Friday, August 9, 2013

Voyager, Season 1: Ex Post Facto

Voyager, Season 1
"Ex Post Facto"
Airdate: February 27, 1995
7 of 168 produced
7 of 168 aired


While on a mission to secure help in fixing one of Voyager's systems, Tom Paris becomes entangled with a mysterious woman, and is accused of murdering her husband. The punishment he receives threatens to destroy his life.

It was raining in the city by the bay. A hard rain. Hard enough to wash the slime out of the streets and back into the holes they crawled out of...


Matthew: So, I want to say at the outset that this episode has really strong science fiction bonafides,  and as such this evaluation will be an exercise in not letting how much the concept tickled me obscure any problems with the episode.  There are two big ideas here - using the memories of a deceased person as evidence, and using them as punishment. Both are really interesting. I think this episode pretty effectively develops them, too. I do think adding the element of the grafting being unstable with Paris was unnecessary. The punishment is horrifying enough as it is without defects.

Kevin: I agree on the strength of the concept. Something I always like to see in my science fiction is not just the nifty technological ability, but to see it play out in a society. I remember being really grabbed by the trailer. I agree that the medical issues with the punishment felt like they were trying to set up another dilemma, like in Phage, where the choice was execute Paris or let him go free, but it's an unnecessary addition. In practice, unless Benean psychology is that different, I think this punishment would eventually drive people insane and likely to suicide. PTSD is so destructive because the brain experiences the traumatic event as if it were happening, not as a memory, and the body reacts accordingly. After a few dozen of those events, I think anyone would be on the brink. I think that would have been a more interesting path to take, though maybe too dark for the show.

Matthew: As far as storytelling goes, this is obviously a sort of "detective mystery." Maybe not quite film noir, but something in that ballpark. This had a really effective teaser, ending on Paris jabbing a knife into the camera. I like the flashback structure of Kim retelling the tale, although I wish he had been less groggy. We had a femme fatale, smoking (!) at night, a rain soaked tryst, Tuvok as the hard boiled investigator, and Tom getting slipped a mickey. Overall it was all pretty entertaining. As far as episodes we've already reviewed, it is reminiscent of TOS "Wolf in the Fold" in that we have a main cast member who looks pretty bad on a murder accusation. TNG's "A Matter of Perspective" also seems related, with its alien legal system and differing versions of events. But this one doesn't seem needlessly derivative. It's fresh enough in my book.

Kevin: This reminded me of "Necessary Evil," because of the noir elements, but that's not a complaint. I loved that episode, and the genre lends itself to a lot of entertaining homages. Lidell and "the Vaatrick woman" are certainly cut from the same cloth. Like Necessary Evil, I think this episode works well in its noir-ish setting. All the elements of the murder/espionage plot work better in the noir setting that without it. The atmosphere helps propel everything quite nicely.

Matthew: This is the first episode of the Tom and Harry Misadventures (see also: The Chute), but it really raises questions: why would they only send a shuttle and two junior officers into a hostile situation? If they needed navigational help, it seems like the ship should have gone. Also, Janeway only asks Neelix about the Banea/Numiri conflict at minute 12? They have a good conversation about it in which Neelix demonstrates actual expertise, but why wouldn't it occur before? I think this story and the Neelix character could have benefited from Neelix warning Janeway against the situation, but Janeway ignoring him. One character or the other comes off poorly due to the omission, and I'm not sure which. That said, the conflict provided a reasonably plausible alternative motive and perpetrator for the crime. And it afforded us a pretty cool setup for Janeway and the crew tricking the Numiri into showing their hand.

Kevin: The Benean/Numiri conflict felt like an unnecessary add on. I watched the episode last week and I still had to go to Memory Alpha to remind myself what the conflict was about and how it fit into the murder plot. The treacherous wife and her doctor lover is enough to keep the plot going. The Numiri stuff came very close to giving the show too many moving parts. I do agree that Janeway tricking them was fun to watch, though.

Matthew: Oddly enough, this ends up being a bit more of a Tuvok episode than I thought it would be. I like the way things are going on this show, in that episodes don't have to have a sole character focus, instead relationships between characters seem to grab the limelight. Tom's recklessness gets him into hot water, and Tuvok shows us that he is, at least in his mind, dogged but unsentimental. Now, that could be a role Odo plays, too, but Tom turned it around on Tuvok at the end, pointing out that despite Tuvok's reticence, social relations are unavoidable. We also get a brief continuation of the Doctor's name thread, showing good rapport between the Doctor and Kes. They also work in a Doctor Spock joke, which is pretty knowing, because pop culture often seems to conflate "Mister Spock" with "Doctor" Benjamin Spock.

Kevin: Once Tuvok takes over, the episode goes from noir to Agatha Christie, which is not a bad thing, since I love Agatha Christie to bits. Again, the tropes of the genre get used, like assembling everyone to reveal the murderer and using the pet to do so, but they are well-handled, so it feels entertaining and not cheap. Tuvok felt closer to Hercule Poirot here than Odo's hard-boiled gumshoe in Necessary Evil, but I think that helps keep the episode from feeling derivative. I enjoyed the Kes/Doctor scenes as well. The Kes character overall doesn't get a lot to do in her three seasons, but I will say her rapport with the doctor is always charming.


Matthew: The main cast members that get the biggest roles are Robert Duncan McNeill and Tim Russ. Both do a very able job of anchoring the episode. McNeill shows us again a good level of ability insofar as portraying both a propensity for being a bad boy as well as a desire to be the good guy. Russ shows how he was perfectly cast for the Vulcan role. In this episode, he becomes as "good" a Vulcan as Spock, if you ask me. Sure, he doesn't portray the conflict the way Nimoy does, but that's not a part of the character. What Russ excels at is portraying the cool Vulcan exterior, while hinting at a thought process beneath. Vulcans have emotions, after all. Nimoy's Spock shows them simmering just near the surface. Russ's Tuvok shows them well contained, only evident in small subtleties.

Kevin: I liked McNeill's portrayal of "I know I fucked up before but you have to take my word that I didn't fuck up this time." I also liked the flirting with Lidell. Sure, he was flirting with another man's wife, but he himself did not come off as lecherous or creepy, so that makes me happy. I agree on Tuvok. I really liked the final scene with Tom in the mess hall.

Matthew: The guest stars in this show are pretty solid. I thought Robin McKee was quite effective as Lidell. I believed her as a femme fatale, as a woman with an agenda, and I liked her slyly combative dialogue with Tuvok. Ray Reinhart portrayed Admiral Aaron in "Conspiracy," and he turns in quite a different performance, here, seeming very much the genial but clueless old man with a hot wife.

Kevin: On rewatch, I really loved the scenes between Tuvok and Lidell. Maybe the familiarity of the detective re-interviewed the "bereaved" widow is so familiar that is gave the actors something to anchor themselves on, but the scene really crackled. It's a fun scene is the countless detective novels that precede it, and it's fun here. Also, I think Lidell came off as more than two-dimensional. The dinner scene gave the impression she was bored but you could believe she did at one point love him.

Matthew:  I liked the way Mulgrew delivered her "Janeway badass" lines at the end. On the other hand, Ethan Phillips really came off as annoying with Neelix's laugh, and the way he read the joke "a mind what?"

Kevin: Yeah, there was a reason I always thought of Neelix as being annoying.

Production Values

Matthew: I'm pretty sure this episode employs a split tri-opter shot, in which Tuvok, Janeway, and Chakotay are all held in focus during a bridge shot. Anyway, I liked the general tone of the episode, and the black and white shots of the memory. The visual effects were also integrated well, with a pretty good looking space battle. Now, the Angel One matte showed up yet again, and the Numiri ship was another triangle ship model re-use. But overall the visuals were crisp and entertaining.

Kevin: I liked the memory scenes a lot. The black and white obviously serves the noir elements. I wonder if the graphic across the bottom was a conscious reference to the similar effect on Geordi's VISOR in Mind's Eye. I remember thinking of that when I first watched it and it was a tip off that not all was as it seems.

Matthew: The Baneans looked interesting with a feather headdress thing going on, which augmented a pretty basic Westmorehead. Their fashion was pretty OK, again appearing like real clothes and not costumes. The set dressings were also effective, making the Ren household look like a real place.

Kevin: I remember when I first watched it not being able to decide if the headpieces were fashion or biology, but in the end, it doesn't matter. Especially on Lidell, they look quite dramatic. It really elevated them above "alien of the week" in terms of design. The Numiri makeup was a bit dense, but certainly not underdone.


Matthew: I'm choosing between a 3 and a 4 on this one. I guess I can see why some people dislike this episode, but for my part I was entertained throughout and I liked the tone. The sci-fi concept pushes it over the top for me. I think it's above average, which makes it a 4.

Kevin: I agree with the four. for a total of 8. It's a nifty idea that sets the stage for a crisp, energetic mystery episode. Somehow, anytime they borrow a trope from the detective genre, it reads as appropriate and not as schtick. This is definitely in above average territory.

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