Friday, September 6, 2013

Voyager, Season 1: Learning Curve

Voyager, Season 1
"Learning Curve"
Airdate: May 22, 1995
15 of 168 aired
15 of 168 produced

Introduction

After a Tuvok has a tense and almost violent run-in with a Maquis crew member over his inability to follow protocol, Janeway decides that there must be some way to bridge the gap between the expectations she places on her Starfleet crew and the reality of the Maquis crew members' ability. Tuvok attempts to bring a handful of Maquis up to speed, but may find the task more difficult than he anticipated.

 Two sweaty men get down on the floor and reconcile their differences.



Writing

Kevin: This is a great idea and an episode that is far overdue. With the exception of Chakotay and B'Elanna, we don't really see that any of the other Maquis have Starfleet experience, and it really elevates my opinion of Janeway that she recognizes that. I wish they had delved a little more deeply into any more "cultural" differences between the Maquis and Starfleet crew. Even at its worst, this did not seem like an outright rejection of Janeway's authority, just the ship's attention to protocol. Still, it's good that the writers finally tackled the idea of how reasonable it is to expect Starfleet results from non-Starfleet crew. I liked Janeway's line about showing them "why we do things the way we do." It makes it more than mere bureaucracy that drives the ship. I would have liked a brief discussion of relaxing the rules and having Starfleet meet them halfway. I could see Janeway rejecting that idea on the grounds that the familiarity and rhythm of Starfleet rules may be the only thing the Starfleet crew can cling to as a link to home.

Matthew: I think there was a bit of a missed opportunity here with the B'Elanna character, given her development over the season. She dropped out of Starfleet, remember, because she hated the rules and restrictions, and because she was an angry "non joiner." So it might have been interesting to see her struggle with being a member of "management" now, reflecting on how she's changed. That said, kudos for developing the tension between the two crews. It was a major part of the setup, and except for the Seska plot and B'Elanna's appointment to Chief Engineer, it has essentially been ignored.

Kevin: There were some great character moments for a lot of the main cast. I enjoy when a Vulcan is portrayed as being wrong and not have it be because of a breakdown or something. Being "logical" alone doesn't guarantee being right. His experience and opinions led to a bad outcome, but when presented with a cogently argued opposing viewpoint, he changed his mind. That's good character work right there. That brings me to Neelix. It's almost like "Jetrel" could be a bit of a turning point for the character. Here, rather than willfully ignoring Tuvok's reactions, he deftly reads them, and responds with a soft sell of his opposing viewpoint. It's like Lwaxana in "Half a Life." Treat the character and their zaniness with respect, and you yield a much better result. Also in the plus column was the scene with Torres in Engineering. It shows she recognizes here earlier failures as a problem with herself and not necessarily Starfleet, and it's a nice coda to the previous character work the writers have done for her.

Matthew: Well, the reed analogy is cliche almost to the point of parody. But I agree that it led to a fun scene. Tuvok's misinterpretation of it was worthy of a good chuckle.  I would have liked to have heard more about Tuvok's teaching experience. 16 years is a long time to do something which he doesn't seem particularly good at. I realize a flashback scene is probably too much to ask, budget-wise. Maybe a fresh graduate like Harry Kim or even a Tom Paris could have trained along with them, to show them how fit and excellent a Starfleet cadet truly is. This show could have explored more of the curriculum than just physical fitness.

Kevin: If I had to summarize my problems with the episode, it would be that a lot of the parts of the problem and solution were drawn a little bluntly. Would Dalby really have started tinkering with an active power system without giving B'Elanna a head's up on the Maquis ship? That is just silly, Starfleet-ness aside. They should have found a subtler way to show a competent but undisciplined Maquis crew. Also, Tuvok is kind of a jerk right out of the box. A 10 kilometer run, in high gravity with no warning and no training would actually be dangerous. Expecting them to do it two days in a row and post an improvement is the kind of drill sargeant behavior that gets you fragged in barracks latrine. I suppose you could argue that as a para-military organization, Starfleet might expect the crew to be able adapt to an "unfair" situation. If anyone is so inclined, Jeri Taylor's excellent novel "Pathways," detailing the early careers of the crew,  makes that very point much more subtly with Harry Kim's Starfleet career. I think Dalby's motivations and general attitude were also coarsely done. It's not that I expect Star Trek to shy away from unpleasant subject, but after Dalby flatly describes his girlfriend's rape and murder by Cardassians, it just pulled me out of the episode a little, like the writers were trying too hard to make him asocial. Lastly, the MacGuffin of the gel packs....how many times have they failed now? And the biofilters? Also, given that the packs have biological components, it seems odd B'Elanna would have to improvise with the doctor to determine that heating them to kill the infection would be something to try. I actually would have preferred it if they dropped this subplot all together. There has to be a way to resolve the character story without resorting to a flimsy "crisis."

Matthew: I tend to agree on the heavy-handedness of some of the moral lessons of the show.  Particularly in the climax, Tuvok could have simply said, "you guys go, I'll try to rescue Gerron." But instead, I would guess to manufacture drama, he remains taciturn about his plans and instead threatens to break Dalby's arm. How is it logical to not say the five words that will defuse the situation, save time, and get people to follow orders? Another scene I thought was bluntly obvious was the "Maquis way" scene. At the very least, the fact that Chakotay struck a subordinate should have merited further discussion. The B plot about the gel packs was tacked on. It didn't need to be here. It wasn't inherently interesting on its own, and it detracted from the more interesting A plot.

Those interested in further discussion of the writing of this episode should check out our interview with one of the writers, Ron Wilkerson.

Acting

Kevin: I certainly cannot fault the actors. They all did great jobs. Russ anchors another episode with aplomb. It had notes of "Galileo Seven" and Spock's similar failure to subdue people with pure logic. I liked Neelix's scene with Tuvok a lot for the reasons I state above. It's nice to see him be chipper but not soul-suckingly obnoxious. I thought Beltran did a good job with his mess hall scene. I have found that I like it when they have him portray a competent and differently styled leader than Janeway.

Matthew: It is becoming clear in watching this show closely how well they cast it. Tim Russ is thoroughly excellent. Now that I think about it, I can't think of a scene in the entire series in which he seems off, breaks character, or even becomes annoying. It's really impressive. Tim Russ, Kate Mulgrew, Robert Duncan McNeill, Roxann Biggs Dawson, Robert Picardo, and Ethan Phillips were really superb from day one. And that's not even to say Beltran, Wang, and Lien were bad. That's a pretty good hit ratio in terms of casting an ensemble show.

Kevin: The Maquis crew were good all around. Chell was pretty damn funny, especially with stuff like the necklace or defending his evasive maneuvers. Henley and Garron were okay. They were sullen, which is pretty much all they had to be. Armin Schultz's Dalby was well done. I think the script was a little two-dimensionsal, but I think he did a good job of someone barely coping with anger and...well, everything.

Matthew: I wish these characters had been allowed to appear in more episodes. We did see Chell later in "Repression," and he appeared in the Voyager Elite Force PC game. But, like "Lower Decks," they were well drawn in both writing and acting. I thought Kenny Morrison's Gerron and Catherine MacNeal's Henley were a little less successful than the other two, but it could be writing as much as acting.

Production Values

Kevin: This was a bottle show, but that's not a bad thing. The camera work for the running scene was really well done. Beyond that there is not that much to discuss, except for maybe the introduction of the "workout" uniform variant. By the time we get to themed "desert loungewear" in DS9's seventh season, and the Abramsverse fashion extravaganza, it does get to be a bit much. I suppose I also question we bothered to replicate specialized uniform variants when generic workout clothes would do, but that's not a big complaint.

Matthew: I tend to agree, since the idea of the uniforms is that they're future material that wicks away sweat or something, but I don't mind the workout jumpers really. They're short sleeved, and they wear cross trainers. On some level I just appreciate the variety in service of the story. Indeed, the Abrams movie goes way too far. But once per season I don't mind too much.

Kevin: I will say they really nailed the sweet spot of making the cheese look both unappetizing and positively rife with bacteria. We did a get a brief reuse of Janeway's holonovel, and it was fine, I only wish we had gotten more.

Matthew: Sigh. The Lord Burliegh story. It's so much fun to see Janeway have fun, and the set and costumes are resplendent. Yeah, the schplict cheese looked like some sort of sour cream, cottage cheese, blue mold mixture.

Kevin: I suppose this is a production value issue, for want of a better place to put it, but I don't recall UPN actually advertising this as the season finale, and I remember having to infer it from the fact that reruns were scheduled for the next several weeks, starting with Caretaker. I know several episodes, including the second season premier of The 37s were holdovers, and I have always wonder what the calculus was for that. As it stands, even though I have cheered DS9 not slavishly sticking to the cliffhanger ending, this didn't feel like an ending at all.

Conclusion

Kevin: I am going with a 3. The idea is good and there are several truly good character moments throughout the episode, but some of the fine details were done so bluntly that I can't quite call this the top 25% of the series. It's good, but it's not great.

Matthew: I wanted to give this a 4, based on how entertained I was, and I want to reward this show for finally going back to the Starfleet/Maquis tension idea. But I agree with many of your criticisms. The B plot is tacked on and superfluous, and some of the emotional/character gains made in the course of the show are a bit obvious. A 3 isn't bad, in fact it is solidly entertaining. This episode just doesn't accomplish much more than that. So our rating combined is a 6.

1 comment:

  1. Whut? How is this a 6? That's pretty low. :) This is an awesome episode and so entertaining. I always like watching see Tuvok learning from these people as much as they learn from him, and the drills, Chel that silly man (I cant believe he was a Maquis), Dalby's rebellion and bad attitude but also his tragic past with the girlfriend who was raped and murdered by the Cardassians (did i mention how much i fucking hate the Cardassians?) how Chakotay set him straight "the Maquis way", how Tuvok tried to be friends with him, and just overall how this episode dealt with the issue of the Maquis and training them. That part where Tuvok tells the woman that her jewelry is quite "festive" but agasint protocol....that was such a LOL moment and so Tuvok. How do you not love this and give it such a mediocre grade?

    I also like how the Maquis are shown as real people with a cause and reasons for being there instead of as the nameless, faceless horrible traitors and terrorists they are made out ot be in DS9. I mean yeah we see it with Tom Paris, my favorite VOY character, but it is good to also see it with other crew members. It makes them later integrating into the crew as one more believable and I wish they had more such episodes and wasted less time with the stupid Kazon.

    By the way, did any of you find the little boy at the beginning, or to be more precise the actor who played him, a bit creepy? I mean shit..."excuse me Mr.s Davenport but my sister is confused" - I couldnt believe this was a 6 or 7 year old. Everytime I watch this, I feel a bit uncomfortable seeing a child act so much like an adult, it is creepy.

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