Monday, July 25, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Vis a Vis, Season 4
"Vis a Vis"
Airdate: April 8, 1998
87 of 168 produced
87 of 168 aired


Tom is experiencing a certain malaise in his role on Voyager and his relationship with B'Elanna. But he's about to get much more change than he really wants when an alien being steals his body and his life from him.

Wait, did I mix up Sombrero Sunday and Mechanic Monday again? Fiddlesticks!


Kevin: I struggled to get motivated to write this review because I have such a tepid response to this episode. It's not...bad, I suppose. It just doesn't do anything for me. I think it's because we've done the secret body swapping a few times over the course of the various series, and nothing really new gets done with it here. I have our standard set of questions about how a life form that needs a constant supply of fresh hosts like this evolved in the first place, but that wouldn't be fatal to an episode that had a little more going for it.

Matthew: I think the major failure here is in character development. Paris is... irritated? Feeling a 4 year itch? Depressed? The plot sort of has him being annoyed and raises the question of "what's with him?" but then fails to resolve it, because he gets kidnapped/body swapped and then is fighting to get back... because?  But yes, please insert here my blanket criticism of body swap sci-fi. The brain is not a computer. Your personality isn't an operating system or a memory file that can be easily swapped into another hard drive. Your brain is an organ that is tied inextricably to your body - muscles, CNS, hormones, glands. Your personality is an emergent product of those organs working in concert, something adaptive to your environment. There is nothing to "place" into another body. Even if there were, the act of doing to would just make "you" them

Kevin: I suppose what really kills this episode for me is that once Steth is in his body, the lag time on anyone picking up on it is a bit staggering. It's not even one of those possessions where the host's memories are still accessible. How could even begin to impersonate someone with only the vaguest details of their lives? I mean, Tom's explanation that he is looking at a map for a more efficient route to a place he goes regularly on a ship he has lived for four years is laughably bad and it makes Harry and the episode worse. The episode opens with Chaktoay and B'Elanna both noticing a change in Paris, which is good character work, but then neither notice a radical change in personality literally in an instant. This is where the episode really could have had some fun and overcome the fairly wrote setup. What if Steth as Paris does or says something that damages Tom's relationship with B'Elanna and it sticks even once the truth is uncovered because it exposed a genuine fault line? Basically since I knew Tom would end up back in his own body by the end of the episode, either Tom or his relationships needed to be changed by this experience for me to really care.

Matthew: The fact that Steth essentially rapes B'Elanna using Tom's body is wholly unremarked upon here. This could have provided the character drama you were looking for (albeit admittedly a bit heavy for syndicated broadcast TV in the 90s). Apart from that, my main beef with the "twist" was that it broke its own rules. On the ship, Steth swaps bodies with Paris, and they don't also swap clothes (that is, they stay in their original clothes, and presumably have to change at some point). But when he does it to the captain, they stay in their own bodies but switch minds, without needing to change clothes? 

Kevin: I kept waiting for a discussion of the last time Tom apparently checked out, when he was going undercover with the Kazon. That's not a complaint per se, but the similarities were super obvious to me, and I would have enjoyed someone discussing them.

Matthew: The other un-followed plot thread that nagged me was "coaxial warp drive." Why introduce it just to ignore it? I guess we're not interested in trip-shortening technology any more?


Kevin: Here, I have no complaints. McNeill did a good job infusing the opening scenes with a fairly ordinary listlessness that everyone feels from time to time even when they like their life. He did a good job, almost too good a job, pretending to be someone pretending to be Tom. I also liked all his character work with B'Elanna. It all read as very organic relationship stuff.

Matthew: I've always been a fan of McNeill, and it's precisely for work like this. When he told B'Elanna off by accusing her of "histrionics," the look on his face was perfect - the look of regrent on someone who knows he was arguing solely to "win" but not to actually be with someone and be good to them. He knew he had gone too far, and for basically no other reason than ego. These sorts of acting choices make Tom Paris feel like a real person with feelings and flaws.

Kevin: I liked Dawson and Beltran a lot in this episode. Both did a great job trying to understand what was going on with Tom, and like I said above, it really should have been the focus of the episode.

Matthew: I think Roxann Dawson was excellent. She totally nailed the "I care about you but I'm shutting down because you've changed" tone. I also really liked Dan Butler as Paris - it's clear he did some study on getting McNeill's mannerisms down.

Production Values

Kevin: I think the effects work in the episode were solid. From Steth's ship, the the transfer sequence to the makeup, everything was competent, though maybe not much more than that. The brief moment of the characters in each other's uniforms was a neat touch. I liked the amount of detail work in the set of Steth's ship, but several of the light up doodads read as the most extreme version of "What does this do other than light up?" like those parallel red light flourescent tubes that show up everywhere.


Kevin: I am going with a 2. It's almost a three based on McNeill's acting, but the story just doesn't grab me and they never do anything interesting with the idea. Basically the acting was good, the effects were fine, but I just don't care enough about the story since the only source of tension they try to mine is "will Tom get back." Had they used it to explore or change his relationship with the crew, that would have elevated this one for me.

Matthew: Yeah, I want to like this more than I do. Undeveloped plot threads and lazy "twist" writing sink this for me. I'm willing to entertain a mind-switch plot even with my philosophical reservations. I'm not willing to entertain sloppiness. I agree with the 2 for a total of 4.

1 comment:

  1. It's been a while since I watched this one, so I may remember it wrong - but this isn't body-swapping or mind-swapping. It's (equally problematic, but different) gene-swapping, IIRC.
    Remember how the alien's appearance starts glitching prior to taking over Tom's appearance, as earlier stolen genes begin to re-assert themselves? The alien needs to keep changing for that reason.
    This just to point out that I don't think the whole body-swap objection doesn't really enter into it here.
    Other than that, I agree with what you say on this one. Good acting can't really switch this lacklustre story into high gear.