Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Voyager, Season 5: "In the Flesh", Season 5
"In the Flesh"
Airdate: November 4, 1998
97 of 168 produced
97 of 168 aired


Voyager finds an eerily accurate simulation of Starfleet Command, right down to Bootby tending the gardens. Chakotay and Tuvok go undercover to find out who or what is behind it.

Of note: the "Selfie" has apparently fallen out of favor by the 24th century.


Kevin: Assuming you did not think they were really back on Earth all of a sudden, it's pretty clear from the get go that something is amiss with the San Francisco that Chakotay is walking through. But rather than detract from the tension, it heightens it. Little touches like Boothby drive home how Earth-like it is, down to fine details, but it makes the viewer edgy knowing there are really body snatcher pods or something just behind a corner or something. Waiting for the reveal, which came in stages and at a nice clip, felt tense rather than boring.

Matthew: Yeah, everything was paced well, with the drip drip of potential clues and the way the plot developed. So it was a good teaser as well as a couple of really nice act breaks. The "human" characters had a reality to them that made the simulation, even if that was all it was, compelling. I do think there are questions that are only touched on, if at all, in the episode. Their command of vernacular was pretty stunningly good, especially Boothby's. Ditto their use of innuendo and flirting. I think I would prefer it if these were explained, such as by assimilating personalities from recovered human Borg drones or something. Either way, I would have liked an even deeper investigation of how being in a particular body changes the perceptions and thinking of a species.

Kevin: This is certainly the best portrayal of 8472 we've gotten, and it helps that we see diversity in their viewpoints. Having an array of responses and internal conflict gives their politics some depth, and thus some life. I also liked that they portrayed the alien-ness of 8472 not by trying to portray the unportrayable, but by commenting on human-ness. They did a good job zeroing in on things that are very human, like bipedal locomotion and sleeping, but that are so ubiquitous that I didn't really think about them until Archer mentions them. By finding the invisible and omnipresent physicality of humanity off-putting, it causes me to imagine 8472's alien-ness in a more complete way than they could ever portray on screen.

Matthew: Yeah, it's a good idea to shy away from too much 8472 on screen, for effects reasons but also the fact that it is probably impossible to build a convincing portrait of so alien a species in 45 minutes.

Kevin: The character work all around was very good. Janeway seems resigned to Seven's stance, and Seven's stance is better founded than some of her other stands she takes in opposition to Janeway over the years. Having both sides of the table have a hawk (Seven and Bullock), a dove (Chakotay and Archer), and a pragmatist (Janeway and Boothby) invoked the Cold War metaphor they drew with the America town reference really well. I like that they ended with a form of detente rather than outright friendship, which also felt more authentic. It's a very Star Trek/Federation solution. Janeway gambled on peace, and won at least a reprieve.

Matthew: I agree on the character work. Janeway's scenes were really nice. I liked her subtle probing of Chakotay in Astrometrics, and his response. I think a finer point could have been drawn on Seven particularly. Maybe a scene with her and Chakotay, with him really trying to impress upon her that she is biased and prejudiced, and may be leaving nonviolent alternatives on the table. The Cold War references really put this one over the top for me. It's classic Trek- using science fiction to comment on our world, and in this case in a way that was not overbearing at all, just fun and interesting. With that said, I kind of think they gave up too much by giving 8472 the weapon specs. They could have been being played for suckers on a grand level.

Kevin: Overall, I liked both Chakotay and Archer's nascent relationship and I liked the references they pulled down to discuss the human condition. Shaw wouldn't have been my go to personally, but it works. It too, is a very Trek discussion of the human condition, and it gives Archer's later ambivalence some real heft.

Matthew: They should have boned. They should have gotten naked prior to the 8472 reveal, and then had that aspect of the story be the linchpin things turn on. Can Chakotay, who is famously tolerant and even relativist, overcome his revulsion or fear? Will they be able to convince their respective compatriots of the feasibility of a truce? It would have increased the stakes and emotional involvement. As it was, it was mildly interesting but a bit unsatisfying.


Kevin: Eagle-eyed viewers from the future will recognize Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh, Colonel Tigh's alcoholic wife from the BSG reboot. Right up there with Tricia O'Neil's Captain Garret or Elizabeth Dennehy's Commander Shelby and Mulgrew herself, she really nails the aura of a woman in command in the Trek universe. I bought her outside-looking-in almost bemused affection for humanity. I really wish she had come back. She could have been a fun "exchange student" kind of character.

Matthew: Agreed 100%. Vernon was the bomb, and could have played any female character in any series with gusto. She had good chemistry with Beltran (though Kate Vernon seems like the type who has chemistry with everyone and everything). Her conflict seemed real, even though it was underplayed a bit by the writing.

Kevin: Ray Walston reprises his role as Boothby, and consarnit if he is not the most grizzled old man this side the Rocky Mountains. The man just oozes grouchy yet beloved grandfather figure. It was fun how much he committed because it gave the viewer the sense of how meticulous and committed 8472 were to the charade. That is excellent detail work, guys. I like how he even kept the basics of the character when the charade is dropped in the conference scene. It added to the surreality of the situation and it really worked. Tucker Smallwood gets an honorable mention for being the hardest-assed hard-ass Admiral.

Matthew: Yeah, this one really delivered on guest actors. Any Trek fan is going to go gaga for Walston, after his superb turn in "The First Duty." He is just as good here, and there is a different shade, as you mentioned. I believed that he cared about the fortunes of his species. The main cast plays well against it all, though, too. Particular standouts are Beltran, Mulgrew, and Ryan.

Production Values

Kevin: The setting and lighting of the outdoor San Francisco scenes was really great and was an excellent tonal shift for the episode from the standard sets we normally see. Particularly against the pin lighting on Voyager hiding in the planetary shadow, it made from some great contrast. I also want to give a shout out to the hair people. Archer's updo is right down the center of a flattering look that seems an order of magnitude too complicated for a professional woman to achieve in the morning, but then you remember she probably had nanites do it while she slept.

Matthew: The water reclamation plant makes a glorious return. What a great location! They did some cool lighting stuff, too, like when they "went to daytime." It seemed like there were scads of extras, which always lends welcome a feeling of verisimilitude. Not just that, the sets were also good. Archer's quarters and the bar set were both visually appealing and seemed lived-in. All in all, they absolutely nailed location, set, and costume design.

Kevin: Oddly, though the transformation scenes are pretty classic 90s CGI, it's the blanket that looks the worst. The only other demerit from a design perspective for me was Archer's robe. It looked like it was made out of car floor mat material. I'm not saying it needed to be a negligee or something, but Kate Vernon has clearly kept it tight and you could have found a terry cloth hotel robe that would have been more flattering.

Speaking of CGI, a shout out must go to the bomb-ass 3D diagram used in Astrometrics. Well executed graphics like that really add to the episode. But yes, the monster was merely adequate. The exterior of the station was also just OK.


Kevin: The political tension is classic Cold War and it works really well. (Sidenote: It's also super tightly focused for a Braga project. No shade. Just saying.) The acting really propels it over the top, making me believe they all believe it. It falls short of a five for want of a slightly more ambitious reach, and I am going with a 4, but turning in a taught, uniformly entertaining, political thriller is nothing to sneeze at.

Matthew: Yeah, this is very close to a 5 on sheer watchability. But I think not raising the stakes on the romance, or delving into deeper sci-fi and/or philosophical questions holds this back just enough to stay a 4.


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