Voyager, Season 2
Airdate: November 27, 1995
27 of 168 produced
27 of 168 aired
When a trade negotiation goes sour, Captain Janeway finds herself being hidden and cared for by a man with a mysterious past and a tenuous grip on the present.
B'Elanna's boots: the best thing in this episode?
Kevin: I want to like this episode more than I do. My memory of first watching it is of being ultimately bored, and rewatching haven't really swayed me off that ultimate assessment, but watching it again for the blog, I'm hard pressed to articulate my problem. The components are there, particularly in the acting, which I'll get to later. Individual scenes all work fine. Watching Janeway use all her skills to get out of the situation is interesting, and the grudging way she comes to care for Caylem and scene where she offers him the forgiveness he's denied himself is touching. Tuvok being tortured should be good for some drama. Still, put together, the episode never really gels. I think there are a few things responsible for this. First, we start the episode with the increasingly strained Voyager trope of needing an element that can't (presumably) be replicated and only this place has. On the one hand, I am happy they dispensed with it ten seconds after the teaser, but it also serves to undercut the drama of why they needed it in the first place. Second, I don't know or care enough about the Mokra to really feel any urgency about being wrapped up in their politics. Neelix's warning verge on racial profiling without really providing a context. The Cardassians, for example, get a fascinating backstory with Madred's speech about an impoverished society turning into a military junta to survive. There's no such detail here, and it renders the Mokras' actions casually evil, and therefore less interesting. On top of this, the episode almost feels like it's sleepwalking a bit. Everything is a lot of standing around and talking. The fights, and not even the torture scenes have any life to them. I'm certainly not saying that everything has to be whiz bang all the time, but a better developed backstory could have given the quiet moments some more sizzle. As it stands, the Mokra read as almost a placeholder in the script.
Matthew: I very much agree on the general air of boredom that permeates this episode. I think there is a lot of blame to be laid on production values, but your criticisms of the writing are well founded. Alien of the week shows have a tricky line to thread - offering just enough detail to make them interesting, but not so much as to bore us or detract from the characters we care most about. This episode definitely lacked sufficient detail to render the Mokra interesting. I wanted to know about their totalitarian state, a few lines about who they used to be before such a state arose (since there is a resistance we can infer that this regime is not permanent or inherent to the species), more about their xenophobia. I got the impression that perhaps those ideas were in a different draft - being "attacked by outsiders" has often been used to justify such regimes. It just wasn't here. And then - why were there so many aliens on a world with a xenophobic regime?
Kevin: Taken on their own, a half dozen scenes are actually really good. Torres and Tuvok together is fun, given their divergent approaches to captivity and the threat of harm. B'Elanna is clearly barely controlling herself, and watching them talk without devolving into cheap patter insults about Vulcans and Klingons is fun. There aren't a lot of plot reasons to have the two alone together, but they play a scene well. I also liked a lot of Janeway and Caylem's interactions on their own. The reveal of his culpability in the loss of his family and Janeway "forgiving" him is quite nicely done. Apparently, new writer Lisa Klink was handed this one from a pitch by long time Trek authors Michael Jan Friedman and Kevin J. Ryan that was essentially Don Quixote. Jeri Taylor gave it to the new kid to see if she would sink or swim. I like the idea, but it isn't quite as fleshed out as I would like. Maybe the torture scenes took time away that could have developed it more. That being said, there are things I like about it, a lot. The scene revealing that not only were his wife and daughter dead (a fairly predictable outcome) but that the Mokra were intentionally letting him escape and try again as a form of mockery was pretty well done. For her first outing, I think Klink got all the individual parts right, they just don't quite fit into the larger story, and in that gap is where a lot of my interest gets lost.
Matthew: BE'lanna/Tuvok was definitely one of the highlights of the story. Soooo, yeah. It's always a minefield to portray someone with a mental illness or handicap. To this story's credit, the Caylem character is given some moments of wiliness and guile to balance his simpering tomfoolery. So it didn't come off as insulting or too painful to watch. On the other hand, I was pretty much as annoyed as Janeway was, and only the acting abilities of the principals ever brought me out of that emotional space. The story took too long to get to the emotional punchline of the tale. I think we should have gotten some revelation earlier, even if it was to be eventually contradicted by the Mokra's version of events.
Kevin: The scenes on the ship were okay, but nothing to write home about. It's become a fairly easy thing to drop in a few broken up scenes of the crew on the Bridge attempting to beam up an away team in a crisis. I did like seeing Kim as the person in charge without B'Elanna there, and he actually got a fair amount to do in terms of solving the crises, so that's good. I am going to wrap up with a plot quibble that really nagged me. Why did the the guards simply withdraw after their commander got stabbed? The prisoners were still ostensibly outnumbered and outgunned. It's just weird.
Matthew: I agree. The episode just sort of ended. I can't imagine a truly totalitarian regime being successful at all if its soldiers allow people to escape if and when one particular person or operation meets an unexpected end. As far as the scenes on the ship go, by far the best part was the "negotiation" between Chakotay and the Mokra. The diplomatic non-speak was well done.
Kevin: Mulgrew was her usual best. It's a nice change of pace seeing her in the thick of action. I think the only other episode that really did that was Time and Again so far. Her growing empathy for Caylem was well done, and like I said, her final scene with him was genuinely touching. There was some discussion in the writers' room if having Janeway pretend to be a prostitute was demeaning, and when asked Jeri Taylor said no, and I'm glad she did. Mulgrew played it with a frankness that was both somewhat shocking, as intended, but not prurient either. I read it as Janeway would not feel demeaned by doing what had to be done, so I shouldn't feel that on her behalf. I'm bringing it up to single out again Mulgrew's (and I assume Jeri Taylor's) ability to engage the character in a fairly traditional trope of female characters and not have it feel at all like a diminution, much like how I felt about her holodeck pastime.
Matthew: What I found interesting was the disdain she had for the Caylem character early on. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of dialogue in all of those slow scenes. But Mulgrew is interesting enough to watch act without a lot of words. Tim Russ and Roxann Dawson were great together. It's too bad they weren't paired more frequently.
Kevin: Joel Grey is an interesting choice. He, of course, played the Emcee in the original Cabaret, so there's a little fanboy-ing going on here. I think he oversold the crazy in the scene where he is trying to distract the guard. Otherwise, he had kind of a manic energy under his frailty which I think fits the Quixote concept. He shouldn't have been strapping and commanding and that guy probably wouldn't have chickened out. He shouldn't look up for the task, since he ultimately wasn't. I also like the quiet, almost whispering to himself, way he tried to remember the contents of the letters and scenes like that. Star Trek can portray crazy with overly broad strokes, and with the one exception noted, I think he did a good job.
Matthew: The capering scene really put me off, but I agree that in his quiet moments there is plenty of depth and layering to the performance. He definitely had an unhinged quality that was unsettling. ill bit part, and they didn't. At the very least, this wasn't stunt casting. Grey gave it a very professional go, and he had very good chemistry with Mulgrew. As far as casting goes, they could have just gotten Clint Howard to play his garden variety mentally
Kevin: Alan Scarfe, otherwise known as Admiral Mendak from Data's Day is a bit wasted here. I loved his scene explaining the real fate of Caylem's family, but otherwise it was just a little flat for me. The script didn't give him a lot to do otherwise, but he's got such a cool voice, that they really should have found more to do with him.
Matthew: I agree that he was somewhat let down by the script. I think he had the chops to be a really delicious villain, but in the end came off more as a minor functionary.
Kevin: In the plus column, a lot of the Okudagrams on the bridge were great, and actually depicting the plot points being discussed. The planet itself was a little lackluster for me. The dingy gray everything reads flat on the television screen, and everything seemed too cramped. There wasn't enough space to make me feel like we were on an alien world.
Matthew: The marketplace looked pretty nice, but I agree that the rest of the planet sets were rather lackluster. Costumes were a big plus in this show. B'Elanna's boots were really cool, all of the civilian gear looked nice, and the Mokra uniforms were a neat cross between Nazi Germany and Tron.
Kevin: The shot on the viewscreen of Voyager emerging from the moon was good technically, though the relative sizes of the bodies seemed off. Also, the fact that we never had an external shot of the ship while being fired at was weird. It gave the battle a very static feel.
Matthew: I think the direction of this show needs to be singled out for criticism. So many shots were so langorous, with so little going on audio-wise, that combined with the aforementioned drab sets, the whole episode was just a big snoozer. I get that quiet scenes can be dramatic. By no means to I want running and shouting to substitute themselves for actual ideas. But with a script so light on crucial scene-setting detail, executing it in this manner is just the final nail in the coffin. I was bored, and I place most of the blame on the way this was shot, the way it was lit, and the way it sounded.
Kevin: Lastly, we see a variation we'll get every so often with Janeway's hair, with the sides swept up with the ponytail in back. I really like this look, though not as much as the eventual bob they settle on, but for what has to be a lot of work to achieve, it looks elegant and much less fussy than the bun.
Matthew: I think this 'do was the most fetching we've seen on Janeway.
Kevin: I am between a 2 and 3. On the one hand, it is paced slowly and the villain doesn't really have a credible motivation. On the other, Mulgrew certainly acted the hell out of it, and I overall like Joel Grey's interpretation of the part. I am going with a "low" 3. The parts are there, and the problems are not ones of laziness or incompetence. It is missing a vital element in a more credibly fleshed out villain, which would have raised the stakes over the entire episode, but Mulgrew's acting, almost alone for me, is enough to nudge this out of the 2.
Matthew: I'm stuck on a 2 for the sheer boredom factor. I just can't get through this whole episode without a break, or a laptop, or a videogame, or something. And this has been my feeling on it since its premiere. Some nice acting was the pleasant surprise in an otherwise bland pile of mush. That makes our total a 5.