Monday, August 26, 2013

Voyager, Season 1: Cathexis

Voyager, Season 1
Airdate: May 1, 1995
12 of 168 produced
12 of 168 aired


Chakotay and Tuvok's shuttle returns with the occupants injured. Tuvok recovers, but Chakotay is apparently brain dead. Voyager sets course for the nebula they came from to investigate, but a mysterious force seems intent on stopping them.

Tee hee hee, now put his finger in a cup of warm water!


Kevin: This is the classic manifestation of a Braga episode that has a nifty idea that really peters out in the execution. "Alien possession" is a fun idea, and it's been done before with both good and bad results, let's say the ends of the spectrum run from "Lonely Among to Us" on one end to "Clues" or TOS' "Return to Tomorrow" on the other. This one is not as large a failure as Lonely Among Us, and the reason is, happily, that the crew does not have to be stupid to progress the story. In fact, it's fun watching Janeway do things like reassign command codes to try to get ahead of the alien. I like the general sense of tension, especially in the scene in the briefing room where everyone overreacts to Kim daydreaming. Also in the plus column, I like the twist that Chakotay was the one sabotaging the ship for their safety. So why do I think this episode ultimately doesn't work? I'm going to pin on two things. First, the actual mystery left me a little flat. By the third time that Tuvok was the common thread in each incident and the bruising alone on Kes' neck scream to a long term fan that Tuvok (unwittingly or otherwise) is somehow involved. It's not the same sin as Lonely's forcefully stupid crew, but it nags me if I am too far ahead of the investigation. The other is the mushiness of the Chakotay possession angle. Trek can get away with, on occasion, transferring consciousness into other media, but I think the idea that it can exist wholesale non-corporeally with the same ability to sense and interact and possess other people is a Braga bridge too far. Particularly with the "reintegration" dialogue at the end, it's even more extreme than Schizoid Man in the idea that consciousness can just be downloaded like an mp3. The result is that to whatever extent I am invested in the tension, it's dispelled by waiting for them to catch up and the solution retroactively makes the earlier possession stuff seem less interesting.

Matthew: So these alien baddies... eat... "neural energy?" This is so dumb it almost defies description - almost. If this is this race's sustenance, how do they get access to it by hiding in a dark matter nebula? The entire human body, let alone the brain, only generates between 10 and 100 millivolts. The Baghdad battery generates more than 20 times that. So a jar and some orange juice would have been more efficient. It was dumb in The Matrix, it was dumb in Time's Arrow, and it's dumb here. Anyway, the reintegration of Chakotay's consciousness really stuck in my craw. The dialogue indicates that The Doctor has essentially solved the problem of transferring consciousness, real consciousness, into and out of computer memory. The metaphysical and sociological dimensions of this feat are staggering, and it's a throwaway line here. Lazy and stupid, is what it is. Chakotay's "neural energy" could have just re-possessed his own body, couldn't it? I agree on the basic tension and character interactions. They were effective, and were what saved this episode from sinking further than it did. I was pretty involved in the various twists and turns of who was possessed and who wasn't.

Kevin: One part of the episode for which I have unreserved praise is Janeway's holodeck teaser. The story is pretty clearly a riff on Jane Eyre, with a guest appearance by a Mrs. Danvers clone from Rebecca. This actually solves my problems with adapting a holonovel that I discussed in Heroes and Demons. Rather than merely recite a script, the adapted holonovel should be an open ended play on the elements of the story or genre, rather than a straight retelling. Jeri Taylor developed this idea for an earlier episode but it got shelved until now. Originally, it was going to be a story of the Wild West, but Mulgrew apparently refused to work with horses and it would have been too expensive to bring back, so she came up with the Gothic romance. I have to praise Jeri Taylor here, and later Mulgrew in her performance, for such an awesome idea. Jane Eyre is the story of a woman with literally no resources other than her wits, yet she refuses relationships with men on two occasions when the relationship doesn't give her what she wants. She won't be Rochester's mistress, nor will she be River's companion-wife. Sure, in the end, it romantically all works out, but especially for the era, it's practically radical feminism. My point in all this is this is another way that Taylor has managed to make Janeway a three dimensional character. Her hobby is indulging in romance novels, but it doesn't read for a second that she's some rom-com character just waiting for the right man to come along and sweep her off her feet. Something I've always enjoyed about Janeway's character is the fact that they managed to craft a woman in power that never defaulted to a Margaret Thatcher impersonation. My only complaint about the holonovel is the captain's log that refers to "ancient" England. It nagged me in "A Fistful of Datas" when they refer to the Ancient West. "Ancient" defines a fairly discrete era to people now, and that definition is not going to change as there gets to be more history. We don't refer to 15th century Italy as "ancient" and lump it in with Rome, we call it the Renaissance. The period of the novel is in Victorian England, and it would make sense that Janeway would refer to it that way. It's a tiny thing, but it makes my eye twitch whenever I hear it.

Matthew: The entire episode, or at least a good 2/3 of it, should have been the holonovel. Chakotay could have possessed Lord Burleigh and tried to convince Janeway to stay away from the nebula, and that Tuvok was possessed by the baddies.  Anyhow, I agree that the holonovel was a great tease, a lot of fun, and the rest of the episode felt lacking by comparison.

Kevin: A few other notes. The dark matter nebula thing bothered me. I literally had just finished a podcast by Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the subject before sitting down to watch this, so the extreme wrongness of the science got me. Dark matter doesn't interact with normal matter, that's why we can't find it. We can only infer it by the presence of its gravity. That would have actually been a fun effect, an area of intense and inexplicable gravity, maybe causing the starfield to lens. Other series get it wrong, so it's not too bad, it just jumped out at me. I did like the character moment of B'Elanna working the medicine wheel, but again, it feels like they are just making up stuff to fill in how Chakotay expresses his culture, and it nags me. Especially given the less than stellar history of the depiction of Native American culture on television, I think they should have picked a discrete culture to exclusively draw from. Otherwise, it reads like the writers think that Native American culture is fairly homogenous, and it's obviously not. Lastly, this is another example of an away team in a shuttle being days away from the ship. It's becoming a bit of a trope. Given the personnel and shuttle situation, you'd think they'd play it closer to the vest.

Matthew: I get why the Native American thing bugs you. But seeing as how this is a tribe that has left earth and invented a device to induce trances, I'm willing to entertain some religious innovation on their parts. The Dark Matter thing was another boneheaded lazy writing trick.


Kevin: Mulgrew did a great job with the teaser. Walking around giving reaction shots without seeming hokey can't be easy, and she really inhabits it. Had they continued this, this would easily match Stewart in the Dixon Hill stuff. The other reason that the failure to really develop this story is that it means that Carolyn Seymour only comes back twice more when she should come back an infinite number of times. If that first conversation was anything to go by, I could have happily watched them spar many times.

Matthew: Ah, Carolyn Seymour. Why was she not a regular, somewhere, in some capacity? The primary cast members besides Tim Russ who had interesting things to do were Mulgrew, McNeill, and maybe Jennifer Lien. All were competent, and as you say, Mulgrew was particularly good in the holonovel. You could just feel the Captain throwing herself into the story and relaxing.

Kevin: Russ did a good job. It's to his credit that he had established Tuvok's Vulcaness in the previous episodes that his un-Vulcaness in the final scenes really came off. When I first watched Voyager, I certainly didn't dislike Tuvok, but he was not a personal favorite of mine, but I have to say that on rewatch, he really does a good job with Tuvok's demeanor and it's easy to see why he was in the running for LaForge a decade earlier.

Matthew: What is impressive about Russ is that, like Brent Spiner, there are thousands of small choices he doesn't make. It would have been easy to pitch things as eeevil, and he didn't. You always see Tuvok maintaining his Vulcan veneer, and he is never off character. Only Spiner and Nimoy did this as well.

Kevin: I also have to say that Beltran's coma-acting was top notch.

Production Values

Kevin: The manor house was gorgeous and very well done. I loved the little touch of Janeway catching the reflection of the painting in the window. It's an artful camera move and full of atmosphere. Beyond that, this was pretty much a bottle show, except for the nebula, which certainly looks very much like a nebula. For a bottle show, though, I think they did a good job with lighting and camera work to accentuate tension.

Matthew: Yeah, I was quite entertained by the house. The costumes were really rich, too. Mulgrew cut quite the fine figure in her corset and petticoats.

Kevin: Apparently, the script called for B'Elanna to paint the medicine wheel on the Sickbay wall, and the producers refused. I would have liked that, actually. The painted animal skin looked a little too manufactured, like it came from the Ethnic Insensitivity section at Urban Outfitters. This is the second and last time that we see Janeway's hair in this particular configuration, and that's for the best. It was apparently a pain to maintain, and I just don't think it flatters her. I liked the bun well enough, but the ponytail is better, and the bob is the best, but we'll just have to wait to get there.

Matthew: I agree the medicine wheel looked cheap. Is it magnetic? Is it supposed to wobble like that? I'd hate for my soul to get waylaid because the clamp holding the thing up was so chintzy.


Kevin: I am going with a 2. The absurd neatness of the conclusion and the flatness of the mystery put this in below average. I was just left a little bored watching this one. The holonovel was great, and I wish we got more of it, but overall this episode just leaves me wanting more.

Matthew: How cool would it have been if Chakotay had possessed Lord Burleigh?  Anyway, I am with you on the 2 unfortunately. Too many tropes weight this down, the solution is rather obvious, and the reintegration of consciousness pisses me off to no end. That's a total of 4.

1 comment:

  1. I found this episode entertaining for the reasons you guys mentioned and because I was genuinely surprised in the end that the other consciousness was Chakotay who shut down the warp core and that Janeway found out by pointing out that one needed command codes to do that.

    I generally like episodes that are about alien possession and/or the crew trying to figure out something mysteries while being mislead a couple of times. They are, actually, some of my most favorite types of episodes. The first time you watch it, you have no idea who and what, but you know that they have somehow been taken over by some strange force and it is interesting to see it unfold. I also liked how the general paranoia that was setting in was explored a bit, like when Neelix complains that someone ordered their tea without lemon and he thinks now she may be possessed and the annoyance with which the Doctor responds to him. That was a lot of fun.

    This episode worked for me on many levels so I did not let that "oh i just reintegrated Chakotay's SOUL back into his skull, right after I fixed a dislocated shoulder and gave Kes her next assignment" bullshit. This is an instance where I am choosing to suspend disbelief because a lot of the other elements in the episode work. That said, a 4 is a pretty low rating. This episode is a 7 or 8 for me.

    I think it was Roger Ebert who once wrote that a good movie is not what it's about, it's how it's about it and the 'how' really works for me in this episode. In fact, it works in most of Star Trek (except for the rebooted abomination by Abrams). - which is why I dont tend to pick on the techno stuff and inconsistencies therein.