Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Voyager, Season 4: Demon, Season 4
Airdate: May 6, 1998
91 of 168 produced
91 of 168 aired

The crew, in a desperate search for fuel, comes to a Demon-class world, so named for how inhospitable it is to even entering orbit. They find a substance that should solve all their problems in the form of a mysterious liquid metal, but as usual, things are not necessarily what they appear.

People! This is no time to get jiggy in the Astrometrics lab!


Kevin: This is another of those episodes that I have had a hard time getting the review off the ground. I think I just never engaged with the episode. I think my problems with the story come from a few different directions. First, we start with a fairly tired trope of Voyager needing Chemical X to keep going, and we get the heretofore unheard of "gray mode." My problems here are mostly technical, but they have a cumulative effect. Let's start with the needed element, deuterium, a stable hydrogen isotope. Hydrogen is literally the most common thing in the whole universe. It's literally like 73% hydrogen, 24% helium, and every other element makes up the remaining few percent of the universe. Deuterium occurs at low but relatively constant rates in naturally occurring hydrogen. Therefore, it's literally all around you, and you pretty much just have to do the space equivalent of sticking out your tongue to catch snowflakes. I also found the mechanics of gray mode to be silly. Can, what I assume, the mega-efficient bulbs really burn a meaningful amount of power? And how can being reduced to subluminal velocities be anything other than the meaningful end of space travel. At least have them have to lay anchor in a solar system already. I know this sounds overly pedantic, but Star Trek can normally find the fairway on at least plausible science and the entire thing just showed the seams of the artificial setup.

Matthew: Yeah, they could have hung a lampshade on it at least by saying that they were in an unusually hydrogen-deficient area of space, or that it was contaminated, or something. I think there could have been a more engaging plot here, reminiscent of "Interstellar." Why not have them run out of fuel right as they are entering a solar system with several planets. One planet seems hospitable, but deuterium poor. The other option is deuterium-rich, but is Demon class. There could be a debate and everything, with guilt and recriminations afterward for the wrong choice.

Kevin: I liked, in theory, the character work for Harry, but it came a tad out of nowhere for me. They did a really good job laying tiny breadcrumbs for Tom's change of character in the second season, and I wish they had done so here. Maybe it also feels a little long in the tooth for Harry to suddenly chafe at not being treated like an adult.

Matthew: It really was a bit out of left field. I think it could have interfaced with another undeveloped aspect of the story, Tom and Harry staying on the planet. If he's chafing against the soft tyranny of low expectations on Voyager, maybe he'd actually be excited about homesteading on a crazy difficult planet? Speaking of staying on a hellish planet, I wasn't quite sure why the original Tom and Harry were still alive when they were found later.

Kevin: Lastly, I just wasn't that engaged by the duplication story. Once we catch a second Paris and the one we have can't breathe oxygen, combined with their insistence of returning to the planet, the ending wasn't just foreshadowed, it was pretty much laid out halfway through the episode. The insistence at returning had notes of Identity Crisis, and the duplication thing had notes of "Up the Long Ladder," but without the interesting questioning of the issue. Riker and Pulaski did a hip check into an abortion parable while engaging issues of bodily integrity, but I guess the Voyager crew attaches no inherent value to their uniqueness I guess. And where the hell is the Prime Directive conversation? You're contemplating irrevocably altering a (semi?) sentient species at a basic level. Starfleet has got to frown on that. It all just felt very cursory, so the stakes never felt high, and thus neither did my interest.

Matthew: At least as executed, I found the "Tom and Harry have to stay on this crappy planet" story more interesting than the "silver blood wants more intelligent templates" story. I wish the episode had spent more time on the duplicates and their plight before revealing their true natures. As it stands, the ethical issues go relatively unexplored. Silver Blood Harry says they have a right to exist, and Janeway's like "OK, whatever, just let us go and you'll get your DNA." Do they have a right to exist? Does the Voyager crew have a right to create more sentient life, not knowing whether they will live long and happily? I do think the Prime Directive is already superseded, because the accident has already occurred (i.e. with Tom and Harry).


Kevin: I don't know what it was, because I can't articulate quite what my problem with Garret Wang's performance here was, but it read more as petulant than confident, particularly when he was talking to Tuvok in the meeting and Paris after. There's standing up for yourself in the face of some frankly needless Vulcan condescension, but it felt borderline insubordinate to me. And hey, maybe that was the goal, because that actually would have been a lot of fun, to explore how Harry's maturation and career path have been sculpted and maybe even stunted by their time in Delta Quadrant. Instead of encountering a handful of seasoning experiences with the time off to absorb them and be rewarded for good work, he's stuck in constant crisis with no hope of advancement. That would have been a fun angle to explore, but in a way, it felt like too little too late, and the performance left me a little cold.

Matthew: I think the performance was let down by the script. I found the slightly darker edge to Garrett Wang's performance refreshing, and it seemed like he enjoyed getting something with a bit more emotional variety to play. On another note, I thought this was just the right amount of "Annoying Neelix" from Ethan Phillips. The comic relief here worked well, owing in large part to the actors.

Kevin: Robert Duncan MacNeil gets stuck in sickbay going through transformations a lot, doesn't he? He did a good job as he did last time. The rest of the crew overall did a solid job with the curiosity/concern over the duplicates and the growing crisis. Mulgrew did her usual yeoman's job being concerned leader/diplomat to a new Delta Quadrant species. I found the solution too pat, but Mulgrew acted it fine.

Matthew: I think many of the performances here were a tad flat, as if the actors felt a bit let down by the script. No one was bad (especially considering this was a no guest star show), but no one stuck out for me in the dramatic stuff.

Production Values

Kevin: Mid 90s CGI just looks slightly unfinished to modern eyes, so I try not to judge too harshly, and I even found the mercury creatures to have a nice 'heft' to them for lack of a better term. The vista on the Demon planet was okay. Not great, but not bad or distracting, and I do enjoy when Voyager lands. You can't complain that they didn't use the effect too rarely as they did with the Enteprise's saucer separation.

Matthew: On the plus side, the astrometric representations of the Demon Planet were superb. But I agree, the CGI had a sort of blurry look that seems designed to hide seams or lack of detail. One shot that stuck out in this way was the crowd shot at the end.

Kevin: If I had more energy, I would go back to "Basics" to compare, but I wonder how much of that long shot was built from the scene of them out of the ship in that episodes. Aside from a kind of graininess due to available tech and the literal atmosphere, the long shot was fun.

Matthew: The planet set itself did have a bit more variety than the typical Planet Hell redress. The mercury effect was so-so (somewhat reminiscent of "Skin of Evil" in its flatness, but obviously better than that episode's animation). The vista shot of the planet was nice.


Kevin: This episode just never gels for me. The set up to get Voyager to this planet is sloppy, and the threat and solution just feel undercooked. The follow-up "Course:Oblivion" is a much more interesting use of the idea, but that doesn't retroactively make this episode better. I am going with a 2.

Matthew: I'm pretty much where you're at on this one. There were a couple of potentially interesting threads that were undeveloped, and what we got didn't go in interesting directions. I agree with the 2 for a total of 4.

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