Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Voyager, Season 2: Death Wish

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Voyager, Season 2
"Death Wish"
Airdate: February 19, 1996
29 of 168 produced
33 of 168 aired

Introduction

Voyager happens upon a rogue comet, and to their surprise, finds someone trapped inside it. It turns out to be a renegade member of the Q Continuum. He says he was imprisoned because he wished to end the immortal life he now finds impossible to continue. As if grappling with the ethics of that request weren't enough, Captain Janeway must also hand a much more familiar denizen of the Continuum: Q.
He was willing to give up a feature column in the biggest newspaper in the universe.






Writing

Kevin: Like any piece of guest casting from an earlier series, the first big question is does the episode justify its own existence. I certainly don't mind stunt casting per se, and trying to draw in viewers in a tv show's job. As long as they do something interesting beyond that, I am fine. This is certainly a FAR more successful outing than DS9's "Q-Less," since it actually enhances rather than demolishes the Q character. The call backs to Q's impish existence and his "reform" are great. When Quinn (as I will be referring to him for the entirety of the review for clarity) says he misses the "irrepressible" Q, I get chills. There's an arc for both guest stars' characters, and that definitely elevates things.

Matthew: I think that's exactly why this episode succeeds - it tells a story that is not only interesting for the new guest star (Quinn), but also for the established guest star (Q) and even (though to a somewhat less successful degree) for the cast and crew of the ship we're on in this series. Ennui and boredom are certainly things we can identify with, and placing the existential quandary they pose in a sci-fi backdrop makes them just distant enough for us to really engage them mentally without getting lost in our own concerns. Q's story is quite nice - it acknowledges the evolution he's undergone in his TNG shows, essentially becoming more conservative after being chastised by his peers. Longing for his former verve is something we can all get behind, too, as we age. I think the story should have spent a bit more time on the question Q presents to Voyager as a stranded ship - why not just give in to his demands, however picayune, in order to get home? I think this portion of the story could have stood at least two more scenes, perhaps with crew members arguing for other sides.

Kevin: Something else I liked about this one was the energy and the momentum it had. The episode can be divided into thirds. The first third is the screwball comedy, which was well achieved. "Captain, the ship will not survive the formation of the cosmos," is one of those deadpan and hilarious phrases you only get in sci-fi. The Christmas tree gag was great, speaking as an owner of several Star Trek Hallmark ornaments. Fortunately, it pivots into the next phase, the courtroom drama, before the humor gets to be too much. This is definitely one of my favorite courtroom episodes. It indulges in the least speechifying, and since it's an asylum hearing, the mushier procedure and evidence rules feels closer to the real world version and not laziness on the part of the writers. The movement to the last third keeps the episode from being overly talky, a criticism we leveled at the otherwise excellent "The Measure of a Man." The trip to the continuum was inspired. They pitched in just the right way to both intrigue me and carry the story forward. I was fascinated by the imagery in the continuum, but also appreciated the palpable boredom that Quinn must feel. Even the line directed at Janeway, "What if you had nothing left to explore?" made the little hairs on my arm stand up. It's the perfectly packaged little line that just inspires your brain without bogging it down in exposition.

Matthew: This sort of well-paced parceling out of imaginative ideas and brain tickling notions is just why I think this surmounts any lingering problems of focus. Any show that puts us into a universe before the big bang (whatever conceptual problems that poses in terms of the visualization), then whisks us into a desolate southwestern US locale fora metaphorical look at life in the Q Continuum is going to entertain me. I agree that the arbitration hearing was also kept lively, by just these sorts of interludes.

Kevin: I remember being shocked, in a good way, that Star Trek so forcefully engaged the issue of assisted suicide, and then followed through. We got a flavor it with Worf in "Ethics," but that was more a debate on cultural relativism, and that was mooted by him getting better. Having Janeway agree he has the right to end his life and then have him actually do it was pretty ballsy, even today. I really appreciated the care for the story and the character to not chicken out with a forced happy ending. Even better, all sides got a fair hearing. I loved that Tuvok disagreed with Quinn, but still represented him. I liked the philosophical-focused aspects of the debate on assisted suicide, rather than mere platitudes.

Matthew: What's even ballsier is that he did not have what we would consider a terminal condition. He ended his life solely on the basis of suffering, and suffering that certainly seems like it could be alleviated, given his nigh-omnipotence. Janeway made a good argument to him, that being a mortal represented new avenues of existence. It would have been nice perhaps if Quinn had eliminated that possibility because of Q's experience in "Deja Q."

Kevin: This will be more a problem with the later Q outings, but the real problem for me with Q outside of TNG is that he automatically loses some of his punch. Q is the perfect foil for Picard, and their relationship bookends and enhances the whole point TNG. He is a person who is casual and reckless with power where the entire point of Picard's existence is figuring out what the ethical use of power is. Leaning on the chemistry of being longtime friends on real life, Mulgrew and de Lancie definitely make interesting viewing, but it's never quite the heights of his TNG appearances. If nothing else, there's never a reason for him to reveal the dark side of his clowning, like he does in Q Who.

Matthew: I agree that this episode raises the question of why he shows up on Voyager. It is answered somewhat by them happening across the comet containing Quinn, but that's a pretty astounding coincidence (especially since it seems like the Q could easily have prevented him from ever being visible to anyone else). If it were a lesser story, it would have grated. The one note that seemed off to me was having Riker appear during the hearing. It seems like it should have been Thaddeus Riker, were it to be consistent with Maury Ginsberg and Isaac Newton. I also disliked the suggestion that Quinn was a participant or, worse, was somehow responsible for certain great events in human history. It seemed like a cheap joke.

Acting

Kevin: While I think Q's presence in Voyager lacks the narrative heights of TNG, it's certainly not because de Lancie got lazy in the off season. Especially in the one-on-one scenes with Mulgrew, there is a real energy on the screen. The scene in her quarters is straight up hilarious. Mulgrew held up her end of the scenes as well. Overall, this was a great outing for her. She really nailed the range of emotions Janeway felt.

Matthew:  This was a return to form after his uncharacteristic stinker on DS9 (which admittedly owed something to a poor script). I particularly liked his seriousness when discussing the issues of the Q Continuum, and his own emotional journey. It was really beneficial to the story that he wasn't consistently a buffoon.

Kevin: Gerritt Graham easily ranks as one of the best guest stars on the show for me. He really infused Quinn with the full back story. It can't be easy to sit opposite an actor with the skill of de Lancie and the established back story of that Q, and come off as an equal part of the story, and he nails it. Particularly in his scenes in the continuum, he really gives life to the idea that his life their is unendurable.

Matthew: I agree that Graham performed quite ably in a tough role. Omnipotent entities are certainly a challenge for any method actor, but ones who are suicidal? I can imagine that being a daunting challenge. Graham made it totally believable. He had really nice chemistry with Tim Russ, too.

Production Values

Kevin: The comet is the low note of any otherwise good episode. The comet itself looked a little fuzzy and it doesn't quite make sense that it would have a tail despite not nearing a sun. The interior was muddy as well, and the clear wall inside was strange.

Matthew: Speaking of bad optical effects, the double Q effect during the hearing was not very good. The lighting and interactions between the bodies was subpar. They should have gone for more standard practical means of creating doubles - camera angles and body doubles would have looked much better.

Kevin: The continuum on the other hand was perfect. The minimalist approach was the way to go. Attempting to use trippy imagery and early CGI would have been a mess. The open desert road and the turn of the century tableau just really sang. It implied everything it needed to in a look.

Matthew: Any visualization that includes the classic pinball table "Firepower" is one I'm going to buy into. But I agree totally.  It was a neat creative choice, on a par with "Spectre of the Gun," that really sold the ideas. The clever touches of naming things after features of the cosmos were loads of fun.The magazines and 20s period costumes were cool.

Conclusion

Kevin: This a very good episode and a welcome change of pace from a weaker run in the middle of the season. The philosophical question is intriguing, the humor lands well, and the acting is top notch. Add on an interesting and nigh on perfectly executed look at the Q Continuum, and you get yourself a 5 in my book.

Matthew: I think this just squeaks into 5 territory on the strength of the acting and the Q continuum scenes. I think certain story elements could have been a tad stronger, and consider it a significant whiff to not address the broader emotional consequences of Q's appearance to the crew. But I agree it's still top decile material. As such, our total is a 10.

Podcast


5 comments:

  1. I guess I agree with your ranking. My one issue has always been the depiction of the Continuum. I guess I see how the desert road and shack would be totally boring but I think bothers me is this. You are a race of totally powerful beings(who are also totally devious etc ) I think you would pick a more lively setting. Nothing we have seen so far suggests that this is even close to what it would be. I think it comes to far out of left field. Also Janeway totally should have taken the deal. I know that would have ended the series but if her crew ever found out about that one….. I think what it comes down to is that my dislike of Voyager still colors my views on even the good episodes.

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  2. I dont know where else to ask this, so I am asking it here,but do you guys plan on doing any Enterprise reviews?

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    1. Yes indeed. Our goal was to review all real Star Trek, to shame the fake stuff by comparison. We've hot some slow spots for various reasons, but after we finish DS9 and VOY we'll definitely tackle Enterprise. Then, with "These Are The Voyages...," Star Trek will be finished.

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    2. you think Enterprise is fake Star Trek? :) I think the unmitigated garbage put out by Abrams is not real Star Trek. I actually enjoyed Enterprise - of course, not as much as TNG, VOY and DS9, but that's a whole different discussion. Anyway, looking forward to the other reviews. Thanks :)

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    3. No, not at all. Enterprise is totally "Real Star Trek," despite some very serious flaws (boring characters and retcon prequel concept chief among them). I meant that the Enterprise finale marked the end of real Star Trek so far as we know. I think the best bet going forward is Seth McFarlane. Maybe since he and Braga have teamed on Cosmos, there is a shot it will return to TV, helmed by people who actually care about it. If they were to reunite with the ENT S4 creative crew (Manny Coto, Gar and Judith Reeves-Stevens), we could do lots worse.

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