Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Random Thoughts

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlVoyager, Season 4
Airdate: November 19, 1997
77 of 168 produced
77 of 168 aired


B'Elanna is arrested on a planet of peaceful telepaths for inadvertently spreading a violent thought. 

Thank you for giving us an insight into Talaxian kink, writers! Really!


Kevin: I feel like it's not stretching to see lots of notes from previous episodes in this one. Ex Post Facto also has Tuvok investigating a wrongly accused crew member on a planet of unique telepaths. He even used a mind meld in his solution. It's also entry a billion in seemingly idyllic societies with a secret. My major complaint with the setup is how artificial it is. I can fully envision a society that has culturally eliminated violent actions. But, as the title suggests, random thoughts? How would that work? By nature you don't control random thoughts. And you can't think about not thinking about something. By definition you're thinking about it. I think a better track would be taking a page from the Twilight Zone episode with the boy who demands everyone be happy and it becomes a nightmarish and Sisyphean task for the town.

Matthew: I think what's missing from the concept as it stands is just a little further investigation into the dark side of thought control. Working systematically to reduce and eliminate certain types of thinking (if it is indeed possible) would change the culture, and in potentially bad ways. For instance, the bargaining early in the episode makes little sense between telepaths, and it just seems creepy being done with non-telepaths. Eliminating certain types of thoughts would also eliminate a people's ability to control them - this is touched on but not followed through on. Wouldn't this spread like wildfire, engulfing the entire world in a war? Wouldn't these people become xenophobes as a result? Wouldn't it render their art and literature (if it exists at all) dramatically inert? There needed to be some mentions made of the liberty that sentient beings might crave - do the Mari crave it as much as humans? Did they vote for this justice system?

Kevin: My other main complaint is how relatively low stakes it feels. We knew B'Elanna was going to be okay, and if the goal of the security procedure was to just remove the thought from society, B'Elanna was always leaving the planet so it makes no sense that they would need to perform the procedure on her rather than just let her go. And of course, once the second incident happens, it becomes clear she's not involved at all so it makes no sense that they would continue with the procedure anyway so it just seemed to be really artificial stakes for me. Also, I think it's a bit of a cop out to have the violent thought be one implanted in her. The more interesting question is what the implications are if B'Elanna were unintentionally causing violence in this society.

Matthew: This episode harks back to "Justice" inasmuch as the prep team really dropped the ball on Mari legal precedents. Seven of Nine hangs a lampshade on the problem by criticizing these first contact procedures.But what of it? Shouldn't things change? Some stakes could have been generated by getting into someone's guilt (Tuvok's?) at not being thorough enough. I found Neelix's main squeeze being murdered strange. Maybe this should have made him align himself against B'Elanna, and for harsher justice? The mechanism for the black market thoughts mystified me. If thoughts can be exchanged inadvertently in a crowded area, how can any thought remain valuable enough to pay money for over time?

Kevin: One note I did like came at the end. Tuvok's increased empathy for B'Elanna's emotional control was a nice moment, though it does make me think of another direction the episode could have gone. Other races tend to have their emotions placed on a spectrum of more or less intense than humans, but basically the same. I would like to see them dig into what an alien psychology would really look like. Sense of self, response to stimulus... the works. Rather than merely paint Klingons as aggressive human Vikings, really think about the way to explain Klingon psychology as a truly "alien" thing would have been an interesting layer to the episode.

Matthew: I think the Tuvok angle of the episode was the one that needed to be explored more, for many of the reasons you cite. What is Vulcan discipline like? How does the repression work? Is the violence sublimated into other psychological traits? Not to mention, since when do Vulcans have the ability to converse telepathically, absent any physical contact, with others?


Kevin: Here I have no complaints. Russ and Dawson did very good work, though I don't think the script really challenged them. Tuvok's investigation while somewhat familiar at this point still hit all the right notes. I also always like to get to see Janeway enjoy first contacts at least until the other shoe drops.

Matthew: I liked the rapport that Tom and Neelix had, and it's a credit to the actors. I wanted Neelix to bag a Mari partner, I understood Tom's wistfulness and his anger at B'Elanna's capture. Tim Russ did a great job with both the logical and the more emotional material.

Kevin: Gwynyth Walsh, who played B'Etor, did a good job making the nominal villain interesting and sympathetic. You really believed that she was acting in what she subjectively believed was everyone's best interests.

Matthew: Well, I certainly would not have recognized her from her work on B'Etor, so that's saying something right there. I think Jeri Ryan had some interesting material, and it's too bad her role as Devil's Advocate wasn't expanded.

Production Values

Kevin: I would hesitate to use the word "bad" here, but this is definitely mediocre. Nimra's uniform felt like a reuse of the Rutian uniforms from "The High Ground." I'm having trouble recalling the episode, but the engram erasing doodad looks super familiar too. The episode's writer, Ken Biller is on record as disliking the marketplace for looking too much like a set, and I have to agree. It looked very much like a soundstage.

Matthew: Yeah, they had a really nice matte for the planet, and then the marketplace, which wasn't crowded enough, looked totally disconnected. This is a pretty common problem on a budget-constrained show.


Kevin: The idea is interesting and the performances are at least solid but the story itself just never grabs me. I always find this episode a little boring on rewatch, and I am going with a 2 for this one.

Matthew: Sadly, I agree. I wasn't really bored, but no story angles that fired the mind were explored. We got rehashes of several other plots, combined in semi-new ways, but that did not push any limits in our understanding. The acting and production were average. So all in all, I'm stuck on a 2 as well for a total of 4.


  1. For me this episode was actually pretty interesting because, true to Trek fashion, it took a concept that is very relevant even and especially in 2016 and explored it within the 'alien of the week culture" setting.

    Can we hold people responsible for their thoughts? Should we?

    In a world where even in Democratic countries there is always some push back against free speech and where there is always some hack who wants to curb and limit speech in some way (because it's offensive or may be viewed as hate speech or whatever) the question about limiting undesirable thoughts because they supposedly result in harm to others for sort of the same reasons, seems relevant and intriguing.

    I liked that this society had eliminated violent thoughts to the point where they became a hot commodity that people were dealing with and trading underground and illicitly, with all sorts of risks and the usual repercussions that follow when you make something that shouldn't be illegal, illegal.

    These people werent dealing with their violent thoughts and tendencies in an open and frank manner, but were instead forced to suppress them to the point where even the mere thought of violence was considered a crime requiring a frontal lobe lobotomy.

    Like with drugs today or prostitution or any kind of sex work, or se. period, including the push to ban porn (I think Utah just officially declared the latter a threat to public health).

    Sex is an important aspect of our humanity. It is not going to go away. Yet, for millennia, societies have tried very hard to control and suppress this perfectly normal biological function and it never works. All the stigma associated to sex work and porn just drives the industry into the underground where there is no oversight, regulation and protection. Just like prostitution, just like drugs. When you make certain things that ought not be illegal, ilegal, you cause more harm than good.

    It is toxic and harmful and, in fact, suppressing that which is second nature almost always backfires and leads to the very outcomes you tried to avoid in the first place. Just look at the attitude men who live in such sexually oppressed societies have toward women and notice the correlation between suppressing sex and increased violence against women.

    Same thing here: they worked so hard to suppress violence and essentially be in denial that their society is just exploding at the seams with it and the only outlet is illicitly exchanging and trading it.

    I loved that this episode explored this. The themes explored in Star Trek are always relevant and never seem dated. This conversation would have been relevant 80 years ago and 50 years ago, and 30, and 20 and it is even relevant today and most likely will be for a long time.

    One last thing: I thought it was called Random Thoughts because B'Elanna just had this thought (quite randomly and quickly) of wanting to punch that guy who ran into her. But it quickly subsided and she didnt think about it any further. It truly was random in the sense that we all go through that at some point but most of us dont act on it. Yet here, suddenly you got this woman who is about to receive a lobotomy for said random thought.

    1. I agree the idea is super interesting. I think Matt and I take issue more with the slightly scattered execution. I think if they had dispensed with the "black market" plot, it would have kept the episode more focused and left B'Elanna 'responsible' for the thought and its apparent consequences. That would have forced the episode to really dig in to the issues your talking about.