Friday, August 16, 2013

Voyager, Season 1: Prime Factors

Voyager, Season 1
"Prime Factors"
Airdate: March 20, 1995
9 of 168 produced
9 of 168 aired


Voyager is contacted by the Sikarans, a famously hospitable race who desires nothing more than to give Voyager's crew a much needed respite. Things become more complicated, though, when the crew discovers a spatial folding technology that could send them halfway home in the blink of an eye.

You know you've been out at sea for too long when this guy starts looking attractive.


Matthew: The story of rating this episode, in my opinion, is trying not to let one miscast character override the episode's actual merits and flaws. We'll get to that character in the Acting section below. For the most part, I think this is a pretty solid episode. Although it starts with a basic "amazing shore leave planet offers ultimate pleasure... what's the catch" setup, it evolves into a pretty interesting story of two factions in the crew opposing each other with respect to the best course of action. I thought the tension ramped up pretty well, I liked the scenes on Alastria with Harry and Eudana, and the conclusion, in which Janeway dresses down Tuvok and Torres, was effective.

Kevin: I agree that the idea is a good one. Of the shore leave planet twists, this is a pretty good one. I think the story did develop well, even if you did know some big reveal was coming. I will say that the teaser was not the most scintillating in the show's run. I found the "joke" of the inverted use of a distress call to be pretty lame. Given that no other species in the quadrant or anywhere has used it that way, it would seem obviously confusing, and since they knew who Voyager was, why not just hail them by name?

Matthew: The prime directive in reverse angle was pretty good, with the caveat that it should have been more strongly developed. The Sikarans seem effusive to a fault in sharing anything and everything, except for the one MacGuffin that drives the plot. The idea should have been expanded, maybe with one more item they refused to share, or a deeper explanation of the rule's history. As it is, it seems a little arbitrary. Overall, though, it's still an interesting hook for the tale. I didn't think the way it played out felt cheap, either, a la Gilligan's Island. Had there not been the character story, it may have. But since the misadventure prompted some good character conflict and development, it was forgivable to me. I felt that the pleasure-seeking orientation of the Sikarans was a bit muddy, too. Apparently, the Sikarans were under consideration as a recurring villain. The problem, I think, is that they only seem like insensitive dicks, not like villains.

Kevin: I think what I liked the most about the prime directive angle was that it puts the Federation on the losing side, and I like that Janeway describes it the way she does, as "on the other side of the fence." Also, despite it being an interstellar transporter, this doesn't break the universe. It affects the Sikarans in a meaningful way. Since they have the ability to travel great distances at ease, they (1) do it regularly, and (2) they apparently don't have a fleet of starships with a mandate to explore the universe. You gotta question if they have almost Iconian-like travel abilities, they don't go out and conquer, but the people are sybaritic enough to make it plausible that they don't. I would have liked the tone of the Sikarans to be a little brighter, like overeager children with new toys. It would make their attention spans make sense. Maybe they could have even been a stagnant society, like the Aldeans, benefiting from an ancient technology without understanding how it works. That could have solved the selective sharing problem as well, if they had a religious-like reverence for the technology that barred exploring how it worked.

 Matthew: Torres' character arc makes a good amount of sense. She is responding to the pressures of two worlds, ends up falling into the temptation to act without orders, but then regrets it after seeing the trust she betrayed. But does Tuvok's motivation make sense? Saying that someone had to spare Janeway the ethical dilemma is all well and good for nearly any other character - but wouldn't Tuvok feel hamstrung by the same dilemma? Either way, Janeway's sense of betrayal was really nice story-wise. I think perhaps she should have demoted both characters for a season or so, but I guess they felt it was too soon to change things on the viewers. 

Kevin: I really liked the whole wrap-up in her ready room. As for Torres, it's only nine episodes in, and we have meaningful growth. I think it helps that Carey was in on it too. It really is more interesting if Starfleet crew disagree with the way Janeway is captaining. As for Tuvok, I did really, really love it when Janeway describes their friendship. It felt like a conscious call back to Kirk and Spock, though even the movie versions of the characters would never be this open about their bond. I like when Janeway says that Tuvok is who she goes to with moral questions and the she "depends on it." It another in a nice string of scenes showing that Janeway is a more emotionally attuned Captain that her Trek predecessors, but not in a way that diminishes her abilities or authority. I do agree that Tuvok deciding to violate the Prime Directive seems a little neat, but maybe they could have cleared that up in with more dialogue. "Logic" as way of living doesn't tell you what is right and wrong, it only tells you with no evasion if your actions comply with your morals. Maybe Tuvok could explicitly state he considered the safety of the crew more valuable than the Prime Directive in this case since the theft would not destroy Sikaran society where allowing the Kazon access to the Caretaker array would. It's a fine line, but not one without an internally consistent morality.


Matthew: Ronald Guttman is not a terrible actor as far as I can tell. I thought he did his job, delivered his lines, and generally wasn't bad. He was just so mismatched with the rest of the planetary guest cast due to his look and accent that it was extremely jarring, and almost derailed the episode. Yvonne Suhor was good as Eudana, seeming very much to possess the hedonism that her race was supposed to embody. Her innocence was the fault of the writing, and may have contributed to the Sikarans not becoming a villain. But she played the role well. Andrew Hill Newman was good as Jaret Otel, the minor functionary with nefarious ambitions. He had just the sort of squirrely demeanor the part called for.

Kevin: I remember thinking the whole time, "Why is he French?" He came off as too slick. Where Eudana was just enthusiastic, he seemed to be obviously a jerk from the start, and we were just waiting for Janeway to catch up. And Mulgrew acted the hell out of it, but I just didn't buy the chemistry they were trying to imply. It would have worked with a more grounded individual. From what we've seen of her taste in men, she went for a pretty down-to-earth, easy going guy with Mark, so it seems odd she found this guy compelling enough to forget the time.

Matthew: I think Tim Russ was rightfully ambivalent about his part in the episode, but you couldn't tell from the performance. The ensemble as a whole did a fine job here, especially Martha Hackett, Roxann Biggs-Dawson, and Garrett Wang. But Kate Mulgrew again gets the gold star for acting this episode. Her hurt and anger at the end of the show was palpable and really well done.

Kevin: I did like Tim Russ in this episode a lot. He certainly sold his characters position. I loved loved loved Dawson in all her scenes. Her self-appraisal and confession to Janeway were just gangbusters. I always love Martha Hackett. I found Garrett Wang pretty flat again. I bought his attraction to Eudana, but his technobabble about the musical instrument and the "euphoria acting" were not there for me.

Production Values

Matthew: I liked the overall look of the planet, but it was missing a matte shot to tie it all together, which lent a sense of smallness to the proceedings. The headdress things were interesting looking, and I'm happy they were on both sexes.

Kevin: Like the Beneans in Ex Post Facto, the costumers seem to favor complicated headdresses to give cohesion to new species, and I have to say that so far, it works. I agree, we got a pretty small sense of the planet, it looked like on large mall. I like Janeway's civilian clothing and hair a lot. It read a bit close to the mid-90s professional woman that Mulgrew actually was at the time, but it's a flattering look for her, so I don't mind.

Matthew: There are two conspicuous prop re-uses in this show. Harry is wearing Picard's pleated shirt from several episodes of TNG, and the trajector was the electromagnet from TNG "The Dauphin." The Okudarams at the end were reasonably well done, and conveyed the important aspects of the action. I was a bit disappointed that they had two ready-made holes to stick the trajector device into, as if it were a galactic standard or something. More jury-rigging would have been appreciated.

Kevin: Maybe the Preservers spread USB cables along with humanoid DNA. I caught the shirt, but did not catch the magnet from Dauphin, so you get the points this round. This really is my favorite game here. I like the Okudagrams as well.


Matthew: Overall, this is pretty average. Some interesting character moments are explored, and there is a reasonably good ironic hook to the story. But it doesn't leap to mind as a "best" or the series or the franchise. I think it's right in the middle of the curve, maybe slightly to the bad side, for a 3.

Kevin: Dawson, Russ, and Mulgrew's last scene along keep a 2 flatly off the table, and we will not let one anomalous Frenchman derail an otherwise interesting idea. I think this is in the fat part of the bell curve, so I agree with the 3 for a total of 6.


  1. I caught echoes of Ulysses and Calypso's story in the Sikarans attempt to keep the crew on the planet. I liked that.
    And Mulgrew was very good at the end of the episode, I agree with you!

  2. I really have a problem with the Prime Directive and it never really sat right with me given the nature of this show.

    The Prime Directive basically asserts that "nature has a plan" - nature or the powers that be - and that because this is the case, one should not interfere with this magical set of predicaments that some highwr power has decided is supposed to happen in a very specific way. As in, we cannot interfere in the natural development of this species or that species because some grand plan that is elusive to all of us but which we somehow still really think is real, is disturbed.

    "They gotta get there on their own."

    "They gotta develop the technology on their own"

    "They gotta find the cure themselves.

    "We cannot give them (even potentially species saving) technology"

    "We cannot contact them unless they are warp capable". etc etc.

    But - why? It would be like us saying today that we will not give people in, say, Somalia a hand with respect to newer technologies, including the combustion engine and how it works, cause they gotta get there on their own.

    But again, why? What would be wrong with contacting a species that doesnt have warp technology? What would be wrong with sharing that technology with them? Why would it be the end of the world as we know it? Why is there value in "doing it on yoor own"?

    Wohever said that there is a plan? By whom? Some higher power? Why are we making that assumption (upon which we base the Prime Directive) to begin with?

    Now, I understand why the prime directive may make sense from a purely geo-political standpoint: You dont want to interfere with the internal messes of others; you dont wanna be dragged into someone else's internal conflict and turmoil. That is a wise strategy and I get why the Prime Directive is needed to address and codify such a situation.

    But for something like offering a technology to another species - such as propulsion, or a cure for a disease or interfering such that it would improve their standard of living etc - what is the value in denying that? Because of some grand plan that you are worried you may interfere with?

    I find that to be a weak argument for something that is to be the number one directive of any starfleet officer (aside from the truth).

    In the Enterprise episode Dear Doctor, Archer refuses to share a cure that could save an entire civilization from extinction because he thinks he should not interfere with nature and evolution and "play god." Like those were sacred things one ought not to mess with so as to not disturb the grander cosmic plan.

    The idea that there is some grand scheme and higher powers at work here with which we shouldnt interfere does not seem compatible with the vision of Star Trek.

    And the most idiotic proposition is that you dont share propulsion technology with them out of the fear that..what? What are we exactly worried will happen if we shared warp drive with a species that hasnt discovered it yet? Again, why is there value is doing it on your own?

    Our problem today with respect to space flight is propulsion. Imagine some third party out there had that technology but withheld it because of some weird, misplaced notion that it is better we get there on our own.

    Or imagine someone had the cure for cancer but withheld it so as to not disturb some grander plan.

    This is a great episode, which i like, but the more i think of value of the prime directive, the less I can see its value. It is an idiotic self imposed rule as pertaining to sharing technology or even life saving intervention. And it is applied selectively. What if Picard in Deja Q had decided not to thwart off that meteor or asteroid that was about to hit that planet citing some higher, elusive cosmic powers that maybe would WANT that asteroid crashing into the planet?

    1. I agree in general with the problems you raise. I think the best reply to them is in "Pen Pals," that the prime directive exists "to protect us, to prevent us from allowing our emotions to overwhelm our judgement."

      Now, that doesn't seem entirely ethical of course, since as you say, the prevention of mass suffering may well be justifiable even if some sacrifice or entanglement is entailed for the "superior" civilization. Bit it at least isn't the sort of cosmic teleology BS that bothers both you and me.

      I really enjoyed "Dear Doctor," and think it may be Enterprise's best single episode. Not because I think it somehow solved these PD issues (it can't, since it doesn't exist even by the end of the show), but because it gave a nuanced airing to these kinds of questions. I think Archer ended up making the wrong choice, personally. I think the Valakians, despite not having warp technology or the means to cure themselves, have demonstrated enough cultural maturity to strike out into space in an attempt to fine help. So:

      1. if there is a cosmic plan (which you and I both dispute), it seems like they have graduated to the portion of it that allows for other races to help out.

      2.There is no danger of cultural contamination, since they've already made contact with other races, and of course contamination would be of minimal concern compered to outright destruction. So "diversity protection" criteria seem ruled out, too.

      3. The problem of the Menk might be the most compelling reason not to act, but the Menk weren't suffering annihilation or even slavery, but under-development. That's a pretty nebulous concern when weighed against the actual destruction of a currently existing species. So it seems hard to justify letting them die "for the Menk."

      4. The remaining problem that non-interference would solve would be protecting the starfleet crew/humans. In the episode, it did not seem as though providing a cure would involve some drastic entanglement, or even a whole lot of effor or resources, nor did it seem as though the Valakians were aggressive or threatening, whether sick or not.

      Anyway, the Prime Directive idea was a direct response to colonialism, especially as typified by the Vietnam war during the broadcast of TOS, but also cultural chauvinism in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia generally, whether by England, the US, or others. I think the calculus is that, even if the Western culture thinks they are "helping," the unintended consequences of that help tend to result in more suffering overall, whether for the helper or the helped. And so an overarching rule of non-interference was deemed necessary.

      The current ISIS issue is a good specimen. These guys are rank assholes, as far as we can tell - killing "infidels," selling women into slavery, destroying the infrastructure of human development, instituting systems of rule that the people of their conquered territory disapprove of.

      But would US interference actually result in a greater good? It's worked so well in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, right? Indeed, many would place the blame for the creation of ISIS on faulty US policy in Iraq. I think Obama, whether he says it or not, is doing some prime directive thinking of his own. If nothing we can do will actually effect the change we're seeking, then not acting might be serving the greater good, however unpalatable it might seem. We'll save money and lives, and if it's bad enough, the people there ought to be able to handle it.

      The ethical problem is in saying that it applies to all situations, not just situations in which utility clearly favors inaction.

    2. Thanks Matt for explaining the real-life rationale and background info to why the Prime Directive was introduced in the first place. I guess from a colonialism and imperialism and eurocentrism perspective even, it does make sense. Manifest destiny is a strong reason for why the prime directive is important.

      But ultimately I think it is important to distinguish what the interference looks like. As you said, making a blanket statement of "we will never interfere" does not seem like a wise approach to me.

      Is it the "white man" - so to speak - just trying to tell the Natives how to run their lives (with the added benefit of helping themselves geopolitically, free/cheap labor, raw materials ) or is interference happening in the form of dispensing a cure or helping them build a dam or power plant?

      Sadly, most of our interferences into world affairs since WWII have taken the form of the former, not latter.

      The clusterfuck we created in the middle east (iraq war et al), for example, is a result of the former, not latter. We didnt interfere there to help them for the sake of wanting to help or for humanitarian reasons or for WMDs or to bring them peace blah blah blah. We went in there under mostly fraudulent pretenses, pushed by a cabal of war profiteers who don't give a rat's ass about America; who negligently botched the war and traitorously profited from it, at the expense of countless lives and our economy. The Iraq war and its aftermath have effectively created the breeding ground for groups like ISIS that at this point any concerns Obama may have about "prime directing" are too late. The damage has been done.

      In contrast, look at what is happening with Boko Haram, for example. Now that is a place in dire need of real humanitarian intervention. But black lives do not matter apparently, so we stay out and don't do anything.

      So, again, while the idea behind the Prime Directive makes sense from the standpoint of not wanting to get involved in other peoples internal conflicts or for political gain (cold war), it makes little sense with respect to saving lives and sharing technology and Star Trek missed it and lumped it all together into one.

      Phlox is a physician who, from what I gather, does believe in some Denobulan version of the Hippocratic oath. Yet in Dear Doctor, he felt that it was perfectly ok and ethical to let hundreds of millions of people die because of some alleged grand master plan. When he told Archer "what if aliens had interfered on Earth and the Neanderthal was now in charge instead of you" my response was "then so it would have been. Then the neanderthal would be in charge. so what? Who says we are the ones who have to be?" That's life. That's change. It is called RANDOM mutation for a reason. There is no destiny.

      Just as there was no rule, at least not to Archer's or Phlox's knowledge, that said the Menk must make it. And it really bothered me that a show like Star Trek would fall for this divine providence shit.

      And you are right, Archer's decision to withhold treatment for millions of people was wrong. And not just wrong, but deeply unethical and out of character. This is the man who just a few episodes ago felt that abandoning the ship with all those corpses was the wrong thing to do and returned, and here he is condemning an entire species to death because he doesnt want ot interfere with some master plan?

      I really dont know what the writers were thinking. This is Berman and Braga who have been with us since TNG, not some hired-by-the-marketing-department screenwriters like Kurtzman and Orci. Why would they make such a grave mistake?