Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: Real Life


Voyager, Season 3
"Real Life"
Airdate: April 23, 1997
63 of 168 produced
63 of 168 aired


The Doctor creates a holographic family to better understand that part of the human experience. Meanwhile, Voyager encounters a strange anomaly.

 You're the best husband and daddy in the whole quadrant!


Kevin: This is another in an increasingly long line of episodes I want to like more than I do. The core idea is solid. It just lacks in execution. I have several issues with the basic ideas in the this episode. For starters, I get that we are supposed to find the Doctor's perfect family ridiculous, and believe me we do, but internal to the story, it really makes me worry about the Doctor that his "ideal" is some bizarre exaggeration of a 50s sit-com. It doesn't quite cross the line into out and out misogyny, but it just feels weird that his perfect partner exists only to complement him and his needs. Thankfully, B'Elanna's smirking and subsequent tinkering offset it, but even then, she focuses on the idea that this is an unattainable level of perfection, rather than kind of a weird thing to want in the otherwise egalitarian Federation society.

Matthew: I like this episode more than I probably should. It honestly hadn't occurred to me that the Doctor's initial vision of family perfection was sexist. I think I was reading it simply as a parody of 50s sit-com families. I found the jokes centered on it to be funny. I took the Doctor's attitude to be one that a person with no experience in real life with families might have, whether they were male or female - expecting their spouse to kow-tow to their needs, and expecting rational, studious, exceptional children. When things changed, the humor became even more pointed, as we saw the Doctor try to use the same tactics to severely diminished effect. I guess I would say that the changed family redeems any hint of sexism that the initial family might have had, because it shows us a much more realistic situation with a difficult balance between the wants and needs of the members.

Kevin: The other problem is this indirectly further blurs the line between regular and sentient holograms. The programs were obviously meant to run at length, would they eventually achieve the same hip check into sentience that the Doctor apparently has? And I'm just gonna say it, but did anyone else find the Klingon friends a tad...super duper racist? I mean both on its face inside the story, and then just the optics of the white father objection to friends with brown skin and who listen to "that music." Even as a kid, that whole bit just made me feel awkward. In the end, even the updated version of the family felt like cardboard cutouts, just hitting the marks of a cliche family conflict. Also, finally...sweet mother of God, but the Voyager holodeck is a dick, isn't it? What the hell kind of computer would do that?

Matthew: I think we're supposed to take it that the Doctor is a special program with many more algorithms, much more memory, much more heuristic programming, and that this is what makes it possible for him to be sentient while a holodeck program would not become so. Sure, this doesn't diminish the obvious question of whether other Starfleet vessels have sentient Doctors hanging around their sickbays, but it does at least sidestep the issue within this story. Yes, the Doctor's prohibition on Klingon friends is a bit racist - but it is also completely understandable in the context. They do have a culture of ritual violence, and they do make physical demands that would be excessive for humans. Anybody who has been a parent knows how it feels to worry about the outside influences on their children. So I consider it an interesting middle ground between protectiveness and prejudice - and of course, Charlene does call him out on it. As far as the other characters, I didn't find them to be cardboard cutouts at all. I agree, as you aver below, that the B plot does detract from some development. But I found a lot of very real moments with these characters - Belle's screaming fit about her mallet, her reconciliation with her dad after the failed meeting, and Jeffrey's sneering adolescent smugness. These all rang really true. The ending of the episode slays me every time I watch it - I am reduced to various states of tearfulness each time. I think it gets really close to being manipulative melodrama, but that it stays on the right side of the line, probably because they show that it has real emotional consequences for the Doctor (whatever that implies about his sentience).

Kevin: And then there's the random side plot. That really could have been excised and dropped into any of the early season episodes. The scenes drip with meaningless techonobabble and as a result, none of it felt meaningful. Even Janeway's enthusiasm for the exploration felt out of place after the death of 60 scientists. The only positive note I can give for this half of the episode is the scene of Paris and B'Elanna in the mess hall. They have been arcing up their attraction for a while and the sparring/flirting works.

Matthew: What the heck were the scientists doing in this region of space, anyway? Were these astral eddies a new phenomenon? I think they missed an opportunity to tie this nether-region in with the later Species 8472 story. Anyway, I agree that overall this plot detracted from the episode. We could and should have spent more time with the Doctor's family, more crew interactions, maybe more crew members giving the Doctor advice in the same vein as the rather good Paris/Doctor scene near the end of the show.


Kevin: Picardo did a good as job as he could. As much as I did not enjoy the perfect family scenes, the look on his face was perfectly poised to mine the joke. His shutting down at the prospect of continuing the program to lose his daughter also played well.

Matthew: I think Picardo was exceptional. I think his line deliveries and postures really sold the story despite any reservations we might have.  When he says "you're too sick to get better," it was heartbreaking. 

Kevin: Kenneth's family were all pretty flat. I just never bought any of their reactions. Especially in the scenes of teenage rebellion and the scene where the Doctor breaks the news to his wife, it just read as wooden.

Matthew: I disagree wholeheartedly. I think all three actors really did a whale of a job creating characters in short scenes. Lindsey Haun in particular displayed a really excellent range. She was funny as the caricature, unhinged and sweet as the adolescent, and really vulnerable at the end. Her performance really combined with Picardo's to deliver an emotional punch. And did you know - she played Beatrice Burleigh in the previous "Lord Burleigh" holodeck arc?

Production Values

Kevin: The interspace or whatever it was just look like a slight modification of the badlands. Much like in The Outcast, the depiction of non-three dimensional space as a three dimensional space just deflates the notion that it is an "other" place. The eddy effects weren't great either. They reek of early CGI and never looked like a real object in space.

Matthew: Although I agree on the space effects (especially the debris field), I thought they were integrated with the shuttle rather well. 

Kevin: Whoever was styling that poor boy's hair should be shot. Most of the clothes and hair in the family scenes were at the far end of Trek's unfashionable civilian wear. Even the make up and costuming choices for the Klingons seemed off.

Matthew: I thought Jeffrey's hair looked exactly like crappy 90s teenage hairspray follies. I did not really notice the clothing, and I thought Charlene's outfits were rather smart looking. What I loved was the house. It had one of the most "lived in" set dressings we've seen on the franchise. I'd say it's probably the best domestic sets we've seen in Trek, period.


Kevin: Like I said, the idea of the Doctor exploring this part of humanity was an interesting one, but the execution was just too disjointed, winging from Father Knows Best parody to a Very Special Episode quickly enough to give you whiplash. There wasn't enough work done to give the family enough depth to make the tragedy impactful for the audience or seem like real character growth for the Doctor. I don't quite have it in me to give this a one, though. I think this just squeezes into a 2.

Matthew: Although I agree with the criticism that the A-B structure was disjointed and detrimental, I was so drawn in by both the writing and the acting of the family scenes that I can't give this less than a 4, for a total of 6. Picardo was exceptional, and I thought Lindsey Haun was probably the most effective child actors the show has had. A 5 might be in the conversation had they ditched the superfluous plot and delved deeper into the metaphysics and phenomenology of the holodeck.


  1. I never understood why realism for B'Elanna meant that the little girl had to die such a painful tragic almost senseless death. That entire part was so uber-melodramatic and they just piled it on too thick. Speak of unrealistic. Isnt it possible to create "real life" without catapulting the characters into experiencing utter, heart breaking tragedy and loss of the worst kind? Parents losing a child must b just about the worst thing that can happen to parents and they (or Torres) picked that to make it realistic?

    I think the Doctor could have learned his lesson without the tear jerker, Terms of Endearment tragedy of the daughter's death. Between June Cleaver and The Rabbit Hole type of family life, there are a myriad of possibilities depicting average, real family life begging to make B'Elanna's acquaintance. Just watching that ending is so off putting, i never finish the episode. It is just too depressing.

    As to how the Klingon's are depicted: not everything is a jibe at African Americans and there is a difference between blacks and Klingons.

    See, when a white person says I dont want my kids hanging out with brown boys who listen to that kind of music, then it is racist because they do see danger and bad influence where there is none. Being black doesnt make you a bad person or bad influence, neither does rap music or hoodies and what have you.

    But the Klingon children/teens ARE bad influence. It is not perceived or misplaced or racist fears as is the case when white people do it to blacks. Klingons grow up in vastly different ways, with a vastly different culture and set of expectations, one that glorifies violence and murder WITHOUT EXCEPTION. That is not prejudice, that is fact. A klingon teen is trained to be a warrior and relish violence and death. Something that is not compatible with humans, or THIS human.

    I mean look, they bring his kid a knife for cryin out loud, a serrated huge knife used in battle or something. The Doctor objecting to that is completely understandable and i would have done the same. In fact, i wouldnt care what color the kid is, black ,brown or JFK Jr personally: if he brought my kid a gun or a combat knife, I wouldnt want my kid hanging out with him period. That is not racist, that is just what a decent parent does.

    (And dont get me even started on that dreadful noise Klingons call music (which, I admit, is purely subjective. In that case I think the Doctor;s reaction was that of a typical parents not liking the "music" their kids listen to...kinda like the old fart who doesnt get it. Not that listening to crappy music makes one a bad or good person either way)

    1. I don't think B'Elanna programmed Belle to die. The Doctor says that the progression will be random and probability based. I think the worst we can assume of B'Elanna is that she programmed Belle to be reckless, not that she arranged the accident.

    2. See...even having the Klingons as mere bad influences reads weirdly to me. What's the appeal for them? Also, Klingon-ness is usually discussed by Klingons as having a meaningful honor component, that even if they don't always practice it, still makes their presence and influence two-dimensional. And I think I can't help shake the notion if he were cherry picking, say, Vulcan rites and rituals that a human wouldn't be able to sustain, it would probably have not been responded to with the same aghast-ness.

      And yeah, like I said in the review, the death felt so out of nowhere that it really damages my ability to enjoy what could have been at least an enjoyable episode if not a great one. Though Matt, clearly disagrees.

  2. B'Elanna, the writers...whatever. I was trying to say that that specific plot development, i.e. the girl dying with her father at her beside holding her hand while she went blind and took her last breath etc., was too much and not necessary in order for the Doctor find out that real life isn't a Leave it to Beaver episode.