterprise.

But that's also what makes this one kind of special. Can Voyager, without the aid/interference of Starfleet, the known alien races, the known space etc, function like any of the other Treks? Yeah. Absolutely. But then again, maybe that's why this one always kind of stands out to me. It doesn't have all that much of what makes Voyager stand out among the rest of Trek.

Here's what it does have though:

1- The first mention of the infamous Delaney sisters. Apparently, they come as a matched pair.
2- Paris says he has "five girls back home." Could they be trying any harder to make him the Riker? Possibly.  
3- Neelix gives Kes a lecture about telepathy. I'm sorry Neelix, when did you become an expert in exobiological neuroscience as applied specifically to the Ocampa?
4-One of these doomed fools tells another of these doomed fools to "Have a confection bar and calm down," which always makes me laugh. Also it makes me want a confection bar.
5-Janeway just straight up breaks the Prime Directive right here in the 3rd Episode. She says she's not doing it and she's technically right, I guess. But this kind of, "Aw, Fuck It" attitude will eventually separate Janeway from the rest of her Starfleet captain comrades. She just lets down her hair and starts dropping heavy knowledge on these poor, unknowing people.
6- At the end everything resets except the doomed fools don't blow themselves up and they go back to living in a pre-warp society so it's like Janeway never even dropped any knowledge on them. Paris still has five girls back home though. According to him.

Tom "Five Girls Back Home" Paris

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Parallax

I go through the same process pretty much every time I see Parallax:

-Oh hey, I feel like this is an important episode.
-Why was that?
-Everyone's fighting... that's not it...
-Oh, right, B'Elanna becomes Chief Engineer!

And then I proceed with the show and spend most of it reveling in the primordial Janeway/B'Elanna relationship. When these two women talk it's never dull. Their chemistry as actors and as characters is perfect. B'Elanna is, in many ways, a younger Janeway. They're both passionate scientists, they both possess a commanding presence, they both work hard to do the best they can for their ship and the people who rely on them, they can both be obsessive and they can both get depressed and agitated if there isn't enough going on.


B'Elanna, of course, struggles with some extra issues. In Caretaker we already got a glimpse of the inner turmoil she faces thanks to her battling Klingon/Human halves. In Parallax we get a little more. The episode starts out with her punching a fellow crew member and then refusing to apologize. When she faces Janeway, she's combative from the outset. At every turn, she wants to fight. But then it comes down to solving a puzzle and B'Elanna shines.

As I watched this one, I couldn't help but think about all the great and terrible things that lay ahead for this character. I love B'Elanna and seeing her in these early stages reminds me of why. She is never not fighting a war within herself but that never keeps her achieving great things along her journey. I love her evolution and I can't wait to watch her grow and evolve all over again.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Caretaker

Man, this is weird, guys. Watching the pilot of Voyager is weird.

I think I remember finishing Voyager sometime in October/November of 2013--which, now that I type those words I realize that's a year and two months ago--but it seems like I just watched Voyager. I feel like I was just hanging out with Seven and The Doctor and Tom and B'Elanna. And maybe that's why it feels so weird--because the most memorable stuff about this series just hasn't happened yet. It's weird to see Chakotay's crew in their Maquis getup. It's weird the way everyone says Chakotay--especially B'Elanna--another individual whose name no one can has any ability to get out consistently. It's weird how obviously they're trying to make Tom into another Riker/Kirk type when he ends up happily married in what seems like no time. It's weird how everyone treats the Doctor and how high Janeway's hair is.


But it was fun, on New Year's--on a day that feels like such an optimistic beginning--to start this show all over again and to know how truly amazing it becomes. Watching it, I've already begun to miss Kes but look forward to Seven of Nine. I'm excited to watch The Doctor evolve and interested in the process by which Janeway goes from being like pretty much every other Starfleet (and Star Trek) captain to the matriarch of a close-knit, unbreakable, unsinkable family.

I've seen Caretaker a few times over the years. But the first and most memorable time I saw it was the first time it aired. I was still a kid but I'd spent all the previous years of my life watching TNG. At the time Voyager aired, my life was fairly chaotic. My mom had re-married. I'd gone to live with my dad who, after years spent almost entirely with my mom, seemed a stranger to me. I had moved around four times in the four previous years and now I was in yet another new town and new school with new kids and new way of life. I felt adrift in a strange new place and I would have to buck up and make it work. And that's what the Voyager/Maquis crew decides to do here. I think, in January of 1995, that's exactly what I needed. I signed onto Janeway's crew that night and I never left.


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