Friday, January 16, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: The Swarm

Voyager, Season 3
"The Swarm
Airdate: September 25, 1996
48 of 168 produced
45 of 168 aired


The Doctor begins to suffer a mental breakdown while Voyager faces a mysterious and xenophobic enemy.
Hello... is it me you're looking for?


Kevin: This is another is a line of episodes this season that are good, but with some tightening, could have been really great. I'm going to get the downside out of the way now since there's not a lot to it anyway. The Swarm species is another is a long line of aliens that seem perfectly crafted just to obstruct the trip home. The ships reminded me to such an extent of the biological swarm creatures in Elogium that I always have trouble recalling which episode is which for this subplot. We don't really learn anything interesting about them, and the solution is Janeway giving one of the longest technobabble solutions in recent memory. All of this would have been forgivable if it hadn't distracted from the more interesting plot.

Matthew: yeah, we're starting to really hit the point where the dictum of setting up episodes with an A and B plot is getting tiresome. At DS9 we're having the same issue. Interestingly, whereas the problem is usually a superfluous character B story in DS9, in Voyager, as it is here, it's an A story that doesn't pull its own weight while the character story gets short shrift. Why not just focus entirely on the Doctor? There is in fact a later episode that does almost precisely this, to much greater effect, Season 5's "Latent Image."

Kevin: I like that we really engage directly the limits of the Doctor's capacities. Data was a feat of engineering designed to be a sentient being. The Doctor certainly was not, so directly asking if he physically capable of the person-hood he seems to have found by accident is fun. I liked the discussion of whether their greater responsibility is to the Doctor as a crew member, or to the ship that needs a physician. Using the Zimmerman hologram was an interesting touch, since it saved one of the crew members from playing bad cop. As character work, it's certainly a lot of fun. I liked the opera stuff, since it was funny, and Picardo can actually sing. It does almost preempt the question of his sentience a bit. He, apparently completely of his own accord, decided to expand himself by taking up a hobby. That's a lot of self awareness and internal motivation for a being of indeterminate sentience. Still, it was fun to watch and they bring it back enough that it is certainly worthwhile. Also very much in the plus column are his interactions with B'Elanna and Kes. It was fun to see Kes get to be a real advocate for him, and the humor with B'Elanna was pretty good, too.

Matthew: I like that you mention how some questions are in effect pre-empted. That's not even a fault of this episode - I've felt that the show as a whole went too far, too fast with the Doctor's sentience. Ditching the alien story could have given us a deeper discussion of this. What are the qualia of personhood? Is personhood something we can even recognize in another being? Can a simulacrum of personhood be so good that it negates the question itself? I think a finer point could have been put on the ethical question of the few vs. the many. Why not have Tom really be mortally ill, not something Kes can fix? Anyway, the Zimmerman hologram is an interesting addition to the Doctor's origin, and it gives a good actor some great material to explore. The same goes for opera. Apparently both were suggestions, at least in embryonic form, to Jeri Taylor by Robert Picardo - and it is a testament to her that she integrated them into the storytelling.

Kevin: The solution is a little pat for my tastes, especially since they didn't follow up on the open question of how much he remembered. Sure, he remembers a few lines of Puccini, but that's a far cry from thinking he might have already or will ever be back to his old self, and even if he has the faculties back per se, what if his memories are gone? This is where the episode falls short for me on greatness. There's not really a sense of consequence to the story. Both the question of how much the crew should treat him as a crew member and whether or not he will be okay feel largely foregone conclusions. For once, I don't have a proposed solution here, but I think they either needed to heighten the stakes of the question regarding his sentience or given his experience a lasting impact.

Matthew: Yeah, I think having him sing a few lines was an indication to viewers that things would be back to normal by the next episode. It would have been more satisfying to see the Doctor changed by his ordeal - whether to be more like Zimmerman, or to be less (at least temporarily) than he was.


Kevin: Picardo is just great. The teaser with the diva was a riot, and I know enough about opera to find his backhanded compliment of Maria Callas to be hilarious. Apparently a lot of the episode was his suggestion, including the opera. I enjoy that he challenged himself. And like I said above, the scenes with Kes and B'Elanna were really well done. Picardo also did as good a job as Spiner did playing his own creator. He gave Zimmerman a streak of curmudgeon that read as related to but also different than the doctor.

Matthew:  Indeed, Picardo has already proven himself several times in the show, but this is a real coming out party for him, and your prior comparison to Spiner is apt. Picardo is clearly an actor of varied talents, and he has the rare ability to be engaging and not annoying while deploying them. He did an excellent job of altering his voice with his two characters, the the point that even if they had been identically dressed and coiffed, it would still be an easy matter to tell them apart.

Kevin: The rest of the cast was solid. Janeway was her usual good self. I also enjoyed the flirting in the teaser in the shuttle. The actors certainly have chemistry.

Matthew: Indeed, I think it's clear that the writers recognized a good thing and then wrote to it with B'Elanna and Tom.  Jennifer Lien gets a handful of really nice scenes, and shows what she can do when she is written for. Her advocacy of the Doctor is effective, and the pain she lets show through during his "Alzheimer's" moments was really good.

Production Values

Kevin: This was apparently the first episode for a new effects house for the show, and overall they did a good job I think. The cloud effect of the swarm was well done, and I like the detail on individual ships. Beyond that, this was pretty much a bottle show, except for the scene for La Boheme and the Jupiter Station lab. It lacked the jaw dropping visuals of, say, Utopia Planitia from Booby Trap, but there were some good Okudagrams and I liked the Jupiter Station badge.

Matthew: I think the CGI was adequate for the swarm itself, but I found the ship model during the climax to be lacking in detail. It looked cartoonish. I think Jupiter station could have benefited from some sort of window in the office, showing a matte painting backdrop. It was pretty mundane except for the station badge.


Kevin: This gets a three from me. The character moments for the Doctor are great, no two ways about it, but it feels like there was some deeper story or deeper consequence to be explored for this story, and its absence coupled with an inconsequential B-plot keep this in average territory.

Matthew: You've stolen everything I wanted to say. I'll only add that Picardo's performance is probably what keeps this easily in 3 territory. There was never any danger, even with a mostly pointless alien of the week, that this would be anything less than entertaining. That's a total of 6.

1 comment:

  1. I do not really grasp what the issue was with the program. Moriarty and his wife were able to live out a lifetime of memories in that little hard drive Lt. Barkley made in "Ship in a Bottle". Why is the program of a holo-novel character able to handle living a life while the EMH is not?

    Or are the files on Moriarty not available to Voyager? They have information on the Borg but not holographic incidents? There have been far more Holodeck crises in the series than Borg attacks.