Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: Warlord


http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.html
Voyager, Season 3
"Warlord"
Airdate: November 20, 1996
51 of 168 produced
51 of 168 aired

Introduction

Kes' mind is taken over by the consciousness of a deposed dictator bent on reclaiming his throne.

Tom and Harry ponder... has the time come to take their bromance into truly squicky territory?




Writing

Kevin: Ah, the possession episode. We've been here before, several times across the various franchises, haven't we? Because of the "criminal seeking immortality" element, I am most put in mind of DS9's "The Passenger," right down to the parallels of responding to a distress call and having a medical crew member be the one who gets infected with the personality. So, right out of the gate, I am going to be at least...skeptical...about this episode. I'm not going to rehash all of the philosophical issues and mind/body duality questions, but they apply here.

Matthew: Ooh, ooh, pick me! I'm happy to rehash those questions, because their examination is no less irritating here. I think what bugs me the most here is talk of a "neural pattern." I guess we are to take it that consciousness is an arrangement of data points, which can easily be transferred (through the hands no less) from one empty receptacle to another, without respect for the physical nature of the brains being emptied and filled. Sigh. Not only is this a hopelessly naive rendering of what constitutes a mind, which ignores any potential role that physical structures like an amygdala or a hippocampus play in forming or regulating personality, but it treats the brain of an individual as an empty hard drive which has the capacity to contain the data of two (heck, why not three or twelve!) distinct persons. Look. I get that this is the nineties, and that it's television. But I expect Star Trek to go, if not the extra mile, then an extra few yards at least, in trying not to render a real philosophical question in the broadest, dumbest, most trope-ridden terms possible. It's cheap and lazy writing that is played for drama, not for depth or realism. Why not tell a story in which the transferee loses parts of himself, or becomes like the new person? Or in which the "flavor" of consciousness is lost or is non-transferable? (Ideas that, as you aver, have at least been hinted at in other treatments, such as DS9's "Life Support" or TNG's "Schizoid Man.") Hell, give me a legalistic drama in which no one wants to follow the new leader because of their lack of physical identity. Give me SOMETHING.

Kevin: There are a few areas where the episode does actually succeed for me. It's the scene with Kes and Neelix in the holo-resort. Kes snapped at him about an actual relationship problem, not an imagined one, so it really had teeth for both the viewer and Neelix himself. If she just accused him of cheating or something, he would be able to flag the personality change right away. I really wish this had been where the episode focused. If the focus of the episode had been Kes being forced to deal with things or realize things about her own life and seeing that fallout right away, that could have been really fun. I do have one question from a writing perspective. Was Kes' outburst at Neelix some combination of Kes' as yet not-entirely-subsumed personality acting out, spurred by Tieran's aggression, or was it Tieran just trying to get Neelix out of his hair, in which case, it seems like a bad ploy since it could raise suspicion.

Matthew: I kind of took the Kes/Neelix scene to be indicating the influence of Tieran on her, but not his having taken wholesale control. Which makes her dumping Neelix because he's a sweatbox even better. I think it's the line "I've never been with anyone else" that sells this interpretation for me. Taking on a new personality should give Kes at least an inchoate recognition that her relationship with Neelix is weird, weird, weird. Jennifer Lien played it with a look of discomfort. Anyway, it was a long overdue opportunity for Kes to express some independence. Her previous coming out party was in "Cold Fire," in which she was in danger of entering the thrall of a sort of Ocampan guru. This gives her a bit more independence - not insofar as how "bad" she can act with Tieran's influence, but with how she can vigorously fight that influence. So score two for Kes - dumping Neelix, and mentally fighting off a dictator.

Kevin: Once again, we are faced with an alien world whose politics I don't entirely care about. We only get two rooms about ten people on this whole world. I'm not asking for some sword and sandal epic scale of extras here, but I never got any sense of the actual political scope. Does everyone on the planet believe Tieran is alive? Why would so many people follow up after deposing him? Does capturing him again really make an apparently full scale revolt go away? Some of the scenes themselves of Tieran/Kes storming around the hall were fun, but the end result leaves me not feeling very much tension. Like I said, the scenes focusing on how the possession affects Kes personally would have been more fun.

Matthew: There were a lot of "Almost" scenes in this one, especially with respect to the political plot. I almost I almost found the marriage with the younger brother to be an interesting twist. Kes interrogating Tuvok was almost gut-wrenching. The final transfer was almost exciting and unexpected, and Tieran's destruction was almost compelling. I think this episode had some interesting ideas, but failed to raise the stakes to some degree. I'm not saying we needed something as baldly exploitative as Troi doing it with the ensign, but really pushing Kes into difficult character territory would have benefited the drama, I think.

Acting

Kevin: Lien did a good job overall. Her one on one scenes trying to be seductive or intimidating worked for me. They are certainly a few notches above Alexander Siddig's turn as Vantika, though that was a low bar. I think the grander political scenes and her attempting to be a dictator were less successful. They felt too broad, though the writing wasn't really helping. She was kind of acting into a vacuum when making edicts about people we've never met or cared about. Her voice modulation choices were good, and particularly in that scene with Neelix. Her one on one scene with the 'real' Tieran was good too.

Matthew: I think the story fails in not sufficiently acknowledging the difference in bodies and how people might react to them. But I'll be darned if Jennifer Lien didn't sell us on the change. This is one of those episodes that really raise questions of what the writing staff was doing for the past three years. I'm not saying she is Patrick Stewart level, but it's clear that given interesting things to do, Lien can deliver. Here sneering delivery was effective, as was her seduction and her anger. The only line reading I didn't love was the repetition of "Stronger than ever!!" But that's as much hackneyed writing as anything.

Kevin: The main crew turned in their usual able jobs. I thought Ethan Phillips did a good job both in the scene with Kes and later reporting it. There was just a look on his face where he knew she was right but wasn't going to admit it, and it added a nice layer. Galyn Görg, who previously played Jake's wife Karenna, was good too. She seemed really invested in the story going on around here. A few more of her would have fixed a lot of the problem of the aliens not being interesting. I found Greenquist's performance as Demmas to be really flat. He came off as really kind of useless. A civil war rages across his planet, and he's just blandly hanging out on Voyager.

Matthew: I think Galyn Görg could have stood to get some more scenes. Her difficulty with the change in her husband was really interesting. I agree on Greenquist. I'd say Ethan Phillips and Tim Russ were the main cast standouts, though both could have used two more scenes apiece.

Production Values

Kevin: There just wasn't enough planet there to make it work for me. The hall, unlike say, the Klingon Great Hall, didn't feel like a real place either. Something about the finish made it feel like a television set. The full face coverings on the guards seemed silly. Who would let their security staff hide their entire face? It was designed to allow exactly the feint that occurred with Tuvok.

Matthew: Yeeeaaahhh, the whole Ilari look was a pretty basic re-use of the Enaran headdress look from "Remember," which was pretty similar to the Baneans from "Ex Post Facto."  They had weird little multiple-nostril noses, which mostly looked silly, but at least when Kes used her psychic powers on them, they got multiple-nostril nosebleeds. I completely agree about the set. It didn't look like a real castle in a real populated place, and the paucity or extras and backdrops (yet again) made things feel unduly small.

Kevin: The costumes were gray, but good overall. I liked a lot of the detail work on Kes' various outfits. Beyond that, I am just going to say B'Elanna's holo-creation was extremely attractive. I'm sure wherever he is now, he is doing crunches.

Matthew: Note to makeup staff - if you know for sure there will be two tight close-ups no Neelix's Hobbit feet, put a little more effort into the appliance, will you? Numerous close-ups show thick pancake makeup on Jennifer Lien, and it's kind of off putting.

Conclusion

Kevin: I am stuck between a two and a three here, honestly. The possession story is a little stale, and I don't care about the political fight that surrounds it. The moment that retroactively became the only breakup moment we were going to get with Kes and Neelix was really good and interesting, and even when I wasn't bowled over by her performance, Lien really committed to the part. I think this just squeaks into a 3 for me, but note to Brannon Braga et al., enough with the insane person seeking immortality via telepathic possession stories. That well is dry for the foreseeable future.

Matthew: This was always a 2 for me before our blog project. But taking this in the context of all the Trek we've viewed in the last few years, I can't help but feel this is kind of average. Lien does a good job, the plot twists and turns, though ultimately unsatisfying, held my attention while on the screen. And hey, this episode broke up the resolutely creepy Kes/Neelix. So I agree with the 3 for a total of 6.

4 comments:

  1. This episode bores me but Jennifer Lien was sooo good. She can really act and does have a wide range. Disappointing the writers reduced her to the role of wallflower for the most just to hastily dispose of her to make room for that Model Slash Actor. I have always liked Kes and felt that the actress was just never given enough to do, maybe due to her rather fragile appearance. This episode indicates she had the ability and it is a shame she was booted out.

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    1. Although I certainly agree that Lien was under-utilized, I don't think you'll find much support from either Kevin or me for the notion that Jeri Ryan was lacking in the acting department. She was certainly cast for her physical attributes, but she proved to be a hack of an actress, IMHO.

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    2. Yeah, I initally assumed Jeri Ryan would just be eye candy, but she definitely nailed it.

      Funny story, apparently, the producers knew they were cutting someone and were leaning toward Harry, but then Garret Wang was named one of People's 100 most beautiful people that year so they went with Lien. I kind of wished they had dropped Harry over Kes if they could keep giving her more interesting material like this.

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  2. I am not arguing that Ryan was a bad actor. I think she did a great job portraying Seven. But let;s face it, and as you said, she was first and foremost picked for her looks and body and not for her acting skills - hence being a model/actor. If she didnt have that body and hadnt been a model, her acting skills wouldnt have her cast for the part in my opinion.

    What I dont understand is why they chose to cut someone to bring in someone else. Couldnt there be room for more than one strong female character (aside from Janeway)? Why did Lien have to go? Was it budgeting? Or some rule that stated you cannot add a new person unless you get rid of one?

    I actually liked Harry and found his friendship with Paris very interesting. I wish he too was given more to do.

    I guess my gripe is with the fact that after Seven is introduced a character development for other characters, with the exception of The Doctor, was put on the back-burner and a lot of episodes became about her and discovering her humanity or her and Janeway discovering her humanity together. Not that I ultimately mind those episodes, they were greatly done and i love them and enjoy them but looking back i think it came somewhat at the expense of some other characters being developed - or not developed - like Chakotay. In fact I hear Beltran was complaining a lot about this and having nothing to do and episode after episode being all about Seven at the expense of everyone else, including his character, who was reduced to just taking orders on the bridge or expressing the occasional disagreement with Janeway.

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