Friday, February 5, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Nemesis, Season 4
Airdate: September 24, 1997
70 of 168 produced
71 of 168 aired


Chakotay finds himself trapped in a jungle war zone. Try as he might to stay out of the fighting, he finds himself drawn in to helping these people face a seemingly monstrous enemy.

 If we made out right now, would that prevent you from reaching the wayafter?


Kevin: Well, I can safely say that of all the Star Trek works with the title "Nemesis," this is the best. That is, admittedly, some faint praise. The episode has three problems that collectively make it a real snoozer. The first is that these people are almost the archetypal Alien of the Week, and there's almost nothing in the script to make me care about the conflict. Why are they fighting? Beyond some vague discussions of territory, there's no real teeth in this conflict and nothing to latch onto in terms of caring about it.

Matthew: Never has "alien of the week" been more appropriate a description. As appropriate? Sure. But not more. There have been alien of the week stories that have risen to the level of interesting. But yes indeed, in this one there is just not enough to make them interesting. For one thing, how do these two disparate species live on the same planet? Are they from different worlds? A much more interesting episode, Enterprise's "Dear Doctor," looked at the notion of two sentient races evolving on one world. Heck, we've had it here, with Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. How does one race subsume the other? What ethical obligations do they have to each other? See? Interesting! Here, not so much. The episode almost veers into interesting territory with the question of whether both races are guilty of the things they accuse each other of. But this was a throwaway line of dialogue near the very end.

Kevin: Second is the increasingly painful artificial language. I get that they were trying to establish an other-ness for Chakotay to encounter then pick up on, and hey, they managed to craft an alien language with no superfluous apostrophes, so well done there. However, the constant needless word substitution only pulled my ear to the word without doing anything when it got there. It made it actively difficult to follow a piece of dialogue. Breaking out my other love, musical theater for a moment, I think have zeroed in on the problem. You can play with the rhymes in a song to great dramatic benefit. When you establish the first line, the audience knows, if only subconsciously, to expect a rhyme in the next line. Meeting that expectation keeps me moving happily along. Meeting it in an unexpected way will usually tickle me. Putting a non-rhyming word in there forces my attention to it. Sondheim is a master at that and if he's doing it, there's a damned good reason and something important is happening. Constantly using an unexpected word draws my attention, but there's nothing there when I focus on it. If they wanted to thin out the use of the off-words and really try to impart some meaning about the people when they did, that could be a lot of fun. As it stands, we are one step above "Shaka, when the walls fell," in terms of comprehension.

Matthew: So you want to make your otherwise humanoid culture more alien. OK. As Kevin indicates, one (extremely tired) tactic is to add a bunch of double (or triple!) vowels, dash liberally with apostrophes, and call it a day. Bonus points for co-opting something African or Asian in your naming. Now, this has the downside of being extremely boring and cliche, but at least doesn't tend to diminish comprehension. Your other tactic would be to keep the language and look the same, but change things around enough to call attention to it. Outlandish clothes, outlandish speech, outlandish customs. Speech is the most annoying of these, by far. So here we have a race that looks completely human, but they're constantly saying inscrutable bullshit like "lower your glimpses, it isn't sharp to rinse your dishes in the cool upturned afterlight, for fear of nullification, purple monkey dishwasher!" For heaven's sake, people, just make your characters ACT differently. Do you know what is probably different across all sorts of sentient races in the universe? Customs. Ways of treating other sentients. Do you know what changing these doesn't do? Confuse or annoy the bejeezus out of the audience, that's what. Changing language is only slightly less lazy than adding vowels or apostrophes, and it's dramatically more damaging to viewer or reader interest.

Kevin: The last problem I have is what feels like a cop out by making Chakotay a victim of brainwashing. We haven't really learned anything about him nor he about himself since the actions can all be pinned to the drugs. A far more interesting path, particularly given the 'twist' they tried to pull with having Voyager unwittingly negotiating with the other side, would be to make both halves the real deal. Often in war, both sides accuse each other of atrocity, and often, both are correct. If Chakotay were forced to stay with these people for a while, empathy would be a natural result and if Janeway felt the other side were genuinely offering assistance, that might predispose her to trust them, at least a little. Then the clash is two officers who like and respect each other having opposite views on something, and a meditation on the nature of war and its incremental compromises. In the end, we start with a fight I have no reason to care about that by the end is a fight that apparently didn't even happen.

Matthew: I agree entirely. Part of me was like "ooh, interesting!" when the twist reveal occurred. But then they did basically nothing with it. I think brainwashing is a solid science fiction idea, and if they had just stuck with that, it would have worked to some degree - but they spend 35 minutes on the planet and 5 on denouement. A more even ratio would have given us the interest of seeing Chakotay work through his programming and his reactions to those around him, including "the nemesis."


Kevin: Beltran did as good a job as he could do. I bought overall his transition from neutral to partisan and he gave it the right energy that it implied without betraying the ending. It felt on the fast side of credible. I also bought his bonding with and anger about the villagers. The actress playing Karya, Meghan Murphy was okay. She certainly didn't annoy me, which is pretty much the only bar I need child actors to clear.

Matthew: I think acting was a strength here. Beltran didn't do anything beyond his normal Chakotay stuff, but he brought it all in solid fashion to this story. I was with him emotionally, if not in terms of dialogue. I thought the soldiers were all quite good, in that 80s-90s action movie sort of way (a la Aliens/Michael Biehn). My favorite had to be Michael Mahonen as Brone, the commander of the squad.

Kevin: No one else got a ton to do. The banter between Tuvok and Paris in Janeway's ready room was good, and had a nice, lived-in feel to it. The rest of the guest cast was doing their best Apocalypse Now impressions and they were largely successful, if not a little overly shouty for my taste.

Matthew: Yeah, this was really missing about 5 minutes of the crew dealing with Chakotay's brainwashed, PTSD aftermath. Absent that, we get competent filler, nothing more.

Production Values

Kevin: I am not the world's biggest fan of jungle sets as I think especially in SD they tend to look either the most muddy visually or second only to "cave" for "obvious set piece." Still, I think they did a pretty good job of varying the locations. Alexander Siddig directed this one, and I think he did a solid job with keeping everything moving.

Matthew: Yep, it was dark. At least they mixed day scenes with night scenes to liven things up. The weapons and costumes were competent, it completely human.

Kevin: The Kradin look so much like Nausicaans it's actually distracting. It pulled me out of the moment. I even wondered when I first watched it if it would end up being some kind of "holodeck" episode based on the similarity. I think even this could have been a fun point to explore. Was Chakotay more inclined to believe the Vori because they look human and the Kradin look not just alien, but essentially like a Predator?

Matthew: That could have been another entertaining aspect to look at, species prejudice. Anyway, yeah, I too was distracted by the Predator/Nausicaan axis of comparison.


Kevin: I'm glad Beltran gets an episode to stretch his legs, and he does his best, but in the end, I just don't care about any of this, really. It's not painful to watch certainly, though I will admit to my attention wandering several times. The underlying idea is sound, but the final product is a snooze. I am going with a 2.

Matthew: The twist had me wanting to go with a 3, but the fact they did nothing with it, in concert with the irritating dialogue, definitely puts this in 2 territory. So our total is a 4 for a well meaning but disappointing episode.

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