Saturday, February 27, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Scientific Method, Season 4
"Scientific Method"
Airdate: October 29, 1997
74 of 168 produced
74 of 168 aired


The Voyager crew is feeling stressed and out of sorts. When they discover a group of alien experimenters is secretly altering their bodies, a fight for their survival ensues.

Sensors confirm tongue action


Matthew: So, look. I don't think there is much of a way to gloss over that the A plot here is almost a straight up repeat of TNG's "Schisms" (with a minor sprinkling of "Where Silence as Lease").  Voyager's crew is being experimented upon, and they show odd side effects. This is substantially similar to Riker's loss of sleep, Worf's paranoia, etc. That said, there were some interesting wrinkles, and things played out differently with this crew. A good story is worth telling again, right?

Kevin: I didn't immediately make those connections when I first saw it, which surprises me given that it's a complaint I came to level at Voyager a lot. In the balance, what saves this episode is that is has a little more verve than either Schisms or Where Silence Has Lease, and Janeway's breakdown as compared to say, Worf's, is way better handled.

Matthew: The aliens in this story employ genetic alteration to test out various illnesses (I guess) in the interest of creating cures for their own people. As such, there is an interesting animal experimentation angle, but it is not well enough explored. For us, the argument can be made that animals' lesser mental capacities justifies their use in medical experiments. Do the aliens here make similar arguments, or is theirs simply a utilitarian argument based on numbers, with what they view as an obvious speciesist imperative?

Kevin: The direct comparison to primate research really would have been the way to go with this one. What also bothered me was how useless this kind of experimentation would be in terms of yielding actual results. They appear to be testing a single condition on each different crewman. That makes no sense. How would that yield usable data? You would not be able exclude any of the factors like species, age, gender, medical history etc. when interpreting the data. There's a reason everyone uses the same strain of lab rat. It ensures the only difference is what your actually experimenting on. It's a mad scientist trope that always bugs me. It's "mad" scientist, not "bad" scientist.

Matthew: As far as the nuts and bolts of the story, there were some effective story devices. Using Seven's Borg implants to let her see cloaked aliens led to some fun scenes of her working hard to avoid showing her knowledge, and acting suspicious to her crew. The subplot of Paris and Torres trying to control their infatuation and be discreet was a fun continuation of recent plot developments, and it allowed us to see Janeway becoming unhinged in a very entertaining way.

Kevin: These were the elements that really made the story worth retelling, since they were impacted by and subsequently impact the character stories. Tom and B'Elanna's relationship triggers Janeway's ire, and their experience causes them to at least theorize that their feelings may not be genuine. Tuvok's reaction to Janeway's outburst was also great. Even the scene between Chakotay and Neelix comparing ailments worked. The humor was the right pitch and the right amount to help rather than hinder the story.

Matthew: I didn't really understand why the experimenters felt it necessary to threaten termination of all test subjects. Why? To keep the secret of their existence? The redshirting right after the alien reveal was gratuitous, too. But then, that's not all that different than "Where Silence Has Lease."Janeway's gambit at the end was... interesting. If there really was a 5% chance of survival, it seems quite irresponsible to use that as the tactic to shake off the experimenters, when they promised a 95% chance of an individual's survival. I think Janeway should have been relieved of command. Really, the whole episode would have been better if the experiments had focused entirely on Janeway and her responses, as well as how far the crew will go for her. Come to think of it, this would have been similar to "Allegiance," but again, I would enjoy seeing these characters put through such a wringer, especially with the Maquis element.

Kevin: I get the underlying ethos behind Janeway's decision. "Better to die on your feet than live on your knees" and all that. I don't think the crew as they've been portrayed would accept a 95% chance of survival on a 5% chance their friends could be killed or "disfigured." I get she needed it to be a snap decision, so the conversation that would have sussed that out couldn't happen, but I find it in line with Picard's use of the self-destruct and am almost impressed that they found a way to threaten self-destruction without relying on a countdown.


Matthew: I loved Janeway's dressing down of Paris and Torres. Kate Mulgrew's tone was teetering on the brink of losing control. Overall, she did a really nice job of fluctuating between levels of emotional control and awareness. I also really enjoyed Tim Russ' performance. His  taciturn irritation at Paris, and his line reading about "flogging" with Janeway.

Kevin: Mulgrew was definitely the highlight of the episode. Her stress crested and broke in just the right way. I often think of her with the needles in her head when I am feeling close to snapping and briefly wonder if my dopamine levels are secretly being toyed with. Russ' line reading on flogged makes me chuckle. He nailed the extremely dry humor Nimoy imbued Vulcan's with in TOS.

Matthew: This was a really nice Jeri Ryan performance. When the Dctor's voice was in Seven's head, she did a whale of a job showing very subtle reactions, and trying to not look like she's watching the aliens directly in front of her.

Kevin: Totally. That scene is the turbolift was really gangbusters. It was super creepy.

Matthew: Rosemary Forsyth as Alzen was pretty good. She seemed serious and sober initially, but then quite snarky as Janeway pushed her. I wished that she had gotten more to do, a better case to present.

Kevin: Maybe they could have looped in the Phage, even if it wouldn't have made sense from a timing perspective. That would have imported the interesting ethics of the problems. But yeah, she was great at being the right level of imperious.

Production Values

Matthew: There is a fair amount of makeup to admire here, none more so than on Janeway's deterioration. They colored her face well and frizzed her hair convincingly. The devices in the "phased" world had a nice look, too, if perhaps their purposes were questionable... (I thought they were genetically modifying people?) Chakotay's age makeup was pretty effective, too, among the best age makeup on Trek.

Kevin: I agree on the makeup jobs, for both Chakotay and Neelix actually. I liked the phased effect on the equipment, but thought the designs veered either into "oldtimey dental gear" or "purposefully creepy looking." A middle ground that implied their 'legitimate' purpose would have helped. Some of the more complicated pieces just looked like they were hauling modern art around the ship.

Matthew: The holodeck art studio makes another appearance, with a period-dressed Doctor. It was all very good. The aliens were typical bland Voyager aliens, in the vein of the first two seasons. The ships were relatively convincing CGI creations, and I liked the effects of Voyager racing through the binary pulsars, and the alien ships' destruction.

Kevin: Overall, I agree it was good. I think they did a good job with the light balance, too. The long shots of the ship entering and leaving the pulsars was well done.


Matthew: All in all, I'm at a 3 on this. I'm not really docking it on originality, because good ideas are worth repeating, and there are individual wrinkles based on our characters here. But while entertaining, the story lacks ambition and depth in terms of ideas.

Kevin: With a more convincing case for the experiments to continue, this had the basic parts of a 5. Still, it's interesting to watch, and entertaining to see Janeway really put through the wringer. I agree with a 3. That makes a total of 6.


  1. I dont think it was necessary to explore the animal experimentation angle in this episode for it to be good. It is perfectly conceivable that an alien race would consider humans inferior enough to want to experiment on them and not give a shit that they are sentient beings. Remember when Picard was tortured and the Cardassian said humans have children too but they just dont love them like we do? I assume something similar went on here. "Yea sure they bleed and have feelings but they are just lesser than us so it is justified."

    Making it about animal experimentation and the ethics thereof would have made this a different story altogether and we get to see that in the Season 5 episode Nothing Human, which explores this wonderfully and where Crell Moset asks this very question of the Doctor when confronted about the ethical considerations, he states that about how half the medical knowledge on Earth came through experiments on lower animals. When The Doctor says "but not people" Moset, rightfully so, rebuts by saying that it is convenient to draw a line between higher and lower species to justify experiment on one and not the other.

    I think this episode was more about the crew and how thy handle these things.
    I loved Janeway's disheveled look and hair and that she felt there were hot needles poking around her brain and we they actually were. As you guys say, there were a lot of fun scenes in there. The reaction of the crew here is what makes this so much fun. Watching Janeway become unhinged and being irritated at the most basic things.
    Torres and Tom sneaking around making out in corridors and etc and getting
    caught by Tuvok.

    1. I think this episode was good. I think it just could have been a bit better if they had provided more of an argument for the aliens' actions, whether it was based on cognitive superiority or not.

      Like stories about Nazi eugenics and experiments, it's just plain interesting to see someone justify horrible actions.